Frank found little time for anything but work and family after Ella left. He was always either looking after the girls or at the yard doing overtime to pay the bills. Once a fortnight El would turn up, sometimes in a taxi, or others with some new man impatiently observing from the driver’s seat. Every time Veronica and Imogene came home they’d tell me about the lavish treats that undermined the hard-learned lessons he’d given them on the value of things.

After a year or so the boyfriends stopped and the visits became more erratic. She looked worse each time she came. The girls told him it wasn’t fun being with Mummy any more.

She called him asking for money. He said he’d give her what she needed if she really tried to get better—but she had to stay away until she was well again.

She hung up. That afternoon she arrived unannounced and demanded to see them. They hid in their room, as their parents shouted and swore, cried and swore some more. And when Ella finally slammed the door behind her they stayed hidden.

Frank made dinner in a house so quiet it seemed to have stopped living. Spaghetti and meatballs—it was their favourite.

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