The Queen of Rotten Row : Part Six

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With apologies for leaving Daisy to scuff around Rotten Row on her own for so long …

 

The Sunday the family christened the replacement dinner service, Queenie beamed like a fog lamp the whole day. She was especially polite to Florence – asking after her mother, praising the silk camellia on her lapel – who remained pale and quiet throughout the steak pudding and gravy. Daisy had waited impatiently for the meal to be over, keen to get Florence alone in the kitchen to ask how she and Albert had afforded a new service so quickly. But Florence had stayed in the parlour, staring at the skirting board as the sisters-in-law discussed croup and the efficacy of morphine drops for ailing toddlers.

Daisy washed the bone white plates alone.

***

The first of the Critchlow boys to die was George, the eldest of the twins by twenty-five minutes.

Even as an old woman, Daisy always thought of George each time she saw a daffodil, because though he died at the beginning of April, winter had stayed late and hard and the golden trumpets were only then breaking through their paper husks.

It seemed George had finished his shift as usual and walked down the hill from the station into the centre of the town, straight into Dawkin’s hardware shop. He bought a shoe brush, a tin of beeswax and a ten foot length of fine rope. Mr Dawkins told the police that George had said little but was polite, as he would expect from any of the Critchlow brothers. The shopkeeper had thought nothing of his purchases or the lack of conversation – none of the boys were great talkers.

George was found under the old bridge at Hawton at five-thirty the next morning by a woman scrubbing the tracks for fallen coals. The surgeon couldn’t count how many of his bones had broken in the fall, although as Daisy laid him out, she could testify that his snub-nosed features remained perfectly smooth and untouched aside from a flap of skin three inches long that had opened up along his chin. At the coroner’s court, the verdict was suicide by hanging, the rope being unable to support his broad frame. The fresh brush and tin of beeswax were found at the base of a nearby oak tree. Beside them, his boots ‒ freshly polished.

George’s death was commented on very little at home. Queenie hung a photograph of him next to his father, with a ribbon of crinkled black crepe across the corner. His widow, Mavis, still came to Sunday lunch with her two children, all through her mourning – from black wool through grey and violet. She and her children would huddle together, sleeves rustling against each other as they pushed scraps of beef and potato around their plates for an hour before excusing themselves, drifting from the house as quietly as they had drifted in.

The only other member of the family apart from Daisy who truly missed George was his twin, William. For months after his brother’s passing, William grew paler with every visit, a little thinner. When the twins had lived at home, they had been the most boisterous, the ones most likely to be fighting, the ones most likely to be laughing. Now William slipped in and out of the house silently, barely disturbing the air around him. Each Sunday, Daisy tried to make the food he liked ‒ brawn, tripe and onions, one week she boiled a pig’s head ‒ until Queenie complained she’d never liked offal and didn’t see why she should be force-fed a slaughter house worth every week in her own home. Whatever Daisy served made little difference ‒ William merely picked at his plate like an invalid unused to anything more solid than beef tea.

When he succumbed to pneumonia no one seemed surprised. Queenie said one afternoon over tea as she folded another length of black crepe, that William was best gone because his heart had died with George.

***

After the incident with the dinner service, Florence gradually returned to herself. Albert would still shoot her warning looks when she became too gossipy and Florence would pretend she hadn’t them and carry on as usual. Daisy was relieved to have her friend back. She had missed Queenie spluttering into her tea as Florence recounted what the fishmonger had done with the coalman’s daughter.

One Sunday afternoon, when the washing up was nearly done and Florence’s hands were as pink as boiled hams from the water, she said to Daisy, ‘Your Ma doesn’t like me much.’ Her words were flat and colourless, a statement not a question.

Daisy returned the last plate to the dresser before she replied. ‘Queenie doesn’t warm to anyone. Not even her own children. Not even her own grandchildren. She likes you as well as she likes any of us.’

Florence smiled. ‘I can see the gears whirring in your head before you speak. All those things you think before you say a single word.’ She shook her head. ‘My words are out before I know I’ve thought them. You’re good at being kind.’

Heat rose from Daisy’s collarbone to her chin. She  folded the tea towel and hung it carefully on the back of a chair, smoothing out the creases before she could bring herself to say any more. ‘Queenie has a way of … making people do what she wants. And you’re no good at doing what you’re told.’

Florence closed her eyes, as if concentrating. ‘Do you know how I imagine your Ma? I thought it the night I broke the plates, as I lay in bed with my face puffed from crying and Albert so angry he’d shouted himself quiet. She’s a spider. A big, bloated mother spider, sat in her web. Her legs are stretched wide on the silk, waiting for any tug or jiggle.’

Daisy felt a flutter bloom in her chest, a jittery, tingling feeling as if that giant spider was dancing from rib to rib, spinning its web across the inside of her chest, bundling up first one lung then another. She tried to smile. ‘You do have such queer notions. If Queenie’s the giant spider, then what are we?’

Florence opened her eyes. ‘Why, we’re flies of course. Tiny gnats and fat bluebottles, and we can’t escape, no matter how we struggle, for she feels us if we pull away. And the Critchlow sons, they’re worst off, because they’re wrapped tight like swaddled babies, unable to move, and the mother spider sucking them dry until there’s nothing left but silk and husk and a black ribbon on a picture frame.’

‘You all right, Flo?’ asked Daisy. She rested her hand on Florence’s shoulder, felt a shiver pass along her forearm.

Florence shook her head, and dragged one damp wrist across her nose. ‘I’m expecting.’

Daisy forgot the shiver, forgot the spider in her chest and threw her arms around her friend’s narrow waist, squeezing until Florence pushed her gently away. ‘That’s wonderful. I had thought … as you and Albert had been married so long …’

Flo nodded. ‘I thought there’d be no babies, too.’ She was crying now, fat drops that fell onto the bust of her dress, darkening the colour from silver to ash grey.

‘What’s to cry for?’ laughed Daisy. ‘I can knit a blanket for the baby and a shawl for you for when you’re nursing. And I’ll save bobbins, for Barty always loved to play with bobbins … Stop crying, Flo.’

Florence shook her head. ‘Another one trapped in the web.’

 

***

 

 

If you missed parts one, two, three, four and five – check them out here.

 

The Queen of Rotten Row: Part Five

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After a wedding day of milk stout and boiled ham, Albert and Florence were regular visitors to Rotten Row.

Each Sunday, Daisy’s brothers came to dinner with their wives, and as the years passed, their children came too. Over tureens of roast potatoes, carrots and mashed swede, each couple looked the same: the brothers chafing in starched collars and Sunday-best suits, the wives ashen, silent, eyes fixed on the cruet.

Florence brought the only spark of life to the table. She loved to gossip about which local women had bought a ribbon or a silk rose to liven an old bonnet and to speculate why.

‘And she only just out of mourning.’

She told them all about the factory owner’s wife from Laburnum Villa up on the hill who’d asked for a different dress to be turned every week for the last three months.

‘I unstitch and re-cut them so she can keep up with the fashion in Didsbury and Chorlton and she thinks none of her friend’s will notice – more fool her. There’s a brougham and four Clydesdales in the stable, but she won’t have new dresses made for the Season – what does that tell you?’

Listening to Florence was like hearing starlings chatter across the back yards ‒ there was no profit in it for Daisy, but she enjoyed it nonetheless. Florence would help with the washing-up and always complained about how pink and wrinkled it made her hands. It took Daisy six weeks to realise that Florence helped so they could talk in private without Queenie listening.

Daisy had made a friend, and whenever she stacked a plate in the rack she’d remember and blush with the pleasure of it.

***

One Sunday Florence said she would help wash the front window, despite Daisy’s protests.‘Get those clothes dirty and they’ll never come clean, not with any amount of soaking.’

Florence wore a duck egg blue jacket, cinched in at the waist and fluted at the hips ‘to make the most of what I haven’t got’ as she put it. The thought of it spotted with oily water and smuts for the sake of a clean window made Daisy shudder. In the end, she persuaded Florence to wear the long cotton apron she used when blacking the stove. As water turned the flags into mirrors, they talked.

‘Albert says we’ve no money for new dresses.’ Florence tapped the toe of her boot in the nearest puddle, making the surface quiver.

All of Daisy’s clothes were remade from Queenie’s castoffs. She might not know what it was like to wear a dress free of another person’s sweat stains, but she knew having fresh ribbons and curled hair was important to her friend, so she tried to sound sympathetic as she said, ‘Well, he’s not paid much compared to some.’

‘Perhaps, but he’s doing well,’ said Florence.

Since their marriage, Albert had been promoted from fireman to guard ‒ dapper in his uniform with shiny brass buttons and a whistle with a pea inside. Now the station master at Berkley Holt had been caught asleep in the Ladies’ Waiting Room, smelling as if he’d been steeped overnight in a barrel of porter. Florence had encouraged her husband to apply for the vacant post.

‘He’s coming on faster than the twins did,’ said Daisy, ‘and he’s always worked harder than Cedric. But money spreads thin over two households.’

The sound of trickling eased to a drip. Florence’s hand was pressed against the glass, the underside of her sleeve turned the colour of bread mould by the runoff. ‘Two households?’

Florence was so still and pale.

‘Yours and Queenie’s.’

‘But she has your father’s pension.’

‘The boys give her money too.’

‘When?’

‘Sundays, before they leave.’ Surely, Florence had seen it? The furtive peck on the cheek, the clasp of hands as each son in turn slipped Queenie their shillings. Hadn’t she heard the jingle as her mother in law came to see them off at the door?

There was a sound like liver falling onto stone as a dropped shammy hit the ground.

It was Florence who started the shouting, then Albert joined her, their voices pinging back and forth as the sun crept behind the viaduct. Daisy retrieved the shammy and wrung it dry, but it still hung from her fist as Queenie’s voice reached the street.

‘You cheeky trollop. Telling my son what he can and can’t do for me …’

Daisy clamped her hands over her ears, the shammy swinging damply against her cheek.

A crash made her jump.

Then she was in the dark tunnel of the hall, a circle of light and chaos growing larger as she hurried towards it. Reaching the kitchen, she stumbled to a halt. Florence, Queenie and Albert were gathered by the table, staring, staring at a jumble of spikes and triangles heaped on the floor, their boots dusted with white powder. She noticed their hands – Queenie’s at her waist, balled into fists: Albert’s slack at his sides. Florence had hers tucked away, hidden by folded arms.

Daisy stared at the kitchen floor, trying to make sense of the pale shapes dotted with pink.

‘Sorry Ma.’ Albert grabbed Florence by the arm and dragged her away.

Daisy crouched, picked up a shard of china painted with a single, perfect rosebud.

‘The whole service,’ whispered Queenie. ‘The whole of my best service.’

It was only as Daisy swept away the last splinters she realised Florence was still wearing her pinny.

***

If you missed parts One, Two,Three and Four do take a look.

The queen of rotten row : Part four

 

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Daisy was washing windows the day Florence first walked along Rotten Row.

She was standing on one of the kitchen chairs, washing the windows. Water formed grey rivulets down the glass, carrying specks of coal to puddles on the sill. Had those smuts come far? From the coalfields of Woodhorn, Vane Tempest or Monkwearmouth? Peculiar names for places she would never see. Whatever distance they travelled, the coal dust dropped from the viaduct in fat drops of water ‒ or when the wind blew hard along the house fronts, in a fine mist ‒ coating the glass until looking out was like peering through a widow’s veil.

The street always seemed more interesting reflected in the window – the same world but distorted by ripples. She saw Mrs Dobson’s sagging front wall, buddleia exploding from the guttering in purple fountains. And Mrs Gordon’s clothes horse with her red flannel drawers, warning flags snapping in the wind. Daisy thought they looked cheerful – the red against sooty grey stone – though Queenie disapproved of women showing their underwear to the street, even if it was only to get it dry.

That day, Daisy glimpsed a woman’s hat. It wasn’t the kind of hat Ida would wear – all tousled ribbon curls, wax cherries and stuffed house martins. This was spotless emerald felt, a velvet ribbon band cinched with a silver buckle. Daisy had always thought hats like that were made to sit in the milliner’s window, a hint of what the well off in London or Bath or the decent parts of Manchester wore. A world so clean and smart and comfortable, the folk on the Row couldn’t even imagine it.

Daisy so wanted to see who owned such a beautiful thing, she turned quickly, the thin sole of her boot slipping on the damp wood. She wobbled, grabbed the window frame, water splashing from the bucket over her toes. In the glass she glimpsed her brother Albert’s mousey hair, the pink Critchlow ears that stood from his head like jug handles. He was just twenty, the only one of her older brothers still at home.

Albert was a scruffy lad. Shirts never stayed tucked in when he wore them, cuffs always frayed. His clothes always needed more darning and patching than the rest of the boys put together. To see him with a spotless collar, hair parted and slick … It was as miraculous as if she’d seen Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead.

The girl on Bertie’s arm was pale, without a single freckle, her cheeks flushed, though not with the ruddy puce of an afternoon in the snug. Daisy was fascinated. Every woman on the Row had soot ingrained in her complexion, dulling her hair, as if always cast in shadow.

As the couple passed through the front door, the girl muttered,

‘Missed a bit,’ and smiled from under her tipped brim, showing a row of straight white teeth.

That afternoon over tea and fruitcake with Queenie, Daisy learned that Florence Matthews was twenty-two and a dressmaker’s assistant. Her father was the purser on a White Star liner called the SS Majestic, though he’d begun working on ships at the age of sixteen as a stoker. Daisy had noticed that as the older Critchlow boys went into the railway as train drivers and guardsmen and signalmen, their wives also came from railway families. The girls who took up with her brothers who had carpenters or draymen for fathers were never invited into the parlour, rarely visited more than twice and were never, ever offered an engagement ring. Queenie said that as her grandsons came kicking into the world, she wanted to see each breathing out steam and sucking on coal. Daisy hoped that a ship’s stoker was a job filled with enough smoke and filth to be classed as an honourary railwayman.

After Albert and Florence left, Daisy busied herself clearing the plates and brushing crumbs from the tablecloth. Queenie sat in her red velvet chair, stroking the nap back and forth with her fingertips.

‘What do you think of her?’ Queenie asked.

Daisy stacked the plates on the tray. ‘She has very fine manners.’

Queenie nodded. ‘She ate your cake with her gloves on.’

Daisy picked at the cloth for imaginary crumbs. ‘White kid gloves.’ That was another thing that Daisy had never seen on the Row. People only wore good gloves to funerals and those were always black.

Queenie put her feet up on the low stool. ‘Got airs, than one. Eating with her gloves on … And that hat. There’s more than a month’s wages there. Albert’s lucky there’s no such thing as a debtors’ gaol anymore – she’d have him banged up in three years flat.’

Daisy looked at Queenie’s velvet chair, the chenille throw tucked in around her knees. If she took them to Hawkin’s pawn shop down by the canal, how much would he give her? Enough to buy brisket for the week? Enough sausages for next week too?

Daisy didn’t care how much the hat cost. All she remembered was the way Florence had rested her hand on Albert’s arm when he’d said something clever. ‘She loves him.’

Queenie slurped the last of her tea and nodded. ‘You’re right. Fancy a dormouse like you seeing that.You been reading newspapers again? I’ll have to find you more work to do. Well,’ she said, pushing off her boots and wriggling her toes, ‘let him have his fancy Miss. If her father can make purser I shall expect no less than station master for Albert within ten years. Another cup of tea, Daise, and be careful how you wash that service. I don’t want chips in my roses because you’re busy daydreaming.’

***

Find parts One, Two and Three here.

The Queen of Rotten Row: Part Three

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One day Daisy and her mother were sitting at the kitchen table. The canteen of cutlery was laid out, Daisy’s sleeves rolled back past her elbows to save them from being blackened by tarnish. Queenie sat low in her chair, heels resting on the kettle stand in the hearth.

‘Mrs Grant’s baby ‒ Violet is it?’ said Queenie. ‘Face like a slapped spaniel, just like her Ma. She’ll amount to nothing.’

‘She’s five months old.’

‘That face can’t help but make a soul slap it. Start with a slap, then comes a fist. Later comes a boot. She’ll be too long falling on her arse to make much of her life.’

A fight had broken out in the back alley the night before. Shouting – a bottle smashed. Daisy had dreamed of her father back from the grave, sitting in the Railway Arms, soil dropping from his cuffs onto the polished table tops, strewing the shrivelled lily of the valley Queenie had put on his chest as he was laid out on the kitchen table.

If Daisy had slept better, she may not have said, ‘She’s such a sweet thing, Violet. Fat as a butcher’s cat. You shouldn’t say such cruel things about a little baby.’

Queenie’s tea cup had rattled in its saucer. There’d been a moment when Daisy had thought her mother hadn’t heard. Then Queenie spoke.

‘Some say daughters are the best children for a mother. That they share the chores and save your hands from wearing down to nubs. They’ll tell you they’re boon and comfort, bringing you a bowl of hot puddin’ when the frost’s at your window, save you from being carted off to the workhouse to die with the other widows. I tell you that’s so much cod.

‘A stupid boy is more useful than a quick-witted girl. He works harder and brings more money in the house. Do you see a girl driving a train or running a station? And why do you think that is? They’re idiots, that’s why. Girls are only useful at getting themselves into trouble.

‘I tell you this, since I was a little girl I’ve seen men make iron and dig out coal and build bridges, while I scrubbed the front step and cleaned filthy arses. I’d rather have been a man for a day than a woman all my life.

‘And you flapping your mouth when you should know to shut up only proves what I say. Make me a fresh cup of tea. This is cold.’

***

From that day on Daisy thought often about being the only Critchlow girl among so many boys. It hadn’t always been that way. Queenie had survived eleven pregnancies and five of them had been girls, with Daisy being the eldest.

She remembered all of her sisters – at least she had memories that belonged to more than one tiny corpse. Sometimes they would pop into her mind unexpectedly, bobbing to the surface as she peeled carrots or tipped the damp tea leaves onto the ashes, as if dead babies were corks set to float on a pond. One of her sisters – she couldn’t remember the name and knew better than to ask Queenie – was still born, small enough to have a boot for a coffin. Another would’ve filled her sewing box if she emptied the tray of pins and needles.

The only sister Daisy properly remembered was the last, Constance. She’d lived for five months and had a smile like a wedge of red apple. The little fists had grabbed at Daisy’s fingers as she counted piggies, and Constance watched and giggled, and tried to suck the ones that got away. But then the baby didn’t notice when Daisy counted piggies, turned her eyes to the wall as if seeing something no one else could. And on the morning Queenie found her grey in her cot, Constance was bundled in sacking and left on the kitchen table like so much dirty laundry until the man in the smart black suit and tall hat came to take her away.

When Barty arrived two years later, Daisy was terrified. Queenie would beat her for hiding him in the coal hole in an apple crate, for laying him on a shawl under her bed. But as far as Daisy could see Critchlow babies were born to die and it was down to her to hide the little thing from whatever it was that took them away. It didn’t occur to her that she and her five older brothers had all been Critchlow babies once. Day after day she’d held the plump fist and waited. But instead of dying, Barty grew round and pink and blew shining bubbles of spit that made him blink when they exploded across his cheeks.

Barty always stayed close. He’d sit on the floor and play with bobbins, gnawing apples as she scrubbed the kitchen table, her hands pink from the lye. At other times she would sit him on the doormat and he would try to stack pebbles and catch unwary ladybirds as she washed the front windows. As he grew, it was Daisy he ran to when he cut his knee or took a black eye from the neighbours’ boy.

And it was windows Daisy was cleaning on the day Florence first walked down Rotten Row.

***

Here are Parts One and Two.

The Queen of Rotten Row: Part Two

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On Daisy’s thirteenth birthday, Queenie made an announcement.

‘You’re too big to share a bed with me anymore. Besides I can’t be doing with the rubbish you bring in. Cluttering my dressing table with feathers and snail shells and a quarry’s worth of stones.’

Under Queenie’s direction, Daisy’s brothers built two extra rooms on the back of number five Railway Cottages with soot-stained bricks they’d taken from the line after a signal box had been demolished by a runaway coal truck, and old sleepers instead of proper rafters. It meant Daisy’s new bedroom smelled of oil and smoke even before she’d lit her first fire. She’d expected her mother to be the one to move, but Queenie declared the room too close to the kitchen. She didn’t want her new chenille throw – the colour of port wine – to smell of liver and onions. Daisy didn’t mind the smell, or that the walls leaned outwards or that a dropped bobbin would roll to the same corner each time. At least she didn’t get into trouble for collecting pine cones anymore.

At that time, her little brother Barty and all five older brothers, Sidney, Albert, Cedric and the twins, George and William still slept head to toe in two beds in the middle bedroom. It seemed an alien space to Daisy, stuffed with shirt collars and long johns and a peculiar, earthy smell that made her hold her nose as she passed the door. Sometimes she wondered if the stench of men would drift along the landing and choke her as she slept. From her older brothers she learned words that Queenie didn’t think a woman should use. Every evening as she undressed for bed, Daisy would practice the words, savouring how they distorted her mouth into unfamiliar shapes.

One of Daisy’s jobs was to dust the photograph of her father that hung above the sideboard in the parlour. He’d been station manager at Barnard’s Junction for thirty years, had won commendations for his diligence and conduct and he had a grey handlebar moustache and a beard that cut a neat ‘V’ shape over his uniform. She’d learned all of this from the photograph and a clipping from the local newspaper trapped along with it under the glass – Britain’s finest railwayman dies at his post.

‘That’s all you need to know,’ Queenie always said.

Daisy only remembered his absence – if he wasn’t working he was in the Public Bar at the Railways Arms. He resembled the sailors who gathered by the dockside to smoke and pass around bottles that smelled of Christmas pudding. In her dreams he walked unsteadily, as if on board a storm-tossed ship – in the morning, Daisy always woke feeling sea-sick.

Queenie was the hub of Rotten Row. If a wife received a beating for singeing the gravy or a husband lost his wages on a nag that fell at the third, then it was Queenie who spread the news faster than a man could shout it. When Mrs Cooper put a dent in the kitchen wall with a fire iron because Mr Cooper moved quicker than he had for the previous twenty years, it was Queenie who turned up on their doorstep, telling Mrs Cooper to either get used her husband seeing the barmaid from the Bull’s Head, or get a better aim.

Every day Queenie would stand by the front door, arms crossed and if Daisy was scrubbing the hall floor or sweeping the stair carpet, she would be close enough to Queenie’s look-out post for snatches of conversation to float over the clouds of carbolic and dust.

‘Morning, Mrs Critchlow.’

‘Morning, Sarah. How’s your mother keeping?’ After a pause and the sound of retreating footsteps Queenie would call behind her ‘Says her mother’s doing well, but I saw her yesterday when the fish man came round. Yellow as a buttercup, she was. I give her a week.’

Soon another neighbour would walk by.

‘Morning Ida, you’re looking bonny, love.’

‘Ooh, thank you, Mrs Critchlow.’

Daisy listened for the click of retreating heels then,

‘Should’ve seen her, Daisy. Got another new hat, big as a chamber pot. And the stuff on it! She’s got more fruit on her than Bury market. You watch, she’ll be fat as a sow and waddling down the aisle before she’s come of age.’

***

Find Part One here

 

 

The Queen of Rotten Row

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Not a soul who lived on Rotten Row knew what happened to Daisy Critchlow. The mystery of her disappearance was the topic of conversation over boiling coppers and steaming pots of tea for five days. Then on the Monday after she last stood on her white-faced step, Father Basil ran off to Birmingham with two silver candlesticks and one of the girls from the match factory. And Daisy’s fate was pushed behind wash days and work days, High Days and holidays.

Later, when the neighbours thought of Daisy at all, they’d eye the peeling paintwork and stained windows of number five and creep upstairs to check their children as they slept.

It was a comfort to them that Daisy’s mother, Queenie, had already lost so much. What difference would losing a daughter make?

***

When Daisy was five, she asked Queenie why the chipped enamel sign on Mrs Mulligan’s end terrace house said Railway Cottages when everyone called their street Rotten Row. The question was asked just as Queenie – pinny wrapped tight over a bust heavy as a sack of sand – was showing her how to black the range. The leading brush left a bump the size of a cobble on Daisy’s head that took over a week to go down.

‘Have you nothing but soot in that head?’ said Queenie. ‘Look out the window and you’ll see why.’

Afterwards,  skirt pulled up over her waistband to keep the hem clean, Daisy paused while sweeping the yard to stare up at the railway viaduct. Though she’d lived underneath it since the day she’d arrived (‘A mite too early and darn site too female’ according to Queenie), Daisy never really saw it until that day. It was like the pavement or the road or a mess of horse dung – part of life, but nothing to waste time watching.

But that day she saw how the grey stone arches made a second sky over the clusters of railway and factory terraces. How they funnelled and dripped sooty rain on the windows, as if they hid clouds jostling with chimneys.

Their house never truly saw the sun. Only a brief smile fell through the front parlour net curtains in late afternoon and then only in mid summer. And as each train passed – great lungs huffing and wheezing – the glasses on the sideboard tinkled like icicles falling on frozen ground.

Like living in a dragon’s cave, she thought. Though surely there would be more maidens and fewer stray cats with patchy fur and skin the colour of a healing scald.

From that day on Daisy was sure to check if Queenie was holding anything heavy before she asked a question.