She was returned to turmoil.
Eleanor, known as Nora, once found rescue from herself and misery on being absorbed into the Evangelical church. Her new friend, Hester, had been part of it from birth.
Nora was carrying the weight of defeat and comfort-eating when, as a cleaner, she met Hester, a nurse’s aide at the same hospital.
With encouragement from Hester’s family, Nora soon became a nurse’s aide as well. Then came ambition to train – but she had left school without adequate requirements. Also Nora could not overcome conviction of her own stupidity, compared with three capable, successful siblings.
They were clever, she was the failure.
Nora was born from sin, then adopted into a Christian family, where her surly moods were probably seen as proof that sinning remained in the blood.
The new brethren drew Nora into singing, swaying and joining meals.
She, too, called out to a more accessible and all-forgiving God.
“Who are you, my dear, to judge yourself and decide harshly, when you are a miracle of creation?” Hester’s father asked her kindly.
The burden of feeling unlovable, of being a faulty mistake and out of place, gradually seemed shut away.
For almost a decade after her mother died abruptly, the family no longer swamped Nora. She drifted from the rest of them and no longer experienced itchy skin – skin providing insufficient barrier against their presumed misgivings about her.
Christmas and birthdays were spent itch-free with Hester’s family and the church.
This new sense of home unravelled slowly.
Hester married and moved away with her husband and baby. She changed and came back less and less.
Hester’s parents aged and withdrew to their older children, Hester being the youngest by ten years.
The elder siblings were polite but Nora was no longer easily included as family by the time of her own brother’s accident.
This was Mark, one closest in age. The boy, who had shown her small creatures in the pond and helped get her down from a tree after she had followed him up.
After Mark needed care, Nora’s sealed off, early life, drew her back.
Soon Mark was sleeping in the next room, as he’d done while they were young.
There was peace in that but along with it came the other brother and a sister and memories.
Way back Nora was taken in, aged ten months. The parents assumed it was for her good, but soon it probably began to seem a reckless move.
Both the mother and father preferred the straightforward and being able to get on with gardening.
What they got was a clamour for attention instead.
The newcomer cried and cried and the father hated noise unless he was the one shouting.
The crying upset little Mark who took up wailing as well.
The next child up, a girl, Hilary, aged five, became very demanding and irritated her over-extended mother.
Years later, Hilary insisted she was made to feel inadequate that her parents sought another daughter.
Their idea had been that a girl would make a good balance. Surely Hilary would want a sister, not just brothers.
But the two girls never got on.
Hilary, who was expected to be some help, developed eczema and asthma, which meant further demands. The new symptoms became life -long.
Teddy, at eight, closed off and grew increasingly mean to all his siblings, or ignored them as much as possible.
Mark began wetting his bed as well as crying with the baby, though he let Nora trail behind him once she could walk.
Before Nora’s arrival the family more or less held together, both adults coping even if not really enjoying being parents.
The father blamed his wife for adding another she couldn’t manage, but he, as church warden, had also been keen to be charitable and offer a decent home to a reject.
Whether they might take to this child as they had their own was not a question they had asked.
Nora was convinced the parents didn’t succeed in accepting her as they did three birth children, yet she was to be grateful.
Life with them was better than a children’s home, but at least there deprivation was acknowledged and shared.
Being the only child who didn’t belong was masked once the family gave her their surname and a new Christian name at baptism.
The father’s recently dead mother having been another Eleanor.
Each sibling did well at university, while Nora dropped out of school to become a cleaner, certain she was a hopeless case.
After her adoptive mother died, the father became more irascible and a recluse, showing no interest in Nora.
By the time he came off his motorbike, Mark and his girlfriend had just separated, and Nora was a nurse’s aide.
Had Mark asked her or did she offer to manage his care at home once the crisis was over?
Who else in the family could look after him?
There was never any question of Teddy looking after anyone but himself, though in his familiar, condescending tone with Nora, he spoke on the phone as if he was masterminding the whole arrangement.
He hurried down the day of the accident, when it wasn’t sure whether Mark would survive. Then Teddy quickly returned to his well-paid job .
As soon as Mark was able to leave hospital, Nora moved into his spare room for the long recuperation.
At first regular physio was provided and a home nurse called to check on dressings but soon that was all left to Nora.
She was surprisingly gentle and for three months Mark surrendered to her care.
Nora used up her holiday time, then took unpaid leave.
Having lived on hospital canteen food, she panicked over cooking for Mark. But got kindly advice from the neighbour, and began to enjoy preparing meals for herself and Mark to share.
He noticed the improvement and once he could feed himself they ate together. Nora felt claimed and prayed night and morning that Mark would want her to stay.
She had not ever asked God for much, except that he accept her as one of his.
But she no longer wished to belong with everyone, with all creation, she wanted a specific place with Mark, and for him to say “you are my sister, stay here.”
Neither mentioned that they had barely seen each other since their mother’s funeral.
Hilary, who lived an hour’s drive away, called each week and visited twice with her two girls.
She brought a bacon and egg pie, which Mark had liked as a boy, not knowing he was now vegetarian.
Nora didn’t say aloud her pleasure that she knew more about Mark better.
Teddy only rang a few times, with the air that it should be satisfactory for Nora to be useful in the family, which had been good to her, and they would make sure she wasn’t out of pocket.
Hilary would at least say she was grateful, although her regular calls left Nora with a dusting of shame. It was a reminder of growing up in that family, where fermenting in her gut was failure to live up to their standard, along with conviction of not being entitled to full membership – her place would be forever precarious.
Thankfully Hilary and Teddy were away and busy, while her best brother wanted as well as needed her.
Mark made light of his dependence and they laughed as they had done at times as children.
Then came the day he got an erection as she lowered his pyjamas to check on a wound.
After the briefest reaction, Nora tried to carry on but Mark pushed her away.
Nora ached to care for Mark’s damaged body but didn’t for a second consider this sexual.
Next day she was up early as usual to be ready for whatever Mark or the house might require.
Mark was awake and sitting up and, before she could prepare herself, he insisted she must not risk losing her job.
It was time for her to go back.
Was he returning her to no-man’s land?
He had a friend coming to stay, though soon he could cope alone.
Nora turned to the window as if it needed scrutiny.
Mark, facing her back, asked if she had ever tried tracing her birth parents or either set of the early foster parents.
It was possible he was taking an interest but, at that moment, all Nora heard was that she not his full sister.
She had to get outside.
Though aware it badly needed weeding, Nora had not touched his garden.
As she stood in it, she was back in the time she was seven and supposed to be helping. They all had tasks in the large garden.
She must have pulled up the wrong thing.
The father shook and shook her. She became dizzy yet he was still shouting in anger that he might eventually shake a bit of sense into that thick head of hers.
Was she really, truly that stupid?
How could she not know that was a plant?
He left his fury in her body and it was there again, up to full volume as she stood in Mark’s garden.
Mark had sliced off that layer of temporary protection he’d given her – protection from the long familiar certainty of getting things wrong, of being wrong.
Her one chance to be respected by the family seemed to be over.