The Paper Bracelet by Rachael English
English | 2020| Historical Fiction| ePUB | 3.1 MB
Every paper bracelet held a mother’s heartbreaking secret…
For almost fifty years, Katie Carroll has kept a box tucked away inside her wardrobe. It dates from her time working as a nurse in a west of Ireland home for unwed mothers in the 1970s. The box contains a notebook holding the details of the babies and young women she met there. It also holds many of the babies’ identity bracelets.
Following the death of her husband, Katie makes a decision. The information she possesses could help reunite adopted people with their birth mothers, and she decides to post a message on an internet forum. Soon the replies are rolling in, and Katie finds herself returning many of the bracelets to their original owners. She encounters success and failure, heartbreak and joy. But is she prepared for old secrets to be uncovered in her own life?
They skulked in the dark like animals, the only illumination coming from the fanlight over the front door. It was safer that way, her father said. You’d never know who might be rambling about. He eased open the door and peered left and right. Stars were splashed across the sky, and a swing-boat moon hung over the street. It was cold for April.
‘I hope there hasn’t been an accident,’ he said.
‘He’ll be here soon,’ replied her mother. ‘Ten o’clock was the time he gave us. It’s only five past.’ She twisted around, her long face creased with irritation. ‘Stand back, Patricia. You don’t want anyone catching sight of you.’
Already they were using her new name, the name she would be known by in Carrigbrack. It was for her own good, they insisted. She’d have more privacy that way. And privacy was vital. One stray word, and a young woman’s life could be damaged beyond repair. She might never find a respectable husband or enjoy a proper family life. Judgement would follow her, and no good man would want to be tarnished by association.
She suspected that using a different name made the situation a little easier for them. It wasn’t their daughter who’d disgraced herself, it was Patricia. Their daughter was dutiful. She sang in the choir and passed every exam. She obeyed the rules. Patricia was a messy imposter.
The secrecy didn’t end there. They’d found a wig and instructed her to wear it. The hair was long and black and smelled of plastic and cigarette smoke.
‘It’s for fear anyone sees you in the car with Father Cusack,’ her mother had explained. ‘We don’t want people asking questions.’
‘Sooner or later someone will enquire after me. What then?’
‘They’ll be told you’re in England.’
‘What about work?’
‘We’ll tell them the same.’
For a time, she had denied the truth. She hadn’t said anything because she hadn’t been able to admit it to herself. Then she’d bargained with God or the universe or whatever was out there. Make it go away, and I’ll change. I promise. When, finally, she’d confessed, time had speeded up. The questions, the looks zipping between her parents, her mother’s weeping, her father’s controlled fury; they’d all blurred together. She regretted not running away. She’d considered getting the bus and boat to London, but she knew no one there, and the few pounds she’d saved wouldn’t have lasted long
‘Where did we go wrong?’ her mother kept asking.
‘We didn’t,’ her father said. ‘Some girls are raised to be no better than tramps, but that was never the case in this house. Her failings are her own.’
Although neither parent was given to displays of affection, Patricia had always assumed they loved her. Their love had shown itself in polished shoes and a new school coat, dinners on the table and drives to the sea. Compared to many parents, their use of the wooden spoon had been sparing. Sometimes they spoke about the sacrifices they’d made. Other girls were forced to leave school at fifteen and earn their keep. She’d been allowed to complete the Leaving Cert. They spoke too about how girls were a constant worry. She remembered fragments of conversation; her mother saying to a neighbour, ‘You’re always nervous with girls. You’re better off with boys. Boys are straightforward.’