Later, deep in the night, the children long asleep, she feels him wakeful, turns to him, sees him lying on his back staring at the ceiling…..reaches out, touches his face, “tell me about her, what was she like?” and he rolls onto his side, facing her, slowly bringing himself back from the dark, torturous images fixed in his mind.

“She was the most creative child I ever knew”, he said. “Exotic, so intelligent…..she spoke with her hands like a Balinese dancer… eloquent I would forget to listen, as I watched her hands lift and weave and swoop through the air, graceful as birds. Vivid, so full of life. Always making things…..little woven creations, paintings, wreaths for her thick blonde hair.” She stirs, fits herself into his shape, “tell me more” she encourages him.

“She made me a leather bracelet once,  plaited, and woven with tiny coloured glass beads, small brilliant feathers knotted into the ties; I wore it for years until it slipped off my arm when I was swimming, sank down…..I looked for it, diving to the bottom of the lake, but it was hidden in the mud…..the lake had claimed it!  She loved walking….she would match my stride, but if she couldn’t, she would skip and run, always ahead, beside, but never behind…..and all the while, making up stories. The most artistic,  enchanting child. It was pure joy to spend time with her.”  “When did you lose touch with them ?”, I ask him softly. He sighs, stretches, reaches for me, groans, holds me tight to him, a protective shield against the painful memories .  “When they moved so far away, when her loser husband took up residence in the bottle. I couldn’t bear it, the way he was with them, always on the edge of violence.

I talked to my sister, but it made no difference….for some reason, she wouldn’t, or couldn’t leave him. After that, I really wasn’t welcome. We drifted away from each other and Sophie was growing up. Everything changed, came apart.”

She turns his face towards her, smooths her hand over his hair, “It wasn’t your fault “, then with unexpected ferocity, he says, “It was ALL our faults, every one who knew and loved her….why did we not see, see how she was sinking ?”

There is no answer, I don’t even try, just take him in my arms, feel his tears wet against my cheek, hold him, speak soft words of comfort, smoothing his hair, rocking him like a small child, feeling his body slowly give , sink into the blessing of sleep.

And still I hold him, comfort and shelter against the dark dreams that hover in the corners of the room. And very soon it will be morning, she feels herself relaxing, match his breathing, and her last thoughts as sleep takes her, “dear God I love him, and how will these wounded children ever heal?”