I was watching Mummy prepare to go to her Ladies Club dinner in her dressing room. She hummed to the sound of dance music drifting up from the gramophone player downstairs. Her face in the mirror was like a bigger version of mine but with edges instead of circular.
She fixed her hair and I mimicked her, using my fingers spread out like the teeth of her comb, but my fingers got caught in my tangles and when she caught my eye in the mirror, she grinned at me and passed me her tortoiseshell comb with the silver casing.
She was wearing the most beautiful dress. It was like one that ladies in films wear, cinched in at the waist and higher at the knee than usual. The neckline dropped to a v just above her slip, and I could not wait until I could wear one like that, but I looked down at my flat chest and knew that I would have a long wait. Daddy didn’t let her wear this dress to a party the previous week. He said it was indecent and shouted at her that she would make a laughing stock of him. I was afraid that he was going to come home now and catch her wearing it, because she told him she would return it to the store. Mummy didn’t always tell the truth. Neither did I.
She applied a slick of the reddest lipstick I have ever seen, and her lips were shining and glossy. She rubbed them together and blew a kiss at herself in the mirror and winked. I wanted her to blow a kiss at me, but she didn’t.
‘Be good for Daddy and, after supper, say your prayers and wash your face and neck before bed, all right, Lydia?’
My sister, Diana, had crept into the room unnoticed by either of us. Now she revealed her presence.
‘Daddy’s going to go crazy if he sees you in that dress. Where are you going?’ she said.
Mummy sighed. ‘Daddy won’t know unless you tell him, Diana. I’m going to the Ladies Club dinner, I told you that at lunchtime.’
‘You’re wearing that to the Ladies Club dinner?’ Mummy blushed slightly, but ignored the question.
‘Run along now, girls and do your homework before Daddy gets home. Hannah will have supper ready for you at seven.’
I went to kiss Mummy goodbye but she turned her face away so as not to ruin her make-up. She squeezed me instead, but it wasn’t good enough. I watched from the top of the bannisters as she flew down the stairs in a flurry of excitement.
Diana and I woke up that night, twins in our twin beds, to the sound of Daddy shouting, Mummy crying and furniture flying. We scrambled over to the door and pressed our ears to it. Scared, Diana whispered ‘what’s going on?’
‘I don’t know. Is it because of the dress?’
‘He never waits up for her. How would he know she was wearing it?’ Mummy always changed in her dressing room before bed.
The next day, Mummy was gone. A lady came and collected suitcases for her. In the corner of a drawer in her dressing table, I found the crimson lipstick and hid it in the hole in the wall under the windowsill in our bedroom, but the dress was shredded on the floor of her wardrobe. Daddy said that Mummy was not coming back, and that we would get used to it. I should not have told him about the dress, but she should have blown me a kiss in the mirror. She should have kissed me goodnight.