Nora’s Chance

 

She was returned to turmoil.
Eleanor, known as Nora, once found rescue from herself and misery after becoming absorbed into the Evangelical church her new friend, Hester, had been in 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 also became a nurse’s aide with ambition to train – but would have to start with the basics, having left school without adequate requirements. And she would have to overcome conviction of her own stupidity, compared with her three capable, successful siblings.
They were clever, she was the failure and, although they were also Christian, their God had been unnerving.
Nora was born from sin and adopted and her surly moods were probably proof that sinning remained in the blood.
The new brethren drew Nora into singing, swaying and joining meals.
She, too, could call out to a more accessible and all-forgiving God.
“Who are you, my dear, to judge yourself, to 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 got shut away in a well-sealed compartment through Nora’s 20s.
Her own family could no longer swamp her for almost a decade.
After her mother died abruptly, Nora drifted further 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 brother’s accident on his motorbike.
This was Mark. The 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.

For years God had given her a purpose and kept her busy, so Nora had not bothered with those mortals who only caused upset.
But after Mark needed care, her sealed off, early life, was reopened.
God became absurdly remote once 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 the parents took Nora in, aged ten months, assuming it was for her good, but soon it probably began to seem reckless – as complicated reactions from the other children proved beyond their capacity.
Both the mother and father preferred the straightforward and being able to get on with gardening.
They got 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.
But their idea had been that a girl would make a good balance. Surely Hilary would want a sister, not just brothers.
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 lifelong.
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 wailing with the baby, but he let Nora trail behind him once she could walk.

Before Nora’s arrival the family more or less held together, both adults coping 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.
Though life with them was better than a children’s home, at least in those deprivation was obvious and shared.
Being the only child who didn’t belong was masked once the family gave her their surname and a new Christian name when she was baptised aged one.
The father’s recently dead mother having been another Eleanor.

It had been a relief to escape inarticulate squirming as, one by one, each sibling did well at university, while she dropped out of school to become a cleaner, certain she was the family “hopeless case”.
After her adoptive mother died the father became more irascible and a recluse and apparently had little interest in Nora.

By the time of his accident, 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?
No one else in the family was capable of looking 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. It wasn’t sure then whether Mark would survive but 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.
Regular physio was provided and, at first, a home nurse called to check on dressings but soon that was all left to Nora.
She was surprisingly gentle and for a couple of months Mark surrendered to her care.

After she had used up her holiday time, Nora took unpaid leave.
Having lived on canteen food and with no kitchen, she panicked over meals for Mark whom she had to feed.
Yet with kindly advice from Mark’s neighbour, Nora began enjoying cooking meals for herself and Mark to share.
He noticed.
Once he could feed himself and they ate together Nora felt claimed.
She began to pray night and morning that he would want her to stay.
She had not 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 – for Mark to say “you are my sister, stay and please be part of my life.”
Neither mentioned that they had barely seen each other since their mother’s funeral though they lived quite close.

Hilary, who’d moved 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, and didn’t know he was now vegetarian.
Nora didn’t say aloud her pleasure that she knew 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 and certain that she could never again shrink the impact of growing up in that family.
Fermenting in her gut was failure to live up to their standard and conviction of being not entirely an interloper, since she had been taken in, yet not entitled to full membership – her place would be forever precarious.

But 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 sometimes they had done 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, except for giving any attention to his neglectedplants.
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 had pulled something up. She was seven and supposed to be helping. They all had tasks in the large garden.
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 and a failure.
Her one chance to become respected by the family seemed to be over.

***