As Mary stepped into the river, she prayed it would be over soon.
Unlike her five siblings she had always shied from the water here. She’d never learned to swim.
She would rather sit on the bank and read a book, or watch as her sisters did slow crawls in their swimming costumes, and her brothers jumped off the trees into the water.
Today, Mary had loaded large rocks into her thigh level dress pockets. She felt the water lapping over them now as her feet felt their way over the murky riverbed, into the deep.
It was just three hours since her gossip neighbour, Myrtle Fyfe, had come to her house, without her usual smirk, and without her vicious group of friends.
“I’ve seen your Barry,” she said in her thick Scottish accent. “Half an hour ago, going in to a picture at the Thornbury Theatre. He was with ….with her. I thought you should know.”
Message conveyed, Mrs Fyfe donned a fake expression of concern; her eyebrows furrowed like a cartoon character’s. But she said nothing else.
Didn’t offer a hand. She turned and left. No doubt to let everyone in the neighbourhood know about poor Mary Jeffery and her faithless husband.
Mary didn’t waste time. She went into the house and roused her three boys, all aged under four. She dressed them and brought them into her parents’ house at the end of the street.
The house was unusually empty, but she could hear a party in the yard of the neighbours. She rushed into the house, gave the older boys a sleeping draught and laid them on a bed in the sleepout at the rear. She shushed the baby and rocked him till he closed his eyes, and she put him down in a drawer.
She kissed all the boys, and wept.
She closed the door to the house softly, and walked down the road to the train station. She got off three stations down, at Westgarth, then caught a tram up High Street to Thornbury Theatre.
She ordered a spider and sat in the cinema café, with a good view to the exiting moviegoers.
After half an hour, the patrons from A Star is Born came out. It was the hit movie of 1937.
And there he was – her husband, Barry, on the arm of a woman who must be Ivy Marshall.
Ivy’s hair was peroxide blonde and she wore too much makeup. She wore a sheer, knee-length navy blue dress that plunged at the bust.
Barry, in a suit and hat, was laughing at a joke she made. He glanced over. And saw Mary. He stared for a few beats, then made out that he had not seen her.
They exited the theatre and walked up the street. So she – the mother of his children – wasn’t even worth his time. Worth a ‘’sorry’’. She didn’t exist, in his mind.
Mary did not bother to chase after them, make a scene. Many times, at home, she’d accused Barry of seeing someone, but he’d always violently denied it.
Now here was proof. Mary was finished with fighting. Ivy could have him.
She left her hat, bag and coat on the café chair. She caught a train to Victoria Park.
It was starting to rain and the wind whipped her hair as it unravelled out of its bun. She started to run, down to the river. She couldn’t swim. It was the easiest way. She was crying. She shed her shoes as she ran through the streets, like a mad woman. She felt mad.
The swimming spot on the river was deserted when she arrived, and no wonder, the weather was terrible.
The sorrow lay on Mary’s shoulders like a heavy blanket. No one in her family had ever divorced – it was a shame she couldn’t bear.
She had asked her mother, Jinny, what to do. Jinny had counselled Mary to stick by Barry. She was a wife, now, and her duty was to Barry and their little boys. Life as a single mother didn’t bear thinking about.
Mary knew her parents would take good care of the boys, as would her two older sisters. Rose was married with two children and Nell was also married and childless, but a doting auntie.
The boys were in safe hands, and were young enough not to remember Mary.
As the cold water came up to her shoulders, Mary felt a stab of shame at committing the sin of suicide.
Her father Sam, a preacher, would be mortified. Would he give her a Christian funeral?
But she had already let him down, let them all down, by somehow sending her husband into another woman’s arms.
She couldn’t deny the pleasure she felt, on some level, at hurting Barry, for all he’d done to her.
Luring her with promises of eternal love. Showing her glimpses of a happy family. Then slapping her in the face by flaunting his mistress in public, where friends and family would all know how little he valued her.
Seeking solace, Mary thought back to when she was 10 years old, lined up in the pew at church, and the hymns of hundreds of Sunday services came back and rushed into her ears. She started to sing, before she stepped into the final deep, the water moving much faster now.
She said the Lord’s Prayer, prayed to God that He would take her swiftly. And her high voice wavered as she sang her favourite hymn, Amazing Grace. No one watched as her head went under the water. And there Mary Jeffery drowned, one cold, windy April day.