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‘Beth sy’n digwydd gyda fy nofel i?‘ what’s happening with your novel?

‘Wel, diolch am ofyn’ – well, thanks for asking.

Beth? Wnaethoch chi ddim gofyn – what? You didn’t ask?

O, bechod achos dw i’n mynd i ddweud wrthot ti – oh, shame, because I’m going to tell you.

1) yn gyntaf, dw i’n dal ysgrifennu – firstly, I am still writing
2) yn ail, dw i’n mynd i enill gwobr am y ysgrifennwr arafa yn y byd – secondly, I am going to win a prize for the slowest writer in the world
3) vi’n rhoi llawer o olygfeydd yn y bin sbwriel – third, I am putting lots of scenes in the rubbish bin.

Dyma golygfa arall – here is another scene:

Lucy Locket had a pocket and so did Lucy Griggs, except she wore it outside of her clothing. It was an old one of her mother’s, Annie judged by its appearance, quite adequate for a small girl’s treasures, but not up to the hoarding of precious pennies. Within were the jewels of childhood: a smooth pebble, a peg doll, a chipped button, the handle of an old teacup and a host of other sundry items.

Lucy and Tom played a game with the pocket, a simple hide-and-seek game that seemed rather risky to Annie, considering the confines of their accommodation. But, Pam wasn’t worried. She simply pushed the dirty dinner dishes to the middle of the table, and sent Bridie to fetch water for the tea.

Annie peered along the deck, letting the stream of after dinner conversation flow around her. She saw Grace standing amid a group of single girls. An empty kettle swung from her hand. She was on her way to the galley but had, no doubt become caught up in a deliberation over which young man was the handsomest or most athletic. Who had the kindest eyes or the drollest face? It was all the girls talked about. Their affections swirled like a weather-vane. Annie enjoyed their gossip. She had even made her own silent assessment of their subjects. Though she was too shy to venture a comment, fearing the girls would only pity her later in the privacy of their bunks.

Conditions were choppy this afternoon. Plates shifted with the roll of the ship. Cutlery clattered noisily. Every now and then, a large wave sent Annie sprawling from her seat. She couldn’t help feeling a twinge of unease, as Tom’s nursery rhyme phrasing signalled the beginning of the next round.

‘What’s in the pocket, Lucy Locket?’

Lucy shut her eyes, giggling and squirming, as Tom reached into the pocket, removed an item and tucked it behind his collar.

Eyes closed, Lucy felt inside the pocket. ‘Is it the Pebble?’

‘Not the pebble,’ Billy, sitting alongside, piped in like a song.

Lucy’s eyelids fluttered as her fingers groped about the pocket, the temptation to peek almost getting the better of her. But Billy, the self-appointed referee, took his role very seriously.

‘She’s peeping!’

‘Am not!’ Lucy’s eyes flew open.

‘Never mind, Billy,’ their father grinned. ‘What’s missing?’

‘Green felt?’

‘Not the green felt.’

‘The doll?’

Billy squirmed, his booted feet swinging wildly. Eyes darting from Lucy’s face, to Tom’s collar, and back again. He didn’t join in the guessing part of the game. The few familiar items were of no challenge to him. But he enjoyed being the referee and, once Lucy had identified the missing item, he launched wholeheartedly into the tussle for its possession.

Annie had grown fond of Billy. He was faster than a whippet and unpredictable as an India-rubber ball. But she derived a great deal of satisfaction from learning to anticipate his tricks. She laughed now, to see his intent hazel eyes alert to any sign of Lucy cheating. As if he had never broken the rules!

Annie smiled at Lucy’s tightly scrunched eyes, her fingers fumbling around in the pocket, as she lisped through its contents. From her sudden smile, Annie knew the exact moment she guessed the missing item.

‘It’s the cup handle!’ Lucy cried, and opened her eyes.

‘Where’s the handle?’ Tom chuckled as children began to search him all over.

At this point, Pam, who had witnessed the game on many occasions, began to clear the table.

‘Careful,’ she warned. ‘It’s dangerous playing games on board ship.’

Annie rose to help stack the plates. The salt beef had been gristly today but, apart from that, there were very few scraps. She kept an eye on Lucy, as she scraped congealed gravy into the bin.

The game proved rather boisterous as Tom moved the handle, up and down a number of times, and the children clambered over him in a melee of warm hands, soft gasps and sweaty faces. It was all so close and comfortable, so achingly familiar. Annie felt a bud of contentment swell inside her. She loved these children, as if they were her own, and she was happy.

‘Try his boot, Lu!’ Billy jumped up and down on the bench.

Lucy dived down, but Tom was too quick. He moved the handle under his armpit. Up and over him, Lucy climbed in a frenzy of excitement, the unpredictable sway of the vessel adding to the confusion of the game.

‘Hold tight,’ Tom reminded Lucy, as the ship lurched and shuddered. ‘Daddy can’t always catch you.’

‘You’re getting hot,’ Billy called, his young voice shrill. ‘Here, watch this I’ll tickle him.’
Lucy squealed, Billy tickled and Tom roared, as the children, red faced and exuberant, burrowed under his arm.

The handle was found.

Tom hung the handle on his ear, balanced a spoon behind the other ear and placed a fork on top of his head. Beside him, Lucy, all rosy cheeks and little white teeth, laughed aloud.
Annie found herself arrested by the brightness of their tableau.

She had set out to make a life for herself on board ship, and succeeded. But now, as she watched this simple game of hide-and-seek, she knew it wasn’t enough. She wanted her own daughter to laugh and play games with, her own freckle-faced boy to scold and chase and, above all, she wanted a husband to lie with at night.

Desire made a tight whorl in her abdomen.

Annie’s daydream almost broke down at the sight of Tom. He looked like a scarecrow, with his clothing tousled and his buttons popping, his coarse tufted hair standing on end. But he was a good man and a good father. If only she could find someone poor and homely, who would overlook her scarring?

Annie was so caught up in her reverie. She didn’t notice Grace coming alongside.

‘Watching your babies again, Annie?’

Annie turned, smiling. ‘Yes, I like children.’

‘You’ll be keen to have your own?’

Annie’s smile faded. It was one thing to dream of having a family. Quite another to have people guess her longing. ‘Oh, I’m in no hurry.’

‘You’re so good with them.’

‘Thanks, I want to work as a nursemaid.’

‘Grace nodded. ‘That’s what I said. But you’re that mad for babies, the other girls said you’d be right desperate to marry.’

Desperate — Annie sat down with a bump, the ugly word thrumming in her ears.

She knew the girls talked. Their days were long and boring. Gossip filled the hours. But … desperate … mad for babies! She was no madder than the other girls. They talked of nothing but marriage. Annie had always been so careful, kept all thoughts to herself. She had never mentioned her aunt, or elaborated on her reasons for emigrating. She hadn’t breathed a word of her hopes or fears.

She closed her eyes, overwhelmed by the unfairness of the situation. If she hadn’t been scarred, no one would have noticed. She would have been able to play with the children, talk freely about her prospects, without fearing comment.

As Grace continued along the deck, another unpleasant thought struck Annie. Perhaps they all thought her desperate — the single girls, the young men, even the families? The Griggs’ probably discussed it in her absence. Mary indulged her attempts at cookery and sewing, all the while thinking: poor desperate Annie.

Her cheeks burned. She should have realized.

‘Tea time,’ Bridie’s cheery voice interrupted her thoughts. ‘Here, Annie, hold the pot for me.’
Annie smiled weakly as Bridie held up a steaming kettle. Boiling water was a hazard, especially with a game going on in the background. A number of people had already been scalded since they left port.

She reached out to steady the teapot as Bridie balanced the kettle and poured. Once the pot was filled, she glanced from Tom, red-faced and sweating, to Lucy, jiggling and jumping, and pushed the teapot to the far side of the table.

‘Careful, Tom! There’s hot tea,’ Pam reached out to catch the steaming pot as it began to slide.

Next out of the bag was a pebble. There were so many places to hide a smooth, white pebble. This one sat neatly in Tom’s ear. Billy’s eyes bulged at Lucy’s chubby-handed attempts to locate it. Tom moved the pebble from his ear to his stocking. Lucy’s eye caught the movement. She slithered down but wasn’t quick enough, her father moved the pebble from stocking to cap. Lucy scrambled onto the bench and jumped, snatching at the cap, squealing with pleasure.

Pam issued another warning. ‘Enough’s, enough, Tom, there’s tea!’

The ship lunged as a gust of wind snatched at the sails and seamen went thundering along the deck.

Annie jumped up. There would be an accident. Could no one see it? Pam was Lucy’s mother. She should stop the game. Tom was an adult. Why didn’t he respond?

She gripped the table edge, her eyes fixed on the teapot.

Standing high on her father’s lap, Lucy seemed to move slowly, like a toy winding down. Billy clutched one of Tom’s hands. Tom guffawed, his free hand tickling and poking, fending him off. Head bare, kerchief undone, the last of his buttons long-since rolled along the deck. Like a great human jelly, he wobbled and wheezed as tears coursed his work-roughened cheeks.

‘The pot,’ Annie cried out. ‘Grab the pot!’

They couldn’t possibly hear.

The wind whistled high in the rigging as lashed timbers braced themselves grinding and creaking overhead. Somewhere a chain clanked and a seabird’s muted cries joined the squeals of laughter between decks. Lucy jumped, grabbed and toppled sideways. Annie lunged for the pot. But wasn’t quick enough. It spun across the table, catching on the raised edge, and turned, spilling its scalding infusion onto Lucy’s hand.

Pam shrieked. Lucy wailed. Billy drummed his feet on the deck as Tom bellowed, to no one in particular, that it was game over for the day.

Stooping to pick up the empty pot, Annie cradled it in her hands. Was this desperation, she wondered. To watch and wait, hoping to keep Lucy safe? Or did it make her a suitable employee? Was it madness to find satisfaction in other people’s children, knowing she’d grow to love them, as her own, though they never would be? Maybe it was? But Annie didn’t see any alternative. She stood watching the welt on Lucy’s hand grow livid, and prayed it wouldn’t cause scarring.

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