"Viola, where's Mummy?" asked Ophelia, pinning back one of her blonde curls with the gold and opal butterfly pin her father had bought her for her twenty-first birthday last March.
"In the summerhouse with Daddy...you're not going to bang on about that 'Nurse' malarkey again, are you?" replied her sister.
"But it would be so exciting to become a nurse...I simply loathe being here and doing nothing. It would be so exciting, don't you think? Living in the city...meeting all those soldiers..." she beamed, slumping onto an armchair and bouncing up and down with her enthusiasm. "Soldiers like nurses..."
"Is that all you think about?" Viola scolded her.
"It wouldn't do you any harm to think about it, Viola...at your age, you should start thinking about gaining a husband. I dare say if you prettied yourself every now and then you might well succeed..."
"Don't be so vulgar," scowled Viola venomously.
Ophelia laughed and tapped her sister's knee. "You know I'm only teasing, you silly goose."
She arose and skipped to the French doors of the drawing room, looking out onto the vast green lawn that stretched from the back of Penwig Court to a thick array of tall trees in the distance. "Nothing ever happens here. Such a dull, colourless, lifeless place..."
"We live in the countryside, Ophelia..."
"Yes, and I'm saying I do not care for it. I have always thought I was suited to the city rather than the country. I have too restless a spirit. I need excitement...some adventure."
"You're so naive, Ophelia. Life isn't like one of your story books...where adventure and romance dominate life and..."
"If I should want adventure and romance, then who are you to say that I cannot have it?"
"If daddy were to allow you to become a nurse, how will you pay to get to Cardiff? And what about rent? Food?"
"Well the rent is not necessary...nurses live together in hospital accommodation...and I thought I would get Daddy to pay for everything else..."
Viola sighed and shook her head, and Ophelia feigned a smug grin to aggravate her, before opening the French doors and stepping out into the garden.
"Remind them about the blackout, Ophelia, it's getting dark," called Viola, as she turned the page of her book. "And don't mention the 'nurse' business...you know what their reply will be!"
There was not much to trouble Ophelia Edwards, not much to vex her. She and her family; her mother, father and two sisters, Viola and Lavinia, lived at Penwig Court; a grand, historical residence in Glamorgan, which was owned by French nobles until the late 19th century, when Ophelia's grandfather had acquired it during a rather intense play of poker in Bath. Ophelia and her sisters had been named after Shakespeare women; given that their mother had a particular penchant for Hamlet and Macbeth. All three had learned ballet; all three had learned how to play the piano with glorious technique and no emotive expression; and all three spoke all the popular modern languages with fluency and accuracy. But all three had been coddled in a thick wrap of wool since their earliest days and kept under their parents' watchful eye. Unusually for modern children of the 1940s; the Edwards daughters had been educated at home, for their mother and father could not bear to send them away to any school.
Viola was four years' Ophelia's senior; and Lavinia four years Ophelia's junior. Ophelia often felt sandwiched within the family; the Edwards girl that was always forgotten, overlooked, neglected. The reality, though, was rather different; although Ophelia's air of superiority and self-obsession prevented her from realising the fact.
There was nothing particularly unlikeable about Ophelia; but up until that sultry June day in 1944, she lived the life of a blinkered cart-horse; denied the opportunity to turn her head to view the world in a different manner. Even with the war having raged around them for five years, it had not touched Ophelia. She did not attend school, so knew no soldiers who had been lost. Until that day she rarely ventured into the village of Llanblethyn, so she knew barely anyone beyond the closed circles of the wealthy Glamorgan set.
Indeed, until that day, there was nothing to trouble or vex Ophelia Edwards.
She meandered merrily along the lawn, around the Laburnum trees that lined the borders, and toward the summerhouse which sat nestled in pine trees at the far end of the lawn. A clean, white, pillared building, away from the main house and adorned with sound oak doors; the summerhouse had long been the only source of retreat Mr Edwards had from the constant reverberation of female clucking that surrounded him daily. He would often be found reading by candlelight into the evenings.
That evening, to Mrs Edwards' misfortune, she had decided to join her husband.
The door was heavy, and Ophelia always found it a hard task to push it open, given her slight frame.
"Good evening!" she chirruped as she entered.
Her father looked up over the frames of his reading spectacles, and her mother placed the scarf she was knitting on the table beside her chair.
"Ophelia, darling! Is dinner ready?"
"No, Mrs Higgins says it will be half an hour yet. The kitchen boy was late bringing the vegetables again. He's such a reprobate of a boy..."
"Now, now, Ophelia," warned her father.
"Well he is, Daddy...the least he could do is get it on time...that is what he's paid to do after all."
"Yes, Dear, but there is a war on...things are harder to come by."
Ophelia rolled her eyes. "That's all anyone ever says anymore...ooh, there's a war on, there's a war on," she sang in a mocking voice. "Why must people be so pessimistic?"
She picked up a bishop and moved it forward on a game of chess left unfinished on the windowsill.
"Are you coming back to the house?" she asked. "It's dark outside."
"In a few minutes, darling," her mother answered.
"Suit yourselves," Ophelia said, pulling the door open. "Oh!" she said, turning to her parents. "Viola said to remind you about blackout. Shall I shut the shutters?"
"No, we'll be out in a moment anyhow," her father muttered, his brow furrowed as he sat engrossed in his book.
Ophelia smiled softly at the image of her parents. She watched them sitting side by side, their laps covered by woollen blankets on a warm summer's eve, and she wondered when they had grown so old.
She sang to herself as she walked through the lawn on the way back to the house. She stopped momentarily upon reaching the patio to adjust her hair pin once more. It was a beautiful accessory to look at, but it dug into her scalp like the blazes.
But a sudden sound made Ophelia pause; the piercing sound of a siren rising and falling repeatedly in pitch. It took Ophelia some seconds to absorb the sound, for it was not a sound she had heard at the house before. It occurred to her that it must be the air-raid siren from Llanblethyn.
Ophelia found herself looking up at the dark skies. She thought to herself that it must be a false-alarm. She had never known any enemy planes to fly over Llanblethyn. It was the countryside after all; and why would any German want to bomb the countryside? Surely they would spare the expense of warfare for London or Cardiff.
A dull hum began to shake the grass blades beneath her bare feet, and increased slowly until her whole body quivered with the low rumble that approached. A plane grew nearer and nearer. Ophelia's hands dropped to her sides and her hair pin fell to the ground as she trained her eyes upon the light that shone from the windows of the summerhouse at the other end of the lawn.
She ran. Ophelia ran towards the summerhouse, screaming for her parents as the aeroplane engine-noise grew louder and louder; more and more deafening. Then a new sound shot through her legs and arms like a paralysing jolt of electricity. Something was falling, falling very quickly; slicing through the air at unnerving speed. For a split second, something caught her eye in the darkness above the summerhouse. She screamed just as a decimating explosion of flame and light erupted from the summerhouse; lighting the sky above Penwig Court as though it was daytime. A fierce wave of heat blasted her from her feet and lifted her into the air. The force was so strong, that she felt as though she had run into a stone wall. Her limp body slammed into the floor as pieces of charred debris fell about her.
She heard a ringing in her ears; an incessant ringing that deafened her. As she lay on the ground, dazed and beaten, with a sombre veil of black dust falling upon her; she was aware of one sensation alone; the sensation of blood trickling from her temple, through her eyelashes, onto the bridge of her nose, before disappearing into the grass.