From The Same Cloth

A short story by Chris Fairthorne

It would be fair to say, that for Mary-Louise Bowdon, childhood was both comfortable and happy. Her parents were in their thirties when Mary had been born, her mother Joyce had two miscarriages before Mary came along and had started to give up hope of ever having a child.  Her father, Charles Bowden, was the local bank manager and a respected member of the community and that was important to him. He had served on the parish council for many years and was chair of governors at the local girls’ grammar school. Her mother also had a very promising career as a schoolteacher, she had risen to deputy head before giving up her job to look after her baby.  Mary favoured her mother for looks; she had the same auburn hair, brown eyes and high cheekbones. She was tall for her age, but then again both her mother and father were tall. She had however inherited her father’s competitiveness and strong will. She hated to fail and would stand her ground if she thought she was right.


She was particularly close to her father, especially as a young child. He had taught her to ride her first bike, would take her swimming every Saturday morning, and most Thursday afternoons he would drive her to Mrs Johnson’s house for her piano lessons. They would have the odd clash when Mary hit her teenage years and mother would have to step in to keep the peace.


Mary had been born into a middle-class family. They owned their own semi-detached house and had their roots very much embedded in their Christian faith, the Church and tradition. Every Sunday morning would find them at the 10am church service and Sunday lunch would always be served at 2pm. Traditional yes, but life for Mary was good - it was solid and she felt secure in it.


It was no surprise to anyone that Mary passed her exams and went on to attend the local grammar school, the same one at which her father was the chair of governors. She was good at sport and in her senior years became captain of both the netball and hockey teams and, much to her father’s delight, swam for county in the national qualifiers. University was a forgone conclusion as far as her parents were concerned and at the age of eighteen, she left school with five A-levels - all at A grade, these included English language, maths and German.


Mary had developed a keen interest in the law and, encouraged by her parents, applied to Cambridge University. Much to everyone’s delight, Mary was accepted. It was in the September of 1979 that her parents drove her to the university and helped to move her belongings into one of the halls of residence. It was an exciting and also a frightening time for the young lady that, up to now, (apart from the annual Guides’ camp) had never been away from home. It was a departure from the secure and rather cosseted upbringing she had been used to and she was ill-prepared for it, but Mary’s determination and stubbornness would make her stick to it. She would succeed, and sure enough, as the Michaelmas term progressed, she made new friends, joined the debate team and got involved in the various sporting activities including the swimming club.


It was in early December that she first met Michael Aston. He was a fellow member of the debate team, a keen swimmer and was also studying law. His father was a high court judge and had presided over many high-profile cases. Needless to say, the Aston family were rather wealthy. For Christmas, he presented her with a very nice gold fountain pen engraved with her initials. Both of them returned home for the Christmas break, but on their return to campus, the friendship developed into romance. For Mary it was her first encounter with romance and she fell hopelessly in love.  Her sheltered upbringing had left her ill-prepared for the persuasiveness of a young man, and by the end of the spring they were sleeping together. By the June she was pregnant.


Michael was horrified.

“My God Mary weren’t you taking precautions?  I thought you were on the pill?” He sat down on the bed and buried his head in his hands.


“I was using a diaphragm, Emma told me about them— she uses them and never had a problem.”  Mary replied turning her back on him to look out of the small window of his flat.


“Well pity I wasn’t shagging Emma then, I wouldn’t be in this mess.” He was angry and his voice was raised.


You’re not in any damn mess! I’m the one in a mess.” She too had raised her voice in response.


“You’ll have to get rid of it,” he told her. “This summer, when you go home, you’ll have to have an abortion.”


“Our baby, our baby not ‘It’!”


She could hear the anxiety in his voice, see the panic on his face.

He was quiet for a moment, desperately thinking, trying to find a solution. Then the realisation of what she was expecting became clear to him.


“My God, Mary you don’t expect me to marry you do you, please tell me you’re not thinking that?” 


She turned to look at him, tears now running down her face.

“We love each other, don’t we?  You told me you loved me, said you couldn’t imagine your life without me. That’s what you said…”


She could hear the threatened sob in her own voice as she spoke.


“Mary for Christ’s sake! People say these things and perhaps in time things may work out for us, but more than likely not. It’s a university romance Mary, it happens all the time.”


“Not to me it doesn’t!” she shouted at him, angered now by the flippant way he had dismissed their romance as ‘just another thing that happens at university’.


“Well, if you insist on having it, you’ll have to do it alone, I’m not letting this ruin my career.” He was shaking his head.  “No way!”


“Then I’ll do it alone, I’ll drop out, go home have our baby and care for it and love it, just like I hoped we could have done together. How wrong I was. How bloody wrong!”



When her parents collected her at the end of the term nothing appeared out of place to them. The three chatted happily as they loaded all her belongings into the Volvo estate and set of for home.


They had no idea of the pain and sadness Mary was feeling inside. She knew she was leaving the university life for good; she knew she would never see or hear from Michael again, that hurt more than anything else. She had loved him so much, believed what he had told her. She had been a fool she knew that now, she had wasted the opportunity of Cambridge, thrown away her career. But she knew one thing and that was that she was carrying a new life inside her and she wouldn’t let the child down, not like its father had done. She would fight for her child, love and care for it.


The morning had started with the regular Sunday church outing. To Mary it was more than a coincidence that the vicars sermon had been on the sanctity of life and the family of God and the Church. She was dreading telling her parents but knew that they would support her. They believed in the sanctity of life and did not agree with abortion unless it was on medical grounds, they would be there for her she was sure, they would help her. 


“Mary, you’ve hardly eaten anything dear”, her mother said as she started to clear the plate. “Weren’t you hungry?”


“Sit down Mummy, please, I’ll clear away in a bit. I need to tell you and Daddy something.” 


Her mother looked at her and from Mary’s face could sense something was wrong. She sat back down.


“Well, what is it Mary?” her father asked.


“I’ve been stupid Daddy.”


“I doubt that dear”, he replied.


“I have Daddy, I’ve been a fool. I met a man at uni, I fell in love with him, thought he loved me.” She could feel the tears starting to flow down her cheeks. “He said he loved me Mummy”, she turned to look at her mother who was staring at her wide-eyed mouth open.


“Life is full of men like that dear”, her father told her, “they say things they don’t mean and break girls hearts. You’ve learned a hard lesson Mary, but it’s not the end of the world. When you go back to Cambridge you will probably meet other men, but now you’ll know they’re not to be trusted my love.”


Her mother spoke, her face showing her concern. “Is it over now Mary, is there more to this?”


Mary was now sobbing quietly, she didn’t reply.


“Oh my God Mary, what have you done?”


“She just told you”, her father said.


“Be quiet Charles, there’s more Mary isn’t there? Isn’t there?” It was the first time ever that Mary had heard her mother raise her voice and talk to her father so. Mary nodded.


“God no, how far gone are you?”


“Ten weeks now”, Mary replied.


“You mean you’re pregnant?” The light had now dawned on her father and it was a light that would change everything. It would rob him of his hopes and dream for his daughter and worse it was a light that would take his daughter from him.


“You stupid, stupid girl. Everything you’ve worked for, everything your mother and I have worked for, thrown away in the first year of university because you couldn’t keep your damn knickers on!”

He banged the table with his fist and stood up.

“You’ll have to get rid of it. This can’t ruin your career, your future, our future. Yes, you’ll have to get rid of it, I’ll talk to Dr Canning he’s in my Lodge, he’s discreet, he’ll help, I know he will.”


“I’m not getting rid of my baby” Mary said, standing up to face her father. “I thought you would understand, the sanctity of life, you heard the vicar, you’ve always been against abortion, it’s a sin. I thought you would stand by me. I’m going to fight for my baby, I’m going to have it.” She was no longer crying, from somewhere a new strength had flown into her.


“I am against abortion! Yes I am, but you got yourself into this not me.” His anger was too much for him to contain, he was shouting at her. “I won’t let you destroy your life Mary, I won’t!”


“But you would destroy my baby’s life, your grandchild’s life, well I won’t let you do that. You’re a hypocrite Daddy, you say one thing and would do another.”


“How dare you call me that! How dare you!” His face was purple with rage and again he banged his fist down on the table. “If I am a hypocrite, it’s because you’ve become a tart. I won’t have you living under my roof young lady. You either let me talk to Dr Canning or you’re on your own. I want you out of this house. I’ll not have you in our home bringing up some man’s bastard child for all the world to see, and that’s the end of it.” He turned and left the room slamming the door behind him.


Mary turned to her mother.


“What did you expect Mary? Did you think he would, we would take you in with open arms and watch you throw your life away?”

Her mother’s voice was calm now, but Mary could see the tears in her eyes. “He’s as stubborn as you Mary, you’re cut from the same cloth. He won’t stand by and watch you destroy your life.

If you are still determined to keep the baby, I will talk to Aunty Brenda and see if she will let you move in with her.” 


“I won’t desert my child Mummy; I just won’t kill it.”


“Then I will go and see Aunty Brenda tomorrow. I’m so disappointed in you Mary, but I won’t desert you, I’ll help when I can.”


Within a few short days Mary had been let down by the two men that she loved best in all the world. Whilst it was hard for her to accept that David would not or could not face up to his responsibilities and had chosen to run away from them, the fact that her father, the man that had given her life, the man that she loved and looked up to most in all the world, was now turning his back on her, that was the final and heartbreaking score. She had been sure he would have been there for her, angry yes, disappointed in her yes, but there for her always.


More determined than ever that she would keep her child, Mary had no option other than to move in with her mother’s sister Brenda.   Brenda had been widowed in the winter of 1974 when her husband Bill was shot dead by the IRA while serving in Northern Ireland with the British Army. She had been on her own ever since. Not having children of her own she had always been very fond of Mary and was more than happy to have her live with her.


Charles wasn’t happy about the arrangement.


“Isn’t it bad enough to have your sister living on that council estate, now our unmarried pregnant daughter is living with her, what has it all come to?  My God Joyce, what have we done to deserve this!”


“What else could I do Charles? Let her roam the streets, give birth in a public toilet somewhere. You wouldn’t let her stay here; it was you that said you wouldn’t have some man’s bastard child living in our home!  You turned your back on her and to my dying shame I let you do it. You’ve lost her Charles, well I’m going to hang on to what I have left of her and our grandchild, yes Charles our grandchild!”


On the 18th February 1981, in Hillingdon Maternity Unit, Elizabeth Mary Bowden was born. Both Aunty Brenda and her mother were with her at the birth.


As soon as Mary was able, she applied for and got a job as school secretary in the local comprehensive school.  Aunty Brenda agreed to look after Elizabeth whilst Mary worked. Mary was determined to provide for her daughter. Her mother would visit every week and when Elizabeth was old enough would meet her from school when her daughter was working late. She would also help out with money but she never discussed her visits with Charles. There was no doubt in her mind he knew about them, but he never asked.


Her father made no attempt to contact her, or see Elizabeth, and Mary made no attempt to see him. For Mary her relationship with her father was over. Yes, she had been a fool, but for him to turn his back on her, throw her out of his house, she would never forgive him for that. Elizabeth did ask her once why they never saw grandad. Mary told her that she had an argument with her daddy many years ago and they had fallen out and left it at that. The strange thing was that she never asked about her own father, not once.


 Sadly, Aunty Brenda died from stomach cancer when Elizabeth was six and the council, not wishing to evict a mother and child from the two-bedroom flat that they had lived in for over six years, allowed Mary to take over the tenancy. They were now on their own and money was tighter than ever. She had to pay the full rent and all the bills, and she struggled to get by. Her job was quite well paid but to bring up a child and keep a roof over their heads was hard for a single wage earner.


Mary picked the mail off the mat as usual when she and Elizabeth arrived home that Wednesday evening. Two bills that she put straight on the shelf without opening and then studied the third. It was an expensive envelope and the address was handwritten. Recognising the handwriting she opened the letter and sat down at the kitchen table to read it.


 “My Dear Mary,

I do hope this letter finds you both well.

We need to talk Mary, it’s important. I know you see your mother every week but I must ask you not to mention this letter to her.

The sooner we meet the better, so I am suggesting Saturday in the café at the swimming pool at 11am.

I will be there Mary and I dearly hope you will.



Mary was worried, worried and annoyed. It had been over eight years since they had last seen each other, and now, out of the blue he writes to her. Her first reaction was how bloody dare he write to her now after all this time and say he wants to meet her.

How dare he! Well, she wouldn’t go; she wouldn’t be summoned by him. Mary put the letter into the draw of her bedside table and tried to forget it.


Later that evening, after Lizzy had gone to bed, Mary took a half empty bottle of Riesling from the fridge and poured herself a glass. She retrieved the letter from her room and reread it. But why? She asked herself, why would he write? what was so important?  She poured what wine there was left in the bottle into her glass. There was no option, if she wanted to know there was no option, but she would take Lizzy with her and he would have to meet her!  He would have to look at the life he wanted to end.


On Friday night Mary did not sleep well. It annoyed her to think that she was nervous.  He made her nervous, after all this time he still had influence over her feelings. She didn’t like that. Saturday morning found Mary up early, she woke Lizzy at 8.30am and sitting on her bed told her that today they were going to meet grandad. It was an important meeting she told her daughter and I want you to look very smart and very pretty. They left home just after 10.30am to walk the twenty minutes to the swimming pool. “I’ll tell you what Lizzy, we’ll take your swimming things and you can have a swim while we are there.”


The café at the swimming pool was on the first floor and overlooked the pool; the stairs up to it were just inside the main doors and to the right. At the top of the stairs Mary hesitated, gripping Lizzy’s hand tightly before pushing the double glass doors open. Her mouth was dry. She saw him straight away and he stood up. They made their way around the tables towards him. He was much greyer now and it looked like he had lost weight. He looked all of his sixty-four years and then some. Mary was surprised.


“This is Elizabeth, your granddaughter.”  


She disguised her nervousness and allowed no emotion to flow into her words. 


“I am very pleased to meet you Elizabeth.”


He crouched down to Lizzy’s height. “My goodness you look like your mummy.”


“No hug then Grandad?” Mary sniped.


He did not respond. “We need to talk Mary, as I said it’s important and thank you for meeting me.”


Mary sat at the table. “Ok, let’s talk.”


 Elizabeth still holding her mother’s hand stood next to her and said nothing.


“I can’t Mary, not in front of Elizabeth, not like this. I don’t want her to hear what I have to tell you. Please Mary.”


There was something in the way he had said please, almost a plead.


“I’ll tell you what Lizzy”, Mary said, “why don’t we go down and get you into your swimming gear and then grandad can watch you swim like he used to watch Mummy.”


She turned to her father. “Go and sit in the viewing area and I’ll join you once she is in the pool.”


From the seats two rows back from the pool, the pair of them sat and watched Elizabeth as she effortlessly swam lengths of the pool.


“She swims like you,” her father said turning away from the pool to look at his daughter. 


“What’s all this about Dad?”  Her question was to the point.


He looked sad, troubled.


“I have cancer Mary and I want; I need to put things right.”


His words felt like a blow to her inner self. She still loved him but up till now had managed to enshrine that in some kind of protective bubble. Some kind of shield that kept in the love and the hurt that she felt. But now, at this moment she had to fight hard to keep the bubble intact, to shield her from the hurt.


“What do you mean you have cancer? There must be more to it than that. What kind of cancer? Where is it? How bad is it?”


“I have advanced prostate cancer and I am afraid it has now spread. My time is limited and I need to put things right. To put things right before I tell your mother and before”, he hesitated, “before I die.”


Mary could hear his words, could understand his words but somehow, they seemed to float past her, as if spoken by another person in another time.   She had to force herself back to the here and now.


“You come here today to tell me this?” she said.  “To lay this on my doorstep? What the hell do you expect of me?”


“I expect nothing Mary”, he answered without looking at her, his eyes fixed on his granddaughter as she swam up the pool. “What I am asking is three things. First that you can forgive me for what I did to you, secondly that in the time that I have left to me I can get to know my granddaughter and thirdly that you will be there for mummy.”


He turned to look at her and took her hand. “I’ve made mistakes Mary, I know that. My only excuse, for what it is worth is that I loved you so much, wanted so much for you. I am truly sorry my darling for not being there for you.”


 “I can’t believe this”, she said, pulling her hand away from his, “you disowned me eight years ago, threw me out of your house and now, now you want to hurt me all over again. You want me and my daughter to watch you die. You want her to get to know you just to watch you die. Well, I won’t let you hurt her like you hurt me. She stood up; I won’t let you hurt us both. I still love you Daddy and I’m very sorry, I will always be there for Mummy as she has always there for me. I promise you that, but I can’t forgive you, I just can’t.”



It was only when Charles Bowden was taken into the local hospice that Mary relented and took to visiting him with her mother. Six weeks after being admitted, heavily sedated and very frail, Charles died. Both his wife and his daughter were with him. Mary never did allow her father to meet Lizzy again and she did not attend the funeral. After his death Mary started to regret her action, it became her own personal demon. It was a burden that she had given herself to carry and she knew that she must.


It was on Elizabeth’s eighteenth birthday the Mary gave her daughter an envelope. “What’s this mum?” she asked. They were having a meal at the local pub with Nanny Joyce to celebrate.

“Lizzy, I’ve made some mistakes in my life”, Mary told her daughter, “and I expect you will, but perhaps you might learn from mine. When I was nineteen I went to University.”


“You never told me that!” Lizzy was surprised.


“I studied law.”




“Let me finish please Lizzy. In my first year I met a man, fell in love and got pregnant.”




“Yes of course you. He was a first-year law student as well. I wanted to get married, he didn’t.”


 “Does he know about me?”


“I sent him a photo of you when you were a few days old but have never contacted him since. I have however followed his career, he has gone on to become a judge, he is married and has two children, two boys. In that envelope is his name and the latest address I have for him. I don’t know how he would react if you contacted him, but if you want to it’s up to you now. I lost eight years of time with grandad because we were both stubborn. Maybe, just maybe it might be better for you; don’t take the chance because you are afraid of being hurt.


 Elizabeth looked at the envelope, folded it and put it in her bag.

“If he didn’t want to know me then I don’t want to know him. I’m going to go to the bar and buy us another drink. Just because I can now.” She stood up,

“Same again?”


She made her way to the bar.


Joyce looked at her daughter and sighed, “Cut from the same cloth”, she said, “all three of you, cut from the same cloth!”