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Old Loula eases her feet onto an upturned pail and tells the stranger the story of eight year-old Hester. Three lives interweave Hester's; long-legged midwife Sissie Jane, just made for running to cabins in the dead of night to snatch back lives; bunioned Libby and her red shoes; and Old Loula herself with her chipped enamel bucket. But the stranger has come looking for a different story, a mystery life in the Essex grey marshes.