I can still see the shock on my mother’s face. Her screams of defiance still sound in my ears. My father just backhanded her and led Louis through to the living room. When my mother followed and tried to pull Louis away my father really whacked into her and terrified I ran to my bedroom and hid under the bedclothes. I was shaking with fright and thought I would be next as he usually found something to whack me for after a row with my mother.
The next thing I heard was my bedroom door opening. I started crying as I was sure this was my turn but my mother was saying “Get your clothes and coat on” and standing with blood running from nose and mouth and one eye closed she proceeded to stuff my clothes into a suitcase already nearly full with her own. Taking my hand and with a finger to her lips for silence we crept out of the house.
Her friend lived down the street and there we knocked on her door. On seeing the state we were both in she hurried us inside and called her husband. They talked and talked until Minnie, the friend, made a bed for me on a settee and gave me a cup of cocoa. She assured me I was safe and patted my hand. I fell asleep trying not to cry anymore because big girls don’t cry.
Next morning I awoke to my mother saying “Come on and get dressed. We have a lot to do”, and rushing me over breakfast without even a wash. That was unheard of so something must be wrong. Please no more fighting. My head was still ringing from the evening before.
Minnie did spare a kiss for me and I was so surprised I kissed her back. I think she was nearly crying herself which confused me. What was going to happen now?
We caught a bus and almost running we entered a big red brick building. Going through different doors we finally stopped before a man sitting behind a large desk. He looked very grim and feeling almost numb by now I waited to hear our fate.
He and my mother talked and talked and finally he said that my mother should see a doctor right away and turning to me said “You must go back and see your father today. Then he can’t complain that you have been kidnapped”.
This made me start to cry. Mainly from a desperate need to tell how frightened I was and what would happen to me. However I was hurried out to board a bus back home. At the end of the road my mother said I should go and knock on the door and be nice to my father. She was going to wait at her friends.
Down the road I walked, screwed up with fear, and reaching the house I knocked on the door. It flew open to show a face like thunder. Grabbing my dress front he slammed me against the hall wall demanding “Where is your sister? I don’t want you. I want your sister.”
I didn’t even see it coming it was so quick. His fist slammed into my face, splitting my lip and causing my nose to pour with blood. “That’s what I think of you” he bellowed. With a strength coming from fear I twisted out of his grasp and was away down the road.
My mother met me as she was still on her way to her friend and mopping me up we boarded the bus and landed back before the man behind the desk. He was quite kind and had a lady get me a drink and told me I would never have to see that awful man again.
After some questions we left and my mother informed me that she had arranged for me to stay with a mother of a girl attending my school. She said that she knew her very well.
I was so numb I didn’t really care. I didn’t know Mrs. Miller but all I wanted was some peace. How wrong I was.
As soon as my mother had left Mrs. Miller proceeded to tell me the rules. Wash and dress, then a broom to sweep the front path to the gate and then a bucket and mop to clean the front doorstep and hearthstone to whiten the edge. Then I could have breakfast. Sandwiches would be ready for school lunch and then I would return from school. She walked upstairs to show me my room. It was called a box room, being so small. I had a bed, a chest of drawers and a chair. My coat hung behind the door on a hook but at least it was quiet. I was left to put away the clothes that my mother had given me and sat on the bed tired, lonely and hurt.
I suddenly thought about my sister. Not one word had been said about her. She was not with my father as I had supposed. She faded from my mind and from the years of silent distance between us I wasn’t bothered about her.
Mrs. Miller called me to a meal explaining I would eat in the kitchen not in the dining room with them. Her remark of sinners not mixing with her daughter meant nothing to me and I didn’t even connect it with myself until many years later.
So began a time of work and school. I grew to hate that front step, particularly when the weather was freezing cold. My hands would be blue and hurt as the blood flowed back. I ate in the kitchen on my own but that gave me time to think and try to understand why my mother had not been to see me. I think she trusted Mrs. Miller to care for me not knowing her thoughts of sin and guilt.
By now I was cleaning her daughter Gladys’s shoes every night ready for school the next day as well as my own. At last I spoke up and called Gladys lazy. Her howl brought Mrs. Miller and I was told sinners didn’t have privileges and could wash the dinner pots in future. I was nearly eleven years old but because of my lack of mixing with people could not understand what my sin was but I supposed she was right. I was so ignorant.
At least my chores kept me too busy to worry about the future. I had even forgotten about the scholarship I had sat for. Then after about six months there came a knock on the front door. I expected my mother but it was my Aunt Bea. Mrs. Miller asked her in and told her I was upstairs. Calling me she ushered me into Gladys’s room to meet her. We talked school and a lot of other things but not one word of my mother. Then she handed me a one pound note saying “This is for you. Spend it as you like and don’t give it to anyone else”. With a quick kiss and a wave goodbye she was gone.
Mrs. Miller came hurrying back from seeing her out and holding out her hand demanded the pound note. I put it in my pocket and said “No it’s mine”.
That wasn’t as she wanted it and declaring it was too much money for a child she grabbed my arm and twisted it until I gave her the note. I was used to being punished so only felt bereft and alone. Wishing there was someone on my side it left me feeling I had to fight for my life on my own. Right I could hate her and maybe she would be punished instead of me.
A knocking at the front door sent Mrs. Miller down to open it. I heard Aunt Bea’s voice saying “So sorry. I forgot to tell her something” and as I stood at the head of the stairs she pushed past Mrs. Miller and quickly mounting the stairs grabbed my arm and pushed me into Gladys’s bedroom.
“Where is the pound note I gave you?” she demanded. I told her what had happened and that my bedroom was next door. The little one without even a rug for comfort. Just plain cold linoleum.
Aunt Bea’s next words utterly confused me. “Get your case and collect your belongings. You are coming with me.”
And marching into that little room she soon had everything packed while Mrs. Miller protested and wailed.
Carrying the case and holding my hand Aunt Bea walked me out of that house of misery and although I didn’t know it, towards the happiest time of my young life.