Monday, 18 April 2016
Secret Things, Sweet Things
She awoke, as she did every morning to the sound of the muffled, shouting voice and the door being unlocked before repeatedly kicked. Slivers of sunlight were all that her young eyes could understand until she reached for the old spectacles that were her only possession.
She was in the garden shed as this was where she lived.
There was another kick, usually when her father had just finished his roll-up cigarette.
She reached up to remove the old stinking blanket that covered the window. The morning light did what it usually did - the shock of it always burned her eyes at first. Sometimes the blanket was just her window curtain, but on frosty, snowy night it was a life saver. It just meant that she would awaken with her father’s face looking through the window – her privacy gone.
In the kitchen, her father and grandmother danced around each other; the dance of the bully and the gentle old lady. When the old woman’s daughter had disappeared, she had decided to wait on her return. As the months became years, she still had hope burning in her heart. The bully knew better, he didn’t expect his wife to come back.
The grandmother was limited in what she could do to keep her granddaughter safe and leaving was not an option. They had tried that and he had tracked both of them down, and both had been badly beaten.
He took them to the hospital afterwards and told the doctor that they had been attacked by a burglar. The doctor knew from the bully’s eyes what the truth was.
If it was a particularly cold night, the grandmother would take the young girl into her room for a few warm hours. By the morning, she had to be returned to the shed; the young girl’s sin was reminding the bully of her mother.
Each morning the little lost girl in her dishevelled clothes would leave her shed and look through the kitchen window. When her father was reading the newspaper, her grandmother would signal that she could enter and come to the table.
The young girl would sit very still with her arms by her side and wait to be told when to move. Her grandmother would place toast beside the girl and then ruffle her hair. The little lost girl would eat the dry toast washed down with a glass of milk, but on this morning as the little girl reached for the milk, she knocked it over.
The quiet old lady and the little lost girl watched as the milk ran towards, then under, her father’s newspaper. The bully jumped, screwed up the wet newspaper, threw it at the little girl, knocking her off her stool. Before she left for school, her grandmother stuck a plaster on the cut on her forehead. The bully was long gone and so she kissed her granddaughter and ruffled her hair then gave her a few coins to spend.
On the bus she sat alone drawing pictures in the window condensation.
As three older girls passed her, they laughed, held their noses and then spat on the little girl. A kindly woman took out a paper handkerchief and handed it to the little lost one. The little girl wiped the spit away, then put the paper hanky in her pocket. In the class, she sat as she did at the breakfast table with her arms by her side. She sat alone.
The teacher handed out exam results to each pupil and behind the little girl, a classmate held her nose letting everyone know of the smell. The class laughed until the teacher told them to be quiet.
The teacher placed the young girl’s result on her desk: 10 out of 10 – ‘excellent’. The girl behind her stole the paper and threw it around the class. One boy ripped the paper into pieces. When the class emptied, the little girl put the pieces of her exam result in her pocket.
At lunchtime, the young girl walked to the cafe and bought chips with the money her grandmother had given her. The woman in the cafe smiled as the little girl smiled back.
Hungrily the girl walked and ate her chips before bumping into someone. It was one of the older girls who stole the little girl’s food and threw it to her friends. One tipped the chips on to the street then they all walked away laughing. The little girl picked up her chip paper and put it in her pocket.
Later that day, the little girl sat in the kitchen at the table with her grandmother. She drew a beautiful picture with her crayons. Then a door slammed and the grandmother motioned her granddaughter to go out the kitchen door – quickly.
In the shed the young girl hung the blanket over her window once more, just as her father put a lock on the shed door. He made sure it was locked solid. Under her bedding was a torch which the young girl switched on. She then took out the all the papers and hankies from her pocket and the plaster from her forehead. With a little pot of glue, all these things were stuck to a larger object.
The object was made up of bits of this and that. The little lost girl had built something out of all the badness that had come her way. As she shone the torch up towards the object, she smiled at what she has made.
She had built an angel which reached to the roof and watched over her.
She eventually found her mother.
Perhaps it was more correct to say that her mother had found her, having traced her daughter through a friend. The mother had been in contact just before the girl’s 21st birthday.
It had been a dark time when the girl had returned for her grandmother’s funeral. Her father had spoken to her that day, perhaps for the first time in years. He had screamed at her from time to time but on this sad day, as her grandmother’s coffin was placed in the ground, he whispered “She’s joined your mother”. She was seventeen by then and she didn't want to believe him. She didn't believe him.
Her father had shrunk since last she’d seen him and the drinking had taken its toll; he was barely forty and comfortably wore the body of an older man.
It had only been three years since the girl had gone to school and simply never returned home. She had taken the first bus that was leaving town and had paid for it with her grandmother’s lunch money. She’d been skipping meals to save up - what was the point anyway? There was always going to be someone to take the food away from her. Only when the bus was on the road and the town was just a distant church spire - did she begin to relax. She dumped her school clothes in a bin at the first comfort stop then dressed into a sweater and jeans.
Her grandmother had given her an address in the city, “just in case” she said. “In case I go, sooner rather than later.” The address was meant for an emergency and this is exactly what this was. She felt sorry that she had abandoned her grandmother to that madman but she could take it no longer.
She had given them all a thousand chances: the school, the teachers, her classmates, even her grandmother, to change things and no one had.
Then one morning when she awoke in the shed for the hundredth time, the angel gave her a look as if to say, ‘it’s up to you, no one else is coming to help’.
The address had taken her to a Mrs Beverly Smith of Harrow, London - a kindly woman who had once been a beauty and had once been her grandmother’s bridesmaid.
“Just call me Bev, love, everyone does.”
She lived on her own with a cat called Lennon. Her husband, Stanley, had ‘been taken’ five years before.
“I’ve got me son, ‘Arry, he’s a doctor in Aberdeen. Works for one of them oil companies. I’ve got two grandchildren, Sarah and Stanley. That’s enough for me, thank you for asking.”
Bev let the girl stay in Harry’s room, “Don’t suppose he’ll be wanting it anytime soon.”
Bev knew a woman who knew the manager of the local supermarket and got the girl a job on a Saturday. She proved such a dependable hard worker that after a month, she was taken on full-time.
“If you don't mind me saying. I’ve seen them drawings you do, love. You’re too good just to doodle. I reckon you could be an artist.” Bev also knew a woman who knew a man that ran an art course at the local college in the evenings. Bev managed to get the girl on a course that ran over the winter.
By December, the girl’s art teacher was recommending that the girl go to Art School – “You are that good.” At weekends when she wasn’t working at the store, she was working on her portfolio. She painted Lennon as a thank you for Bev and it hung on the wall next to a photo of Stanley, her husband.
The following September, the girl was accepted into Central Saint Martin’s College of Arts and Design. This wasn’t just any art school, this was the best. When the girl had worked in the supermarket she had kept her own company, always expecting someone to take everything away from her.
At college she was spotted by a young girl called Leonetta, who befriended her.
“Just call me Leon.”
Leon was studying fashion and was in her second year. Her boyfriend was a footballer and insisted that Leon watch him every Saturday – so she took the girl along as company. One Saturday evening after football, Leon and her boyfriend came to Bev’s for something to eat. The girl had never had friends home before for something as glamorous as a meal.
The girl met a boy at one of the football matches. Eddie was his name, he was an electrician.
“You hold on to that one” said Bev, “Electricians are never out of work.”
And she did hold on to that one. She didn’t tell him of her past life, something like that would keep for another day. But one day when they were walking along the High Street, she laughed out loud and then she realised that she was laughing for the very first time in her short life.
Eddy made her eyes smile.In her final year at art school, Eddie asked her to marry him and she accepted.
A week before the art show, she went back to Bev’s for a change of clothes as all the students had been working day and night and basically sleeping at the college. When she walked into the front room, Bev was sitting with a woman.
“She’s your Mum.”
Bev left the two of them to talk.
“I was younger than you when I left. I couldn’t cope. He wasn’t a bad man, not at first. He just used to come home drunk and lock me in the shed out back. You know the one?”
The girl nodded that she did.
There were several roads that the girl could have taken that day but the one she
took was to place her arms around her mother and they both wept. She invited her Mum, along with Leon and her boyfriend, Eddie to the graduation show but pride of place was kept for Bev, her other mum.
Along with the girl’s drawings of Bev, Lennon and Bev’s family was a statue she had made from glued paper.
It was a tall smiling angel and underneath it were the words:
“Everything is going to be alright.”
bobby stevenson 2016