Memeories are made of this
Why was life so cruel?
One of the saddest days was the day Esther was forced to have her beloved cat put to sleep.
“Its f… going,” slurred her stepfather through his loose false teeth and his rapid inebriation. Esther had stood there, close to the black grated range, slowly losing its heat, having been shut down for economy about an hour previously. She had clung to her pet with hidden tears, wanting to do anything to please him whilst all the time hating him for his dispassion and iron determination.
“Please, please let me keep Timmy…. I will make sure he keeps away from your new guide dog….do anything…..keep him in my bedroom but please don’t have him put to sleep….he’s not poorly….he won’t do it again!”
“Can’t risk it…The animals going, and that’s that. I’m the boss now, and you’ll all do as I say.” Bernadine, his new, beaten guide dog, lay silent and wedged between his chair, beer bottles(and often whisky) lying like fallen skittles. His pint mug (like the chair he sat on) was from his last home in Sunderland…where his last wife had escaped to her grave. It was tilting increasingly as the long night wore on. Eventually, there was nothing more Esther could do, her stepfather being way past reasoning, so she had gone into the passage and up the steep stairs and into the tiny bedroom at the back of the terraced house with the growing stench of alcohol.
She had watched, with a tight stomach and a sore throat, as a small white van appeared outside their house. The door was opened…seconds later shut again, and a man wearing brown overalls and a flat cap was carrying Timmy in a wire cage…the back van door was opened and her pet, gotten when her dad was alive from a pet shop in Romford, was pushed in. Esther then sobbed, wondering if her Timmy would be put to sleep in the back of the van or would it be later. She had continued crying in the dark throughout that day and for some time later as she thought how meaningless the world seemed, but that she could do nothing about. No way was she ever going to call her stepfather daddy…he would be Uncle Joe and through him she learnt to hate…determined never to love anyone or anything ever again. If you didn’t feel, then you couldn’t be hurt, yet however hard Esther tried, she did hurt. How sad it was that judgments and acceptance, or for that matter rejections, could be made and blame apportioned when one evil person, in Esther’s case her stepfather, were tainted at worse or felt sorry for at best.
Maybe the social worker might spot things were not as they should be. A trainee in her early twenties, who had once worked in Force’s bakery in Wellingborough visited intermittently, sharing views on the news and talking rapidly about when she used to be a basket maker in the North of England.
Small hands, nicotine fingers grasping the mug Joe would declare. “Kids now don’t know they are born, have it too easy…that’s what the matter is. Esther’s fine, aren’t you Esther? You tell Judith, the nice Social Worker, how your Uncle Joe always brings you a Chocolate biscuit when he comes back from the club. Don’t get me wrong though, am not out every night…couldn’t afford it for one thing.”
Judith had looked at Esther, perhaps waiting for her to say something that she could act on….but how could she? She couldn’t say how she hated him bringing her Chocolate biscuit as she lay in her bed and his hands rested on the covers, or how she pretended to be asleep when he came into her room, then felt guilty for being deceitful.
If Judith had called the night before at about ten thirty she might have seen Esther stealthily creeping, bending down and picking up his whisky bottle, tipping over half of it away and replacing it with water and he had been so drunk that he hadn’t even noticed. She would perhaps have heard him screaming.
“Your f…..ing stupid the lot of you, without a teaspoon of brains between you…thick the lot of you.” Then how he wanted them dead and to rip their eye’s out. Perhaps a social worker had called because a neighbor had heard him slamming doors, with plaster constantly falling from above the doorways, or seen the pint mug go flying through the front room window...one of her brothers ducking and managing to get out of his way. Yet the young social worker had not stopped to ask why one of the windows was boarded with thin plywood and the winter winds had roared in.
Judith would then talk about how “In two weeks time I will be Mrs. Stratford, and when we get back from our honeymoon in Blackpool we will be moving to Nottingham.” She had shaken Esther’s stepfather’s hand as he sat on his chair, almost treading on Bernadine’s paws that were as trapped as her, but beside his chair…never able to move freely around their house but just stuck there. At best he would hit her smartly across her pointed nose and her ears would hang then as she looked up at his glazed angry eyes. Again his beaten but unwavering loyal gentle companion would look across at Esther as if to say, “What have I done to deserve this?” Surely, someone, sometime, somewhere would do something. It was quite easy to ask, why didn’t they go anywhere where Joe might never find them and get help so they need never go back?
How also might anyone ever imagine just what it was like waking each day wondering when Joe would “raise from his bed” and then drag his guide dog down the stairs, out into the back yard on the cinder path for her daily beating with no sign of remorse as his poor dog lay very still. How Esther hated this man who shared their home. It wouldn’t take much of a bash or a crash on his head and in so doing getting rid of all of their pain, but how might a child without a brain do anything as evil as that? One day she was sure that there would be something she could, do she was certain of that. How many other women and kids were still out there, being terrorized behind the security of their own front doors in streets, avenues and drives up and down the land?
It wasn’t as if you could pick out your abuser in the street. They might be young or old, educated or unskilled, and the violence physical or psychological and they in their own secure home in their own sad street knew all about that. Domestic violence, more so with a disabled man like Joe, was very hard to put across to outsiders. How also might society ever understand the pain and power which, although so damaging and also insulting, they would pretend wasn’t happening at all…with flowers and love and peace in the swinging sixties, which was the other world they didn’t really ever get the chance to know. If only there was somewhere for their mum and them all to go to a shelter and respite from the storm, yet there was nothing but the streets it seemed.
Couples, unless they were rich, didn’t divorce, but like them, rode the foulest of storms. There family doctor had once been approached to help in some way, but despite listening, said there was little anybody could do and he would have to ask for help before anyone could do anymore to assist them. They just went to school to learn with their peers as children, straddling adulthood, seeking boundaries but having weak ones as well as needing to know how to cope in their hard judgmental world, where you were judged by what you had rather than what you did. How might they feel good about themselves and how might they help their poor mum feel safe and secure and self esteem be replaced in the ashes without them talking and sharing somewhere? School didn’t seem the place then though, so they all remained quiet and got on with it the best they could.