One of Esther’s friends lived in a neat, semi-detached house facing the busy A6 and that, in fact, gave her a glimpse of normality. Often her friend’s father was away being employed as he was by BOAC as an airline steward, which meant the family had subsidized tickets to travel the world, or to visit both sets of grandparents who lived in Switzerland. Joan’s mum worked part-time for the Tower Boot and Shoe Company on Wharton Road, and was employed in the clicking department. Esther watched as this lovely lady with a wide, warm smile laid out one of her checked tablecloths on the Formica table in her kitchen, which faced onto a large garden-field where hard-working men escaped the confines of high factory walls. With only a sky-light letting in natural light, electric lights on and the constant thud and whiz and clonk of shoe machinery, and the weighted wheels of trolleys with white shoe boxes stacked high for the world – at least for those who could afford the prices they charged.
That glimpse, and those visits to Joan’s house, instilled in Esther the need for normality and a puzzling longing to find her dad’s family, who might be able to help. She couldn’t understand why her Nan had never responded to any of her letters that she had given to her mum to be posted. Of course she loved her mum totally, yet hated her for bringing the destruction that was Joe into their home. Always thinking back to the solid love of her dad, who would be turning in his grave if he could see what was going on with his once-happy family, now living a vastly different life in Finedon.
Instead of endless, hot, lazy summers of skipping, scooters, marbles, dressing-up, secret hideaways or dashing through muddy streams, Esther’s memories were very different. It was perhaps a sight no child should see, of Joe’s face contorted with rage as he took hold of their mum’s throat as she cowered at the top of the stairs. Whatever their mum did, it was wrong. It might be that there was not enough best ham in his sandwiches, or she was starving him to death with not enough food to feed a sparrow.
Cycling as usual in the wind and the rain on the cycle path from school, pencil-thin legs like fierce pistons fighting the hills, she would always wonder what mood Joe might be in. First though, she would go to the newsagents on the A6 and fasten her cycle to the railings and, stooping low, pick up her newspapers stacked high against the shop counter. Why did she do that when she always gave the money to him on a rather long-term, non-return basis, she always wondered? Maybe it had something to do with getting him out of the house, but sadly, the consequences of her actions only became clearer much later when she had time to think.
First paper to the big house down Rose Hill, opposite Banks Park where, in warmer weather, tiny legs and arms and flaying locks and ribbons and plastered knees sliced the air as willing work-horses pushed their charges higher whilst the roundabout spun and rumpled socks released the tensions of the day. Why, she wondered angrily, couldn’t their own daddy be there instead of in an old frightening city of graves miles away?
Having dropped her ‘get well’ card to her relative still in the asylum into the red letterbox in the stone wall outside the house of ‘Lord and Lady Bountiful’ (who wouldn’t give them a second glance until they passed by, at least), she moved quickly on, dropping the papers that tore and crumpled as she pushed them onto muddy mats. Her relative was a simple lady, ruled with a rod of iron by her husband every day of her life. It was of little surprise how she would spend weeks at a time in the asylum. All thoughts returning to the big cut-glass bowl on her dresser, with a large fluffy powder-puff resting on scented powder, a jewel case on her bedroom dresser and a little sad photo of the baby she had lost at only months old (including a lock of hair from this little boy), and her needlework basket with buttons and needles laying on the floor beside her bed – from where she had been dragged away crying to the nearby asylum, saying that no-one ever understood her. Somehow, it had become imprinted on Esther’s mind that to get through, she would need to be either extra nice or extra bad.
“What’s going on at your place?” asked Ernie, as he took his empty paper bag back up Rose Hill.
“Sorry, I don’t know what you are talking about!” Perhaps Joe was dead at last. “I’ve not been home since school…I thought you knew that!”
Seeing the cameras, lights and reporters and flashing blue lights outside her home, she cycled for all she was worth down the needle-straight street.
It had been two boys from a nearby home who had gone missing and the eyes of the nation were there, right outside Esther’s house, and it was said how the boys had run away after trouble at home. They were fortunately found safe and well two days later, hiding beneath some rags in the next-door neighbours’ shed.
Such news they had heard whilst playing in sweet-smelling grass outside the old blacksmith’s house, as they waited for the Morris Dancers from the next town. The dancers wore breeches and white shirts crossed with ribbons, and they carried handkerchiefs instead of staves, and danced to the music of concertinas. So there was happiness and music as well as fun in their little town.