“Back in a minute, mum”

“Come indoors, Claire!”

“Just a minute . . . “

No I won’t go indoors, not while Betty is being bothered. That greasy fat man has come in his shiny black car and he’s brought two police cars with him. She said this would happen and I was not to worry and she wasn’t going to let them in.  She said her boys would come to rescue her.  She said Josh has a Harley and lots of friends on bikes and the others would come in their cars and they would all come and rescue her. Where are they? There’s no sign of them.

I don’t think she’s thinking straight, not since her George died. She changed a bit then.

I do love Betty and her ways. I remember when I first went across the road and down the side alley and looked through the fence. There was this woman crying out back. I was five and I had never seen a grown up cry  . . . I have now though . . . lots of times. The gate was unlocked and I went in. She didn’t see me until I stood next to her. “Don’t cry.” I said. And she looked at me so sad. I didn’t know what to say, so I picked a flower and gave it to her. She took it and tried to smile a bit. Her hands were wet with the tears. One day last year, when I was having tea with her and Mr Pauley, she showed me that flower. She had pressed it in a book all that time ago. I was so surprised.

That first day I had gone home and told Mum about it – this was before all the trouble started, and she said that the lady was Mrs Pauley and her youngest son had just left home and now she only had Mr Pauley left and that was what made her sad. Mum made a funny movement with her eyes when she said Mr Pauley’s name. I didn’t know what that meant, but I decided that I would try and make Mrs Pauley happy and I would go there again. And I did. One day she said, “Don’t keep calling me Mrs Pauley, dear, you can call me Betty.” I had never called a grown up by their first name. It felt strange at first, then I got to like it. She always called Mr Pauley “George” but I could never do that. He was nice but a bit fierce. And now he’s dead and Betty is on her own and I don’t care if they are policemen, those men are bothering her

The year before last, when my mother and father started fighting, I went over there more often. Betty seemed to know why I was there but she never spoke of it. She could see I was upset. She would sit me down and make me a cup of her fresh orange juice and a piece of cake and we would look at old photographs of her “boys” as she called them. And she would tell me stories of when she and Mr Pauley were first married and didn’t have any money and the places they lived and how they kept moving on. But the stories I liked most were the ones when she was girl the same age as me and lived in the country and had adventures. She told me about the farm and about the horse her dad got for her, and how she rode all by herself for miles and miles. And she told me about the animals and how she looked after them and what happened when they were ill. When she told me these stories she looked so young and happy, and I forgot just a little about what was happening back home across the road.

At some point, we would hear a door slam and my dad would come out of the house looking horrid and get in our rusty old car and drive off very fast. And Betty would say “You’d better go back now, dear” and she would give me a long hug and I would go back across the road and mum would be crying and I would give her a hug too and say “It’s ok mum. I’m here.” And she would say “I’m so so sorry, Claire.” And cry even more.

And now dad’s been gone for a year. It’s more peaceful but we don’t know where he is. Mum is working in the shop down the road “to pay for food and find the rent,” she said, but I think she likes to be out doing and meeting other people.

And now Betty’s being bothered by those men and her boys haven’t come to rescue her so I must go and help her because no one else will.

“Back in a minute, mum.”

 

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