I wake up. Every morning I just want to cry. I feel my baby, Sammy, close to me. In my head he, the father, is still thumping the wall. We used to calm him down so he didn’t hit us; his haunting figure always there hammering. I see her little bruised head – wounds which will never go away. I loved him. I love her. I don’t love myself enough. If I did, why was I with him? My name’s Eliza. I tell lies – that’s what they told me at school. But that’s a lie.
Sunday we go to Dover – funny place, all white and pure but not pure at all. He’s there ‘in the nick’ for ‘grievous bodily harm’. We’re still his visitors. It’s for her, the baby, that’s why we go. His slobbery, sickly, needy kisses – I don’t want his kisses. I don’t visit because I want to see him. I want her to know she still has a daddy; that he will get better, everyone gets better sometime. It’s a long bus ride from the north.
I feel my fingers clenching up again, tension rising into my arms. Why doesn’t she ever stop moaning? They call it ADHD – hyperactivity, inability to calm down. I wanted her to stop, my baby who I loved so much. I wanted her to stop crying, moaning, crying, pleading, wanting something, always too much. What was there for me? I was in need as well, God how much I would have him back just to feel his arms around me, to have what we used to. No, not really. I don’t want him back. If he lives here I’ll stick a knife in him, I know I will. I can’t control my anger. It’s the curse of being one of us, our family. We don’t hide our anger.
I can hear her now, purring like a cat, starting to wake. I keep her close to me at night, cuddling up to my breast like the baby you used to be, Sammy, but you’re big now, like a grown up. You look after me. I can’t look after myself. Not in this hovel of a place. Look at me! I want you to love me now he’s gone. There’s no-one else. Sometimes I want to smother you with my blanket – make you disappear for all the time and energy you use up. Don’t you know how you make me suffer sometimes? You take all the energy out of me. I have to keep quiet and listen to your constant ranting – things that please you but make me sick. I have to go out now, leave you little one.
Will you be all right on your own? You’re only 5, but you’re half asleep aren’t you? You won’t mind if mummy goes out and gets her hair done for daddy?
I told you men like women to look nice. One day you’ll stop nagging me when I tell you to put your hair up in a pretty pony tail. I don’t like it when you matt it, when you look messy. It shows us up. Makes us look like gyppos. They say you’re beautiful at school. Makes the boys swoon. One day you’ll make love to a boy. Better not too soon cos I don’t want more babies to look after – not after you my cherub. I want peace and quiet. I want to be alone for a while. I don’t get any peace. I don’t like the mess in here. It’s all too much of a mess. I wish I could die sometimes and be with angels. That would be a better life for you. You’d be taken care of by someone nicer than me. Be quiet now baby. Suck your thumb. Mummy’s going off to get her hair done for daddy. You sleep for a while. Mummy will be back soon.
It’s drizzling with rain. I hope the baby’s all right. She will be won’t she? Bin day. There’s a used condom in the middle of the road. I told them upstairs to tie up their bin bag. They think I’m mad. I told the police they were hassling me with their all night parties but they don’t listen. No-one listens. People get on with their own business. They don’t care about anyone else’s.
A tall, anxious looking young woman, Eliza, in fake fur coat and pink bobble hat knocks on her neighbours’ door. It is early Friday morning in a small, run down northern back street. A boy on a tricycle rings his bell and zooms past her making motorbike sounds. She holds the used condom between bright pink nails and pushes a pile of rubbish towards the front door with her foot. A friendly blonde haired young woman answers. ‘Hello’.
‘Is this yours?’ Eliza shakes the condom and points with it at the pile of rubbish, her blue eyes nervously bulging. The woman is shocked then smiles embarrassed. ‘I don’t think so. Shall I get a tissue?’ She returns with a toilet roll and scrunching up a large piece picks up the menacing looking sex protector and places it inside a black bin bag on the street. ‘Goodbye then Eliza, job done.’ She closes the door firmly and Eliza’s head ducks down to the ground, staring at the pile of litter. Clutching onto a pink panther handbag and limping on over high stiletto boots she manoeuvres herself awkwardly through a line of uniform seagull pecked bin bags, where crisp packets, bottles of fizzy drinks, chip packets and sweet wrappers blow and roll across the pavements towards hungry gawping birds.
The neighbour who thinks she’s a prostitute gawps at her through the nets, making notes in his tiny sketchbook. Her baby at home cries. She has just woken up. Slabs of animal carcasses hang outside the butchers, blood oozing onto the pavement. The meat raffle is on tonight at ‘The Kingfishers Arms’. She checks her figure in the Tandoori window – not bad for her 29 years. Her long black hair sweeps behind her witch like, lips staring out like bright cherries in their cosmetic covering. She is vampire of the night in daytime slumber town. Her baby crawls along the floor in search of food.
Her hair is given bright blonde streaks, waves and patterns to make her shine. She returns to her nest with thick chemical bleach, synthetic toxic smells and a new blister on her big toe. She clutches the door key nervously. She knows the neighbour with the sketchpad is watching. She knows she has left her baby too long. She knows she has spent the last of the food money on her hair. She knows this is all futile because her man will never be the lover and companion she wants him to be. Her happy family will never be. But there are always dreams.
Baby has been sick on the carpet. The skinny ginger cat is whining for food. A vase of flowers from the yard has broken and spilt all over the floor. Water runs in trickles across the false wood, making cat footprints. Baby has got herself dressed as Cinderella. She is trying to mop up the sick with an old hanky. She cries, ‘I’m sorry mummy. I won’t do it again. I never meant to be sick. I won’t do it again mummy. I’m sorry.’ She is ashamed. Mummy comes over and comforts her. ‘Poor baby! Don’t be sorry. Let mummy clear it up. Let’s go to bed now and read tories.’ They snuggle up in bed together. ‘I don’t like your smell mummy. When’s daddy coming home?’
‘Let’s read a story together baby – they’re better than real life.’
‘Can I bring Snowflake here mummy?’ The big floppy rabbit sits in the outside hutch with red fire eyes, waiting for carrots and cuddles. ‘All right babity, make sure he doesn’t pooh in bed.’ Cinderella fetches the big white rabbit and pushes him under the bed covers, smothering and poking him with her scabby fingers. She pushes him, pulls his ears, laughs and coughs while chewing a piece of gum from mummy’s handbag. ‘Look what Snowflake can do mummy?’ she pulls him up on his hind legs making him dance and prance unnaturally. Snowflake screeches nervously and pants with fear. Mummy is washing her face in the bathroom. ‘Well done, baby!’ she calls from under her flannel, seeing only black.
There is a knock at the door. ‘Shall I go mummy?’
‘Better not, babity, might be the monster across the road.’ Mummy brushes a hand across her newly fixed hair; sighs as she looks at herself in the mirror; throws her stilettos onto a pile of odd shoes and boots and wades across the swamp filled flat towards the front door. A policeman stands staring back at her. She feels her chest rising rapidly and a burning sensation all over her face. ‘What is it?’ She almost cries.
‘Nothing to worry about love. Just your rubbish. It’s messing up the street; needs disposing of. Sort it out as soon as possible please. We’ve had complaints from neighbours, that’s all. Just an unofficial warning. Thank you.’ He leaves. Eliza turns, looking confused at the black bin bag of Snowflake’s droppings and hay left by the side of the road.
She looks anxiously across the road, sees the neighbour with the sketchpad. ‘Mummy, who was that?’
‘Nothing to worry about. Get inside Babity! Nasty monster man.’ She pushes baby into the living room. Shuts out the bright crispy wintery sun with the blinds, making the room almost black. Making it the same colour as her heart. ‘Let’s light a fire.’ She puts old crisp packets, wrapping paper, cigarette buts and polystyrene on to the fire place and lights it with a match. ‘Stay warm by the fire babity’. The sound of a cockerel penetrates the quiet of toxic burning waste like the end of a funeral pyre. She searches for the phone through a mass of girly magazines, trampled on egg and cheese sandwiches, cat food and rabbit droppings. The cock stops crowing and turns into an answer phone. ‘Probably the monster got my number!’ she declares to the universe. She looks at the tiny marble Buddha above the fire place and prays a silent prayer for some kind of miracle.
The Buddha starts to pray with her and talk inside her mind. ‘Don’t stay here for much longer Eliza. God has other plans for you. This is not a home for you and your child. Go! Search for other places! Child you are sick. Look for answers within.’ Eliza sighs heavily. She reaches for a roll up. She does not know if she is hearing voices or receiving divine guidance. She grabs the phone and reads a text. ‘LET’S GET PISSED LIZA. GOT 2 OUNCES IF U WANT.’ She grabs hold of her head. Baby is trying to play with the plastic boomerang inside her chocolate egg. ‘Mummy I can’t do it. Can you do it mummy? Please do it mummy. I can’t. It’s stuck.’ She cries and screeches climbing onto the window sill. ‘Get away from the window, babity!’
‘Why cos of the monster?’
‘Yes, baby. Please get down. I can’t do your toy now.’ She drags from a tiny roll up and puts the phone down.
I just want it all to go away, him the monster, the child I call my baby. I want her to go away as well. Doesn’t she know I’m trying to give it up? Oh yes, the rubbish. Why didn’t they take it away with them? Just dump it here. They all dump something on me. Can’t live with all this rubbish. Can’t burn it properly – better than making the landfills higher. Gotta get the rubbish away. ‘Look, baby, we’ll go to the council office, find out what to do with the rubbish. You want feeding? No, you never eat what I give you. We’ll get an ice cream on the way. Would you like that?’
‘Yes please mummy. Can we go now? Are we going to the supermarket?’
‘No babity, just the newsagent. Get your clothes on. I’ll just do my face.’
The two figures of desperation search in the streets for a way through all the rubbish. The other neighbours’ black sacks have been taken away. Only theirs remains. She doesn’t know where to put rabbit droppings and urine soaked hay. They don’t put it in the landfill. She pushes Sammy in her buggy so she doesn’t run out into the road. They stop to buy ice cream and chocolate for breakfast. They pass the unfamiliar neighbours, smile politely and disappear. The town is grey looking and sombre. Everyone has just arrived out of a funeral. Lines of people queue outside banks and post offices. They got rid of most of the local post offices. People have an air of desperation.
The council office smells of dampness, body odour and a vague smell of urine. Musty old books stand on dusty shelves and people sit cramped on benches waiting their turn. She picks up a leaflet on safe sex for young people.
The woman with a tight black pony tail summons her to the speaking hatch. ‘I was wondering what to do with my rubbish. There seems to be nowhere to put rabbit droppings.’ She’s handed a number for rubbish disposal. There is a council phone on the back wall. ‘We’re sorry to keep you waiting. Your call is very important to us. Please wait and you will be directed to an operator when one is available. You are 5th in the queue.’ She feels herself tensing up. Shoulders hunch up like a slave about to be beaten.
I wish it would all go away. Why can’t we put it with the other rubbish? What’s wrong with us? Why pick on us? We have better things to do than hang around on the phone all day. She chews gum, watches as each person takes their turn at talking at the faceless, black hatch. Stuffs cold hands in pockets of fake fur and watches as baby talks to another smaller baby in a buggy. At least babity is happy for a while.
‘Your call is very important to us. Thank you for waiting. You are first in the queue.’ Eliza has bitten off a large part of her pink chipped thumb nail. She scratches her head. The clock’s hands don’t seem to move. Baby is pulling at her sleeve. ‘I want a drink mamma! I’m thirsty.’ She hands Sammy a 50p piece. ‘Get yourself a coke out of the machine Sammy.’ Baby goes in search of sugar, additives and e numbers.
‘Hello, can I help you?’ A voice speaks from the wilderness. ‘Oh, I’ve been waiting a long time. Do you always keep people hanging on this long?’
‘We have a lot of enquiries. The lines are very busy. How can I help?’
‘I need to get rid of my rabbit’s droppings. The bin men won’t take it.’
‘You’ll have to get that off the street as soon as possible or you’ll be fined madam.’
‘I know that, but I don’t know where to put it! What about the street refuse bins? Can I put it there?’
‘No, definitely not. Animal waste is treated as garden waste. That would be a finable offence.’
‘Sorry? Well, what exactly should I do with it then?’
‘You need to remove it from the street or you will incur a fine madam. I have other people in the queue. Was there anything else?’ Eliza slams the phone down, biting sharply into her upper lip making a drop of blood fall into her mouth. ‘Come on babity! Let’s get out of this torturous place.’
‘Mummy, can I have that book. It’s got pictures of monkeys and animals in the jungle. I want that book mummy!’
‘We don’t have the money babity. Come on!’
‘I want that book mummy. Please get me the monkey book.’ Sammy starts pulling and tugging at mummy’s sleeve. Eliza turns round with a fist clenched. ‘Please just be quiet babity. We need to get home now.’
‘I want the book. I want that book!’ Eliza feels her face burning. Her child is pulling at her sleeve, dripping coke on the floor and on fake fur. Her teeth are clenched determinedly. Its lunch time, only two people remain waiting. Her heart rate escalates at an alarming rate. Her clenched hands are about to thump the child. Instead:
impulsively she swipes her arm towards the bookshelf and grabs hold of the book, sliding it underneath her furry coat, just as experienced shop lifters do. Pulling her child quickly towards her they make their way towards the door. They exit the council office.
Sweat has begun to form on Eliza’s forehead. Her child grabs the book about trains and throws it on the ground. ‘Don’t want this book! I wanted the other book mummy, the monkey book!’ She cries and screams loudly. There is a commotion inside the council office. A stocky looking man exits and approaches Eliza and her screaming child. ‘Excuse me. I believe you have some council property – a book?’ He holds her sternly on the shoulder.’ Eliza breathes heavily, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’ The man looks down at the book sprawled across the pavement.
‘Oh, have your stupid book back. I don’t want it anyway! We don’t want your books or your rubbish or your phone calls.’ The council man picks up the book and escorts the mad woman into the building. ‘Mummy, where are we going? Who’s that man? Is he the monster?’
‘No babity, just a man. Come on Sammy, come close to mamma.’ She holds her baby close to her chest and walks into the council chamber.
A door closes. A young pregnant woman and her child sit hunched up together crying while another more serious phone call is made. ‘When can we go to the park mamma? Can I go and play now? Is that man talking to daddy?’
‘Sshh babity, not now. Not now.’