I want to tell mummy about my lost ballet shoes but she’s too busy. ‘mummy, I lost my ballet shoe!’ She can’t hear me. She’s on the phone to Daddy. But he’s not my daddy any more. He’s gone away. He doesn’t like us any more. I love my daddy but he doesn’t love me. I must have done something wrong. That’s why I don’t deserve my ballet shoes.
Mummy’s smoking. It makes her cough. She goes out in the car in the dark and buys lots of it from gangsters in the street. They wear big hoods and say in gruff voices ‘here’s the stuff’. Then they run away and hide behind lamp-posts. Mummy drives really fast and says she hasn’t got money for electric and we have to hide away and be cold for the night. Mummy says we can’t afford to buy milk and I have to take packed lunch to school.
Mummy’s looking in the mirror. She always does that when daddy phones. She wants to look beautiful. She’s a model for one of those catalogues but not all the time. She said I can be a model one day. I want to be a princess in the desert. Mummy lets me wear her lipstick sometimes. It’s hiding there behind the curtain. I bet I can get it without her seeing me.
Danielle reaches behind the curtains and picks the long thick tube of red chemical die to make herself beautiful like a princess. Mummy says its the make-up that tells her she’s special looking. Danielle giggles but as she applies a big burgundy line across her lips and nose the doorbell rings and mummy pushes her aside like a tramp. The lipstick smudges across her cheeks and she cries, sitting sprawled on the floor clutching onto the hanging phone. ‘Daddy, mummy hurt me! Daddy are you there?’ Daddy has gone.
‘Danielle, I told you not to play with my lipstick. Look who’s come to see us!’ Just as a burly looking ginger haired man in late thirties enters with a black sack the phone rings again. Mummy picks up the phone and the man sits on a shabby sofa in-between piles of women’s magazines, a half eaten bowl of porridge and a colourful drawing of a mermaid on a beach. ‘Fuck off Rob! I don’t do stuff any more. I told you. Get a life and stop pestering us!’ She slams the phone down. ‘Danielle, why are you crying? Look,be nice to Jim.’ Mummy straightens her hair and attempts to tidy up around the sofa. ‘Sorry about the mess. Do you want some kombucha?’
Mummy and Jim sit at the kitchen table in the cramped high rise flat drinking a 0.2% alcoholic beverage that detoxifies the body. Jim looks intensely at mummy’s low cut lycra top and leopard skin leggings as she pours the juice into plastic tumblers. ‘Mummy, can I have kombucha?’
‘Here!’ Mummy quickly pours the juice and leaves it on the table.
I don’t like it when mummy has her friends here. She thinks Jim will love her and marry her but Jim doesn’t like her that much. I don’t like Jim. He’s not my daddy. I don’t want another daddy. She doesn’t even care about me. She’s more interested in Jim. I wish I was dead sometimes. I just want my ballet shoe and mummy won’t look for it. She’ll be cross with me tomorrow if I don’t have my shoes for ballet.
Mummy and Jim smoke a joint together. Jim brings it wrapped in a courgette seed packet. Mummy rests her leopard skin paws on Jim’s lap. They are both wrapped in a blanket of smoke while Danielle sits cross legged under the table talking to big doll, Baby Born. She starts coughing. ‘Baby Born, you aren’t very well today are you? Do you want some kombucha to make you better? Mummy will give you some. Look out, there’s a dragon coming out of the fire! You must escape or you will burn and die!’ She carries on talking until mummy’s foot falls on top of her knee. ‘Ooooh…you hurt me mummy. You hurt…me!’
‘What are you doing under the table Danielle? It’s a stupid place to play. Go into the bedroom will you!’
Danielle pushes Baby Born against the wall and tears into the bedroom sobbing. She throws a giant teddy bear across the room. She picks up a musical box and throws that against the wall while the tinkling of the Serenade Waltz fades into a single bell. She screams and cries. Mummy enters and smacks her hard on the bottom. Jim follows, ‘do you want me to do something Laura?’
‘Oh, just go Jim! I can’t even see my friends. She always wants something from me. Won’t you let me see my friends Danielle? Is that it? Its pure selfishness Danielle and I won’t have it. That’s all.’ Jim kisses mummy lightly on the cheek and leaves. A shadow looms on the bedroom wall of an adult raised fist and a child’s huddled up figure.
The next day at 5.30 precisely it is ballet. Danielle’s bottom is hurting but she wants to go dancing. ‘Mummy, where’s my ballet shoe? Where’s my shoe?’ I’m trying not to cry. I tried to look for my shoe but I can’t find it anywhere. ‘I did try looking mummy!’ Mummy sighs and rubs at her mascara blackened eyes. ‘Why don’t you look after your shoes Danielle? You’re supposed to keep them tidily in the cupboard. Why can’t you do that?’
The ballet shoe is found under the doormat. Danielle is one of the most graceful dancers in the class. The teacher, Miss Potts, is elderly and warms to Danielle. The sound of the Nutcracker Sweet echoes across Miss Pott’s damp basement as 10 little girls in pink and white tutus prance and skip around the room. ‘I want you to point more girls! Point!’ Danielle starts to stumble and fall. She screws up her face in pain and then clutches her ailing left foot.
I don’t want to tell you Miss Potts but ballet is hurting my feet. I am hurting all over. My heart is hurting. I am bruised inside and out. I want to go home but home is hard and cruel. I don’t know where I want to go. I want my daddy and mummy to be together again. It was better like that. I want daddy to play pirates with me. I want to scream and shout because of all the pain inside me but no-one will let me. Mummy tells me off if I’m too noisy. It makes the neighbours scared. I want to kill myself sometimes and live with God and the angels. But I can’t yet. I can’t. Miss Potts, will you help me? I need someone to help me somehow. I am in pain.
‘What’s wrong Danielle? Have you hurt yourself?’ Danielle starts crying. ‘I want to go home. I’ve got a pain in my foot.’
‘Ok, girls, carry on with points. Now sit down for a minute Danielle and let me have a look!’ Miss Potts finds a lump on Danielle’s ankle which has become red and sore against her shoe. ‘I think you better see a doctor about this Danielle. Let me write a note for your mum.’ Mummy arrives promptly after her photo shoot and says she’ll read the note later. ‘Come on love, I’ve got an important job on tomorrow. Was ballet all right?’ Danielle doesn’t answer. ‘Oh, don’t speak to me then!’ Miss Potts interrupts, ‘I think you should read the note now Laura. Danielle has quite a serious injury which needs seeing to as soon as possible.’ Mummy looks alarmed, ‘Injury? What do you mean injury? Did she do something in ballet?’
‘No, Laura, the ballet aggravated it but Danielle has a lump in her foot.’ Laura glares at Miss Potts and then at Danielle and rushes off with her child.
Mummy sits huddled up to her child on the bed with 2 mattresses. They used to play ‘the princess and the pea’ game but got tired of it eventually. Mummy hugs her child, ‘take off your socks Danielle, let’s have a look.’
‘My God! How did you do that?’
I’m hurting so much inside mummy. I don’t think you love me. You’re in love with Jim and your catalogue job. But what about me? Do you love me mummy? Danielle shrugs her shoulders. ‘It just grew mummy like a monster. I got a monster inside me!’ Mummy laughs affectionately. ‘I’m going to call the doctor little one. Let’s sort this out.’
The doorbell rings. It’s Jim with another seed packet. ‘I’m sorry Jim. I have to see to my child now. Can you come back some other time. I don’t want your courgettes any more.’ Jim is alarmed but leaves promptly. Mummy hugs her child and Danielle feels warm for the first time in days. Her foot is feeling better already. Mummy calls the doctor.
I don’t want to keep getting ill. I want to be well but mummy only talks to me when I’m ill. She gets worried about me then. She loves me and holds me till I feel warm inside. I want my foot to get better but not until mummy has loved and squeezed me a hundred times. Then I’ll get better. You will get better, won’t you foot, but not until mummy has hugged us and loved us much more? We’ll be all right then, we’ll be all right, won’t we?