Jane abandoned by her mother.
The Second World War passed into history. Six months after Victory in Europe Day, Elsie Prudesworthy's soldier husband, Steve, had still not returned from his P.O.W. camp in Germany. Every knock on the door gave her hope, which was always dashed. Would this time be any different? She hoped that the knock on the door might be him like she always did. Tears flowed down her cheeks when she saw him and she threw herself into his arms.
He had only been home a few weeks and Elsie noticed the change in him. He had gone out alone again like he did most nights and Elsie called to see her friend in the house next door.
"I don't know what's going on, Peggy. He doesn't go to work but goes out most nights and seems to have plenty of money for drink and tobacco. But I am more worried because he seems distant and I can't get close to him."
"Give him time. You don't know what he's been through over there."
"Of course I don't because he won't talk to me about it. I don't think he loves me anymore. He has mood swings and gets violent."
"He hits the kids?"
"No, not the kids, only me."
It was after midnight when Steve returned and he had obviously been drinking heavily again.
"Where have you been till now?" Elsie said.
"Out with some army pals." He took off his jacket and threw it at her. "Go and hang that up," he said.
"Out with army mates. Female were they? Your jacket smells of perfume and it's not mine."
Steve walked over and shoved Elsie across the room. "Don't you bloody interrogate me. Accusing, accusing; you have a cheek. I can accuse as well. Who has been looking after you while I was held in that German prison camp?"
"What the hell do you mean by that?"
Steve pushed her again causing her to fall back onto the sofa. "Get up to bed and out of my sight or I just might smash your face."
"Mum!" Their daughter Carol stood looking in from the living room door.
"It's all right love. I'm coming up now. Get back to bed."
Carol went back to her bedroom and Elsie looked up at Steve. "Why are you being like this? Are you seeing someone else?"
Steve laughed. " You've got a bloody nerve. I know you've had men around while I was away."
"No, I haven't. But I could have. I've had plenty of offers."
"I knew it. But you think you can do it and I can't. Well, I'm seeing someone and she is better looking than you and very fit. A fit young woman."
"Well, then you had better leave and go to her because we can't go on like this."
Steve raised his hand to hit her but hesitated and stood back. "You're filth. Who was it that you've been having it off with, the French, the Yanks, the Poles, or was it one of ours?"
"You are not right and you need help. Being captured has sent you round the bend. I have never ever been with someone else, nor ever wanted to."
"Shut up," he yelled. "Carol is awake and she doesn't need to hear this. Just get upstairs before I do something we'll both regret."
Elsie slept alone that night while Steve slept on the sofa. When she got up in the morning he was gone and she would never see him again.
Elsie realised that she would fall seriously into debt if she didn't do something. She just about managed when his army pay was sent to her, but now she had nothing. She was a good-looking woman and soon found a man to move in with her to help with the bills. However, the Prudesworthy children's uncles would come and go. The novelty of caring for four children soon wore off. The financial upkeep was a burden most men wouldn't suffer for long, especially coupled with the hostility of the older children who would accept no man as a replacement for their war-hero father. Elsie was having difficulty coping. She never truly got over the shock of her husband walking out on her for a younger woman. She became increasingly distressed with the departure of each of her suitors and she could see the familiar signs the latest uncle was thinking of moving on. She had to act to relieve the burden on him and perhaps convince him to stay.
"Come on, Jane, time to go." Elsie fastened the buttons on her daughter's coat and then plonked the bonnet on her head. "Straighten that up," she said before walking over to turn off the radio, leaving the young child to tidy the bonnet and put on her gloves.
Jane pulled on her multicoloured mittens all the time thinking of her sister Carol. Carol was the eldest in the family and she would play with Jane and make a fuss of her before she went off to school. Jane loved her sister more than anyone else and would eagerly await her return from school every afternoon.
Because her mother dressed her in new sandals and Sunday clothes, she thought it might be the special day to join her sister and brothers and start school herself.
Her mother turned and looked at her. "Not those bloody things," she said loudly. "Where's the cotton gloves?"
Jane gave her mother a smile, but the woman just stared back at her and gave a deep sigh. "What the hell, I suppose you can wear them if you want to," she said and walked back over to tie the bonnet ribbon under Jane's chin.
They were soon sitting on the top deck of the trolley bus. It was a long journey and Jane sat quietly looking out through the window. She had never been on such a journey and she wondered what sort of adventure they were going on, realising she was not going to start her time at school just yet. She remembered the previous night lying in her converted cot listening to her mother shouting and arguing with her uncle. She wondered if today's outing was anything to do with their argument because she heard them mention her name a few times.
They left the trolley bus and she held her mother's hand as they walked along the pavement and through some huge doors. It was a big store and there was a rumbling stairway carrying people up to another level. The sight and noise of it frightened her and she panicked when she realised her mother was going to take her on it. She tried to pull back, giving out a terrified look, but her fears eased when Elsie picked her up and she became quite happy for her mother to carry her up the escalator. They reached the top and her mother continued to carry her for a while before putting her down inside the toy department.
Jane looked about in wonder, teddies, dollies, cars, prams, rows and rows of toys of every description. She looked up at her mother and smiled.
"I won't be a minute, you stand here, and don't you dare move from this spot." She put a note into Jane's hand. "Now hold on to this."
Jane stood confused and frightened as her mother walked off. She wanted to hurry after her but knew her mother would scold her if she did. Jane thought her mother must have gone to the toilet and wished she had taken her; she needed the toilet too. A few minutes passed, but it seemed a long time to the young girl and she became increasingly anxious. She looked down at the crumpled note she held in one of her mittens and wondered why it was so important and why her mother gave it to her before she walked off to the toilet.
The ribbon on her bonnet began to aggravate her, seeming as if it were getting tighter. She thought it was a baby's bonnet and the two woollen balls hanging down the back always annoyed her. She hated the bonnet, unlike the chunky multicoloured mittens covering her little hands. She loved the mittens although they looked scruffy and didn't match with the rest of her clothes. Her sister Carol knitted them especially for her from the retrieved wool of an old pullover. She raised her free hand and ran the mitten across her runny nose. She was fretting and her bottom lip began to tremble as tears formed in her eyes waiting for the cue to rush down her rosy cheeks. She was worried in case her mother might not come back for her. Wondering if she had done anything wrong and wondering why her mother left her there.
Jane stared towards the doorway hoping to see her mother coming back to take her home. Her fears worsened when she noticed a man in a long black overcoat looking at her and she wondered if he was the stranger she had been warned about. She watched him as he walked off and although he was walking away from her, her fears remained because he kept looking round to check she was still there. The toilet, she now badly needed to use the toilet and pulled her legs together transferring her weight from one leg to the other. Tears trickled down her cheeks as she began thinking of her sister Carol, longing for the comfort and protection she always got from her.
She looked back towards the man as he stopped at a counter to speak to a female shop assistant.
Jane stared at the assistant as she began walking over towards her and although the woman was smiling and looked friendly, as she got nearer, Jane burst into tears.
"Hello, little one," the woman said. "What's all the tears for? Have you lost your Mummy?" She took the note from Jane's mitten and read it. "The wicked bloody so and so," she muttered picking Jane up to give her a cuddle. "It's all right, cherub, you're going to be all right," she said and carried her to a counter and pressed the security bell.
* * * * *
The children's home had at one time been a workhouse and the dormitory was not ideally suited for children. The windowsills were high and the children could only see out of the windows if they stood on a chair. Although the huge cast-iron radiators kept the chill off the room, it still had a cold look about it. The high ceiling and top half of the walls were a dull white colour and the whitewash, which had layered over the years, was peeling in places. The bottom half was painted an emerald green gloss and despite the thickness of the many years of painting, the brickwork pattern of the glazed bricks was still clearly visible.
People would come and go, looking at her, and talking as if they thought she couldn't hear them, or as if they didn't care; but then leaving never to be seen again. "Miserable little wretch," one said, and the words stuck with her for a while.