Jane is adopted.
After many disappointments, two friendly people started calling to see Jane. Many times they called and she loved their visits. They always gave her lots of loving attention and brought her nice things. They would take her out, usually just for a walk around the gardens, but one day they were permitted to take her to the seaside. Jane was excited, and it was as expected a fantastic day for her: the rides they took her on at the funfair and the donkey ride on the beach; the two of them holding her hands and swinging her into the air; the man helping her to make a huge sandcastle while the lady went to get the ice cream cornets, but what she loved most of all were the hugs and kisses they gave her as the day progressed. She slept well that night after they left her, clutching a teddy bear the man won for her at one of the rifle stalls.
Jane's excitement was almost uncontrollable when they came the following week. The matron packed all Jane's things into an old brown suitcase ready for the couple to take her to her new home in Bedford. It was a long journey and she felt as if the coach were taking her to the other side of the country. They arrived at Bedford and set off for Jane's first ride in a taxi.
They were soon at the private housing estate where the couple lived and the taxi drove down a service road that formed a square around a large green. Jane looked out of the window at the children playing on the grass. The children ran after the taxi and they all stood around staring at Jane as she got out and made her way along the path to the three-bedroom, semi-detached house. The size of the house and the loneliness of her bedroom made her a bit quiet and withdrawn for a while, but she soon settled in and accepted the childless couple as her new Mum and Dad.
Some months later, Jane was standing at her bedroom window looking out onto the green. The boys were playing football. The two girls, her school friends, were skipping happily while they waited for her to join them. She took off her school clothes and changed into her shorts and jumper before making her way down the stairs. She looked into the kitchen. "I'm just going out to play on the green, Mum," she called.
"Come and sit down for a minute. I have a big surprise for you." Her mother had been baking and Jane knew she was making a cake for her birthday party at the weekend. She thought the surprise must be something to do with that. "It's good news for all of us. Mummy and Daddy always thought you would be our only little girl, but God has been good to us and he's giving us a new baby. You're going to have a little sister or brother to play with."
Jane was pleased because her mother was pleased and although she was excited at the prospect of a sister or brother, what she really wanted was to go outside and play with her friends.
The time came for her mother to go into hospital and it was not long before she returned home with a baby girl. Right away Jane noticed the difference in her life. She was no longer the main attraction in the house. Family and friends would call and they would make a great fuss over the new family addition leaving Jane very much shunted into the background. It was as if the novelty of her adoption didn't matter anymore and she was no longer an important member of the family, an intruder almost.
Jane tried to seek some attention whenever she got the chance. She came into the house one evening after playing out with her friends. She went up to her bedroom and noticed the special teddy that had been won for her at the funfair was not on her bed. She went to the main bedroom and looked into the cot, but the teddy was not there either. She walked slowly down the stairs and into the living room. Her mother was holding her daughter, Gwen, on her knee and playing with her as Jane hurried over.
"That's my teddy, Mum, she's got my teddy."
"Don't worry; you can have it back when she drops off to sleep."
Jane gave her mother a sour-faced look. She would often squeeze beside her on the armchair and cuddle up to her for a while before getting ready for bed, but there didn't seem to be much room. She wanted her cuddle and tried to squeeze into the small gap between her mother and the arm of the chair.
"Jane, don't be silly, there's not enough room for the three of us."
Jane turned to look at her mother and her arm caught Gwen's head causing her to let out a scream. Although she was genuinely sorry she had knocked her sister, she had no time to offer an apology.
The woman pushed Jane with such a force that she sent her sprawling onto the floor. "You wicked girl," she yelled. "Get up to bed. Get up to your bedroom and out of my sight."
Jane burst into tears and looked over to her father for support. He returned a disapproving look over the top of his glasses, gave a rattle of his newspaper, and continued reading.
"Don't defy me, girl," her mother yelled. "You defy me and you'll surely regret it." Jane got up and ran from the room. She was sobbing as she hurried up the stairs and she dashed into her bedroom with a terrible dread she was no longer wanted.
* * * * *
It was Coronation year and in East London, a traditional children's street party was about to start. The terraced houses were decorated with Union Flags and bunting hung along and across the street. Long covered tables stretched along the middle of the road with children sat on salvaged timber benches at either side.
Terry Mansfield had just sat down after his father took a photograph of him and his two older brothers standing in the crepe paper suits their mother made for them. Terry was only five, but he felt grown-up in the suit, thinking it a bit better than his brothers' suits and a lot better than the other children's.
He looked along the table at the sandwiches, jellies, and cakes. Why did they have to wait; why couldn't they just start now? He spotted Linda looking at him. He remembered the kiss-chase game where she wanted to kiss him. Yuk! He picked up his spoon and wondered if he could hit her with a blob of jelly, but he put the spoon back down when he saw his father looking at him.
Where was his mother? He looked around and saw her outside their house talking to Auntie Ivy from the house next door. All the women wore bright flowery pinafores, but his mother's was the brightest most flowery of them all. She stood like a queen, the kindest and prettiest lady in the world. His mother smiled and gave a wave when she saw him looking. He smiled and waved back. How he loved his mother; she was the only person in the world who he wanted kisses from. Terry looked at the crates of brown ale, pale ale, and stout stacked up beside their front door. He knew after the street party there would be a party in their house for the grown-ups. Just like Christmas, they would all be in the front room; all the grown-ups would be singing while his mother played the piano, and his father would be singing the loudest and the best. He and his older brothers would be upstairs in their bedroom singing, dancing about, and joining in with the merriment.
"All right children, you can start now."
No one knew who gave the word, but the response was immediate. Terry picked up his spoon and looked at the jelly. Right, where's Linda?
* * * * *
Back in Bedford, the celebrations were also in full swing. Because Jane did so well in school at physical exercise and country dancing, she was chosen for the school dancing display at the coronation celebrations. It was a grand moment for her to dance in front of all the parents, her own parents and sister sitting at the front smiling at her proudly. A lot of their neighbours were complimenting her to her parents at the coronation party held later on the green. Jane was always trying to please them by her efforts at home as well as by trying to achieve good results at school and the small amount of praise she did receive was a delight to her
Just after her twelfth birthday, it was Jane's idea to attend the school of dancing twice a week. She became quite proficient and her tutors were pleased with the ease with which she seemed to be able to pick up the steps and movements.
Each evening they would have some free time at the end of the lessons in which they could indulge in some less formal dancing. They were allowed to bring in their own records, usually, the latest rock and roll hits from America. Most of the boys wanted to be her partner in these periods and even the older students noticed she could jive in a way advanced for a girl of her age. She always returned home feeling pleased with herself and glad she found a pastime she was good at and which she thoroughly enjoyed. The praise and encouragement she got from her parents was an added bonus, giving her a feeling that in their eyes there was at least one thing she could do right.
It was early evening. Jane and Gwen just finished washing the dishes and they walked out to the green to join in the rounders game. Jane's turn came around on the bat and she stood primed and ready to strike. When she struck the ball it headed towards her sister, Gwen, who was on the other team fielding. Gwen put her hands out to catch the ball, but it hit her in her face and she ran off towards the house screaming.
Her mother heard the screams and rushed out to see what was happening. Gwen's lip was split and where she rubbed it, she spread the blood across her face and onto her blouse making her injury look far worse than it was.
"Who done this, who bloody-well done this?" her mother shouted, dabbing Gwen's split lip with her handkerchief and trying to clean the blood from her face which caused Gwen to scream all the louder. She stared angrily at Jane as she rushed over with their friends. "Was it you?"
Jane looked at her but didn't answer. She was shaking, trembling, and in fear of what her mother would do to her.
"It was, it was you, wasn't it?"
Jane was almost in tears as she spoke. "It was an accident, Mum. I didn't mean to do it."
The woman rushed over and grabbed Jane's arm. Twisting Jane's arm up her back she forced her to bend over almost double and then after pulling her loose skirt over her back she began to slap her hard across the back of her legs.
Gwen had stopped crying, and she was in shock at the plight of her sister. Her own injury no longer seemed so serious to her. She pleaded to her mother to stop, but despite her tearful pleas and Jane's screams her mother struck Jane savagely a dozen times before letting go of her arm.
"Now get to your bedroom. I don't want to see your face again tonight."
Jane ran into the house crying. She dashed up to her room slamming her door behind her and dropped onto her bed sobbing.
Jane calmed herself down and sat on her bed trying to read a comic, but the thought of hurting her sister and the horror of her mother's attack on her troubled her. She moved her arm around as if in an exercise, still aching in her shoulder where her mother forced her arm up her back. She stood up and looked into the wardrobe mirror while lifting up the back of her skirt. The backs of her legs were glowing red from the back of her knees to just below the cheeks of her behind. Her mother hadn't only hurt her physically, she also humiliated her by displaying her knickers for everyone to see, and not just her girlfriends, but in front of the boys as well. She wondered if she could ever face them again. She heard a noise outside her room, the door opened and Gwen brought her in a glass of orangeade.
Tears formed in Jane's eyes when she looked at her sister's swollen lip. "I'm sorry, Gwen, it was an accident. I wouldn't hurt you for the world."
"I know, and I didn't mean to get you into trouble. I wish Mummy wouldn't hit you like that, it frightens me." Gwen put the drink on the bedside cabinet and reached out her arms, offering Jane a cuddle.
Although the sisters remained close, their mother always put Jane second as if she were an outsider.