We found our way to a sordid quarter

of town. Drunks lurched beside burning

braziers, warming their filthy hands.

Young painted women stood mournfully

by the grubby kerb stones. Our hotel

was on the first floor of a dismal, crumbly

building. A neon light flickered obscenely,

some of the red letters were missing.

Mrs Eames wasn’t distracted. She

cantered up the stairwell to find

the manager. Our room smelt sour,

like it was never cleaned. The curtains

were drawn. They were a lurid orange

colour and particularly dusty. William

sneezed. Three single beds filled the

room. The black carpet was speckled

with holes from cigarette burns. My soul

sunk into my shoes.


We were slowing. Over the intercom,

the conductor announced our destination.

The train snaked across a grubby river

bridge, and entered a red brick station.

Mrs Eames manhandled her unnecessary

suitcase to the doors and we alighted.

William leapt onto the platform. The train

was throbbing like a great spent beast.

I strode towards the gates. Soon we

stood in the station forecourt. It was a

miserable, soulless place. Mrs Eames

hailed a taxi. Come on my dears, she

chirped, let’s find our accommodation.


The giant locomotive rumbled over

the sleepers, departing the grimy station.

We were cramped in a second class

carriage, where the upholstery was faded,

crumbling. As we rattled over the points,

out onto the high-speed rails, I surveyed

the other passengers. They didn’t look

like they wished to speak to us. Everyone

had preoccupied eyes, they were mute.

I leant across and opened a small sash

window. Air swirled in, hot, metallic.

William bobbed in his seat, clearly thrilled.

Mrs Eames removed her coat and gloves.

We gathered speed. Soon the ugly brick

buildings ended and fields were rushing



We stood on the busy platform, awaiting

our train. I’d roped Mrs Eames into our

adventure. She wore a heavy coat and

gloves, although it was warm. The air

was sooty. William coughed periodically.

I thought about his asthma. The train

was late. The passengers were getting

restless. An elderly man stood perilously

near the edge, fascinated by the shining

tracks. There was an announcement over

the tannoy. I couldn’t understand a word.

But Mrs Eames tutted. She’d heard. The

train was delayed an hour, because of

maintenance work on the tracks. I sat

down on my small haversack. This was

a poor beginning.


My phone buzzed, vibrating wildly. It

was an unknown number. That surely

meant trouble. I pondered a moment,

then picked up. It was a doctor. Dr

Stevenson. I gulped hard. What had

Mother done now? The doctor explained

how Mother had been put on a new

regime of medicines. They hadn’t agreed

with her. She’d become anxious,

dangerous, uncooperative. Mother had

been placed in solitary confinement.

She’d been there for three days now,

hammering on the door to be released.

I moaned at this. I hated to think of

Mother caged like a savage animal.

I told the doctor we would come.


The money was drying up. I had a letter

to say our allowance had been reviewed.

We would get twenty pounds less each

week. It was an appalling loss. After the

rent had been deducted, there was very

little room to manoeuvre food onto the

table. I didn’t tell William. He was an

inveterate worrier. The prospect of fewer

groceries would have harmed his soul.

I did endless pointless calculations. I

came up with a solid figure. Thirty pounds

a week to spend on food. It was enough

to make me cry. There was nothing for it.

A diet of scrambled eggs, boiled potatoes

and bullet-hard beans. William would be



Mrs Eames was suffering from debilitating

back pain. She hobbled around, wincing,

muttering curses. I offered to fetch pain

killers, to take her to the doctor. Mrs

Eames would have none of it. It’s my

cross to bear, she said, through gritted

teeth. I’d been wanting to discuss the

journey. Our trip up to see Mother. I’d

been secretly hoping that Mrs Eames

would accompany us. This seemed

unlikely now. I couldn’t imagine Mrs

Eames sat rigid in an uncomfortable

railway carriage, staring out the foggy

windows, as the miles rattled by. I’d

have to ditch my plan. Mother must wait.


A letter arrived. It was from Mother’s

psychiatrist. Mother was going to be

transferred to a care unit out of town.

Her condition, the doctor explained,

had deteriorated. She wasn’t responding

to treatment. I wondered if we’d be able

to visit. It was a major journey away. I

checked online, and discovered we’d

need to take an express train, and

maybe stay overnight. I had money,

but not a great deal. When I explained

to William, he looked forlorn. Like the

rug had been pulled from under him.

I felt very alone. We were truly abandoned

children now.


I shared my fears with Mrs Eames.

Whilst she thought it important we

went to school, she had her qualms.

These people shouldn’t be bullying you

like this. It’s not decent, threatening

young folk in this way. She was fuming.

She offered to telephone the Ministry.

I accepted happily. I admired Mrs Eames.

She had backbone. She was never afraid

of a brawl. I’ll knock these women down

a peg or two. Coming around your house,

and scaring the living daylights out of you,

it’s not on. Don’t worry dearie, I’ll sort

this. She picked up her mobile, her face

red as a boiled sweet, and dialled the



I lived in terror. Of a knock at the door.

I feared my phone would vibrate crazily,

and it’d be them. Or a toxic message

might drop into my inbox. But nothing

happened. As time passed, I began to

think the two social workers had made

an empty threat. Surely they were too

busy with more serious concerns. We

were merely a couple of waifs skipping

school. I went out to shop. William came

too. When we returned, clutching loaded

bags, a business card was pinned to the

door. I shivered. It was them. A note was

scrawled on the back of the card. Call me

urgently, it read. My veins turned to ice.