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The Warp

Cathy Novelisation (2)

The warden said, ‘You may go.’

Far away, at a desk in a distant office block the decision was being made to evict her.

Private and Confidential

Dear Madam

It was decided at the meeting of members of the Welfare Committee on 27th September that you should be required to vacate the temporary accommodation now provided for you and your children on or before 31st October. It must be clearly understood that the temporary accommodation will no longer be available after that date.

Cathy asked, ‘What does it mean?’

She knew really. So did the other women around her. They knew. But they hadn’t the strength to say.

Cathy knew what it meant.

In the days that followed Cathy trudged the streets again with the kids trailing after her, forlornly putting coins into the telephone, making last appeals to friends she once had, even trying to contact Reg. Once more she called at house agents and scanned notice boards.

‘I called about a room.’

‘Sorry, sorry, no children accepted.’

‘Was the room still vacant?’

‘Not from the hostel are you?’

Cathy’s time was running out. The day before she was due to go, the warden stopped by her bed a moment. He said, ‘Don’t be a fathead when your time’s up. Don’t be like Mrs Growcott. Let us take them away without making a fuss.’

Cathy turned to him and spoke from the depths of her misery, ‘What right have you got to take my kids from me?’

The warden said, ‘You can’t find a place for them, can you? Well, you’ve had your chance, we’re not interested in you now. It’s the kids. We can’t have them sleeping out rough. From the moment you leave here with them, they’ll be in need of care and protection.’

Cathy said, ‘No-one has any right to split up a Mum from her kids.’

The warden said, ‘That may be. It might be even that I agree with you. But I don’t make the rules. I just have to execute them.’

Cathy let our her breath in despair.

When he’d gone, later in the morning, she said to the kids, ‘Cathy and Stevie are going tomorrow.’

Stevie said, ‘Where we goin’ to live now Mum, then?’

Cathy said nothing.

Stevie said again, ‘Mum, where we goin’ to live now?’

Cathy said nothing.

Cathy found that her attitude to her stall had changed. Now it had become home. She needed it now.

She tucked up the kids in bed for the last night, said goodnight to them, and then sat on the bed, holding Mylene’s hand and with the other hand resting on Stevie, sat there watching the other mothers getting their kids to bed in the vast room.

She went to bed early, there was nothing else to do there, and in spite of what was going to happen, she slept well. Only she sweated a lot. When she woke, the sheets were drenched in sweat.

The morning came too soon – the grey light coming in through the tall windows. She didn’t wait for the warden. She got up, got the kiddies dressed, and she had already packed their belongings into brown paper parcels.

It was funny, the others didn’t seem to notice as she left. She passed, in a fit of defiance, through the front entrance that normally the homeless families were not allowed to use.

Carrying Mylene, holding Stevie’s hand, followed by Sean, she wandered through a succession of streets, stopping at notice boards.

Later she took them into a public park, and the kids played around a bit on the swings and the chute.

At midday Cathy bought them some ices and teas in a kiosk. As the evening approached the park became misty and Cathy and the children were once more on the move. It was cold now, too cold to stay there. Dusk approached, and Cathy and the kids came down from the park.

At the entrance to the park was a phone box. The insides had been ripped out by vandals. Cathy and the kids went on to another phone, at the end of the street.

Once more she tried to contact Reg, putting a few of her last coins into the slot. But there was no answer from the last number he had given her.

They travelled on buses and, as the night grew colder, trailed up the steps of a mammoth station.

Cathy bought a cup of tea and some ‘individual’ pies. She wrapped the children up and put them to rest beside her on a seat. Cathy told them a story. ‘Once upon a time there were three children. Their names were Sean and Mylene and Stevie and they lived in a magic castle ...’

Until midnight no-one disturbed them. They could have been waiting for a train. The children’s heads were on her lap. She sat, waiting. She had no more plans.

The lights began to go out in the station. The last train would soon be going. Two men, station plain-clothes detectives, approached her and asked a few questions. They walked off. Cathy knew what it was about, but she hadn’t the energy to move any more.

Now four people approached, two women and two men. They explained, reasonably, that they didn’t want her. It was the children. Would she come with them in the car?

Cathy said, to all their questions, ‘No.’ One of the men said, ‘In that case ...’ He made a sign at the women. Each one of them put one hand on each of the children.

And then Cathy was filled with some fund of energy that she hadn’t known about. She was like an animal now, as she fought to keep her children. And they overpowered Cathy and held her down and the children were carried off. Cathy screamed, yelled, then her sobs subsided. She was left, moaning to herself.

A passer-by asked Cathy was she all right and she said she was all right.

She rose from the seat and went to the ‘All-Nite T Bar’ and spent her last fourpence on a cup of tea.

She had one penny left.

High over the spindly roof a moon was rising.

And Cathy walked out of the station.

The breakup of one family by our society was complete.


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