“Does it hurt much, Mummy?”
Lorraine tried to ignore the soft touch of the small hand on the top of her head and concentrated on tying the shoelace. She took pains making sure the bow was in place, anything to avoid looking up into the questioning eyes of her youngest child.
“It’s not so bad,” she stood, and tossed his curls. “Hardly anything to fuss about and it doesn’t hurt, really,” she assured him.
David was always the first one up in the morning. The minute he heard her moving about he was out of bed, anxious to begin the day. His sisters Abbey, nine and Chelsea six, were like their father and it took ages to rouse them. Setting out three bowls for the cereal, Lorraine took the last remaining carton of milk from the fridge and frowned. There wasn’t enough left and with no money to buy more, she walked to the sink and turned on the cold tap. By the time the girls took their place at the table, she’d mixed the diluted milk and poured it over their cereal.
“Yuk,” Abbey complained. “This milk tastes like water.”
“Its low fat,” her mother explained, hoping she’d accept this.
“No, its not,” she scowled and jutting out her lower lip, pushed the bowl away with more force than was necessary.
Some of the contents slopped over the side and she sneered at her mother’s look of reproach. Ignoring her, Lorraine took a cloth from beside the sink and mopped up the mess.
“It is a bit yucky,” Chelsea agreed with her sister.
“I like it,” David shovelled another spoonful into his mouth and beamed up at his mother.
Despite being just four-years-old, Lorraine felt he was her only ally in the battle constantly raging around her. The girls were little madams and tended to gang up on her at every opportunity. Neither of them remarked on her split lip or the noise their father made the night before. Sometimes, when the beating were particularly severe, she got the impression they felt she deserved it. This was nonsense of course. Like all little girls they felt the sun rose in their father’s eyes and it wasn’t a matter of taking sides. No, she decided they were too young to understand what was going on.
A noise from overhead made them look up at the ceiling. A drinking session in the pub last night meant their father was late as usual for work and he wouldn’t be in a good humour. Though his job with the county council wasn’t demanding, they expected to see evidence of his work on their weekly visit to the area. It involved nothing more than tree cutting and keeping the bushes and hedges in some sort of order. The house came with the job and this gave Lorraine reason to worry. If he lost his job, they’d be homeless, and there was little else available in such a remote area. Huddled among a group of six others and built over sixty years before, it stood out from the cottages around it by having a second storey, but the interior was much the same. The only heat came from the fire in the sitting room; the rest of the house was freezing.
The thundering on the stairs made them look down at their breakfasts. Even Chelsea pulled her bowl back in front of her and made pretence of eating the soggy cereal.
“Where’s my lunch,” their father looked around the kitchen.
“There’s no bread left, Tom,” his wife said. “I only had enough for the kids’ lunch.”
“I told you I was working over at Kelly’s today, didn’t I?”
Lorraine knew he’d be too far away to make it home to eat and anyway, there was nothing left. All their money went on his drink.
“I know, but what can I do,” She held her hands out in surrender. “The kids need something during the day.”
Storming past her, he picked up the three small parcels of food.
“They can fuckin starve for all I care,” he wafted by her in a haze of stale beer and cigarette smoke.
Not until they heard the slamming of the front door, did the children dare to speak.
“What will we do for lunch, Mummy?” Chelsea looked up at her wide eyed.
“I don’t know, sweetheart,” Lorraine bit down on her lip and moaned.
She’d forgotten in her worry about the cut and the touch of her teeth on the tender skin sent shockwaves of pain coursing through her body. Leaning on the table she closed her eyes and waited for the pain to subside.
“Are you all right, Mummy?” David got down from his chair and came over to her.
“Yes, I’m, fine,” her words were gasps as her body shook from the pain.
Her reaction frightened the girls, who watched her every move.
“We better get you ready for school,” she was shaking as she combed the children’s hair.
Her ribs felt sore and she wondered if another visit to the doctor was in order. She knew what his reaction would be to the bruising and cut lip, but at least he’d give her some painkillers. He was a gentle man, Dr Miller, good and kind; not in the condescending bedside manner way, but you saw it in his eyes. There was gentleness about the way he examined her various injuries and it pained her to see the horror and admonishment in his face when she refused to go to the police. Not even on the numerous occasions when Tom hospitalized her, had she resorted to calling in the law. With no family of her own, she’d nowhere to go. She wouldn’t subject her children to some hostel or home for battered wives. As long as Tom never raised his hand to the children, she’d remain at home.