What woke me? I lay still and listened. Why was it so dark? No light was coming in through my open bedroom door from the light on the landing which was always, always left on. In fact where was the door? And what had happened to my little bedroom window, with the light from the street lamp glowing through the thin curtains? I pushed my foot down the bed trying to find the comforting weight of Spotty, our little dog, who always sneaked in and slept on the end of my bed. First I whispered “ Spotty, where are you?” then, when I realised he was not there, I called more loudly “Mum, where are you?”
Out of the darkness came a grumpy voice “For God’s sake, kid, be quiet. Some of us have got to get up and catch the school bus.”
“Who are you and where am I?” I could feel a lump rising in my throat and my voice was dangerously wobbly.
“I’m Sharon and this dump is called The Haven. Some Haven I can tell you. Now do us a favour and get back to sleep. Bad enough they stick a kid in my room, without it being a kid who yaks all night.”
I couldn’t resist jumping in. “It’s not all night. I just woke up and I can’t find Spotty and I don’t know where I am or where Mum is. And now I need the toilet.”
There were bed creaking noises from nearby and God got called on a few more times before the light went on and I could see the room and Sharon. “Come on then, kid. I’ll show you where to go, but if you try this on again, I’ll push your head down the pan. Understand? It’s bad enough having to turn out for school in the morning without playing nursemaid in the night.” But in spite of her rough words, Sharon held out her hand to me and squeezed it a bit as we headed for the door.
When we got to the bathroom she pulled a cord I could never have reached and we were both dazzled by the bright light on the white wall tiles. Although she went and stood outside the door, I still had time to see her face. I was sure she was pretty, but she seemed to have forgotten to clean off her make-up when she went to bed and there were streaks of black all round her eyes and some on her cheeks. Ever helpful, I said as I came out of the bathroom, “I say Sharon, I’m not being rude, but do you know you seem to have gone to bed wearing your makeup? My Mum always says you have to clean it off carefully, or you’ll get spots. In fact yours have come out already. That was quick.”
Sharon let go her comforting grip on my hand and slammed me against the wall. She pushed her face up close to mine. She didn’t smell very nice, but for once I decided not to mention it. “Less of the lip, kid, or you’ll have a thick ’un.” Even I had the sense not to ask what a ‘thick ’un’ was just then. “Anyway, much good it’s done your Ma, cleansing carefully every night. Tried to put herself in the morgue, that’s what. Maybe she spotted a blackhead or two, eh?”
I was about to tell Sharon this was a good pun when suddenly pictures started to flash through my head. Mum was in the bath. She had some nice music playing on the radio as usual and there were some of those nice smelly candles on the widow sill and round the edge of the bath. But Mum seemed to be asleep. I walked towards her to wake her, because she always said sleeping in the bath was dangerous. Then I noticed that the floor was wet and my feet were in a pool of pink coloured water that was spilling over the edge of the bath. There was also red stuff dripping from Mum’s arm that was hanging over the side of the bath. That was mixing with the pink water and making it a bit darker. Suddenly I felt a sharp pain in my foot and saw that I had stepped on one of the kitchen knives. What was that doing upstairs and in the bathroom where people have bare feet ? There could be a nasty accident. In fact there was a little cut on my foot and the blood from that was getting all mixed up with the pink water and the red stuff from Mum’s arm. I wondered if Mum had been trying out some new nail polish, but felt puzzled if she had been doing it in the bath. Then suddenly I realised that the red stuff was blood.
I let out a scream, blinking to try to shut out the pictures. Sharon clamped one hand over my mouth and punched me with the other. “ Pack it in, kid. Don’t go getting me in trouble, or I’ll really do for you.” My instinct was to ask, “Do what for me, Sharon?” but I was learning fast and just kept my mouth shut. Couldn’t do much else the way she was holding me. Instead I fought down the waves of tears and tried again to blot out the hideous things running through my head, like a video of something we had recorded by mistake. But the pictures were still there.
I was shaking Mum and shouting to her to wake up. But her arm near me was all floppy and she started to slide under the water. By now I was soaked and the pink water was heading for the bathroom door. I dropped Mum’s big bath towel across the door way to stop it getting out. If that pink water got to the white landing carpet Mum would be furious and be cross with me for not having the sense to stop it.
What could I do? We had no other family, as far as I knew. We did not know any of the neighbours. My school friends were miles away. I cuddled Spotty, but he wriggled away because I was all wet. I was getting cold as well. So I did what Mum had taught me to do when I was very little. I dialled 999. The lady who answered was very nice, even though I made some pretty silly answers. She kept talking to me until the Police and the Ambulance got to our house. Somebody wrapped me up in a fluffy red blanket and Spotty came back to be hugged.
I noticed that all the police and ambulance people had big black shoes on and they were walking on the white carpet in the hall and all up the stairs and on the landing. The big bath towel across the bathroom doorway didn’t seem to be doing much good and their big foot prints were getting all over the carpet. “My Mum will be very cross with you for messing up our white carpet,” I informed them. “You have to take off your shoes in our house.”
“Not tonight, petal,” one of the men replied. I don’t think your Mam will be too bothered about the carpet for a while.”
One of the police, a pretty lady with bright red hair, came and sat down next to me. “What’s your name, pet ?” She asked, reaching out to stroke Spotty. At first I thought she was asking about Spotty, but then I understood. “ I’m Caitlin Forbes,” I said, trying to sound as grown up as I could. “Would you like some tea?” I asked, remembering that Mum always said you should be polite to tradesmen and such like. I decided that these people with their big black shoes were ‘such like’. “ Not just now thanks, Katy”. I frowned. “I’m Caitlin,” I said. “Who is Katy?” “ Sorry Caitlin. My mistake. No tea just yet thanks. But do you want something?” “ Not allowed,” I replied. “ I have cleaned my teeth, ready for bed.”
The police woman told me her name was Jill and then started asking me about our family and if I knew any addresses or phone numbers for someone who could look after me.
Back in the strange bedroom Sharon was pushing me to get back into bed. She was still bothered about the school bus.
I got as far under the bedclothes as I could, but instead of my usual duvet there seemed to be blankets on this bed and somebody had tucked them in so firmly that it was impossible to get them to snuggle round me. The pillow was all squashed and flat and didn’t smell very nice. Where on earth could I be?
I turned to where I thought her bed was and whispered, “Sharon, whereabouts are we and what is this place?”
“Don’t you know nuthin, kid? This is Bellton and I already told you this is called The Haven.”
“Yes, but WHAT is The Haven?” In the next few days I learned that I upset people by always asking a lot of questions, especially ones that began ‘Yes, but’, which usually meant I was not satisfied with their answers. But my Mum had taught me to ask politely, because it is important to understand things.
“The Haven, you spoilt brat, is a children’s home. You’ll love it here, all aboard the good ship Social Services. Sharing a room, not choosing who with, not choosing what you eat, when you eat, or where, having to go to the poxy school, with all the other kids sniggering at you, because you get to wear the full uniform and most of them don’t, cos their parents don’t give a toss, or got no money to buy the gear. Then there’s bullies here, so learn to keep buttoned up and steer clear. You’ll have to learn to keep buttoned up anyway cos the staff here all talk about you, but they’re not really interested in you talking to them, except about when they want to find something out. They’ll have a meeting soon and tell you what’s going to happen to you. Now get to sleep and leave me be, kid.”
“ Yes, but how will I know what to do and where to go, Sharon?”
“ I could tell you right now what I’d like you to do and where I wish you would go,” came the muffled reply from across the room.
“ Please be serious, Sharon. I don’t want to get into trouble.”
“ Don’t worry kid. In the morning (like about ten minutes from now) they’ll tell you who your ‘special’ is. That’s the staff who will have to look after you, explain things to you, make sure you’re OK. Bit of a joke that. Don’t give a monkey’s if you are all right or all wrong. But never mind. And then you’ve got me. They told me last night, just before you came in. I’ve been ‘given the responsibility of helping you to settle in.’ Didn’t know it would mean nurse maid-ing trips to the toilet and you yakking all night, I can tell you. I fell for the ‘we need your help Sharon’ rubbish. Me of all people should have seen through that bullshit. Now can we please get some sleep?”
I had so many more questions. Where was Mum? Where was Spotty? What about the white carpet? Had somebody locked the front door and turned off the lights? Who had the keys? Would we be able to get back into the house? Were our things safe? What would I wear tomorrow (today already, according to Sharon)? What about school? I drew breath, with a ‘Yes, but’ already forming on my lips. But instead I said, “Thanks for looking after me, Sharon. You’ve been most kind. I’m glad the staff picked you. My name’s Caitlin by the way.”
“Are you taking the piss kid? No, I don’t suppose you are. Just snooty that’s all.” Then in a nicer, kinder voice Sharon said, “Goodnight Caitlin. Try to get some sleep now.”