Carol Major

A Certain Kindness Reading

 

 

A Certain Kindness

 

Carol Major

 

She’d been practicing escape since she was a kid, although back then the police would catch her again and always bring her back. In the early days it was to a children’s shelter, a big old house close to the harbour that smelled of lavatory disinfectant and moth-eaten wool. Lots of children came and went but basically they were always the same kids—the boy with a scab under his nose who would twist her elbow because ‘he could break bones if he wanted’—the fat girl that was bursting with a secret she’d told everyone else. Her first memories began in that children’s shelter. She couldn’t remember how she got there or why, although she could recall being aware that she was someone new, someone who was born four years old and had been dropped by a wayward stork into that place. She was tiny then, so tiny she had to stand on tiptoe to see what was going on, so tiny she was constantly being whacked with flying elbows because no one saw her down there.

She’d hated everyone until she met Mrs Sims, a tall woman with a strawberry birthmark on her cheek. She wasn’t kind but at least she was honest, and had told her right up front that the reason no one wanted to be near her was because her breath smelled and her underpants stank. When did you last wash yourself? When did you last clean your teeth?

She didn’t know.

That day Mrs Sims marched her to a large bathroom to look for the mug with her name and was so annoyed when she couldn’t find one. “When did you come? Who signed you in?”

She didn’t have an answer to those questions either.

Mrs Sims paraded her through the halls, asking the questions above her head. “Who brought this child? When did she arrive?”

No one else knew either but at least Mrs Sims found a toothbrush and a face washer, and later she brought fresh clothes and drew her a bath. “Catarrh, that’s your problem,” she said as she swirled hot water under the faucet to mix with the cold. “Catarrh stuck on the back of your throat and making that awful smell. You’ve got to learn to blow your nose and gargle.” She whisked Zoe’s dress over her head and told her to step out of her underpants. “Lordy, these will need to go in the bin. Didn’t anyone tell you how to wipe your bum properly?”

She crouched in the bathtub trying to remember and had peered at the soiled dress she’d just taken off. There were fish appliqués sewn to the front and for some reason she knew it had been her best dress, a deep azure blue, at least that was the name Mrs Sims gave to the colour and she was sure the word had something to do with her name. She had fleeting visions of standing proud while someone did up the buttons and tied the bow on that beautiful dress, before it became dirty. Someone with dark hair and coal black eyes who was telling her that she was being taken to the circus.

 

 

 

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