With Melissa Powers as design consultant the room given over to Jimmy Vine was a young boy’s dream. It featured futuristic space rockets on the walls, a ceiling painted to resemble the solar system, a train set, other toys plus crayons with lots and lots of paper. Almost a whole wall was taken up with shelves and shelves of books. Jimmy Vine loved to read and to be read to, often falling asleep with his thumb in his mouth and his head in Louisa's lap of most often, but occasionally one or other of the troubled women in residence who had taken the innocent manchild to their hearts.
Jimmy still enjoyed attending the Late Learners Club. Using the simple device built by Bernard Penny and with much practice and encouragement he had learned and remembered the correct sequence of colours-to-days to enable him to arrive regularly on the correct day.
Louisa looked into the latest techniques and educational advances to learn as much as she could about teaching Jimmy Vine as much as he was capable of. Louisa was shocked to learn that, on the whole, the usual solution was to segregate such children and put them into so-called ‘special schools’. There did not seem to be much evidence that these children prospered any better in such a closed environment than they did outside of it. She even managed to engineer a visit to one establishment on the pretext of sending a ‘sick’ child there.
“I wanted to scream at the inhumanity and unjustness of it!” she said vehemently to Marilyn Penney on the telephone. “Two things were horrifically obvious from the moment I stepped into that awful place.”
“What were they?” Marilyn asked quietly.
Louisa sniffed audibly and her voice sounded tear-choked when she replied.
“The sheer misery of that place. It was the lack of smiles and laughter that will haunt me till my last days. Never could I have imagined so many children in one place and not hear one giggle or peal of laughter or not see one cheeky grin or shy smile!”
Marilyn listened as her friend cried. She felt helpless to offer consolation or words of comfort. She thanked God that her children had all been born healthy and had grown ito fine adults with equally fine and healthy children of their own.
“Whatever else I do in my lifetime, Marilyn, I will fight to my last breath to ensure that Jimmy Vine NEVER ends up in a hell-hole like that place. I swear I will die first than see that happen to that boy!”
The anger and vehemence of Louisa’s words shocked her friend. As a mother she could understand why Louisa was so upset, but her friend had never experienced motherhood herself. Her anger seemed disproportionate to her experience, an opinion she shared with Louisa when she had regained her composure.
“Marilyn, darling, we have known one another a good many years now, more than I care to think about some days.” Louisa laughed ruefully. “In all that time I have kept certain things secret from you so as to not burden you with them.”
“You know you could have shared anything with me, Louisa.” Marilyn said.
“I know, which is precisely why I chose not to. You were such a good friend to me that I wanted to tell you stuff that has kept me awake at nights, but I couldn’t. You had a young family and a husband who adored you. It would have been unfair and selfish of me to burden you with my worries and problems when you were building a fabulous life for yourself. I’m sorry.”
“Oh, Louisa!” Marilyn cried. “You silly, silly girl!”
“Hardly a girl anymore!” Louisa laughed. Marilyn giggled.
“You know what I mean.” she chided affectionately. “You still should have told me. I have broad shoulders. I would have been there for you, no matter what.” she said in a more serious tone. “You should have told me.” she repeated.
“Maybe… I don’t know. However, there is one thing I can tell that might help explain something. I cannot have children because of something that happened to me when I was a girl.” Louisa exhaled noisily. “I was raped by my uncle.” she said flatly. “Repeatedly.” she added.
“Oh my God!” Marilyn exclaimed. “Oh my God!”
“It was a long time ago now. Please, I do not want to discuss it ever again, please?” Louisa pleaded of her friend. “It happened and something went wrong with my insides. I have never had my monthlies, ever.” she said unemotionally.
“Oh, my dear Louisa, I am so sorry!” Marilyn sobbed. “Poor you.”
“As I said, it happened a long time ago and there is nothing I can do or could ever do to change it. What that experience has done has left me with a burning hatred of cruelty and inhumanity in general, but especially to children. It is one of the reasons I started the Connolly House Project and one of the reasons why I will do my utmost to ensure that Jimmy Vine will never see the inside of any sort of institution that penalises him for his educational and developmental deficiencies!”
Jimmy Vine grinned.
“Jimmy reads good now!” he declared proudly.
“Jimmy is doing very well.” Melissa Powers agreed with an answering smile.
She had been engaged by Louisa Calleray to spend two hours a day with the almost nineteen year old man. Her sole remit was to raise Jimmy Vine’s reading capabilities to the best level she and he could attain. In the time she had been working with him on a structured one-to-one basis, reading new ‘Janet and John’ books over and over again until she was confident that he was actually reading them and not repeating the simple words from memory.
He had just successfully moved onto the next level of reading and was feeling mightily pleased with himself. Melissa could not begrudge him his pleasure. He was an almost entirely different person to the frightened illiterate teenager she and Louisa had met less than two years ago. He had taken to living - and working – at the Connolly House Project with aplomb. His greatest pleasure after reading was to undertake any small task asked of him, especially by Louisa. However, as his confidence grew so other residents of the Project allowed the hulking teenager to help them with small tasks, such as carrying shopping upstairs.
Louisa was careful to ensure that nobody took advantage of Jimmy, including herself. Where it would have been too easy to ask Jimmy to bring or fetch something for her because he would have derived enormous pleasure from undertaking even the most menial of tasks, more often than not Louisa fetched or brought it herself.
“Jimmy would have done that.” was Jimmy’s frequent complaint.
“I know Jimmy, which I why I did it myself.” Louisa responded kindly. The answer confused Jimmy, but an affectionate peck on his cheek from Louisa always wiped the frown from his face.
Summer was drawing to a close and the nineteen-fifties were about to give way to a new decade. So much was changing in the world, in politics, in music and in sport. Who would have believed a human being could run a mile in less than four minutes? ‘Really,’ Louisa mused as she walked along a quiet side-street, ‘that sort of thing could not be natural, surely?’
Her reverie was interrupted by the sound of a husky voice behind her and a heavy arm draped around her neck.
“Give me your money or you’re dead.” the voice threatened.
The first blow across the back of her head threw Louisa forward. She stumbled, tried to catch herself, but her grasping hands caught only emptiness. She landed heavily on her knees. A cry of pain burst from her as small stones dug into her skin. The booted foot that stomped on her back laid her flat out on her stomach.
“Ya fuckin’ snotty bitch!” the gruff voice growled beside Louisa’s sprawled body. It was accompanied by a vicious kick to the ribs, which caused Louisa to cry out loudly in pain.
“I…, I have some… money.” She managed to gasp as tears of agony leaked from her eyes. “In my…, purse.”
“I don’t wancha fuckin’ money!” the voice spat derisively. “I wancha ta fuckin’ suffer, ya fuckin’ bitch!”” Another heavy kick to the ribs brought forth a scream of pain and fear from Louisa as she felt at least two ribs break. She curled in to a foetal position as booted feet kicked her back and legs and shoulders.
“You fort you is so fuckin’ posh, dincha? Nah fuckin’ look atcha. Cryin’ like a fuckin’ baby. An’ I ain’t even started on yer proper yet! A heavy boot slammed onto the back of Louisa’s head. Bright pin-pricks of light exploded behind her eyelids. A second kick had unconsciousness trying to drag her into its embrace. Louisa fought against it, fearing that if she allowed herself to slip into the darkness she might never emerge from it again.
“Please…,” she begged in a small, weakened voice. “Please don’t hurt me anymore.”
“Shoulda fort a’that when you got my Sylvia sent darn!” the voice, now sounding angry and offended, sneered.
‘Sylvia? Sylvia?’ Louisa’s pain-addled brain tried to remember why the name was so familiar to her. The pain from the various blows to her body was making clear thought almost impossible
“Ya do ‘member Sylvia, doncha?” the voice asked mockingly. He tapped his foot lightly on the crown of Louisa’s head, which scared her more than the violence that she had already endured. If he kicked her there he could cause some serious damage to her, potentially life-threatening damage.
“Sylvia Urquhart?” The name had come to her in flash of inspiration. “Are you… related… to Sylvia Urquhart?”
“The lady chose to open da box!” the man cackled, misquoting a catchphrase from a popular television game show.
“Yeah, you fuckin rich-bitch, I’m related to Sylvia. She’s me bleedin’ cuzzin!” His boot connected heavily with the soft middle of Louisa’s stomach. She cried out again in fear and pain, tears running down her pain-wracked face. She could barely draw breath.
“You ‘ad her senta nick, dincha? DINCHA!?” the man demanded.
“She stole from me.” Louisa said wearily, the darkness that wanted to envelop her was pressing at her eyes once again. She was finding it increasingly hard to fight it off.
“A few bitsa this an’ that? So fuckin’ what. Weren’t like ya couldn’t afford it, is it?”
“It was considerably… more than… a few ‘bits’… as you call them…” Louisa managed to say, each breath now more painful than the previous one. “It was… a… lot of… money.”
The man strode around Louisa Calleray’s prone figure. Bright sunshine was giving way to longer shadows and there was a noticeable cooling of the temperature. Louisa shivered when she opened her eyes to see a pair of worn and dirty scuffed-toe boots right by her face. She gave out an involuntary cry and jerked her head backwards.
“So? Ya still din’t havta get ‘er sent darn!” the man spat angry. “Ya fuckin’ killed her, yer did!”
Even from her prone position at his feet Louisa could feel Sylvia Urquhart’s cousin’s tension and aggression. She began to shiver, fearing for her life.
“I don’t… understand…” she said softly. “Is Sylvia dead?” Louisa asked slowly.
“She might just as well be. She ain’t been right in ‘er ‘ead since she got sent darn. She’s a fucking loony, a real fuckin’ loony!” he said, his voice tight with bitterness and barely controlled anger.
“I am… genuinely, sorry to… hear that…” Louisa told the man with as much sincerity as she could muster under the most extreme of circumstances.
“Tha’s fuckin’ great. I’ll tell ‘er that, shall I, nex’ time I go ter see ‘er? That’ll make ‘er feel much better, I reckon!” the man mocked.
Louisa chose to remain silent, fearing that any further engagement with this man would be pointless, probably painful and possibly fatal.
“She’s in a fuckin’ loony lock-up, nah, ain’t she? “ Sylvia Urquhart’s cousin said. “She fuckin’ tried ter top ‘erself, she did. An’ all cos a you!” he yelled before raining a barrage of heavy punches and kicks to Louisa’s defenceless body.
Louis cried out, terrified out of her mind. The blackness of unconsciousness tried to claim her again but she fought it off concentrating on the pain to keep her awake.
“Sylv ain’t never gonna get outa that place, yer bitch!” her cousin screamed before swinging his foot viciously at Louisa’s unprotected head. It connected with a sickening ‘crack’, rendering Louisa immediately unconscious.
The man looked down at the bloodied and battered woman with disdain and utter contempt.
“Maybe nex’ time yer’ll keep yer fuckin’ mouth shut, yer snooty fuckin’ bitch!” he spat before giving Louisa’s unconscious body another final hefty kick before strolling away as though he was out for a pleasant evening stroll.
It was full dark by the time they found her. A young couple, on their way home after a couple of celebratory drinks at a nearby public house, literally stumbled over Louisa in the poorly lit side street. The giggle died on the young woman’s lips when her hand came up sticky from the cool body. It was she who had screamed at her brand new fiancé to call an ambulance.
To be continued...