‘You Are My Sunshine’ (c) Delphine Lever
Original beginning (before advice)
Her name was Lola. She was a showgirl. She knew this because her mum, Sandra, had sung it to her every day. On good days she’d suffer a couple of bouts of the Barry Manilow classic, but on bad days Sandra was well capable of belting it out over and over and over again. Lola knew how much her mum had loved Barry; she definitely loved him more than her and in the end more than life itself. Lola often wondered what her life would have been like had her mum been into The Kinks. With each passing year Lola despised her name more. It didn’t fit her. Anyway there wasn’t much call for a showgirl in Ramsgate, well, not one with buckteeth, fat ankles and mouse hair. And there was certainly no Copacabana, the nearest was The Royal and she wasn’t about to do any showing there. The last time she’d shown anything in fact was when she’d flashed her pants at Jimmy Jones outside Pete’s Fish Factory. Well that was until last night. What a bloody mess she’d got herself into. Shit it, she thought, she wouldn’t be getting over this with a copy of Heat and a mint Aero.
Sandra and Kevin
Life had been a bed of roses for Lola. A bed without the comfort of soft, silken petals, only thorns to scratch and tear. Lola was born one cold, dark November morning. Sandra, never one to miss an opportunity for a damn good moan, let rip, literally, and howled like a wolf, screamed like a banshee and swore like a guttersnipe for a good 37 hours as Lola was ripped from her. It wasn’t an easy birth. Sandra later told Lola that she had no desire to hold this purple, ugly, brute of a baby. She felt no warmth towards her. And so Lola took comfort from her father, he wasn’t much in the way of dads but at least he seemed to like her, sometimes. He would chase her and play with her, too roughly at times, if he felt like it, ignore her if he didn’t. But Lola knew no different and so settled into this existence that was her family.
Sandra and Kevin were dysfunctional; they didn’t know the meaning of ‘function’. They both had tales of woe to tell and their lives had left scars too deep to be healed by a few weeks of counselling. They’d given that a go and had come out more confused and pissed off than ever. And so they self medicated and their mutual love for medication brought them together.
‘Hi, I’m Sandra and I’m a drug abusing alcoholic’, she said as she grinned across at Kevin, flashing a row of stained teeth. Kevin grinned back and their fate was sealed. That was eighteen years ago, Christmas 1985.
They were sitting in a circle, 9 misfits all thrown in together. The room was enough to finish you off; the paint was peeling, the carpet stained and sticky and the stench of armpit, alcohol and fags stuck in your throat. No one wanted to be there, not even the facilitator, Colin. Kevin preferred to call Colin, Cunt, or Capital Cunt or Cunt with a capital. Kevin felt totally justified in his hatred of Colin and when he talked about him he used the C word with confidence. He’d always liked the word and now he had good reason to use it. He’d given Colin the benefit of the doubt and Colin had failed.
Kevin took offense to the fact that when Colin spoke he would visibly foam at the mouth. White froth would form in the corners of his tight lips. But that wasn’t Colin’s only shortcoming. Not by a long shot. He would sweat profusely, perspiration would flood the sleeve of his plaid shirts within minutes of him entering the room. The absorbency of the plaid did nothing to soak the dripping, stinking sweat. Then there was his breath. Real bad breath, like he’d eaten shit but hadn’t quite digested it and now it was rotting inside of him. His breath smelt of rotting shit. Kevin found all of Colin’s misfortunes too much to bear, they irritated him and he didn’t want to have to sit in the same room as him. But he had to so he decided to try and find a way of helping Colin redeem himself. He felt a little sorry for him and decided Colin must be stressed, shy, tired and lacking a good woman to tell him he bloody well stank. One day Kevin sparked up a conversation with Colin in the hope that he could see past his disgusting bodily malfunctions. Kevin chose to speak to Colin about music, his true love. But Colin failed miserably at the first hurdle, and positively pissed Kevin off. Colin’s favourite musician was Kate Bush. That was it, enough for Kevin to right Colin off, never to be given another chance. Whenever he had the opportunity, Kevin would out rightly ridicule Colin, and gain great pleasure from it too.
When she first entered, tentatively, Sandra scanned the room and immediately her eyes settled on Kevin. He had an air of the cock about him, a bit of a lad, not the type to take home to mum but then her mum would have eaten him alive so she didn’t worry much about that. She liked the fact that he looked like he could tell them all to ‘fuck off’ and walk out at any minute. Sandra could tell that the only reason he stayed was to have a bit of sport, banter, fun. That and the fact that he was on a court order, it was this or prison and he wasn’t after the ‘share a cell with nutter’ option. He’d already had a spell inside and it wasn’t something he cared to repeat. Kevin was sporting a Fred Perry t-shirt and neatly ironed jeans, he stood out against the backwash of rejects assembled. You could tell that he wore his Fred Perry with pride, but not in a nice, friendly, reliable, Paul Weller type of way, nor a, let me take you down a dark alley and kick the shit out of you kind of way, but somewhere in between. Sandra couldn’t guess his age, between 30 and 40 she thought, she hoped he wasn’t trying to guess hers, she knew she looked knackered and old. She sat opposite him so she could get a good look, and she liked what she saw.
Kevin knew he could have a laugh with this lot… or at this lot. They weren’t the smartest bunch. Perhaps his probation officer was right, he could get a lot out of these sessions, ‘make the most of them’ she’d said. He’d certainly do that. He’d had a good look round, 5 men and 3 women, varying ages, from teenagers to oldies. All here under duress he imagined, who wouldn’t be, it definitely was not The Ritz. Although, he had managed to sweet-talk a cuppa and a garibaldi out of Suzie, the receptionist. He might be able to talk more out of her later. Just then a woman walked in, she looked vulnerable, bird like, good bone structure, good bones, just bloody bones to be honest but he liked the look of her. She caught his eye and they held each other’s gaze for slightly too long. She glanced at her feet before sitting opposite him. He couldn’t tell her age, anything between 25 and 55 he thought. Life could have been good, or incredibly bad, to her. He got the feeling it was the latter. He straightened up a bit, tried a bit of a sitting down swagger. He knew he was looking quite good. When he thought she wasn’t looking, he took her in. Not great dress sense, she was hiding her tiny frame in clothes that would swamp Big Daddy. She looked lost from the outside in, but her vulnerability attracted him to her.
They’d got over the embarrassing introductions and were now onto the nitty gritty. Colin was probing, not a nice experience for any of them.
‘So Kevin tell us why you’re here,’ Colin knew that Kevin wasn’t about to volunteer any information and that he would have to extract it. Kevin hadn’t been listening for the past few minutes, too interested in the bony bird facing him, and so this uninvited interruption was most unwelcome.
‘Er, well Colin, it certainly isn’t the welcome snacks, this garibaldi’s seen better days and the tea’s like watered down piss but on the plus side I think I could make some really good contacts here, a bit of networking and I won’t be short of suppliers.’ He grinned as he glanced round at his comrades, God what a bunch of loons he thought.
‘Ok Kevin, that’s really interesting, but what about the fact that if you don’t use this time wisely and get clean you could very well end up in prison?’
Jesus, he hated Colin, what a cunt?
‘Yeah thanks for that Colin, I’d almost forgotten, thanks for reminding me, cheered me right up that ‘as.’
Kevin told the group about his recent misdemeanour, leaving out the part where he’d nearly given some old lady heart failure while wrestling her to the ground for her handbag, God the old girl had some bollocks. But he had bigger bollocks and an even bigger habit, one that needed feeding, but he knew that wrestling grannies wasn’t good sport and he wanted these people to like him, well the bony bird opposite anyway. He’d worked hard over the past few weeks and was getting himself clean, he was reducing on a methadone programme and was feeling better than he had in ages, things were beginning to seem a bit clearer. But clarity had its down side and he had to try hard to stop himself from thinking about all the shit stuff he’d done over the past few years. He knew he was rotten, he just didn’t want to admit it.
Sandra could tell Kevin was a bit of a bad ‘un. Call it female intuition, that and the fact he looked like a cross between Marlon Brando and Charles Bronson. If he was a dog he’d be a bull mastive; big and hard looking but with soft, wrinkly bits. Blimey what would she be? Definitely a cross of some sort. The skinny frame of a half starved whippet with the fur of a poodle, great. She must sort her hair out, it was an embarrassment. Sandra realised that she had been staring at Kevin, how long had she been doing that? He had an edge, she thought, and she’d always gone for the dangerous types. But it was exactly the attraction to the daring and dangerous that had got her into this mess in the first place. She needed to sort herself out. Most of the group had spoken and nearly all had sad, depressing tales to tell, she was bored of this life and the people it shoved her way. She wanted out. She listened as Kevin told them about his drug habit and how it was the last chance saloon for him. He sounded earnest when he said he wanted to keep clean, to sort his shit out, to be a good person. There was a softness to his eyes and as she looked into them she heard the bloke in the cords and brushed cotton shirt asking her why she was here.
Oh no, she thought, and before she knew what she was doing she’d stood up and blurted,
‘Hi I’m Sandra and I’m a drug abusing alcoholic!’ dear God in heaven what had made her say that? She’d watched far too many crap TV dramas. She flashed her best smile, in hope it might detract from how naff she sounded. Sandra locked eyes with Kevin and he smiled back. She stood there, rooted to the spot, not sure what to do or say now. Everyone was waiting, so she gave it to them straight. She’d got nothing to lose, she’d bloody well lost it all already. She was bored of lying anyway. Sandra told them that after a sorry excuse for an upbringing her mum had kicked her out at 16 for being a ‘total waste of space’. A foster family had a go at repairing the damage but there was already far too much done and so she’d spent the past 6 years dossing on floors, on the streets and in hostels. She’d taken just about everything and her body told the tale.
‘Look at me,’ she found herself saying finally and she looked down, sad at what she saw. Tears were streaming down her face. Sandra sat back down. She was tired.
The bloke next to her put his arm around her and she sank into it, she wasn’t fussy or proud, she’d take refuge wherever it appeared. She cried some more. The bloke in charge said it was about time for a break,
‘I think we could all do with a cuppa’ he said.
Sandra released herself from the bear’s armpit she was sobbing into and got up to get a cup of tea, her mouth was dry, how long had she been prattling on? She was just pouring herself out a cup when she felt someone move in next to her. She could feel them staring down at her and as she looked up she saw it was Kevin. He was even more attractive close up. He still had the look of hooligan about him but his smile was warm, it stretched right across his face and when it reached his eyes she smiled back.
‘Sorry to say this love,’ he said quietly, ‘but y’r arse seems to ‘av eaten arf ya skirt.’
It took a while for Sandra to digest the words, to comprehend what they meant. She lowered her arm, felt her bum and ran from the room. She plucked the skirt from her knickers and sat on the loo, every part of her was red hot with embarrassment and shame. How on earth had she managed that? For Christ’s sake was there no end to the misery that was her life, she wished she had something to take the edge off and make her have the balls not to care.
He regretted telling her immediately. Why hadn’t he let someone else tell her? He’d made her feel bad and now she’d never want to talk to him. He was wrong. After 10 minutes of waiting with intent outside the ladies she emerged.
‘Sorry love, I really am. But I didn’t want you to stay like that with arf y’r arse ‘angin out, not with that bunch of losers all coppin an eye full.’
Sandra looked up at him, he wasn’t taking the piss, he was genuinely sorry. But his face was almost too sympathetic and she couldn’t help but see the funny side, she stifled a giggle but couldn’t hold it in. The thought of her, in her first group counselling meeting, with her bum out was just too funny and she cracked up, they both did.
‘Do you want to go for a coffee after this shit?’ Kevin asked.
‘I’d love to.’
They both went back in, Sandra was sure everyone was looking at her but Kevin sat next to her and the rest of the meeting seemed to go by in a flash.
They went for a cuppa and an egg bap at The Masthead on Addington Street. Kevin said it was his favourite greasy spoon and after being in there an hour Sandra felt like she had a definite sheen to her. Conversation came easily. Sandra hadn’t chatted like this for ages. She’d found herself more and more isolated over the years, she’d done too many crappy things and people were distancing themselves from her. Positively avoiding her. She told Kevin about her childhood and how she’d never really got along with her mum and that she’d never known her dad. She’d got into trouble at school and before long she was hanging out with a crowd of kids who were destined for a life of drugs and crime and so she went along for the ride.
‘And now I’ve got nothing.’ She said. ‘I’m trying to get off the drugs, my probation officer says I can do it, that I’ve got the rest of my life to live, but it doesn’t feel like that. I feel ill and tired and worn out. I don’t have anywhere to live, I’ve got no friends, well not ones you’d want to call your friends anyway…’ Her voice trailed off.
They drank their tea.
‘Do you fancy coming back to mine?’ Kevin asked.
They quickly became an item. Kevin was good for Sandra, he was already on the road to recovery, he was determined to sort his shit out and now he had a reason to. They both reduced on methadone and sought stability in their lives. Sandra moved in with Kevin almost immediately, well why not? His flat was no palace, in fact it was a dump, but it was somewhere to live and they made the most of it. Sandra needed Kevin to look after her and Kevin needed someone to look after. They soon realised they had very little in common but it didn’t seem to matter. Love really was blind. Kevin would listen to his ska music full blast and skank wildly round the flat like something out of Madness. Sandra didn’t mind, she was happy and in love, she laughed and indulged him. If she felt inclined and generous of spirit she wasn’t averse to joining him and they’d skank round the flat together, collapsing exhausted on the sofa, giggling like school kids. But as soon as Kevin went out she would put on Barry Manilow. She’d sing at the top of her lungs and imagine he was twirling her round in some Hollywood mansion. She knew in her heart of hearts that he wouldn’t look twice at the scrawny mess she’d become. But she’d always been good at day dreaming, and she believed as she twirled.
She’d loved Barry from the moment she’d first heard him sing ‘Mandy’. She’d change the lyrics to Sandy, even though no one had ever called her that, and believe he was singing the love song to her. She’d always loved him. It was her mum’s fault, one of the only things she thanked her mum for was her love of Barry. She told Kevin that there was room for the both of them and she quickly had the tattoo, which was just above her left breast, altered from ‘Barry’ to ‘Kevin’. It didn’t look great but Kevin was happy. Things began to look good for them. Sadness wasn’t far from their eyes but they held it at bay and sought happiness in their new romance. By spring Sandra had noticed she had put on weight for the first time in years. She delighted in showing Kevin her new found figure, ok so she was no page three but she knew she was looking better than she had for ages. When she looked in the mirror she was liked what she saw. Her hair was still a problem, it had a mind of its own and she didn’t like its thoughts, but the bones of her body no longer jutted out of her and her clothes no longer hung off her shoulders.
One day while collecting her script from the dependency clinic Sandra noticed a woman’s session, ‘open to all’, was just about to start. She decided to go in. She hadn’t felt like meeting people for so long, she was ashamed of herself and what she’d been reduced to. Today though Sandra had the urge to talk to other women. Kevin was great but she missed chatting inanely, she wanted to discuss the likes of Madonna, Lady Di and how exactly she could tame her mad hair, she quite liked Farah Fawcett-Majors’ flicks, could it be a possibility? She collected her script and pushed open the door. There were 6 women sitting chatting on sofa’s, they paused as she entered, and she immediately regretted walking in on them. She felt like an intruder, she’d probably say something stupid, she checked her arse hadn’t grabbed hold of any of her clothes. Sandra was about to turn on her heal when an older woman, about 55, beckoned her over. Shit, she thought, too bloody late. She smiled and walked over.
They were a bit of a motley bunch but they seemed very welcoming, one of the women budged up so she could join them. Sandra soon found herself chatting and laughing about all manner of things. They discussed men, women, facial hair (both men’s and women’s), clothes, spots, tits, chocolate, willies, shoes and sex. It was great to talk so freely and Sandra realised how much she’d missed it. One of the women, Tania, was pregnant and was telling them about how sore her boobs were. Tania said she was getting pissed off with her partner ogling and groping them at every opportunity, she didn’t want to be an object of sex now that she was pregnant, it just didn’t seem right somehow. But her partner couldn’t get used to the fact that she was no longer the pole dancing, lap shagging, temptress she was when they met. Sandra couldn’t help but think that Tania wasn’t doing herself any favours. There she was, 7 months pregnant, in skin-tight leopard print leggings, 5 inch heels and a top that plunged so low Sandra thought her engorged tits might escape at any moment. In fact she couldn’t take her eyes off them in case one of them did. Sandra was inwardly jealous. She listened as Tania talked on about her pregnancy, she felt sick, and she realised it wasn’t the first time she’d felt sick recently. She’d put it down to the methadone, though she’d never suffered with methadone sickness before. She hadn’t had her period for months. She couldn’t be pregnant. How on earth could she be? She stood up quickly, wanting more than anything to run from the room, but instead, she fainted. She came to with the women all clucking round her, making a fuss. Sandra desperately wanted to leave. She knew now she was pregnant but she didn’t want to share the news with these women she barely knew. She made her apologies and left.
Of course Kevin was ecstatic, he couldn’t think of anything more wonderful, it would cement their relationship he said. But Sandra wasn’t so sure, she was still a bit of a mess and she knew it. She was only just managing to cope on the methadone and she’d slipped up a couple of times recently, though she hadn’t told Kevin. She decided to go to the doctors and discuss her options. After a quick discussion she booked herself in for an abortion, she knew it would be no good having a baby right now. They’d only just got together, it was all so new, she still felt like she had so much to find out about Kevin and she certainly hadn’t given too much away about herself, she was frugal with the truth. How on earth could she look after a baby when she didn’t know how to look after herself. But Kevin was persuasive. He promised her the world, he would look after them both, he would make everything right, they’d be a family. He skanked happily in front of her, he told her he had a good feeling about this. And so Sandra let herself be pulled along by his enthusiasm, perhaps it was the right thing to do after all. It wasn’t that she didn’t want the image Kevin gave to her so eagerly, she did, she wanted it more than anything, but she was realistic. Sandra knew what they were and it wasn’t parents, not yet anyway. But perhaps if she willed it enough it might come true. She pictured it, and dreamt of it, and she lied to herself.
Lola – The Beginning
Their relationship had barely begun when they found themselves lurching towards parenthood. They were pleased with how they’d managed to get off the gear. They were both doing well on methadone prescriptions. Yes, they still drank the odd litre of cider and smoked a few fags but they couldn’t give up everything, they needed some release. They both wanted to be part of a family and to create something good out of years of pain and torment. So they worked at it, they went to the baby classes and bought what they could afford in preparation for the baby’s arrival. Kevin was almost childlike in his enthusiasm, he’d never had anything so important in his life. He’d never, before, had anything to look forward to and he looked forward to this new beginning with all his might. At times Sandra struggled with the idea that she was responsible for someone else but she put the thought to the back of her mind.
They didn’t have a particularly lovey dovey relationship. Theirs was one based on sarcasm and acerbic wit, usually Kevin’s at Sandra’s expense. They were far from the ideal family set up that presented themselves at their local anti natal clinic classes. But they both went along anyway, they weren’t ashamed of who they were, well they were a bit. The midwife at the drug and alcohol dependency clinic had advised them to attend the sessions and they wanted to show willing, to prove to people that they were as responsible and just as capable of this pregnancy thing as anyone else. As soon as they entered the room they felt uncomfortable. Sandra was wearing an outsized tracksuit, Kevin’s. You could see her head, hands and the scuffed trainers on her feet. Her hair was scraped back tightly to her skull and tied with an elastic band. She’d tried to make the best of what she knew was not much. Kevin had thought carefully about his appearance, he was acutely aware of situations like these, he knew he would be on show. He chose to wear an old faithful grey wool crew neck over an even more faithful Fred Perry. He’d put on a few pounds in the past couple of months and the jumper clung rather too tightly to a newly developed paunch. His jeans were somewhat tighter than they should be, but he liked the overall image and strutted into the room with an ill-founded confidence.
The women were already assembled on mats on the floor with their partners by their sides and a large woman was introducing herself to the group. They picked their way through the bodies, embarrassed at being late. Sandra wished they hadn’t taken so long to decide what to wear. In fact, she wished Kevin hadn’t taken so long to decide what to wear. He seemed to think everyone would be checking him out all the time. He’d spent ages trying stuff on and checking both front and back reflections in the mirror. She didn’t get it herself, but then again she was pretty certain not many people would be checking her out. She glanced across at Kevin, he looked fat, still handsome, but handsome in a fat way.
‘Come in, come in, don’t be shy we won’t bite, well not hard anyway!’ The woman laughed and showed teeth that certainly had the look of horse about them, they hoped she was telling the truth.
There was a collective chuckle. Sandra and Kevin plonked themselves down on the only mat available and chuckled along with the rest of the group. Kevin’s jeans cut into his waist and pulled up at his groin as he lowered himself to the ground. He winced and wished he’d had the foresight to wear the tracksuit. They’d sort of had enough of this group lark and they both prayed they wouldn’t have to share any background information. They could tell that the rest of the group wouldn’t be able to relate to their history. They’d do the best they could to fit in and not seem like the outsiders they so blatantly were.
‘I’m Denise and I’m the community midwife, you must be Sandra and Kevin? I was just about to tell the rest of the group all about the pain relief options available, do you know of any of the options Sandra?’ Denise looked at Sandra expectantly. Sandra was immediately transported back to school. She couldn’t have told Denise her name, the time or what the soddin’ weather was doing outside, let alone what pain relief was available to her. Kevin sensed her anxiety and jumped right in,
‘She’ll ‘ave anything that’s going won’t ya love?’ Kevin smiled round at the group then regretted what he’d said. The rest of the group just looked at him and Sandra hung her head.
Denise quickly covered his outburst with a singsong account of all of the pain relief known to birthing. She talked of pethadine, gas and air, tens pads, birthing pools and epidurals. She said that most women preferred to try and have a natural labour but that there was obviously help at hand if, and when, the pregnant mum needed it. A down cast Sandra admitted flatly,
‘To be honest Denise, I think Kevin’s right, I would like to ‘ave anything that’s going.’ Sandra had gone quite pale. ‘Everything except those tens pad things, my mate was fair near electrocuted with ‘em.’ There was a gasp from the group that seemed to be lost on Sandra. ‘I don’t really see the point in pain, not if I can avoid it.’ She added. Kevin smiled at her, they knew each other well enough by now to know that they both liked to numb pain. He reckoned Sandra might even enjoy giving birth now that there were drugs on offer, he was wrong.
During the labour Sandra swore and cursed for a good 3 hours before being told that she was now at the all important ‘transition’ stage.
‘Trans fucking ition!’ She screamed.
Kevin looked at her, she was green, her hair was a wild mass of matted mess, her eyes bulged, she wasn’t looking her best. Kevin had tried, at first, to calm her down. He’d put into practice all they’d learnt at the classes and for a while Sandra had coped quite well but he hadn’t realised just how long he’d have to pant at her for. He was beginning to feel a little faint. He’d apologised to the midwife for Sandra’s fowl language but now he’d had enough and joined in.
‘When the fuck will this nightmare end love?’ he said accusingly to the midwife, as if it was somehow her fault that Sandra was turning into a monster before his very eyes. ‘Please, put ‘er out of ‘er misery?’ He pleaded.
The midwife reassured them that Sandra was doing brilliantly, she was nearly there, she said.
‘Nearly fucking where?’ Sandra wailed.
‘Not bloody well near enough’ Kevin said under his breath, he was beginning to feel a little scared of Sandra, she’d taken on a whole new persona, one he didn’t much care for. But after what seemed like an eternity of swearing and cursing, a scrawny, purple, slimy baby was pulled from Sandra. They both hoped their little girl hadn’t heard the commotion that was her entry into the world.
At first they worked hard at being parents. They took their new baby home and doted on her. They both cooed and ahhed at her and marvelled at how they could have made such a perfect little thing. Well near perfect, she did seem to have a rather large nose but they reckoned she’d grow into it. They discussed at length the benefits of a large nose and how neither of them trusted anyone who had a small nose anyway. Sandra took comfort from the fact that Barry Manilow had done pretty damn well for himself in spite of his huge conk. Women positively flung themselves at him. She did feel slightly uneasy that she’d given birth to a girl with such a prominent feature but she didn’t let it keep her awake at night. For the first few months they coped quite well. They were far from perfect, but they were definitely good enough. They both wanted to create a family, and a home, that they could be proud of. It was hard. Sandra and Kevin were strangers to family life. That didn’t stop them trying to have what others found so easy. Kevin didn’t have a job but it wasn’t for lack of trying, he went to the job centre every day but always came back stoned and without a sniff of work. He said he couldn’t say no to a smoke when he bumped into John, Dave or whoever else on the no hope list at the job centre. In fact as the weeks went by Kevin spent more and more time out of the house. Sandra left him to it. She was tired and was rather pleased to have the flat to herself so she could indulge in trash tv, eat biscuits, drink tea and feed the baby, who by now seemed to be feeding all of the time.
The baby was still ‘the baby’, sometimes ‘beaky’, but mostly just ‘the baby’. There was no one to nag at them to name her. No grandparents desperate to get in on the naming act and no friends or relatives demanding to know what to call her and so they didn’t see the urgency. But at five and a half weeks they decided enough was enough, they would have to give her a name. They’d looked in books and commented on names they’d heard on the telly. But all Sandra really wanted to call her baby was Lola. She’d wanted to call a baby Lola for as long as she could remember. But Kevin wasn’t keen. He hated Barry ‘bloody’ Manilow and wasn’t too bothered about the Kinks either. He had hoped for a more stylish name for his little girl.
‘How about Terry?’ He loved Terry Hall, he thought he was really cool, and he had a big nose. He’d put ‘Terry’ in the mix one evening over fried egg and sausage. The egg had been cooked too fast and he was having trouble cutting through it’s bubbled, black underside. He balanced the baby over one arm and sawed away at the egg. He wondered how hard it must be to do that to an egg, but he didn’t dare say anything.
‘Bloody hell Kevin, you’ll want to call her Suggs next! Why can’t we call her Lola, it’s such a pretty name?’ Sandra knew she was whining but she couldn’t help it, she wanted to call her baby Lola, it didn’t seem too much to ask. She was the one the baby hung off, sucking at her all day long, why couldn’t she have her way?
‘Exactly, it’s such a pretty name, have you seen her nose? It just won’t suit her.’ Kevin was getting fed up of being offered Lola every night, couldn’t she think of anything else?
Sandra was tired and emotional and she started to cry.
‘Jesus, what’s the matter now?’ Kevin’s voice had lost any of the comfort it used to have and instead sounded cold and hard. Sandra cried some more and the tears fell onto the baby’s head and ran down into her hair. Kevin hated it when Sandra cried, he didn’t know what to do. He felt guilty, even if he had nothing to feel guilty about, and the guilt made him angry and the anger he felt he directed at her. He couldn’t stand much more of this, the baby would be a teenager soon and still only have Beaky or baby to answer to. He needed to get out, he was sick of the flat, there were babies’ things everywhere and where there wasn’t there was just a load of mess. It was all a big fucking mess. He needed a drink.
‘Call her what the fuck you like.’ He called as he slung his coat over his shoulder and slammed the door shut.
She didn’t need to be told twice. The next morning, while Kevin lay snoring on the sofa, Sandra went straight down to the register office and named her baby Lola Terry Suzanna Southall. Suzanna had been Sandra’s best friend at school. Sandra had looked to Suzanna in times of need and Suzanna had always been there for her. Well that was until Sandra was taken into care and had to move school. Sandra looked at her little Lola sleeping in the pram as she walked home and she felt good. She was so pleased she’d finally got her own way. She hoped Kevin would get used to ‘Lola’ and learn to love the name as much as she did. He’d have to now.
When she got back to the flat she hardly recognised it. It was the smell that hit her first. Gone was the usual stench of nappy and cooking fat. There was a pretty scent, just teasing her nostrils. She pushed Lola into the lounge. It was an easy manoeuvre. There wasn’t the usual mess to fight with, straight in. The flat was tidy and clean and the windows were open even though it was winter. Barry Manilow was singing to her from the stereo, ‘I can’t smile without you…’ There were freesias, her favourite, in a little glass on the table. Sandra called to Kevin and he came out of the kitchen wearing an apron and not a lot else.
‘Jesus Christ Kevin, you’ll catch ya death!’
‘I’m so sorry.’ He said. ‘I’m a twat.’ He looked at her and willed her to forgive him. He sounded sad but Sandra couldn’t help but smile at how ridiculous he looked with his PVC ‘Lee and Perrins’ apron covering his altogether. He’d obviously given her entrance some thought and she was immediately touched, she started to giggle and then to cry. Kevin walked up to her and held her in his arms, which felt strong and safe around her tiny body. They both stayed like that for a few minutes, just holding onto each other. Then Kevin looked over at the pram and called out to Lola.
‘Hey baby, how’s it going?’ He cooed affectionately. As he walked over to his little girl the apron string tickled his arse and he gave Sandra a wiggle.
‘I’ve just been to the register office.’ Sandra offered quietly. She hung her head and waited for the inevitable anger. And it came.
‘What? Without me?’ Kevin’s voice shattered the atmosphere. His face tensed and his eyes darkened. ‘How could you?’ He spat. ‘We’ve talked about fuck all else for the past week and you chose to name ‘er without me? What the fuck’s she called Sandra?’ Sandra hesitated. She looked at Kevin who was standing staring expectantly at her. She didn’t want to hurt him. She suddenly regretted what she’d done.
‘Terry.’ She lied. ‘She’s called Terry Lola Suzanna Southall. I’m so sorry Kevin. I was angry. I should have waited until you could come with me, she should have your surname. I’m so sorry.’ Sandra sobbed.
‘Terry?’ Kevin was incredulous. ‘I can’t believe it. You called her Terry?’ Sandra nodded and held her breath. ‘Terry Lola Suzanna Southall.’ He said it over a couple of times just to hear how it sounded. ‘I love it. I bloody well love it. It wouldn’t ‘ave had the same ring to it if we’d called her ‘Cocks’, and I’ve not had the best of times saddled wiv that bastard surname. I love it Sandra. Thank you so much. I love you.’ Kevin smiled down at Lola and then back at Sandra and his smile warmed Sandra’s heart. Kevin kissed her hard on the lips. It was passionate and loving and she was grateful for it. God how she wished she’d called her Terry.
To Sandra’s surprise Kevin didn’t ask to see the birth certificate. He was just so happy that his little girl was called Terry. He sang Monkey Man to her and she gurgled back at him. And so Lola became Terry, well all the while Kevin was in ear shot anyway. As soon as he went out Sandra would sing into the pram:
‘Her name was Lola, she was a show girl.’ And Lola would gurgle back at her.
But Sandra was finding it more and more difficult to know how to handle this new life that was her responsibility. She was awkward with her. She breast-fed her but it didn’t feel right, she didn’t like having something hanging from her all the time. The baby was a hungry bugger and when not clamped to Sandra’s tits she was screaming blue murder. Sandra shrank as the baby grew, and as the weeks wore on Sandra felt like her own lifeblood was being sucked away from her. Sandra wasn’t big to begin with but now there was little left of her. She barely had the energy to get up in the mornings and when she finally emerged from the bedroom it wasn’t a particularly pretty sight. She’d slump onto the sofa and stay there all day watching daytime tv with the curtains drawn tightly shut. Daylight only highlighted how sad her life had become.
By now Kevin was going out all of the time. He’d met some new mates at their local boozer and he’d smoke gear and play pool with them during the day and collapse in the evenings. When Sandra mentioned how she was feeling and tried to tell Kevin he was a selfish pig, Kevin was quick to point out that at least he wasn’t jacking up, he wasn’t harming anyone. Cracks appeared as quickly as Lola grew but both Sandra and Kevin were determined to have a family, and to keep that family. They argued and fought, but at the end of the day they both knew that this was as good as it got, for people like them anyway. They weren’t going to have the perfect set up. So for three and a half years they put up with each other. There were times when they felt true warmth and love towards each other and there was no denying that they loved Lola, or Terry, as Kevin called her, but it just wasn’t enough. Sandra ever fond of a saying or two would shout at Kevin to shape up or ship out, or shit or get off of the pot. And in the end he shat and shipped out and they called it a day. Lola was barely old enough to know what was going on, but she knew her dad had gone.
Sandra and Lola
Kevin didn’t come back. Sandra was, at first, pleased to have the flat all to herself and Lola. She could call Lola, ‘Lola’, all day every day. She sang to her and danced with her. It was early spring and Sandra felt an excitement she hadn’t felt in a long while. Along with the first sight of crocuses and snowdrops there came a lightness of heart. And hope. Sandra hoped that she could do this mother thing. She wanted to be a good mum an she wanted Lola to love her. What did she need a man for anyway? She was sick and tired of arguing and fighting. Now she could concentrate on looking after Lola. Slowly Sandra began to get on with it. It was certainly no fairytale but Sandra tried at it. Lola was, unfortunately,m a real mix of Sandra and Kevin. She had Kevin’s build and was beginning to resemble a mini sumo with the mardiest of arses, just like Sandra’s. She could sulk and tantrum with the best and she did. She’d push Sandra until Sandra felt like screaming and running from the flat with her knickers on her head. In the end she ground Sandra down and by autumn Sandra was once again life weary and teary and she’d had her fill. She began to feel sad that it hadn’t worked out between her and Kevin. She missed him. She felt lonely and she wished she had him by her side to argue with and sing with and laugh with. She’d thought, hoped, that she’d be with Kevin always, that they’d work it out. It hadn’t meant to be like this. She had wanted the dream. She wanted what others had. She was pissed off with Kevin for lying to her, he’d promised her a life, not this sorry state of existence. She stopped bothering with just about everything, including Lola.
Sandra stared as mums walked past her pushing their babies, looking happy and healthy. She watched them kiss their partners. She watched them chatting to other mums. She watched them shop. Her jealousy of them became obsessive. She looked into their baskets and she wanted everything they had. And Sandra cried a lot. She’d be sitting watching tv and she’d cry, not over anything sad, she wouldn’t even be able to tell you what was on. She’d be bathing Lola and she’d cry. She’d be waiting for the bus and she’d cry. She cried all of the time. Quietly and secretly most of the time, but when she was on her own she’d sob and sob until she felt sore with pain. One morning when Kevin had been gone for about 6 months, Sandra woke up wracked with chest pain and hacking up blood. She dragged her sorry, skinny arse to the doctors and broke down.
After what seemed like an eternity of sobbing and waling and trying to get across what her life was like the doctor just looked at her.
‘Well Sandra, you’ve got pneumonia. I’m going to prescribe you some very strong antibiotics. He then gave her a lecture on smoking and she listened half heartedly, hadn’t he heard a bloody word of what she’d just told him? He’d smoke if he had half her life, who wouldn’t? She looked at him sat there with his shirt and tie ironed immaculately and she imagined him at home with his wife, discussing the day. She could see him telling her all about the sad woman with hardly any teeth and a rasping cough and she knew they would feel superior and smug and safe. She wasn’t really listening to what he was saying anymore. She wanted to grab the prescription and get out. She wanted a fag.
‘I am also extremely worried about your mental state. I would like to ask a psychiatric nurse to come and visit you if that’s ok?’
His words cut through Sandra’s reverie and she was immediately back in the room. She looked across at Lola and realised she’d already managed to dismantle a bookshelf. She’d weighed half a library and there was a precariously balanced tower of books weighing in at about 10 stone and counting. Sandra beckoned Lola to her lap but Lola just stared at her and carried on pulling books from the shelf. Sandra snapped at Lola to stop, if the books fell she’d be buried alive. She pulled Lola to her to her side. Lola struggled and whinged to be let go and Sandra tightened her grip and her mouth. When Sandra looked up at the doctor he was watching her and waiting for her attention. Sandra wanted to hit him. He went on about how worried he was, about how he could see her situation must be incredibly difficult and that he wanted to help. She didn’t believe him.
Two days later two psychiatric nurses knocked on Sandra’s door. She’d had a bad night and was tired and tearful. Lola had been ransacking the place all morning and it looked like they’d been burgled. She invited the nurses in and asked if they’d like a cuppa. They didn’t. They looked round the room then perched on the edge of the sofa, their backsides barely touching it’s worn out, sagging cushions. If dogs look like their owners then sofas can too and this one bared a remarkable likeness to Sandra. It had had the stuffing knocked out of it after years of arse plonking. It was raggy and saggy and sad and it didn’t look like it had much life left in it, if any at all.
The nurses began to ask questions, lots of questions. Sandra felt like she was being interrogated. How was she coping with Lola? Did she get any help? How did she sleep? Was she tearful? Well that much was obvious, her eyes looked red raw with crying. Sandra answered all of their questions. Yes, she was incredibly tired, absolutely exhausted to be honest. No, she didn’t get much sleep. Yes, she did cry often. No, she didn’t get any help, she didn’t really know anyone who could help. Yes, she hoped they could help. After an inquest into every aspect of Sandra’s life they asked if she’d ever felt like committing suicide. Sandra said she hadn’t. They asked some more questions then asked the same question again, had she every felt like committing suicide? Sandra said she hadn’t. An hour after she’d let the nurses in they left. They said that they would write a report for her doctor but that they didn’t really see that they could help in any way. Sandra shut the door behind them, looked at the shit surrounding her and felt like committing suicide.
Sandra’s track history; her recent visit to the doctors, the psychiatric assessment and Lola’s scant school attendance had flagged up concerns for hers and Lola’s safety, and social services had been alerted. They visited and after a case conference they decided it would be best to place Lola on the child protection register. They assured Sandra that this was in her best interest. This, they said, would enable Sandra and Lola to get access to the professionals and services that could help them to cope. Sandra didn’t believe a word of it and was terrified they’d take Lola from her. Sandra knew she’d have to sort her shit out if she wanted them off her back. Sandra felt like they were watching her every move and it made her anxious.
Then when Sandra thought things couldn’t get any worse, they got a little bit better. Social services had decided to send in a young girl, Lizzie, to help Sandra with the day to day running of her life. Lizzie came round twice a week. She began by sorting out the flat and she worked hard to get the place looking as good as it possibly could. Sandra let her, why not? The place was a bloody mess. Lizzie proved to be a marvel with Lola too. She’d chase her round the flat and Lola would giggle and squeal with delight. Sandra liked the sound. After a while Sandra began to trust Lizzie and they became friends, of sorts. Lizzie was only 25, but then again Sandra was only 27, she just looked much, much older. But where Sandra gained her years in looks, Lizzie gained hers in attitude.
One Wednesday morning in early March, Lizzie knocked on Sandra’s door armed with her cleaning essentials and a wide smile. Sandra was ready for her. She’d been up since 6am and had started to clean the flat ready for Lizzie’s arrival. Sandra had given Lola her breakfast, ignoring her as she’d flung Weetabix at the TV with a certain ferocity and glee. Lola looked a little put out that this hadn’t had the usual desired effect of making Sandra so angry that her face went a lovely bright red. Lola flung some more and waited and when she didn’t hear Sandra’s blood curdling screams she tucked into her cereal. Sandra was purposeful and determined. The Weetabix had stuck hard, Sandra knew she’d have to work quickly if she wanted to get it off. She scrubbed and scoured and hoovered and polished and instead of spending the morning screaming, she sang. Lola felt cheated. Sandra got Lola dressed and ready for school then returned to the flat to finish it off. She was feeling better than she had in a long while and she knew it had something to do with Lizzie.
Sandra liked Lizzie. Lizzie didn’t make her feel bad about herself even though Sandra knew she wasn’t doing too well. She wanted to show Lizzie that she could do it. Sandra opened the door to Lizzie and Lizzie just stood there looking at her. Sandra couldn’t quite work out what Lizzie was thinking but by look on Lizzie’s face something was array. Lizzie looked Sandra up and down and stifled a giggle.
‘What on earth have you got on? Have you seen yourself?’
Sandra had stopped worrying about what she looked like after Kevin had left. She hadn’t given herself much thought when they were still together but now there didn’t seem any point in trying. She was under no illusion of her own self-image and she couldn’t be arsed to dress up her bag of bones. She’d clothe herself in whatever she found first. This meant that some days she looked absolutely atrocious, a positive fright, but it was lost on Sandra, she had no time for the mirror. Sandra didn’t know what to say, but no she hadn’t seen herself. She felt hurt. She looked down and realised that she’d put her scrawny frame into an old pair of Kevin’s joggers, the knees were ripped and the crutch hung between her legs as if she was wearing a 4 day old nappy beneath them. She was sporting a t-shirt with a scantily clad strumpet on it and the caption, ‘She-Ra Princess of Power’. She topped off the look with greasy hair and moccasin slippers that had seen better days.
‘Well I am a bloody Princess of Power this morning thank you very much!’ Sandra spat. ‘And I live in a soddin palace.’ Sandra was beginning to regret all her hard work, who was she trying to kid? She wanted to turn on her heel and scuff back into the flat to smoke a fag.
Lizzie followed Sandra into the flat and was overwhelmed with what she saw.
Revised beginning (after advice)
I know something is wrong even before I put my key in the lock. I have been feeling really crap about mum recently. She’s not right, and I know it, but I don’t really know what to do or how to make it better. So I stay at school late, usually for detention, but even when I’m not detained I stay. I drag my feet. I piss about with whoever wants to piss about and I don’t go home. Not until I absolutely have to. I never know what I might find.
Today I feel justified in my fear. I can’t explain it, it’s not something to be put into words but a feeling right down inside of me. I know that when the key turns in the lock my life will change, and I’m not ready to find out my fate. So I hesitate, hover over the barrel of the lock. I suddenly feel drained, worn out and slightly sick. Fuck it Lola, just put the bloody key in the lock you maniac. What can be on the other side of the door except a drunk and Barry Manilow?
The key turns quickly and as I close the door behind me my stomach lurches to new heights of queasiness, I can taste the sick as bile forces it’s way up from the pit of my stomach. I lean against the door and take it in. In the space of those few seconds my brain has given my stomach news that all is not well and my stomach responds with immediate effect. There is no Barry Manilow. And that is not right. But worse still, there is music, just not Barry. Mum always plays Barry. She loves Barry, always has. She plays him when she’s happy, sad, tired, ill, there is no emotion that Barry cannot soothe.
But this music is harsh in comparison. It bounces off my ears. It’s lively and jovial and I know it. I just can’t quite place it. It’s like music from my past, but there is only Barry there so it doesn’t make any sense. I pull myself from the door and my body feels heavy. I am played in slow motion, legs moving, eyes seeing, ears hearing all slowed down. As I walk along the corridor into the lounge I call out for mum but she doesn’t reply. Nothing unusual she’s probably comatose I tell myself. Drunk again. I breathe in deep, waiting for the stench of puke to hit my nostrils, wouldn’t be the first time I find her bathed in her own vomit.
As I walk into the lounge it is as I expected. There she is slumped against the sofa, head on her chest and her arm placed lovingly round a bottle of vodka. The music is almost deafening, how can she sleep through it? ‘Mum’ I call. ‘Mum’ more insistently now. No response. God she’s a selfish cow, how can she think this is ok? I rip the plug from the wall and the music stops. Silence. Real deadly silence. ‘Mum?’ I lean in close to her but there is no warmth from her mouth, which is slightly open, revealing stained teeth, what’s left of them. I touch her arm and call to her again. But I know it’s no use she’s even more selfish than I thought possible. This is it, this is my life now.
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