INGRID ONE MORNING.

Ingrid dusts off her dress, straightens her hair, puts her wire glasses back on. The loud shouting is still going on outside her room, her father booming out at his wife, her mother screeching back at him like a wild cat. Ingrid's older sister has slept out the night with the Spiv as her father calls him. The black and white shoes, black shirt and white tie, the greased back hair, the thin moustache. Ingrid thinks him odd. She saw her sister with him out in the Square, he's taller, thinner, a cigarette hanging from the lower lip. Ingrid moves across to the window and looks out at the railway bridge opposite, the coal wharf to the left, the grass area below the flats, with the two bomb shelters still standing after the war. She looks at the shelter where she had sat and talked with Benedict. He lives in the flat below and along. She likes him. He is kind to her. Unlike most other boys at school he never calls her names nor makes rude comments. Her father dislikes him. But he never stops her seeing him after school or at weekends. The shouting continues. Her mother's voice higher, her father's voice like thunder. She feels the pain still. Her father hadn't listened to her, he just hit her repeatedly. She wants to go out, but not while they are out there arguing, not while he may have a go at her again. She looks at the sky. Pale blue. No heavy clouds. She said she would meet Benedict that morning for the Saturday matinee at the cinema. She looks at the watch her gran had bought her for her last birthday. Plenty of time yet. She takes off her glasses and wipes her eyes. In the dressing table mirror her eyes are red. The wire frame of her glasses are slightly bent where her father had clipped them when he hit her. She tries to straighten them. Best she can do, she sighs. She puts them on again. Looks at herself in the mirror. Her dark hair is untidy. She sits at the dressing table and brushes her hair with the hairbrush. There is a loud bang, broken glass, a scream. Silence. She sits frozen. Eyes on her door. Hairbrush held in mid air. Another scream and the front door slams. She puts down the hairbrush and goes to the door and puts her ear to the door panel. Her mother is crying. That soft crying, not loud or hysterical. She opens the door slowly. The passage way is empty. She goes out and closes her door behind her. Her mother is in the kitchen. She stands looking at her, unsure what to say or do. Can I go out? Ingrid asks. Her mother turns around, handkerchief to her nose. Blood seeps into the white cloth. Where? Her mother asks. To the cinema with Benedict, she replies. Don't turn out like your sister, her mother says. I just want to go to the cinema, Ingrid says. You're only nine years old, I don't want any trouble with you, too. Ingrid frowns. The handkerchief is getting redder. I won't bring trouble, Ingrid says. She stands at the kitchen door, wanting to go and hug her mother, but her mother was not the hugging kind. Her sister got away with things that she didn't. Her father never hit her sister as he did her. Her brother seldom talks to her except to tease her if he was in a good mood. He and her father always rowed. Her brother had a flick knife, he showed her it the other week. I haven't any money to give you, her mother says. Benedict said he would pay, she replies. How does he have money to waste on you? Her mother asks. He does jobs at home, she says. Her mother closes her eyes. Go then, her mother says in a tired voice. She hesitates. Her mother turns away and wipes her nose. Ingrid goes back to her room and looks at her dress in the mirror. She pulls at the hem. Her white socks are getting too small, they press on her toes. She rubs her backside and thighs. Still painful. She looks at her watch. Nearly time to go. She sits and puts on her shoes. The heels are worn thin. She looks at her thin arms. The dress has short sleeves. It will have to do, she mutters to her reflection. She stands up and walks to the door. Music comes from the radio in the living room. Her mother is singing. She feels relieved. She opens the door and walks down the passage. Her mother's voice is singing along with the music. She smiles at the sound. She goes to the door hoping her father will not return. She opens it and goes out closing the front door behind her. The air freshens her. She goes to the brick balcony and looks over at the Square below. Over the way the milkman and his horse drawn cart are parked. Kids are at play. Sounds of laughter, shouts, calling voices.

She looks at the flats opposite and across the way. Here and there people stand on the balcony talking, some are just looking or smoking. She walks down the stone stairs to the balcony below and walks along to Benedict's flat. She knocks. Benedict's mother answers. She is kind and welcomes her in to wait for Benedict's return. He's just gone to the shops for me, she says. Ingrid smiles. His mother says to sit in the living room and wait. Ingrid goes and sits down carefully. Painful. The room is similar to hers. There is a small television in the corner, a fireplace, two armchairs, an old brown sofa against the wall. A dining table and chairs by the window looking out at the railway bridge and coal wharf. His mother goes off to do chores. Ingrid waits. She looks at photographs on a sideboard. Benedict is in one, he is younger. She smiles. She wishes she had one of him to put by her bedside or under her pillow. She hears voices. Benedict comes in. Sorry to keep you, he says, bit of shopping for the old lady, he whispers, smiling. Ingrid feels happy. Her heart beats faster as he comes near her. You look pretty, he says. He always says that, she thinks, while others call her ugly bug. She stands playing with her fingers nervously. She stands up and waits for something to say, but words get stuck in her throat. Are you all right? He says. She nods. You've been crying, your eyes are red, he says. She forgot that. He was so observant. I fell, she says. He raises his eyebrows. Really? He says. She bites her lip. He knows her father is the cause. This morning, she says. Nothing more. He sighs. One day, he thinks, looking at Ingrid, one day that git will get what's coming to him. Right then, he says, let's be off and she follows him out of the room and into the passageway. She waits behind him as he combs his hair in the hall mirror. His mother comes out of the kitchen. Right have you got the money? Yes, he says, got that, and enough for ice creams. Ingrid looks at them both talking: mother and son, friendly, no shouting, no rows. She wishes his mother was hers too. Right off you go then, she says. And off they go out the door and along the balcony. He stops by the stairs. Got a florin from my old man too, Benedict says. He likes you,says to treat you. Oh, she says surprised. They go down the stairs side by side, her hand near his, his sleeveless pullover, grey shirt and black jeans clean and fresh smelling. Then as they go into the Square the sunlight touches her face. Warms her. He walks beside her. No six shooters in his belt, no swords or cowboy hat, just him, being him. Her hand is within inches of his, the skins just grazing. Happiness opens within her heart like a hot fire blazing.

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