Ingrid pulls the coarse heavy blanket to her chin. The room is dark although she can see light from the street outside through the slit in the curtains and she can hear the shunting of the coal trucks from the coal wharf across the road. She snuggles down. Her father’s down at the pub, her mother is in the sitting room knitting while watching the black and white TV. She can hear canned laughter, clapping of hands. She tries to sleep, closes her eyes, sniffs the air. The air smells damp. There is a whiff of today’s dinner there too. Her mother laughs out. Ingrid touches the inside of her lower lip with her tongue, her lip bled and feels swollen. Her father’s hand caught her over dinner, back flick, her head rocked, the room spun. Don’t eat with your mouth open, he’d said, and wham, hand to face, lip stung, food spewed across table cloth, a smack to the back of her head for making a mess. Her mother said nothing, looked away, pretended nothing had happened. She never does, not at the time, afterwards she whispers things, cuddles her. Ingrid stares at shadows on the walls where light plays tricks. Over across the side is the built in cupboard where she hid once when her father was looking for her. She could see him through a crack in the door. Calling her, cursing her. He caught her later coming out and dragged her along the passage by her arm his tight grip on her, hitting her with his free hand. He is probably sitting in the pub talking to his pals, laughing at their jokes, getting drunk. She must get to sleep. She turns over in bed. Her lip feels twice the size. Her tongue keeps going there. School tomorrow. Hate school, she sighs. The girls avoid her; the boys call her names or tug at her hair and call her fleabag or smelly drawers. She puts her hands between her knees. Coldness begins to bite at her. Only Benedict is kind to her. The boy in her class. She walked home with him from school. He bought her some sherbet flying saucers and some for himself. They made her mouth frizz. She laughed at that. Sour and sharp. He even carried her satchel home too. She likes him, likes his

bright eyes and happy smile and that walk he has as if he couldn’t care a fig. She can tell him anything. She does. He repeats nothing to anyone else. He taps his nose and says a need to know basis. He knows about her dad. He's seen the bruises and red marks on her thigh a number of times and asked, but he already knew, he said. She looks forward to seeing him each day. In class he sits across the room at the back with Dennis. She imagines him. Pretends he is there in her room looking out her window pointing to the railway line over the bridge and the coal trucks shunting. But he is not there. He lives on the floor beneath them on the corner flat. His mother is nice. She always speaks to her. Her tongue finds the swollen lip again. Pain. The girls sometimes let her play skip rope if they are short of numbers, but she knows they don’t like her. They let her hold the rope one end nearly all the game without a chance to skip. One boy pushed over into the toilets a month or so ago when she had to go during lessons, he pushed her against the wall and said, let’s see your knickers smelly. She screamed at him and he ran off. She felt shocked and undone and frightened. She pushes the thought out of her mind. She told Benedict, he said he’d get the git. She doesn’t know if he did or not. The boy did have bleeding nose one morning, but never said why to anyone. More canned laughter from the sitting room. Her mother’s belated laugh follows. Benedict says he will take her to a cinema at Camberwell Green on the bus on Saturday, to see some cowboy film he wants to see, and how the gunslinger has a great way of drawing his gun from the holster which he wants to copy. Her mum will say she can, but don’t tell your father, you know what he’s like, besides he’s out, so won’t know if you don’t tell him. She won’t. She tells him nothing anymore. Unless he asks her and she’s too scared to lie. Benedict says white lies are small sins that God forgives if you pay back with an act of kindness. He says these things. Ingrid runs her tongue across her lower teeth. Brushed them with that pink tooth powder by the kitchen sink. Once her father washed her mouth out with red soap on her toothbrush and scrubbed until she cried and her mother actually came and

stopped him. She’d lied to me, he said. She hadn’t, he didn’t like the truth of what she said. A train goes over the railways bridge; she can hear the steam gushing out. If Benedict was there beside her now he might tell her stories about his past life. She likes his stories. About the steam engines, about the first trains, about the countryside where his aunt lives. Stories about Robin Hood and how he lived and where about and when and how his old man bought him and bow and arrow kit once. She wished he was there. She could lay her head on his skinny arm and fall asleep better. He isn’t. He’s in his own flat, in his own room he shares with his brother and sister. Benedict said he was nearly nine and a half. Same age as her except by a few months. A door slams. Her father is home from the pub. The canned laughter has stopped. Voices sound. Ingrid shuts her eyes and buries her head into the pillow. Murmurings from the passage. Her father’s brass sounding voice, her mother thin screech. Ingrid counts sheep trying to shut out the rowing and sleep.

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