I was lying in bed listening to the radio the other morning when the subject of child abuse was aired. It was mentioned that the majority of child abuse is hidden in the home and very rarely comes to light.
Im my novel An Ordinary Life this subject is raised when Tom meets his friend Derek. Their meeting is to have much wider consequences than child abuse but the subject was raised by Derek and his girlfriend. Tom is completely unaware of what goes on in some families.
' Tom found Derek sitting on a bank overlooking the stream that flowed through the rough grassy area they grandly called the park. There were two girls with him. As Tom approached through the bushes bordering the flat area used for football, he noticed that Derek had his arm around one of the girls while the other sat a few feet away.
Derek looked up when he heard Tom’s footsteps and grinned. “ Tom! What are you doing here?”
“ I was looking for you,” Tom replied looking shyly at the girls as he sat down on a tuft of grass near Derek. “ My mum told me about your troubles so I went to your house to see if you were in. Your dad seemed mad at you and slammed the door in my face. I don’t think he likes me.”
“ Just like my bloody dad,” Derek growled.
“ Sheila told me you had come down here to be on your own,” Tom continued with a smile. “ I thought I might come and keep you company but it looks as though I need not have bothered.”
Derek laughed loudly. “ Don’t look so grumpy Tom. It was good of you to think about me and I still need to talk to you. I did not come round your house because I thought your mum and dad might object to me after what happened.”
Derek then turned to the girls. “ Tom this is Mavis my girlfriend. Over there is Pat, Mavis’ friend. I told you I had a girlfriend.”
“ Hello Tom.” Mavis smiled. Her face was round with large lips, a small nose and big eyes. To Tom it was a fleshy face on the verge of being fat but not quite. Her hair was cut short and spiky. From what he could see of her body, her breasts were large for a sixteen year old and she was dressed in a shortish skirt, which showed, off her legs. You could not call her pretty by any stretching of the imagination.
“ Hi Tom.” Pat said in her best imitation of an American accent, which was all the rage among the young in England. Pat was small and slim, a summer dress with a flared skirt clinging to her upper body showing her small round breasts. Her hair was blond and curly, framing her face, which was like a young Brigette Bardot. Whether she actually worked at this look or it was natural, Tom could not tell. Her eyes were deep blue and smiling.
“ Hello,” Tom greeted them. “ I am pleased to meet you.”
Turning to Derek, he asked bluntly, “ What happened?”
Derek’s expression turned thundery. “ I don’t know what you have heard or who from.”
Tom laughed. “ My Mum told me when I got home from my summer job. As soon as I had eaten my dinner, I came looking for you.”
Derek smiled back but then looked serious. “ I had a fight with my dad. He told me not to interfere in a family matter and went to hit me. I hit him before he could get to me.”
“ Why did your dad threaten you?” Tom asked unable to keep the bewilderment out of his voice. His father had reprimanded him on many occasions but never threatened physical violence.
“ Look Tom, you are very naive when it comes to what goes on in the wider world,” Derek said with a grimace but with friendship in his voice. “ No don’t take offence, Tom. I am saying this as a friend. You live in a world where there is laughter and love. Your parents have tried to protect you from what happens out in the world outside your home. You and your brother both passed the eleven plus and went off to grammar school leaving this neighbourhood behind. Yes, I know you have kept friendly with me, Ray and Joe since going to school the other side of town but we do not see as much of each other as we used to when we went to the same school together. Lets face it, you live in a different world from the rest of us round here most of the time. Don’t get me wrong. I am not jealous of you but in some ways proud that somebody living on the wrong side of the tracks, like they say in American movies, is making a success of their lives.”
“ Me, I have to live with a father who beats his wife senseless every Friday night when he comes home drunk from the pub. A father who uses a strap on his children whenever he thinks they have been what he regards as disobedient. For as long as I can remember, he spends a lot of his dole money when he is not working on beer. Not only that but he has his way with his daughters. Why do you think Martha left home when she was sixteen and became a prostitute? To get away from my dad and what he was doing to her younger sisters. She challenged him to stop and all he did was laugh and beat her up.” Derek stopped speaking and stared off across the stream. Mavis was looking at him with concern while Pat showed no emotion.
“ Why didn’t you go to the police?” Tom asked innocently. He imagined that is what would happen in similar circumstances at his home or among his parent’s friends.
Derek, and surprisingly to Tom, Pat laughed bitterly. It was Pat who answered. “Nobody goes to the police from where we come from. It is against the custom of the people living on our estate. Most people who live round where I live in the middle of that estate up there, hate the police. Well hate is too strong a word but they are suspicious of the police. They’re scared that if they call the police in for a small matter, the police will use that as an excuse to look further at what is happening on the estate and its surrounding area. As far as I know there are a lot of rogues living on our estate. Oh, not everybody is bent but a lot of people living there are. With the poverty and all, what else are they supposed to do? Most of those who are not bent will stick up for the other people on the estate, trying to sort out their problems between themselves. That is the obstacle to anything being done about family violence. Just like Derek’s, my dad used to beat us at the least little thing which upset him. We were lucky in that he did not try to interfere with my sister or me. He only stopped beating us last year when my uncle threatened to smash his head in if he did not show some regard for his family. Uncle Harry is even bigger and tougher than my dad. Dad has always worked so we have plenty of money to live on unlike some of the people. Did you know, I passed the eleven plus? My dad told me not to get ideas above my station. I would not go to grammar school because he could not afford to send me and, anyway, girls should leave school as soon as they were fifteen and go out to work to contribute to the household. It was not for girls to go to grammar school. One of these days, I will be free and then I will go to college to get an education.”
Instinctively, Tom reached out and took her hand in his. “ I am sorry. I did not know any of this. I always thought most people lived the way my family did.”
Pat smiled shyly and squeezed Tom’s hand in return. “ Don’t ever think that your life is wrong Tom. You seem a very happy person.”
Derek raised his eyebrow. “ You be careful Pat. I have known him all my life and he usually gets his way with things without ever seeming to make any effort. He gives the impression of drifting through life but most of the time he is in control and manipulating things unbeknown to most people. Don’t look so innocent, Tom Houseman. I have had plenty of time to see how you treat your life.”
“ Tell me what happened,” Tom demanded blushing slightly at the way they were talking about him.
“ As I said my dad had sex with his daughters. When my mum tried to stop him, he beat her up. Why she stayed with him, I have no idea except for the children. A few weeks ago when I came in from work, Diane was pleading with dad not to make her go into the bedroom with him. I told him that if Diane did not want him to have sex with her, he ought to let her off. He flew into a rage. Actually, he was so angry, I thought for a moment he was going to have a seizure. Then he came across the room towards me with his fist raised. For the first time, I stood my ground and dodged his fist before hitting him as hard as I could. He went down in a heap but struggled back to his knees. I kicked him in the head and sent him sprawling again. I suddenly realised that I was stronger and quicker than him and could beat him any time I wanted. When he got to his feet with blood running down from a cut on his head, I stepped close and punched him as many times as I could. He was soon on his knees again. I told him to leave my mum and his daughters alone from now on or I would deal with him again. He was scared. It was the first time I had ever seen my father scared of anything. It made me feel good.”
“ I went out then and down to the shop to steal some fags. For some reason I was clumsy and was caught. The shop owner called the police and they took me to the magistrates’ court the next day. The magistrate let me off with a caution but I now have a record and the police will be keeping an eye on me.”
Tom shook his head. “ If you go on like this you are going to end up in prison just like your brother. You have to be more careful or your life will be like that. In and out of prison with each sentence getting longer.”
Derek frowned. “ What can I do?”
Tom shrugged his shoulders. “ Why ask me? I have no idea what happens in your world.”
“ I have always come to you for advice,” Derek answered stubbornly.
Tom realised he was still holding Pat’s hand. Indeed he was now sitting so close he could feel her body’s warmth through his shirt. To hide his confusion, he let her hand go as though it was on fire and stood up, gazing across the stream at the houses he could see through the trees in the distance. He was trying to think of how he could help his friend. Tom realised he was out of his depth like an explorer in a place where he had never been before. He knew nothing of fathers beating their children or of husbands beating their wives. It was unimaginable in his family circles. Most of the people with whom he mixed seemed, on the surface, to be caring and loving. Maybe they weren’t. Maybe underneath they were as turbulent and violent as Derek’s and Pat’s. It was something he had never experienced, something in truth he had never thought about. He could not recall a time when his father had threatened either him or Edward with a beating. That is not to say his father could not be a disciplinarian at times but he had stopped their privileges rather than hit them. Each and every time their father had explained why they were being disciplined and so they had learnt what was right and what was wrong. As for sex with a daughter, Tom could not begin to comprehend this. Indeed, he did not have any experience with sex in the ordinary way without thinking about a father and his daughters.
Turning to Derek, he said. “ Look Derek I have no appreciation of violence at home so I cannot give you any advice on what to do about that. The only thing I can say is if you have managed to spare Sheila further humiliation, that is a good thing. What are you going to do now?”
Derek grinned. “ When things have calmed down at home, I am going to collect my things. I have been staying over the last few days at Mavis’s house. Her mum and dad are very good to me. Her brother has joined the merchant navy as a deck boy and they have a spare room.”
“ That's good,” Tom replied. “ Look Derek, as I say, if you go on like this you are going to end up in prison just like your brother. You must find a better way of getting a living. “
Derek looked serious. “ Its all right for you to talk Tom Houseman. You passed the eleven plus and went to the grammar school. From what I hear you are going to take your A levels and go to university like your brother. He’s off to Oxford next year I hear. Now I have no qualifications and very little influence. Even Ray’s uncle has found him an apprenticeship in the shipyard. My dad could not help me at all and my uncles do not want to know. I am not going to go labouring for a pittance. I am going to make some money even if it is against the law. It is the only chance somebody like me has of ever being rich or having any status in their community.”
Tom grinned. “ You have been like that ever since I have known you. Even in infants school you were always looking for ways to cheat the system. Look, this might not help. I remember a film I saw with my father and Edward a couple of years ago. It was about somebody just like you though in the States at the turn of the century. He started out on a career of petty crime until he tangled with the law. What he did then was attach himself to the master criminal in the area. He made himself useful and slowly worked his way up the ladder until one day he became the master. If I were you I would find out who is the big chief in Porthampton and see if you can attach yourself to him. Now whether this is sound advice or not, I have no idea. I don’t even know if there is a big chief criminal in Porthampton.”
Derek grasped his friend’s hand. “ Thank you Tom. I will think about it and see what I can do.”
Putting his arm round Mavis, he said, “ Come on. Enough of this serious talk. We came down here to snog. Lets find a place where we can be out of sight.”
After they had gone off into the bushes, Pat smiled mysteriously at Tom and said, “ Well Tom, it looks like we are left on our own. If you have nothing better to do, lets find a place to get away from prying eyes and explore what boys and girls do when they are alone.”
Tom, almost blushing, took her hand and led her to a place along the stream where a willow tree trailed its drooping branches over the water forming a little grassy sheltered bower. It was a spot he had discovered years ago and where he came sometimes to be alone and to think. The sound of the water was in their ears as they discovered what a teenage boy and girl wanted to find out about the opposite sex.'
1st edition You Write On 2nd edition Createspace
An Ordinary Life by Edmund Gubbins published as an ebook by Kindle and Smashwords and as a paperback by You Write On and Createspace.