From the age of five to nine I lived on a council estate. These were the late seventies/early eighties. I will not allow the incident I am about to describe desecrate my memories of that place because for the most part it was pure paradise. The close in which I lived was nothing short of idyllic. I do not remember any of the adults who lived there being out of work. My own father was a factory worker and my mother was a nurse. Then a family moved into the end of the street. The mother became known throughout the neighbourhood as ‘that strange woman with the seven flea-ridden cats and her two strange, scruffily dressed children’.
I didn’t know it then but that family was going to have a profound effect on the rest of my life. The mother of the clan was, unlike the rest of the street, unemployable. The neighbours ensured her many cats, multiplying by the day, were fed. Their concern did not extend to her children who although they weren’t emaciated, were not the bonniest of creatures. More than mere neglect was happening in that house and I wish I had the wisdom to heed the warnings given by those much older and much more experienced than me never to venture across the threshold. There was no shortage of these warnings.
I chose to obey my own instincts instead. One of the biggest mistakes I have ever made. I had been told never to listen to gossip. The nuns at my Catholic primary school told me never to ‘Give a dog a bad name and hang it.’ That was an expression they used rather frequently.
So I did it. I crossed the threshold. I remember being overwhelmed by the stench of the cat faeces that were scattered across the floor. And then there were the ‘children’: Calvin and Marie. There was another boy who hovered in the background but he barely seemed to register. Calvin was not exactly a child. He was in his late teens – sixteen or seventeen I think. He invited me into his malodorous bedroom. He said that he would make sure I had a ‘good time’. Suffice to say that a ‘good time’ would be the last words I would use to describe my experiences in that room.
I can’t understand why I returned. Maybe it was the threat that if I didn’t my parents wouldn’t love me anymore or that I would be taken into care. That was what he told me and at the age of seven I believed him. My memories of this period of my life are fragmented. I can’t even remember how long it lasted. Could it have been a month? The entire summer? One memory remains intact in my head. Calvin had found a rickety old bridge. Marie and her adult boyfriend stood on one side familiarizing themselves with one another while on the other side Calvin did things to me that he should have been doing with a young woman of his own age..
Every now and then I hear his voice. But I can never see his face. It was the stench than emanated from him that remained with me – a sickly sweet scent. Overpowering. Later I was told that this was probably cannabis.
Sometimes my memories of that time will enter my head uninvited. I focus upon seeing the events of my childhood through a prism of sunlight. I cannot remember how it ended. I told no one. Except my mother. She admitted that the signs were there but she never made the connection. My parents tried their hardest. I know that now. I’m not so angry anymore. It hasn’t destroyed my life because I won’t let it.
Soon after they had moved in Calvin, his siblings and his mother were evicted from their little house at the end of the road. I hope they found every one of those cats loving homes.