written by: Michal Reibenbach
It’s Saturday, a sunlit winters day. In one of my pockets, I have pocket money and coupons (things are still rationed long after the war) which Matron had given me. I’m dilly-dallying along a desolate country road, lined with hedges to the village located about a mile away. On my way, I search through the weedy verges of the road and under the hedgerow for empty bottles. I also pick up cigarette butts, which I’ll later unravel, roll up the tobacco in a piece of newspaper, and smoke. At school, the kids dry Colt’s Foot leaves in the sun, then chop the leaves up and smoke it as a substitute for tobacco. Real tobacco is a treat. I arrived at the grocery store, hand in the empty bottles I’d found, and receive their deposits. I meet one of the kids from school in the shop.
“Maggie, the bottles are placed into crates in the backyard you can go and retrieve them to get another deposit on them,” he whispers in my ear.
So that is what I do. With my pocket money and coupons, I buy a tube of condensed milk. Every Saturday I buy condensed milk because it is extremely thick and sweet, and keeps my hunger pangs at bay for a long time. Since I’ve spent all my pocket money, I amble back along the road out of the village, sipping at the tube, and thinking how heavenly it tastes. As I pass the village church with a tall steeple, a woman leading a little girl by her hand approaches me.
“Do you go to that free school?”
“What’s your name?”
“Can you do whatever you like there, sex, and the likes?”
“There are some rules,” I say evasively for I think that maybe some of the older children do have sex.
“My little girl Lorna is very lonely, she hasn’t got any friends; do you think you could come and play with her?”
“Why don’t you send her to a Kindergarten?”
“There isn’t one in the area.”
“Alright, I’ll come.”
I accompany them as they walk along a gravel path. Soon, we arrive at their cottage. In front of the cottage lays a shaggy lawn that reminds me of green uncombed hair.
“Stay here, you can play in the garden with Lorna and her dolls.”
On the large veranda of the cottage, I spy a large assortment of dolls and doll paraphernalia the likes of which I’ve never seen before. The woman rushes off into the cottage and leaves us to our own devices. Lorna begins to drag all her dolls and their equipment onto the lawn.
“Let’s play doctors and patients.”
She sets about undressing her dolls, placing them into their doll-beds, covering them up with blankets, and then proceeds to poke them.
“Now lie down and I’ll check you.”
I lay down on the rough grass. Lorna comes over to me, pulls up my sweater, and begins to prod at my stomach. I spot a ginger cat slinking down the garden path switching its tail.
“A cat,” I exclaim.
I far prefer cats to dolls.
Lorna waves her hand dismissively.
“Leave the cat alone, he isn’t interesting.”
I jumped up anyway, run over to the cat, and begin to stroke its soft fur. Unexpectedly, it bites down hard on my hand. The pain is excruciating.
“Oh, it bit me!” I cry out as the cat runs away.
Lorna continues to play with her dolls as if she hasn’t heard me. I sit nursing my hand, as I wait for the pain to subside. After a while, Lorna’s mother comes out into the garden together with an emaciated, diseased looking man.
“Mummy, the cat bit her.”
I am grateful to Lorna for piping up since I would never have dared complain to her mother. Her mother looks at me in concern, and I can see she is perplexed by the situation. She stands for a minute uncertain as to what to do.
“Oh dear, I suppose you’d better go back to Pinehurst where they’ll be able to look after you. What a shame I wanted to invite you to milk and cookies.”
“I’ll be going then.”
Her companion’s appearance frightens me. With my heart beating frantically, I jump up, snatch my tube of condensed milk from off the grass, and bolt down the garden path as fast as my legs will carry me.
In the evening, as usual, I go to the kitchen to have my hot-water bottle filled. As Amanda the Matron is pouring hot water from an enormous wrought iron kettle into my hot-water bottle which is shaped like an elephant, she notices the bite marks on my hand.
“Maggie where are those bite marks from?”
“I visited a little girl in the village. Her cat bit me when I stroked it.”
“The Doctor will have to take a look at the bites in case the cat was infected with rabies.”
One of the kids overhears her and begins to taunt me.
“Maggie you’ve got Rabies, you’ve got Rabies, you’ve got Rabies!”
“It’s a dangerous disease, you’ll probably die from it,” he replies spitefully.
The next day Dotty the headmistress drives me in her husband’s jeep to visit the village doctor. Although I’m usually a tough little girl, I bawl the whole way for I’m frightened I might be infected with rabies. As the Doctor inspects my hand he sympathetically looks at my tear-stained face.
“Dear child, you don’t have to worry it’s nothing, I’ll just put some iodine on the bite marks.”
He gently dabs iodine on the wounds and I am greatly relieved I hadn’t been contaminated with rabies.
On our drive back to school, Dotty lectures me sternly:
“Maggie, I forbid you to ever visit that little girl again, it could be dangerous for you. Now promise me. ”
“I double promise.”
The next Saturday as usual I make my way to the grocery shop and buy a tube of condensed milk. As I am meandering back to school I hold the tube up to my mouth in my sweaty hand and suck on it contentedly. To my dismay, the same woman from the previous Saturday and her little girl come hurrying up to me.
“Hello Maggie, will you come and play with Lorna once again?”
“I’m sorry but I’m not allowed to play with Lorna anymore; Dotty my school headmistress forbids it.”
“You don’t have to tell her,” the woman endeavors to persuade me.
“No I’m sorry, I promised.”
Loping towards us I spy her creepy looking man friend. I dash away as if the devil himself is in pursuit of me.
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