The yellow warning light flashed.

StoryKettle » Cuthbert » bookends

Copyright © 2016, Michael M Wayman

I was giving Mrs Happy what she wanted and what she needed, at least what I thought she wanted and needed – you could never be certain with Mrs Happy. She didn't say much, what she did say was usually grumpy, she did the ironing.

The yellow warning light flashed, a computer voice droned “There is a battered young woman at the door, probably from the railway station part of town.” I looked at the monitor screen and there she was, but no need to jump out of bed, there were plenty of girls in the house...

“Battered girl warning, all hands to reception area, that means you. There are only two persons in house. Go, go, go!”

I grabbed my clothes and made for the door. A quick check on the monitor screens – she was alone. I opened the door, she ran in, I did not have to pull her, I slammed the door shut.

“Welcome to the safe house, we're going to the first aid station first.” She was covered in cuts and bruises – some new, some old. “I'm going to dress your cuts, you don't have to tell me where the cuts came from, you don't have to tell me anything. Your new name is Trallene, you don't have to tell me your name.”

Mrs Happy filled the bowl with warm water and a dribble of disinfectant. I cleaned the wounds and bandaged them; one needed a compression bandage. Mrs Happy refilled the bowl repeatedly, I said nice words to Trallene. Some of the smaller cuts I plastered; Mrs Happy rubbed sports gel into some of the bruises.

I noticed blood on the inside of Trallene's leg. Stop, I'm out of my depth. The blood on her leg and also on her head and the black eyes meant “I'm phoning the doctor. She's very kind, you will like her.”

The doctor came very quickly, her practice was three doors away. Trallene had many more wounds under her clothes. The doctor, with help from Mrs Happy, patched her up. “I think I've treated everything, just a few stitches, no broken bones. I've got to go back to my patients, but they will understand that there has been an emergency, I'll come back this evening to see Trallene again.”

“Why don't you come for dinner?”

“Good idea.” She turned to Trallene. “You're in the right place, these are good people, all women apart from Cuthbert. They'll look after you. They'll keep you safe too – this house is like a fortress. Try and get some rest, Trallene.”

I was thinking, Trallene had said not a word, that was not a problem, it would be days before the wounds healed, plenty of time, plenty of tlc, the girls knew what to do. But where were they? I was thinking about Mrs Happy too, why did I not understand her? But why should I? I didn't understand the other girls.

I took Trallene to a quiet room, Mrs Happy brought in a tray with three mugs of cocoa and a pile of sandwiches. “Bookends!” We sat on a sofa with Trallene sandwiched in the middle. Mrs Happy and I each took one of Trallene's hands in our hands and wrapped our other arms around her back.

Trallene cried and then fell asleep – the doctor had given her a shot of painkiller and sedative. I felt very close to someone and that someone was Mrs Happy. Something was happening between Mrs Happy and me.

About two hours later the girls burst into the house, where they had been I never found out. Angela and Angela entered the room, Angela knelt in front of Trallene and gave her the standard talk about the house, how safe it was, how Trallene could relax, how Trallene would be helped. And of course the tlc.

Mrs Happy went to do her ironing, I felt a little bewildered, but not for long, Wilma needed my attentions.

Dinner in the evening is the occasion for everybody to meet, but you don't have to be there, you can eat in your room. I came down to the dining room, Trallene was wedged between Angela and Angela, she was in good hands. I hugged the doctor and Mrs Tups, I sat down.

Mrs Happy entered the room and sat on my lap – big surprise. The girls often sit on my lap, but Mrs Happy had not done that before. We ate off the same plate. I could feel Mrs Happy's battle-hardened underwear, she smelled quite different from the younger girls.

Later that evening I went to Mrs Happy's room and lay on her bed. I expected her to jump on me and use me as a trampoline as she usually did. But no, very gently and with every part of her, for hours.

What had happened? Had she discovered some part of me that she had never seen before? It is true that I usually keep away from the battered women – most of them had suffered from men and did not want men near them. But today was different.

I still do not understand her? But why should I? I don't understand the other girls.