the other side of life

Can you sleep outside with snow on the ground?

StoryKettle » BETTY » the other side of life

Copyright © 2015, Michael M Wayman

Mrs Pearson was waiting in the town square, the sun had just set, she was wearing what she thought were ordinary clothes.

A scruffy little girl walked past, she was wearing a horrible-looking anorak and her hair was a mess. She stopped and looked back over her shoulder at Mrs Pearson. It was Betty. The message was clear: Follow me!

Where were they going? Mrs Pearson squeezed Betty's hand. She had never been in a charity shop, it looked so shabby, full of dirty and uninteresting things, the back of the charity shop was worse.

Here second-hand clothing was given out to the poor and the homeless. Betty chose a mustard yellow T-shirt, a very plastic-looking, pink coat and some washed-out green jeans for Mrs Pearson. Betty roughed up her hair and smeared her make-up.

She saw her reflection in a shop window, her heart sank.

They rounded a corner and saw two dirty old drunks fighting. Betty thumped them a little bit and laid them on two separate benches to sleep it off. Message: Can you sleep outside with snow on the ground?

They walked the streets around the railway station, plenty of people sleeping rough. The message was clear, Betty did not have to point.

A car stopped, a young woman got out and stood under a street lamp reading a book. There was a woman under each street lamp, some were pretty, some were ugly, some were men.

Betty took Mrs Pearson into a pub, it was shabby, everything plain wood, full of shabby men. But it was clean, Betty liked it, it was the Brown Jug.

Betty walked up to the bar and was served two large beers, Betty did not pay, Betty never paid, but Betty always got free beer. They sat at and on a small table. Mrs Pearson did not remember when she last drank beer and never such a large one.

The men at the next table, heavies from the carnival club, recognised Betty and waved. What was Betty doing? Same as usual, something completely different, never seen that before, a woman in the pub.

Mrs Pearson drank slowly, Betty had downed hers in one. A fight started at the back of the pub, Betty jumped down from the table and thumped some peace.

Betty took Mrs Pearson round to the back of the strip club and into the dancers' dressing room. Amy was sitting on a bench and crying. Someone said “I think that she has been raped.” Betty sat next to her and put her arms around her. Mrs Pearson did not know what to do.

The manager poked his head around the door and loudly demanded “Next act now!” One of the girls put a cassette into a machine, a roll of the drums and she marched out onto the stage. Mrs Pearson had never seen a stripper before, she felt totally lost.

They entered a small café, an old man was sitting alone at a table eating a slice of bread and marge, it was the cheapest thing on the blackboard behind the counter. Betty said nothing, she had no money, she was served with a hot dog.

Betty did not pay, she had no money, she didn't know what money was. But she did know that Mrs Pearson could do things, big things, she could get things done.

Betty knew everybody in Bigtown, she knew the poorer people too, she could help a bit, she could dance, she could put her arm around someone and cheer them up, she could stop violence, she could make people happier even when that meant thumping them first. But there was a limit to what she could do.

Betty wanted to show Mrs Pearson the other side with the hope that Mrs Pearson could do things, to make life better for the poorer people.

She put mustard on the hot dog, ripped it in half and gave half to Mrs Pearson.

On the other side of the railway station was the north edge of Bigtown. The north edge was pretty rough, rows of shabby tower blocks; the apartments were small and badly maintained. They heard the sounds of a woman and a man arguing, loud shouting, and violence.

Betty ran into the building, kicked a door in and ran out again carried a woman trailing blood. Betty ripped off half of her own anorak and wrapped it around the woman to stop the bleeding. Betty carried the woman to the hospital and into emergency. Two nurses came running to Betty with a stretcher – this was not the first time Betty had delivered injured people.

Mrs Tinge did not know whether to laugh or cry, it was three in the morning, Betty and Mrs Pearson were wearing torn clothes from the recycling centre – what a sight. Mrs Pearson collapsed on the sofa and fell asleep. Mrs Tinge put a rug on her and undressed Betty and wiped off the blood. Mrs Tinge put Betty on the other sofa, wrapped herself around Betty, pulled a rug over them and clicked out the light.

It was all new to the mayor. Mrs Pearson wanted a hostel with beds and showers and things. She wanted to tear down the slums on the north edge of the town and rebuild with proper housing. She wanted to open another factory to employ more people. And schools and more.

The mayor liked the ideas – Mrs Pearson was voted Carnival Princess every year for the next five years and it was good so.