IT ISN'T A DREAM
Benedict stares from the window of the flat. The morning sun shines through the smeary windows, the railway bridge, the coal wharf, the Duke of Wellington pub on the right. His mother has gone shopping with his sister and brother. His old man is at work, unless he has skipped off somewhere for the day, making the most of the sunshine and the peace and quiet. He had told Lydia he would take her to Victoria station to watch the trains coming and going from there. That was the other day on the way back from Waterloo station, she sitting beside him, her thin arm holding on to his. Yesterday he hadn't seen her; he'd seen her brother Hemmy, the one he'd punched for throwing a firework at sister some time back, walking sneakily by as if Benedict hadn't seen him. But no sigh of Lydia. Her father had rolled home drunk the night before that, singing loudly in the Square a some unearthly hour of the night, singing of Irish song to his wife who stood at the door of their flat with arms crossed and glaring at him wearing her nightgown and slippers. But no sign of Lydia. Perhaps she was ill? He tells himself, maybe she's caught a cold. He walks from the window and goes out the front door and down the stairs of the building until he reaches the Square. The baker has stopped his horse drawn wagon and is taking loaves of bread out at the back. The man with the boxer dog walks by with a newspaper under his arm. Benedict walks over to the flat where Lydia lives and knocks at the door. Her mother answers the door and stands there in her curlers and apron. Is Lydia at home? Why? The mother asks. I told her I'd take to Victoria station to see the trains, he says. Did you now? She says taking out the cigarette from her mouth. Yes, and I thought I'd come and pick her up. The mother scratches her nose, scrutinizing him, her eyebrows rising. Not sure as her father'd want her traipsing all over London, she says. We're not traipsing, Benedict says, we're getting the bus. We can't afford the money to have her going here and there on some train spotting spree, she says. I've got some money, he says, tapping the pocket of his blue jeans, enough of us both. The mother inhales on her cigarette. LYDIA! She calls at the top of her voice, the cigarette holding on to the mothers lower lip in desperation. Benedict waits, taking in the woman's skinning arms, her yellowing fingers, her curlers tightly holding her hair in place. Lydia appears at her mother's elbow. She looks at Benedict nervously, then at her mother. She is clothed in a green patterned dress, white socks and black plimsolls. What did you want me for? Lydia asks her mother. This here boy says he asked you out to Victoria station the other day to watch blooming trains ot something, is that so? Lydia looks at Benedict, then at her mother. She knows there is no point in lying so she nods her head and says, yes, he asked me the other day. Her mother holds the cigarette between her fingers and points at Benedict. Not sure her father'd want her to be off too far, she says. It isn't far, Benedict says, a mere bus ride away. Aren't you the kid from up there? she says pointing to the flats over the way from her ground floor flat but up higher, isn't your mother the one with four other kids? Yes, that's right, says Benedict. She looks a decent sort, the mother says. She is, he replies. The mother stares at him for a few moments, then down at Lydia. I guess you can go, she says, but don't be getting back late, the streets aren't safe, what with bloody creeps wandering about after kids and such. We won't be late, Benedict says, be home before it gets dark. Lydia looks at her mother anxiously. I can go? I said so, didn't I? Her mother says, taking another puff on her cigarette. Lydia disappears indoors. Nervous kid, she says, you look out for her mind, don't want nothing happening to her. She's safe with me, Benedict says, I'll guard her with my life. The mother stares at him sternly. Make sure you do, she says, turning and going back indoors, leaving a ring of smoke in the air. He waits, looking at the door, paint peeling, smeary glass window panels. He looks back into the Square. The baker has moved on, his horse trotting wearily forward. Lydia appears in the doorway. She looks happy. I didn't think I'd be allowed to go, so I didn't ask, she says. It was a bit touch and go, Benedict says, got to guard you with my life, your mother says, make sure you come home in one piece. She nods, looks at him, her fingers, thin, bony, play with each other. Right then, he says, lets be off. And so Lydia shuts the front door softly, and they walk through the Square and down the slope, across the road and up Meadow Row. She talks slowly about her father coming home late and drunk the other night and singing to her mother, how they rowed, and he pushed her and how she hit him. Benedict listens attentively, smelling her soapy smell, the look of anxiety on her face, her eyes wide with the tale telling. And my dad said I wasn't to go out anywhere, Lydia says, I was to stay home and help my mother with the chores and not go traipsing everywhere, so didn't want to say about going out with you after that. Benedict and she arrive at the bus stop and wait there. He tells her about the Ivanhoe book he bought with the money he'd got for doing the shopping for his mother, and how he managed to cadge 5/- from his old man for polishing his shoes and how he likes his shoes to be so so and well done. She looks at him, looks at his light brown hair, the wavy bit at the front, the hazel eyes that seem to light up when she speaks. He talks on about the book. She draws nearer to him, she doesn't like crowds, feels uneasy when other people get near her, or if someone talks to her she doesn't know. She remembers that man in Jail Park, who opened his trousers up and took out his penis and waved it about in front of her, one evening, on her way home, from playing on the swings with other kids. He had dark eyes and a wide grin. She couldn't sleep for ages properly after that. She never told anyone, except Benedict, and he said, Dirty Bastard. Benedict talks about the sword his old man made for him at work, all blue and metal, heavy to carry. She listens, looking at his hazel eyes, warm, safe, and she wishes he was always there, always around. Soon the bus will come and they will be off, off to see and hear the trains, to smell them, feel the powerfulness has they leave and arrive at the station. She hopes her father doesn't come home drunk again, hopes he won't be mad about her going out and about. She watches Benedict as he talks, plays with her bony fingers, sees his head tilt as she speaks, he saying about things never being what they seem, she she pinching her thin arm hoping it isn't a dream.