Here’s the short prequel to my novel ‘Welcome to the Twist’ available on Kindle, I hope you enjoy!
The thin blanket that covered our shivering bodies was no longer enough to stave off the cold. I held the small frame of my daughter tighter, hoping to give her enough warmth to make it through the night.
“Everything will be alright Pops, I promise,” I whispered. My reassurance went unheard by Poppy but I said it aloud, it was more for me than her anyway.
Stars glistened through the bare window, a full moon providing our small bedroom with enough light for me to make out Poppy’s face in the dark. It was no longer that of a child, her once rounded, cherub-like face now had angles no eight year old’s face should have. She was gaunt, her body frail like she was eighty rather than eight. I was glad her eyes were closed, covering the dim, murky colour that had once been a rich brown. It hurt too much to see the change I had caused.
“Shh,” I hushed as she began to fidget, her eyelids fluttering as her body tried to twist away from whatever nightmare plagued her tonight. However, for the first time in a week, she remained asleep, her body relaxing. I breathed a sigh of relief.
The electric was turned off a week ago, since then, Poppy had woken frequently in the night, unable to settle again easily because she was scared of the dark. Had it been summer we may have been able to cope but the seasons had turned, the evenings darkened. I couldn’t even provide this small thing for my daughter, enough light to help her fear.
Eventually I slipped into an uneasy sleep, only to be woken shortly after by the deep rumbling of Poppy’s stomach and the blaze of the morning sun streaking in through the window. My eyes slowly adjusted to the light and I propped myself up enough to see Poppy, sitting cross legged at the end of the bed, playing with her doll.
“Morning Pops.” I yawned, looking at my watch. It was a little after eight already. “Why didn’t you wake me honey?”
She crawled across the bed, smiling, and slipped under my arm. “You looked sleepy.”
I tickled her slight frame, connecting with bone. “I’m never too sleepy for you. Now, how about some breakfast?”
“I’m not hungry,” she immediately lied and pressed her hand over her stomach to try to subdue the grumbling. “You eat instead Mummy.”
A lump formed in my throat and I fought to speak past it. “Don’t be so silly, remember, I already told you, you need to eat more than me so that you grow big and strong.”
“And Mummy is already big and strong so doesn’t need to eat.” She rolled her eyes, looking too grown up for her age. “I remember.”
The kitchen cupboards were empty. I checked again anyway, running my hands along the bare shelf on the off chance I had missed something. We now had only one tin of beans, sitting alone on the counter top. It would have to suffice. While Poppy played on the living room floor with her doll, Daisy, I poured a small amount of the beans into a bowl and left the rest for later. With no way to warm them up, I grabbed a spoon and served my daughter her cold breakfast.
“Careful when you’re eating Pops, don’t get any on your clothes.” We were down to our last pair of clean clothes and I couldn’t afford to waste the water to wash them. They would have to do.
While she ate, I remained in the kitchen, not wanting her to hear my own stomach grumbling. The painful gnawing in my gut was a constant reminder of how I was making Poppy suffer, we had barely enough food for one and, not only did Poppy not complain, she always felt guilty when she was given food and I went hungry. Hoping to feed my hunger a little, or at least numb it for a while, I grabbed one of the two glasses we now had left and twisted the tap to fill it.
“Fuck, fuck, fuck!”
“Mummy, don’t use bad words,” Poppy scolded from the living room.
“Sorry sweetie,” I choked back as I rushed to the bathroom. With my fingers crossed, I turned the bathroom tap, there was a weird gurgling, a clunk, and then nothing.
“No, no, this can’t be happening,” I whimpered, slumping to my knees. “Please no.”
The water had been turned off.
The gas had been the first to go, then the electric but I had held on to the fact that we still had a water supply, we could survive as long as the water was on. Now there was nothing I could do. The water company wouldn’t turn the water back on until I had paid my debt in full but I had no way of coming up with that kind of money.
What were we going do?
There was nothing left.
Poppy still played quietly on the floor with her only toy, oblivious to our newest hardship. I joined her, dragging my feet across the rough, threadbare carpet. I wiped the few escaped tears from my cheeks before sitting with her on the floor.
I tried to come up with a plan, one that would mean that we could survive. However, every thought was blocked by a brick wall that slammed down before I could even glance at a solution.
As if on cue, the door knocked, the sound echoing in the empty flat. I squeezed my eyes shut. I had to find a way before it was too late.
“Open up!” The door banged loudly again but I stayed perfectly still, pretending I wasn’t there. They knocked again and again.
“I have the right to enter the property, if you don’t open up I will have to use force.”
Poppy’s eyes were wide with fear, her bottom lip beginning to tremble. It was only for her that I heaved myself from the floor. My body moved slowly, mechanically, unwilling to get to its destination. When I pulled the door open the owner of the voice had his fist raised, ready to knock again.
“Mrs Goodman?” he asked, his voice sympathetic now. He unclenched his fist and let his hand drop to his side.
I nodded, my mouth struggling to form a reply.
“I’m a bailiff Mrs Goodman, I have been ordered to take possession of your goods.”
He wasn’t much taller than I was and I only had to tilt my head a little to meet his eyes. He had a heavy beard and a bald head so it looked like his face was upside down. I looked into his apologetic eyes and, with a half-hearted smile that barely lifted the one side of my mouth, I told him to come in.
I let the bailiff into our bare flat, his eyes cast suspiciously around the empty room.
“There’s a mattress in the bedroom if you’d like to take that,” I offered, sitting back down beside Poppy.
The man looked unsure, as if I had managed to perform a magic trick to conceal my belongings. He ventured into the other rooms in the flat in the hope that he could repossess something. Apart from the used mattress with stuffing falling out of a hole in the corner, two pairs of well-worn shoes and the open tin of beans, the bailiff would find the flat void of any worthwhile possessions. Within moments, he walked back into the living room and motioned for me to stand with him, something like regret in his expression.
“Mrs Goodman, there is nothing here to cover your debts.” He kept his voice low as he spoke, his eyes darting every now and then to Poppy. “I’m supposed to call the police if someone can’t pay.”
My eyes widened, frightened tears splashed down my cheeks. I bit my lip and muttered, “Please, please don’t do this.”
He looked at my daughter again and rubbed his brow with his forefinger. “I could call social services instead,” he suggested.
“No, please, don’t call them, they’ll send us to the Twist. I can’t go there, I can’t.” My voice was breaking as I tried to plead with him. “Just stay here, just wait and I’ll go and get you some money.”
Without any kind of plan, I went to fetch our shoes. I rushed back into the room, throwing myself down beside Poppy. My hands were shaking as I tried to force her shoes on.
“Mummy, ouch, you’re hurting me!”
“Please Miss, I can’t let you do this.”
“Mummy will sort this out Pops,” I said, blindly scrabbling for the laces on her shoes. “We’ll get the nice man some money.”
“Mrs Goodman, I can’t let you leave here.” The bailiff was already dialling a number on his phone as he spoke. “I have to contact social services now.”
Having managed to get Poppy’s shoes on I turned to my own, but I couldn’t get my hands to work the way I wanted them to. The simple act of putting on my shoes had become complicated, not aided by the fact that I couldn’t see properly through my tears. My mind was racing into darkness, there was nothing left, my brain was shutting down, retreating selfishly from me.
Poppy reached her frail arms around my body. “It will be okay Mummy, don’t be sad.”
The bailiff turned his back on us as Poppy tucked Daisy in my lap. Maybe it was embarrassment that forced him to look away, maybe it was shame. He knew the sentence his phone call was serving us. Maybe he was accustomed to it in his line of work, maybe he was scared that this would be the one that would tip him over the edge. How many moments of defeat had he been a part of? How many of us haunted his dreams? No one could do his job unless they were desperate. And we were all desperate now, weren’t we? Maybe turning away from us was the only way he could meet his own eyes in the mirror.
Poppy held me as if I was the child, needing to be comforted. My body rocked back and forth, silent tears continuing their endless descent. No one spoke and the flat took on an eerie silence as if we were all mourning a death. Time was mocking us. I was frozen in it, trying to hold on, as my world decayed leaving no remnant of the life we had lived, the life I thought I would always live. But it was too late to dig myself out of the dank pit of despair and everything I tried to grasp, crumbled to nothing between my fingers.
This was it. The beginning of the end.
The door knocked once. “Social services.”
The bailiff let them in, a tall woman in a black pantsuit walked in, trailing behind her a younger, scared looking girl, her hair scraped back from her face and a satchel over her shoulder. Their eyes whipped around the flat, finally settling on us, huddled on the floor.
“Mrs Goodman?” The tall woman approached me. “I have to ask you to gather your…ahem…belongings, and come with us.”
I looked into the eyes of a woman who had done her job for far too long. “No, please no,” I begged.
“I am sorry Mrs Goodman but you have left us with no choice.” But the woman didn’t look sorry, in fact, she looked perfectly indifferent.
“I won’t go there.”
“Then I will have to contact the police, your debts can not be paid.”
“Call the police then,” I croaked. “I’d rather go to jail than go there.”
“Very well.” The woman straightened her back and clicked her fingers at her assistant, the girl scurried forward, pulling out forms from her satchel. “You must sign this to show that you are releasing your daughter to social services.”
Poppy’s eyes grew big and began to water, she was shaking her head, confused.
“No!” I shrieked, tugging her close to me. “You can’t have my daughter!”
The woman let out the faintest, exasperated sigh. “You leave us with no choice, if you wish to be arrested then you leave your daughter in our care.”
“I don’t wish for anything,” I jumped to my feet and Poppy cowered beside me, her tears splashing down on Daisy’s head.
“There are only two ways this can end Mrs Goodman, either you both leave with us now or we take your daughter and the police will be called. There are no other alternatives, this is not a negotiation. You have failed to pay your rent and bills and you are no longer able to provide a safe environment for your daughter.”
I threw myself at the woman’s feet, my hands clasped together in a prayer I didn’t know the words to. “Please, I am begging you, please, please.”
My pleas went unheard, though I continued to whisper them to myself. Poppy stepped in front of my grovelling body, shame swallowed me whole.
“I don’t want Mummy to go to the police.”
“Neither do we,” the young girl spoke this time. “That’s why it would be best if you both came with us.”
“Mummy.” Poppy tugged at my top. “I think we should go.”
It was only for her, only ever for her, that I got shakily to my feet, my pleas having turned to sobs. I met the eyes of the bailiff, his expression was easy to read, ‘this could be me one day’. The same expression that haunted the faces of the people on the street, everyone who walked with their head down. Every one of them avoiding reflections of their own desperation.
But that was nothing compared to what we were about to become, one of the others, the nameless, faceless creatures of the workhouse.
Thanks for reading! The full novel ‘Welcome to the Twist‘ picks up nearly ten years later as we follow Poppy, on the brink of turning eighteen.