- Author: Carol Rivers
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Christmas To Come
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‘Christmas to Come’ is for the Firm.
Christmas Day 1940
Isle of Dogs
'Terry's cold, Bella.' Five-year-old Terry Doyle squatted next to his sister in the dank, rubbish-strewn alley opposite the row of derelict cottages. Bella Doyle, only eight-years-old herself, slid her arm protectively around her brother's bony shoulders, painfully aware his thin white shirt was no protection against the winter's bite.
Terry was starving and today was no exception. They'd been scavenging on the debris all day and found little to satisfy their appetite. If only their mother and that pig of a man she'd picked up at the Rose hadn't decided to come home early! They must have had a skinful, then run out of booze or money or both.
Bella was weighing up this problem carefully; a problem she had been faced with more times than she had eaten hot dinners. In fact, to Mary Doyle's children, a hot dinner was something they could only dream about, and often had.
Bella knew that to enter their home now, a rundown dockside cottage dripping water from its mouldy walls, would be a risky business. After the week-long binge that their mother and her boyfriend Jack Router had enjoyed, even setting eyes on her children would be aggravation to Mary Doyle.
Bella understood the evils of alcohol even at her young age. If asked, she couldn't put it into words. But she knew through bitter experience how it could corrupt a person's nature. Their mother hadn't always been the drunkard she had turned into and Bella somehow understood this. She sensed the sinful nature of Mary's work and the crucifying poverty of their lifestyle, though she suspected that once upon a time her mother had been a child too. Perhaps with a brother or sister or both, and part of a real family. Mary Doyle had been innocent once. Before she had turned into a wild animal and lay with men to earn her living. And the blame for this degradation, Mary had daily informed Bella, lay squarely on her children's heads. They were bastards, appearing unbidden in her life. At the best of times, the sight of them was almost more than she could bear. At the worst, she left them alone with Jack Router.
'What we going to do?' Terry mumbled, trembling with the cold, his hand frozen inside Bella's.
'We'll wait a bit, right? Till they go out again.'
'But the planes might come over.'
Bella shook her tousled and filthy copper curls. 'They won't come over tonight. It's Christmas. Even the Germans know that.'
'Do Germans have kids as well?'
'Course they do.'
'Do they give 'em presents?'
'Dunno. Might do.'
Terry leaned his slight weight against her and Bella sighed heavily. All the buildings in Bow Street were condemned. She knew that because she'd read the notice nailed to their door. "This dwelling is considered unfit to live in and is condemned by the council."
But this had been in the summer before the Blitz started. Since then, the paper had worn away and life had gone on much the same, Blitz or no Blitz. Bella had been thankful that at least, she and Terry still had a roof over their heads. More so, when Mary and Jack were not sleeping or fighting underneath it.
Now snow was drifting across the street and Bella's stomach churned emptily. She had stowed a crust of bread between the floor and the bug-ridden mattress they slept on in a corner of the cottage. Bella had planned to share it with Terry as soon as they'd got home from the debris where they'd been looking for anything of value left over from the raids. But today they had come home empty-handed. And they'd been waiting an eternity in the hopes that the cottage would soon be vacated.
'They must be asleep,' Bella decided, taking off her coat and folding it around Terry's shoulders. It wasn't much protection; threadbare and darned, it was the only comfort she could give him. If only Terry could remember to dress himself properly. He didn't seem to know what kept him warm and what didn't. He had a habit of forgetting and Bella was always looking out for him.
'I don't like it here,' Terry complained, his bare knees knocking under his short, raggedy trousers. 'I'm cold. I wanna go in.'
'So do I,' Bella agreed impatiently. 'But not for a bashing. And we'll get one, as they won't be in no mood to see us.'
'Where we going, then?' Terry asked forlornly, swiping the running snot from his nose. 'To Micky's?'
'Don't reckon Micky would like that, either,' Bella said, shivering in her thin dress that was more tears and holes than fabric. 'It's Christmas Day. His mum will be dishing up the dinner.'
Micky Bryant was their benefactor. The one light in Bella's dark life. He was twice as old as her, but he didn't seem like it. He seemed like her other half. He looked out for them. And all the other street kids. He paid them for what they found. And sometimes gave them grub. He told them to keep shtum, as if his mum knew he was knocking off stuff, she wouldn't be best pleased.
Micky had two brothers too. Sean was all right. But Bella didn't care for the oldest one. She'd seen him at a distance and he looked - well, she didn't know how he looked. But she suspected he wouldn't encourage Micky's friendship with kids from the slums. Micky would laugh at that