The new baby, who wasn’t new anymore, had whooping cough and a hole in her ear. Per-four-eight-ed ear-drum, Mummy called it. She cried a lot, the baby, every day and all night. Mummy said she was worn out. She told Auntie that the hospitals were full of soldiers who’d been hurt by the germs, so there was no room for the baby. When Julie said her prayers at bedtime, she asked God to make room in the hospital for the baby, so Mummy wouldn’t be worn out and would have time to play with her, instead of looking after the whooping cough.
She and Mummy and Daddy weren’t living at the seaside with the cousins anymore; they’d all moved to London, which Mummy said was really their home, and the baby had come, too. Mummy said the baby was very pretty, with golden curls all over her head, and pink and white skin and a little up-turned nose. Julie couldn’t remember her because she wasn’t allowed to go into the sickroom in case she got the whooping cough, too. She’d had a look at her ears in the bathroom mirror, and she had a hole in each, but she didn’t think they were per-four-eight-ed and they didn’t make her cry.
Julie didn’t much like the home where they lived now. It was in a street where all the houses were joined up together and looked the same and sometimes, when she and Mummy walked back from the shops, she thought Mummy might forget which was theirs, and then what would they do?
It was a very tall house, with a long thin hall and a front room which only Mummy and Daddy were allowed into in the evenings, then the sick room behind that, and at the end of the long thin hall was the living room and scullery. Sometimes, when it was very cold, Mummy would fill the zinc baby bath in front of the fire in the living room, and Julie was allowed to have her bath there, and then Daddy would tip the water outside in the back yard.
There was a lav outside, but it wasn’t a brown box for two, like the grandma’s one. You had to go up a lot of stairs to a little landing which was very dark to use the inside lav, which smelled horrid cos all the lodgers used it, but when Mummy said she didn’t like it, Daddy said you had to have lodgers or you'd go to prison, cos the germs had bombed all the houses and there weren’t enough places for people to live in. Julie told Daddy that she knowed that, cos when Mummy took her to Holdren’s, the big shop on the High Street, where they had glass counters that were really a big box, with tops that were all scratchety from the money people paid, and with lovely dollies inside, like the one she wanted, they saw lots of houses that the germs had bombed. Only they weren’t houses anymore, just great big holes in the ground with high fences round so you didn’t fall in, and if you peeked through the gaps in the fences, you could see bits of house still standing, broken walls and floors, with carpets, and fireplaces and windows with curtains up near the sky.
Julie's house hadn’t been bombed by the germs. On the same little landing as the lav, there was the bathroom and Hélène’s room. Hélène was supposed to help Mummy look after Julie and the baby, but she spoke funny, and Julie couldn’t understand her, so sometimes Hélène would be cross.
From the bathroom you could hear everything in Hélène’s room, and the boy cousin, whose name was Simon, used to look out of the bathroom window - which he said was Hélène’s window, too, with a partition down the middle of the room, or something - and he could see a reflection of Hélène getting undressed. Simon’s sister, Susie, said it was rude to look and she’d tell Auntie, but Julie didn’t think she ever would – not really.
From that landing you had to go up more stairs to Mummy’s and Daddy’s bedroom and the lodger’s, then up more stairs to Julie’s bedroom, another lodger’s bedroom, and the room where Mummy’s friend lived with her daddy and her baby, Douglas, who used to sit on a little potty in a tiny brown wooden box that looked just like the one at the grandma’s house.
Mummy’s friend’s daddy had made a little platform on the roof, next to the chimbley, so that Mummy’s friend could put her baby out there in a little cot that was really a drawer, so he could get plenty of fresh air. Course, they strapped him in so he couldn’t get out and hurt himself. Julie didn’t like looking down from up there, because it made her feel giddy.
Julie didn’t like having her bedroom so high up in the house, either. She had bad dreams that Mummy called nightmares. Sometimes she had a picture in her mind and she really, really thought it was true, of her, as a baby, standing up in her cot with her arms in the air, ready for Mummy to take her out of it and run to the air-raid shelter. In her dream, there was always a terrible noise called a siren, and another terrible noise in the roof, or the sky above, which Mummy said was the damned germs.
In her dream, Julie didn’t like the air-raid shelter because it was so small and dark and crowded and dirty, and there were spiders and creepy things that got in your hair and it was cold because if it was night, you had to go in the air-raid shelter in your nightie or pyjamas, like all the other mummies and daddies and children. Once, Julie heard Mummy telling Auntie that the germs had come when she was only a little baby and they’d been shopping in the High Street, and Mummy said she didn’t want to die with strangers, so she’d run all the way up Ransdome Road with Julie in the pram so she could go in her own air raid shelter.
Sometimes, Julie felt so tired and scratchety from her bad dreams and nights in the air-raid shelter that it made her a naughty girl, and then Mummy and Daddy would be cross with her and tell her she would have a smack-bottom, and they’d send her to bed with bread and water – only they never gave her any – and then Julie would have to go up all those stairs on her own, past the dark landing by the lav, and then up to the top of the house and past the lodger’s door.
She didn’t like the lodger’s room, because he was practising to be a doctor, and he had a scary skeletor-thing with a skull and teeth and no eyes, hanging on a hook in his room, and sometimes Simon, the boy cousin, would fright her by saying that the skeletor-thing would come and get her in the night.
So Julie had more bad dreams, and more threats of smack-bottoms, and more sent-to-beds with bread and water.
But one day, the doctor came to see the baby, which cried and cried, and when he came out of the sick room, Mummy lifted up Julie’s jumper and vest – right there in the long thin hallway – and the doctor looked at her tummy and her chest and then at her back, and said she had a rash. Julie didn’t like standing there with her vest up because it was cold, and anyway, it was rude showing your tummy in the hall.
“She’s got this terrible habit of rubbing her skirt with her fingers,” Mummy said. “It never stops. It drives me mad. I wondered if it’s a nervous trait.”
And then the doctor asked Mummy a lot of questions about if she had time to play with Julie, or read to her or go for walks with her, with the baby so sick, and if Julie was wetting the bed. Julie couldn’t remember what Mummy said, but in the evening, when Daddy came home from work, they talked about it some more, when they all had high-tea in the living room, and Mummy told Daddy that he’d have to take Julie to the hospital. Great Ormond Street, Mummy said.
Julie wet the bed that night. And she had another nightmare. If there was no room in the hospital for the baby, who was sick, why did Julie have to go there with all those soldiers who’d been hurt by the germs? And what if Daddy left her there with only bread and water because she’d been a naughty girl? Then what would she do?
Causes Mel Menzies Supports
Tearfund: for their project with babies born HIV+ and children orphaned by AIDS.
Care For The Family: for their work in educating adolescents to the...