For Selina, it was time to start thinking about moving on from the little, warm room where she had hidden; resuming life in the real world again. There was no longer any good reason to stay at the small house in Greaves Street. She was to go round to Albert and Sarah Ann’s for a few days before her mother came to take her back home.
Albert took Selina’s arm on the short walk round to his house, whilst Sarah Ann carried Edith in a basket. Her first proper trip had been to register Edith’s birth. The registrar filled out the ledger. He asked her for the occupation of the father: ‘coal miner,’ she said before making her mark on the record where she was told.
Friday 18th February 1898
At the end of that week Selina and her mother walked slowly down Alfred Road in Brightside towards the back gate leading into the yard at the back of Lake Street. Under her shawl, Edith slept, warm against her, the motion of the tram, its creaks, rattles and groans having sent her to sleep. It seemed so long since she had been here last – a lifetime away! She had to get back in a routine sometime though, so, when her mother came round as planned, she had gone with only a private twinge of reluctance.
‘We ought to get some paint on that door,’ she said as they pushed it open into the yard. ‘It’s funny how you don’t notice it after a while when you’re here all the time.’ Then, indicating the wooden enclosure: ‘Still got that blessed beast!’
‘Yeah well Rab’s not been around much to deal with it. It’ll be getting too big before long. And I’m sick of feeding it slops.’
‘Is he here now, Rab?’
‘He’s around somewhere, he’s been around more than usual the last couple of week. Don’t know what time he’ll be back.’
‘Did he not say?’
‘If he did I can’t say as I recall.’
They went inside. In front of the fire stood the bath containing cold water and pit muck.
‘The idle beggars! They could’ve at least emptied it! Right I’ll sort this out and get you sat down with a cup of tea, and then I’ll go and bring the kids back from Henry’s.’
Selina sat in the armchair whilst her mother shook coal out of the scuttle onto the fire, then shuffled to and fro with jugs of dirty water from the bath before dragging it into the scullery.
‘If you make up a drawer to pop her in, I’ll start on tea, Dei,’ Selina said.
‘You’ll do no such thing!’
She might as well enjoy it while she could, she thought. In a day or two there’d be no stopping and there’d be a procession of visitors too, all expecting cups of tea and a little something to go with it.
‘It’s nice to be home Dei,’ she said as her mother set a cup and saucer next to her on the table. ‘You’ll be glad of a bit of help again I should imagine.’
‘And the company love.’
The children crowded round their mother and the girls cooed over Edith; then they were all sent out to play before tea. In the evening, the two women sat mending, the others having been sent to bed or down to the public. Tiny Edith was upstairs in the middle of the big bed. The women looked up at each other when the back door opened. Then came the thud of a bag onto the scullery floor and they knew it was Rab.
‘Evening!’ he said, then sat down at the table. ‘You back then?’
Selina smiled.‘I’ll pour you some tea shall I?’ she said.
‘I’ll do it love,’ Jemima said.
Selina sat by the fire; Rab at the table hunched as he blew steam from the tea.
‘I’ll get off up in a bit,’ Rab said, ‘I’m jiggered.’
‘Mind out for Edith when you do. And don’t trip over Rabbi either, he’s on a mattress on the floor.’
‘I’ll not bother yet then if the baby’s there.’
Selina felt another pin prick – why was he so scared of being alone in bed with her – with his baby? Was it to punish her – using Edith to get at her? She felt like her little pin-cushion – into which he had been sticking more and more pins, every thoughtless remark, every time he ignored Edith. It couldn’t be the old Romany instinct in him: regarding newborns as mochardi; never happened with the others – funny time for new-found respect for the old ways!
She watched him drink his tea. He sat uncomfortably, like he was in someone else’s house. He got out his tobacco pouch, then went out to “take Mr Gladstone for a walk.” He always said that and it had ceased to be amusing a long time ago.
Rab stood alone on the bridge, the glow in the little clay crucible under his nose the only warmth around, the air and river below cold. He tried to remember back to when he and Selina first set out. It was his house then; Selina was his – not as it was now, living under someone else’s roof, not his rules, where Selina was more daughter than wife. A horrid house in Carlisle Street, but it was theirs, just the two of them to please; and a baby on the way. She had, back then, often been at her mother’s – but was always there when he got home. Had she been the first to realise that there was no longer an exclusive connection between them? Had she run back to her mother and father, and just towed him along? Then it had been convenient to be in Dunlop Street near to her parents where they could help out with small children, but had she been running back to them even then? And though they had all moved in together at Lake Street he and Selina had still had their moments: moments when they were together, when they had poked fun at her mother and father and their ways; but now they all just laughed at him. When had she last been truly his? He didn’t know. When the baby sparked into life? – when she last came to him after the Glossop match? Had she given herself to him then or had he just taken?
The damp started to penetrate his bones. He returned to the house, and found his father-in-law sat brooding by the fire, Jemima tidying round, and Selina upstairs checking the children. He went straight up. Selina was lying in the dark on the bed. He removed his boots, and placed his trousers and shirt on the chair, his jacket over the back, and climbed onto the narrow ledge of bed on his side. At his back, the baby snuffled and slurped, sounding not unlike his father-in-law never closing his mouth between mouthfuls.
Saturday 19th February 1898
The next morning after the baby had been fed and while Selina was helping her mother clear away after breakfast, she had passed the baby to him to hold. He held it. Its glazed blue eyes staring at something, mouth twitching, flaky crusts of skin in its hair. He felt nothing. He knew that was wrong. He should feel something. White posset erupted out of its mouth: ‘Here it’s….’ He passed it back to its mother.
He had slept badly. He had woken in the middle of the night with a jolt after his fist had come down hard on the pillow – in his dream he had been fending something off – something small and savage – then he realised his blow had missed the baby’s head by inches. He had then crept downstairs and sat shivering in the dark, watching the glow from the dying embers in the grate.
Now Selina had her baby over her shoulder, it’s eyes looking vacantly ahead, as she carried on clearing away one-handedly. Rab sat back down at the table. He would set off early, as soon as he was ready; clear his mind. His thigh felt better: perhaps he’d walk in, nice and gentle, loosen up; sit in the clubroom and wait for the others to arrive. Notts County. Last time he’d been dropped: New Year’s Day. He remembered that day walking away from the ground: from where he was supposed to be. He had to play well this afternoon. He wanted that first goal; he needed it; it would make him feel better. He wanted the others to shake his hand, and pat him on the back. He wanted the supporters to sing his name. He had his chance back; to show he was still better than Johnson – a boy that couldn’t even grow a proper moustache. Notts County. Bottom of the league; the right match at the right time.
‘I’ll be off in a bit then,’ he said. ‘Are there any biscuits I can take?’
‘No,’ said Jemima. ‘There’s only a few left and I’m saving those. I thought you had slap-up meals beforehand.’
‘No, I meant to put in mi bag for a biting on – we’re away after today’s game until Tuesday.’
‘Typical! Your wife just gets home with a new baby and you bugger off! Where is it now?’
‘Matlock again; special training. It’s important, we’re getting to the crunch time of the season.’
‘Important, my eye!’
Selina had her back to him. She didn’t look round but she stopped what she was doing. He could sense her suffering – disappointment, anger, betrayal; he didn’t know which. He just wanted to get away from it.
When he had left, Selina said to her mother, ‘I just wanted us all to go to church tomorrow with Edith for the first time. All of us as a family, and receive God’s blessing for her. Show her to Him. Arrange a baptism. Pray for her future. Together.’
Jemima looked out into the yard. After a long pause she said, ‘I’ll get the butcher to come and take that wretched pig away, for whatever he wants to give us for it. I can’t be doing with it any more and I don’t want the faff of salting pork again.’
There was a decent sized crowd at the game, all looking forward to another four goals from their boys. Foulke made an early save from a rasping shot, to loud cheers, and Tommy and Cocky both had shots saved, as the crowd oohed.
But it was not long before their mood turned and they cursed their wasted sixpences. The County winger skipped past Harry Thickett, pushing the ball past him. Bill rushed out to clear with one of his trademark kicks, but he too was dodged. Then Bob Cain flew in and would surely hoof it out, but missed. A County forward picked up the ball and shot against the post. The rebound, collected by a forward before Rab could get back to help, was tapped in. Rab had watched the whole farce unfold. Could he have got back quicker? But it wasn’t his fault.
They had to contend for the rest of the game with eight thousand pairs of eyes picking out every mistake, eight thousand full-throated opinions, eight thousand footballers who could have “bloody done better than that!” The crowd looked for players to blame; each of the eleven on the pitch did the same. Rab knew the only difference from back-to-back four nils was him. He mustn’t make mistakes, give them a chance to drop him again. The crowd picked on Cocky, his crossing was poor: to County feet, he kept the ball too long, or tried to get rid too early. Rab had a header on target from a corner but the goalie made a great save.
At the end of the game there were boos. They filed off the pitch in silence, resenting the joviality of the County players. Rab tried to avoid eye contact in the changing room, as the recriminations flew, as they all tried to deflect pressure from themselves by turning it on others: he didn’t want to see the contempt in their eyes. Needham railed at them all for their lack of professionalism: they should just listen to themselves! Cocky sat in the corner, head down. Rab went over the game; he should have got back faster. Was he any slower than usual? That ball should have been directed closer to the corner of the net.
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