• Vol. 09
  • Chapter 01

The Safe House

The soft pink plaster made certain no one slouched against the walls, more than once. Stiff in starched cotton we stood or sat upright as we ate. The new girls had to be trained, someone like me would stand patiently holding a hand against a back. Denied conversation we stared attentively bored across the room.

Cats, like all true rebels wandered wherever they liked, brushing against the walls they would rub against us if we failed to take good care. Marked by pink ankle high stripes, the guilty would stand head bowed as they were chastised for their crimes.

By the time you left you learned to really hate cats.

The nightmare was to wake and find one curled asleep at your feet their route marked by pink paw prints across your sheets. Mrs Marshall with her military nature would stride through the dormitory waking the guilty with her stick. She never hit anyone but she prodded us like fresh meat.

You learned to really hate that stick.

On the last day you would be marched up the steps dressed in starched plain grey. The once filtered hubbub of the streets filled your ears and light blinded your eyes. Pushed out from the gates everyone staggered drunkenly. Across the road dressed in bright colours girls vaguely remembered from past years waited. As you blinked owlishly they linked their arms in yours and walked you down the road to a building they called The Safe House.

What can I tell you about The Safe House? Well, it lived up to its name. Here girls helped girls adjust to the world.


The Safe House

In The Safe House we could wear whatever colour unstarched dress we chose, no one ever, ever, wore grey. We were taken to the market, taught to buy food, to cook, to eat, properly eat I mean. We listened to music, learned to dance, had fun, real bellyaching laughing fun.

We earned our livings sewing and washing clothes for the world around us. Some girls married men. Real men, tall men, we dreamed of following in their footsteps.

One day we said to each other, one day.

Each year on Leaving Day we stopped work to gather across the road from the gates. In silence we waited for foundlings to be pushed cluelessly toward us. As they emerged two by two we would step across the road, link our arms in theirs and walk them towards warmth, towards safety, towards The Safe House.

To a world with no soft pink plastered walls, no cats, no starch, no chastisements and no prodding wooden sticks.

To freedom, to self-expression, to a life without fear.