They tried to persuade me to stay, telling me there was food to eat and that I could play with the children and their toys. But nothing could stop me. I was off like a rocket. Mrs Bowcher only wanted to measure me for a dress and probably thought my reaction was strange. But after what I had been through I couldn’t really help reacting as I did.
A dress arrived the following week. Sure enough, Mrs Bowcher had made it without measurements. I now had no excuse not to go to the party. The only problem was that although she had sized me up quite well, the dress did not fit properly. On the night of the party, I exaggerated the problem in my mind and could hardly move for shame.
In a movie, a wonderful young man would have materialised and complimented me on my beautiful dress. In reality, I sat behind a pillar and hoped that nobody would notice me. It worked. Nobody took a blind bit of notice. I didn’t get to dance even once. I cried melodramatically all the way home, thinking of all the corny songs about girls like me.
When Mr Bowcher asked me at work how I had enjoyed the dance, I could not even bring myself to thank him. He told me I had looked nice in the dress, but I just moved away. I felt so ugly that I half blamed him for it.
At first it was hard to cope with such kindness. I’d liked Harry Deverill from the first time we’d met and had tended to think of him as a one-off. He was an exception in a world of people referring to me as ‘the bitch’. Now I was meeting more and more people all the time and finding that many of them were nice! This was not what I expected and took some getting used to.
One of the Prudential agents lived in the flat above the office. His wife, Maria, took pity on me and prepared a meal for me every day. As well as enjoying this kindness, I often sat talking with Maria and her husband, at night. This was my first experience of family conversation. It often happened that no one was ever in at my own home to have conversation with. If anyone spoke there, it was normally during some kind of row.
Maria always gave me dinner and sometimes, by way of return, I would look after the children while she and her husband went out. This was great because I could read the children’s books and play with their toys. Having owned only the rag doll, I was still fascinated by toys.
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