A Girl Like Me by Chrissy Byrne

A Girl like Me

The big house in the park was always a ‘no’ to a girl like me, from the city streets of Leeds. We glimpsed it through the trees on a Sunday for a treat. We hid so well that no one knew we were there, and in summer we might steal a pear. Ladies are in dresses that I have never seen before whilst parasols twirl in hands all delicate, with no sores.

The Great War came and things had to change. A helping hand is what Lady Wood implored.

‘Sunday best’ said my mam, with an order not a request, then pulled back my hair and straightened my dress. I walked up the gravel and felt rather grand.

I was shown into Lady Wood`s parlour. She held out her hand and welcomed me on board but she spoke rather blandly, or maybe offhand.

I was to be taken to the kitchen. As we walked, the maid and I, my eyes opened wide with delight at such splendours. Pictures of people that had lived there, everywhere, even on the stairs. The corridors and doors at every turn so different from our own one up/one down for a family of nine.

Eusol could be smelled in every nook and cranny, even overpowering the polished wood that was all around the house. What it would be to live like a lady in this house!

I bet Lady Wood doesn’t get common field mice. Carbolic soap is rather grand as I clean the windows and the floors. I scrub the white sheets clean of blood sweat and tears. Bed pans I hate the most but I quickly get it done with a cheerful hum.

The cries of grown men as I clean and tidy their beds while the VAD shave their heads and have clean dressings to attend to. Some are foreign and some are from here, but they all are such dears. They try not to groan and moan. They have bandages all about but the stench of infection fills the air and my stomach retches my breakfast about.

Billiard table and tennis courts for the soldiers to play, at least those who can get about. Tobacco smoke fills the air and it smells rather grand. They sit on the terrace for tea but there is no time for the likes of that for me.

When I go home to my bed I think “I like it here” – because I can rest.

By Chrissy Byrne