Autumn WTC #3 Foundling Museum

Tokens

Absence

(Near the Foundling Hospital)

The Pied Piper has been to

Brunswick Square.

Jeaned adults sit in warm coats,

mouths, milk-foamed with latte,

outside  Carluccio’s.

Along the concrete pool

isolated i-phone chatterers,

scoff hot toasted muffins and

cool, takeaway sushis.

I count the children – one in a buggy,

one in a sling, one white-bibbed boy –

mouth creamed from the spooning

of tubbed yellow yoghurt.

That’s just three.

Once, here – Coram’s grounds –

and the dingy backstreets round

would be child-teeming –

thin-clothed girls and boys

spending farthings in shops,

hurling small stones

on a chalked hopscotch –

‘Hop, two, three , four,

pick up and one more throw!’

They dice with broken bones

as the horsed-carriages

and barrow- boys shove through.

Down on the pavement I trace

sharp metal foundling tokens –

pale, ragged rubbings disappear

into the rough-paving dots

texturing my paper.

What would I have left

for my little daughter?

not the spiked leather straps

or  silver knuckledusters,

though the message to fight

may then have been right.

A patch of cat pyjamas,

a length of twisted thread,

a birthday badge pinned

to a blue babygro shred?

Across the road two pale toddlers

left  propped, staring

at the neoned-window,

their double-buggy parked

outside a grubby sweet shop.

What would they be left?

This nodding Bob Meercat?

That knitted reindeer hat?

Inside, the yawning minder

is scratching a card

at the lottery counter,

then rattling balls in a tub –

not the old black, white and red –

the dividers of chilled from warmed,

the starved from fed –

only pale pink sucking sweets,

rolled together, sorted into bags.

In the shopping centre,

outside Boots – an old man –

orange-checked blanket,

pinning knees to wheelchair,

is left foot tap-tapping

for his minder to reappear.

Perhaps the old are

most abandoned now?

My near-blind mother,

wire basket on lap,

parked at Somerfields’

seeing only the periphery glare

of crinkled crisp packets

or pearly creams for hair,

as I, in a distant aisle,

sift out special cheeses

and a bottle of Pinot Noir.

In my cluttered cupboard

stirred with hostile husband-dust,

she’s stashed in a semi-skimmed,

plastic milk bottle now.

Kathryn Healey

The Foundling

“So what did this woman look like?”

The detective looked at her intently now.

“Blonde. Very straight long blonde hair. Really thick. Hair extensions, I’d say. Amazing complexion. Red lipstick. Black cashmere jumper, black narrow trousers, high heeled black boots…. Red soles. I notice these things, working here. I saw them as she walked off. Laboutins.

Oh and a very bold necklace of white beads. She must’ve had matching earrings but those were on the kids lap. Anyway, yes…long blonde hair, black clothes and a beautiful cashmere Burberry coat.”

“So, Miss Davies – Lottie. What on earth went through your mind when you agreed to take the baby into the cloakroom?”

“Well, it was a no-brainer really. Not literally of course! Typical Harrods customer checks in her Burberry coat and says “Oh, I’ll need another ticket for him. He’s called Harry. Bit like the store!

“And I go ‘Look it’s completely against the rules but he’s, like, completely adorable. And she says ‘Well you can keep him of you like’ and smiles. ‘ Only joking!’ That’s what she said. “

And I go “I’d sooo keep him. He’s gorgeous. Anyway, he’ll be off to boarding school soon won’t he?”

“And she replies ‘Too true!’ and smiles at me as I hand her the two white cloakroom discs. ‘I won’t be long. Just meeting a girlfriend for tea. He’ll be fine and anything he needs will be in the bag on the pushchair.’  Honestly officer, that was it. And the baby was so good I hardly heard a squeak out of him behind the coats. My friend Camilla and I work the cloakrooms together at the end of term.

“We thought that Mulberry bag was pretty awesome too!  But then the baby woke up about half an hour ago and now we don’t know what to do.”

The Detective looked at Lottie and scratched his his cheek. How the other half live, eh? A little boy without a mother abandoned in a Knightsbridge store. He checked the bag again. No identification, no cards, no address. Just those white bead earrings. He left them untouched and called forensics. Perhaps they’d get some DNA.

Poor little kiddie.

Astrid Sutton

The Lottery

She scraped her hair into a band put on a grubby jacket and thrust her hands into its pockets. The coins she found around the flat added up to what she needed. Weekend treats.

It was almost dark. The last vestiges of grey drizzle clouded over heading for winter blackness. She walked down the street, noticing that one trainer had split slightly and was letting in dampness from the puddles accumulating by the kerb.

The red signal stopped her just as she was crossing the road. She wanted to get her errand over, to enter the neon brightness of the convenience store and then retreat.

She could see the silhouette of the man at the till. He knew her. A round face, smiling eyes and friendly words. But never too many. They had an understanding.

The woman counted her money again, just to make sure. She took her place in the queue. An elderly woman with a roll along bag containing laundry.  School children buying sweets. A man in tracksuit bottoms jingling some change in his pockets.

It was her turn now.

“Alright?” the man enquired, seeing she wasn’t carrying a plastic basket he added

“Need anything?”

“Yeah. 20 Benson’s, half a bottle of Vodka and a scratch card.”

“Anything else?”

“Yeah. I’d like my baby too.” She was flustered now, couldn’t explain.

“Sorry love we don’t have none of them!” He laughed and handed her a blue plastic bag.

She took the bag from the man and put the scratch card in her pocket.

The lights were red and in her head it gave her hope. Red was a possibility.

She ignored the chill in her feet, gathered her jacket as closely as she could and rounded the drafty corner to the block.

The black doors at the top all remained shut and quiet. The ill kids were in there.

The white doors on the next floor were shut too, yet she could pick up the sounds of the children coming through those white doors as if to haunt her. She thought about her envelope and the vodka label: the token.

She took the lift to the third floor. The lift still smelled bad, no one had swilled it out. She walked the last few yards to her front door. No paint, no colour, no future. The holding pen.

Entering her room, she sat down for a moment and lit up a cigarette before producing the scratch card. Six circles – all white to win. As she scratched the yellow surface off the paper the first circle gradually appeared. Red. Another inhalation of cigarette. Her jagged fingernails scratched hurriedly at the remaining circles. Red. Red. Red. Red again. But the last was black

She unscrewed the vodka and waited for the heat in her throat. Walking to the window, she gazed upwards at the walkway of the white doors. She thought about the token and wondered if she’d recognize the child now.  Keep going, she thought. Six days to go. She’d be able to buy another scratch card on Friday.

Astrid Sutton

Token:  A representation of something else

Money: a coin of metal, then a note, a cheque, a credit card, a number on a credit card, an electrical impulse in hyperspace.

A face:  a daguerreotype, a glass plate, silver nitrate on celluloid, a piece of paper, a collection of pixels, a binary code.

Five seeds attached to each other by a piece of string in a museum case, an image in John Aldus mobile phone, ceramic beads made by him, a paving stone in Marchmont Street, electrical impulses in a video camera, a collection of pixels in You Tube, an e-mail from Claire, an idea in my head, this text in Word, an e-mail from me, a printer in Mary Ward, Claire’s voice…

Rocío Vázquez-Landázuri

November 2012

Kiss

You leave her with a kiss,   hand  her to the  official  with

a briefcase of statutes and return home,  breasts leaking

milk,   feeling insubstantial,   made of gauze or the sheer

silk of wedding night negligee s  – so moth wing thin, the

wind could sieve through and collect the chaff, and echo

through the chambers of your heart. You feel your heart

will never beat again.   You wake in  the night  to her cry.

You’d  know  her  call  within  a  nursery  full of  phantom

infants  wrapped in  institution  blankets of  pink or  blue

– her song,  its  pitch  a  counterpoint  to  your  maternal

soothing. You dream and fill your arms with babies, their

peachiness, a soft pulse of love tapping at the fontanelle,

boy babies,  girl babies, bursting from your womb, slippy

as a coil of eels, each with a frown, a question,  a missing

sister – where is she,  where is she – a plainchant.    She’s

somewhere – the girl with a kiss on her forehead,   bright

as a blessing or a bindi for a bride. You’ll know her by this.

Jacqueline Smith

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