The Worst of Times: A terrifying journey across town: Elaine Feinstein talks to Danny Danziger

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Indy Lifestyle Online
My father and my mother were very different. Father was healthy and outgoing and attractive, mother was a rather timid woman, a little older than my father. She had been a pretty girl, but she was now drawn and frail, and she always seemed to be ill. I know now that she wasn't actually ill; she was having miscarriage after miscarriage, poor woman.

She was very sweet and kind, and she was always very good to me, but I identified wholly with my father. I idolised him, I thought he was wonderful. The worst thing I could imagine was something happening to him.

When I was six, I went to the Wyggeston School in Leicester, which was on the other side of town from where we were living. My mother was pregnant again at that time, and she was in bed a lot, trying to hold on to this baby. So every day, my father took me to school and brought me back.

I used to sit outside the school on a wooden bench and wait for him to collect me. He wasn't always on time because he had to fit in collecting me with everything else he was doing. But I didn't mind, I was certain that he would come. He had an Armstrong Siddeley, which had a distinctive pointed nose, and when that appeared from over the brow of the hill, everything would be all right.

Then one day I waited 20 minutes, an hour, two hours: he still hadn't come. Everyone had left the school, even the teachers. I just didn't know what to do. Finally, I set off on my own, feeling totally betrayed and abandoned, worrying that something must have happened to my father and thinking that my entire life support system had been destroyed.

I walked across the centre of town on my own, and asked someone which tram to take. The conductor saw this little round-faced girl with a Wyggeston hat, a very respectable thing to be wearing. He could see I was upset, so although I had no money he let me on for nothing. I sobbed with incredulous grief the whole journey.

I remember getting off the tram, walking up our road a bit, and then seeing an ambulance outside our door. And as I watched, my mother was bundled out of the house on a stretcher.

Of course what I should have felt was: 'My God, what's the ambulance doing there?' But I wasn't at that point concerned about my mother. All I could think was: my father left me to make this terrifying journey on my own. It was treacherous of me, really.

What had happened was that my mother had had a desperately dangerous miscarriage, an ambulance had come, and in the terror and confusion, I had been forgotten.

Although my conscious mind knew that my father had done the correct thing, emotionally it felt like a betrayal. I suppose I believed that he belonged to me, that he owed all his primary loyalty to his Elaine, not to his wife.

I sobbed for days. My mother, who was a very sweet-natured woman, and had no idea of these thoughts going through my mind, blamed herself: what a shock it must have been for me to see the ambulance, and to see that she was so ill. I, however, knew that the real shock was seeing that damned Armstrong Siddeley parked snugly against the garage, and the awful realisation that I just couldn't trust anyone again.

I suppose this was when I first realised I would have to confront the world on my own. Perhaps it's as well for a protected child to be shaken awake like that, to realise that the world is out there, dangerous and ready to impinge.

Elaine Feinstein's latest novel, 'Dreamers', is published this month by Macmillan.

(Photograph omitted)

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