The Cast-Off Kids

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Authors: Trisha Merry
shop and shook everyone up. His main pleasure seemed to be to hurt others. But he did gradually settle in and even relaxed a little as he wormed his way into our affections
with his jokes and his dramatic exaggerations. Indeed, despite his young age, he dominated almost every situation, always on the lookout for ways to make things worse or unduly alarm people.
    So when he rushed in to update me on any minor mishap, it was a major scoop and he made the most of it. ‘Ronnie’s fallen over. He’s hit his head and the blood’s pouring
out. His eyes look funny. Do you think he’s dead?’
    I rushed out to find a tiny scratch and a bemused child. ‘I only skidded on a wet patch.’
    There was never a dull moment at our house, although the neighbours might take a different view of it all.
    With our two new arrivals, Alfie and Gilroy, we rearranged the bedrooms. First we took Paul out of Ronnie and AJ’s room and paired him up in a separate room with Gilroy.
Paul and Gilroy were the same age, and if any of our children could cope with Gilroy, it was boisterous Paul, who could always hold his own, though I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. Luckily
Paul seemed to take this change in his stride.
    Meanwhile, Alfie shared Laurel’s room, being the same age, eighteen months, and both still sleeping in cots. This turned out to be an excellent pairing.
    Just when we thought we were straight, we were asked to take in a tiny newborn baby on an emergency placement. We were already full, officially, with ten children, but this was an exception
because of the circumstances. During the birth, the mother had some kind of medical trauma and was now in intensive care. So we took in this little babe, just a few hours old. She didn’t even
have a name yet. We got all the children together in the kitchen to see her for the first time. They all had a ‘gentle’ stroke of her dark hair, as soft as down, and her little fistfuls
of fingers fascinated every one of them, even Gilroy for just a moment.
    ‘This is our emergency baby,’ I said.
    ‘What’s her name?’ asked Chrissy.
    ‘She hasn’t got a name yet.’
    ‘Mergey baby!’ Alfie blurted out, practising the sound of what he thought I’d said. ‘Mergey baby’.
    So that’s what we called her from then on.
    Paul was due to start at pre-school that week, so we enrolled Gilroy as well and they went bounding in on their first morning, scattering everything and everybody. They loved it from the start,
but I don’t think the other children and staff loved them. I had quite a frosty reception when I arrived to fetch them at the end of that first morning, and it went downhill from there. They
caused such mayhem that, only two days later, they were both expelled – Paul for a week and Gilroy permanently.
    ‘We have to think of the other children, Mrs Merry. They were all frightened and some of them were hurt. All the parents were complaining.’
    It was a cold winter that year, and we lived in a large draughty house in Sonnington, with no central heating. So we kept a coal fire going all the time through the winter.
Mike used to back it up with slack at night, before he went to bed. Then when I got up, early in the morning, I used to go down and give it a couple of pokes to get it going again and put the
fireguard back in place when I’d finished, before heating up the bottles for baby Gail and Mergey. When they were ready, I went back upstairs to give them both their first feed of the day.
After I’d winded them, changed them and put them back in their cots to play, I went down and made Mike some breakfast. I saw him off to work before going back up to get myself dressed, before
anyone else needed me.
    On this particular day, as I went out onto the landing again, I noticed an acrid smell, as if something was burning. I remember standing there, torn between going to pick up a crying toddler, or
going down to check the fire. But I knew I didn’t have any choice.

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