The Queen of Rotten Row

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Image: Pixabay

 

Not a soul who lived on Rotten Row knew what happened to Daisy Critchlow. The mystery of her disappearance was the topic of conversation over boiling coppers and steaming pots of tea for five days. Then on the Monday after she last stood on her white-faced step, Father Basil ran off to Birmingham with two silver candlesticks and one of the girls from the match factory. And Daisy’s fate was pushed behind wash days and work days, High Days and holidays.

Later, when the neighbours thought of Daisy at all, they’d eye the peeling paintwork and stained windows of number five and creep upstairs to check their children as they slept.

It was a comfort to them that Daisy’s mother, Queenie, had already lost so much. What difference would losing a daughter make?

***

When Daisy was five, she asked Queenie why the chipped enamel sign on Mrs Mulligan’s end terrace house said Railway Cottages when everyone called their street Rotten Row. The question was asked just as Queenie – pinny wrapped tight over a bust heavy as a sack of sand – was showing her how to black the range. The leading brush left a bump the size of a cobble on Daisy’s head that took over a week to go down.

‘Have you nothing but soot in that head?’ said Queenie. ‘Look out the window and you’ll see why.’

Afterwards,  skirt pulled up over her waistband to keep the hem clean, Daisy paused while sweeping the yard to stare up at the railway viaduct. Though she’d lived underneath it since the day she’d arrived (‘A mite too early and darn site too female’ according to Queenie), Daisy never really saw it until that day. It was like the pavement or the road or a mess of horse dung – part of life, but nothing to waste time watching.

But that day she saw how the grey stone arches made a second sky over the clusters of railway and factory terraces. How they funnelled and dripped sooty rain on the windows, as if they hid clouds jostling with chimneys.

Their house never truly saw the sun. Only a brief smile fell through the front parlour net curtains in late afternoon and then only in mid summer. And as each train passed – great lungs huffing and wheezing – the glasses on the sideboard tinkled like icicles falling on frozen ground.

Like living in a dragon’s cave, she thought. Though surely there would be more maidens and fewer stray cats with patchy fur and skin the colour of a healing scald.

From that day on Daisy was sure to check if Queenie was holding anything heavy before she asked a question.

 

 

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19 thoughts on “The Queen of Rotten Row

  1. I love this – it’s so atmospheric, but what I like best about it is this:

    It was a comfort to them that Daisy’s mother, Queenie, had already lost so much. What difference would losing a daughter make?

    I trust Daisy met a Prince and lived happily ever after?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you – you’re very kind. Err, Daisy sort of – ish has a happy ever after, though maybe not in the conventional sense. It’s a long short story I’ve had knocking about forever – thought I might post it in installments on the blog – just to give the poor thing a home 🙂

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      1. I hope you decide to do it -I feel connected to her now, and I would like to think she isn’t too damaged by her mother’s attitude to her – but then the story is set before we invented emotional damage. In those days only various shades of sadness and joy were allowed – and physical exhaustion ofcourse, which you couldn’t give in to.

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      2. That’s true – I think we can’t appreciate how very exhausted working people would’ve been – all the time. And Daisy’s mum’s attitude stinks – but, there are still plenty of cultures where girls are undervalued, unfortunately. Hopefully it’s not quite like that here now. I think I will publish the rest – though it doesn’t have the sharpest plot, really 🙂

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      3. Sometimes a good story relies more on its characters and the style and imagery than the plot. I much prefer atmosphere – where you feel you are walking beside the characters – to a far-fetched whodunit or a complex sci-fi.

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      4. I can’t come up with decent plots, and my characters always grow wings and fly in unexpected directions – in fact I can’t write more than half-a-dozen lines of a poem without it rebelling, and changing the mood or the outcome.

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      5. But that’s how some writers find success – just sitting down at their laptop and letting their ideas fly. My problem with the first book was I did this and the plot just didn’t work. I’m just a writer who needs to plan ahead a bit more, I think

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      6. Ha! Thank you – you’re very kind. I know what you mean – a novel can be a slog sometimes, especially when you feel you’re not writing well. But there’s something tremendously satisfying about finishing a long work and as we’ve discussed before, if you treat each chapter as a short story that happens to link with twenty odd other short stories, it’s quite an enjoyable experience.
        The trick is having an idea that you like enough to sustain you over that long writing time – not always easy 🙂

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      7. A new story, new characters are always and exciting prospect. But once you’ve got some distance with a story, there’s a feeling that you almost owe it to your characters and yourself to carry on. At least, that’s how i’ve felt with some of my characters. I based my YA in real places in Bristol and when I pass some of them, I wonder what my characters are up to inside – I almost believe they could be in there. Insane? Probably 🙂

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      8. I wrote a children’s book a few years ago about a lonely autistic boy who finds friendship as a result of his obession with a spider that lived in his wardrobe. I can’t read it without crying, because although I gave the story a happy ending, I’m all too aware of the hurt and difficulties that may lie ahead of him.

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      9. I finished it and edited it over and over, then sent it to the Autism Society for them to critique, but a couple of days later it looked all wrong, so I asked them to scrap the document.

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      10. I expect there’s a little more to your manuscripts than my spider story. I didn’t mention that this was a picture book for 3-5 year olds. It only had 304 words to it, and I’d editied it so many times there was probably nothing I could improve. I just lost my confidence. may re-write it for older children, but i think it will take away someof the magic. I love picture books.

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