Debut novel by Shanta Everington
My name is Marilyn, like Marilyn Monroe. I was left for dead at a bus stop on Christmas Eve. In the newspaper that Mum brought in, I was plain Jane again: a retard with mousy brown hair and big glasses. That picture was taken before I got to bleach my hair and choose my own clothes and be who I wanted.
In my locker in the day centre, I have a poster of Marilyn Monroe pinned up. The one in the white dress, where itís blowing up in the air and sheís laughing. I chose it because I thought she looked nice and it made me smile every morning when I opened the locker and because I wanted to be like her: pretty and happy and normal.
Iím twenty-five years old and I have a learning disability. At the day centre, Iím in the singing group and do dancing and hair and make-up. My key worker is Sharon, who taught me how to do my washing and sort it into colours. I like sorting things into colours. Sharonís got lots of colours in her hair. Sheís nice and sheís Billyís key worker too. Billyís hair is black. I wasnít attacked by Billy. Billy is my friend and he came to visit me in hospital with Sharon but I pretended to be asleep so no visitors were allowed in except Mum and the doctors and nurses. I donít know why I did that. Billy is my friend. But my head was hurting and all I wanted to do was hide, so I pulled the sheet over my head and screwed my hands into fists.
Mum is sitting next to my bed. I can smell her perfume. Itís called Charlie Red and it comes in a red bottle. I donít like it much but itís better than the other smells here. You can smell bleach. Mum uses lots of bleach to keep things clean and hygienic. Itís very important to keep things clean and hygienic. But you can still smell the smells of people being ill, like if you are sick in a bucket next to your bed and no-one takes it away and it stinks. You can smell food as well but itís not a nice smell to make you hungry. Itís like leftovers or the bin.
I donít think Iíve been here very long but more than a day. Iím not very good at the time, so I donít know. If you put your dinner in the oven at the start of Coronation Street, it will be ready at the end. Thatís what Sharon taught me. You can use sand timers if you get confused with numbers. Or you can do two things at the same time, like putting your washing in the washing machine on a short wash and a boil-in-the-bag in a pan of water. When the washing finishes, the food is cooked. Everything is different here, so I get confused. The nurses wake you up really early and people bring food on trays when youíre not even hungry. But maybe I have been here for a long time because I just remembered that I wasnít allowed any food first of all. Mum said they had to feed me through a tube, like a hosepipe but smaller. They donít put real food down it but a special liquid with something called nutrients.
ĎMy poor baby. My poor baby Jane.í Mum strokes my forehead but I keep my eyes shut tight.
When I was twenty, I decided I wanted to be called Marilyn, like Marilyn Monroe. She used to be called Norma Jeane but she changed it to Marilyn when she was twenty because that was the start of her new life and she could forget about all the bad things that had happened before. Thatís what I wanted too. Rose, my social worker, said it was up to me. Rose says that I am an adult and I can make my own choices.
Mum didnít like my new name but she got used to it because I wouldnít answer to Jane any more. When I was twenty-one, Rose got me a flat in Cranley Crescent in Southend. Itís near the beach and the shops and itís very nice. Natasha came every day to help me learn how to do things myself. Now she just comes twice a week. It was best for me and best for Mum because we were shouting at each other a lot then. But she doesnít want me to go back to Southend. She wants me to stay with her in Dagenham.
ĎMy poor little Jane.í
I want to go home soon and go to sleep in my own bed. In my own flat. My bed is lovely and soft with three pillows. I have four sets of bed clothes that I bought with Natasha. They are four different colours - pink, peach, lilac and cream. I change them every week. The colours help me to remember.
Mum strokes my forehead but I keep my eyes shut tight. Mum says when I get better sheís going to take me home and look after me. She says it was a mistake letting me live in Cranley Crescent with those liberals. It should never have been allowed. A terrible mistake. She says she doesnít know if sheíll be able to cope with me at home, though. Sheíll have to see how it goes. I could always move into a nice little nursing home like Mrs. Tulser from number forty-five, where they have experienced nurses to look after you twenty-four hours a day and not let you out of their sight so you canít get into trouble. She says it would be safe. It might be for the best.
She keeps on stroking and talking but I keep my eyes shut tight. Then the nurse comes in and tells Mum I need sleep and Mum kisses me on the head and I keep my eyes shut tight.
At the beginning, there were two of me. Thatís what Mum told me once a long time ago when she was crying. I havenít forgotten but I think Iím supposed to have. She said it was called twins. Two people who are the same. Sometimes they wear the same clothes and have the same hair in pigtails, like Emma and Sally who used to live in our road when I was little but moved away when they were ten. Sometimes twins are two girls or two boys but sometimes they are a boy and a girl, which doesnít make sense because a boy and a girl are not the same.
But the other one of me died when she was coming out of Mumís body, so she didnít get a name and weíre not supposed to talk about her. Thereís a thing like a rope that joins the baby to the mum and sometimes things go wrong and it gets twisted and that can be dangerous. It was dangerous when we were born because one of us died and I nearly got strangled with the rope. They think thatís why Iím the way I am. When you get strangled by a rope, your brain gets starved of oxygen. It needs oxygen like you need to breathe oxygen in the air and if it gets starved of oxygen, it might stop working properly. This is what happened to me.
Mostly my brain works okay. There are people a lot worse off than me. Mum told me that too. Some people canít even talk or move. Mum calls those people vegetables but Sharon says thatís not a very nice thing to say because they are still people and have feelings even if they canít talk or move. Sharon says that they can still communicate and show their feelings by blinking an eye or something but it sounds very hard to me. Some people canít talk properly with words but they can still talk with noises and move around, like John and Susan at the day centre.
John and Susan live in a home like the one Mum was talking about. A home where you just have a room like a hospital and nurses look after you. There are homes for people like John and Susan who canít talk or do things for themselves and there are homes for old people like Mrs. Tulser. I do not want to live in a home. I have my own home in Cranley Crescent. Itís a flat with its own bathroom with a blue bath and kitchen with a microwave and Natasha comes to visit me and help me but no-one has to live there with me. Mum is cross with Natasha. She says that Natasha didnít look after me properly and thatís why I got attacked. I like Cranley Crescent because I know all the people who live in the flats there - Penny and Gillian, Billy, Nigel, Frank and Joan and Paul.
Sometimes I think about the other one of me. Sometimes I talk to her in my head. I call her Janey because she is the other one of me, who didnít get to change her name and start again. She didnít even get one name but Iíve got two. I might sing her a song. I might sing her a lullaby when Iím going to sleep. In your head, you can sing loud and no-one knows. It wonít stop anyone else going to sleep. You can say anything you want. You can swear and shout and say bad things but if you say them out loud, you can get into trouble.
If she hadnít died, what would she be like? She would be like me but she might be worse off than me if the rope strangled her more because maybe her brain would work less. If you had a twin, youíd never be on your own. If youíre on your own all the time, it can be very lonely but if youíre with people all the time, it can make you cross. You might argue about noise and television and mess and sharing the bathroom. If I lived in a home like John and Susan, I would never have quiet time. I like to have quiet time, when you can think.
It must be very strange to meet yourself. Like looking in a mirror. I havenít looked in a mirror since I came in here because Iím scared to. I must look bad because Mum cried when she saw me. I donít think sheís stopped crying since it happened.
My name is Marilyn, like Marilyn Monroe. I was left for dead at a bus stop on Christmas Eve...