Secrets to Keep - By Lynda Page


The man was so angry his jugular vein looked to be in danger of bursting.

Banging his fist hard on the table until it caused a battered tin cup to topple off, he yelled, ‘Now you listen ’ere. That fuckin’ wife of mine is n’ote but a lazy cow who’d do anything for a day in bed. It’s just a bad cold she’s got. I’ve got one, worse than she has, but do I take to my bed? No, I suffer in silence and get on with it. If anyone needs a bloody rest, it’s me – from her constant whining, not to mention from her blasted kids always bickering. No one ’cept me had any business calling you in, least of all our nosy bleeder of a neighbour.’

He paused long enough to give a hacking cough, spitting out phlegm which fizzled in the dying embers in the grate. Turning back to the man he was verbally attacking, he continued, ‘As yer can see, we don’t exactly live like kings, so where the hell am I expected suddenly to find the money for someone to take care of us while the wife takes her holiday?’

Through eyes the turquoise green of glacial meltwater, the man to whom this furious tirade was being addressed flashed a quick glance over the speaker’s shoulder. Seven ragged-looking children, ranging in age from ten months to eight years, who until their father had appeared on the scene minutes ago had been noisily making their presence known, were now all silently clinging together in one corner, looking fearfully back at him. In the fireplace a large, blackened cauldron-like pot was hanging over the dying flames. There were chunks of things swimming in an unappetising-looking mixture, cooling now as the coals beneath dwindled, not having been replenished since the woman of the house had collapsed earlier that day.

Fighting to quash the nausea that was creeping through him, he ignored the competing odours of stale cooking, soiled nappies, unwashed bodies and general decay, and stole a glance around the rest of the miserable room; at the few pieces of rickety furniture sitting on bare floorboards, large patches of mildew patterning the damp, dingy distempered brick walls, yellowing, holed net curtains wafting in the draught swirling through the rotting window frames. He thought too of the sick woman upstairs, lying desperately ill on a filthy, sheetless, bug-infested flock mattress, a threadbare Army greatcoat all there was to cover her.

Her chances of recovery were slim, though had the more affluent, charitable folks of Leicester not found it within themselves to fund a hospital for the free care of the very poorest in the city, even that slim chance would have been denied her. But if her brute of a husband wasn’t going to sanction her admission to the General Hospital, for his own selfish reasons, then the doctor might as well not waste any more of his precious time and sign her death certificate now.

He brought his attention back to the emaciated, shabbily dressed figure before him, his pallor ingrained with dirt, what teeth he had left crooked and blackened with rot, like loose tombstones.

‘You get the money to pay for help from the same place as you find it for your daily supply of drink and cigarettes, I presume,’ he told the sick woman’s husband impassively.

Face flaming with rage, and clenching one fist, Cedric Simmons bellowed back, ‘You what? How I spend my brass is none of your business, you selfrighteous …’

Before he could say another word he was cut short by an even-toned: ‘Mr Simmons, you may intimidate your family but you don’t me, in anyway whatsoever. It’s very apparent from just looking at your wife and children where the majority of the money that comes into this house goes, and it’s not on their welfare, is it? If I’d been called in when it was first apparent your wife was suffering from much more than a cold, it’s probable you wouldn’t now be looking to pay someone to care for yourself and your children. If Mrs Simmons doesn’t receive immediate hospital treatment, she’ll definitely die in a matter of a day or so. Now, do I go back to my surgery and arrange for an ambulance to call, or leave it to you to arrange a funeral?’

Whatever Cedric’s response had been going to be, it was halted by the arrival of a thick-set, middleaged woman who appeared in the doorway to the stairs. She was dressed in a threadbare