In a small house in the poorer area of Littleton lived Sarah, her husband and her baby son. Sarah was a petite blonde with a startlingly pretty face, and deep hazel eyes. She was small and slim and carried herself with an aura of dignity that many better-bred women couldn't manage. Her son was named Matthew and he was the spitting image of his father. His hair was darkening now and his eyes gently turning from blue to dark brown.
The little house only boasted two rooms, a parlour-come-kitchen downstairs and a bedroom upstairs. But Sarah was an inventive and imaginative woman and the little house was as homely as she could make it. She had hand sewn all the curtains and cushions, even the bedding was handstitched. She had painted the walls and hung gay pictures to brighten up the little rooms. She had found old unwanted ornaments and polished them to a brilliant shine, placing them by the fireplace so they caught every warm flicker from the fire. Money was tight, she understood that, but Sarah came from a poor family and was well-versed in making every penny do the job of two.
She brushed her hair from her face and scrubbed the clothes. She was doing the laundry in the tiny back yard. They had no complaints, at least their yard was private - so many of these houses had shared yards, even shared privies. Sarah and her husband had managed to secure a house with its own yard and a small private privy. Her hands were red and swollen from the laundry and the vicious detergent. Her face sweated with the effort and her breaths were shallow and difficult. But this was the last item. She had washed the clothes and, feeling a sense of energy, had decided to clean the contents of her linen closet. In these little slum houses, nothing stayed clean for long, not even clothes carefully stored away in chests and closets. Eventually the fabric would start smelling stale, and her husband had complained a couple of times that his clean bed smelt like something had died in there.
Sarah straightened up, wringing out the last sheet. It would be so nice when this was all done, she thought. She ran the sheet through the mangle and strung it up on the homemade washing line she had constructed. The yard was filled with billowing white linen, drying in the warm April sunshine.
A cry came from the house. Matthew had woken ready for his feed. Sometimes it seemed the child was conscientiously aware of when would be a good time to cry. He never cried when his mama was busy, and he never, ever cried around his father. Only a few weeks old and the baby had learned selective attention seeking.
Sarah picked him up and held him close. The little man immediately started nuzzling for food. Sarah smiled and settled herself in the chair, freeing up her breast to her hungry son. While he drank, she played with his soft curly hair and admired his long dark eyelashes, which lay on his creamy cheeks. She had certainly created a beautiful child, however, it was easy to see where his good looks had come from. His father had the same curly brown hair and long, long dark eyelashes that contrasted with his creamy coloured complexion. Her blonde hair and hazel eyes were not to be continued on in this child, she mused, but perhaps the next one might be like me? Perhaps the next might be a girl? I'd like a girl, she thought as Matthew pulled steadily at her breast. Pretty dresses and ribbons for her hair. Sarah floated away on dreams of her future daughter.
A small wail interrupted her thoughts, as Matthew informed her that he had had enough to drink. He belched loudly and milkily, and then gazed at his mother with his huge eyes. She smiled fondly at him and he chuckled. Matthew was such a gentle baby, he rarely cried, he never screamed and he smiled at her constantly. Once full of milk he would gaze around for a while before quickly going back to sleep. Sarah was looking forward to the days when he was older, and taking interest in things around him. She couldn't wait to start showing him trees and animals and reading him little books. The countryside was only a short walk out of town and she had plans to take him out to the fields at least twice a week for fresh air and, later, exercise.
Matthew's eyes slowly closed, still trying to gaze around against the odds. He smiled gently in his sleep and Sarah knew that meant he would need a nappy change when he woke up. She put the sleeping child back in his basket. Space was at a premium in the little house, so her husband had managed to acquire a small basket, just the right size for Matthew. It even came with little sheets and a warm woollen blanket. Matthew snuggled into his blanket and small milky snores came quickly.
Sarah looked around her little house. It wasn't much, admittedly, but with her husband working away so much of the time, it was big enough for her and the baby. The single room downstairs was actually longer than it appeared outside and meant there was room for a little sitting room cum parlour, and also a kitchen area at the opposite end with a small table for dining. Upstairs, the bedroom was the same deceptively large size, so Sarah and her husband curtained off the back end and created a small nursery and their 'room' was the rest of the space at the front of the house. Being quick and dextrous with her hands, Sarah had fashioned quilts and curtains for the house from offcuts offered by the local haberdasher. The result was a room filled with a hundred colours and a dozen patterns - but somehow all managing to co-ordinate to create a colourful creation.
The little yard was neatly paved, a bonus as some were still bare earth. The privy was in the far corner of the yard, denoted by the cut-out in the door. Luckily, the privies in this street all drained away into the new town sewer system, so the days when Sarah would have had the job of cleaning out the privy were long gone. Other than the privy, the yard was completely empty, save for the washing line Sarah had managed to string back and forth between the roof of the privy and the back wall of the house. The yard was swept daily and it was spotless. Once a month Sarah even washed down the paving, so proud she was of her own yard. The windows in the house were clean and gleamed in the sunshine.
With Matthew asleep and a short while on her hands before starting dinner, Sarah pulled a chair into her yard, sniffed the smell of damp clean laundry and settled herself in the sunniest spot. She had no books and no music, but Sarah didn't need such things. She had perfected the art of removing her mind elsewhere, leaving the toils and worries and going to a magical place where her house had a garden and an inside water closet - and a proper parlour. Each day, in her mind, she visited her 'other house' and spent some time there, thinking up new colour schemes or mentally moving furniture to get the best aspects of the room.
She awoke with a start and looked at the sky. The sun had passed its zenith and was starting to fall towards the horizon. Time to start dinner. In the market that morning, Sarah had managed to pick up some pork chops and intended to cook those with some fried potato for her husband who was due home at dusk. Matthew, thankfully, slept on in his basket, but Sarah knew she would have to wake him before his father came home, in order he might spend time with his son, before he went to bed for the night. This was a routine that her husband was most insistent on, that he have half an hour getting to know the child and spend some quality time with his boy.
As good as his word, her husband walked through the door as the sun was setting over the horizon. The house smelled pungently of pork and fried potato, and Matthew lay in his crib banging a wooden spoon. Sarah had had a quick wash and was neat and tidy to serve her husband his dinner. While he spent five minutes with Matthew, she dished up the meal.
At the other end of the room, her husband peered over the crib, making noises at Matthew, who was chuckling back. What Sarah didn't see was the surreptitious nips from the hipflask, under cover of the crib. Several slugs later, he straightened up and strode over to his dinner.
'How is Matthew today?' he asked, chewing on a mouthful of potato.
'He is fine, better than fine!' Sarah replied with unhidden pride. 'He is so healthy, and hardly ever cries. He's eating well too!'
'That's good,' said her husband as he carved up his chop. 'Let me finish here and we'll have a nice peaceful evening in the parlour with our baby son.'
Sarah shuddered slightly as she started to clear up the kitchen. She was hoping he would be tired and fractious, but it would appear her husband would be in fine form for his usual 'fun and games'.
'Oh, I forgot to say,' he declared, waving the chop bone. 'I will be away late tomorrow, probably overnight. Don't wait dinner for me.'
'Yes, my dear,' said Sarah obediently, her heart lifting. An evening with just her and Matthew. All night with the bed to herself? No grabbing or kicking. She smiled slightly as she wiped down the range.
'You seem happy with my plans,' her husband commented. 'I've finished eating, let us go and relax in the parlour.'
Sarah put the cloth in the sink, gritted her teeth and followed her husband into the parlour end of the room.