H er eyelids flutter open and she inhales deeply....
Whiteness above her, and a sweet scent....
.... and the sound of chatter and laughter....
Her lips are a little sore and frowning as she pulls herself up, she sucks at dry skin.
Jennifer sits in a bed made up with clean, sweet-scented linen, topped with a cover made up of knitted squares. She has never seen such a thing.
Baffled, she slips out from the sheets, to find she is wearing a long nightgown in a plain white linen which smells faintly of lavender and falls almost to her ankles. And beside her, lying on a wooden chair is a white bathrobe and on the timber plank floor, by a rag rug in bright colours, slippers
Around her, a plain pretty room painted in a neutral colour. Beside her, a small set of drawers with a vase of flowers, delicate and wild, and the source of the perfume...
..... Or are they? The room itself smells sweet.
Fresh air blooms through the room from billowing linen curtains. The curtains flutter in a warm breeze which blows through the open window. Seldom has she seen curtains and even less seldom across an open window. Windows are holes in the wall with bars across, not openings for pale yellow sunshine and scented air.
A door stands half open and the sound of chatter and clatter comes from beyond.
Tentatively, still sucking at her sore lips, she rises, puts on the robe and the slippers and stands in the doorway looking out.
The chatter comes from the gaggle of people all seated around a long wooden table. The clatter comes from the noise of them all serving themselves from enormous dishes of mash and greens and gravy. As Jennifer stands there, another door swings open and a pleasant-faced woman enters carrying a sizzling dish of something savoury smelling that sets her mouth running; chicken.
Her hair tied tightly back, the woman has a prim, pretty face. Her eyes light on Jennifer and she smiles. "Ah, there you are, dear. We were beginning to think you'd never wake up. You've slept the clock round."
She is unused to people seeing her and smiling.
I don't think we're in Kansas anymore, Toto....
She pauses on the threshold, lips parted, one foot slightly raised, as though ready to bolt. The gathering stare at the be-nightied, sallow-faced, red-eyed figure. Jennifer stands frozen to the spot, facing a crowd of unfamiliar faces. But they're nearly all smiling. They all have nice clothes and look well-fed. In fact, to her eyes, they look fat.
The woman places the tray of chicken on the table then, "Now stop staring at her all of you. She has enough to deal with right now." She turns to Jennifer, pointing to another door. "You must be hungry, but first, you'll find the bathroom through there with everything you need. Go wash your hands and face, dear, then join us to eat."
Jennifer doesn't understand. It must be a trick, some kind of trap....
... but the trap is baited with food and smiling faces....
Dumbly she follows the pointing finger. As she closes the door behind her, she hears ...
".... She's shy..."
"Yes, all very strange for her..."
"The social worker said she's had a bad time of it. Just stay calm and be nice to her...."
The bathroom is basic but immaculate, and she emerges five minutes later with a rim of damp hair around her face. Curious eyes turn to her from all directions and she drops her head in confusion.
"Now leave her alone." says the woman. "Let the child eat in peace. You can bother her later." She pulls up a chair. "Nathaniel, Brett, move over. Let Jennifer in." A big bear of a man to one side and a younger man, with fair hair and a wiry build, to the other, shove their chairs apart to let her in.
"I'm Mrs Collier, dear. We'll save the introdu