On Fridays, some of us get tiny cubes of yellow cake. A behaviour thing, a reward if you like. Today I don’t get one. Tam offers to split hers, but the scared six-year-old in me still thinks I might live to regret that sort of kindness. I eat my dry crackers in silence.
It’s Monday, the mood is low. Weekends aren’t really weekends, but we cling to what we can. The chat is a little lighter at the weekend, and we get an extra half an hour outside (rain or shine). Mondays come with a new girl attached: a Flatty. Tam, Lorna and a couple of others think that this is good news, but I can only see time stretching ahead of a Flatty like an incurable disease. The Top Floor girls don’t care, of course; they’re past caring, they’re nearly done. Their time in The Flats was so long ago that they are different people now. They’ve seen it all. They will never be the same again. They claim they never were Flatties.
This week’s Flatty is Flora. She’s pale and posh. She’s trying hard not to look like a rabbit in the headlights, but the skin around her fingernails is picked at, sore. From this evening she’ll be in The Flats, trying to work out what on earth this is all about. But first, the Meet and Greet. Someone (probably a sweaty, mumsy type) once thought that calling it Meet and Greet would sound friendly: we can imagine ourselves bonding over virgin cocktails and mini burgers on sticks, complimenting the new girl on her hair, or a funky piercing. The laughs! I really want to like Flora. I want to like her enough to help her to see what this is, to help her find her way through: the tiny cubes of yellow cake way, or the other way. My way.
The Monday Meet and Greets start at lunchtime. By this point we have all had our sessions and our outside airing (twice round the perimeter, inside The Channel).
The Meet and Greet
12.00 Gather in the atrium. Wear boiler suits. Ensure clean hair, short nails and no words.
12.05 Inspection. We line up like dominoes and wait to see which one of us topples. I have made an effort this week; it won’t be me.
12.15 The oath. Flora is led into the centre of the room. She is made to place her hand on a copy of The Book and swear the oath. I watch realisation pass over the Flatty’s face, in glorious slo-mo. Poor kid.
12.20 Recite the mantra. I still can’t bring myself to write it down.
12.22 The new move.
Miss Lillian (she’s Queen Bee around here) shows us this week’s move, and its complementary ‘weapon’. This will form the basis of our training for the next seven days. Flora the Flatty is exempt from physical training for Week One, as she undergoes her mental preparations. Every single girl in that atrium is fixated on Miss Lillian, and every move she makes. Miss Lillian takes no prisoners. If we mess up training, there is always a price to pay.
Miss Lillian repeats the move, sweat beading on her top lip. The ‘weapon’ glints in the shaft of sun from the window. Every girl with her clean nails and her boiler suit waits for the next instruction. We’ll take them all! shouts Lillian, Hear us roar!
Flora is helped up from the floor.
We file out.
The week begins.
Attie Lime has children’s poetry featured in The Caterpillar, The Toy, Paperbound, The Dirigible Balloon, and more. Attie’s poetry for children has been shortlisted for publication by The Emma Press.