Maggie sat in the back seat of a dark grey range rover and wished she wasn't there. It was raining, dream-like mist. The windows smeared and streaked with rain like fast angry tears. The driver was middle aged, mouldy, and smelled of old cigars and unwashed clothing. He did not say a word since he had picked her up, but neither did she. Leaning her head against the window she watched the droplets race from the top of the window to the bottom just like that water-filled game Gran gave to her on her 8th birthday. Maggie sighed, and tried to imagine of where she was going. Perhaps it will not be as bad as she thought; maybe she would actually like it there. Maggie doubted she would.
Soon the range rover pulled up in front of a large ominous stone building. It had once been a grand mansion, now it was government owned and shabby. It was like a beauty that had suddenly turned into a dowager in old age. Grand and crumbling, perverted beauty now decayed. From the ugly windows to the old rusty stone, it gave Maggie a fright. The driver motioned for her to follow him through the large wooden doors. With her suitcase in hand and a grey, stuffed rabbit under her arm, Maggie obediently followed. The inside a dank mould-ridden carpet ran like a thick woolen tongue through the halls, a lousy attempt to cover up the old floors beneath. The halls themselves gave a claustrophobic feeling and the old yellowed wallpaper was beginning to peel. Old portraits and fogged mirrors hung like loiterers throughout, and there were many doors with unknown behind them. Maggie felt small, alone; she was wide-eyed with sad curiosity. After a long wait outside an administration office, Madeleine was introduced to a fat woman in a soiled orange frock. What are you called poppet?" she asked her breath smelling of coffee and stale cigarettes Lipstick stained her discolored crooked teeth. Magdalene Sinclair.” well, Maggie that is a lovely name. I am called Mrs. Winters, come along..." She said taking Madeleine by the hand. The scent of rose perfume and stale sweat made Maggie gag slightly, she rubbed her eyes swallowing hard. She nodded mutely. Mrs. Winters pushed through set of large white wooden doors, turned and pointed across the corridor. "That is the dining hall. The dormitory are to the left, the bathrooms are to your right. Washdays are every weekend, so is the laundry. If you have any expensive possessions and would like to keep them safe, you can give them to me for safe keeping." Maggie said she had no such precious things. Turning an old glass doorknob Mrs. Winters revealed a large room filled with many small beds, and large closets at the walls. Maggie stood mortified at the scene.
"Oh, don't be frightened now. No one will harm you, dearie," replied Mrs. Winters to Maggie's reaction "You can have your pick of any of these beds against the wall, and place your bag on an empty shelf in the cupboard." Slowly, Maggie made her way towards one of the closest beds and sat down. It was small, with stained, old sheets; thread bare pink wool blanket and lumpy pillow. There you go. Well, I have to go now and help at the kitchen with dinner. The rest of the children are watching telly in the lounge all the way down the hall. When you are finished you are welcome to join them.” thanks you," was all that Maggie could allow herself to say.
Then Mrs. Winters went away and Maggie was left clutching her rabbit. For a long time she sat there too shocked to move. Being curious she cautiously made her way down the hall. The lounge room was shabby as the rest with natty gold coloured couch and a braided green and yellow rug. Six girls were sitting in front of a console television set watching Monty Python’s flying circus. It had been Madeleine’s brother, Aiden’s favourite programme. A dark haired girl with wide grey eyes turned around. She smiled and beaconed Maggie to join them. Maggie sat down gingerly beside the girl. She nervously clutched her rabbit.
“Hi. I’m Julia.” The girl said quietly brushing her straight dark hair out of her eyes and holding out her hand for Maggie to take.
“I’m Maggie.” Maggie whispered feeling her face redden with shyness.
“Nice rabbit.” She replied not looking for a response directed her attention back toward he television programme.
The dinner bell rang at 6 o’clock. The girls scrambled to wash up and line up for the dining room. The dining room was a long narrow room with dirty off white wainscoting. A large heavy walnut table sat in the centre with mixed matched chairs on either side. At the head of the table sat a rather large armed chair with ornate carvings and deep red velvet cushions. The girls sat properly with hands folded in their laps. Maggie made her way for one of the empty chairs near the red chair. Julia grabbed her by the sleeve and whispered ‘ Never sit at the head of the table if you can help it.”