Of course it wasn’t meant to be this messy.
When she had looked into Imogen’s eyes at the hospital, looked into those deep, near-black newborn eyes that had seemed to see things that nobody else would, Josephine had sworn to her that their lives would be better than this, one day.
Better than renting a crappy flat in the dirtiest parts of Barchester City. Better than sharing a single room, like servants in some historical drama.
Sometimes she worries that the stains that come from being poor are visible on her skin, that people can see just by looking at her that she’s trash.
It seems almost impossible now that she used to think that way about people in her current situation. That they had to be lazy, that they had given up, that they could just put a little more effort into their endeavours and climb right up from the pits of their lives.
Her own life is definitely humbling, these days.
At least Imogen is happy. That’s all that matters, here and now. Keep her safe and happy and provide clean clothes and food on the table and then everything else will have to stand aside, just for a moment.
Maybe that’s why she finds it so simple to be with Helmer. Yes, to be with Helmer, in every sense of that word. He has wanted it a long time and she hasn’t because she doesn’t feel it the way she has with other men but she thinks it. He’s a good guy, logically she should be into that.
Imogen has accepted him as a father figure, too, though she’s a very outgoing little girl and it doesn’t take much to win her heart. Even so, it seems like something a potential partner ought to do fast if you have children.
Dennis had been shocked all over again when she told him the results from the DNA-tests they had done when Imogen was born. It hadn’t seemed necessary – the girl looks like Dennis, anyone can see that – but felt like a good thing to do either way, just to have things on paper. Just in case.
He hasn’t complained about it since, though he’s not really coming over to bond with his kid either and Josephine doesn’t want to nag about it. It seems like one of those things you should want to do, not be talked into. It’s his loss.
And Imogen’s, though it’s hard to say if a reluctant parent is something anyone should have in their life. Both Helmer and Michael have shown more interest, truth be told.
She’s trying to work out a reasonable relationship with Michael as well, in the middle of all the drama that surrounds them both. He’s got a steady, serious girlfriend these days and while he still seems surprised about it himself, he hasn’t been sleeping around the way he used to since he got serious with Sarah. Well, he probably has, but not nearly as much as before at least.
She isn’t sure what kind of arrangement Michael and Sarah have but Michael isn’t hitting on her, at any rate. There’s a strange hollowness in that insight, as though she had come to count on that, regardless.
There’s something about her feelings for Michael that hits deep down, something sharp that worms its way inside her chest and makes her question certain things. It’s not even him, not really. She likes him and is very attracted to him but attraction is pretty simple to come by and he’s not that great. But it’s something in the way he makes her feel that unfolds some vague thoughts in her mind, decodes some desires and notions she wasn’t even sure she had.
Somehow, he makes her figure out what she wants in a man.
And what she wants is not Helmer and it’s not pretty to realise that when she’s lived with him for a while and allowed her daughter to grow fond of him. It’s very, very far from pretty but then again, so is her life.
Things get even uglier when Helmer thinks he catches Josephine and Michael in the act – which he doesn’t unless it’s not a crime to talk outside your own home – and decides to act like a jealous freak rather than talk to her about it.
There’s nothing flattering about that kind of angry jealousy. Nothing that she can use to motivate herself to forgive him and let things slide.
Even Michael gets into a debate with him but it doesn’t change anything.
That night she swallows the last of her pride and e-mails the social services to ask for financial aid. Just enough to get her on her feet, help her qualify for a loan so she can buy one of the homes up the hill from where she lives now. It’s a marginally better area and at least people there won’t rob you blind or kill your cat. The housing there is former council estates turned into affordable homes with the generous help of subventions to “create a more equal Barchester.” The clichés make her sneer but she still wants one of those houses.
When she does get accepted for a loan things move fast and she’s able to leave the tiny flat behind for good. It feels like a new life, somehow. It’s not far from Dennis and Michael and Helmer, but she can already feel how they’re fading away in her mind as she closes the door to her own home at night.
Things can only get better now, she decides. They kind of have to be.