Bea dunked another chocolate digestive in her tea and bit into it, hoping it would simultaneously offer some relief from her boredom whilst suppressing another frustrated sigh. She was quite fond of George Rogers and his timid wife, but found their constant complaints about litter and the state of the communal flower beds more than a little tiresome. This evening, like many others, she had tried to suggest such things could only be expected on an inner city council estate, but as usual it had done little to pacify her elderly neighbours or prevent another rant from Will.
“And then of course there was all that commotion last night. I’m assuming everyone heard it?”
Bea straightened herself in her chair and quietly cleared her throat and wiped the corner of her mouth. She’d heard about this.
“To be honest with you, no didn’t.” She looked around the table at the disbelieving faces of the rest of the committee. “As I’ve said before, I find the noise of the traffic around here intolerable unless I use earplugs, and have found them quite effective in drowning out other expected disturbances too.”
“But all that shouting? At after three in the morning?” Mr Rogers’ eyes had become so large, Bea couldn’t help but find him comical. She hoped her smile would be seen as understanding, and opened her mouth to offer her sympathy as well as a suggestion before she was interrupted.
“I absolutely agree. It’s outrageous behaviour, and happens way too often these days. And we all know which family is at the bottom of it.”
Bea clamped her mouth shut as William interrupted her with his rant. She looked around the table. The young Sergeant who had kindly agreed to join them met her gaze. She rolled her eyes at him before smiling apologetically. She was sure he had more important things to do than listen to her neighbours’ gripes. He gave a measured smile back, but the amusement in his eyes was quite clear.
“It’s high time the authorities did something about it.” William added to his monologue. “Sergeant Smithson, surely you and your team can step in and apply some legislation to this situation? Or issue them with a warning at least?”
The young police officer took a deep breath and rested his palms on the chipped table in front of him. Bea estimated that he wasn’t yet thirty. When she was that age, she was volunteering abroad and, when she wasn’t supporting the children at the school where she taught English, having a very good time. She wondered to herself if he regretted the direction of his career.
“Well, yes, we could, but my feeling is that a slightly different approach should be tried first. I’ve been talking to my colleagues at the council,” he continued despite William’s clear efforts to interject, “and they have recently written a warning letter to the family concerned about complaints received, as well as their rent arrears...”
“But isn’t it perfectly clear that what this family needs is support, not threats of eviction?” Bea didn’t bother to hide her emotion, her annoyance at not just William but the police officer who had shared what felt like way too much information about the private lives of young Sam and her children was too much to hide. “That boy clearly needs some kind of therapy for mentoring to help him work through his behaviour, and his mother has clearly had a rough time of it too…”
“…and was already given a second chance when she was transferred onto this estate. No,” Councillor May added with a point of his finger, clearly energised after his nap earlier in the meeting, “we cannot tolerate this kind of behaviour anymore.”
“A transfer is all very well and good, Councillor, but isn’t it obvious that if a family isn’t given support to work through their difficulties, they are going to follow them wherever they live?”
William’s mocking applause at the end of the table took Bea by surprise.
“Bravo. A very moving speech Beatrice. Let me guess, you’re going to save the day, swoop in and take another delinquent child under your wing whilst you counsel his mother over tea and biscuits?”
Bea blinked at him, the malice in his voice making her suddenly uneasy.
“If I need to then why not?” She retorted, pushing back her shoulders as she raised her chin. William shook his head, his eyes narrow and his arms folded across his bulging shirt.
“Isn’t it about time you stopped trying to plug the need for your own family by rescuing others and just let the authorities do their job?”
Bea stared at him, the objections about her neighbour’s comment reassuring her to a degree that the others had recognised that William had crossed the line, but offering little other comfort.
“Well, thank you very much William. But perhaps it would be more worthwhile looking at where your own need to be so unpleasant comes from rather than attempting your amateur psychotherapy on me.”
Councillor May’s laughed tentatively, unintentionally shifting some phlegm noisily at the same time.
“Now Beatrice, I’m sure William meant no offence. You have a different approach and a strong sense of social justice, which whilst commendable is perhaps at odds with those of us who feel that a more robust approach is needed.”
Councillor May emphasised his point with a punch of the air with his shaking hand. Beatrice closed her eyes for a moment whilst taking a deep breath. Whilst she had a degree of respect for the older man, his attitude to families in need and patronising tone he saved for female members of the community meetings he insisted on attending despite his failing health were trying her patience. “Well, maybe if the support package offered to them was more robust, as you put it, we wouldn’t have a problem anymore.”
“Hopefully that’s on the cards,” the young sergeant offered hastily. His earnest eyes showed his alarm at the heat of the conversation, perhaps not expected in a room full of old aged pensioners and do-gooders. “As well as the warning letter, the council have told me the lad has a new social worker who’s known for his tenacity even when working with the most challenging of young offenders, and their families.” He looked at Bea. “There’s a lot of other support out there, Ms Strachan, that he can refer them to. Family therapy, drug and alcohol support services, all sorts. Now it’s just up to Mum and this lad to accept some it and change their ways.”
Bea thanked him with a short nod before turning her attention back to her cup of tea. George was quizzing the police officer on options if this approach was not successful, but she didn’t want to listen to the list of injunctions and orders. She took another deep but discrete breath, not wanting to alert the others to her upset. William’s comment had stung, not just because it had questioned her motives for wanting to help others, but because of the trace of truth in it. Taking another biscuit, she swallowed down her urge to leave the meeting and give up what often felt like a lone position when it came to tackling problems in the local area. Whilst it was rare for her to be attacked in such an overt way, William had jabbed at an old wound that had never really healed. Whilst Beatrice prided herself in standing up to bullies and not backing down when things got nasty, her stubbornness had backfired before, causing her more emotional pain than the physical assaults inflicted by her ex-husband ever did. Even when they had landed her in hospital.
The scraping of chairs brought her back into the room. She looked up to see the other members of the committee stiffly getting to their feet, continuing the evening’s debates in smaller groups or gratefully lapsing into small-talk about what they were having for dinner or watching on TV when they got home. Beatrice smiled brightly at no-one in particular and stood up, fumbling her cardigan from the back of her seat. Straightening up she shrugged into it, catching Mrs Rogers’ eye as she did so. The other women smiled at her sadly, nodding a silent understanding of Beatrice’s unease. Beatrice nodded back, forcing a little more light into her smile before turning away and walking toward the door, her gaze low and her mind fixed on the portion of fish and chips she spontaneously decided to treat herself to on the way home.