in the cage

Imelda’s flat is so small and cluttered it’s like trying to install a commode in a hamster’s sleeping compartment.
‘By the bed’s fine, love,’ she says. ‘I can shuffle m’self straight onto it.’

Shuffling seems to be Imelda’s primary means of getting about these days. Her legs are terribly raw and swollen, and with decreased mobility has come significant weight gain. You might call it the snowball effect – if the snowball had given up rolling, was covered in a rash, and its internal organs were squealing under the strain.
I ask her if she’s got family nearby.
‘Five kids,’ she says. ‘They’ve all done well. Went to college and everything. America. You name it, they’ve done it. And I brought them up all on my own.’
‘That must’ve been hard.’
‘It was hard. My husband died young and there I was, five kids, looking around and wondering what the hell I was going to do about it.’
‘What happened to your husband?’
‘He was killed at work. A big door fell on him.’
‘How awful. So what did you do?’
‘I didn’t have a clue. It wasn’t like I was good for anything much. I wasn’t trained like he was. I didn’t have certificates. Shelling out kids was mostly what I’d done. But once he’d died I had to find a way to put food on the table and shoes on their feet. So I went dancing. And it turns out there was good money in it.’

When I ask her what kind of dancing, I think she says ballroom.

‘You must’ve been really good.’
‘I was good. You wouldn’t think to look at me now, but loads of people came to watch.’
‘That’s amazing!’
‘Yeah. I had a wonderful time. And I made so much money through tips the kids did alright. And now look at them. America and everything.’
‘Tips?’
‘They’d stuff the notes in your costume.’
‘I had no idea there was so much money to be made ballroom dancing.’
‘Ballroom dancing? No! Pole dancing.’
‘Oh!’
‘Can you imagine me swanning around in a chintzy skirt? Don’t answer that.’
‘So you were a pole dancer?’
‘And I was good. I took the kids with me up to London and I did very well. There was a guy there, one of the big club managers, and he said to me Imelda? I’m going to make you a lot of money – but don’t worry! Not like you think! You’ll be quite safe.
‘And were you?’
‘I was. He put me in a cage.’

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