I don’t know what I’d do without Lily.
Sometimes I look at her and I feel like she’s a million miles away. Really, it’s just the other side of my car. But in truth, she’s not like anyone else. Not a single person in the world has eyes like Lily, endless, like looking into a cave, or up at the night sky.
When I first came to The Life Centre, I was terribly nervous, my heart was pounding in my chest and my mouth was dry. I stood in front of the desk, clutching my bag in my hands. All around me, there were women going about their business, I could hear music from down the hall. A woman in her forties, with her hair scooped back into a long braid down her back, was finishing up on the phone and smiled at me. ‘Welcome. Can I help you?’
I coughed into my hand and leant forward to speak to her softly. ‘My name is Hilary Simpson. I’m starting here... today.’
‘Oh, of course!’ She smiled at me again and pointed down the hall, ‘Why don’t you go on down to the sun room, that’s where Lily’s set up, she’ll show you the ropes.’
I nodded and started to walk, I looked back over my shoulder at her. She nodded encouragingly at me. I tried to smile back but it just seemed to come out thin and strained.
I walked down the hall in the direction she had shown me. Eventually I came across a glass door leading to a conservatory room. It was full of girls and young women, maybe ten or twelve. They all slouched around, listening to music and talking. I could see they were drinking coffee and cans of soda, munching on chips and cookies. In the middle of the room I caught sight of the most beautiful woman I had ever seen, lounging like a cat in the sun. She was stretched out, her long curling hair laid out along the floor. I was captivated by her, by the elegance in her limbs. So distracted in fact, that I didn’t notice the door was open and a girl was talking to me.
‘I’m sorry?’ I refocused my eyes and looked at her.
‘You want something?’ She said, leaning against the doorframe. She had a thick
‘I’m sorry. I’m looking for Lily.’ I looked down at my hands.
‘Oh, sure. Come in.’ She moved away from the door with easy, relaxed movements, I stood awkwardly and shuffled my feet.
‘Lil, there’s some chick here to see you.’ The girl flopped back down on the floor and leant back on one of the chairs. Lily sat up from where she was lounging. I knew it would be her. It had to be, she commanded the presence of the whole room, without even trying. She moved, catlike and slow, stepping to her feet and wandering over to me, her hips swinging.
‘Yeah?’ she purred at me. And I mean, purred.
‘Hello. Sorry. I’m Hilary Simpson. I’m supposed to be starting here... today.’
Lily tipped her head as she looked at me. ‘What are you sorry for?’
‘Huh?’ I stumbled over my words, ‘I mean... excuse me?’
‘You said sorry, when you introduced yourself.’ Lily smiled, ‘Never mind.’
From that moment I had the weird sensation that Lily was going to play some part in my life. I guess there are people like that sometimes, people you meet and you just know they’re going to change everything. She started coming to see me, when I was helping out with the employment office at the centre. Basically my job was to try and find work for single mothers, girls who were out on their own, anyone. Lily used to show up in my office, come in and sit on my desk, long legs crossed over each other. She would always fiddle with something, chewing on the end of a pencil, or running her fingers along the rim of the lamp. Having Lily around always made me smile, but at the same time, I felt my hands go to the collar of my shirt, adjusting it. To start with it was visits and then it was lunch. Eventually, somehow, Lily convinced me to go out to a bar with her. I hadn’t been to a bar in years. Not since...
I can’t say it was a magic wand. There wasn’t any one thing that Lily did, not a single moment that I can point at and say ‘there’. But somehow, just knowing that there was someone at my back, someone like Lily, was more than enough. She never let me down, not once. And somehow, just seeing her moving, dancing and laughing awakened something deep in me. Something I had forgotten was even there. She reached in there. I won’t say she healed me. I don’t think it works like that. It’s not something she, or anyone, could touch- let alone fix. But she stood with me. And that was enough.
I don’t know how I could live without Lily. In fact, I wouldn’t even be alive. I guess it was my own fault and all that. I was kicking it in a neighbourhood that just vibrates with bad, you know? It wasn’t like I had an elsewhere to be at. There weren’t many other choices where I’m from. These girls kinda adopted me when things got real bad, and at that moment it seemed like just about the best thing ever. I let this guy with a chronically bad moustache tattoo a symbol on my arm, and we were sisters for life.
There were these twin girls who ran the gang. They were real bitches sometimes, kept us all in line. Sometimes you’d get real fed up with the whole situation, tired of it. I never felt so tired in my whole life as I did when I was in with those girls. Tammy and Shania would set us up against boys, gangs like ours, but not as good. We’d beat them down, some of the girls would give them a kiss, you know, slicing them up with a razor. We all got busted a bunch of times. It was part of the fun.
I guess I’d been in there about two years, I was nearly seventeen, working my way up to be in charge I guess. Things were getting out of hand. We had this problem with these assholes, kept on trying to grab girls, taking them right off the corners and throwing them in vans. We fought back- it was the way of things, slashing tires, whatever. Couple of us got rowdy with it, torched this building where they all crashed.
They came for us when we were all sitting around on the corner. The girls were drinking and getting high. Everything was swimming. They pulled up in this van and we scattered. I couldn’t focus, trying to get away. I could hear this guy breathing behind me, running. He was laughing. His voice was harsh, I felt like he was against me already. I headed towards light, any light. Some club or something. The guy grabbed me, pulled me down. My cheek grated the pavement. His fist connected with the side of my head. I tasted copper. He kicked me once and I tensed up, curling into a ball, trying to hide my face. But nothin’ more came.
I waited. Then I heard a soft gurgling, choking sound. As I peeled my fingers back off my face I looked up. Lily stood over the guy, who was slumped in a heap on the concrete. She looked down at me and raised an eyebrow.
‘You ok, kid?’
And from that moment on, I knew I was. I was gonna be ok.
So, she found me this place to stay, and this community college that did some night courses. She got me in the centre and now I run this group for girls like me. Lily loves it, she comes down nearly every week and talks to them. They all love her, cause she’s strong, fierce and never talks bullshit. Lily is straight down the line, and knows how it is. Without Lily, I don’t think I’d be anything.
Lily Deacon. I don’t know what I’d do without her. I have never met a more spiritual, more unusual woman in my life. She’s such a free spirit, really embraces and lives the ethos of the place. When I first set up the centre, I imagined what it would be like, the kind of people I would get working here. Lily is indispensable. She runs self-defence, tantric yoga, self-esteem classes, counselling and supervises the young women program. The kids she deals with are exactly why I wanted this place. Ever since I moved to
It was an investment, something I believe it. It was worth it. Sure, I’ve never been able to move to a better house, in a nicer neighbourhood. And sure, my girls never knew what it was like to travel, or go to a private school. But I figure they learned more in the Day Care Centre at the Life Centre than they would ever learn anywhere else.
I took out mortgages, charity donations, government incentives. I worked my behind off trying to keep the place afloat in the early days. I had more volunteers than anything else. But eventually things started to work. Looking after survivors and women in need isn’t exactly something you can charge for. But there are other things, yoga, self-defence.
Still, there are days when I feel like it’s all too much. Like I can’t manage to make it work anymore. She found me like that one night, sitting alone in the office with piles of paper surrounding me on all sides. Lily wandered in and sat down on the floor at my feet.
‘Accountancy getting you down?’ she purred.
I tried to smile, but I could feel the weight of it pulling me down. All these women, these families relied on this place for support. We were often the only place they felt safe after what had happened.
‘I don’t know what we can do. There’s just not enough.’ I shook my head. I’d been through it all a dozen times. Foreclosure loomed.
Lily tipped her head and leant against my leg. She was so comfortable with people.
‘I’m sorry your stressed Marcia.’ She rubbed her head against me. ‘But this place needs to survive.’
‘I know.’ I sighed. Lily needed us as much as the next woman. There were very few people in the place who had a life without trauma. We’d helped them, they’d helped themselves. The place built a new lives.
I sat in my office all that night. I fell asleep on the pile of accounts. In the morning, when I finally stumbled my way into consciousness, I found a cup of coffee waiting for me. It had a big yellow envelope balanced on top of it. I took it and sipped the coffee. Bleary eyed, I peeled the end of the envelope and tipped it. Lumps of cash, bound together with rubber bands fell out onto the desk.
‘Oh my god...’ I whispered, looking around as if someone was going to try and arrest me. I put my hand in the envelope, pulling out a scrap of paper.
‘Marcia,’ the note read, ‘When my dad died, he left behind a lot of stuff. I never really thought about it that much, and I certainly don’t need it. I do need you. And I need this place. And I’m not the only one. I sold one of his antiques. This is what I could get. It’s for you. For all of us who needed somewhere to come in the night. With Love, with thanks, Lily.’
She might not be perfect, in fact sometimes she’s down right weird, but still, I don’t know what I’d do without Lily Deacon. I really don’t.