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Authors: Shane Dunphy

Wednesday's child (page 16)

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I came up beside her and she seemed to relax for a moment, but only a moment. Anger built to rage so quickly, it seemed almost as if she were becoming a different person before my eyes.


‘You left me!You left me!You said you wouldn’t and you did. They sent someone else out, and she said she would be my new worker. You want to leave me too! Why don’t you like me any more? Why?’


She struggled and shouted, trying to get free, her anger and fear giving her strength even in her weakened state. I tried to hush her without success. My presence only seemed to be making her more agitated.One of the medics gave her a shot and she sagged again. The last thing I saw in her eyes was that terrible accusation:how could you have done this to me?


We brought her to the hospital. I waited while they worked on her, drinking the disgusting coffee from the vending machine and standing outside to smoke. When they allowed me in to see her, she was so doped up she didn’t know who I was, which was probably a good thing. Libby was uncontactable.


I sat by her bedside in one of the uncomfortable hospital chairs. She mumbled every now and again in her drug-fuelled haze, but I could not understand what she was saying. Sometime during the night I dozed off.


I don’t know what woke me.


For a second I had no idea where I was or why I had an awful crick in my neck. I sat up with a start, massaging the screaming muscles of my shoulders.




The word was hissed from the bed beside me. The curtains had been drawn around us, and the rest of the ward was in dimness.


‘Hi, Gillian. How are you feeling?’




The word was spoken more loudly this time. I shushed her and moved over closer.


‘C’mon, I know you’re mad with me, but listen,I don’t want to leave you. You misunderstood. They sent someone else out because you said you didn’t want to see me. That’s all.’




She screamed at me now and tried to grab me, her nails bared and such hatred on her face that I knew she was truly lost to me. I held her down as she thrashed and called for a nurse. I held my head back as her teeth clicked. She struck like a snake, trying to bite my face. She kicked and spat, and I saw a red stain spreading across her bandages as her stitches burst. Two nurses pushed through the drapes and a hypodermic needle glinted. All became quiet again.


‘I think you should leave her, Mr Dunphy,’ the nurse told me firmly. ‘You are only aggravating the child. I’m sorry, but I’d like you to go.’


I nodded. She was right. Josephine had been, too. I was a liability. I drove home, took some headed paper from my writing desk, and composed a letter of resignation.


‘You’re sure about this?’


‘Yes. Certain. I can’t do it any more. I’m sorry.’


Josephine was holding my letter. It didn’t say much. She had read it in about fifteen seconds. She didn’t look surprised.


‘No apology necessary. Just as long as you’re sure. I’m glad you can see it’s not working out for you.’


‘Any word on Gillian?’


‘She’s in restraints. They’re going to move her to the psychiatric hospital as soon as it’s safe to do so. She’s had a complete breakdown.’


‘What’s the prognosis?’


‘They have no idea, at the moment. She’s not speaking, at least not in any language they can understand. She seems to have reverted to some kind of feral state. I’m guessing she’ll be insitutionalised, for a while, at least. I know you blame yourself for this, and I’m not even going to get into that with you. If blame has to be apportioned, then point your finger at the system. Everyone wanted to do their best for her. She fell through the cracks. It happens. It’s unfortunate, but what can I say? Maybe she’s where she needs to be. Have you thought of that?’


‘I’m tired of thinking. My brain hurts. I’ll work out my notice.’


‘I know you will. What are you going to do?’


‘I don’t know. Something different. For a while anyway.’


‘You won’t be able to stay away for long. This is what you do, Shane. You’ll come back to it, sooner or later.’


Betty and I picked up the McCoys from Dympna’s. There were tears and hugs and kisses, and then we were on the road, headed for the Kenneallys. The visits had gone extremely well, and Jim and Harriet had applied themselves with great enthusiasm to the fostering course. The Fostering Panel, a group of social workers, doctors, psychologists and administrators whose job it was to approve each foster placement, had met and looked at all the factors, and decided that we should proceed.


I drove. Betty’s car was already at the Kenneallys. Once I had left the McCoys in their new home, I would return to the office and clear out my desk. It was my last job on my last day. I didn’t know how I felt, or how Ishouldfeel. I looked at the children in the rear-view mirror. They seemed to be going through the same emotional turmoil as me.


‘How are you doing in the back?’




‘You sure?’ Betty asked.


‘Well, I’m a little scared,’ Victor offered slowly, looking sideways at his sister. She shot him a glance but did not try to quiet him.


‘Horsies!’ Ibar said happily. ‘Gonna ride de horsies! Clip clop! Clip clop!’


‘That’s right, kiddo,’ I said, laughing.


‘They seem really nice,’ Cordelia said. ‘It’s just, well, they’re not Mum and Dad, you know? They’re just some old couple we don’t even know. What if it doesn’t work out? What if we find out in six months’ time that they’re psychos or something?’


‘Well, if that does happen, which I very much doubt, there’s nothing written in stone that says you have to stay,’ Betty told them. ‘Of course, you could always go into this with a really positive attitude and just tell yourself that it’s going to be great.’


‘Yeah, right!’ Cordelia snorted and went back to looking at the landscape as it sailed past her window.


Jim and Harriet were waiting at the door when we parked in their beautiful yard. The windows were allbedecked with flowers and the smell of freshly baking bread wafted out of the kitchen. They greeted the children with smiles and Ibar ran straight to Harriet and jumped into her arms.


‘Hello, little man,’ she said, grinning in delight.


‘Harry, Harry,’ he called, hugging her around the neck.


Victor stood uncertainly to the side, but Jim went over and took his hand, shaking it gently.


‘Welcome, Victor.’ He looked over at Cordelia. ‘I’d like to show you your rooms. Now, there’s one we’ve done up with three beds in, if you’d like to all stay together this evening, seeing as it’s your first night. Or we have three separate rooms. You can decide. Once you’re here a bit and are sure you like it, we can talk about how you’d like them decorated and whatnot. They’re your rooms, so it’s fine with us, whatever you’d like.’


Victor could not suppress a smile. Cordelia was still very non-committal, but I could tell that this simple show of sensitivity had made a big impression on her.


‘You go on ahead,’ I told them. ‘We’ll start bringing your stuff in.’


Like Connie and Geraldine, the McCoy’s worldly possessions did not amount to much, and it did not take Betty and me long to bring their bags from the car and lug them up the wide staircase to the communal bedroom they had decided to sleep in that night, although Victor had already claimed a sunlit room tothe rear of the house, overlooking a wooded area, as his own. He would move in next week, he told Jim solemnly. Jim nodded, patted him on the back and told him to do it in his own good time. The room would be there next week, or next year, for that matter.


I found Cordelia sitting outside on the fence, looking at the horses in the pasture. One had come over and was nuzzling her hand.


‘They’re lovely, aren’t they?’ she asked.


‘Yeah. There’s something so … I don’t know … regal about horses.’


‘I meant Jim and Harriet.’


‘Oh. Yes, I think they’re really, really decent people. And I think that they’re going to pull out all the stops to make this work.’


‘I think so too.’


‘But? C’mon, I know there’s a “but” coming.’


She laughed and leant her head on my shoulder.


‘You’re going away, aren’t you?’


‘Yeah. I’ll keep tabs on you for a bit. But you’re kind of under Zara’s jurisdiction now, and anyway, you don’t need me hanging around any more. I just know that this is going to work out fine for you.’


‘I don’t think I’m going to be able to call them Mum and Dad. Not ever.’


‘They don’t expect you to. They know where you’re coming from.’


‘Ibar probably will, though, won’t he? He’ll forget Dad. He’s so little.’


‘You and Victor can be his memories. You can keep your dad alive in all the things we talked about. The good stuff. The fun things you did together, the happy times. Tell him about those, and he’ll remember them.’


‘Yeah. We’ll do that.’


‘Why don’t you go in with the others? They’re about to have their tea, I think.’


‘Stay out here with me for a while, will you, Shane? Let’s just sit quietly together, like this. Do you mind?’


‘No. I don’t mind at all.’


‘Thanks. Thanks for … well, you know.’


‘I know. You’re welcome, sweetheart.’


And we sat together in the early evening as the sounds of a new family being born spilled out of the doorway of the house and warmed us both.


Thanks are due to many who contributed to the writing and publication of this book:


I wish to particularly express gratitude to Jonathan Williams, my agent, who was the first to read most of the text and whose editing skills were invaluable.


Alison Walsh was the first person to express confidence in the work being publishable. Thank you, Alison, for your kindness, friendship and boundless good humour. All the staff at Gill & Macmillan were incredibly enthusiastic and supportive. Thank you all.


John Connolly is a hero who became a friend. John’s patience, advice and selfless generosity helped me through a particularly difficult period in the writing. I will always be grateful, John.


Dr Arthur Williamson has been a friend and mentor to me for several years now. His guidance was instrumental in the completion of this book. As always, Arthur, thank you.


Deirdre, my wife, was the first person to readWednesday’s Childfrom start to finish, and her comments on style, content and technical details were much appreciated.


I wish to thank all the children and co-workers whom I encountered during my career in social care.This book is dedicated to all of you. There was not a single person among you from whom I did not learn something, about life and about myself. Thank you.