Read Wednesday's child Online

Authors: Shane Dunphy

Wednesday's child (page 6)

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‘I understand.’

 

‘Denise has been the subject of several interventions, and we have managed to get her registered with a local youth project. Joe is in regular contact with the staff there, and Denise has a lot of support, so far as we can see. She has not exactly engaged with any of the workers she has been in contact with fromthisoffice, but we’re told that she is contributing well to the classes in this placement, and seems happy there. She’s attending regularly at least, which is more than she was doing at school.’

 

I continued to listen in silence. It seemed to me that the child and her associated problems had simply been passed on to someone else, but I kept that to myself and waited to hear where I fitted in to all this.

 

‘Christine is still an infant. I can see from your report that she is physically thriving, but that the Kelly home is no place for her to grow up in. I could have guessed that without having read a word. Geraldine, Christine’s mother, is an adult, and has asocial worker attached from Psychiatric Services. I have spoken to him, and asked that he encourage Geraldine to move out as soon as possible, taking Christine out of harm’s way when she does so.’

 

‘Seems reasonable, although it stinks a bit of passing the buck.’

 

It was out before I realised I had said it aloud.

 

Josephine eyed me quietly, sucking on her lower lip. I wondered if I had made a major blunder. The silence dragged on for a long time, then she sighed and continued. Her facial expression and the tone of her voice did not alter one iota.

 

‘You’re right. I am passing the buck. We have an infinite number of cases and potential cases still in the referral stage which require investigation and support and a ridiculously limited number of staff. If there is another agency I can possibly bring in on a case to alleviate the burden, then I will. I’m a manager, and that’s part of the job. You don’t have to like all the decisions I make and you’re welcome to question them when we’re here. I welcome it, in fact. If you’re asking me questions, then you’re thinking. I just ask that you watch my back when we’re out there and not question me at all if we’re in the field. Are we clear?’

 

I felt suitably chastened, and knew that I had deserved to have rank pulled.

 

‘We’re clear.’

 

She nodded and continued without missing a beat.

 

‘Connie is my real concern. She is attending thelocal Tech, where her results are excellent. Her summer exams from the last academic year were all exemplary. She’s expected to do very well in her Junior Certificate. The problem is that she seems to have shut down in every other way. She doesn’t speak to her teachers unless it’s to answer a question in class. There are a couple of girls she hangs about with during the breaks, but they’re both kids with special educational needs, and it’s as if she’s only with them to keep herself busy and to feel wanted in some way. I doubt that they’re meeting any of her social or emotional needs.’

 

‘I don’t know. Seems to me to be not unlike a lot of friendships you’ll see among “normal” people.’ I made inverted commas in the air with my fingers.

 

‘Granted, but this is a bright kid. She’s achieving A grades virtually across the board with absolutely no support whatsoever. Totally on her own, Shane. I mean, that’s incredible, when you think about it. Like, how the fuck can she sit down in the insanity of that house and get stuck into algebraic friggin’ equations every evening? The mind boggles!’

 

‘Yeah, when you put it that way.’

 

‘I want you to spend some time with her. Give the school a ring. Go out and meet her. Talk to her. Tell me what you think. I predict that some regular, safe contact would do her the world of good. Maybe you could organise to meet her at the school a couple of times a week to do homework.’

 

‘Whoa, whoa!’ I put my up hands. ‘You know that it might not even get to that. She might be terrified of me. You can’t rush into this type of thing, Josephine, in all fairness.’

 

She laughed and stood up, brushing her skirt down over her thin legs.

 

‘Sure, go on out and see what you can do. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.’

 

The meeting, it seemed, was over.

 

I stood outside Gillian O’Gorman’s school, watching the students stream out in a steady flow of purple.

 

There she was.

 

She spotted me and stopped in her tracks, then slowly walked towards me.

 

I had rung ahead and told Sister Assumpta to let Gillian know I would be meeting her. I had owed the nun an apology. On investigation, I discovered that she had indeed been calling to ask for assistance with Gillian. Because there had been no worker directly appointed to the case, the calls had been logged but set aside until the O’Gormans had been allocated to someone’s caseload. Assumpta had accepted my apology gracefully and made no further comment on it.

 

I had been wondering how Gillian would cope with the news that I was coming. I thought that she would either walk out of the school and pretend I wasn’t there or would attempt to get out by another exit, maybe even by sneaking over the wall. I dealt with the latter option by asking Assumpta to haveher walked to the main gate so that I could intercept her if she did decide to flee. It seemed that, on consideration, she had decided to at least confront me.

 

‘What do you want?’ she asked.

 

‘I told you I’d be working with you. I’m here to start.’

 

‘Sorry, I don’t need anyone.’

 

‘Sorry, I think you do. We’re going to go and get a bite to eat. I’ve had a busy morning and I missed lunch.’

 

A look of panic spread across her face and she, impossibly, actually got even more pale.

 

‘I am not fuckin’ eatin’! You can’t make me. I’ll scream and scream and tell everyone you’re tryin’ to rape me, and then if you still make me eat I’ll just puke it up again and you can’t stop me from doin’ that!’

 

‘I tell you what. Let’s start this off all over again. Walk with me.’

 

She set her face into a scowl, but followed as I began to walk towards the main street of the village.

 

It was a sunny but cold afternoon. I was wearing jeans, boots, a black woollen jumper and a long leather jacket. She was dressed only in her school uniform. I thought about offering her the jacket, but she would have looked ridiculous in it, like a child dressing in one of her parents’ clothes. I made a mental note to get her a coat from the office petty cash the next time I saw her.

 

‘I’m going to be coming out like this for a while.I’ll meet you after school, a few afternoons a week. We’ll spend some time together, and I’ve organised for you to catch a later school bus back home. You won’t be on your own with me; we’ll be somewhere where there are lots of people. There’s no need to be afraid of me. I won’t hurt you. I don’t hurt kids, like I told you last time.’

 

‘I’ve heard that before. Don’t mean nothin’.’

 

‘It does with me.’

 

‘Yeah, right.’

 

‘Well, you’ll just have to take my word for it until you can see I’m telling you the truth. Now, about the eating. I can see fairly clearly that you haven’t eaten, or at least haven’t held anything down since we talked last. For me, right now, that’s the thing I’m most worried about. You have to start eating, Gillian.’

 

‘No,’ she whined. ‘I won’t!’

 

We had reached the main street and I steered her towards the small local café. I had already paid a brief visit, and had found what I was looking for on their limited menu.

 

‘I’m going to take this slowly with you. Today we’re going to have some soup. You are just going to have a small bowl. A kid’s portion.’

 

‘I’ll puke it!’

 

‘For today, that’s allowed. I just want you toeatit.’

 

She looked at me with suspicion.

 

‘You don’t mind?’

 

‘Well, obviously I’d prefer it if you didn’t, but we need to take small steps starting out. We’ll have ameal together today and get to know each other a little better. You can do whatever you want after the meal. If that includes making yourself vomit the food back up, then that’s your business.’

 

‘Okay … I s’pose …’

 

‘Good. We’re here.’

 

The café was a small, one-roomed affair. It had a wooden floor, small tables with kitchen chairs and chequered plastic tablecloths. A small counter stood at the rear of the room with plates of scones, pies and fairy-cakes on top of it. A girl in her early twenties lounged at the cash register, her head buried in an issue ofHello.

 

Gillian and I sat near the door. An old lady was sipping tea at a table near the counter, but other than that the place was empty. When the waitress seemed not to notice our arrival, I cleared my throat loudly. This elicited a reaction: she looked up and saw us. Her spotty face registered a complete lack of interest and she sighed and hefted herself off her chair and made her way down to us.

 

‘Yeah?’

 

‘Could I have a bowl of vegetable soup please with a couple of slices of brown bread. I’ll have a black coffee with that, and a glass of water.’

 

I looked at Gillian. I wondered if she’d order for herself and wanted to give her the opportunity to do so. She looked into space, however, and didn’t move or make a sound. The waitress sighed again in impatience and irritation.

 

‘Anythin’ else?’

 

‘Yes, please. We’ll have another bowl of soup, just a half portion, please, and another glass of water.’

 

‘Right.’

 

She walked quickly back to the counter and disappeared into the enclosed kitchen area. At least we wouldn’t have to wait long – she would want to get back to her magazine as quickly as possible.

 

‘So how have things been at school? Did you and what’s her name … Maggie isn’t it? Did you have any more clashes?’

 

‘What?’

 

‘Have you had any more fights with her?’

 

‘No. She’s left me alone.’

 

‘Good.’

 

‘Everyone has left me alone. They all think I’m mad, so they do. I don’t care.’

 

‘Don’t you have any friends?’

 

‘Yeah, I hang around with Trudy Tanner. But she’s not in school all that much. She’s deadly. We have a right laugh. She understands.’

 

‘Understands what?’

 

‘How things are.’

 

She said it so matter of factly that there was no room for further questions on the subject. It seemed that Gillian and this Trudy girl had worked out the meaning of life but were keeping it to themselves. I made a mental note to find out who the Tanners were.

 

‘I met your mum.’

 

No response. Eyes directed out the window, watching the occasional passerby on the quiet village street. Evening was coming down fast and a slight mist was settling on the cobbled thoroughfare outside.

 

‘I know you haven’t been to see a doctor.’

 

Still no response.

 

‘I’ve asked Andi to go with you tomorrow. She’ll pick you up from school.’

 

Still no response.

 

‘I told you that we had to do this, and I told your mum too. I don’t lie. You’re going to see the doctor, Gillian. Okay?’

 

She turned to face me, and I saw, for the first time, resignation.

 

‘Okay.’

 

I sighed gently and smiled at her.

 

I didn’t know what I had done to get through to her. While I was glad that she had acquiesced, it would have been good to know which act or combination of actions had been right, so that I could attempt to repeat them. The only thing I could think of was the fact that I had been consistent. I had said that she would see the doctor and had followed through on that. There was little enough constancy in her life, I supposed; when some filtered in, it was welcome. I had, however, worked with kids where this was certainly not the case, children who found consistency and normalcy so terrifying that they attempted to create chaos so that they could feel safe. I do notfall into the school of thinkers who believe that human behaviour is always predictable. I was well aware that Gillian responding this way did not in any sense mean that she would behave in the same way the next day – maybe it was better that I didn’t know what had produced the response. Sometimes it’s possible to betooanalytical.