Read Wednesday's child Online

Authors: Shane Dunphy

Wednesday's child (page 7)

Advertising Download Read Online


 

‘Yes, but—’

 

‘You had her committed, didn’t you?’

 

‘I did, but—’

 

‘I’m a child living in that house. Mammy has psychiatric problems. Daddy has psychiatric problems. My brother Mick, who lives in the house from time to time, has psychiatric problems too. Now, tell me that you haven’t thought about trying to get me into care.’

 

I grinned. She had me.

 

‘Fair enough. It probably did go through my mind.’

 

‘I knew it. You’re all the same.’

 

‘Well, I’ll tell you what. While we’re on the subject, you tell me why I shouldn’t put you in care.’

 

‘Have you seen my results?’

 

‘I have. They’re all really good.’

 

‘Except Irish.’

 

‘B plus is really good in my book.’

 

‘Doesn’t matter. Are they the results of someone who’s having problems? Do you look at them and think I’m badly adjusted?’

 

‘I suppose not.’

 

‘See. I’m getting on fine at school. Look at me. Am I undernourished?’

 

‘No. Can’t say that you are.’

 

‘I’m overweight. It’s hard to get exercise and study for the Junior Cert at the same time. I plan to lose some when the exams are over. Would you like to see my lunch-box? I have a perfectly well-balanced lunch – cheese sandwiches, orange juice and an apple. I am clean, my uniform is washed regularly and I have appropriate clothing for all weathers. See my shoes? Comfortable and sensible.’

 

She lifted her feet off the ground and showed me her shoes. They were sturdy black brogues. They didn’t look new, but they were well cared for.

 

‘Those are all the reasons why I don’t need to be in care. I’m doing fine, thank you very much.’

 

‘How are you getting on at school, and I don’t mean your results. Do you have many friends?’

 

‘I have two excellent friends.’

 

‘Lizzie and Jessica.’

 

‘Yes. Lizzie and Jessie.’

 

‘Tell me about them. What kind of stuff do you do together?’

 

‘We just do school stuff mostly.’

 

‘School work?’

 

‘Yes. The exams are coming up this year. We all want to do well.’

 

‘That’s great. So you help each other out and all?’

 

‘Oh yeah.’

 

‘How do they help you? You mentioned that you’re not getting an A in Irish. Is it Jessica or Lizzie who helps you most with the Irish?’

 

The blank face returned. I had her in a corner, and I was fascinated to see how she would try to squirm out of it. What I was seeing here was a performance. All this confidence and self-assuredness was a front. Connie was so used to living under the threat of being removed from her home that she had created a public face. Here was a Connie for whom everything came easy, for whom nothing was a challenge. This Connie got good grades, had a well-balanced lunch, a washed and pressed uniform and sensible shoes. She even had the most difficult thing for a girl like Connie Kelly: friends.

 

‘We help each other,’ she said, the smile returning.

 

‘Okay. If I were to ask to see Lizzie and Jessica’s grades, would I see that these two girls are doing anywhere near as well as you are? Or would I see that they’re in danger of failing all their exams? I’d bet the only reason they’re not failing everything is because of the help that you’re giving them.’

 

‘They’re my friends. I want to help them.’

 

‘Fair enough. It’s just that maybe you would benefit from having some relationships that involve a little fun. You’re spending all your time doing your own work and these two kids’ work as well. That’s not healthy. I’m not saying not to be friends with them. I’d just like to see you having some times to relax, y’know?’

 

‘I do relax.’

 

‘When?’

 

‘I don’t know. At night.’

 

‘At home?’

 

‘Yeah, at home.’

 

‘I’ve been at your home. I doubt that there’s a lot of time to relax there.’

 

Silence. She blinked at me behind her thick glasses, not sure what to say next. I sat impassive, waiting for her next move. Connie Kasparov, chess champion.

 

‘I don’t need to see a social worker and I don’t need to be put in care.’

 

I had her in check, and she knew it.

 

‘Connie, will you stop worrying about being put in care! That isn’t even on the cards at the moment. I’ve been asked to come out and spend some time with you. Be your friend.’

 

‘You’re joking me.’

 

‘Nope.’

 

‘I don’t want you to be my friend! That’s stupid! I mean, I don’t know you, and Ihavefriends. I don’t need another friend – certainly not some stupid big social worker.’ Her scorn was palpable. She folded her arms and crossed her pudgy legs, looking away from me in a furious sulk.

 

‘I think I get the message, Connie,’ I said, trying my best not to laugh at her righteous indignation. ‘Let’s try it another way. How about I meet you a couple of times a week to help you with your homework. You’re so anxious to do well in the exams, andmaybe I can help out. All the time you spend helping your friends is time you’re not spending on your own school-work. We can meet here.’

 

She looked at me with deep suspicion. She knew damn well that there was an ulterior motive.

 

‘You’re not a teacher. What would you know?’

 

‘I used to be a teacher. Not of secondary school kids, but I taught in college.’

 

‘What did you teach? You don’t look like a teacher.’

 

‘What does a teacher look like?’

 

‘Like Mr Thomas.’

 

‘Mmm, you’ve got me there. But I was a teacher up until a week ago, I promise. What do you say? It can’t hurt.’

 

‘So it would be like a grind or something?’

 

‘Exactly.’

 

‘Are you any good at Irish?’

 

‘Used to be. It’ll come back to me.’

 

‘I’ll think about it.’

 

‘I’ll ring Ms Duff and organise our first meeting.’

 

‘I said I’d think about it!’

 

‘That B is killing you, Connie. You’ll go for it.’

 

‘You think you’re so smart. You social workers are all the same!’

 

‘Will you please stop calling me a social worker?’

 

I got lunch in a roadside pub and went back to the office. I planned to write up my Visitation Reports, read back over the Kelly file and prepare my first sessions with Connie for the following week. Theweekend was looming and I was looking forward to putting the first week behind me and having a relaxed couple of days. My batteries were in serious need of recharging. I walked in the door of my office and, even though I should have expected it and been ready, the sight of Melanie lounging in my seat as she bellowed down the receiver of the office phone stopped me dead in my tracks and filled me with a black, bubbling anger.

 

The desk was scattered with open files and folders and her handbag sat on top of it all, spilling a deluge of tampons, lipstick and tissues.

 

‘I know, I know,’ she was saying, laughing raucously. ‘Well we can meet tomorrow. There’s a sale on in McClouds. They’ve got some lovely stuff in there. Why don’t we meet there and we can go for a coffee afterwards and chat?’

 

I did it without even realising: I placed my hand on the cradle and cut her off.

 

She looked at me incredulously and stood up, dropping the receiver onto the desk with a clatter. We stood nose to nose, the aggression at last naked.

 

‘What the fuck do you think you’re doing?’ she said incredulously. ‘How dare you come in here and behave like you own the place? I was on a call! If you need to use the phone you wait your fucking turn.’

 

‘I don’t need to use the phone. I want to use my desk. Get out of my chair, get your shit off my desk and make your social arrangements somewhere else!’

 

She let out a deep guffaw and turned away, throwing her arms up.

 

‘Your desk? This ismydesk. It has been for the last two years and it will continue to be until I am good and ready to give it up. Which I probably won’t, by the way. There are other offices in the building, Shane. Use one of those. And stop squeezing in over by the filing cabinet. You’re getting in people’s way!’

 

‘My fucking files are in here!’

 

‘Myfucking files!’

 

‘Melanie, you don’t do this job any more! You are in another position, for fuck’s sake!’

 

‘This is my office, these are my friends and that is my filing cabinet with my files in it. If you open it up and have a good look, you’ll see that I’ve been putting my new files in there too. The kids for the unit I’m setting up as part of my new post are staying in the refuge at the moment while a house is being made ready for them, and I shall be using this work spaceat leastuntil the workmen finish on the house. You can like it or lump it, but that’s the way it’s going to be.’

 

‘Melanie, I’ve been patient. I’ve moved aside and let you get on with it. But enough is enough. You gave up the job, and when you did that, you gave up all the perks of the job, like, for instance, the desk and the goddam office. I have a lot of work to do this afternoon, so move the fuck aside!’

 

‘Shane, if you don’t get out of my face, I am going to bring a charge of bullying and harassment againstyou,’ she said quietly, coming in so close I could smell coffee and cigarettes on her breath. ‘Just you push me one little bit further. I have carved out a nice little place for myself here. No one gets in my way, no one hassles me and no one ever, ever raises their voice to me or interferes with my business. You’re new. I’ll let you off this once if you just walk away …’

 

‘For a job that’s supposed to be about caring, social care attracts a hell of a lot of bullies, Melanie,’ I hissed back, not taking my eyes off her. ‘I’ve been facing them down since I was in college. Now, you go right ahead and bring your charge. I’ll bring one right back at you. You’re damned lucky I haven’t brought one against you before now. God knows, I’ve had grounds!’

 

For the second time that day I seemed to find myself in a stalemate. We stood, eyeballing each other, neither giving an inch. The ice was broken suddenly by the sound of someone clearing their throat behind me.

 

I turned to see Francesca, another social worker, standing in the doorway looking bemused, if slightly uncomfortable.

 

‘Umm … when you two are finished bonding, there’s a call for Melanie. Mary Jeffries is on the line. She’s just dropped into the refuge and there seems to be a problem.’

 

Melanie picked up the phone, placed it back on the cradle and pressed a flashing button above the dial. I realised that I was sweating profusely and thatmy shoulders were aching with tension. I flexed them and went into the kitchen, where I got some water from the cooler. I stood there, sipping, trying to calm myself. It was out in the open now, at least. Better to let these things out rather than leave them to fester.

 

Melanie appeared in the kitchen doorway.

 

‘I need your help.’

 

‘What?’

 

‘The kids have become very distressed. Mary is up there, but the refuge staff can’t cope. Francesca is the only other one here, and she’s in court this afternoon. I wouldn’t ask if there was anyone else. Would you come out and help me?’

 

‘Do I hear a “please”?’

 

‘Stop being a prick and come on.’

 

‘I’d be delighted to.’

 

The refuge was a three-storey townhouse situated down an alley behind a car park on the east side of the town. Melanie pressed the buzzer and told the voice at the other end who we were. The door clicked open and we went inside.

 

The first thing I became aware of as we stood in the lobby was the sound of trampling footsteps upstairs, as if many people were running about frantically. The next thing was the sound of wailing and shouting. Behind this I could vaguely discern the sound of words spoken quietly and gently, each time being answered by more yelling and screaming.

Other books
twilight's dawn by bishop, anne
bound by o'rourke, erica
reformers to radicals by thomas kiffmeyer
desires by gill, holly j., blaise, nikki
the girl who bites by woods, alice j.