Read Wednesday's child Online

Authors: Shane Dunphy

Wednesday's child (page 9)

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‘How have you been, Libby? Are you working?’

 

‘I’ve got a waitressing job at the hotel. Started last week. Don’t know if I’ll stick it though. Don’t like the hours.’

 

‘Yeah. That kind of work can be tough.’

 

‘Like you’ve ever done it!’ Libby and Gillian spoke the words in unison, as if they had been rehearsed. There was even a snort of derision at the end of the sentence that was uttered in stereo.

 

I blinked, unsure of what I had just witnessed. Libby laughed and reached to the floor for her glass and bottle. She poured a shot and raised an eyebrow at me in offer. I shook my head.

 

‘Too strong for you, boy?’ The last word was spoken with such dripping disdain that I suddenly knew how a black person must feel when addressed that way. I felt my anger rise, but pushed it back down.

 

‘I’m working, Libby.’

 

‘Is that what you call this? Jaysus, it’s a grand thing to be paid to socialise, isn’t it?’

 

‘We’re socialising, are we Libby?’

 

She didn’t answer, but had a long pull of her drink. She took the whiskey like it was water, drinking it as if she were thirsty.

 

‘Say what you have to say to my daughter, young fella, and leave us alone.’

 

I knew that I was wasting my time. Gillian was a statue behind her mother, looking at me with contempt and derision. I had got to know a young girl over the past few weeks, but this wasn’t her. And this was no place for me. The ill-feeling directed at me was visceral and raw. I was still standing with the dishes in my hands, so I left them on a low table.

 

‘There’s some food there for you, Gillian. I hope you like it.’

 

There was no change in Gillian’s visage. She remained stock-still, her hands resting on the back of the chair. I waited a second for some recognition that she had even heard me.

 

‘What do you say, Gillian?’ Libby said, pouring more of the spirit down her throat.

 

‘Take your fucking muck and go,’ Gillian droned.

 

I blinked in disbelief.

 

‘What?’

 

In unison, this time: ‘Take your fucking muck and go.’

 

I searched Gillian’s eyes for any remnant of thechild I knew, of the relationship I had worked so hard to build. There was nothing there but hate and pain. Nodding, I picked up the containers again and turned to leave. Then I stopped and looked back at Libby. I spoke to her, not to Gillian. Gillian wasn’t there.

 

‘I’m going now. But I’ll be back. And I’ll keep coming back, Libby. For her.’ I gesticulated with my head at Gillian, but kept my eyes on her mother. ‘Not for the reasons you think. Dammit, I don’t even really care what you think. You’ve achieved nothing today.’

 

‘She’s my daughter, you cocksucker!’ Libby hissed.

 

‘Cocksucker!’ Gillian snarled.

 

‘I know that, Libby,’ I said, and walked out.

 

I was halfway to my car when I remembered the dogs. They were almost on me, running at me silently, fangs bared.

 

‘Shit,’ I muttered and took off as fast as I could. The closest animal sprang, but for the first time that evening luck was on my side, and the chain pulled it up just before it struck. I leaned against the bonnet of the car in the torrential rain, panting and waiting for my heart beat to regulate. The door of the house was still open with the yellow light cascading onto the sodden yard. Libby stood there, glass in hand, looking at me. I looked back. No words were spoken, but I knew that the war for her daughter’s soul had begun. She turned and the door closed. I stayed there for a while longer with the water running into my eyes, feeling utterly helpless.

 

*

 

It was six o’clock on a Thursday evening. I was sitting in the reception area of the Health Board offices nearest to the village where the McCoys lived. Cordelia was pacing the floor, checking her watch, looking out the large windows every few seconds. Victor was sitting beside me, engrossed in a Game Boy. Ibar had a plastic box filled with earth and worms that he had captured.

 

We were there for an access visit with Max. The visit was due to begin at five. Max had not arrived, and the caretaker was anxious to lock up for the night. Cordelia, however, had other ideas. We would, she told me, wait for him. So we did.

 

‘We’re going to have to go, Cordelia,’ I said at last. ‘They need to lock up the building. We’ve waited for an hour and a quarter, sweetheart. I’m sorry.’

 

‘Right,’ she said sharply, grabbing her coat and storming out of the front door.

 

I sighed and rubbed my eyes with the heels of my hands. Cordelia had begun to go through the adolescence that she had been holding off because of all the responsibilities she believed she’d had. There had been much storming and stressing and quite a few screaming temper tantrums. She regularly informed me that she hated me. Mostly, I was delighted that she felt she could relax enough around me to behave in this way. On the other hand, after a long day it was very hard to be pleased with having to deal with teenage angst.

 

‘Come on, you two,’ I said to Victor and Ibar.

 

The two boys stood up, both still completely invested in their activities, and allowed me to steer them out towards the car. I called down the hallway to the caretaker that we were leaving, and went out to the car park. And there was Max McCoy, leaning on his daughter’s shoulder and drunk out of his mind.

 

‘Hey kids!’ he slurred, an idiotic grin on his stubbled face.

 

I felt Victor tense beside me and squeezed his arm gently to let him know I was there.

 

‘Worms!’ Ibar declared, holding the box aloft for his father to see.

 

‘Cool,’ Max said.

 

Ibar nodded and returned to the study of his invertebrate pets.

 

‘Max, you’re an hour late,’ I said as calmly as I could. ‘And look at the state of you! We’ve got to go. I’m not going to facilitate access with you in this condition.’

 

‘Aw, come on, Shaney,’ Max said jovially, swaying so badly that Cordelia staggered under his weight.

 

I reached over and steadied him, moving him to the wall. Cordelia was visibly upset and Victor was still rigid with nerves.

 

‘Stay there,’ I said to Max and went over and opened the car.

 

The kids got in.

 

‘I’ll be with you in a few minutes. I just need to have a quick chat with your dad,’ I told them.

 

‘Worms,’ Ibar said very matter-of-factly.

 

‘Indeed,’ I said, ruffling his hair and turning back to the now horizontal Max McCoy, who had slid down the wall and was half-lying, half-sitting on the ground.

 

I walked over and squatted down beside him.

 

‘I’m taking the kids back to Dympna’s,’ I told him.

 

‘Can’t I spend some time with them?’ he asked, trying to focus his eyes on me and not really succeeding.

 

‘Not when you’re like this, no. This isn’t the first time, is it?’

 

‘Whaddaya mean, Shano?’

 

‘This isn’t the first time you’ve fallen off the wagon since we put the kids with Dympna.’

 

‘Yes it is! Sorta …’ he disintegrated into a fit of giggles, which in turn disintegrated into a fit of coughing. ‘Do ya got a smoke?’ he asked when he had recovered.

 

I took out a couple and lit them with my Zippo.

 

‘Max, we can’t do this any more. The kids don’t need to see you in this condition.’

 

‘What condition?’

 

‘Pissed as a fart, that’s what!’ I said, exasperated.

 

‘Oh.’

 

‘I’m going to cancel access for the moment. I want you to get clean and sober, and when you can prove to me that you can stay that way, we’ll start the visits again. Maybe that’ll give you some incentive.’

 

‘Listen, Shane, that’s great. Could you lend me a few bob? I’m fuckin’ broke, man.’

 

I shook my head. I was wasting my time talking to him and I knew it. I just wanted the kids to see that I was treating him with respect, despite his intoxication. I took out my mobile phone and called a taxi for him.

 

We waited with Max for the taxi to come. I hoisted him up and brought him over to the car and let the kids chat to him. He was drunk but was at least in good humour. I didn’t think it would hurt. It took the car twenty minutes to come, and in that time we had a little access visit in the car park.

 

Though none of them knew it, it was to be the last time they would be together.

 7 

The incident at McDonald’s proved to be the only real step forward that I made with Connie Kelly in those early months. I continued to see her twice a week. During this period, my Irish improved greatly. I’m not sure that hers did, and I’m certain that our relationship did not develop at all.

 

I made no mention of my visit to Connie’s home, and she made no mention of her fears or of her sleeping arrangement with her neighbour, Mrs Jones. There were no further requests for visits to fast-food chains. As one week, then another, passed by and we remained at a standstill, I began to feel that the subtle approach was getting me nowhere. I would tackle the issue head-on.

 

The next session with Connie began as normal. We worked on some Irish poetry and I read through an essay she had written. She was in a quiet, pensive mood that day, and I felt that that was good. She seemed to have something on her mind. Maybe she would be pleased to talk about it. As we were packing up to go, I said to her: ‘Connie, can I ask you something?’

 

She looked at me with suspicion.

 

‘What?’

 

‘How do you do it?’

 

‘Do what?’

 

‘Keep it all inside the way you do.’

 

‘How d’you mean?’

 

‘I was out at your house a few weeks back, after we went to McDonald’s and you told me things were getting tough. I saw Mick and I saw your parents. I don’t know how you can keep going. I really don’t.’

 

She continued to put her books into her bag.

 

‘Did you tell them I talked to you?’

 

‘No. Things got a bit hairy before I had a chance to say anything.’

 

‘Good,’ she said, and slinging her bag onto her back, she walked past me out the door.

 

It appeared that she had nothing to say on the matter.

 

I drove back to the office that evening, going over the case in my head and desperately trying to formulate a plan. Eventually, as I parked my car outside the offices, I thought that I had something worked out. Inside, I made a pot of strong coffee and headed for the basement.

 

I had been told that the Kellys had been on the books for decades. That meant that there had to be records going back that far. I had been coming at the case from the front end, trying to help Connie by drawing her out. It was going nowhere. She either didn’t want to talk or wasn’t able to. So that left one other line of investigation.Secondary research. I would go back to the information on the books, and see if it told me anything that might help.

 

The files of all old cases were kept in storage under the building. Bringing my coffee with me, I switched on the light and descended into the small room. It was lined with row after row of dusty, gunmetal-grey filing cabinets. The naked bulb shed a circle of light over a small table in the centre of the room, but the rest was all in gloom. Footsteps overhead and the slamming of a door told me that Rosalind, the building’s administrator, and usually the last to leave, had gone home for the night. I scratched my head and surveyed the scene. The term ‘needle in a haystack’ sprang to mind, but I lit a cigarette, and began.

 

It was easier than it looked. Whoever had organised the filing system had done a good job. Cases were filed first by year, then alphabetically, so it was simple enough to trace the Kellys from the 1970s onwards. I moved up and down the aisles of cabinets, piling thick files onto a trolley and moving on. When I had worked my way up to the period where the inforamtion I already had upstairs began, there was a stack of paper on my trolley several feet high and covering a period of more than two decades. I sat down and started to read.

 

The earliest files related to Mick. I skimmed over them. He was not really my concern, but I wanted to look at the family from every available angle. A very brief glance at the paperwork on him told a story of neglect, peppered with strong suspicions of physical abuse. There were doctors’ reports, letters from teachers, a handwritten note scrawled on what lookedto be a serviette from a youth-club leader, all speaking of bruises, cuts, abrasions that should not have been there. As the notes continued, psychiatric problems came to the fore. Schizophrenia is often not obvious until the onset of adolescence, and by the time Mick was in his mid-teens, he had become a very disturbed young man. It seemed that that pattern had continued into adulthood, with a fondness for alcohol and narcotics thrown in for good measure.

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