Beyond Caring is the story of Aaron. On admission to Templewood, a children’s home, he met Rebecca, his keyworker, but he did not settle, and on Christmas Day he tried to run home to his mother. Since returning he has struggled with his keyworker, met his mother again, lost his pet, had a brilliant holiday, and been let down – again – by his mother. At school, but he is uneasy about the teacher and a stranger hanging around. In the last episode he was sexually bullied. If you would like to read the earlier chapters first, please click here: Chapter 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9
Andrew’s moved out of my class but I hadn’t reckoned on an afternoon session of football at school; several classes join together and a voice from behind me calls out.
“All right, Aaron?”
My back prickles as I step away towards an island of other boys but Andrew’s voice follows me.
“How’s it going, Aaron? Sorry we’re on different teams.”
He lunges towards me, his voice pushes down my ear.
“Pamelia fancies you.”
I move away. Pamelia, the one who ran off with Liam just the other night. I scratch my ear to remove all trace of Andrew and his talk of Pamelia.
“Come on then, Aaron,” John says.
I look at John then look to the bushes where I once glimpsed the dosser. I hate this waiting for the dosser, the wondering when he’ll come. And I hate not knowing when John will strike. I run towards the ball swinging a kick as it passes wide between the opposite team, the ball flies down towards goal. A little girl beams a smile at me from the bench where she’s sitting, even though I didn’t score. I run forwards, tackle a boy and get the ball out from under his feet.
“Pass,” Liam yells. “Here.”
I will make it alone, score the goal for all to see.
I’m making it towards the goal.
From nowhere, someone’s suddenly smashing into me. Pamelia. Her arm brushes mine and in my second’s lost attention, she gets the ball away.
“You girl, Aaron, you lost us a goal!” Liam yells at me.
“Let’s remember we’re a team,” John says.
Next thing I’m running up to Liam and fighting him for possession of the ball.
“Same team, you fucking dimwit!”
I get the ball off Liam.
“I’m here,” Shelby calls out.
I suddenly see Pamelia running at me again. What is her game? She’s getting closer, her enormous tits bouncing towards me. I stick out my leg, tripping the bitch over and she somersaults to the ground.
“Slag,” I hiss down at her.
“Oy, stop that,” John pants as he runs over.
I give Pamelia a kick as she tries to stand up.
“Sit out, Aaron, and calm down.”
I look straight at John with my hands on my hips and my feet slightly apart. He steps towards me.
His shout makes me trip back; I fall against the bench and the little girl. I swing round to her; she shrinks behind a tangle of her arms and legs. I snatch her doll and run swinging it in the air above me.
“It’s mine, it’s mine,” she wails.
“Give the doll back, Aaron!” John shouts after me.
He will have to try harder than that to get me to do what he wants. I’m off the pitch and heading through the school courtyard. I dart into nurture’s empty classroom, I push some chairs apart, then leap over a table. I tear down my old work on winter that’s been left hanging on the wall. John’s behind me, calling me back.
I grab a chair, swing it wide then hover with its leg pointing at a computer screen.
“I’ll do it, you know.”
“Aaron, what is this all about?”
The leg comes stabbing towards the computer screen, I’m quick to hit again and a cracking noise cries out of the computer. John’s snatching the chair away. I climb onto the windowsill, fumble with the window latch. John’s coming up behind me; John’s going to get me. This lock must unscrew. The lock moves round too slowly; my greasy hand slips on it. Hold tighter and it turns again; now I’m getting the bar out of the latch.
“Get down, Aaron!”
I’ll be squashed between John and the window. I push with all my might and the window suddenly slides open; I feel the fresh air on my legs. I grab the doll; John’s hand touches my back; I leap outside. Something tears into my arm; my shirt rips; pain shoots into my knees as I land on hard ground. Where to next? John calls down at me. My eyes search around. The boiler room door has been left cracked open; I bolt towards it. I touch the door and pull it slowly towards me; I peer inside then enter. Busy machinery surrounds me. My seeing adjusts to the darkness. I walk deeper into the belly of this room filled with its tangle of pipes.
A sudden bang, its echo settles into the crashing sea of machine noise around me. I turn to see John filling the doorway; his face is in dark shadow. As he steps towards me, he grows larger and larger, his movement pushes the air thicker between us. He comes right up to me, his body hanging over me; his hand reaches out.
“Aaron,” he mouths.
I see tiny patterns of light playing across his face; I see his pearls of sweat. I see his blue eyes. Only a small gap of air separates us. I see his flesh beneath his thin sports shirt. There is no one around but me and him. My heart beats fast. I grab hold of the pipe beside me to steady myself; the doll tumbles down from my hand. I feel the sweat on my hands sliding around the pipe.
“Get on with it,” the words are a whisper my mouth is so dry.
John bends but then he’s grabbing the doll and pacing away towards the light and the door. What’s happening? This isn’t right. I’m left on hold at the top of a wave. Where is John? He can’t leave me.
Noisy clanking machinery bows down below me. I wrap my leg around a pipe and rub up and down on it; it sends a tingling to my privates and warmth to my chest. My bum tightens and lets go slamming on and on against the pipe. My fists punch into the machine beside me. Sparks fly off my back. I fill the room. My breathing’s fast and hard, beats of energy pulse down through me. My body’s ringing out like a giant bell.
Rebecca’s calling me, telling me to come out of the boiler room. Rebecca’s coming up to me; her hands fall on my wrists. As I feel her warmth, laughter shakes out of my whole body.
“Better get away from me, Rebecca.”
“Stop that, Aaron, now come outside.”
My seeing falls upwards into her eyes; I’m smiling into her.
“No, Aaron … Aaron, I’m going out; there’s an inappropriate feeling coming from you.”
Her words bring me more laughter.
“I do not want to be alone with you in here.”
She turns her back on me; her figure gets smaller as she walks away. I feel so dizzy; I could lift off into the air.
My stomach cramps; I’m desperate for the toilet but I’m not going to come out of my bedroom and risk seeing anyone. I feel sick.
A sudden different wetness now fills my pants in a rippling of farts. It produces a smooth, bulging warmth. More liquid ripples out of me; I can only let go to this explosive emptying.
Hands in pants, brown on my hands, sniffing my stink then wiping it on my curtain. Dipping into more shit, its softness between my fingers, rubbing my fingers along the wall. Playing with shit, a finger paint of poison, I dab some across the painting of Tom and Jerry, then continue spreading it across my wall in circles and squiggles.
I sit back and take in my work – my mess, my dirtiness, the stench you’d find if you cut me open. I bash my head against the wall. Harder. I need more pain.
I collapse down onto my bed, my body rocks forward and back, a gurgled moan dribbles from my mouth.
I see Rebecca come in. How dare she enter my room? My rot surrounds her, I’m infecting her.
“Aaron, you must have a shower.”
Bright light stings my eyes.
“Please, Aaron, go shower … you feeling pretty shitty at the moment?”
“I chose my words carefully.”
“Aaron, I smell and see poo.”
“You’re being disgusting.”
“I’m speaking it how it is.”
“You’ve got a horrible mind.”
“Smearing was something that happened quite a lot at your past placements.”
Don’t go back to my past!
“I’m going to get some cleaning stuff.”
I’m still on my bed when she comes back. She starts puffing some spray around my room and it stings my throat; she follows it with the smell of disinfectant. I look at her, wiping across my wall, so close to my mess. I get up and feel a cracking of something hardened across my bottom. I wrap my dressing gown and towel around me then dart down the corridor to the shower.
“Aaron, if this happens again, I won’t clear up after you without your help,” Rebecca says when I come back into my room after my shower. “Today I’ve done it and you can do some other jobs around group later on.”
She’s made my walls shine wet and clean, removed the curtains and put a different duvet on my bed. Why does she do all this? How can she carry on being around me? How can she stand it?
“Let’s talk about things,” Rebecca says. “I’ve been thinking; does John remind you of someone?”
John? Suddenly the thought of him brings no panic inside me. I picture him and still feel nothing.
“It’s like you were acting something out from your past in that boiler room … Do you want to talk about it? Or maybe about when you ran off with Andrew and Liam.”
It’s my badness spilling out.
“Or about the man Narinder met?”
Now I feel my rising fear. Men, so many men. Someone will always get me in the end.
“I think you may be acting out the trauma of things that happened through no fault of your own when you were younger, so young your actual memory of them may be unclear.”
My fist wallops into Rebecca.
What the hell? What the fuck have I just done? Rebecca’s fallen back, I hit her so hard that my shoulder hurts. I look across at her. I want to help her to standing. I want to take my punch back away from her. I shrink back against the wall. I wish she’d kick me, punish me. I want the stinging pain she must be feeling.
I literally spent yesterday clearing up Aaron’s shit. It was so disgusting being in his stench of a room and getting so close to his shit. I was retching at first, almost unable to do it, then I just had to get on with it. I started to get a real head-ache – no doubt the potent combination of shit and disinfectant. I got a mighty punch from Aaron as my thanks. I can still feel the bruising in my ribs – it hurts if I breathe too deeply.
Aaron is all over the place at the moment. We’ve finally told him about the vagrant because, after he’d run off, we felt he needed to be warned. He seems to have no idea who it could be.
When I got home, Pete was there and he’d been so sweet – cooked a lovely Thai curry and made fresh smoothies. We went to bed and I clung onto Pete, his body was so warm next to mine. My legs twisted between him and around him. His hand was firm on my back, his breath came in pleasant flows against my shoulder. Then I started to feel the pain in my ribs. Then … then, oh god …
We were making love and suddenly I felt so small and Pete seemed so heavy. In my mind, he’d became some savage and I had turned mute and lifeless. I felt invaded, the sex was suddenly so painful. I was dumbly waiting for his assault to be over. I hated him for not knowing how I was feeling. I hurt everywhere.
This extraordinary strength flashed up in me and before I knew what I was doing, I’d flung Pete away into the wall. His back took the blow. God, I hate to remember this. He looked so startled, I ran to the bathroom and locked myself in.
I cried and cried. I was thinking of Aaron. I could see his scrawny, pre-pubescent body. A childish body that should be innocent and carefree. A body that is actually fucked and violated. I felt so angry. How could anyone have fucked him – I mean fucked an even younger version of his current little body?
Pete came to the bathroom. I stopped crying and then just wanted to apologise to him without getting into a lengthy discussion. I was so tired. Of course Pete needed to chat and resolve things. The result was that I got irritated and Pete found me cold and callous.
When we finally went back to bed, I had this full on light show experience. White lights flashed past my eyes then I saw Aaron in the art room before he attacked me all those months ago only now the images were fluorescent bright. Next came a jumble of turquoise hexagons with black edges. A hand flicked through a pack of playing cards. Then there was a streak of red light, it shot past my eyelids every few seconds. Throughout, I felt like I was fainting in and out of consciousness.
I think I need a sanity check.
When I told Pete about these lights, rather than just cuddling me and saying never mind, he brought up the subject again of whether I shouldn’t just leave Templewood. He said the children’s lives are trashed, I may as well preserve mine. Of course I know I’m struggling and often behaving crazily but there is no way I’m going, I won’t abandon Aaron.
Not that it isn’t tempting. I constantly plan my leaving but it’s in the realm of fantasy.
In my art session, I draw the trunk of a big tree, then a ball of tangled lines on top to make the branches and leaves. A boy sits in the branches, his head’s a triangle, his eyes are two straight lines, his mouth a zigzag.
“What’s the boy saying?” Rebecca asks as she leans away from me against the wall.
There’s no way out of this tree and no one can get to him through the poisonous branches. I scribble a mass of tight, dark swirls around the boy until he’s outlined in heavy shadow.
“Is it you, Aaron?”
I look back to what I’ve been drawing; I crush the paper and throw it into the bin. Rebecca tells me to draw a picture of everyone in my family; she says I can draw each person doing something.
“Yes, if there’s something you think that shows what that person is like. Maybe start with your mum.”
“Three weeks until I see her.”
Rebecca doesn’t reply. In the centre of the page I draw a round circle as mum’s face, two narrow slits for eyes. A flattened heart makes her lips. Her hair I show scooped up then sprouting out from a top knot. I give her a neck, below that a big heart to form her body, then arms and finally a skirt. Beside her I draw our Kara with her hand reaching up into mum’s.
“And Lee?” Rebecca says when I put down my pen.
In another part of the paper, I quickly draw a little boy in a baseball cap.
“And what about you in this family drawing?” Rebecca says pulling her chair closer.
In one corner, I draw a head with a matchstick body. I put a small, thin stick in this figure’s hand. I stop and stare out of the window.
“Nothing more to add to you?” Rebecca says.
I shake my head. “It must be tea-time now; I’m hungry.”
“Not quite yet … Aaron, your dad, where would he be in this picture?”
“Him! He’s dead. You know he died when I was two.”
“Still, you might like to draw him.”
“He’s not part of this family.”
“He’s your father.”
“He’s been gone forever. I haven’t a clue what he looked like, well everyone says he was a bit like me, but I don’t really know how that makes him look.”
“Have you ever seen a photograph of him?”
“No, he’s dead.”
“You still might have seen a photo.”
“There’s no way mum’s going to have a photo of him hanging around!”
I push my drawing to one side and then Rebecca gets out a pile of pictures of babies cut out from magazines.
“I thought you might like to make something from these, a collage perhaps.”
I look at a baby in a big nappy with its legs up in the air, then another one curled up in the large hand of a man.
“Looks so peaceful, doesn’t it,” Rebecca says. “Imagine when you were that small. Have you ever seen a photograph of yourself as a baby?”
“Mum didn’t have money for things like photographs of me.”
Rebecca spreads out the pictures; suddenly she uncovers one of a woman’s giant tit hanging out and a baby’s mouth stuck to its end.
“Jesus Christ, you could go to prison for that.”
“No,” Rebecca laughs. “This is breast-feeding Aaron. Healthy, natural.”
“You were bottle fed from the start.”
There’s a picture of a baby held in someone’s arms, a baby in a pushchair, then a baby on a bed giggling with arms and legs outstretched while a woman stands above reading a letter.
I put glue on the back of the picture of a baby in its nappy and stick it down on the blank paper Rebecca’s put out on the table. I do the same with three other pictures.
“Aaron, you can overlap the pictures, pack in the images.”
“No, there’s just room for these four.”
“As you wish. ”
“What might it have been like for you as a baby?”
“How should I know!”
“You would have been tiny and totally dependent on others for all your needs – everything from being fed to having your dirty nappy changed.”
“Mum said I was born all cold and slimy and they put me in a box and shone these lights onto me.”
“It was an incubator for jaundice. Jaundice is when you’re a little yellow and need some extra light on your body.”
“I was born in hospital. Mum hates hospitals and so do I.”
“Having a baby in hospital is very different from when you go to hospital because you’re ill or injured.”
I look at a picture of a baby held in a woman’s arms. Sometimes I think I never really was a baby. I pile up all the baby pictures and hand them to Rebecca; it definitely wasn’t like any of these pictures for me.
“When you see your mum, you could ask her any questions you might have about your birth,” Rebecca says.
“Mum doesn’t like questions.”
“Don’t let that stop you from asking.”
John’s hands grip the bars of the cot around me. I follow the arms up and am crushed by the stare of blue eyes – hard blue barriers, unblinking. Then I look again and it’s not John. Bits of another face start to come into focus – an unshaven chin, a lightening strike of dark down the cheek. HIM. Then a crazy moustache of tightly curled hair appears above his top lip. He grows bigger and bigger as he looms over me. Suddenly I’m looking into the dark tunnelled barrel of his gun; his finger’s ready on the trigger. I see the huge ring of shining gold that spreads across one finger. There’s a deep rumbling and I see the outline of a fat man with the head of some silver instrument sticking out of his jacket pocket. Straps tighten around my wrists and ankles locking me still.
“What have they done to you?” his voice echoes around me.
His fat wobbles as he comes at me with a length of bandage. A huge needle points at me.
In the deep shadow of a corner of the room, I suddenly realise mum. She’s there in a red dress, it’s cut so low that her tits bulge out of its heart-shaped top. She shivers, I need to get to her, to cover her up but there’s no escape past the sharp point of the needle. Mum slowly exhales the smoke from a joint, then leaves her hand trailing in the air; she sighs with boredom.
A needle comes stabbing into me; the pain shoots through my arm and the room rings out to the drill of laughter. Mum starts walking away. I need her to come back. I need her to teach me how to stand, to show me how to get away. She just fades smaller and smaller.
A huge being floats above; he’s dressed in pyjamas that match mine. He reaches down to scoop me up; he’s going to save me but then the needle turns on him. His hand jerks back away from me then shrivels into a wilted weed. I look beyond the weed but all I see is a pile of black rocks.
My eyes flash to open, I hear the echo of something screamed by me still hovering in my bedroom. Eyes lurk behind my curtains; a face hides in amongst the books.
“Aaron?” my door’s opening. “Did you call? What’s up?”
“It’s there … He’s hiding in there … Behind the curtains.”
“Nobody’s there; it’s okay.”
My lights are turned on; it’s Emma speaking to me and drawing back the curtains to show the darkness outside.
“Close the curtains!”
Emma looks at me like I’m ill and she’s some nurse. I wish I hadn’t called out or acted like I’m scared. Emma tells me I’ve had a bad dream; she says ‘hush now’ like I’m a baby. She bends towards me, then changes her mind and sits on my bed. I see how her towelling dressing gown is worn to flat cotton in places; it bunches up over the cord which she’s tied so tightly around her waist. She’s got a sunk down look like she’s always breathing out. Her hand pats my duvet; I kick my leg towards her from under the covers to get her away.
“Do you remember your dream?” she asks as she stands up.
Her face is almost ghostly in the thin night light.
“She’s not working tonight.”
“She needs to be here.”
“You want to tell me about your dream?”
“Leave me alone.”
Emma flaps my duvet around, blasting me with cold air before finally settling it back down again on me. She tells me she’s around if I need her again. My door clicks shut as she goes out and leaves me. I daren’t close my eyes; I look round at the shadows in my room. Hard blue eyes linger in front of me, teasing me. I try to see the face and a shaking of cold and fear rattle through me. A face drifting in my mind, in my room. I feel a draught creeping around me like some spook. I shiver.
The dosser is out there. Could it be HIM in disguise? That makes no sense because even though his face is in fractured pieces in my memory, I do know that HE is a big, strong man. Is the dosser someone HE sent to get me? HE always said he couldn’t live without me. But why hasn’t the dosser grabbed me? Even if he can’t get past the adults here, he’s had his chances like when I ran off with Andrew and Liam.
The next chapter will appear in next month’s issue.