Beyond Caring: Chapter 19

Beyond CaringBeyond Caring is the gripping story of Aaron, a boy living in a children’s home called Templewood. If you would like to read the earlier chapters first, please click here: Chapter 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18

“There is a dire shortage of foster parents for children your age,” the Through-Care woman says to me shaking her head.

“You found Narinder a family.”

“Yes …”

“And our Kara’s got a foster family now.”

“Yes, and it’s nothing personal; it’s just harder to find placements for boys approaching their teens.”

I can’t help being a boy and the wrong age.

” … Aaron, I have to say this just in case it’s a thought you’ve ever toyed with, but it is not a possibility you living with Kara and her foster parents.”

“What you on about?”

“Nor that you will live close-by.”

I’d never even thought I’d be allowed there … But hang on, it is a large house.  I remember that room with the Action Man duvet.  Kara is my sister.

“Absolutely no possibility … Sorry Aaron.”

Mean fucking woman.  Why the fuck did she have to start talking about Kara just to tell me it’s not allowed?

“I think that while continuing our search for a foster family for you it would also make sense to start thinking about other living arrangements.  Being in a group here has worked well for you.  How do you feel about living in another group setting?”

“You tricked me.”

“No, no one’s tricked you.”

“You lied!  You made me start wanting a foster family!  You, you just sit here then go at night to your comfy armchair, your TV … your own home.”

“Aaron, although you could potentially move to an adolescent group here, it’s felt that would be hard for you as you’d still see Rebecca but she would no longer be part of your care team.  There is a place not too far from here that might suit you even better.  They have an extensive range of activities on offer and lovely staff.”

“Fuck, you’ve got it all planned.”

“This is also not the end of your options for a foster family; any group home you might go to could continue to search for a foster family for you.”

“No, don’t string me along any more!”

I push my chair scraping back along the floor; I run from the bitch’s words.  Outside I seize the aerial on the group car and bend it over.  I get to Rebecca’s aerial and it snaps in two.  I slice the broken aerial through the air and it makes a whipping noise.  I use it to smash the leaves off a row of small trees.  I execute some pink flowers off their stems then throw the aerial across the grass.

I push this huge flowerpot, I use all my strength but it won’t budge.  There’s a circle of rocks around it, I pick one up and lob it at Templewood.  I hear a shattering of glass.

“Come in,” Emma’s voice calls feebly from the steps.

I look at her; she doesn’t move.  I bend for another rock; I pretend I’m going to throw it at Emma; I see her flinch.  I use the rock to take out another window.

“Go, Aaron, go …” some boy’s voice calls out.

Derek darts at me through my rain of thrown stones.  He drags me indoors.

“You failed me; you failed me,” wails out of me.

“How I wish it wasn’t like this.”

Derek brings me to the office sits me on the settee and looks at me.

“Aaron …”

“You won’t find me anyone in time will you?”

“You mean a foster family? … Maybe not.”

“What did I do wrong?”

“Nothing, Aaron, nothing, and that’s the terrible pain of it.”

Rebecca puts the radio on loud all the way to Audrey’s; it’s a way of filling the separation between us.

“How about a ride first thing this morning?” Audrey asks me.

We walk together over to Tilley.  We get out the brushes and I start with the soft skin under her mane, then work down along her neck.  I go right down Tilley’s leg and then stand up to see Audrey with her hands on her hips looking at me.

“I’ve really come to look forward to Saturdays and you being here,” she says.

Could she be saying that she likes me?  She places the brushes back in their box then fetches the saddle for Tilley.  Audrey leads her to the mounting block and as I get on, Tilley stands perfectly still.  I look down on Audrey’s hair that’s speckled with grey; I see the clumps of animal hair on her T-shirt.  She looks round at me.

“Yes, I really do enjoy having you here,” she says.

“Audrey …”

“Yes … What’s up?”

“Audrey …” I look towards her house and the window of that strangely tidy bedroom.  “Audrey, could I stay here for a bit.”

“What’s that?”

The words whispered their way from me and now she’s asking me to speak them loud, to make them real.  I look down at my hands on the saddle.

“What, Aaron?”

“Could I stay here for a bit?”


“I mean live … just for a bit, when I first leave Templewood … only until I get sorted.  I could get social to pay you for having me.”

“What about your foster family?”

“There is no foster family.”

“Oh no … What then?”

“They want me to go to another group home; I can’t do it.  I wouldn’t stay with you for long; I wouldn’t make trouble for you.”

“Aaron, I love you working here for me, but I’m a crabby old woman used to living with only the company of animals … Aaron, I wish I could say yes.”

I thought she might like me!  I want to leap down off Tilley, to scream, to cry out, to thump myself.  Get it, Aaron, get it; stop dreaming.  You know how your life has been, how it always will be.  What a fool to believe in someone wanting you!

“Sorry, Aaron,” she speaks slowly.  “I hope you’ll always carry on coming here.”

Audrey leads Tilley forwards; I wish some force would lift me far away.  Tilley’s moving me around on top of her.  I look at Audrey in her baggy jeans and cracked boots – she’s rotting away, surrounding herself with sick animals.

“Aaron, hold onto the reins.”

Can’t she see me dissolving in front of her?

“Do you still want to ride?”

I lean forward, drag one leg over Tilley, then slide down off her; I dart to the fence and vault over it.  I see the wheelbarrow full of horse shit; I wheel it fast weaving down to the house.  Audrey’s shouts come from behind me.  I race down to her front lawn and the chickens scatter.  I lift my arms up letting the shit tumble out of the wheelbarrow onto the steps of Audrey’s house.  I throw the wheelbarrow over and it knocks into some plants.  I run from Audrey’s cries out through her gate and onto the road.  I never look back; I never say good-bye.

Fast cars force me off the road into the edge of a wood; I make my way between the branches.  A man jogs past with a dog at his side, he smiles at me and I hurry on.  A woman asks me if I’m lost.  I come away from the shade of the trees into light; I’m back by the road.  Let the cars sweep close by me.  I race on and on.  Finally the edge of the road turns into a pavement.

“You seen this,” a man says as he blocks my way.

His voice makes me jump.  I realise I’m panting.  The man’s face is fat, he’s wearing a dark blue jacket with a scarf hugged around his neck even though it’s a hot day.

“Look,” he repeats.

He’s pointing at a puddle with the colours of the rainbow in its greasy surface.  He lights a cigarette.

“Something beautiful out of something ugly,” he says.

As I move away, I see the purple colour shaking on the puddle’s surface.

“You on your way home now?” he says.

I walk on with the smell of his smoke and after-shave lingering behind me.  I hear his step quicken; he’s following me.

“You’re a bit far from anywhere,” he calls to my back.

I walk on faster but he comes right beside me.

“You got far to go?”

I don’t know how I can get away.

“Do you need help?  Need a pound for a bus fare?”

“I don’t take money.”

“Good boy, you should never take money – or sweets – from strangers.  I didn’t mean any harm.”

But his hand goes into his pocket and he holds out a pound at me.  And then I’m smiling – I can get money out of grown men again.  My hand touches his as I take the coin.

“As a responsible citizen, I have to give it to you.  I don’t want you getting into danger and not getting home.  I hope your mum knows where you are.”

He walks round me; my back prickles.

“And be sure to tell your mum if you ever come here again to find me.”

I walk away, stopping myself from running.  I don’t want to turn round but then I can’t stop myself and he’s just stood there staring at me.  I shiver and now I race on; my feet push against the ground; my legs dash past each other.  A cramp starts to burn up my right side.  I feel my sweat and the mud on my T-shirt, I smell horses and Audrey’s place.

I don’t stop until I get to town; I hide in a busy shop doorway; I check for the man.  I can’t see him anywhere.  I hurry into McDonald’s; the thickly heated air spreads over me; I slip into a seat by the door.  My dirty hand feeds me a cold chip that has fallen across the abandoned tray that’s on the table in front of me.  I watch a man placing a fresh chip into the bright red mouth of his girlfriend; his other hand is slipped between her crossed legs.  She leans towards the man’s ear, whispers something, then follows it with a kiss.  They don’t notice me sat so close to them, staring.

On the High Street pavement, I find a cigarette that’s hardly been smoked.  I see the mark of lipstick around its filter and I place my lips around that pink.  Then I hide the cigarette in my fist as I go into a newsagent.

“Matches,” I say to the lady behind the counter.

“You’re way underage.”

“I’m not.”

“Get on with you.”

“It’s for my mum anyway; she sent me out.  She’s too ill to come herself.”

“Well I still won’t sell you matches.”

“Mum’d kill me if even one match was missing from the box so you don’t have to worry.”



On the street, this boy’s coming down the road with a girl; I stand in their way.

“You old enough to buy matches?” I ask the boy.

“What a cheek!”

“Get me some,” I hold out the pound coin the man gave me.


“Go on; you can keep the change.”

“Are you serious?”

“There’s no harm; I just need matches.”

“… I was like him at his age,” the boy says turning to his girl.

“They’re for my mum; she’s too sick to come herself; she gave me this pound.”

“Expect me to believe that one?”

“How else would I have got a pound?  Please, mum’ll be angry if I come home without them.”

“You’re as good a story teller as I was. I’ll do it for you this one time because you take me back to how I was.”

I’m left standing with the girl as the boy goes into the shop; she opens a strip of gum and then her jaws start up a steady chewing motion.

“What’s your name?” she asks.


“My brother’s called Aaron … You live round here?”


“Where then?”

I shrug and look away down the street.

“I wish he’d hurry up; I want to get to the film and it’ll be your fault if we miss the start.”

“You going to the cinema?”


“Your boyfriend going to feel you up in the back row?”

“Fuck you,” she says stepping back.

She gives me a look like she wishes she could wipe me away.  The boy comes out and throws a tiny box of matches at me then gives his girl a bag of sweets.  The girl puts her arm through his and tugs him away.

I take the cigarette from my pocket and kiss my lips around it.  I strike a match and then breathe in as I light up, I let go in my throat so I don’t cough.  I walk into my puffs of smoke as I make my way down the pavement.

I see a bicycle just sitting there uncared for against a railing.  A feeble chain’s slumped around its front wheel.  I shake the lock and the ash from my cigarette drops on the chain.  I test my memory seeing if I can still hear the clicks of the opening numbers as I turn the dial.  Nobody’s around but if anyone asks, I’ll say how I thought it was my brother’s bike.  The lock’s first number is easy to find; the next is harder.  I’m almost giving up on the third when the lock springs open before I’ve even got to the fourth.

I only just reach the ground with my legs either side of the bike’s bar.  I put one foot on the pedal, push up onto the seat and the bike moves slowly forwards.  I swerve out into the road; a car beeps its horn.

“Lights!” a driver yells from his window.

My legs circle round almost coming off the pedal at each furthest stretch down.  I draw the handlebars back and up; I have to pull harder before the wheel lifts up bucking me into a wheelie.

“Giddy up,” I yelp.

The front wheel crashes back down.  I move along and pedal faster now; the air tunnels past me pushing my hair back.  I swerve to the left, dip back to the right.  Uphill brings me warmth and a big heart beat.  I do another wheelie and yelp.  I’m Aaron, the cowboy of the night, returning to Templewood.

I take my hands off the handlebars, cross them around my chest and move along the centre of the road.  Suddenly I’m carving into a lamppost, the bike buckles beneath me and the front wheels slide away.  The ground rushes into me; I leap away snagging my leg against something sharp.  My arm stings from where it must have been scraped along the road.  Car lights come up the hill and I crouch down, the car curves around the crashed bike, ignoring me.  I kick into the bike and march on alone through the night towards Templewood.

There’s a shadow of light around Templewood and I stand in its fringes.  I look up towards my bedroom.  No, not my room for much longer; soon another child will be lying in my bed under my duvet.  My rug, my lamp, my Tom and Jerry – all this will be theirs.  Sunbeam will carry no knowing that I was ever there, except maybe in amongst a collage of other forgotten faces; they’ll keep the photo of me buried in sand.  I’ll be dumped in another group house.  My shifting world of new bedrooms, new people, new rules.

Nobody knows I’m out here, just a few steps away.  Rebecca will have come to Audrey’s and found I’d gone and now she’ll be back.  She’ll have settled Ruby to bed, tucked her in.

As I walk away towards the school, my hand falls around the matches in my pocket.

“Aaron,” this boy says.

He made me jump the way he just appeared at my side.

“Yes, Aaron, that’s it.”

He says it like he’s heard something about me or been watching me.  I’m surprised he knows my name. I mean, I know his, but then everyone knows Jamie.  I’m not surprised he’s out here; I don’t think he’s often where he’s meant to be.

I don’t want to be out in the night with him beside me; nobody would.

“Jesus, the fucking fools,” Jamie mutters.  “Look at that.”

I dig my hands deeper into my pockets and hunch forwards.

“They’ve left the fucking recycling bin out.”

Jamie lifts the lid on the tall green bin.

“Go on; take a look.”

I see thin strips of torn paper coming almost to the top of the bin.  When Jamie starts moving the bin, I stay still but then his hand lands around the back of my neck.  He pushes me and the bin forwards.  My leg grazes on the side of the bin.

He parks the bin in the arched entrance that leads into the school courtyard and pushes me away into the wall.

“Now I know for a fact you wouldn’t come out without matches, would you?”

No holes in my pockets.  How does he know?  Did the matches shake as I was moved?  Sweat slips across my palm as I clasp around their box.

“Useless, fucking useless.  You lot in junior groups.  Following all the rules I suppose.”

I need to get away from him.  To get back to being alone.

“Better get inside before you get a smack on your baby bottom for hanging around out here.  More likely to find you sucking your thumb than smoking a cigarette.”

“I … I have got matches.”

He looks at me, I see his surprise.  I could have kept quiet; he didn’t know I had matches.

“Oh, he talks; he has got a tongue.  And matches, not quite so fucking useless.  Now your honour or mine?”

I don’t know what he means.

“Where are they?  Where!”

He pulls my hand from my pocket; the matches fall out.

“Pick them up … Pick them up! … Right, you take first strike … What the fuck are you waiting for?  You scared?  Did your mum fuck a chicken to have you?”

It takes two strikes for me to light the match.  Jamie holds out some dangling strips of paper and my shaking hand lights their ends.  A flickering of fire and then the flames are gone.  Jamie nods at me; he’s wanting me to try again.  This time the burning streaks up towards his hand and licks against his skin.  He lets the pieces fall to the ground.

It’s me who lights three matches at once while Jamie tips the bin towards me.  I lower the matches in.  I watch the burning move along a piece of paper; one flame comes up then dies down.  I see some paper fizzling into a blackened bite.  Then another flame rises, then another.  The bin is coming alive.  I glance at Jamie’s face of flickering shadow and light.  I look at the flames movements, at the bright colours.  A wind of sparks dart towards me but I don’t move.

Jamie had been searching around and now he comes back with some twigs.  He snaps them and throws them into the bin.  We don’t speak, crackling burning fills the space between us.  The bin’s edges start folding and collapsing.  Green and blue flames now dash up with the oranges and reds.  I like the colours and the brightness.

There’s no stopping the fire now.  The flames gather and leap high up; they light up the night; they lick against the walls of the arch around us.  Suddenly the whole school entrance is filled with fire.  Heat sweats my face; my eyes sting.   Jamie walks away.

As I stare into the flames, I remember that fire of my past.  It’s no fire of dreams; it’s real.  I suddenly know that for certain.  I was looking onto fire; I was hiding; I mustn’t be seen.  My toys burnt.  The fire swallowed all in its way.  Why did mum lie to me and say it never happened?  She always said I’d have burn marks if there was a fire but that’s wrong; fire doesn’t necessarily leave a mark.  Mum couldn’t see the smoke that filled my lungs, the dizzy mist inside my head.

A sudden cracking explosion in the school entrance has me running backwards.  A plank of wood dives down among a shower of bricks.  There’s a crackling and popping.  The entrance way is collapsing.  There’s a shattering of glass.

A dark-haired face, blue eyes, slippery sweat.  Yes, he was there. HIM.  He has a name now – Stevie.  No, it sounds like a nickname for someone you like.  Not Stevie to me, never has been Stevie to me.  His name is Stephen.  Or HE.  Did he light the fire?  He’d been with me but he still could have done it.  Did he pop downstairs, light a fire, then come back to me and offer me an ice-cream – it was all a tease; he knew there’d be no ice-cream; he knew we’d find fire.  He wanted me to see all my things destroyed.  He wanted to pretend and then be my hero who saved me.  Or did he want to kill me?  And there was another man, a stranger.  One of HIS men?  No, I don’t think so; HE fought him.  What was the other man doing there?  Did he light the fire?  It makes no sense that a total stranger would come and burn all my stuff.  I could have died.

My whole body’s clamped tight by the arrest of Rebecca’s arms.  She doesn’t need strength for me now.  Let her punish me; let her know that I lit the fire.  I certainly won’t be mentioning Jamie; I’m not about to get on the wrong side of him.

“Go sit with Ruby,” I tell Rebecca as she tries to sit by me at tea.

“No, I want to be with you.”

“You should be sat with her.”

“Aaron, look around. Ruby isn’t even here.  Anyway I will sit where I wish; I sit in different places for each meal and today I’m here with you.”

No Ruby, of course; she’s been sent away for a week.  Rumours started flying about why she’d gone and Bella said it was because Ruby had hurt her.  Derek called a special group meeting and told us that she’d gone into Bella’s room and behaved inappropriately.  “Gave her a fist fuck”, one of the girls said but Derek told her not to speak out of turn.  I think it was some kind of naked punch-up; Bella had a bruise on her neck.  I’ve always hated Ruby.

Rebecca’s sat looking at me; I know no-one will come and join our table; everyone avoids me since the fire.  I destroyed a part of the school and all this last week some classes have had to have their lessons in the mini-gym.  It didn’t take any strength, just one little box of matches in my hand.  I wish we’d done even more damage; that’d serve this fucking place right.  Evil place of lies and shit where they tease you into believing that everything’s going to turn out all right.

I look down at the lasagne served in a neat square on the chipped plate in front of me.

“How did your visit go?” Rebecca asks.

They made me go out today; it’s the first time since the fire that I’ve been allowed out of Sunbeam.  Derek drove me to the group home himself.

“Aaron, I’m asking about your visit.”

They’ll soon be forcing me off to the house that I walked around this morning. I felt so dizzy while I was there.

“Did you meet your new keyworker Mike?”

Some man said he was going to be my keyworker.

“Aaron, if you don’t want to talk, at least eat a bit of your lasagne.”

“I’ll talk all right … it’s an ugly house; the bedroom they say will be mine stinks; there’s nothing to do; I hated everyone I met … that’s what you’ve done for me!”

“I know you’re angry about leaving, but was there anything there that you liked?”

“No … only that I’ll be away from here and from you.”

“What can I say?”

“Nothing. I hate it but I can’t stop what you’re doing to me.”

“Aaron, it’s a good home.”

“You’ve joined the enemy against me.”

“What enemy?  Aaron, I’m on your side; we all are here; I’m trying to support you.”

“Well don’t.”

I slam my fork into my lasagne and push the table roughly as I get up.  I drop my plate into the bowl in the sink in front of Bella and a splash of bubbles hit into her front.  Bella is so young and small; the girls where I went today were as big as adults.

As I stand staring up the stairs, Rebecca comes to me.

“Aaron, there was another thing I wanted to ask you about,” she says as I start walking upstairs with her beside me.  “Aaron, will you go to Audrey’s on Saturday?  She is not a foster parent but she cares a lot about you.”

They made me speak to her; she tried to sound angry by saying I’d caused her worry and a lot of bother clearing up the mess.  I said the word “Sorry” because Rebecca was standing over me.  Then Audrey said she wanted me to come back; I could carry on even when I go to the new group.

“Will you go there, Aaron?” Rebecca repeats.

I shake my head.

“That’s a pity; I wish I could encourage you to go.”

“Well you can’t.  I’m not going back.”

I sit on my bed in the corner; I pull the duvet up over my feet.  I pick at a scab on my arm.  I feel the emptiness inside me and around me.  I remember running off from Audrey’s; I remember the man who gave me a pound, the boy who brought the matches.  I smell the fire.  I remember coming here and first meeting Rebecca, the fights we had.  I thought I’d changed; I thought my luck was changing; I thought Rebecca … no, in the end she’s just another adult in another home who got paid to look after me.  I was only a job for her and now that job is nearly over.

“Aaron, Jean rang yesterday.”

What now?  Rebecca’s hand is fiddling with her ear; she’s launched in at me without even saying “Hello” first.

“Yes, your mother … the baby, her baby was born dead.”

No baby?  Her baby’s not alive?  A dead baby.

“It was a little girl.”

A sister.  A dead sister.  Did she ever have a name?  A sister turning into a skeleton.  I remember those horrible skeletons from the museum; they were big bones.

I should have wanted another sister.  I didn’t mean it this way when I didn’t want the baby.

“I’m sorry, Aaron,” Rebecca says.

It’s not for her to be sorry.

Dear Louise,

            Christ … poor Aaron.  Why does he have to have the life he’s having?  He’s completely lost the plot since finding out that there is no foster family for him.  He’s going to another community home.  I somehow feel responsible.  Could I have done more to help in the search for a family?  Did I guide Aaron too much towards the expectation of a family?

            I feel sad for Aaron’s mum too, her life is a mess and now she’s lost her baby.  Apparently it’s not uncommon for the foetuses of alcoholic mothers to be very underweight and there is an increased risk of miscarriage.  (Can you believe it that in the States they brought a successful case against an alcoholic mother for unintentional manslaughter of her baby who was stillborn?)

            I wonder what will become of Aaron.  I think if he’d found a good foster family, he might have had the strength to continue emotionally withdrawing from his own mother.  Now, I’m not so sure, he seems to have lost hope for his life.


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