Beyond Caring is the story of Aaron. In Chapter 1 he was admitted to Templewood, a children’s home, and he met Rebecca, his keyworker, but he did not settle, and on Christmas Day he tried to run home to his mother. On returning he assaulted his keyworker. If you would like to read Chapters 1, 2 and 3 first, please click here.
School’s starting late today so that people can get dressed up for the special assembly and show. Rebecca went on and on at me about what fancy dress I’d like but I’m never going to wear some stupid costume and be made to look like a fool. I’m sticking to my school uniform.
Rebecca asks Liam if he needs a hand getting ready and he actually goes off with her. One of the girls says she’s Little Bo Peep; she’s wearing all these skirts and a horrible hat that’s pulled in over her ears.
When Liam comes back into the lounge, I get a surprise at this sight with black hair, a whitened face, dark eye-liner and a long black leather jacket.
“Rebecca found the jacket and sprayed my hair.”
Rebecca did that for him? Shelby comes in dressed as a fireman, when Liam strides past him, the leather of his jacket brushes against Shelby.
At school, I look around and see a karate fighter and a goblin. There must be someone else in school uniform. A warrior, Batman, a policeman. I step back – one tiny little new girl also in school uniform. I slide my way out of the school yard; I’m making my way back to Sunbeam when Rebecca suddenly calls across.
“Wait, Aaron … Aaron,” Rebecca pushes in front of me to open Sunbeam’s door. “Let me show you something.”
She comes back holding a Jedi Knight’s outfit – I see the tunic, the belt, trousers and boots.
“You want to try it on?”
In the bathroom, I kick off my shoes and trousers and put on the costume. It fits, even the boots are the right size.
“Oh and there’s this as well,” Rebecca says when I come out.
And it’s a light-sabre with a proper glow of light going through it.
“But only if you can be sensible with it.”
We head over to school – Jedi Knight Aaron and Rebecca. You have to pay £1 to wear a costume but I give £5 of my pocket money because the money’s going to children who don’t have enough to eat. I feel sad when I look at the pictures of their empty balloon bellies and eyes that stare out so big.
“Oh wicked, where did you get that costume?” this boy in my class says to me.
He’s dressed as a teddy bear. I aim my light-sabre at him but a teacher says to stop and I do.
We go into the school hall and there’s a tomato in front of me who’s having difficulty sitting down. Liam’s standing in the doorway with his fists clenched on either side of him. He nods at me and for a moment he doesn’t hide a smile that shows he likes my get-up. The tomato sat in front of me suddenly bursts and out comes this shouting boy; a teacher has to drag him from the room.
The Headmaster’s on the stage; he’s got a microphone and he’s saying the first act is a song. This girl from seniors comes on in a long black dress and her voice is strong and it’s the song that’s just been number one. She’s good. My light-sabre falls to the ground; the lion next to me lifts up his mask and grins. Everyone’s clapping the girl as she goes off the stage. This group of adults and children do a sort of dance to old music; they jump and skip and go around each other in time to the music. Then a group of our girls from Sunbeam do a dance. Next, Liam’s up on stage. The microphone is in front of him. There’s total silence followed by a popping sound as his lips part. He grips the microphone. He opens his mouth again. We all wait. You can hear the saliva moving around in his mouth. He coughs. He looks suddenly small beneath his make-up and long black coat. He’s frozen and blank. The hall’s silence is broken by someone shouting something. A teacher goes up to Liam. Liam turns and strides from the stage; he pushes his way through some chairs, then crashes into the exit doors to open them. The doors slam behind him as he goes out. Ben has stood up from among the audience and is going after Liam. There’s a boo from one corner of the room and then everyone starts talking at once.
The Head’s speaking over all the noise. A teacher starts playing the guitar while another one sings. As the song continues, I begin to sit back and listen. People stop whispering and other acts come on. The Head teacher hands out lots of awards and I get an achievement certificate for some writing I did last week.
When we go out to play, I see Liam in the school office, he seems to have calmed down. I kick a football around with this boy dressed as Zorro but then he just stops still with his foot on top of the ball. He lifts up his eye mask. I’m waiting for him to kick the ball back to me when I realise he’s staring into the distance behind my shoulder. Other children have also stopped their games. I look around and see our Head marching up to some dosser who is wandering up Templewood’s drive. The dosser’s a dirty, bent, thin man. He’s got a cap on that looks like it was once red. He’s wearing a Chelsea windbreaker, I’ve never seen such an old one. I don’t like him being in that; we don’t want fans like him.
The dosser stretches his hand out towards our Head; he’s wearing black fingerless gloves. Of course the Head isn’t shaking his hand; it looks more like he’s telling him off. The dosser does start to move away but then he suddenly swings round and he looks right at me. I freeze, fixed by his stare.
“Old tramp,” Zorro says to me.
His words break me away from being locked into looking at the dosser but the fear moves through my tummy.
“Wonder which little child he was wanting for his dinner.”
Who the hell is he? The Head stays by Templewood’s entrance but the rest of the teachers are heading us back into our classrooms and trying to get us all to quieten down. It’s about half an hour later, that the Head comes into our class.
“I think that man you all saw on the drive was someone who happened to be curious about this building,” he says. “Does anyone have any particular concerns?”
“He’s a horrible man” someone calls out.
“Like a spider.”
“Ok, that’s enough,” the Head says. “Anyone who wants to talk about this man should do so with their keyworker or any member of staff.”
The Head knows he needs to speak to me. He comes towards me. What does the dosser want of me? The Head’s about to tell me. Do I want to hear? The Head stops by another boy, picks up a broken biscuit from the floor. Then suddenly he’s standing back at the front of the class.
Doesn’t the Head know that the man looked at me? Is he trying to protect me by not saying anything? Just as I’m thinking this, Rebecca appears and comes and stands by me. So she’s the one whose job it is to tell me the truth.
But she just starts talking about the show.
“That man,” I butt in. “Who is he?”
“… We don’t know; the Head said he seemed a bit confused. Do you know anything about him?”
“I’m not expecting you to.”
“I swear I’ve never seen him before; I don’t know a thing about him.”
“Tell me everything about him.”
“I’ve told you all I know.”
“What happened to you?” this boy laughs at Liam when we get back to Sunbeam.
Liam’s back to his own hair and clothes though it looks like he must have scrubbed his face because it’s all blotchy red.
“Today was brilliant,” Shelby says as he rushes in. “Aaron, my teacher said you were a Jedi Knight and everyone thought you were the best.”
“You were great,” someone else adds looking at me.
“Aaron …”, Liam pauses, “I thought you were meant to be in school uniform today.”
“It’s not right her getting that for you when you didn’t even want to dress up.”
“Liam, you made a right idiot of yourself”, this girl calls out. “Scared were you?”
“I’ll give you scared!”
Shelby lets out a laugh and Liam turns on him.
“Look at you, Shelby, you could never be a fireman. You’re such a muddle that you’d soak yourself before the hosepipe got anywhere near the fire.”
“I could be a fireman, I could!”
I head out of the room, away from Liam arguing with everyone and Shelby getting upset. As I walk up the stairs, I look out of the window. I can see all the way to the school from the top. My eyes search over the grounds but I can’t see any signs of the dosser.
In my bedroom I find that Rebecca’s gone and stuck up two of my paintings that I brought back from school; I never wanted her to do that. I reach up to pull them down and a seam under the arm of the tunic rips. I look again for the dosser from my bedroom window. He’s gone. He must have gone. Calm down, I’ve got to calm down. Everyone probably thought he was looking at them. He was far away; could I really tell he was looking at me? He’s just a passer-by. There’s no meaning to him coming here.
Suddenly a bell rings out through the air. A siren. I rush to open my door.
“Fire alarm,” Rebecca says.
A fire. Burning. Run. Is this the dosser’s doing? He is still here.
Feet pacing to get away. Flames and hot burning.
Fire takes everything.
I’ve crashed into blackness, into the darkness of Ben’s T-shirt.
“It’s okay,” he pants. “A false alarm, no need to go anywhere.”
“Let me past,” I shout at him as the alarm drills on through the air.
Rebecca’s pulling me back.
“Do you want me to burn?”
Teddy in a red jumper falling back into the flames.
“Let me go!”
“There is no fire, Shelby set off the alarm. Aaron, it’s okay.”
“It’s not fucking okay.”
Alarms. Dossers. I wrestle free of Rebecca. I smash my fist into a picture frame on the wall. Rebecca pulls on my arm, I land my fist into her belly. I flick my knuckle into her skull. I need my light-sabre to finish her off. She pulls me back, the tunic rises up. I fight against Rebecca’s grip; she’s twisting and burning my skin.
“What the fuck are you doing?” I yell at Rebecca.
“I will stop you from hurting me or destroying any property.”
She crosses my elbows over each other, wraps me up in a knot tied by my own arms.
I struggle from side to side against her grip. How is she suddenly so strong today?
“You’re hurting me; you’re hurting me!”
“I’m using the least pressure possible.”
“And I’m here to see that,” Ben says. “Do you need anything Rebecca?”
“No, I’ve got him. Stay around though.”
“I hate you,” I cry out.
“Calm down, Aaron, and then I can let go of you.”
My legs lash out, then smash back into Rebecca. She pushes my back forwards until I’m looking at the ground; my legs are stuck; I can’t kick.
“I’ll kill you.”
“You’re not going to do anything to anyone; I’m stopping you.”
“I’ll splatter your brain to pieces.”
“Aaron, you are only a child.”
I’ve beaten her before but now her arms are around me and her weight against me is like a fucking tank. She’s doing me in. I must break free. I force against her but she locks tighter around me. I’ve beaten her before. She’s turned to steel. I can’t breathe. I’m trapped. I’m too hot; the back of my neck is burning. I’m stuck in a tiny corridor.
“Get away from me! Help me!”
Rebecca’s hot flesh surrounds me. Snot and dribble pour out with my screams.
“Get away from me!”
“I’m making you safe. When you are calm, then I can stop holding you.”
I reach to bite against her arm; my teeth meet her skin.
“Don’t do that Aaron.”
She pushes down onto my lip forcing against my jaw until I lose all power to bite.
“Stop struggling. I don’t like holding you but I will keep you from harm.”
“You’re finishing me off! You’re killing me!”
“Stop it, Aaron, stop fighting, and then I can let go of you.”
Rebecca is so large, I’m going to snap. She drags me backwards towards the upstairs lounge.
“Aaron, I want to be able to let go of you. I want you to sit on the sofa.”
She pushes me down into the ripples of the settee; I leap up but she crashes into me drowning me in layers of soft material. Her hands clench around me; I can’t escape. Ben towers above me; he looks down into me.
“No! Don’t let him touch me! Don’t let him!”
“Nobody’s touching you now.”
I’m huddled in the corner of the settee. I realise that the chains around me have gone. A sweat clings around me. A heat burns through me; my face is on fire. A sudden shaking, silent crying fills me. I plunge my head into the settee. A pillow flops over me; I’m buried in softness.
“It’s okay now, it’s okay. Calm.”
I’m held together in soft arms that make me shiver.
“You’re safe Aaron; you’re safe.”
Rebecca reaches over and gently lifts a piece of my damp hair out of my eye.
“Tell me what upset you so much.”
I shake my head.
A sudden short, sharp alarm rings out. My arms jerk out in fright.
“All right, Aaron, all right. That’ll have just been someone re-setting and testing the alarm.”
The alarm’s echo still rings through my ears as I settle back down on the settee.
“Why are you so interested in fires? Why are you so afraid of them?”
It’s right to be afraid of fires.
A piece of train track slips deeper into the fire. The stranger’s crouched like some giant bird up on the windowsill. He’s so close to me. I can’t blink, I can’t breathe. I’m totally still. Suddenly – clunk, slide – he’s opening the window. Flames leap off his shirt as he dives outside through the window. A wind of fire blows towards me; a live spark lands on my knee. A powder of wood rains down. The stranger’s gone, flown from the window.
And there HE is carrying a dustbin filled with water. He throws water onto the fire; it hisses back angrily at him. My eyes are stinging. I feel the heat. A choking. I can’t hold back a cough, then another. I’m drowning in smoke.
He’s coming to me through the mists of fire. I can’t let him be the one to save me. I leap from the stairs. A ball of fire streaks towards me. He closes the window; he closes the door. He closes us in. Then he pulls down the rug that mum uses as a curtain.
Suddenly I spot mum’s T-shirt being eaten by fire. It’s the T-shirt I breathe in, that I hold to me every night. I have to save it. It’s there in the whiteness at the centre of the fire. Out of the corner of my eye I can see him dragging the rug towards the fire. Flames lick me as I reach into the roasting brightness of fire.
“Aaron … Aaron?” It’s Rebecca’s voice.
… No, there can’t have been a fire. I look at my hands and arms, there is no scarring from the burning I remember. A lie, a lie – I’ve got to get that into my head. Fire feels so real but it only happens in my mind. My screaming about fire used to wake mum up at night; she’d tell me to stop letting my imagination go so wild. Some other woman told me I don’t have enough imagination and that’s why I dreamt about the same lie over and over again.
“Aaron, what’s up?”
Rebecca’s soft voice cuts into my thoughts. I’d forgotten she was even in the room, forgotten that she is the warmth next to me. I shake my head at a day that’s brought fire alarms and strange men.
“Listen, perhaps you ought to get out of that costume now. Maybe you even want a shower to freshen up before tea?”
“What … what’s that?”
“You’re still dressed as a Jedi Knight.”
“Oh … I looked good in this didn’t I?”
“Why did you have it?”
“Well, actually, it was for you.”
“But I said I wasn’t going to dress up.”
“And I wasn’t going to persuade you to change your mind; I just thought it best to hire something in case you did.”
Rebecca hired it specially for me, just in case? She saved me from being shown up by wearing my school uniform all day. And then the day messed up … I messed up. I shake my head.
“I fought you … Ss…” It’s so hard to say it. “Sorry.”
Aaron was violent again today, the fire alarm went off and even though we told Aaron it was a false alarm he got really frightened. (He’s obsessed by fire, but it seems that no-one really knows why.) I had to hold him from running off. He got into such a ballistic rage against me. It took all my strength and sheer sweaty determination to hold him. But, yes, I did it. I refused to be frightened by a ten year old, I was determined that he wouldn’t continue to hold that power over me.
Is this what it had to come to? Me beating Aaron physically? Certainly afterwards Aaron was all softened and ready to lap up my nurture. But now I feel all sad and like I was a bully. Looking after these kids is such a messy business. I long to live in a softer, gentler world.
A good reason for Aaron and Shelby being so volatile may be that they both saw this vagrant man who trespassed into Templewood’s grounds today. I wonder if Aaron noticed he was in a Chelsea anorak. Nobody knows who he is or what his intentions were. The Head teacher who sent the man away says he seemed confused. Derek says the Head shouldn’t have just let the man go and so Derek turned all vigilante and went out himself looking for the man. He had no luck in finding him.
I’ve just tried to call Pete but got his answer machine, then I remembered he’s out tonight with friends from work. They’ve just finished a big policy document on wind farms.
I feel so alone tonight. Look at me in this sad rented room which I can hardly call home. All that’s on my shelf is a picture of you and a postcard from when mum and dad were in Cyprus. I went to see mum and dad earlier in the week when I had two days off in a row. I hardly saw dad, he was busy finishing the illustrations for a children’s book of poetry. Their latest new house has no sense of coming home for me. There’s no evidence in the house that mum and dad ever had us two daughters – not even a single photograph of us remains on display. I settled for sleeping in their small blue spare room, the third bedroom is full of mum’s fitness gadgets. She’s bought a new cycling machine. How can she bear to be stuck in that room, bicycling to nowhere, watching the TV? Doesn’t she mourn cycling along the coast path, the fresh air? The sea, the waves. I do. I miss our old home – our life there. I miss you.
Lots of love, Becky xx
Chapter 5 will follow next month.