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. If you would like to read the earlier chapters first, please click here: Chapter 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7.
I get my coat and push my arms through the sleeves; I struggle against the material as it twists tight behind me.
“Look at you!” Liam shouts out.
I realise I’m putting my coat on upside-down.
“You’ve got that new adult as your teacher, better watch out!” Liam says.
“Stop lingering around, you two,” Ben says.
I’m being pathetic, my tummy’s turning round and round. All this fuss in my stomach over starting juniors. They’re making me move up in the middle of term, Rebecca says they’ve done it this way so I didn’t worry about a change of class over the holidays. The mixer inside me makes me rush to the toilet again; my shit is as liquid as pee.
I walk ahead of Rebecca across to school; Shelby’s in front of me holding Kate’s hand. I’m nearly at school when I realise I’ve left my book-bag behind on the settee. Rebecca insists on coming back with me; she says she doesn’t want me walking on my own. By the time we’ve gone back and fetched it, I’m the last to get to the classroom. John, the new class teacher, is stood there. He’s been here a few weeks already; I’ve seen him around but now that I’m close to him … I shudder. Fuck, I know him. No … I can’t know him, I can’t. I’m miles from home. My heart beats fast. I watch carefully and see him look at Rebecca and his eyebrows raise and his blue eyes with big black centres have a sudden sparkle. Rebecca glances at him, then looks away. Who is he? Do I know him or not? I’m confused. John, John … the name brings no memory. I can tell Rebecca isn’t comfortable with him; her face looks all red and hot and she gives a slight giggle then starts fussing about me and hanging up my book-bag. Now the whole class is staring at me while Rebecca makes a big deal of saying good-bye and wishing me a happy morning.
John tells me to sit at the last empty table. He’s such a large man. Andrew pushes his table nearer to me; he’s a boy from another group. I’ve played football with him a couple of times. I can hear a little wheeze in his breathing. John’s at the front of the class sloped sideways against a table, his blue shirt is slightly crumpled. I feel John’s attention all over me.
“Firstly, welcome to Aaron,” he says. “Good to have you with us.”
“New boy, new teacher,” someone shouts out.
I twist my feet around each other.
“Now, class, on with our maps.”
Andrew leans towards me and pushes something under my leg. I look down and there is the silver paper of a stick of chewing gum; I leave it there. Above me, the lights cast a pattern that spreads across the ceiling and walls, I see a sagging thick cobweb up in one corner. My chair suddenly loses balance and I’m quick to save myself from falling but the chair legs clonk back onto the ground. I think no one noticed against the noise of class but then I see John’s eyes on me. The assistants start handing things out and John walks in my direction.
“Andrew, your desk seems much too close; that’s it, move it this way.”
“You’re touching my hand,” Andrew protests.
“I’m moving your desk.”
Then John comes and rests his big hand on my desk, only a small plank of table top separates his hand from my legs. He bends down beside me and I can feel the warmth coming off his body. I’ve nowhere to hide.
“Aaron, let me explain what we’re each doing … We’re doing maps of the school and surroundings, a plan of where everything is as if looking down from the sky. We’re doing the school, the main building, the drive. Have you done this before?”
“John, come to me; help me,” Andrew calls out.
“You can see I’ve just got to Aaron and I know that you know what to do … okay, Aaron, I’ll show you what I mean.”
He draws a rectangle at the bottom of my sheet of paper and labels it Templewood; distant from it he draws another shape and says that’s the school with the courtyard in the middle.
“Outside the school, here, is the playground,” he carries on. “So what’s over here?”
Is it safest to answer or to stay silent?
“Aaron, what’s over there?”
“I mean what building is just behind the school?”
“Maintenance, boiler room.”
“Good, so now draw that in.”
Just then the door opens and the head teacher walks in, John opens his body up to standing and hurries to the front of the class. I look at my paper and the shapes John’s drawn. The middle of the school he says is the courtyard so I take my pen and start to make some sense of this strange map by drawing in the cobbles – they start to look like a mass of bubbles. John said the square he’s drawn is the playground; I draw a swing. I put a little stick person on the swing and behind him a big person pushing. I draw a speech bubble coming out of the little one’s mouth and write ‘Hello’ in it. I’m just starting on the climbing frame when I catch John looking at me; I look down but I know he’s walking towards me.
“Aaron,” he says towering above me. “Hard at work I see. So you like drawing?”
I look up at him and come to rest in his blue eyes, they make a shudder race up my back.
Emma comes to meet me from school; she says that Rebecca’s got delayed in a meeting. Ben and Liam are going to the mini-gym; they say I can join them. I love the noises of that room as the ball thuds around the bare walls and floor.
I’m really hot when I head back to group, I’m making my way to the kitchen for a glass of water when Rebecca comes charging up.
“Aaron, where the hell were you?”
“What? I went to the mini-gym.”
“You never asked; you never told me.”
“You never bothered meeting me from school, Emma came and she knows I was going to the mini-gym with Ben and Liam.”
“You told Emma? Emma finished her shift half an hour ago. Bloody hell …”
“Well, don’t get cross with me, I haven’t done anything wrong.”
“You’ve had us all in a state.”
“Why the fuss?”
“I thought … I mean, I was so worried.”
And for some reason Rebecca gives me a hug. She’s making such a drama about not knowing where I was. I guess she thought I’d run off or done something stupid.
I don’t know how to keep Aaron safe. I’m constantly anxious when he’s not with me. There’s a strange man out there who spoke of knowing Aaron! He met Narinder when she cycled to the newsagent on Saturday. While Narinder was chatting to the nice woman who runs the shop, she realised that a man was standing close behind her. Then as she got back on her bike, he appeared again beside her. He said he used to live where she now lives, Narinder said he hesitated in between saying the words Temple and Wood, as if he couldn’t quite get the name. Then when she asked him what house he was in, he couldn’t remember the name. He said he knew someone who lives there now, perhaps she knew him – Aaron Stein, or maybe he called himself Aaron Barratt. (Barratt is Aaron’s mum’s name, but he’s always used his dad’s surname.) Then the shopkeeper came out and asked Narinder if the man was bothering her and the man walked off. Narinder is sensible enough to have come straight back to tell Kate what had happened.
Remember how I told you about that vagrant who wandered into Templewood and was dealt with by the Head? Well Narinder never saw him that time but her description of the man she met is such a match – Chelsea anorak, fingerless gloves, peak cap, bad skin and ill-looking. Aaron didn’t seem to show any recognition of that man before – god if he did recognise him, he really does keep things well buried.
We reckon it’s bullshit that the man was at Templewood. But who could he be and what the hell does he want of Aaron? Aaron’s social worker has no idea, she’s asked Aaron’s mother about it but if she does know anything, she’s keeping it to herself.
Where is the man now? What does he want of Aaron? Jesus, I don’t want to let Aaron out of my sight. Whoever this man is, he’s been through the mill – I remember him as tramp-like. Narinder said that he wasn’t a scary man but his ugliness and sad life frightened her a bit. Could she (can anyone) accurately judge from a moment’s meeting a harmless person over one with evil intent?
Love you, Becky xx
Rebecca and I are surrounded by art materials in a room far from Sunbeam’s art room. Here everything is neat and the walls are a plain pale green.
“What you do in here, Aaron, is different to our art room; it’s your time and space. Anything you paint or draw is yours; it won’t be hung on any walls. I may keep some of the things you do or you can store them in your room in a special box file. I may sometimes show what you’ve done to another adult if I think that will be helpful or necessary.”
I’m stood by the easel; there’s paper clipped to it and a row of large tubs of paints each with their own paintbrush.
“What shall I paint, Rebecca?”
“Whatever you want; there’s no getting it right.”
“Well, you could just use the different paints to make colours and squiggles on the paper.”
I’d already picked up the red paintbrush; I drag the colour across the paper drawing a long line, then bring the brush sweeping back. I paint round and round in layers of red scribble. Rebecca’s sat, half watching me. With the green brush I do lots of short strokes across the red. With the yellow, I paint back and forth. For a moment a webbed rainbow pattern appears and then it’s lost under more painting. When I stop, I see accidents of strange shapes coming out of the paper – a red flower on a purple stalk, two long necks reaching up off some strange creature, a splash of blue sea. I tear the paper off the easel and put up another piece.
“What now, Rebecca?”
“How would you draw a line that is happy or one that is sad?”
It’s a funny question and I’m just thinking about ‘sad’ when Rebecca speaks again.
“Or what colours would you use to show happiness or sadness?”
I pick up the black brush, I paint a zigzag line falling across the page, I cover its peaks in the dashes of many pointed needles. It all begins to smudge and I blot over it with more streaks of black.
“I need the toilet,” I say to Rebecca as I put down the brush and look at my mess on the paper.
“Aaron, you went just before coming in here.”
“I need to go again; I can’t wait.”
“Well, be quick then.”
She follows me to the toilet. I take my time; I only come out when someone tries the door for the second time. I wash my hands slowly. Rebecca tells me to come back into the art therapy room; I sit by the clay. I pick up a large lump and tear it into small pieces then just end up sticking it all back together again into a ball. I cover it in fingerprints then bang it hard with my fist to flatten it. I peel it off the table and start to make a small car. I do the low bonnet, the body with four doors, I use my nails to draw the lines of the windows. I roll a little tube of clay to make the exhaust coming out of the back. The wheels turn out almost as large as the car.
When Rebecca tells me my session is nearly over, I grab a handful of clay, scoop up a pack of crayons and a roll of paper and start with them to the door. Rebecca stops me; she won’t let me take even one pen out of this room. She says I can take the car – I don’t want it; I stamp it out with one thump.
I want to go outside for a bit, I’ll just take a ball out and hit it against the brick wall.
“Rebecca, is it okay if I play out the front until tea-time?”
“You’ll have to wait until an adult is available.”
“I mean alone.”
“No,” she says looking out of the window. “There’s no-one out there.”
“I don’t mind.”
“I’ve said ‘No’.”
“What? … I did my best in that art room.”
“It’s nothing to do with that.”
“Well, I’ve always been allowed out the front on my own before.”
“Sorry, not today.”
“You’re totally unfair. You’re out of order. You’re punishing me when I’ve done nothing wrong.”
“Aaron, sometimes we have to keep an extra careful eye on a child.”
“Let me out!”
“Oh look, don’t worry, I can make the calls I need to do later. Let’s go out for ten minutes.”
“Ten fucking minutes with you, forget it!”
“Don’t be like that.”
“Fuck off. I don’t even want to go out anymore.”
John’s speaking from the front of the class then voices begin to chant numbers from all around me, their order muddles me. ‘One, two, three’ I call out but my voice is drowned by the different calling of everyone else. Andrew’s hand comes towards me and he slips something under my thigh. It’s larger than the stick of chewing gum he gave me before. I look at it – a tiny, soft teddy.
“Don’t show him to anyone; I just want you to have him.”
I don’t want the teddy, I don’t know what to do with it. Andrew’s looking down at his work. John’s walking over towards us. I slip the teddy back under my leg. John brings me a worksheet, pulls up a chair, settles into it then leans forward to shadow over me and my blank paper. I shouldn’t have let Rebecca force me into coming to school today.
“Let me explain this sheet to you; it’s about money.”
A sudden shout and a scraping sound has me looking at Andrew kicking a classroom assistant; he hits again and yells out a stream of curses. John does not move from staying right beside me, leaving his assistant struggling to get Andrew away from climbing up by the window.
“Everyone back to work,” John calls out before lowering his head back towards me. “So, Aaron, this sheet is about finding different coins to make up certain amounts of money.”
Andrew’s removed outside by the assistant. I hear his distant shouts coming through the small classroom windows. He’s calling for John but still John sits on next to me. He should go; it’s not right that he’s chosen to hang around me.
John’s voice comes from deep inside him. Money? He’s talking to me of money. If John is someone I once knew, then how come he can turn up here miles away from my home? I guess bad people can spread themselves everywhere.
“Can you see what you should be writing here, Aaron?”
“The coins you could use to pay 27p … Get started, I know you’ve done something a bit like this before in nurture; I’ll be back to see how you’re getting on.”
He goes over to his assistant, who’s just come back into the class; they whisper then laugh at their secrets. I hide Andrew’s teddy away in my pocket in case John notices it under my leg and I get into trouble for having it. Moments later, John’s eyes are onto me and they stay fixed to me as he carries on talking to his assistant.
“Class, listen up, who wants some coins to help them with this exercise? How about we get out the toy coins?” John says.
People call out to him and he goes around the classroom handing out coins. Finally he gets to the boy next to me, then he speaks out after glancing at me.
“One time I’ll have to bring in my collection of real coins, tie it in with our geography projects, I’ve got coins from everywhere I’ve travelled and more; bit of a collector I am. Stamps too.” He moves forward, his leg brushes against my desk. “And as for my train sets ….”
Train sets. His words reach into me. I look down at my worksheet. Coins. I try to read the instructions. ‘Draw out three ways …’ I stare at the paper but the patterns on it fuzz and swirl. Stamps. I blink. ‘Draw out three ways of making 50p with different coins’. My hands are sweating around my pencil. I stare at the paper and then look at the scattering of little holes across my desk where someone’s stabbed into it over and over again. I hear steps getting closer; I look up. John. He opens his hands towards me; they’re full of money. He leans down; a thick air smelling of sweat and oranges comes up out of his shirt. John looks at me and his eyes fix me to my chair. The world freezes; an alarm drills through me.
I’m having lunch in the school dining room, when I need the toilet. It’s down this tunnel of a corridor; it’s odd because most other places here have high ceilings. As I come out of the toilet I see John walking down the corridor towards me. The background noise of everyone eating lunch fades as the door to the dining room slides shut behind him.
“All right, Aaron?” John says. “Good work this morning.”
He’s been watching me at school; now he must have watched me in the dining room and seen me come out here. He’s followed me; he knew he’d find me alone in this corridor. I can’t get past him. There’s only the trap of a toilet to run to behind me.
“We’re all going to be reading that book you chose this afternoon; you know, the one about the mole.”
It was the first book I grabbed the other day. He’s remembered. He’s making the whole class read it to make a point of doing something for me.
Suddenly another teacher is coming; John hurries to smile at her then moves on to the staff toilets. The teacher’s left smiling back at him. It’s a fool’s smile; women don’t understand about men like John.
Rebecca’s stuck a huge sheet of paper onto the wall, she has me stand with my back against it. Today in my art session we’re doing a life-sized drawing of me. Rebecca takes a blue pen and starts tracing around my head; it tickles as her hand comes to my shoulder. I come away from the wall and look back at the large bubble shape of my head.
“Stay still, Aaron.”
She goes down the outside of my arm, around my hand, then squeezes the pen up the inside of my arm. The pen scrapes down my side, I flinch as it touches against my waist but it soon carries on making its steady way down my leg. It starts up the inside of my leg.
“I’ll just go to your knee Aaron, we’ll finish the inside legs off later.”
I breathe out as the pen flicks over to my other leg, continues its way down and then up the final side. I feel the edge of my skin, the places the pen has touched.
When Rebecca’s finished, I stand away and look face to face at my outline. Rebecca kneels down and completes my inner legs in the rising point of a triangle. I rush to dress this figure, quickly drawing in my belt and then grabbing the blue paintbrush to shade in some trousers. I give the body a paler blue shirt. I draw in beady, round eyes, a straight line for a mouth. I stare at this creation, he seems bigger than me. I draw in big teeth and sticking out ears, splash spots across his face, then do a mess of spiky hair. With the red, I make a huge tongue hang out of the mouth. I turn from this monster’s ugliness.
I’m still keeping a vigilant eye on Aaron. I find myself looking out for that vagrant all the time – I stare out the window at work, look around outside for him, fear what’s behind every bush. On my days off, I look out for him in town, in the supermarket. I found myself staring at an old wino wondering if he was the man and suddenly became muddled in my memory of the original man’s face.
I wonder if we should just get on and tell Aaron about him for his own safety. Also, I’m not sure if it’s fair on Narinder having to hold this information private from Aaron, though there’s nothing to suggest that it’s causing her undue anxiety.
Meanwhile, Aaron’s barely settling into his new class. He’s quite anti the new teacher, John. John seems okay but the poor guy is being put through the full gruelling initiation by the children who (understandably) distrust all unknown adults. (Not sure if the initiation ever really ends – I still feel constantly tested.) Anyway John seems to have the measure of Aaron. He said how Aaron lets the school day slip by and makes very little effort, how it’s as if Aaron would rather do that than risk trying and possibly getting an answer wrong.
There’s a somewhat scary child in Aaron’s class called Andrew. For some reason Aaron seems to gravitate towards him. He has chillingly hard and unemotional eyes. I once saw an interview on television with this mass murderer and he had the same soulless eyes.
I washed Aaron’s hair in the bath today, he’s never let me do it before (he wore his trunks). It’s only recently that he’s started to have a proper relaxing bath rather than just racing in and out of the water. I frothed the shampoo into mounds of bubbles on his head. I massaged it in then he leant his head back so I could rinse it off. Tilted back like that looking up at the ceiling, his face looked so open and cute. I tickled him under the chin and he giggled. We played with the bath dolphins, leaping them in and out of the water then targeting the wall as we squeezed out their jets of water.
Hugs from a very tired Becky xxx.