In Care : Yes, but … : 3

This is the third and last episode in Caitlin’s story. Her mother had died and she became distraught, realising she was now on her own, and living in a children’s home. If you want to read the first two, click here – Caitlin Part 1, Caitlin Part 2.

When I had calmed down Jane took me home to collect some things. The red-haired police woman called Jill was also there with a man who said he was a detective. Somebody had cleaned up the bathroom, but the white carpet was a mess. There was milk on the doorstep and the newspaper was on the hall floor. I told Jill where my mother got them from and asked her to deal with the tradesmen. She smirked a bit at this, but she asked if I knew of any others, or where my mother kept bills and things, which was her Bank and did she have a solicitor. I told them about Mr Ellis, the solicitor, and she rang his office. He said he would come round straight away to see me and in case he could be of any help.

Jane persuaded me to go to my room and pick out things I wanted to take back to The Haven. Mostly I just sat on the bed and looked at everything around me. It’s amazing how much you don’t really see when you live with it every day. The pictures on the wall were not quite straight. There was dust on the window sill. The wallpaper was peeling off behind the radiator where I kept putting my wet towel, no matter how many times Mum told me to put in on the towel rail. My book shelf was a jumble of books and CDs and needed tidying up. I poked about there for a bit, not able to make choices, not really interested in tidying up any more. There was a knock on the door and Mr Ellis came in.

As usual, his eyes looked tired, but this time they looked sad too. He patted my shoulder and said gruffly, “I’m so sorry, Caitlin. How terrible all this must be for you.” That was it. At last somebody who cared and could imagine what it felt like. I just let go and sobbed and sobbed while he sat beside me saying. “There, there”, and “It’s good to get it all out.” He gave me his big, lovely, clean, ironed, white hanky and soon it was a screwed up soggy mess. I twisted it in my hands, blew my nose in it and dabbed at my cheeks with it. I wondered if he had a wife or mother and what she would think about his wrecked hanky.

He said he needed to talk to the police and to Social Services, but he was sure ‘things could be worked out’. I just wanted to stay at home and wished there was someone who could take care of me and get Spotty out of the Kennels. I knew he would be hating that as much as I hated The Haven. Too much noise, too many people, nobody really paying attention. All too busy or too bored to really CARE.

Mr Ellis said he understood and not to worry. He told me that things would be discussed in a couple of days and plans would be made for me. “Why not with me, Mr Ellis?” I wanted to know. “Mum and I always planned things together.” “We’ll see,” was all he would say. He also said he would speak to the Headmistress of my school and let her know what had happened. He was sure she would want to visit me. He made it sound as if I was in hospital.

When I thought ‘hospital’ I started crying again and Mr Ellis started saying ‘There, there’, again. He also found another clean hanky. I began to wonder how many he usually carried, or if he only brought extras if he thought there would be a lot of crying. So being my mother’s daughter, I stopped crying and asked him. For the first time I could remember, he smiled and just said “O Caitlin, that mind of yours.”

In the end I went back to The Haven with Jane. She spent some time with me helping me to put away things I had brought back from home.

Then Sharon came in from school and Jane seemed glad to slip away, leaving the two of us together. Somebody must have told Sharon because, awkwardly, she held up her arms towards me and said “I’m sorry about your Mum, kid.” The pictures came again. The arm, the pink water. The lump in my throat choking me.

I stepped towards Sharon and she gave me a rough hug, before pushing me away, saying something about not wanting people to think she was a ‘Les’. Of course my mouth went straight into gear. “But they all know you’re Sharon, not Lesley,” I said in what I have since learned was a rather loud voice. Sharon leapt across the room, peered round the door and then closed it firmly before turning back to hiss at me, “ No, you fool. Haven’t you heard of a Les? A dyke? A woman who likes other women, not men? ”

My jaw dropped. Of course I had heard of lesbians. I just didn’t know the slang Sharon used. One time when Mum and I were on holiday a man had taunted her when she made it clear she didn’t want his company. She had explained to me then that people did not understand that she did not want the company of either men or women in the way he had meant. How could anybody seeing Sharon give me a hug because my Mum had died have bad thoughts about her? Oh, how complicated this life was.

We went to tea and we went swimming. It all went by in a blur. At least when I was in the water I could plough up and down doing lengths, closing my mind to everything except thrashing along, trying to keep count, pushing myself to keep up speed, do more. Some of the kids from The Haven got a bit rowdy and we all got called out and bustled back in the mini-bus. Sharon kept an eye on me and nodded and smiled a few times, but she took care not to sit next to me, or speak to me. She was in the middle of a boisterous group who kept annoying the staff.

Finally bedtime again. “Goodnight, Sharon. Thanks for looking after me again today.” A gruff “Goodnight Caitlin,” came from across the room. I closed my eyes and my very own private horror movie started to run in my head. I shot out of bed and started to throw things around. Staff came in and soon I was ‘being restrained’ and feeling all warm and happy, wrapped in a big hug, feeling somebody cared.

In the next few days I seemed to see a lot of strange people. There was a doctor, a psychiatrist, a psychologist, and a couple of social workers. They all seemed very keen on finding out about other members of my family and anything I could remember about Mum.

Where had she lived before the house we had now? Did she ever telephone people? What about letters, birthday cards? The more they asked, the more irritated they seemed that my answers were always the same. We had lived in our house for as long as I could remember and I knew nothing of Mum’s past and apart from me and her job she didn’t have a present. She didn’t attend social things at school, or at work and apart from me she enjoyed only her own company.

Then Mr Ellis and my headmistress, Miss Jackson, came to visit together. Mr Ellis said they had a suggestion, which they wanted to make to Social Services, but wanted to see what I thought about it first. Was that a little smile on Mr Ellis’ lips, and maybe a twinkle in his eye?

He said that they would like to suggest that I became a boarder at my school and that he and Miss Jackson should become my guardians. The tears began to roll down my cheeks, but this time I was crying for joy. I had always wanted to be a boarder. They seemed to have such fun. But I would never have mentioned it to Mum, because I know it would have upset her to think I wanted to be away from her. Miss Jackson was the grown up I respected most after Mum and Mr Ellis had always been there for both of us. Taking care of things and in his own way taking care of us.

“What about Spotty?” I wanted to know.

Mr Ellis said if it was OK with me Spotty could live with him and I could see lots of him at weekends and holidays. One last thought flashed into my mind. “What about our house? All of our things? The white carpet?” Mr Ellis actually laughed out loud. He told me that the house would be looked after, so that I would have it for a home of my own when I was older. He said that at some stage when I felt up to it he would help me to sort out Mum’s things. Then he said, “Maybe you would also like to pick out some new carpeting. Perhaps a more serviceable colour?” He actually smiled again.

“What about Mum’s family Mr Ellis? Or my father?” I wanted to know.

“Well,” replied Mr Ellis, “Your Mother gave me a letter many years ago, when she first came to my firm. I was to give it to you when you were old enough, if she died before then. Perhaps we can talk about it when we have got these other things settled. You might like me to read it first and form a judgement about when would be a good time for you to read it.”

After that things seemed to get sorted out in a flash. There was a meeting, but it only agreed what Mr Ellis had already suggested to me. Miss Jackson helped me to pack the things I had just brought from home. I really wish that I could have said goodbye and thank you to Sharon, but once the decision was made the staff seemed to want to move me out fast. In fact I saw one of them heading into ‘my room’ with clean sheets as we crossed the landing. Must be another new kid for Sharon to look after I thought and I sighed, surprising myself by feeling rather sad to be leaving her.

We stopped at our house again, so that I could get my school things and then we were off. The next few days were busy and exciting. At last I could do all those things the boarders did and since I no longer had to rush for the bus to go home every afternoon I began to be more friendly with some of the other girls.

Mr Ellis arranged the funeral and there were just four of us, Mr Ellis, Miss Jackson, somebody from Mum’s office and me. At least the sun shone and made the flowers look pretty. I’m glad the vicar didn’t pretend he knew Mum, so apart from a few prayers it was all pretty short. The man from Mum’s office came up to us at the end and said some nice things about how hard she worked and how well liked and respected she had been.

Nobody had yet mentioned why she wanted to kill herself. How was she able to leave me? I could never have left her, not even to board at school. I turned to Mr Ellis and opened my mouth. I think he knew what was coming, so he took my hand, squeezed it and turned briskly towards the car. “Here is not a good place, Caitlin. Can we wait for a while? I know you have lots of questions and I promise I will do my best to answer them, if I can.”

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