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 and again by his mother. At school, he is uneasy about the teacher and a stranger hanging around. In the latest episodes Aaron was sexually bullied, had a tantrum, and suffered a nightmare. 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
I look at my drawing, the miniature red house with green windows is consumed beneath a vast roof. You can see through the roof into the loft – see the bed, the pile of money and the train track.
“Tell me about your drawing,” Rebecca says.
I’ve drawn the bed from the side but the train track from above making a muddle of the loft.
“There’s no door,” she says.
“Oh.” She’s right, I haven’t given the house a door.
“And what is behind these windows below the roof?”
“I don’t know … Bedrooms, bathrooms, normal stuff that’s in a house.”
I walk away to the art therapy room window; I feel the cold coming off the glass as I pull back the net curtain. I wonder who’s out there, looking in. Which tree does the dosser hide behind?
I see a strange transit van parked by the back steps. Suddenly I hear screaming and then some adults are dragging a wild form to the van. A back arches, the hood of a fleece hangs down, a howling jaw pleads up to the sky. It’s Andrew.
“Quick, Rebecca, look.”
“Oh god, come away, Aaron, come away.”
I see how the doors of the transit van open, how they bundle Andrew inside, how they slam the doors closed behind him. I think I see the whole van vibrating with the rage of Andrew inside.
“Please come away, Aaron!”
A strange man gets into the driver’s seat, the engine starts and they’re off. Adults stand staring after the tracks of the van – they don’t run after it; they don’t wave.
“Is that the end of Andrew?” I ask Rebecca.
“He’s gone somewhere better suited to his particular needs.”
Taken away, locked up. The adults outside slowly walk towards Templewood; one shakes his head, the other just stares ahead. I turn back into the room and come over to the table.
“He hurt me,” the words whisper out of me.
“What’s that, Aaron?”
“I didn’t do enough to stop him; I never do enough.”
“Didn’t stop what?”
“Andrew came at me; he was on my zip.”
“When you ran off … What happened Aaron?”
“I fought him.”
“And then what? … He was on your zip; did he undo it? … Is that what he was trying to do?”
“Please, Aaron, tell me.”
“I don’t know; nothing more happened. I ripped his shirt; I didn’t mean to.”
“What else can you tell me, Aaron?”
“There’s nothing more to say.”
“Aaron, what you say to me is of importance for me to share with Derek and Jean.”
“Just don’t let them ask me any more questions.”
I walk back to the drawing of my house; I see the green of the house jarring against the red windows. I dip the brush into the black paint and draw streaks of heavy rain lashing across the house.
I’m sat in my room, alone, awake, when it suddenly comes to me. In that roof of my drawing, in with the train set and the bed, there should be a toilet and a bath filled with bubbles. HE poured a gold liquid from a bottle into the running water.
‘Play trains,’ I was begging him with my eyes. ‘Not a bath. Please. Me be good.’ HE makes me undress. He locks the bathroom door. I quickly get into the bath to hide my bare flesh beneath a hill of bubbles. The heat of the water is a stinging, dizzying pain. I breathe in the smell of sickly sweet bubble bath along with piss and his smell of sweat and lemons. Mum’s out; I need her to come back. His finger touches my nose. I see some old tangled hair riding on the bubbles. My nose itches from his wet touch. I stare at the spots of dirt that cover the ceiling. I’m totally still.
‘Father Christmas beard,’ he says putting some bubbles on my chin.
The bubbles pop and crackle then slip away.
‘Clap some snow,’ he says throwing foam into the air and watching it fall. ‘Dada’s here.’
No, not my daddy. Daddy’s long gone. His giant hands touch me; they’re so big he can toss me in the air or throw me down. His boots could stamp me out.
‘You’ve got the cutest nose … Relax, don’t be scared; I’ll look after you.’
My breathing’s too fast – gasping in, pushing out. He washes me – my ears, behind my ears, my arms.
‘I couldn’t have dreamed up a better boy than you.’
His blue eyes try to find mine. He reaches round to my back.
‘Close your eyes; melt into the heat my little prince.’
His arms travel around my chest, my belly. Arms plunge down across my belly button; my insides shrink back then harden.
‘My precious boy, I’m here to care for you.’
I sink down but he lifts me out and wraps me tight in an orange towel. He puts me down on the unmade bed, tugs the towel away from me. The bath’s weakened me, but now I have to take my chance; I grab the towel and try to cover my nakedness as I dodge past him to the door. I’ve got to get through that door.
He is the wall that blocks me. I bounce off him to the window; my fists pound on glass. I’m pulled away, punched down, kicked, thrown back onto the bed.
‘You want to break the fucking window and get us into trouble?’
Blood falls down from my lip.
‘For fuck’s sake stop bleeding!’
He shoves tissues into my mouth.
‘Now shut up and lie back down.’ His hand whacks against my head. ‘Shall I tell your mom about the trouble you’ve been? Well shall I? Who’ll look after you then? You ungrateful son of a bitch … That’s it, calm again, now my little prince …’
I have to speak to mum. Every time I saw Derek I told him this and finally now I’m stood holding a phone. Derek dialled her number and then left the room. I told him that if I’m allowed to be alone with mum on a visit then I can have the same on a ‘phone call and he didn’t argue against me. Two rings while my heart beats a hundred times. A laugh, a fumble.
“Who is it?”
“Mum, it’s Aaron.”
“Do I know you?” Mum laughs a strange laugh; it speaks of her being in a sliding world.
“Mum! It’s me, Aaron.”
“I had a son once called Aaron.”
“For fuck’s sake, mum!”
“Don’t shout; don’t get excited over nothing.”
“Listen, mum, please listen; I’ve worked it out.”
“Mum that giant with blue eyes … he lived in the loft.”
“The loft?” she laughs again. “The whole fucking house was his!”
“So you do know who I mean.”
“No … Look, I’ve got a headache; this isn’t a good time to speak.”
“Please, mum, I won’t be allowed to ring you again for ages. If you love me mum, then help me; I need you … Mum, there’s something about that man.”
“There’s lots about him.”
“Mum, please don’t be cross.”
“I don’t really know, mum. Who was he?””
“The man. You said it was his house.”
“Do you mean that Stevie?”
And while mum’s giggling, I’m thinking – Stevie? Stevie, has she named my monster?
“Yes, I think Stevie has blue eyes.”
“And dark hair?”
“… Yes. We lived in his old house until …” she pauses. “… He looked after you, he was like a dad to you – he played with you, he read you stories. He kept the days moving. He brought you stuff, he built up a whole train set just for you.”
A train set!
“He’d play trains with you for hours; you loved playing trains.”
And the more we played the more time there was to feel afraid. Waiting for what would come next, jumping at his every move, not knowing if today would be marked by lack of pain.
“Is that who you mean?”
“He hurt me.”
“I’m telling you; that Templewood is doing you no good.”
“Mum, listen to me; you don’t know how it was. He ate me up and spat me back up.”
“Ate you up! That’s a joke I hope.”
“You were blind, mum, and I kept what happened from you.”
“You think you can keep things from a mum?! You have no secrets from me.”
No, she can’t know. She would have never left me with him if she knew.
“You were obsessed by Stevie, you followed him around …”
“He did bad things to me.”
“Stop complaining … Oh my poor Aaronee, you’re not talking about the time you needed your hormones moving around are you? I think you’re getting yourself in a muddle over nothing.”
Hormones? I don’t know what she’s saying.
“Listen, Stevie helped you. He’s an intelligent man. You got better when we lived in that house with him; you quietened down. I had a proper house then.”
“Yes, he let us live with him.”
“Did you trade me for a house?”
“I beg your pardon.”
“We lived there so you could have a house?”
“Think, Aaron, you’ve got to think it out. Did you want you and Lee to grow up without a house? I even had my own bedroom there, separate from you and Lee.”
“I’d rather have been on the streets than there.”
“You don’t know what you’re saying, Stevie … He made my work safer. We had food and money for clothes and toys. Stevie … he used to make me feel okay, sort of special.”
“Stop using his name!”
“Stevie … yes, you liked him. Don’t go getting all confused.”
“Mum, do you … do you still see him?”
In mum’s silence I know the truth. She sees him; he’s still about. He is the monster in me, the danger that lurks.
“Why the fuck do you keep the man who stopped my life as your friend?”
“Friend? Oh Aaron, you don’t understand a fucking thing. Now be a good boy and as for the past, I say, fuck it. Fuck the past; it’s another time. Going over stuff does no good.”
As soon as I’ve hung up on mum I regret it. I go to find Derek and ask him to re-dial her number. Her mobile doesn’t work at first but when Derek finally tries one more time it just rings and rings and then the line goes dead.
Rebecca makes me an egg for tea. It’s in a red cup with a row of buttered soldiers. I tap on the shell and push in my spoon. A slimy gunge oozes out then stretches down the side of the egg. I stare at it, unable to move or breathe. I don’t eat it but I feel it as elastic strangling around my throat. I sense a taste in my mouth of chewing on a balloon and of bleach and soap.
Alone in my room, I slam my head into my wall – once, twice, three times. It comes to me now.
HE pushes me down on my front, pulls off the orange towel that twists around me. He growls. His heat lurks over me and that smell of sweat and lemons. Wetness licks up my back, trails around my neck. Claws and teeth pierce into me. A weight presses on my legs, something digs into me. I try to free my hands but they’re jammed up under me.
‘Lie still, my little prince.’
A jolt and his truncheon slams into my bottom, hitting against layers of bruising and stinging raw flesh. My scream is just a broken gurgle against the pillow he pushes me into. He hits again against the barrier of my shit-hole. I fight him, but know it’s useless and makes things worse. Something falls and china smashes; he curses.
Does he know how much I hurt?
His heavy breath fills the room. My longing for mum screams silently through me. His truncheon is a drill hammering into me. Hands force my buttocks open. I’m trapped between the bed and his bulk. He lifts away from me then pushes on through me again and again. Where is mum? All that exists is him slamming into me. Swirls of red streak through my darkness. I’m crashed on, crushed, minced. I want to die.
‘Oh fuck, oh my god …’ he’s yelping, howling – he’s screaming out my pain.
He reaches into me, scoops out my life. He falls away; he’s shattered every grain in my body.
‘My little prince, you are the best; I love you. You know someone’s got to help you and I’m here for you.’
Yes, it comes to me now.
How the other came. Fat faces, red faces, sweaty faces. Unseen faces. Deep grunts, low sobs. Shouting. Silent. So much gunge spilling everywhere. White poo. Disgusting … the dirt, the smell. It fell on me; it covered me. It filled my throat; I retched on the strangling taste of raw eggs and snot.
I search through my drawers; I find a pencil but its end just prods into the surface of my skin leaving a grey mark. Chess piece – no. Money – no. I have to find something. Thick, hot blood pumps through my head. The light bulb – unscrew the light, smash the bulb gently without sound. I stab a fragment of glass into my arm but it only makes a pathetic pinprick. I try again but the fucking thing isn’t sharp enough. I feel no pain; I’m getting nowhere. I see the sharp edges of torn glass left on the bulb’s base. I plunge my arm down onto it. Nothing, only red marks. I smash my arm back down much faster and harder and as I pull back a chunk of glass stays stuck into me. I swivel the glass around, digging deeper and wider into my arm. Now blood finally starts to come. I tug on the glass to pull it up my skin, it cuts a neat line. ‘Stevie’, ‘Stevie’ the name pushes around me. Get me away from here. ‘Stevie’, I can’t breathe under the name.
I’ve got to tear open more skin. I find a larger piece of glass and now I’m unzipping my skin, a ripping that’s suddenly so easy. My arm spills out in a bright red. A pain so deep, so alive, so good. A pressure releases. Blood drips onto the bed; my arm starts shaking. My walls swerve and lean in on me. I’m lightening, becoming space and emptiness. This is what I need. I can breathe again. I’m beginning to drift, such a sweetness floating me away.
I can make out the figures of Rebecca and Kate in the distance. Rebecca’s arm touches me but it makes no sense because she’s standing far away. Voices speak out through the fog around me.
“We obviously need to keep a close eye on him,” Kate says. “The bleeding’s stopped; he’s going to be all right. Stay with him and we can get the doctor in if we need to but I don’t think Aaron would appreciate a long wait in casualty right now.”
Bandages strapping around my arm start to pull me back into myself again, I try to push them off but lack the strength.
“Rebecca, I need some medicine, something, anything. Make me better.”
“Tell me of your hurt.”
No! I spoke up once to just one teacher in one school, and HE was right – those few slipped words tore my world apart. Words lost me mum. Words don’t even make sense of anything.
“Tell me, Aaron.”
“Help me; please give me medicine.”
“Aaron, there is no medicine for the pain of living and of remembering.”
She clasps around me.
“I’m going crazy.”
“I’ve got you; I’ve got you.”
I lie in bed listening to the sounds of everyone else getting up and moving about. I look at the bandages on my wrists. My aching holds me heavy in bed. I hear Liam calling out, wanting his body spray from the locked cupboard and now, like every morning, some adult tells him not to shout. It’s the same thing in this house day after day. Get dressed, comb your hair, brush your teeth – don’t forget to wash your face, say good morning … No, don’t mess up … Go downstairs quietly. Breakfast, wash your dishes, get your book bag, wait in the lounge, go to school. They have us marching along. Like any of it matters. I won’t play along any more; I’m not even going to get up.
Time drifts; the meals put down in my room and then taken away uneaten begin to define the day passing. I doze in and out of sleep and always pretend to be asleep if I’m awake when my door is opened. Some adults are quiet, some try talking to my still form. Rebecca often just sits there beside me; sometimes she lays her hand on me; one time she wiped over my face with a cool flannel. Once I woke and she was holding my hand.
I feel the banana milkshake HE’s forced me to drink pass through me and I can’t help a yawn. As he reads ‘Mr Tickle’, a mistiness travels through my head. He lifts me onto the bed; my arms ache with weakness; they can’t begin to fight him now. I want mum.
I’m being swallowed up in the softness of a bed. I’m lying back into a cloud, such a soft cloud. So warm. I’m swimming though air. There is a hum of voices. Where am I? The cotton wool of my cloud cloaks around me and fogs my hearing.
A large hand reaches through my cloud. It pops the cloud. Suddenly I’m cold and naked. I try to move but the command from my mind can’t reach my legs to make them work. I have no legs. I have no arms, no head. My eyes are looking out of a nothingness.
No, I have a bottom. I can feel it as pain. I have a back; I can feel the weight on it. I have a mouth but can’t scream out; it’s strained open, filled to choking. There are swirls of people around me. So many men. Grunting beasts. Shots of torture rip me apart.
I’m so weak and dizzy. There’s no edge between me and the space around me. I feel sick. The bed’s a fluorescent yellow. Men’s eyes look inside me; even the boy in the picture on the wall turns to look in on me. Coins shower down. Butterflies of paper money. Buckets full of sweets.
I feel so ill. Sleep, I’ve got to fall asleep. I can’t keep my eyes open.
Rebecca opens my curtains and I feel the stinging brightness of day through my eyelids. I’d started to fight HIM but that stopped once he began to give me milkshakes. Banana milkshake used to be my favourite drink, then somehow it started to make me so ill. It brought on a faintness that was way beyond normal tiredness.
Rebecca strips the duvet off my chest, I pull it back over me. She ruffles my hair and her hand catches on a knot; it’s a lively streak of pain that’s soon lost inside my heavy head.
“Come on, Aaron, I want you to get dressed today and then we’ll have a nice time.”
I don’t move from my bed.
“Do you need the toilet?”
Do I? My body’s dried out and a stale thirst coats my mouth.
“Look, I’m going to stand outside your door and I want to hear you getting up and dressed.”
After Rebecca goes out, I pull the duvet over my head. When she returns, she rocks the bundle of duvet with me inside.
“Sit up,” she whispers.
She pulls my arms from my pyjama top and then slips it off. She guides my arms into a shirt. She stands me up, hands me trousers and tells me to put them on while she waits outside. She comes back to comb my hair and slide my feet into socks and shoes. She leads me from my room. I flatten myself against the wall as Shelby rushes past. She guides me downstairs. I sip some orange juice and turn it around in my mouth; it stings my cheeks.
“So, Aaron, what would you like to do today?” Rebecca asks.
“I’ll just sleep a bit more.”
“We could go swimming or to the cinema. I could even take you down to the fair at the coast.”
“Not really,” I yawn.
“Remember from holiday last year when you went on the waltzers and the dodgems? You’ll enjoy it once we get there.”
“What’s so great about the dodgems? People knock into you, that shakes you up and then they laugh.”
“And with the waltzers I’ll just get spun and thrown around until I feel even more sick and dizzy.”
“There must be something you’d like to do.”
Some girls go off to town with Kate for haircuts; Ben’s taking Liam to his football club. The house goes quiet as everyone heads out. Rebecca puts on a video and sits beside me to watch it. After a few minutes, I ask her if I can go back to bed.
“Nothing you want to do?”
“Let’s have a snack together first and then see if you still want a rest afterwards.”
Only after I won’t eat anything does Rebecca give up on me and I get to go back to bed.
At tea-time, Rebecca’s made a cake. It’s covered in chocolate buttons and the soft icing drips down from the top. Shelby claps his hands and jumps around. I put my mouth around a bite of cake; everyone else says how good it tastes. The whole cake’s gone in minutes; just the rest of my slice remains.
I put a spoonful of cereal in my mouth. Voices talk around me. Swallow, drink my juice.
“Aaron,” Rebecca’s voice is sharp.
I look up.
“Well are you going to answer Shelby?”
I’m fine, I’m going to be fine. I can make it back into school today. Leave the table, take my bowl and cup. Tip my leftover cereal into the bin. Rebecca puts my book bag into my hand and takes me over to school. I stand at the door of a class and stare in at noise and movement.
“Good to have you back, Aaron.”
A man’s voice, John. I stare at him as he talks from the front; everyone else laughs with him and then settles down to quiet work. I open my book. I need the toilet; I get up and shuffle along one side of the classroom. I stop by the window and look out at a boy running past.
“Back to your table, Aaron … Aaron!”
“Back to your table.”
What did I get up for? I pick up a sharpener and put it in the box where it belongs then go and sit back down. I look over at a girl sat near me to see what I should be doing.
“You dope head,” she laughs.
Suddenly something smashes through the window; people start screaming and jumping about. I stay sitting still. Someone prods me in the back but I ignore it. John’s smoothing the waves of excitement around me.
I remember it was the toilet that I needed. I clear people apart as I push through them searching for the toilets. A green chipped door means I’m there. I go in, lock the door and stand in the locked aloneness.
When I go back to class, John’s got everyone back to work. The crack in the window is blocked by the large atlas. John asks me if I want to go on the computer; I sit down with him beside me. I look around the class; everyone’s getting on with their work. John could have had me in the boiler room. I’ve thought of him and felt no panic. I look at him. I see his blue eyes, his dark hair – so like HIM. But, no, John is not HIM. John is not my past or the looming danger of my present. I breathe in, put my hands on the keyboard and start to do what John tells me.
The next chapter will appear in next month’s issue.