Beyond 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
Social are letting me ring mum today. Derek dials a number, I take the receiver, a ‘phone rings, it’s answered.
“You get my letters.”
“The ones I wrote you; you must have got them.”
“I think I did.”
“So then … I mean are you okay? I mean no Kara?”
“Kara. That – that’s as is.”
“Mum are you …”
“I’m getting by … You should have seen me last night out with Melanie; she even had me doing karaoke. It was a laugh.”
“What? … So you’re okay without Kara?”
“Melanie and I hadn’t had a proper night out like that for years.”
Mum’s not lonely?
“What you been up to, Aaron?”
Is she going to tell me that she wants me to live with her?
“Aaron, I’m asking about you.”
“How are things?”
“Do you miss me, mum?”
I just need to say it, ask her if she wants me living with her, explain how it’ll work.
“You know what, Melanie and I are going out again tonight. Oh yeah, Aaron, the other thing …”
Please, mum, please, just say we can work it out, you and me.
“The other thing, well …”
My heart races.
“I mean, guess what?”
“Have a guess … Good news.”
Good news – oh yes!
“… You’re going to have another brother or sister.”
“Yes, Aaron, I’m pregnant.”
“Isn’t it exciting?”
A heavy weight falls down through me; all my body heat drains out through the ground.
“Yes I’m, going to have another baby.”
I gasp for breath against a pressure around my chest.
“Well you could say something … How about congratulations?”
“Oh my god … I mean … Oh no …”
“Don’t be like that!”
“You? Pregnant? Is this for real?”
“I’ve already brought a pack of little Winnie-the-Pooh vests; they’ll do whether it’s a girl or a boy. And I got a real bargain on this white babygro. I’ve got to stop myself buying too much but I want to get everything new and right. I’m hoping for a girl. What’s your guess – boy or girl? … Aaron?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well, Melanie thinks it’s a girl because I’m already going fat at the hips. You should see me; I can’t do up my jeans already. I was going to wait to tell you all about me and the baby, thought I’d surprise you when it was born, but then you phoned and, well, you know me, I can’t keep a secret.”
“But I would have found out when I saw you. I remember the bump you had with Kara.”
“I haven’t got that much of a bump yet.”
“I can’t wait to see you; our visit together is in exactly three weeks time.”
The line goes quiet.
“You know mum, I’ll see you for my visit.”
“Maybe! Don’t say that mum.”
“I want to see you; I always miss you.”
“You have to come. You will come won’t you?”
“Aaron, I’m pregnant, I’ve got to look after myself, I’ve got to be careful … Oh my beautiful boy, I love you.”
She can’t not come!
“Tell me that you love me too.”
She can’t be pregnant.
“You do love me don’t you? You’re pleased about the baby, aren’t you?”
“Look, let’s speak again soon. Well, at least you know I love you – believe me when I say I love you.”
‘Believe me when I say I love you’, I hear its echo. I stop still. I know it, those were dad’s words! I hear their emptiness. I feel the walls pushing around me. I run outside. I charge across the crowded football pitch. Mum – pregnant. Pregnant? The ball comes towards me; I send it flying. Pregnant? Someone swears against me; I kick my heel back into the ground. Rebecca’s calling me back. I run off the pitch; someone shouts after me telling me I’m ruining the game. I head towards the trees. I smash my foot against a large trunk. I don’t want mum to be pregnant. She can’t be pregnant. She doesn’t really want a baby; it’s us three – Kara, Lee and me – that she’s missing.
I see Rebecca leaning on a tree next to me; her eyes are on me. I look down at the soggy leaves on the ground; I shake my head.
“Is it really true?”
“What’s that, Aaron?” Rebecca doesn’t move closer to me.
“I said, is it true? Is mum pregnant?”
“If your mum told you, I expect it is.”
“How can it be true?”
Rebecca looks down; her foot is gently digging around in the leaves. Of course it’s true; mum wouldn’t lie about stuff like this. What is mum doing?
“You knew mum was going to have a baby,” my voice comes out as a sudden shout at Rebecca. “You knew and you never told me!”
“No, Aaron, it was only when I heard you on the ‘phone that I gathered that she is pregnant. I will obviously try and call Jean about this.”
“Well it won’t change anything!”
That’s it; I could help her with the baby; babies aren’t easy; she needed me with Kara.
“And Rebecca, can mum travel here when she’s pregnant?”
“Did your mum mention your visit?”
“I thought she was saying something about …”
I wake from a strange dream. I was lying in bed but somehow the bed was on a chunky wooden kitchen table and mum was near me by the sink. She was wearing yellow rubber gloves and her hands were dipping through layers of bubbles into a washing up bowl. She was singing rock-a-bye-baby and I felt all sleepy and warm. And the blanket on me was soft and baby blue.
If only. It hits me hard – she’s pregnant; mum’s pregnant! The words cry down from all around me; they spear into me. I don’t want it! I just don’t want another brother or sister. How could I have gone to bed last night and just slept? Slept from evening until now when the birds are singing and the light’s coming through my curtains.
I get up and find mum’s Christmas note in my drawer; I touch its edges. I know her fingerprints are there somewhere, if only I had a way of seeing them. I need to feel mum. I search my room – bookshelf, clothes, walls. Nothing, nothing carries mum’s trace. I don’t even have her piece of hair that I came here with. I try to picture mum but all I can see is a jumbled jigsaw of some of her parts – her lips, her hair, a black jacket she once owned.
Why isn’t mum wanting me? Why isn’t she coming here? I’m sure she could make it when she’s pregnant; she’s been going out with Melanie. I need to talk to her about living together. I want to ask her so many things, like about the time she went and saw dad.
An envelope has come for group from Narinder; inside there’s a note wrapped around a postcard. The postcard is a picture of a little kitten on the branch of a tree; it looks a bit startled. The caption says ‘be strong and very courageous’. Poor kitten, someone should just lift it down.
Derek reads out Narinder’s note as he passes the postcard around.
My new house is cool, the carpets are so thick I loose my feet in them! My mum’s the best, she’s taking me shopping this weekend so I can get a TV for my room! I had a friend home – I got to invite Charleene from school back here! Charleene’s going to have me to hers one day and she’s having a party and mum says I can go! I’m the happiest I’ve ever been. I’m with two lovely people. Wish me luck. I miss all of you.
Friends, a house … a woman she can call mum and the best?
There’s a man bending over to look at some tall wine glasses in the museum in town. Rebecca’s never brought me to this museum before. I walk straight through the boring first room only stopping at the end to look at this ugly white and green teapot with a surface that’s all bubbled like some plagued mould. The next room’s got some coins that are all dented and squashed. Rebecca says they’re very old, from the way back Iron Age. Next we see these old toys shut inside a case. There’s a doll with a freaky white face and big bulging eyes; I stick my tongue out at her. Down the corridor, there are some dead birds in a case. I go into the next room. I stop still, staring.
“Shit, Rebecca, what the fuck is that?”
I’ve seen something like this in films and nightmares.
“Why the fuck did you bring me here?”
“Aaron, they’re skeletons.”
“You never told me we’d see this.”
A dead man put here where everyone can see him. He’s lying all folded up and his bone arms are holding an old pot. His skull has a mad teethy smile. On down the room is a skeleton with bones that are all in a muddle and there’s a sign by it written in big black letters ‘MURDER?‘ So this jumble is what happens to a body when it’s murdered. I can’t move on from looking at it. There are all these sharp stones around the body. The head’s propped at an odd angle with the chin resting on the backbone. This skull face is not smiling. I want to leave this room.
The way out is through the shop. There are queues of children being bought postcards, books and things like rubbers and pencils. I shake away thoughts of skeletons and start looking at the pens on sale.
“What are you buying me?” I ask Rebecca who’s flicking through some book.
“Well, I suppose I could get you something small … Let me just look at this book … This is interesting; it’s different art activities.”
“Buy me that.”
“It’s got some good ideas.”
She should stop looking at it and get on with buying it. It won’t look proper and new if she opens all the pages.
“Hmm, £9.99 … bit pricey … let’s just get a postcard.”
“No! You said you’d buy me that book.”
“I never said I’d buy it.”
“You did; you’re a liar.”
I try to get the book with its orange cover and a picture of a boy walking through a big open door away from Rebecca. I yank and twist against her but she holds on tight.
“Aaron, stop; you’re ruining it.”
“Let go then.”
I’ve got the book; I’m running out of the shop with it. It’s mine. Rebecca has to let me have it. Her arms are onto me.
“Fuck off,” I yell at a woman who’s staring at me.
Rebecca pulls the book away and slams it down on a desk
“That’s a book you know,” some woman tuts. “You want to be …”
I can’t hear the rest of what she’s saying because Rebecca is marching me away down these big stone steps. Her arms are tight on me; I twist against her. There’s no edge to these wide stairs; I’m going to fall; I can’t feel my feet on the ground; Rebecca’s almost carrying me. I kick back into her. We push our way out of a big door, Rebecca stuffs me into a corner between a column and the outside wall of the building. I punch into her arm. I want that book. She holds me; I claw against her hands. She made me think I’d get that book. I force one of her fingers right back. Rebecca tells some enormous man in a suit that she’s fine. Rebecca didn’t get me that book because I’m not worth £9.99. Nobody ever gets me anything. Rebecca lets go of me; she tells me to be still. Now she’s showing the suited man some card out of her purse. I slip down to the ground and clasp my hands over my head. In the darkness made by my knees and arms around me, I remember that jumbled up skeleton. Dad’s dad – is that how he looked when dad had finished with him? He should have been my granddad. And what about dad? His death is a sort of murder too, a murder of himself. No grinning head for either of their skeletons, a muddle of bones. I can feel the bone of my elbow. My skeleton is inside me. I don’t like those bones. How will I end up?
This museum is a trap. Rebecca tricked me by bringing me here. I want mum. Where is she to take me away from this place? To take me for ever.
“You never fucking wanted me and mum to work out,” I yell at Rebecca. “You never tried to like my mum.”
“… You mother failed to be there for you. Worse, she let bad things happen to you.”
“No she didn’t! No she …”
I stop speaking. I can’t believe Rebecca just dared to be so rude about mum. Mum, you’re all I want. Where are you? I lash out into Rebecca. Help me mum.
Rebecca’s solid arms come back around me. I see a man with a huge camera around his neck; he gives me a stupid big grin. I growl at him and then he backs off. Rebecca is a solid cage around me. She doesn’t have to move, she’s caught me. I kick out and she doesn’t even flinch. I suddenly see my fist heading in for another punch – white knuckles, blue veins. Ugly and hard. I let my arm fall down away from Rebecca. I give in; I’m sweating and shaking.
A little girl walks past in a party dress; she’s holding her mum’s hand. She twists round to look at me and it’s Kara … and then she isn’t, she hasn’t even got the same hair. Her mum’s arm pulls her on but the girl screams out and tries to break free. The mum turns to her daughter, squats right down and says something. The girl stops crying; the mum brushes a little curl out of her eyes. They look at each other and suddenly they’re joined in a world of their own. Their faces move towards each other, they squash noses and smile. The mother scoops the girl up into her arms.
That’s it. That’s all a mum has to do. That’s what you had to do mum. Love us and comfort us. Pick us up.
“Shall we go back to the car now,” Rebecca’s voice stabs into my thoughts.
I hit my fist back into the wall. Fuck you mum. Mum, are you out partying with Melanie while I’m left here? Now I can picture all of mum’s face – its lines, hardness, anger. Eyes wild and red. Her hand slapping into Kara because she’d slipped over in the bathroom and got her dress dirty. Her hand slapping into Lee because he’d ruined her lipstick by spreading it wide across his mouth. Her hand slapping into me because …
“Calm down. Aaron.”
… because I was me.
As soon as the car pulls up at Templewood, I’m running from it up into my room. My fist thumps into the wall. For fuck’s sake mum. Why couldn’t you do it? Me, Lee, Kara … we needed you. You let the world shit on us. On me. Why make me go through so much pain? You knew and you let all the badness happen. Fuck you, mum. Did you enjoy my torture? My foot kicks into my chest of drawers.
And now you don’t care about any of us – me, or Kara, or Lee. Oh you’ve had a go with us and now you’ve given up on us. You’re onto the new – another baby. You’re always onto something different and talking of fresh starts. How many times can you say you’re going to change? That you’re going to stop getting angry? That you won’t drink again? That you’ll take us out? That you’ll be there for us? That we’ll be a proper family?
Nothing changes. Go on, try this new baby. You sounded so pleased about being pregnant but children don’t make you happy. You won’t cope; you couldn’t even look after Kara. You had a chance in Kara. She was beautiful. Everybody’s baby.
Mum – arranging your hair, turning your music up louder. You’re no mum. You telling me to turn away, your flesh behind me, you squealing like a pig. You shouting at me to face the wall while you licked men’s bodies. You falling downstairs. You walking away, leaving me to HIM. Crying and laughing and drinking your way through my life.
Rebecca’s arms come around me and force my fist off the wall. She pulls me towards her. I give in. Rebecca strokes my hair, I close my eyes. If only it were mum stroking my head, letting me slip into easy thoughts. Once mum, just once … Is it so fucking difficult?
With Rebecca’s arms around me, I find myself suddenly thinking of mum’s baby. What life is waiting for my new brother or sister? What will they have to go through?
Sloppy orange shit spreads in clumps up Lee’s bottom onto his back then reaches into his vest. Mum’s kneeling down beside him. Lee rolls in pleasure at his own sweet produce, then gives his cutest smile. ‘Don’t wriggle’. Mum’s firm words only make Lee giggle and carry on rolling. ‘Don’t move!’ My stomach tightens. Lee’s still not learnt; he’s still smiling. His foot kicks back into his bottom; now there’s shit on his heel. ‘Lie still, fucking lie still’. Mum’s arm clamps across Lee’s chest. Mum comes at him with a wodge of loo paper; her hand is shaking; still Lee dares to try and escape. How can a baby put up such a fight against mum? Mum’s arm quickens into a heavier weight across Lee’s chest then across his tummy. Can’t a baby see when a mummy’s face is getting properly cross? Please behave, Lee; you’ve got to behave. Lee’s hand is suddenly free and he touches his front, reaching into shit. Mum slaps his arm; it’s like I can feel the stinging of that slap while Lee still thinks it’s all a game.
It’s sudden the way mum squashes down onto Lee. Now, keeping her elbow dug into his little stomach she lifts Lee’s legs to reach his bottom. She’s about to wipe him when Lee thrashes to twist onto his front. Mum’s hand wallops across his back. In the moment’s silence that follows, I can hear the echo of mum’s hand hitting bare, baby flesh. Now Lee feels it, he wails in waves of angry upset. Mum’s trying to force Lee onto his back again. Lee’s gulping and choking on his tears and screams. I cover my ears with my hands.
Suddenly it’s me who’s shouting; I’m yelling at mum to stop and at Lee to shut up. Mum swings towards me. ‘What the fuck are you doing here?’ Her fist comes up above me but then she just stops still and gives me a look that shows her total hate of me. That look is worse than being hit; it makes my insides die. Mum throws the loo roll at me, then rushes out of the room.
How can Lee make so much noise? He’s making himself ill with crying, a splotchy red pattern has come up over his face. There’s shit on the towel, shit on his hand, shit on the bare floor, shit on the backs of his legs, shit on his feet. I have a go at wiping him but he kicks me away. Tears and snot run down his face and into his hair. I grab him up under the arms and his little legs paddle furiously through the air. Under his weight and fight, I feel like such a tiny boy, almost like I’m the little baby brother. He’s so heavy, I’m going to drop him. His shit is against me. I don’t know how to get him over the rim of the bath. His legs bash against its edge. Suddenly some woman with long black hair appears and grabs Lee from me; she curses at all the noise and mess. She puts Lee down on the bottom of the bath. She knocks me out of the way, then adds in a kick to be sure I back off. She smells bad, the way mum sometimes does. Lee’s screaming as he lies in the dirty bath. She splashes cold water over Lee then flies him under the tap. She doesn’t care that he’s crying. I don’t know where to stand. I need to be there ready to save Lee.
I wish I was bigger; I’d do this woman in and take Lee away and look after him properly. I see Lee’s bottom now clean of shit but it looks so spotty and cut. The woman smacks Lee dry with the bath mat; it’s not right to use that dirty, wet mat. The woman swings round towards me and I run away from her downstairs. I pass some kid who’s sitting on the stairs humming and fiddling with a matchbox car. I hear lots of voices in the lounge; the house is always full of people. I go through the front door and sit outside on the step. The sun’s warm on my face. I watch a squirrel balancing on a cable.
A rough hand drags me back in and slams the door. A man’s voice asks me what the fuck I’m doing and whether I want to get everyone into more trouble. I don’t know why I’m never allowed outside. I sit in the stale smelling hall surrounded by everybody shouting.
Suddenly I realise that Lee’s screams no longer fill the house. What the hell has happened to him? I run upstairs, past the boy who is still fiddling with his car. Where is Lee? The woman?
I find Lee lying totally still buried inside a faded pink T-shirt. I rush to him; he blinks. He’s alive. He looks deep into my eyes; we stay still in that moment holding onto each other. He’s totally silent as I lift his head and slip my knee beneath it then I try to heave him more onto my lap. I stroke his hair as his little lips moves in and out sucking on air. He’s got such a sweet mouth. I put my finger in his mouth and now he sucks away on it. I feel his breathing moving his back against my lap. One of his legs is sticking up in the air with his tiny toes all spread out. He’s warm and soft. His eyes start to give heavy blinks.
I had been determined not to write to you again, seeing it as indulgent and delusionary. Now I think, what’s so wrong with a bit of conscious delusion? What the hell, I can write to my connection with you, to the closeness we had, to your influence upon me. I don’t expect you to be listening, nor am I requesting your help or influence. (On the radio a few days ago, this writer was proudly saying how she enjoys keeping a character from her first novel alive by writing fantastical letters to and from her. Hearing that somehow gave me a playful sense of permission to write to you.)
Yesterday, Aaron blew up at the public museum. It had been just the two of us and I’d had to deal with his wild anger in front of public, judgemental eyes. I was still shaking when we got back to group but then I took myself off to sort out some laundry and I suddenly felt this immense calm. It was a realising of this pure space inside me that Aaron could never reach into or attack or destroy. I felt an extraordinary peacefulness. It extended into all my life. Suddenly my split-up with Pete felt okay, so even did your death. I didn’t want for anything. At that moment, your death seemed to have no emotion for me nor any meaning – it was neither right nor wrong, it just was what had happened.
It was wonderful for me to experience such wholeness. I have been feeling so alone. Yes, Pete and I split up. I’ve never had a boyfriend I loved so much. I let myself trust him. But our relationship and this job seemed to become increasingly pitted against each other. And the stress of the work had made me terrible to him at times – I used him as my soak, my punch bag. I’ve often thought that I should have resigned and saved the relationship.
It was odd to feel such peacefulness at a time when Aaron’s struggling so much. Poor Aaron. It’s hard for him to access any inner calm when his whole being has been so violated by gross impingements of abuse.
“Come on Aaron … What would you like to do?” Rebecca nags at me.
“Nothing,” I sink back further into the settee and wrap the bit of thread I’ve pulled from the settee around my little finger.
“We could play some computer games.”
“Big fucking deal,” I pull the thread tighter.
“Go to the art room?”
“Or watch a video?”
“… You could play football with the others outside.”
“Well have you got any ideas?”
I yawn; my whole body is heavy and slow.
“Aaron, are you worried about your meeting with Through-Care?”
“That? Why should that worry me?”
“It’s your future.”
“What fucking future?”
“It’s hard for you, very hard.”
“At least I’ll get out of this place.”
“Look, Aaron, I know you’re struggling to come to terms with your mum being pregnant but life has to go on. We’ve got to find things that interest you. Is there anything?”
“Do you think it would help to get out of group more; maybe it’s time to think about an outside activity again. I have been wondering if you wanted to return to diving group.”
“You didn’t mind me swearing a minute ago.”
“Mike would welcome you back; he can see you have a genuine talent. You enjoy diving don’t you?”
“I won’t go back.”
“Or we could look into another possible club for you? … Think about it, Aaron. And stop doing that with the thread; you’re hurting your finger.”
I’m in a room that’s sunk down in the basement of Templewood with a window that looks out onto a dark wall. There’s a woman sitting to one side of a desk; she’s part of Through-Care – the people who process us out of this place.
“So, this first meeting is a time for me to find out a bit about you and your interests,” the woman says.
“It’s better me meeting you and hearing things direct. What are your thoughts on where you’d like to live after Templewood?”
My mouth is suddenly so dry. My lips make a little popping sound. I need to just say it, all these years I’ve said the same, but now I find I can’t speak. My answer of ‘mum’ is a word that’s got stuck in my throat.
“Tell me, are you keen on going to a foster family?” she says interrupting my thoughts of mum.
“I suppose that’s where you lot want to send me.”
“No, we’re not sending you anywhere; we’re looking at different alternatives and one of those choices is a foster home.”
“I’ll be made to go wherever you find for me.”
“A foster family will only work if you want to be there.”
“I’ll get my own place soon as I can.”
“And for now it’s important that we find a home that’s right for you.”
“I don’t want some foster mum who fusses around me.”
“If we did manage to find you a foster family, and there are no guarantees of that, then the foster mum would probably spend a lot of time with you to start with, a bit like your keyworker here. I hear that you have been able to form some relationship and trust with Rebecca; it could be like that with a foster mum.”
“Leave Rebecca out of it.”
“And any thoughts on a foster father?”
“He better leave me alone.”
“Any fear you may have is understandable.”
Snooping fucking woman, what does she understand? She looks down at her file and starts writing some things in it.
“Go on then, find me an enormous house and a family with lots and lots of money.”
“A foster family may not have lots of money or a big house,” she says, all serious. “Our aim is to find homes where people care for each other and strive to live together successfully.”
I stand up.
“Don’t go … anything more you want to say about a foster family? Or anything you want to ask me?”
“We should talk about alternative options – the adolescent groups here, other group homes …”
I stand up and walk out on her. I go straight past Rebecca who’s been sat outside the room reading a book. I go through the toilet door with the men’s sign on it. I lock the door. No mum. No mum to go to.
I kick the toilet stand. I pull at the heavy top that covers the back of the loo. It starts to shift, I pull it off then stagger under its weight. It drops through my hands just missing my foot. A corner cracks off as it hits the wall. Rebecca knocks on the toilet door then pulls at the handle.
“Fuck off!” I yell back at her.
A hot sweat creeps out of my skin. Rebecca’s calling and knocking on the door. I look at the small window, the walls around me. I’m trapped. I kick the toilet and look down into its stained white bowl of water. I remember the goldfish my foster carer flushed away down the toilet. I wish it was that easy to get rid of me.
No mum … no mum is a big hole. What’s the fucking point. Life’s too difficult. I see the skeletons. That’ll be me. Struggle through life just to end up as a pile of old bones. I throw myself down on the cracked toilet top, a sharp pain shoots up my hand.
A sudden drilling noise. The door’s opening it hits against the toilet top. Rebecca’s arm drags me through the half-open door. I see blood on my sleeve and a man in blue overalls.
“Aaron, how are you feeling?”
I’m sitting up in bed with two duvets around me.
“You feeling any better?”
“Am I ill?”
“Aaron, you know you had a high temperature and a nasty cut on your wrist.”
“That’s why you need to rest up.”
I look through my window and see some girls sat on a bench. My arm feels stiff and bruised. Outside, Emma kicks a football to Shelby, Shelby misses and another boy gets the ball from right under him. I see Shelby starting to get himself all worked up. I turn away; I know what comes next – Shelby being ever more stupid, Emma or some adult getting cross and finally Shelby being sent off the pitch. I stare at the uneaten food on an orange tray in my room. I eat a mouthful, notice its lumpiness but taste nothing. I push it away.
I lie back on my bed. I feel little, so little. And so cold. I pull the duvet over my head. I just need to be alone. Alone where I belong. Alone is where mum’s left me. The way I always kidded myself about her has kept me going. I was living in a fucking daydream. Hopes, fucking false and stupid hopes. They were all that kept mum as a mother to me. If I stop wanting her, she’ll be gone, pleased to wash her hands of me. She cut the elastic between me and her long ago; she just forgot to stop using the words of love.
I hear Rebecca leaving the room. She’s the only person who sticks around me but she belongs to Sunbeam not me.
No mum … and no dad. I mean the dad I had I never even felt was out there and now I know he’s an evil murderer. Lee’s lost to a foster family that never wanted me. Kara I may never see again; anyway she’ll only remember me as a boy she met occasionally in odd places that weren’t home. And I have no friends.
I’m not anybody’s. Unwanted. I’m nobody. Nobody’s boy. Nothing to anyone.