Angel 49 (getting acquainted)
Angel heard the click of a switch from the room next to her and the bump and sound of a hoover. The twins didn’t notice, but it buoyed Angel, the drone of domestic chores, something you didn’t hear in the noise pool that was Corton Vale. She was knackered and the twins fell asleep on her chest and she must have dozed off too. A knock on the door woke her and Lisa woke with her, when her body jerked, but Adam remained asleep.
‘Gie’s a minute,’ she shouted, putting the twins in their cot, covering her breasts and buttoning her blouse. ‘Come in.’
Stacey stepped into the room, but kept her hand on the doorknob. ‘You decent?’
‘As decent as I’ll ever be.’
‘Thought I’d give you the grand tour.’ She laughed and swung the door back and forwards. ‘There’s not much to see,’ she admitted. ‘And I’ll sure you’ll soon get the hang of it, but it’s good to be properly introduced. And we’ll need to get some odds and ends for you and some shopping done.’
‘Right!’ Angel sprung up from the couch. She lifted Lisa first and hitched her to her shoulder and then Adam to the other shoulder. Her arms full, she stumbled across to the door.
‘You want me to take one of them?’ Stacey offered.
Angel passed her the downy wrap with Adam, who was still asleep. Stacey held him with practiced ease on her hip and made cooing noises. Lisa was staring up at her, inscrutable as Buddha. Angel pecked a kiss on the tip of her daughter’s nose.
‘I think you’ve poopsied,’ Angel tickled Lisa’s belly. ‘Yes, you have. And we’ll need to get you changed.’ But, instead, she followed Stacey into the lobby.
A door was ajar, Stacey stuck her head in, ‘Kitchen’.
Angel paused on the threshold, rocking Lisa, before Stacey returned to get her and made the introductions to the girl in a white tracksuit, leaning with a hand on the table, her wrist covered in red, plastic bangles, foot tapping.
‘Jenny, this is Angel.’
Her dark hair was short as a boy’s and her dark eyes avoided meeting either Stacey or Angel’s but she did glance across at her and Lisa.
‘Angel, this is Jenny.’
‘Nice to meet you,’ Angel shifted the weight of the baby in case she needed to shake hands, but she didn’t seem the type.
‘We’ve got our own bedrooms, but share a communal kitchen,’ Stacey told Angel, the tone of her voice a little too high. ‘We have a rota, but a very simple policy. We use a dish, or pot,’ she looked over at a dirty pot on the cooker, an ashtray on the table with a cigarette smouldering in it and a mug and saucer beside it. ‘We wash the dish and pot.’
‘I wis just gonnae,’ snarled Jenny. ‘If you give me a fucking minute.’
‘And we don’t smoke in the kitchen.’ Stacey enunciated each word very clearly. ‘We can smoke in our own rooms, if we wish, but we certainly don’t encourage it. And we don’t fucking swear either, when we’re both trying to do our best. Do we Jenny?’
‘Fuck off,’ Jenny stuck in the fag in her gob, picked up the ashtray and stormed past them.
‘Dishes,’ shouted Stacey at her departing back.
Angel bit her lip, but smiled anyway. It reminded her of being in the Home at Risk Street with Tony and Bruno.
Stacey went over to the pot to see what Jenny had been cooking, before she showed her the rest of the house.
‘Bathroom on your left.’ Stacey paused at a closed door and listened. ‘We’ve another at the end of the corridor. Shared, unfortunately.’ She sighed. ‘They really should be ensuite. We’ve a rota for cleaning them too.’
‘Right,’ Angel shifted her feet. Non-commital. She was just glad to have a room of her own for the twins and Stacey made it sound like they should be living in a top-notch hotel.
‘I heard you’d stiches for your delivery, caesarean,’ Stacey’s expression softened. ‘Still hurt?’
‘A bit,’ admitted Angel. ‘Only when I think about it.’
‘Oops,’ Stacey muttered. ‘Sorry, it’s just if you need a bit of help with housework, you just need to ask.’
‘What sort of things do we do?’
‘Nothing serious, just do your own washing and hoovering and ironing and taking care of the children.’ She kissed Lisa’s forehead. ‘You do know how to use a washing machine, don’t you?’
‘Yeh, kinda.’ They backtracked along the hall towards the kitchen and stood outside Angel’s room. ‘Depends whit kind it is.’
Lisa wailed, screwing up her face.
‘She needs her mum.’ Stacey handed her back, but she continued in lecturing mode. ‘It would surprise you how many girls don’t know how to use a washing machine, don’t know how to iron or how to make a simple and nutritious meal from scratch.’
Angel knew she was weighing her up.
‘There’s no disgrace in it,’ added Stacey.
‘No, I’m fine,’ replied Angel, in an emphatic voice. ‘Just need to get settled.’
‘I’ll leave you then,’ but she changed tact. ‘We’ll need to arrange a drugs test. It’s mandatory.’
Noting the shock on Angel’s face, she was quick to reassure her. ‘I’m sure you’re clean. But we’re not buttoned up the back. Any drugs in your system and you’re out. That’s your shout. And the social work will get involved and you’re more or less certain to lose them to foster care.’
Angel felt her stomach drop. ‘Whit about the drugs I got for the operation?’
‘No, no, that’ll be fine. Most of the girls also get Methadone, to stay drug free. We take that into account.’
‘I’m no into all that shit.’
‘Glad to hear it, but we do check.’
‘Whit else can you get barred fer?’ Angel clasped Lisa and Adam tightly to her.
Stacey smiled. ‘We’re not a public house. We don’t bar people. Not really.’ She pondered for a minute. ‘In about the two years I’ve been here we’ve sent about four girls back. Three for drugs and one for fighting.’
Angel kept her head down, she was crying again. She seemed to be doing a lot of crying, lately. ‘I don’t want to go back…I don’t want to lose my babies.’
‘Oh, no, darling,’ Stacey came in and closed the door, flinging an arm around her shoulder and cuddling her. ‘You don’t need to worry about that. Just keep your nose clean.’
‘Aye,’ said Angel.
Stacey jiggled her hands and dipped into her side pocket and pulled out a Yale key. ‘That’s for the front door. For letting yourself in and out.’
‘You mean I can go outside without and escort?’
‘Aye,’ Stacey’s brows furrowed. ‘Why wouldn’t you? You need to go to the shops and that. And prepare for a normal life. That’s what it’s all about.’ She looked over at the window. ‘But we’ll need to get you proper curtains. I don’t know who hung them, but they’re terrible. Terrible.’