Angel 36 (every picture)
Angel didn’t need a black cab to take her back to Corton Vale. Flying, she clutched the black-and-white, print-out of the twins, and studied it again and again as if to decipher the secrets of what looked like underwater pictures of silvery fish taken from the roof of the hospital.
Ewen was looking out the cab window at motorway, he yawned, stretching out his arms. ‘Don’t suppose we could stop off at McDonalds? He was talking to Church, who was sitting next to Angel, ‘You ken we missed lunch again and there’s one just at the Falkirk bypass.’
Church shook her head. ‘I’m not sure that’s such a good idea.’
‘Well, you ken there’s a drive-thru.’ He shrugged, and smiled at Angel. ‘And I’m paying. A kind of celebration. The wee lassie’s fair made up and she missed her lunch tae.’
‘And I’m eating for two,’ Angel piped up and laughed. ‘Nah, three.’
Church gave a tight little smile and nodded. ‘Alright then.’
‘Driver,’ Ewen turned and looked over the broad shoulders of the cabbie. ‘Did you hear that? You want to take that cut aff?’
‘Nae skin aff my nose,’ said the cabbie, chuckling.
‘Have they got a toilet in MacDonalds?’ asked Angel.
Ewen dealt with her request with easy familiarity. ‘Shut it. You’re taking the piss noo…Whit you want to eat, hen?’
The cabbie knew the route and they didn’t take long to be back on the motorway to Stirling. But the back of the cab stunk of vinegar, chips and hamburgers. Angel sipped the last of a large Coke through a straw.
‘Can you no slow doon a bit?’ Angel joked with the driver. ‘You’re getting us back too fast.’
Church clacked and tutted, cleaning her teeth with her tongue. She cleaned the back of the cab just as thoroughly, putting the empty polystyrene containers into McDonalds’s paper bag.
The cab dropped them at the main entrance. Beads of sweat were on the driver’s forehead, when he would down the window but it was blustery and wintery outside. He shouted, ‘Good luck’, did a U-turn and circled away.
After been almost drunk on happiness it perked Angel up a bit. Ewen gently gripped her arm and guided her towards the entrance and the intercom. Church, on the other side of her, gripped her other arm and was a bit rougher.
Inside the guards marked her on the whiteboard as being successfully returned to prison and added the time and date.
Angel had all the time in the world. She sniffed her fingers and they still had a vinegar tang, a reminder of her day out.
‘Anything to declare?’ asked the guard, before running the metal detector over her body.
‘Twins,’ Angel clutching her picture, lifting it above her head. Her good mood spilling over and even the guard smiled.
Back in the block, the prison cell seemed smaller and nosier. Lisa had the telly up really loud and was lying in bed with her eyes closed. When Angel turned the set down her eyes opened.
‘I was watching that,’ said Lisa.
‘No you werenae. You were sleeping.’
‘Wasnae.’ Lisa looked around for her cigarettes.
Rather than argue, Angel took the picture along to show Val in her cell. But she wasn’t there. Carla was fixing her hair. She spotted Angel in the mirror. ‘Oh, it’s you,’ she turned to explain her cellmates absence. ‘Val’s playing pool or cards. You’ll get her along there.’
Angel lifted her hand and flashed the print-out. ‘It’s alright, I just wanted to show her this.’
‘Whit is it?’
‘A picture of the scan.’ A beamer of smile appeared on Angel’s face. ‘Twins.’
‘C-can I see it?’ her face twitched and was whiter than normal. ‘Where’s my manners? Can I make you a cuppa tea?’
Angel stepped into the cell and handed her the printout.
‘Do you take sugar?’ She shook her head, staring down at the blurred picture and flicking the kettle on, before muttering and correcting herself. ‘No, of course not. You don’t take sugar.’ Tears were in her eyes.
Angel sat on the seat beside the telly and looked up at the colourful billboard of pictures on the wall. Carla handed her back the print as she put tea-bags in the cup.
‘I’d twins tae,’ she sobbed. ‘And a little boy, Darren…he’ll be seven noo… The girls are only wee. They’ll be four...I’ve no got any pictures,’ she shook her head. The present disappearing into the past. ‘It would be too much tae ask.’
The kettle boiled and filling the cups with boiling water, getting milk from the window sill and stirring the tea gave her time to gather herself.
‘I never put any sugar in it,’ she handed Angel the mug of tea. ‘I suppose you’re sweet enough.’
‘Aye, I suppose.’ Angel sipped her tae and pressed the print-out against the side of her knees. ‘This tea’s fair good.’
Carla blew on the steam rising from the mug. ‘Aye, no bad.’ She went to sit down on the edge of the bottom bunk. Twitching and staring into her cup. ‘Social workers took my wee boy off me…and Th-th-then when the wee girls were born they took them aff me right away. They were beautiful wee things.’ She smiled to herself. ‘But I, I, I, got to hold them.’
‘That’s a shame.’
Carla looked over at her. ‘Aye, it was.’ Her face twitched and then sagged. ‘Val had a wain tae. They took her wee lassie aff her.’ She leaned forward, studied Angel’s face as if seeing her for the first time, and whispered in a conspiratorial tone. ‘They’ll take your babies aff you. And there’s fuck all you can dae about it.’
‘Cherry said there was a mother and baby unit.’
‘Aye, she would say that wouldn’t she? But whit then?’ Carla had grown angry and the twitch in her face abated and she narrowed her eyes. ‘You’re serving an eight-stretch. Unless you’re lucky enough to have a man, or a granny, on the outside willing to pick up the slack, the wain’ll be put up for adoption. You’ll never see them again. They’ll call somebody else Mum. You’ll be nae mair than a stranger to them. Different paths. Whether you live or die, will no longer matter a jot.’