Angel 58 (cruel symmetry)
‘Coming,’ rasped Angel.
Stacey hovered at the top of the stairs, but Angel heard her clumping away to her room when she answered.
Outside a dog barked in a shrill insistent tone. Tears were trapped in a sticky dam behind her eyes. She squeezed them shut, willing herself not to cry. You’re sixteen now, she told herself, grown-up, just get on with it. She stood up and climbed the stairs, but her mind spun like the reels of a fruit machine.
She barely looked at Stacey and grunted monosyllables when she tried to make conversation, until she got the message and left her alone with her kids. She turned the telly up loud, Stars on Sunday, she didn’t care, it was just a noise.
Tony hates you. How stupid you were to believe anything he said, an insistent voice in her head told her. Look at the state of you. You’ve no breasts and you’re body is like a boy’s and your face is like a church gargoyle. He wouldn’t even fuck you. But you’d let him rape you like Jaz did. Encouraged him. Her eyes had adjusted to the darkness and she looked around the room. The wardrobe with no real girly dresses in it. Your life has all been a stupid lie, because you’re stupid. You wanted him to marry you and wear a white dress. Built a life in a fantasy world. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. She drove her nails into the palm of her hand.
Hymn-like theme music played and the last bars of notes hung in the air for a few seconds. Lisa let out a long breath and the susurrations of their sleep merged with the buzz of voices outside in the hallway. She listened, waiting for a knock. Stamp. Stamp. Stamp. One voice was that of Stacey, the other, another keyworker. The voices thundered down the stairs, followed by more purposeful and cautious steps. The front door thudded shut. After a moment’s confusion she stiffened her back against the couch. She realised it was Margo who had been shrieking and felt guilty because of the wash of relief that flooded through her body.
‘I’ll never leave you,’ she whispered to the twins. ‘Never.’
She crept to the door and out along the lobby. The carpet swallowed the sounds of her feet. Her breath made no more sound than falling duck down.
She could make out Stacey’s voice, ‘Oh, no, you’re at your wit’s end. You can’t let that happen. She attacked you, not the other way about. She’s got a temper. You’ve done everything…’
The keyworker mumbled replies in a tearful tone. Angel couldn’t quite make out what she said, but she sneaked back to her room and shut the door over. There’d be police and social workers involved. Margo would disappear and be erased from the Mother and Baby Unit. Her baby taken into care. Someone else would appear and take her place.
Bruno came to visit the following night. He wasn’t himself. He hadn’t done his hair or his face or finger-bitten nails and his clothes were drab enough to make him appear like a bus driver. Worst of all, he crept into the room, sat on the couch and said nothing.
‘You want tea?’ Angel patted his shoulder.
He barely nodded. She lifted Adam and then Lisa from their cot and handed the squirming bundles to him. ‘Keep an eye on them.’
Bruno perked up and his raised eyebrows and his voice dropped to cascade of noises of which Angel recognised the word ‘Ba, ba.’
He seemed like his normal, almost hysterical self, when she returned with the mugs of tea.
‘No biscuits,’ he observed. ‘You penny-pinching?’
Angel put his mug on the telly unit within arm’s reach and lifted the Lisa from him and then Adam and put them in the crib.
‘She’s got a temper,’ Bruno sipped at his tea.
‘That’s Adam.’ Angel slipped into the seat beside him, leaning against the backrest, her long legs and feet almost touching his. ‘He’s wearing blue.’
He shrugged and puckered his lips. ‘There’s still time to change his mind.’
Angel smiled. Whether he meant his clothes or his gender she wasn’t quite sure.
‘I done everything for him,’ Bruno cried and gulped down tears. ‘I don’t know why. And now I get this.’
When Bruno finally looked at Angel, she could see cold anger in his eyes and she’d worked out he was talking about Tony, but something felt wrong about it.
‘Whit’s he done?’ she asked.
He wiped at his eyes with the heel of his hand. ‘He stole everything from me.’
Angel was shocked. ‘You mean he stole money from you?’
‘That as well.’
‘But your jewellery is all tat. Broaches, ribbons, glass beads. It isn’t worth anything.’
He swelled up. ‘It is to me. I mean when I lost my chastity bracelet there was no real point in stay chaste then, was there?’
‘Suppose not,’ Angel conceded the point. ‘But, actually, I’m finding it quite easy.’
Bruno made a tutting sound which startled the twins. ‘But you’re a girl.’
‘Pizza Face said he was a junkie, is that true?’
‘More into drink and coke, I think.’
It was a small comfort for Angel. ‘And he said she’s got a girlfriend, “Some slut”?’
‘Well, at least he got that part right.’ He dabbed at his upper lip and teeth and clawed at his shoulder. ‘An older women, in fact, you might know her. She was in the Home with us. Can’t mind her name. Bit of a cow. She hated me.’
‘Bruno, everybody in the Home hated you apart from me and Tony. You’d need to narrow it down a bit. And I can’t believe you could call anybody a cow.’ She warmed her hands on the mug, trying to think who it was. There was one girl everybody liked and Tony really fancied with a feathercut and she was very pretty. She’d been good to Angel. Something else irked her. ‘And I can’t believe Tony stole from you’.
Bruno flinched and grimaced, his back teeth making a clicking noise. ‘Suit yerself,’ he muttered. ‘I didn’t come all the way here to be insulted.’
Angel squeezed his knee. ‘I love you babes. So…’ she shrugged.
‘It might not have been him,’ he whispered in despair. ‘Oh, I can’t. I can’t live without him.’ He squeezed shut his eyes and sobbed on her shoulder.