Angel 67 (night calls)
Angel didn’t want to think about the funeral. She tried to stop her tears, because it wasn’t fair on Adam. She didn’t want him to see her crying all the time. But when she changed his nappy, dried his bum sprinkled talc and spruced him up and brushed his hair, she couldn’t help but think of Lisa and that would start her again.
When she played with him, and sang the nursery rhymes he liked, the nursery rhyme also Lisa loved and could mangle the words, ‘Hickory Dickory Dock, the mouse ran up the clock’, she’d tickled his midriff and stomach in the way that made him squirm with delight, but she was also singing to his twin sister. Absence was a palpable thing, more than a closeness of skin, more than that faraway look in his eyes. The clock had stopped, but she rejoiced in every minute she had with him and that kept her going.
She talked on the phone to Pizza Face and was grateful for everything he’d done. She’d hummed and hawed, but made the right noises about moving back in with him, playing happy families, her and Adam, when she got out of prison. But she’d a vice she didn’t admit to him, hadn’t told anybody about.
A girl with spiky hair totting a child that looked like a handful and heavyweight bruiser had showed her how to diddle the pay-phone in the hallway, at the bottom of the stairs, near the office. When she slept, she always slept badly. When she woke with cheeks wet with tears and sat bolt upright, scrambling to check on Adam. The smell of a dirty nappy was a relief, because he was alive. If his nappy was clean and the house was quiet she’d nip down the stairs to use the phone and she’d phone Tony.
Tony was a fellow member of the insomniac’s club. He’d pick up the phone on the first ring, no matter what time she called. It was as if he was expecting her to phone or he was reading her mind. It was a different Tony holding the receiver on the other end of the line, calm and wise on the phone. He didn’t talk much but listened and she could feel him there and listened to his breathing, like a horse, just out of reach, but in the paddock.
She’d sit in her jammies on the bottom stair, the receiver nestled in at her neck, fluffy slippers keeping her feet warm. Sometimes the nightshift worker would pull open the door and sneak a look at her before quietly shutting it over. It was just her and Tony in the darkness in their own world.
For days and nights she’d breathed shallow and fretful. Choking with remorse and guilt, but now she was able to tell him and breathe again. Fragmented memories. Panic overwhelming her, what if something happened to Adam? She clung to him like she was drowning and he was her life raft. It wasn’t healthy. She knew that and it all came out on the phone line.
‘I heard her cry and went back to sleep. I thought it was a cat, meowing. I was dreaming. I was sure I was, but then I wasn’t.’
‘She didn’t suffer,’ Tony finally said. ‘And for whit it’s worth I think you’re doing a great job. Don’t blame yourself. I used to dae that kind of stuff when my da’ disappeared. Make deals with God. The only person you’re hurting is yerself and you’re smarter than that.’
‘I’m no smart.’
He laughed, ‘alright, you’re no smart’.
‘Bruno still sleeping?’ she asked.
‘Aye, he’s got to be good at something.’
‘I love you Tony.’
‘She didn’t suffer. I love you too,’ he muttered, before he hung up.
That’s how it started. She dashed up the stairs to check Adam’s breathing. For the first time in ages, she was able to nap. It was Adam’s crying that woke her. He’d a dirty nappy. She’d changed him then went to the kitchen to get him breakfast and get herself a cup of tea.
Church came up the stairs at her back. She still had a bit of a cough and Angel heard her before she saw her. The officer was gaunt and pale and looked older.
She tried to sound cheerful. ‘If you’re making a cup of tea, make one for me, too.’
‘Sure,’ Angel shrugged, flicked the kettle on. She went over to the sink and picked out the red chipped mug that Church favoured, which took a lot of filling and two teabags. She looked out the window, a grey day.
Church sat at the table waiting to get served. Both hands clutching the mug. ‘Bit of bad news,’ she pressed her lips together and the lines on her forehead stood out. ‘I’ve to escort you to the funeral.’
Angel broke half a Weetabix into a plastic plate with the picture of a sheep embossed inside. She liked to ask Adam, ‘What noise does a sheep make?’ as he wolfed down his breakfast and the outline of the sheep emerged.
‘Baa,’ Adam would say on cue. It was so cute she’d do it again, but then think about Lisa.
‘Could have been worse,’ Angel edged past Church the plastic plate with Weetabix in balanced in her hand and a plastic spoon clutched in her other hand. ‘We could have had that moany faced cow that was here when you were aff.’
‘That’s no the bad part.’ Church coughed and shook her head. She took a gulp of tea and stood up; put the mug on the wooden table, then bringing it with her as she followed Lisa into her room.
Adam was still in his pen, napping, but his eyes shone as he opened them. He laughed as he looked up. Angel and Church were peering down at him and smiling.
‘Did you hear what happened last week with McAuley?’ Church asked.
Lisa dipped her shoulder and picked Adam out of the playpen. ‘A bit,’ she balanced Adam on her hip, the plate with Weetabix and spoon in her other hand. ‘I wasn’t really paying attention, but everybody’s talking about it.’
She wove around scattered toys and sat on the couch. Adam’s mouth opened like a baby bird as she spooned the first bit of milky Weetabix into his mouth.
Church went and stood near the fireplace. She covered her mouth with her hand as she coughed and dug a hanky out of her side pocket and blew her nose. Adam stared at her as he continued eating.
‘Well, the thing is McAuley escaping like that changes everything. We got a lot of media attention. And you know how that goes?’
Angel nodded, more intent on wiping Adam’s mouth and only giving fleeting attention to what Church was saying.
‘Well, the thing is,’ Church took a deep breath and then coughed. And the hanky was out again. ‘The thing is the governor is over reacting.’
‘Oh, aye.’ Angel dibbed a bit of Weetabix from Adam’s chin.
‘He said all escorts out with the prison, the prisoners need to be handcuffed.’
Angel scrapped at the plate and the curly haired sheep emerged.
‘Baa,’ shouted Adam and clapped his hands.
‘Baa,’ Angel hugged his shoulder and balanced the spoon so he could reach it.
‘Are you listening to me?’ Church asked.
Angel glanced at her. ‘Aye, prisoners have to be handcuffed.’
‘You don’t mean me?’ Angel’s voice rose up. ‘Dae yeh, at my ain wee lassie’s funeral?’
‘Nothing I can do about it,’ Church put her mug of tea on the mantelpiece and bent over as she started coughing.