Angel 69 (delays)
Angel listened for Adam’s cries and when she couldn’t hear them rushed over to his cot, praying he’d be alright, even though she didn’t believe in God. He’d a chubby fist up at his snotty nose, but his breathing was regular and he was tucked in tight. She resisted the urge to pick him up and hug him. Tiptoed to the other side of the room and set her stuff out first. A simple white blouse, black skirt, black tights and shoes. Her makeshift wardrobe didn’t allow for a black coat, so she settled for a long brown one that had double-breasted labels.
She sat the mat out on the floor to change his nappy. Then she tried waking him by blowing gently on his face. When that didn’t work she kissed his forehead and cheek. An arm came up and his hand tried to bat her away. He frowned like a world-weary-old man. His eyes opened and there was anger in them that he’d been pulled from the world of sleep. She tickled his belly and he giggled.
When she was changing his dirty nappy he squirmed and fought. ‘Yer stinking,’ she said and grabbed his feet together to pull him closer and wipe his arse.
She tried to stop tears, because it wasn’t fair on Adam. She didn’t want him to see her continually crying and think that was normal for her - and him. But when she changed his nappy, dried him and brushed his hair she couldn’t help but think of Lisa and that would start her again.
‘I want my wee baby Lisa, she whined. ‘I want her now. I want her. I want her. I want her…’
She sang, ‘Hickory Dickory Dock, the mouse ran up the clock… ‘And tickled his midriff and stomach in the way that made him squirm with delight, as she lifted his plump body and put the nappy under his bum.
She realised she was also singing to Lisa. Absence was a palpable thing, more than just a closeness of skin. The clock had stopped that day, but she rejoiced in every minute of Lisa-ness and that, in a way, kept her going through the motions.
Adam seemed to have forgotten her already. She wondered when he put his arm out, or turned in his cot at night, if he was searching for his twin’s warm presence. Looking down at him she realised how perfect he was and she hugged him to her chest. He wiped his nose on her, but she was still in her jammies and had yet to get changed.
She ran through all the things she had to do as she got him dressed. Babies came as they were with woolly and fluffy being the basic model. They didn’t need to bother with colour coordination or wearing mourning colours. Bright red was alright.
Sighing, she remembered she hadn’t shaved her legs. Nobody will be looking at them, she thought. And the bad angel creeped into her head – Tony – when it was really Pizza Face she should be thinking about, or more precisely, not thinking of.
Trying to keep Adam amused wasn’t easy, because she had to keep him at arm’s length in case he snotted on the collar of her coat or was sick on her clean blouse. He was tumbling on his belly on the rug in front of the telly, oblivious to her predicament, but seemed quite happy with the helping hand she offered to help him onto his stomach or back. She picked him up and sniffed his bum. Checking he hadn’t done anything and she didn’t need to change him before they came to pick her up.
Looking at the clock, she realised time was getting on. The funeral was at 10 o’clock and it was twenty-past eight. It would take an hour odds to get there as they were going at rush-hour times.
She swiped Adam up and clutched him to her chest. He cried and screamed his head jerking one way and throwing his body the other, but she strode towards the door and into the hall. A couple of the other girls were sitting in the kitchen, and smiled in sympathy when she looked in, but Church wasn’t there.
She bounded down the stairs and into the office.
Church was on the phone and held a hand up, asking her to wait. She slipped into the chair in front of the desk, Adam screaming. Usually, that would have been enough to make her turn tail and stand outside, but she was growing increasingly anxious.
The guard frowned and said ‘OK’, and put the phone down. She held a hand up to her mouth and took a deep breath.
Church couldn’t meet her eyes. ‘The other guard didn’t come to work today and something’s kicked off over by and everything is a bit off kilter.’
Adam tugged on Angel’s long hair, tried to grab a handful. She was half-listening to Church and trying to disentangle herself from his grip without losing too much of her hair.
‘So we might be running a bit late,’ Church swallowed and whispered. ‘Or even have to cancel.’
She jerked her head away from Adam’s grip. The pain came not from the loss of hair, but what Church had said. ‘Whit dae yeh mean?’ she asked. ‘This isnae a Sunday school outing. This is my wee lassies, fucking, funeral…And you’re saying I cannae go?’
Standing, leaning across the desk facing up to the guard, clutching Adam threw her slightly off balance. Her eyes brimmed with tears of anger and disappointment and the realisation she expected this. It was a punishment, from the God she didn’t believe in for all the things that she’d done wrong in her life.
Adam’s response was to wail louder, locks of her blonde hair suddenly discarded and falling to the carpet-tiled floor.
‘Aye, I’m sorry.’ Church squinted at the phone, as if willing it to ring and scratched at the back of her neck and fidgeted. ‘It’s never happened before.’
‘Whit the fuck use is that to me?’
The guard took a few seconds to answer and it was like letting the air out of a car tyre, ‘Dunno’.
‘You cannae dae this to me,’ Angela screamed. ‘I’ve done nothing wrang. I shouldnae be even be in here. My wee lassie needs me’
The guard pushed her chair back and her voice was chocking too. She leaned the pad of her hand on post-it notes stuck to the side of the desk like biroed miniature posters of art nouveau events, the stained surface littered with papers, coffee cups, an open diary, and an ashtray filled with douts that stunk out the room out.
Church’s feet kicked the metal bin, which rung out, as she worked her way around the desk and put her hand on Angel’s arm. ‘I know hen, I know.’
Angela slumped onto her shoulder and cried. Adam pushing against both of them to be seen and heard, outrage and fear on his face as he screamed.
The phone rang and the guard pulled away from her and grabbed the receiver holding it up to her ear.
Angela stood with her mouth open, not realising that she was holding her breath.