Angel 72 (church hall)
With the two guards behind her, Angel skirted around the side of the church. The tar path was uneven, moss from the borders of the grass lapping up over the kerb stones and splashing close to the wall. She had to watch her feet as she carried Adam. The emergency door of the church hall was propped open with a chair. She looked inside and spotted Bruno.
She stepped over the door jamb into the hall. It was gloomy even though the hall lights were on, the Arrtex ceiling was patchy and white paint peeling and turning grey. Floor scuffed with black skid marks from rubber-soled sannies, and scratched from the wear-and-tear of chairs and tables being dragged along its surface.
‘I didn’t think you’d come’, Bruno hollered, coming to meet her and for some reason kissing the side of her cheek as if they were in a French movie.
‘Of course, I’d come,’ Angel said. ‘Why wouldn’t I?’
‘Forget it.’ Bruno made a face and tried to make Adam laugh, but her son tried to burrow into her shoulder and avoided looking at him. ‘Just wae the prison guards shadowing you and that,’ Bruno added. ‘They might no’ have let yeh’.
‘True,’ Angel admitted.
Church and her colleague stood behind her saying nothing, but expressions on their faces suggested there was some truth in what he said.
Tony and Pizza Face were hovering at the tables near the side door with people Angel didn’t recognise. Elderly ladies from the parish had laid out with sandwiches and sausage rolls and juice for the kids. Surplus chairs were stacked against the stage. There was room for about a hundered, but the crowd barely numbered fifteen and that included Angel and her guards.
Pizza Face nicked a sausage roll from the plate and stuffed it into his mouth. He came to meet them as they came towards the spread. Passing an empty table he picked up a cheese sandwich, dangled a triangle of white bread for Adam.
Adam was all eyes. Angel held him but he lunged for the sandwich and held out his other hand, imperiously demanding another quarter of white bread, even though he hadn’t eaten that one.
A heavyset woman bustled in carrying a large kettle. ‘Who want’s tea?’ she asked.
The women behind her clutched a coffee pot, ‘Coffee?’ she glanced along the row of tables, quickly filled with people munching. Hands were held up and she stepped between shoulders and with expert ease tilted her pot and filled the small ceramic cup, sitting. ‘Sugars, over there,’ she nodded towards the metal bowl on the covered table, anticipating the next question.
A man with lopsided specs glanced up at her and dipped into the sugar bowl and glanced up at her. The spoon dinged against the side of the bowl as he dropped it. Angel’s mum was sitting beside him and she knew that he was her mum’s latest squeeze and she was already drunk.
‘Och, hen,’ Karen shouted, stick thin, a glass of whisky in her hand and fag in the corner of her mouth. ‘There yeh are.’
Putting her hand on the shoulder of the heavily-made up woman Angel had seen her in church with and wobbling, for a moment threatening to knock over the table, as she stood up. Her eyes rested on Angel as she stumbled towards her with the glass in her hand.
Church took a step in front of Angel and Pizza Face turned and he shook his head. Adam dropped the corner of sandwich from his mouth. Karen stopped for a moment to take a long drag of her fag and let it drop on the wooden floor and dragged her heel over it. She seemed to have noticed Pizza Face for the first time and grimaced.
Angel said, ‘I’m burstin’, need to go to the toilet’. Dizzy with tiredness, she also needed a bit of time on her own and lifted Adam, handing him to Pizza Face. ‘Watch him for a minute, will yeh?’
She didn’t know who was more shocked, Adam or Pizza Face. He held the child away from him as if he was a different species and her son cried, but she left them to it. She felt like Blanche DuBois in that film she’d once watched with Marlon Brandon in it, dependent on the kindness of strangers.
The younger guard followed her as she made her way towards the back end of the hall and pushed open the double doors. The toilet was on the right. She’d no plans to escape. Even welcomed going back to prison and back to that life of strange normality.
Locking the cubicle door and sitting on the pan she shut her eyes. She could hear the guard breathing outside the door. Then the door to next to her cubicle being pushed open and the sound of the toilet seat being put down. Angel waited for a few seconds, half expecting to hear the scrape of feet on the Shanks’ ceramic bowl and the guard to be peering at her over the gap in the partition wall. It no longer surprised her how guards found new ways of looking down at her and other prisoners.
Instead, she heard the tinkle of pee hitting water. Angel smiled at the confirmation that her escort must be human after all. They flushed the toilet at the same time and the guard’s face was girlish, pink and friendly, when they stepped outside the cubicle, eyeing each other.
‘Bet there’s no soap,’ said the guard, rubbing her hands together. She looked over at the two sinks underneath the grimy fire-glass window with wire woven into squaress through it, a spider hanging on its web in the corner, creating an alcove.
‘Or a towel?’ Angel smiled. ‘That would be just expecting too much’.
The guard tilted her head, paper towels over there. She nodded it the direction of the windowsill.
‘And there’s soap!’ Angel brushed past her. The toilet was freezing, she tried to turn the hot tap, but the spigot wouldn’t turn. She washed her hands with cold, picking up a couple of paper towels to dry them and dropping them in the waste bin near the sink.
The guard only washed the side of her hands. ‘Carbolic,’ she said, ‘that figures, the kind of soap my granny liked.’ She sniffed her wet fingers.
‘Aye,’ Angel answered, friendly enough, adding a smile to their agreement. She had no notion of who her granny or grandad or even who her da was. She only had a mother and that was more than enough to content with. ‘I won’t be staying long, Adam’s too tired. Better if we just get back.’
The guard wiped at her hands. ‘You sure?’
The guard patted her hair and glanced at Angel’s reflection in the tarnished silver mirror hanging on the side wall. ‘That your mum?’
Angel shook her head and sighed.
‘My mum’s like that tae, when she’s got a drink in her.’ She turned to face Angel. ‘And I’m sorry to hear about your wee girl. I never got a chance to say.’
‘It’s alright,’ but tears began to run down Angel’s face. ‘You got kids?’
‘Need to catch a man first,’ the guard said. ‘Let’s get back.’