Bruno is hanging about waiting for Tony when he comes out of the office. ‘An ambulance came and took Hunter away,’ he explains. ‘Hunter swears he’s going to kill you. You should have stabbed him in both eyes.’ The thought cheers him up and he grabs Tony’s arm and guides him to the lounge.
‘This is where you go,’ he chuckles. ‘When you’ve nowhere else to go.’
Tony knows some of the kid’s faces. Girls loll together on two three-seater faux-leather settees, rubbing shoulders, feet tucked under them like mischievous cats, with their jackets on, even though it’s not cold and glare at him with cool, disinterested eyes. Others studiously ignore him, including Bob, who is reading the sports pages of the Daily Record and smoking a cigarette. Whitewashed walls, high ceilings with plenty of light from front and side bay window, makes the place feel clean. It mirrors the dining room on the other side, but with a different view of the side garden, a bumblebee appears and buzzes and bumps against the window, trying to gain entry. The pile of carpet is earth-coloured and not yet scuffed and tarred with feet. One boy, near the unplugged telly, has his hood up, messy ginger hair spilling out, eyes closed, open mouth playing catch as catch can with sleep. Another boy too tall, too thin, hair too long and uncombed sinks into the chair opposite, one hand in his coat pocket, reading a dog-eared paperback with a fixed intensity that excludes the world outside the written pages.
Bruno seems content to have showed him off. ‘Need to get my school stuff,’ he says, pulling on Tony’s wrist and expecting him to follow him back up to their room.
Tony treks up the stairs beside Bruno. His companion keeps talking about cars and racing drivers, but Tony isn’t really listening, his stomach grumbles and he wonders what is going to happen to him.
The other residents get ready for school with running feet and a final volley of door banging. Tony is kept off because he needs to see his social worker. Bruno’s mattress is stripped and in the ground-floor rooms below a hoover drones, Tony pokes about below the beds, opens and shuts drawers in the pine chest-of-drawers. The top drawers contain grubby pants and worn cotton and nylon socks and the third drawer folded T-shirts. Bruno’s clothing. The bottom drawers lie empty, but for a broken stick of a purple crayon, waiting for a life to fill them. In the cupboard hang a nylon jacket with a fur-lined hood and a blue school blazer, insignia in the shape of a sailing ship on the pocket, alongside a pair of neatly pressed grey trousers. A Matchstick, red, fire engine is lodged inside a pair of brown brogues. Tony picks it up and scoots the wheels with flat fingers to test if it works. He kneels down rolling it along the carpet, up the stippled white grain of the wall onto the radiator and onto the windowsill chuntering nee-no, nee-no, nee-no fire-engine sounds. A corvine calls like a muffled gun from the back garden. He ganders out at nodding clumps of daffodils, white and yellow crocuses, colouring the greens and the sticks of wintery-thin bushes. A magpie pokes and stabs its beak into the moss under the tree, adjusting its head as if thinking, bouncing and stabbing anew. It flies up onto the swing seat, its call echoing through the gardens then soars away over the rooftops into grey sky.
He sits on his bed with the fire engine upside down in his hand, spinning the wheels, but the magic has gone out of it. Falling backwards onto the bed, he rustles his body until lying comfortably, holding the fire engine at arm length, up and the air away from him, conscious he still has got his shoes on top of clean sheet and his da would kill him for that. His eyes close and his body jerks into a dream.
Two magpies are calling, sitting patiently on the wire fence waiting to make a snack of his eyes and peck them out. Rough rope from the swing has been knotted around Tony’s neck and his hands grow slack, his eye bulge and his feet inches from the grass dance like a dervish marionette as he slides into unconsciousness. He sees his da and…
Alice shakes him by the shoulder. ‘You’ve being having a nightmare pet.’
Tony feels groggy and when he rolls over, to sit up, the metal of the fire engine digs into his bum.
‘You want to come downstairs and get a cuppa and biscuit?’ Her tone is upbeat. ‘Your social worker should be here soon. And we’ve had a quick confab on the phone and, the good news is, I’m to be your Key Worker.’
He bites his lower lip and nods.
‘We need to buy you some new clothes and shoes. That’ll be fun, eh.’ Her voice drops, ‘And we might need to go back to your old house and pick up a few things. You do know you’re not going back there?
He cocks his head as he looks up at her. A puzzled expression plays on his face and tears form in the corner of his eyes.
It hadn’t occurred to him that he has nothing to wear, but ashapeless yellowing shirt with buttons missing and grey shorts and a single pair of worn out black shoes. Those are riches enough for him. Outside that purview other untethered creatures lurk and roam, waiting to pounce and he didn’t want to think about them.
She tuts, ruffles his hair, and sighs. ‘Sorry pet, I thought they’d told you. Never mind. We’ll discuss it later.’ Rubbing his shoulder, she makes light of it, ‘C’mon,’ she says. ‘There’s nothing better than a Custard Cream to cheer you up.’
Tony’s head falls and he cries silently into his chest. Outside a magpie calls.