‘I’m here to see Tony,’ says Angela.
Bob stands elephantine in the doorway of the Home with his checked shirt buttoned up to his neck, glasses off-square on the bridge of his nose, looking down and over her head. The sky is grey, rain clouds overhead and it’s still cold, the vapour of his breath visible as he sighs. He doesn’t, initially, respond and then says in a dry tone. ‘He’s still in bed. Most of the kids are. It’s a bit too early for visitors.’
Julie, neat and tidy as a perfumed doll, hears the door around the same time and follows the sound of voices. She glances past Bob, out into sea-green eyes that lock on hers and a hand that strokes blonde hair back from an elfin face that somehow registers an absence. An expression of not understanding the language spoken.
‘Is Tony not in?’ Angela asks.
Julie brushes past Bob and crouches. She takes Angela’s hands in hers and pulls her close into a cuddle. ‘You’ve not got a jacket on and it’s freezing.’
‘Is Tony not in?’ A blank quality to her voice and the way she stares through Julie and past Bob.
‘Has something happened to you? Julie strokes her bedraggled hair and ghost-white face, trying to elicit a response, but flinches as her fingertips brushes down her back and a damp stain on the backside of Angela’s patterned white dress, diarrhoea, and the stink clings to her.
‘Is Tony not in?’
‘Oh, for god sake,’ Bob mutters. He turns and clumps away, leaving them to it with his parting remark. ‘He’s up the stairs. Why don’t you go and annoy him. Gie us peace.’
Angela draws away from Julie and weaves past Bob, not looking back, resolutely climbing the stairs.
She barges into the bedroom, curtains partially open, dwarfed by the lustrous reds of the racing posters on one wall as she stands in the passageway between beds listening to the different sounds of their breathing. She kicks off plastic orange sandals and slips under the covers and piles into the bed beside Tony’s body. He murmurs something, but doesn’t waken and the snuggled heat of his skin from his arm and leg soothes and settles her and draws her into slumber and sleep.
‘That wasn’t me,’ says Bruno, wafting his blankets, up and down as if checking.
If surprised to see Angela in bed beside him Tony doesn’t show it, his arms slightly dead under her neck. He slides up and away from her clammy warmth, sitting up against the headboard and shakes his wrist and the feeling back into his hand ‘Whit wasn’t you?’
‘That’s pooey,’ Bruno sniggers.
‘Don’t smell anything,’ but Tony sneaks a look at Angela.
She squirms beneath the blankets bending her head up and around so she can look up at him, long eyelashes batting in a coy expression, and her hand brushes the nylon of his pyjamas at the top of his thigh, which makes him jerk his leg away from her.
‘Whit you doin’ Angel? he asks.
‘Nothnin’, she whimpers her gaze fixed on his face. Tears form and roll down her cheeks. She buries her face in the mattress, a blob of blonde hair. ‘I didn’t do anythin’. It wasn’t me.’
Tony alternates between patting and rubbing the top of her shoulder as she rocks back and forth with deep, noisy inhalation and exhalations. ‘It’s OK,’ he says. ‘You never did anythin’. It’s OK.’
Bruno gets up, and with practiced ease, quickly drags back the sheets off his bed and the undercover, leaving the foam-rubber mat and undercover bare. ‘You’ll probably need to put your stuff in the washing too, because she’s mingin’, he suggests, squinting over at Tony. He bundles up the dirty washing into a ball, hugged tight.
‘Am not,’ Angela snorts from beneath the blanket and brings her shoulders up and her head appears. ‘You’re just stupid.’ She rolls her eyes.
Bruno gives her a broken-toothed grin. He doesn’t hang about, hauling away his laundry with a grunt, a coverlet hanging down and sweeping the carpet. The sound of other children stomping along and laughing in the corridor grows louder when he opens the door and then fades.
‘You want to go out and play?’ says Angela, an expectant look on her face.
Tony hesitates. ‘I’m not sure.’
Her gaze drops away and she pushes her legs out of the covers and stand up, wobbling a little. ‘I hate you,’ she says. ‘My daddy would get mad and come and kill you. He’d stomp on you like a bug. And rip your clothes off.’ She demonstrates by leaping between the beds and pretending to rip the top of her dress off. ‘And hit you on the head. And. And. And. Split you in two by ripping his Y-fronts off and putting his willie winkie inside you and all the way up, so it comes out everywhere and spits on you.’
‘You’ve not got a dad,’ Tony finally says, his cheeks burning, swinging his legs out of bed and looking at her sideways with an adult and serious face. ‘And if you did he’d batter you for talking like a wee cow. Where did you hear all that stuff? I thought you were a nice wee girl.’
Bruno bounces back into the room. ‘You goin’ for breakfast?’ he asks Tony, paying no mind to Angela blubbering in front of him.
‘In a minute,’ says Tony.
‘Whit’s she greetin’ for?’
Tony shrugs. ‘Dunno.’ He nods towards the door. ‘You go doon first and I’ll get you doon there.’
‘Nae danger, I’ll just wait for you.’ Bruno avoids Tony’s gaze. He swervess past Angela and sits on the bed.’ She cannae go for breakfast anyway, because she’s no’ allowed.’
‘Shut up,’ says Tony.
‘I was just sayin,’. Bruno leans sideways and gets down on one knee. Scans the musty greyness beneath the bed and pulls out his drawing pad and a plastic dish with crayons and coloured pencils and marker pens. He flips though the drawings on his lap.
‘What’s that?’ Angela rubs her eyes and sniffs, points to the top of a page, showing the outline of a purple box with a green crayon roof and red and orange squiggles.
‘That’s where I used to stay,’ says Bruno, ‘but it was in the sky.’ He uses the end of a brown colouring in pencil to tap the red and orange marks. ‘That’s the stars.’
‘Where’s your mum and dad?’ Angela drifts closer, her knee brushing against his kneecap, peering at the drawing.
A harrumphing noise and Bruno’s pencil taps against two tiny black stick figures enclosed in bubbles as if it’s obvious. ‘They don’t live in the sky, but sometimes they float up when they want to see me.’
‘Wow,’ says Angela.
Julie raps the frame of the door and sticks her head in, chestnut hair falling over half her face, which she sweeps back with the flat of her hand in a distracted motion. ‘C’mon you two, breakfast,’ she says and doing a double-take. ‘I was wondering where you got to,’ she says to Angela in a warm tone.
‘Can Angela come for breakfast too?’ Tony asks. He pulls a V-neck jumper from the pile of clothes on the bottom of his bed and drags it over his head so he is dressed.
‘Yeh, of course,’ Julie says and turns away. ‘I used to have friends over for breakfast when I was young.’
Tony laughs, finding it difficult to imagine Julie being young, and Bruno and Angela smile back at him. They hear Julie rapping on the bedroom door next to their room and her sing-song voice, ‘Lazy-bones...’
Bruno flips over another page full of blobby shapes of different colours, to show Angela. ‘That’s wizards,’ he explains, wiggling his nose. ‘They can see everything and go anywhere.’
‘Can you draw fish?’ Angela asks.
‘Easy-peasy.’ Bruno picks up waxy orange and green crayons and quickly dashes the curves and the cross-over triangular tails on the corner of a page. He dots the eyes. ‘So they can see where they’re going.’
‘I want to go under the water in the canal.’ Angel says. ‘Can you do the big bells, ringing in your ear? And everybody singing?’
‘Aye, I think so’ says Bruno. ‘But you don’t need to go under the water. You can go and live in the sky wae me.’
Angela shakes her head from side to side. ‘No. I’m going under the water in the canal and Tony’s goin’ to take me. Aren’t you Tony?’