The Bull Singer
"Hair growth where you don't want it?"
Instinct made me touch the roughness above my upper lip. "So what?"
Steve studied his hands again. "What if we could prove you're older than you believe you are, even by a few months; that would give Mr Mornington a chance to have the case against Mags dismissed."
"Who's Mr Mornington?"
"Mr Chambers' lawyer."
"So what do we do?"
"Nothing much. Do you know anything about average growth statistics in children?" I shook my head and Steve continued. "When they hit puberty, lots of things happen to every child in exactly the same way but at different times, but there are other things that happen differently according to the genes they inherit from their parents; also their health or lack of it can affect how they develop. Poor diet at a young age can affect growth. How tall is your mother?"
"Five-nine I think."
"And you're five four. Have you grown much since you've been eating properly?"
"My legs have grown longer, and I'm not as skinny as I was last year."
"Do you know anything about your father?"
"No, I never met him. The Bitch won't tell me who he is."
"Do you know where you were born?"
"Some place in Manchester. It's what my birth certificate says."
"And you believe it?"
"Come on, Doc. It's an official document."
"Which can be forged or altered well enough to fool all but an expert eye. Have you got a passport?"
"No, I've never needed one."
"What about school trips abroad?"
"I was either never well enough, or the Bitch wouldn't let me go."
"Okay, let's back to your own health and growth." Steve took hold of my left hand and drew it towards him. Pushing the sleeve of my surgical gown he ran his hands over the muscles of my arm. "You see how your muscles are quite well defined? I've seen you naked often enough during the tests and I can tell you, you no longer have the body of a boy. You must have noticed the change in your body shape as your bones mature and your muscles lengthen. Perhaps you've noticed a change in your voice."
"My voice broke two years ago. So what's new?"
Steve chuckled. "And I suppose you still talk with a squeak one minute then a bellow like Bosun the next? From what I've observed, you're still a light tenor but your tone is steady and fully controlled."
"What do you bet your birth certificate has been doctored and you're heading for your seventeenth or eighteenth birthday?"
For a moment I want to laugh at him, but something in his eyes told me he was serious. "Why would my mother do that?"
Steve shook his head. "I've no idea, but from what Elias has told me about her, I've no illusions as to her ability to have someone produce any document she chooses."
Stunned into silence, I had to think hard about Angela's meetings with an endless stream of unsavoury characters while I would be locked in the bedroom. Didn't Angela remember that little boys listened and spied at keyholes? For years I did this, first so I could keep my mother in sight because I loved her so much and I couldn't understand why she shut me away from her all the time. Later, I did it to try to find out things for my own use; not that I understood much of what was being discussed. But week after week, year after year, I saw money on the lounge table; stacks of it. And over the years I watched my mother change from a so-so mother into the Bitch I grew to hate; and I blamed the change on the lure of all that money.
After Steve left to see to other patients, Marge took charge and gave me breakfast then helped me into the shower. Then came a trip to various departments for test for this and tests for that till I was glad when Marge had me ferried back to Grandfather Chambers' suite and the comfort of a luxurious bed. Ah, bliss! A chance to sleep; or so I thought. I wasn't prepared for a visit from the Wicked Witch of the West in person all six foot of her. When she marched into the bedroom I actually looked behind her for Dorothy's little dog Toto. I stared in surprise as she came to the bed, dumped her case on the roll over table and whirled on Marge. Surprisingly, Marge smiled a warm welcome. "Jessie Welch! I haven't seen you for years, how are you dear?"
Ms Welch nodded her head at Marge. "I'm very well, Matron, thank you. I've come to interview Joseph Street regarding his temporary custody." Her voice reverberated through my head and made me wince.
"Oh, have you now?" Marge stood in front of her with her hands on her hips, still smiling. "You didn't ask my permission to come barging in here. Where is Miss Moore?"
"Miss Moore has been detained by a domestic emergency. As her immediate superior, I've been called into to take over the case. I've had my instructions that no time must be lost in placing this young man in a favourable environment; that is what I'm here to do. You can stay and monitor the session or leave, I don't mind which." They exchanged knowing smiles before Marge left, chuckling to herself, something about a leopard never changing her spots. 'Elmira Gulch' spun round and unzipped her case, taking out several sheets of paper, a pad and a pen. Plunking herself down on Marge's chair, she sorted through her sheets until she was satisfied they were in order then took up her pen and pad, then looked up at me, or should I say down at me. "Joseph Street, at a special meeting this morning, I relieved Miss Moore of the handling of your case. I suppose you want to know the outcome of the court's proceedings regarding Mr Alton." She didn't give me a chance to open my mouth. "He has been charged with sexual assault upon a minor and pending a trial to be set at a later date he has been ordered not to have contact with you unless it is supervised by me or the person appointed as your temporary guardian. Your mother has had a private restraining order placed upon him stating that he has not to come within five miles of your temporary residence. But to make things even, I have also had a similar restraining order placed upon you mother." Ms Welch looked me straight in the eye and winked. While my jaw dropped a mile, she lost no time in rattling off other decisions the court had made regarding Mags and me, but it all went over my head as I studied Ms Welch more closely. Had she actually winked at me? Couldn't have! Her face would have put the sternest judge to flight. Suddenly she spoke my name and tapped my arm. "Joseph, pay attention; I'm not in the habit of repeating myself. As soon as you are declared fit enough to leave here, your guardian will transport you to your temporary address where you will remain indefinitely."
I bridled at being told what to do by a stranger, mysteriously intriguing though she appeared to be. "Who is this guardian? Don't I have a choice in this?"
"Oh, yes. You either do this or you will be taken to a Social Services home, although that depends on how your own trial goes."
"My trial!" I reared up off my pillowed and prayed for Marge to appear. "What have I done?"
"You assaulted a police officer and your mother and she has pressed charges. A preliminary hearing has been set for the first week in the New Year. After that I might not have to bother with you. You'll be in Juvenile detention." Suddenly her fearsome expression cracked. "Mind you, I'll fight like the devil to keep you out of that place." She rose to her feet and put all but one of her papers away, closed her case and shook my hand. There was a twinkle in her eye as she said, "I'm not quite the monster stories make Social workers out to be, young man, neither is Miss Moore. Trust us to work for you not for your mother or the government department I represent." Promising to see me soon, she marched out of the room after flashing Marge a warm smile. It was some time before I could speak. "What on earth was that?"
"Your salvation on a broomstick?" said Marge with a laugh, "and I'm not kidding."
The following day, Steve and Derek came to give me the results of the tests and shot my elation to pieces. I had a hole in my heart.
I couldn't believe it. I had a Ventricular Septal Defect; at birth it was so small it had gone undetected. Over the years, and thanks to my dear mother neglecting me, it had slowly grown till now it had begun to affect my health; and the fainting fits were the result. As if I didn't have enough to worry about. Knowing nothing about heart surgery I had a vision of my chest being ripped open and me joining the Zipper Club. I was so relieved when Derek explained that he would run a catheter from my groin to my heart and insert a patch over the hole. I would be able to watch the whole proceeding on a monitor if I wanted to, but I chose to be sedated. I certainly would not make much of a doctor. Five hours later, it was all over and I was left to sleep undisturbed for as long as I wanted in a recovery room next door to the OT. I only slept for a couple of hours and woke up with Mags on my mind. No one had really told me what had happened to him except for what Ms Welch said about him being released on bail for which it turned out Elias had stood as guarantor. I wondered what he was doing now, when I would ever see him again.
I got so anxious, (which wasn't good for me,) about people not telling me anything, Marge went off to get some answers for me. Satisfied that someone was doing something, I settled back and tried to relax and did actually doze off. In the distance, I heard a chair being moved and felt something nudge the bed. I opened my eyes and saw Ms Welch looming over me, a reproachful scowl pinching her face. "Young man, you certainly know how to manipulate people. I told you I would sort things out and yet you kick up such a stink you have your doctors fearing a relapse. Now, stop all this childish nonsense; the sooner you calm down and let people do their jobs, the sooner you will recover. And you can tidy yourself up; you have visitors coming in five minutes and you look a disgrace."
All I could say was, "Yes, Miss," my voice no more than a squeak. She snorted, stuck her nose in the air and marched away to where a set of pyjama shorts and shirt lay folded on top of a silk dressing gown. In a manner that brooked no resistance, she had me stripped and dressed despite my embarrassment, in three minutes flat, and dumped into a wheel chair with an extended footrest. Luckily all the doors we negotiated opened automatically or I would have ended up black and blue with my left ankle used as a battering ram, the speed with which she pushed my chair to the Chambers suite. The only thing I found hilarious was the reaction of anyone we encountered as they grinned and backed out of our way or get mown down. That and the way Ms Welch put one foot on the rear bar of the chair, pushed off with the other and yelled 'Yeeehaah!' as we sped down the hall towards the suite. Within five minutes, Ms Welch had violated several normal hospital rules, and showed her complete disregard for a patient's safety; although I suspected my hellish ride had been staged; and all she said was, "That was fun." I couldn't help laughing because I had enjoyed the ride as well.
Once I could breathe normally again, I glanced up at her, and found her hatchet face back to its normally humourless expression. She turned down the sheets and, with surprising strength, hauled me out of the chair and placed me gently on the bed. She straightened the sheets and, surprise surprise, as we heard footsteps approach the door, she leaned over and planted a kiss on my forehead. Seconds later, while I stared at her like a stupid fool, she was back to her starchy old self, reaching into her case for another pile of papers. Then the door opened and Steve and Derek walked in, deep in conversation. Behind them, walked a man even taller than Benjamin with a shock of white hair, and carrying a brief case. Accompanying him, Marge only reached to his elbow but was obviously in charge of the group. Then I got the second shock of the day as someone pushed Elias Chambers' wheelchair into the room. "MAGS!"
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