It’s raining. Invisible rain. The kind that strikes like fast silver knives. I can’t see it through the window of the bus, but I know it’s there because the pavements are slick and black, and folk are scurrying along with hoods up and coats held tight against their throats.
I don’t like travelling this early but mum insisted.
She’s next to me, clutching a red leather purse, and from where I’m sitting it looks like she’s plucked a puckered heart directly from her chest. “All this,” she gasps, squeezing her fist tighter, “it weighs you down.” She gives me this wide, sad-eyed look and I turn my head away and stare out into the dark grey maw of the street. Then she sighs, a long drawn out breath that rattles from deep within her .
My brother, Jay, is at Mrs Pope’s tonight, and dad is ‘working’ in the pub. Dad’s always in the pub these days, even though it’s like a morgue in there. He says he can’t afford to close and risk losing our remaining customers. This means mum is always left to deal with the everyday problems that arise in our house. When I have nausea or cravings it’s mum who attends my needs; if the school calls to say Jay has been in another fight, it’s mum who juggles the aftermath; and if idiots from the village use our stairs as a public urinal, post bags of crap through our letterbox or graffiti the walls of our flat with hate speech, it’s mum who singlehandedly cleans up the piss and shit and poison.
We ride the bus the whole way into town then catch another one to the hospital. I don’t speak for the entire journey, and she doesn’t say much except to ask if I’ve remembered to bring a toothbrush and soap and sanitary towels. I nod and continue to stare out of the window, annoyed that she’s forgotten I haven’t bled for months.
I watch a fat raindrop chase a skinny rain drop and then the two merge and run down the window as one. I haven’t cried either.
“You won’t be allowed home the first weekend,” she says. “But we’ll be up to see you on the Saturday afternoon.”
“It’s not an easy place to get to,” she sighs, “two buses and then a walk up that big hill.”
I stay quiet.
What I really want to do is scream and hiss at her and tell her that she didn’t have to come, that I could have gotten there myself. But I don’t have the motivation for another argument. Plus, I’m not allowed to travel alone on public transport (not yet anyway), not with my ‘condition’.
I don’t actually care where this place is or how you get there or how long it takes. Away from school and my so-called friends, all I’ve got is time. A whole bloody eternity of having to live on the same planet as bigots and prats who look at me like I’ve got horns. Nobody asked me how I felt about going into hospital. They just dragged me up here last week under false pretences, and then ambushed me with the “wouldn’t it be nice to stay and have a rest for a little while?”
I suppose it couldn’t be worse than the behavioural unit they had me in for three months before the summer holidays—all that art therapy crap, and the compulsory
socialising at set times with the other day-patients when all I wanted to do was hide and sleep. Plus, Stupid Paul the bipolar boy kept trying to get me to kiss him. I might even have done it in the end just to shut him up, but the health-workers had me under constant surveillance.
Mum has been acting the martyr to anyone who’ll listen ever since the medical team got involved. She keeps telling the same story over and over again about how traumatised she was when the police phoned that night to say they’d found me and how I’d been left for dead beneath that underpass, smeared head to torso in my own blood.
Her talking about it makes me want to rip her vocal cords out. She gets offended when I say that and says it proves just how mentally unbalanced I am, then she uses it as further proof that they’re doing the right thing by sending me away. Sometimes, I think she forgets it was me who was attacked and not her.
She also says I’ve become a completely different person since it happened. I think she’s wrong. I still feel anger and sadness and joy and all the other normal emotions about the same things I always did. It’s just that those emotions are less intense. Dr Rupert says it’s because I’m ‘clinically depressed’—again, I’m not convinced he knows what he’s on about either. I overheard mum talking to him about me on the phone yesterday. She said whenever she looks at me, all she sees this pale, hollow, imitation of her daughter and in some ways it would have been easier if they could just have buried me.
Of course, mum has a very black and white way of thinking. Like, if someone commits a crime then they must be a bad person. She says half the kids I go to school with are ‘bad elements’ because they drink or smoke or shoplift, or simply because I used to be friends with them but now they’ve turned their back on me—and maybe she’s right about some of them—but she doesn’t stop to think about what motivates them to do the things they do. The one thing I’ve never fathomed though, is which way her moral compass would have swung if it had been someone else’s daughter in my situation: would she have been giving out the tea and sympathy or the shit parcels?
Whatever Rupert’s response was, it elicited a sob and a sniffle and a word of thanks, so I guess he’s not a complete imbecile. Mum keeps telling me that our family is “very, very lucky to have someone like him”. I suppose she’s right because, technically, I’m not even in Rupert’s jurisdiction, he took me on as a ‘special project’ after the headshrinker at the behavioural unit refused to keep treating me. I hated that woman with her unending questions and her finger gestures, and she insinuated that I might be better locked away in a secure unit, which is why I bit her on the wrist.
We get off the bus and walk up the hill. It takes ages and my hair is dripping because my hood won’t stay up. Mum moans about how she’ll have to get two buses all the way back on her own, and when I say, “why don’t you get a taxi?” she just sniffs.
There is a woman in front of us who is out in her nightgown and she’s talking to herself and sitting on the wet grass. Mum nudges me to walk faster, and when I turn and look over my shoulder I see that the woman has rolled forward onto her fleshy, pink belly.
There are signs everywhere that say ‘no smoking in the hospital grounds’ but when we get closer to the Adolescent Unit I see a red car with its windows rolled down and two obese people sitting inside with lit cigarettes. Later I’ll be introduced to them as the night staff.
I go through the swing door and Rupert emerges from his office.
“How are you?” he asks.
He talks about the weather for a few minutes and then mum wrings her hands and says, “Will you be ok here?”
I shrug. “Fine.”
“Have you got your charger for your mobile?”
“And you’ll phone tonight and let me know how you are?”
She’s acting as though it’s a summer camp.
Once she goes, I am allocated a room, and an Eastern European doctor with rosy cheeks and garlic breath comes in and checks my teeth and gives me a shot of blood in a tiny plastic medicine cup.
“So,” he says, “how long have you been a vampire?”
“We can help you come to terms with your condition.”
I sigh again.
“My brother was bitten in 1994 and he leads a perfectly normal life.”
“Bully for him.”
“Feeding time in one hour,” he says, and then he leaves too.
It’s still raining outside.