Hope House Vignettes
A series of sketches and scenes involving the inhabitants of Hope House
It’s morning; the start of another day and a boy approaches Jubilee Bridge. He has to cross it in order to get to school, while wondering all the while what his tormentors will have in store for him today. He stops midway and leans to peer over the iron sides of the bridge. The river beneath is a dark undulating ribbon. Suddenly he begins to cry. Tears run down his cheeks dripping from his chin…the river consumes them.
The boy feigned sleep, keeping his eyes tight closed, listening to the low murmur of voices from the foot of the bed. He recognised the voice of the ward consultant as he addressed a staff nurse.
“Has anyone visited him yet?”
“No. He hasn’t had a solitary visitor, apart for a social worker after it became clear that the father has washed his hands of him.”
“What about his mother?”
“Dead and there doesn’t appear to be any other relatives.”
The consultant sighed, “we can’t keep him much longer. We need the bed. He’s physically well enough to leave. I’ve made a referral to the psychiatric services. Someone’s coming over to see him this afternoon, perhaps they can find a bed for him until they assess him properly.”
“John, good to see you,” Gordon embraced his friend and then waited patiently while Nigel embraced him too. “Come through to the study, no, not you, Nigel. I want to talk to John in private. Go and help Jennifer with the laundry. I won’t be long.”
“Where’s Nat?” John seated himself on the edge of the big oak desk, as was his habit.
“He’s speaking to a group about substance misuse at St Giles’s hospital. He should be home soon.”
“Poor St Giles. It’s under threat again. God knows if it will survive another round of government cuts.”
“It will if Nat and I have anything to do with it,” said Gordon grimly. “That place offers a vital service.”
John grimaced, “I sometimes think that if they employed fewer administrators to look into ways of cutting costs, they’d have enough money to fund the staff and projects that matter and with change left over. Anyway, lets get to business.” He lifted a folder out of his briefcase and laid it on the desk, getting straight to the purpose of his visit. “I had a patient referred to our services a week ago, a boy of fourteen, almost fifteen. He tried to drown himself and almost succeeded by all accounts. He’s been a bit of a handful, disruptive behaviour, stealing, that kind of thing, and then the suicide attempt. His father has washed his hands of him, not that he seems to have dirtied them overly much in the first place if you catch my drift. The boy has ended up in local authority care, which isn’t the best environment for him. He’s depressed and vulnerable…” he broke off to chew at his lower lip.
“What’s on your mind, John?” Gordon looked shrewdly at his friend, “what’s bothering you about this child. He sounds like a hundred others you’ve successfully treated. Do you want me to find a place for him here, is that it, do you think I can help him?”
“Gordon, this might sound like an odd question,” John shoved his hands in his trouser pockets, “ but what was your sister’s name?”
“Ah, I thought I’d remembered correctly.”
“Why do you ask?”
John replied to the question with another question. “Where is she now?”
“I don’t know and that’s the sad truth. Em fell out with my father and I got caught in the crossfire. He didn’t approve of her decision to marry. She gave up a place at Oxford University studying medicine. Moreover, he didn’t approve of her choice of husband. In fact he detested him and said so. I wasn’t keen myself in all honesty. I didn’t trust him, but as she firmly pointed out, it was none of my damn business. Em was especially offended by dad’s attitude and by what she saw as his lack of support. It hurt her deeply. I tried to explain that it was clumsily expressed concern rather than a lack of care, but Emily wouldn’t have it.” Gordon gave a small smile of remembrance. “She was always apt to be stubborn. Shortly after her marriage she went to live in South Africa and we lost touch, or rather she lost touch with us. When dad became ill I made every effort to contact her, but no one seemed to know where she was. That was five years ago.” Gordon suddenly felt strangely nervous, “you know something, don’t you, John?”
John finally bit the bullet, “I believe this boy might be your sister’s son…and therefore your nephew.”
Gordon felt a chill run through him. “Is that a roundabout way of telling me that Emily is dead?”
John nodded, “I’m so sorry, Gordon. If I’m right, then your sister died in a car accident seven years ago in Pretoria. Her husband and son survived the crash and came back to England soon afterwards.”
“No wonder I couldn’t contact her,” said Gordon, his calm exterior belying the turmoil going on inside him. “Tell me more.”
“I was going through the boy’s case notes when the name Trapp, his mother’s maiden name leapt out at me. It’s not a common name, and you’ve just confirmed certain details, her name and then the South African connection. What was her husband’s name, can you remember?”
“Of course,” Gordon nodded, “it was Adrian, Adrian Fulton.”
John opened the folder and pointed, “more than coincidence wouldn’t you say?”
Gordon took a shaky breath. “I didn’t even know that Em had a child,” he paused a moment to get his emotions in check. “Poor Emily, she always wanted a family life. I tried to explain that to dad, but he couldn’t get his head around the notion. He found it hard to accept that she wanted a family more than an academic career, even though my mother had given up her career as a doctor to look after us. I think he felt guilty about that, as if he were the cause of her giving up something that few women of that time attained to. He saw Em going to university and studying medicine as a way of making amends, but there was no need. It was what my mother wanted. She loved her life. Things might have been different between dad and Emily if she’d been alive to smooth things between them.” He gave a small smile, “she had a knack for diplomacy."
Gordon walked across to the long window and folded his arms across his chest, staring out into the dark garden, his eyes misting, remembering the past. He saw Emily again, eight years old and swinging from a rope slung over a branch of the pear tree in their garden. The rope snapped and she fell, breaking her wrist. She had sobbed and he had picked her up and carried her to the house calling for their mother. He’d always imagined that he’d see her again at some point and be reconciled. He turned away from the window. “What’s the boy’s name?”
Gordon’s throat tightened and he swallowed, “that was my father’s name. Have you told him, my nephew, about me?”
“Not yet.” John walked over to Gordon and put an arm around him. “I wanted to talk to you first and get all the facts straight before dropping an unknown uncle into his life.”
“I want him here, John, with Nat and I. We’ll care for him.”
“One step at a time,” John steered Gordon towards a chair, “sit down, my friend, you look shaken. I’ll make you some tea and then we’ll discuss what to do next.”