Despite almost fourteen hours in bed, Michael is exhausted and almost impossible to wake. We take turns banging on his bedroom door, reminding him of his mom’s court date. He’s told us he wants to be there when she’s sentenced. Even if she’s released, it’s unlikely that he’ll get to return with her to Black Diamond. His social worker tells him she thinks it’s a bad idea, but it’s all he talks about.
Sandra opens his bedroom door while I stand in the hall. A pungent concoction of body odour and Axe spray deodorant wafts out. She doesn’t flinch, marches in and opens the sliding windows to the winter air. He rolls in his bed, fully-clothed under an out-dated poster of 50 cent.
Shut the fucking window.
Shut the fucking window, Sandy.
Get out of bed and I’ll close the window.
He throws off the cheap bedding and stands in front of her, his pecker semi-hard in his Buzz Lightyear boxers. She looks up at him, right in his eyes, for a moment, long enough for him to see she’s not afraid. Then she begins picking his filthy clothes off the burn-stained carpet. He plops down on his single bed, the sheets rolled into a cocoon, the mattress wrapped in thin plastic. He rubs his small black eyes, foetal alcohol syndrome written deeply into his face.
Just leave it.
She stops with an armful and dumps them into a plastic hamper, the only other furniture in the room besides a scarred wooden schoolroom closet and a plastic chair. He pulls on a FUBU sweater and finds a pair of crusty, browned socks on the floor. His black school bag is packed and ready with essentials at the foot of the bed, in case he has to leave quick.
It’s almost noon and our day in the group home has begun.
Michael stands in the doorway to the office, one of the upstairs corner bedrooms converted. The the bottom half of the solid steel dutch door is closed and latched, the top half swung open into the room. He knows he’s not allowed in unless we invite him, so he waits, draped over the half-door, staring.
Take me to Tim’s?
Sandra stops writing in her file and looks over. I offer to make him breakfast, oatmeal, toast, cereal, his choice, but he continues to stare at her.
Come in here.
She flips the latch and he stumbles in, sitting on the chair beside the desk. I lean against the wall while she looks at him.
We need to have a talk about P’s and Q’s.
He watches a point in the near distance, his large, misshaped head hanging from his arched neck. He knows what’s coming and tunes out.
I take you guys to Tim’s like twice a week. The least you could do is say please.
Michael’s head dips lower with each sentence. His spine protrudes from his long neck, holding his head at what seems an impossible angle.
Being polite builds positive relationships with people and will make your life easier.
He sits motionless, his body a physical question mark in the chair.
Will you take me?
She sighs and I offer to make him breakfast again. He declines and asks for some transit tickets. She gives him two and marks the exchange in a book. He grabs his jacket from his closet and walks to the front door. She yells after him to take his toque, but the door closes and he’s gone.
She leans back in the office chair and forces out a laugh. Sandra is the mother, whether she wants to be or not. She is round and soft with spray-curled red hair and glasses. It isn’t just a job to her and the boys know it. In her wallet, she has a picture of her dog that she is convinced will never be replaced by pictures of her own children.