Saturday, February 06, 2010

don't wake him

Billie sits at one end of the sofa in her tracksuit pyjamas looking ready to run, whilst storm clouds mass above the head of her father at the other end, a man so massy with anger he could be sculpted out of volcanic rock. He waves a scrip in the air.
‘Tight throat, dizziness, nausea, hearing voices, palpitations, muscular tremors, headache… she says she’s had all that since taking this rubbish.’
He drops the scrip at our feet.
Billie bites a nail.
‘It’s not so bad now,’ she says.
She had been prescribed Zopiclone to help her sleep, but says that an hour later she started to feel bad, phoned a helpline and they bounced her to 999.
‘I’m not normally like this.’
‘Have you got any pain anywhere?’ I ask her.
She rubs the centre of her chest with the heel of a hand.
‘And how long’s that been going on for?’
‘Ever since someone did CRP or something.’
‘CPR? Where they press on your chest to get your heart going?’
‘Yeah. That’s it. CPR. At football practice last week.’
‘That sounds bad. What happened?’
Billie hugs her knees, then whinces and resumes her former position.
‘I didn’t know much about it. I was playing football. The next thing, I’m in hospital, and they said someone had done CPR on me.’
‘Had something happened to your heart? What did the doctors say?’
‘They let me go after a few days. I’ve got some more tests to do. They didn’t say a whole lot, really.’
‘There’s nothing wrong with you,’ says the father. ‘It’s all bullshit.’
Up until that point I’d thought that anxiety and hyperventilation was the problem, but now I’m not so sure.
‘I think what we should do is go out to the ambulance, do a few tests and take it from there.’
She flicks a look at her father, then stands unsteadily and grabs the tracksuit top that’s slung over the back of the sofa. The room is sprayed lemon, impersonal, like a furniture storeroom after a sale. I help Billie outside; the father calls Frank back for something.


‘It’s up to you whether you want to go to A&E tonight,’ I tell her, as she sits on the trolley staring at me with her pupils so black and deep the light in the back of the ambulance seems to pour down inside them like mist down a drain. ‘All your observations are fine. I’m sure reading all the side-effects on the drug sheet didn’t help. They always tend to list every conceivable problem just to cover themselves. But I must admit that story about CPR on the playing field threw me a little. Perhaps you should go in, just for reassurance if nothing else.’
‘I’d like to.’
‘Okay then.’

Just at that moment the back door opens and the father hauls himself up.
‘What are you doing?’ he says. I’m not sure if he means me or Billie.
‘You’re not going to that there hospital.’ He puts one hand up onto a grab rail and one hand flat against the window, his shirt riding up over his massive belly, and he hangs there obstructively, like a gigantic ape. ‘There’s nothing wrong with you.’
Billie examines her hands whilst I explain the reasoning behind the trip. Everything looks fine but given her recent history maybe it’s best if we go to the hospital. Just to make sure. For reassurance.
The father lets me finish, then turns his face slowly back to the girl without a change of expression.
‘There’s nothing wrong with you,’ he says, after a pause so freighted with contempt a needle in a lab must be scratching wildly backwards and forwards.
‘It’s Billie’s decision,’ I say.
Suddenly he drops his grip on the rail, turns, and leaves the ambulance, which bounces up an inch as he jumps the last step.
‘There’ll be hell to pay when I get back,’ she says to me, pulling a blanket up to her neck. ‘But at least it’ll be late and he’ll be asleep.’


lulu's missives said...

Morning Spence,
So what happened to Billie? Is she ok? After reading that, I felt scared for her. No child should be in that situation, worried about the balance between their health and their home-life.
I wonder what has made the father the way he is?

Spence Kennedy said...

Hi Jo

I don't know for sure (it was a late job and I didn't get to follow it up - no surprises there) but my feeling was that she'd freaked herself out with the side effects warning and had a panic attack. The CPR incident looked like a mistake, in that she'd fainted at football practice and a well-meaning bystander had started chest compressions - which explained the chest pain!

I did feel really sorry for her, though. Living with a bully for a father can't be easy. She's only nineteen, but I think it'd be better for her if she moved out.

I shudder to think what brutalising influences the father had suffered to reach the point he's at now. Either that or he's just plain no good! :/

Hope your studies are going well. xx

SecretSP said...

Hi Spence,

Really poignant writing. Although it's not the most dramatic of social situations, it really is shocking how much this country seems to tolerate subtle, emotional blackmail. It's these subtle situations that lead to the dramatic ones.

Anywho! Thanks for such an interesting read. Feel free to pop over to and say hi!


MarkUK said...

Depending on Billie's age, strikes me as a note to Child Protection would be in order.

lulu's missives said...

Hi S,
Studies going ok....lots of reading. I have to change how I write, no more creativity.
As in a report cannot read like a story!!!
I'm wishing I had a cleaner and a cook and a on-call babysitter, but apart from that, all is well.
Oh and a few more hours in the day.
And you? How's life?

Spence Kennedy said...

Hi Tom
I'm not sure it's country-specific, though. I bet that kind of bullying family relationship can be found anywhere. I suppose it comes out of ignorance, frustration, family history - exacerbated by social circumstance.

I don't know that there's much the state can do in these situations. It's the kind of low-grade abuse that the individual has to find a way out of.

Thanks for the comment. Will def check yr blog...

Hi Mark,
Nineteen, so nothing to Child Protection, I'm afraid. We could always do a Vulnerable Adult report - but in Billie's case there was nothing other than an overbearing, hostile father. We make so many referrals to social services atm, Billie's case didn't really make the cut, uncomfortable though it might've been! :/

Hey Jo
I would def add a gardener to that list!

I'm just remembering what it was like writing essays. I ended up quite liking it, in a perverse way: taking notes, planning, developing an argument. If I won the lottery (which means I'd actually have to play the lottery) I'd bankroll some more study. Maybe Earth Sciences, or Archaeology...

Best of luck with your studies. You'll be great.

Things here are good. I'm on the hamster-wheel part of the rota - 3 on / 3 off / 3 on yay until the crack of doom. I keep trying to come up with plans to make a change, to do something different. *sniff* xx

Deborah said...

I think sometimes it's just a control thing - he probably sends her texts all the time too - where are you, when will you be back blah blah. suppose he maybe does it out of fear - denying anything might be wrong, if we want to give him credit, but he could just be a bullying control freak. maybe he wanted a son. What's the betting she ends up with an abusive partner too?

lulu's missives said...

Dear Hamster,
Just hop off the wheel and take a moment to view the world.
Enjoy what you do have (the girls) and remember that at least you are gainfully employed.
Something will happen in your life, probably when you least expect it.

Spence Kennedy said...

Deb - I bet you're right. He struck me as that kind.

It is difficult to read people, though, why they are like they are / do what they do. I wonder how the father would've described the whole incident?

I do think people often play out those significant early relationships again and again. In the case of Billie and her Dad, maybe she'll continually be looking for angry, difficult men to tame, to get through to.

Hey Jo
It's true - I need to hop off and look around me more often. I'm constantly amazed at how dizzy I am, how easily discontented. After all, I've got so much to be thankful for.

Squeak / Gnaw

Rach said...

How very sad Spence, I was thinking she was maybe fantasising a little to get away from him, maybe that was her route...I hope she is ok! xx

Tom102 said...

Where do you go with this? Lawyers call this a hard case, in the fact that suspicion, and potential action are somehow interwoven.

Again, a masterful piece well written.

Spence Kennedy said...

Hi Rach
Could be. But then she would have to face his wrath when she got back, so I don't know.
Bullying people like that, they always get me. You just want to bully them back! :/

Hey Tom
Def a hard case - as if we don't get enough of those! But I'm afraid in terms of what we can do, not high on the list of actionable things. :)