For National Child Protection Week: What follows is an extract from an unpublished fictional work written from the perspective of a young boy in the care system. The novel is titled First Kid on the Moon, and is in three voices: that of the teenager Zayde; his mum; and the social worker assigned to do casework. This extract is an account by Zayde of being placed in care [he has already been with one set of carers he names the ‘Jesus jerks’] and is on the move to another. It is the eve of his 13 birthday. The complete novel is an attempt to tell it how it is. [Based on fact, First Kid on the Moon is fiction: all names are fictitious and no one character is based on any individual, living or dead.]
Furball an’ monsters
I don’t stay with the Jesus jerks. After wart nose finds me in town an’ drags me back to their place I starts arcing up an’ by the next arvo they’ve called Welfare saying they can’t ‘cope’ an’ saying ‘take him off us, he’s too much trouble. You’s didn’t tell us he was like this, and so on. Course they couldn’t handle me. People like that want some ordin’ry kid. An I ain’t an ordin’ry kid. So’s I starts punching holes in their walls an’ throwing stuff, an’ in my room, my room they call it, even put my name on the door to make it like it’s my room, shit, I jump up an’ down on the fucking bed an’ make my head hit the ceiling till there’s blood an’ the Jesus woman’s kneelin’ an prayin’, like an’ wart nose is wondering if he should deal with her or deal with me. Go on, I shout, till the bed busts an’ I crash like it’s a space rocket that’s smashin’ in the desert an’ there’s no survivors. The old guy he’s besides himself. He’s got two to deal with an’ the thing is who’s he deal with first. Me, the kid, or his wife? Check that out. I make it easier for him. I gets up an’ does a dive so he can’t get me an’ head to the kitchen where I knows there’s matches. I’m there before he can say Jesus an’ I’ve got this bottle of oil too. I know if I pour the oil an’ throws the match I’ll have what I want. Don’t do it son, he says. I look at him an’ I throw the match. Ka-boom! I didn’t know the gas was on. You’s should have seen him jump.
These two fat old bitches from Welfare come an’ take me to their office while’s they sort out what to do with me. They put me in this room same as last, and check it out in case there’s anything I can use as a weapon, which means clearing out all the baby toys and shit. I’m laughing at them as they pack up the bouncy balls an’ the soft toys, dancin’ around them which makes them angry as. An what about someit to eat? I say. Those peoples never gave me anything. They starved me. I sees them looking at each other but they don’t answer an’ then this younger woman comes in with a glass of water an’ says would I like to do some drawing. I give her a look an’ say, why can’t I go back to mum? an’ she says, I don’t know, cause she ain’t a clue who I am, just some other fucked about kid she’s been told to look after I’m guessing. I tell her, go find out then, an’ she says she can’t leave me alone but someone be coming soon an I can ask them. She doesn’t know what to do with me so I make it simple an’ say I’m goin’ have a sleep on the sofa.
It’s dark by the time they ready to take me somewhere. It’s only for tonight, they say. An’ they put me in the back of this fancy white Toyota, my clothes in a bin bag on the seat next, an’ I ask how far’s this place an’ they say about two hours. Can we stop at Macca’s? I say and they say Yes, Ok, Zayde. I make sure I get the most biggest meal at the drive-through, eat it slow, looking out the window at the lights of all the other cars and trucks heading somewhere good. Where’s we goin’? I ask. Somewhere nice, they say. They turn on the radio but I can still hear them talking about work stuff an’ the one who’s not driving she’s on her phone next saying she’ll be late cause she’s taking this kid south.
– You got a boyfriend? I say.
She turns smiling.
– You’ve lots of questions Zayde, she says.
– What’s your name?
– Mel, she says.
– Why can’t I go home Mel, I say. It’s my birthday tomorrow.
– How old will you be Zayde?
– A teenager!
– Happy birthday for tomorrow, says the one driving, looking at me in the mirror.
– So why can’t I go home?
– You’ll have to ask tomorrow Zayde, says Mel. We’re just the taxi service. We don’t have the answers Zayde, and that’s the truth. We were just told to take you to this place tonight. Ask the caseworker who comes to pick you up in the morning. She’ll know more.
– And who’s this you’re taking me to?
– Her name’s Barbara, says Mel, reading from some notes she’s got on her lap. But she prefers Barb.
– Old or young?
– Depends what you mean by old!
– Does it matter? says the one driving.
– Are you old? I says.
They look at each other, then laugh.
– Older than you, says Mel.
– Old enough to know better! says the one driving.
– Turn the music up, I says. I like this one.
I don’t really but it’s better than hearing them talking.
When we get to the place, Barb’s place, it’s nearly ten. I know cause I ask. She’s out the front waiting.
– Is this all your stuff? she says, leaning in the car.
She is old. I reckon she must be eighty, maybe more cause she got wrinkles over her face an’ spots too. There’s some talking, the car turns round and goes, an’ I climb these wooden stairs to her front room. It smells of damp. She shows me my bed.
– You’ll be good here tonight, she says. I got the heater on and there’s plenty of blankets. It’s the 20th tomorrow, only five months to Christmas!
She puts the bin bag on the floor an’ says, It’s late, do you want to go straight to sleep? You’ll feel better after a good night’s rest.
– I’m thirsty, I say.
– I’ll make you a hot drink.
– You got juice?
– You sure you want juice this late?
– You got apple juice?
– Whatever you want Zayde. Sit down. Are you warm enough?
I’m roasting like it’s when you’re heading back to Earth in the rocket ship an’ outside everything’s red hot an’ the sweats pouring off you. Then all of a sudden this cat jumps on me. It’s orange kind of an’ soon as it’s on me it starts making a purring noise like Jin an’ wanting me to scratch it under the chin.
– She likes you, says the old woman.
– What’s her name? I says.
– Jojo. You like cats Zayde?
Jojo’s up in my face wantin’ me to tickle her. She looks at me an’ I look at her an’ I feel sad.
– She likes you. Cats have got this instinct. Jojo thinks you’re good, she thinks you’re a kind boy.
Then Jojo starts to go psycho, trying to spew over me.
– Furballs, says Joy.
An’ I throw her off me.
Barb makes a clicking noise in her throat, snaps her fingers for Jojo but Jojo disappears through the flap in the door, still coughing her guts up.
– I’ll get you your juice, she says.
It must be midnight an’ I’m in bed with the light still on. I can’t sleep. It’s fucking boiling an’ I’m in these clothes that aren’t mine. I never wear anything in bed. Ain’t nothing to wear. Barb made me put them on. Keep you cosy, she said. But I’m taking them off. Besides, I can’t sleep ‘cause my brain’s goin’ demented. […] I’m trying to work this out when Jojo jumps me. She’s warm an’ she’s making those purring sounds just like Jin an’ pushing her face in mine. That’s when I gets real shitty. How come’s this cat’s got it right an’ Jin never had a chance? That’s when I start thinking this is my fault. If I ain’t stayed in my room when mum was screaming at pop, if I’d come out an’ gone to pop an’ been all good with him he’d have been good. I know he’d been good. He’d have shown me that kitten he’d brought instead of it ending up splattered. An’ there’s Jimmy lying on the floor, shitting himself, an nan tryin’ to light a cigarette ‘cept her hand’s all shaking an’ mum shouting down the stairs an’ neighbours coming out to see what’s goin’ on, whispering about what Cut Snake’s done now. I want to go but mum won’t let me. She says it ain’t safe out there. She’s the only one not crying mind. She gets me another Coke an’ makes some room on the lounge an’ hugs me tight like she’s never done that before.
– It’ll be all right, she says.
Then she does someit weird. She kisses me on the forehead, a big slobby kiss.
– What did you mean when you said he weren’t your dad? I asks.
– It doesn’t matter love, she says, stroking my hair. Don’t think about that stuff, that ain’t for kids to worry about.
– Mum, I says. Who’s my dad?
She’s starring out the window so long I wonder if she’s heard me.
– What you looking at mum?
– Monsters, she says.
That’s when the police come an’ all this begins.
I’m hardly asleep when Barb’s in the room throwing open the curtains, fully blinding me.
– Happy birthday Zayde, she’s saying.
She’s got this big tray with breakfast laid out, even a boiled egg with a smiley face an’ a bun with a candle.
– I didn’t know what you like so I did everything! Eat up now. The people’ll be here soon to take you back.
When the car backs out to go Barb’s standing at the top of the stairs holding JoJo. I think about waving but don’t.
It’s Mel driving an’ me in the passenger seat cause it’s only Mel and me. She asks if I remember her from last night and says someone else was meant to come but they got sick so it’s her. I don’t care. What’s one caseworker from the next? They’re all shit anyhows.
– What you want for your birthday Zayde? she says after we been to the drive-through an’ I got loaded up with fries an’ a frosty.
– A mobile.
– Gosh, that’s awesome.
– Can’t you get me one? An iPhone? You earn lots of money.
– No I don’t! Where’d you get that idea?
– You’s all earn millions.
– If only!
– Did’s you ask about mum?
– Oh yes. She’s going to see you at the office. Just for a bit. It’s your birthday, right, and she’d like to see you. Is that OK?
– Can I go home with her?
– Not today Zayde.
– Why? Because it isn’t safe.
– Who says?
– Well, you know the police went there and there was a fight and someone…
– Yes. He almost got killed.
– Should have. He’s a cunt.
– Anyhow, it’s not safe. Not for you.
– Who says?
Mel don’t answer me so I know she’s hiding it.
– I’ve a right to know, I says. You’s can’t just take me away from me mum without giving me reasons.
Mel says she can’t tell me any more.
– Can’t or won’t? I say an’ put me feet up on the dash an’ turn the music up loud an’ start singing to the beats I know just to make her drive fast so she can get rid of me to someone else. It’s like a game with them. They pass you around so quick you’d think you got nits or something rotten contagious.
I sees mum as soon as we get to their office. She’s outside on the pavement havin’ a smoke. She looks small an’ crushed an’ skinny, more skinny than I remember but maybe that’s because she’s wearing skinny clothes. I’m thinking she must be cold an’ I want to put the window down an’ shout out, Heh mum, it’s me. I tells Mel put the window down but she’s going through the gates like she’s a racin’ driver an’ parking up an’ says I’ll see mum in a moment. Yeah, like I believe that. It’s never like that. Not with these people. First I gots to sees some fucking manager an’ then I gots to sees some fucking old man who’s asking lots of fuckin’ questions that really piss me. Finally Mel takes me to another room an’ says she’ll sit with me when mum comes. But it ain’t just Mel it’s someone else with mum too. Mum comes to me an’ tries to hug me but Mel’s in between saying that’s not on. So mum kinda puts up her hands an’ moves back. I can smell her cigarettes an’ I say: You cold? She shakes her head but I know she’s cold. She pushes a card towards me. That’s for you, she says. I open it an’ this voice starts: Harpy bird day to you. Harpy bird day to you. Harpy bird day to you Zayde. Harpy bird day to you. Then a gap, then Jimmy’s voice saying: Go’s on Zayde an’ give it them, know what I mean? Mum leans over the table an’ says she didn’t know Jimmy said that an’ says read what it says on the card. I look close cause it’s written in pencil an’ faint an’ I see mum has writ, We’ll be together soon my love, an nan has writ, You’re a hero my love, an Jimmy has writ, Go it. I d’know what that means but I guess I know what mum and nan means. On the front there’s a photo of a Holden V8 an’ someone’s written on top where the sky is, Not long now and you’ll have one of these!
– How’ve you been love? says mum.
– Do they have to stay? I asks.
Mum looks at the woman who’s with her an’ Mel looks at them both, then at me but no one says anything so I don’t say anything either an’ I open an’ close the card so the message keeps repeating. Finally Mel puts her hand out.
– Mum’s only here for a short time Zayde, why don’t you tell her how you are?
– She knows how I am. She knows. Are you taking me home mum?
Mum’s looking at the table not me so I guess she isn’t.
– Tell them mum, tell ‘em it’s OK.
But mum’s shivering, rubbing her arms.
– Have you been taking? says Mel to mum. Did you come here…?
The woman who’s with mum gets up an’ pulls mum up an’ there’s this sound of mum screamin’ as she’s taken out the room an’ Mel’s got me an’ saying we got go this door.
– Go. Why go?
– Your mum’s not well Zayde. That’s the truth.
– Who says?
It’s my turn to shout.
– Fucks you alls.
Some guy’s on me, walks me away. I hear Mel say That was shit, an I walk the way the guy wants me to walk cause I ain’t got fuck left in me. If I’d fuck left in me I’d blow them all away. Yeah. Blow them away. Jimmy taught me that when we playing the Xbox. He says, Click on the gun Zayde an’ you blow them away sweet as. If I could I would. But I’m too tired now, an’ mum’s still screamin’ an Mel says she’ll call the cops an’ the ambo’s to. I wanna go home but I’s can’t. They’ll put me someone else now and’s I’ll blow that up to. You watch me.
The moral right of John Pitt to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted. All rights reserved. No part is to be reproduced without the prior permission of the copyright owner.