Pale from night living and wasted by narcotics, Gail reaches into the pool to find her sonby Michel Faber / January 16, 2005 / Leave a comment
There were a couple of hiccups between Gail and Ant before they even got to the swimming pool.
For a start, “My name’s not Ant. It’s Anthony,” the child said. Now why did he have to say that, with the social worker right there in the car with them, listening to everything? For a few moments (none of Gail’s emotions lasted very long) she hated her little boy so much she couldn’t breathe, and she hated the social worker even more, for being there to hear Ant’s complaint. She wished the social worker could die somehow and take the knowledge of Gail’s humiliation with him; he deserved to die anyway, the parasite. But the social worker remained alive and at the wheel, noting Gail’s comeuppance in his little black book of a brain, and then – Jesus Christ! – Ant went and did it again when they were almost there, by asking Gail, “What was that little drink you had back there?”
“What little drink?”
“The little drink you had at the chemist. In the little plastic cup.”
“My name’s not cutie,” stated the child. “It’s Anthony.”
Then, as the car drew to a halt in front of the Melbourne public baths, this kid, this Anthony who had grown out of being the Ant she’d lost to the state five years ago, said to her, “Are you still sick?”
“I used to be really sick,” was Gail’s answer. “Now I’m a lot better.”
The boy looked unimpressed.
“Moira says people shouldn’t take medicine if they’re not sick.”
Moira was Anthony’s foster carer. He didn’t call her Mum. But then he didn’t call Gail Mum either. He was careful not to call her anything.
“Your mum is only a little bit sick now,” the social worker chipped in, his head twisted away as he parked the car. “The last bit.”
Gail hadn’t expected this from him. She was glad the social worker was alive now, grateful. She was willing to do anything for him, anything he wanted, like for free – though she’d better be careful who she slept with these days, if she wanted to get Ant back.
“Two,” she told the swimming pool cashier. “One child and one… ah… grown-up.” She flinched at the stumble: years of addiction had half-dissolved lots of words she’d once had no problem coming out with. They were like things you…