Home > The Good Samaritan(14)

The Good Samaritan(14)
Author: John Marrs

Even now I can remember the taste of fear that lodged in my throat and how my pace slowed when I turned the corner on the approach to her apartment block. When the weekend loomed, I’d dread returning to the tired, ten-storey, grey concrete building. Being at another new school with no friends was still more appealing than being in Sylvia’s company for a whole weekend.

I can remember every minute of that last weekend with Olly, right from the moment I walked up the staircase on a Friday afternoon, holding my breath as I turned the door handle. I crossed my fingers and hoped Olly would already be home, but the flat was silent.

Social services had us listed as living in the apartment next door. It was a pleasantly decorated place with two spare bedrooms packed with toys, and a kitchen with a fridge full of food. However, we were only rarely allowed inside, when social workers made appointments to check on our well-being. ‘Hell-being’, Olly had renamed it. The flat where we actually lived was very different.

I kicked a clear path through the old newspapers and bags of rubbish clogging up the corridor, and with a rumbling belly I opened the fridge door. But, as was often the case, all it contained was a broken light and an avalanche of freezer frost. Inside was a solitary frozen cheese and tomato pizza that I placed under the grill.

I cut it into symmetrical slices as the front door opened and Sylvia and Olly entered. My heart sank. By the dazed look on his face, I knew where she had taken him. Through half-closed eyes, he tried to pretend everything was okay by offering me an absent-minded smile that we both knew was disguising something else. At fourteen, Olly was on the cusp of manhood, but his height and slender frame gave him the appearance of a boy much younger. At thirteen, I too was small for my age. He stumbled into his bedroom and closed the door behind him.

‘How was school?’ asked Sylvia, and grabbed a slice from my hand, vacuuming it up like a snake swallowing a mouse. As her T-shirt rose up and exposed her belly, I noted it had fresh puncture wounds. She must have given up trying to locate a vein in her arms or legs that hadn’t already collapsed. She relied on long-sleeved tops to mask the fact that she was a functioning heroin addict.

‘It was okay, thanks,’ I replied.

‘Good girl,’ Sylvia replied, then sparked up a joint and made her way to the living room. ‘I’m going next door to chill.’

I waited to hear the sound of the television before tiptoeing to Olly’s bedroom and quietly pushing the closed door ajar. I hated closed doors. He awoke with a start, throwing himself back against the wall like a cornered animal.

‘It’s okay, it’s me,’ I whispered. ‘I’ve brought you pizza.’

‘Thank you,’ he croaked, his throat sore, and he calmed down.

We remained in silence, sharing the food from the plate as I tried hard not to acknowledge the bruises on his wrists and neck, or the dried crusts of blood inside his nostrils. I noticed the red spotting in the underwear he’d left lying on a heap on the floor, still inside his trousers. But I knew better than to ask what’d happened or who’d been responsible.

He slowly drifted into the safety of sleep to the sounds of the radio being played loudly next door, permeating the walls. I squirmed my way in front of him, protecting his skinny frame with my back. I moulded my body into his and pulled his arm over my chest.

‘I love you, Olly,’ I whispered, knowing that we were safer together than when we were apart.

‘Hello, Mrs Morris, isn’t it?’

The past evaporated at Dr Kotnis’s voice. I hadn’t heard him approach, and I recoiled when he tapped me on the shoulder. ‘What brings you to High Dependency?’

‘My friend Olly,’ I said.

‘Oh, right,’ he replied, a puzzled expression on his face. ‘I wasn’t aware he’d been admitted.’

‘You said last time he was here that he needs to make some serious changes to his circumstances or you were worried about his future. Well, I don’t know what else I can do. I’ve begged him to start getting his CD4 cell count monitored, to stop drinking, and I’ve even offered him a room in my house to get clean. But he refuses.’

My lips began to tremble and I curled my toes and fingers to stop myself from crying. Dr Kotnis nodded sympathetically, as if he understood my predicament and had seen it many times before.

‘Unfortunately, that’s about all you can do,’ he replied with a kind smile. ‘I can try to talk to him again if you’d like?’

‘Yes, please.’

‘Okay, leave it with me.’ He smiled again before leaving me alone outside Olly’s ward.

I left without seeing Olly, but hoped he could feel my presence.



There were thirty or so members of the Northants Women’s Circle inside the function room of Great Houghton’s village hall.

They queued at a table, on which was a tray of biscuits and an urn of hot water. They dropped teabags and spoonfuls of instant coffee and sugar into mismatched mugs. Most of them looked as if they were knocking on heaven’s door, and they’d come to hear Mary and me discuss our voluntary work at End of the Line.

Janine had only sent me there with Mary out of spite. She was well aware that my comfort zone extended only as far as charming local businesses, applying for National Lottery grants and organising bake and jumble sales. It most definitely did not include this decrepit audience.

Mary had more in common with them than I did. Most old people made me feel uncomfortable, as if their years of wisdom and experience gave them the capacity to see right through me. Mary, however, was an exception. I could have been a serial killer working my way around the room and euthanising every last one of them, and she’d still find some good to see in me.

We sat side by side on two plastic chairs at the front of the hall. I fixed my gaze on her as she used brightly coloured cue cards to remind her of the subjects she wanted to address. Her voice was confident, like she was comfortable among her own kind, whereas I just wanted to be back in the office waiting for the next call.

It was more than five months since I’d helped David and I was craving a new challenge. Steven was supposed to have fitted the bill, but his all-important third call still hadn’t come.

In an ideal world, I’ll only ever take on one candidate at a time. But sometimes, like buses, two can come along at once and juggling them is exhausting. Like Michael and Helena, two of my early candidates. He was a middle-aged man with late-stage prostate cancer. It was a Monday evening when he suffocated himself with a plastic bag and a gas canister. The next morning, Helena took an overdose of painkillers. She was a twenty-something having an affair with a married dad-of-two who had reneged on his promise to leave his wife for her. After I helped her see that her death would teach him a lesson, I made sure to hammer the point home by placing an obituary in the local paper on his behalf, using his full name and making sure to describe her as his ‘beautiful girlfriend’.

As luck would have it, their funerals fell on the same day in neighbouring churches. I had walked from one to the other, and still got to the office in time for my afternoon shift.

‘Do you need a lot of training or can you start answering calls straight away?’ asked a woman in the front row. Her ankles were as thick as her calves. I wanted to tell her that there were many pointless bureaucratic hoops to jump through first, which taught you to go against your instinct and to listen rather than advise. But I didn’t.

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