Wednesday's Child
the confines of the playground and had not even strayed far from the front door of the school building. He was gazing off into space, seemingly unaware of his surroundings. I wondered if he was looking for cloud-shapes or observing birds in the trees beyond the perimeter line of the fence.
     
    ‘I’ll go and get him,’ Betty said, opening the passenger door.
     
    He was slouching against the wall, his left leg tangled with the strap of the schoolbag, his foot swinging, using the strap to create resistance, as if he was exercising the muscle. Betty was almost on top of him when he looked over at her. Had he noticed her coming and wanted her to make the effort to come to him, or was he oblivious of her approach? He certainly did not jump when she called to him, just moved his face around to look at her. I saw her lips move and she gestured with a nod toward the car. Victor’s eyes moved in my direction. He slowly unfolded from the wall and moved to pick up the bag, only then noticing that it was still wrapped about his legs. He almost fell getting it but then followedBetty to the car. I turned as he climbed in the back, extending my hand.
     
    ‘Hey, Victor. I’m Shane. Good to meet you.’
     
    My hand was taken in a loose, light grip, but not shaken. He did not meet my eyes, just looked at the floor of the car.
     
    ‘We’ll head straight home, Victor,’ Betty said. ‘I want Shane to meet your dad. We’ll pick Cordelia and Ibar up at the house, and then maybe the five of us can go and get an ice-cream and have a chat.’
     
    I thought I heard a muttered ‘okay’ from the back, but I couldn’t be sure.
     
    The McCoy house was a renovated cottage that may have once been a farm labourer’s home or even a holiday chalet, not that I could imagine anyone holidaying in that barren little village. Victor got out silently and walked to the door. Betty gave me a look that said: we’re in for a long afternoon. We followed the round-shouldered Victor up the short path. He was ringing the bell repeatedly and opening the letter box and calling through it in a hoarse voice – I got the impression that Victor was not used to speaking, and shouting seemed to cause him strain.
     
    ‘What’s the story, Victor?’ I asked. ‘Dad not home?’
     
    He looked at me nervously for the first time, chewing his lower lip and scratching frantically behind his left ear. I kept my eyes on his and reached out and banged as hard as I could on the door.
     
    ‘Maybe he just nodded off,’ I said. ‘Happens to mesometimes. Big lunch, boring afternoon TV. Nothing to worry about.’
     
    We listened to the silence that seemed to boom from the house.
     
    ‘I bet he’s just dropped out for milk or something,’ Betty said, patting Victor on the shoulder (he cringed at the touch and she pulled back rapidly). ‘Let’s wait in the car.’
     
    We got back in and I turned on a Top 40 station. I detest Top 40 radio, but I have found that most children and teenagers listen to it pathologically, so I have become immune. Betty rolled down the window and lit a cigarette.
     
    ‘I’m sure he’ll be back in a moment,’ she said again.
     
    Silence from the back.
     
    An hour later a pretty blonde girl in a different school uniform to Victor’s, who was leading a small boy by the hand, turned into the garden and knocked on the door. Before I knew what had happened, Victor was out of the car and beside them, talking quietly and urgently and throwing glances in our direction.
     
    ‘Cordelia and Ibar, I presume?’ I asked Betty.
     
    ‘The very same.’
     
    Cordelia said a few words to the now very anxious Victor and strode purposefully to the window through which Betty was smoking. Betty flicked the butt of her cigarette aside and smiled at the teenager. Ibar sat on the ground, all his attention focused on a beetle that had crawled from the grass verge. Closeup, Cordelia was not just pretty; she was beautiful. I knew from the conversation

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