Forthcoming in Kill Your Darlings Issue Three is Annie Condon’s story ‘Nothing Broken’.
I knock on the door and take a step back. Clare, the new graduate, smiles tightly at me. Her dark hair falls to her shoulders in spirals. She has large brown eyes, and she has a small scar near the corner of her mouth. She performed well in the interviews, apparently, but our team leader already has doubts about her. It is her second week.
‘What do we do if they’re not home?’ she asks quietly.
‘We’ve got a few options,’ I say. ‘We can go to the car and ring the house – people will often answer the phone rather than come to the door. Or we can come back tomorrow. There might be some work we can follow up back at the office before we visit again.’
I knock again, louder and longer.
‘Yeah, I’m coming,’ a woman responds, and I hear shuffling footsteps. When the door opens, I see that she is not much older than twenty-one, twenty-two.
‘Hi,’ I say. ‘Are you Angie?’
‘Yeah.’ She looks at me cautiously and then glares at Clare. ‘Who are you?’
Clare drops her gaze as I begin the familiar explanation. ‘My name is Janet Keene. I work with the Department of Human Services in a child protection team. We were hoping to have a chat about your daughter, Jess.’
Two hours later, Clare and I are in a waiting area of the Children’s Hospital. Jess is playing with a book that makes different animal noises when you push the corresponding panel. Each time she selects a new plaything from the pile in the corner, she looks to Clare for approval. She sits cross-legged in the plastic seat, her knees forming right angles – perfect defences against the world. Or not so perfect. Clare and I have already seen the bruises on the little girl’s body, and the doctor will put dates to them, check for past breaks. Evaluate her overall health.
By 4.30pm we have delivered Jess to a temporary foster home. The paperwork has been completed; a magistrate has approved the protection application. In the car, the windows are closed against the early winter chill. At the Clarke Street lights I look across to Clare. Her brown eyes seem even larger, and she has a faraway look. She hasn’t eaten anything all day. She turns to me, taking some time before speaking,
‘How can someone do that to a child?’
I answer as best as I can, all the time thinking, just wait till you see a baby.