Tony likes to think of himself as a hard case. Thirteen years old, puberty squealing out from underneath his armpits; an urge, not yet fully identifiable, churning within his groin. He has all the hallmarks of his trade “subculture as intellectuals might say. Drainpipe trousers, rolled up to display ten inches of luminous green sock; a haircut which could conceivably do justice to the U.S. Marine Corps. And, of course, tattoos. Home made, home grown, home cured; unskilled, one dimensional caste marks on his arms. The loving imperfection of a much used needle “indian ink scabbing the toilet floor.
To all intents and purposes, Tony is a hard case.
More than anything else Tony loves to ride his bike around the shopping precinct. Swooping, inches clear, past unsuspecting children, old ladies with their shopping. Cluttering up the doorways with his mates.
Then there’s this kid, Pete. “Thinks he’s a lad,” says Tony. For ever showing off to the girls, turning up in new gear all the time “leather jackets, new DM–s, the whole bloody works.
Tony’s mum is going to buy him a leather jacket this Christmas, he thinks.
But this kid, Pete! He’s a real git. “Stuff him,” says Tony. He’ll get the bastard “when he’s ready.
And so he does. One evening, after school, riding through the shopping precinct. Pete, alone, suddenly vulnerable, unaware of the destruction moving up behind him, has, in that last swift second before his head makes contact with the wall, a vision–death, crew cutted, tattooed, riding a cycle through the dusk.
Tony is a hard case.
Sitting in the dining room, alone, eating his late tea, he carefully conceals his fears, puts on a show for all the kids who are peering in through the window. He paws the food into his mouth, looks arrogantly around the room. Still, he’d shown the bastard! This place don’t bother me, thinks Tony, I don’t give a shit!
And he doesn’t even fool himself.
* * *
Coming back, after weekend leave or holiday, we look for him.
At first sight, shuffling his dark and brooding frame across the room, he seems of little note. A dull, disinterested child, slow moving to the point of lethargy. With the slowness came stumbling speech, comments always wildly out of place. The inappropriate gestures of his adopted mask–the clown, the lad, the unwitting joker.
Long ago he was aware. Knew he was decreed and designated victim, knew that he would never match or challenge the aggression and the strength of others. So he drew back, retreated to the pose.
Group clown is useful, a necessary component. To his peers, a butt for jokes, the angle frame on which their humour hinges, swings like swift destruction. As long as he can laugh “at least, be seen to “at himself, he will survive.
For us he brings essential comic relief. With relish, pure relief, we cultivate his humour and his scowls. There is an urge, desire to compare with Shakespeare’s clowns–Poor Tom or Duncan's circumnavigated keeper. Without him our life would be far duller, fraught with tragedy, with promise unfulfilled.
Yet underneath the pose, the mask of Calliban, there is a soul of sensitivity and pain. Fears of his inadequacy lie heavy on his mind. Only at night, alone, awake within his soul, can he allow consideration of his truth.
And in his dreams, those vast, unbounded areas of mist and designated peace, he becomes the leader. Only then is he able to fashion muscular limbs and from-the-shoulder comments of the man he would like to be.
Only in his dreams can he achieve reality. Only then does he fulfill himself.
Billy is amoral. Totally, completely, without mercy or remorse. He is absorbed with himself, cannot allow the need to bend for others. He somehow cannot see that people have a right to live without his intrusion on their time.
Nothing is safe from Billy’s grasp. He covets possessions, takes from those he likes as painlessly as those his hatred reaches out to touch. His mind demands the instantaneous gratification of its whim. His pleasures instantly contrived, as instantly forgotten.
If faces make a fortune, then Billy’s chequebook is his smile. Angelic, golden, no sign of his purpose, single minded to a fault, his aim to obtain what he desires. And he will use his charm like an insidious letcher–unrepentent, insincere.
Like the simple or the very young, Billy’s life is self destructive or ordained.
He has traced a path through countless Children's Homes–everyone knows Billy. Or at least his failures. His name remains a byword on how to get it wrong. The system fails him or perhaps he has failed the system.
His pattern” “call it form,” says Billy–is invariably the same. Let them think they–ve won you over, let them think you’re going straight. And when, at last, you–ve got it made, when you have privileges by the score, smash down their paper towers, destroy what you–ve built up. That’s the best way. Hurt those who care the most, lash out at those you like.
Make sure that no-one gets too close.
* * *
Gary; six foot two and eyes bright blue. Yet cold, unwavering, they give a promise of the terror and the hatred still to come. He talks of National Front, of Paki bashing, policemen flying when he’s stoned on glue. The vision of those fists, a menace tangible as brick, lies threateningly close.
Underneath it all–harsh boasts, raw threats–the real, depressing message is found within his words. He doesn’t care. The crimes, the wasted property–he doesn’t care. Old ladies, children on their bikes” he doesn’t care. “Avoid me, stay away,” he claims, “I do not care. You cross my path, then take the consequence.” We know, instinctively, he speaks the truth.
And in our fear, reluctance to press close, we leave it there, in secret write him off. Never touching untapped rivulets beneath. And for simple things which make him what he is.
The power, physical and real, remains his only consolation. Raw power and the statement, "I don’t care."
This feature: Carradice, Phil (1985). Case studies. The hour of the wolf and other short stories. Surbiton, Surrey: Social Care Association. Pp 49-52