I guess I retreated a bit after that. Pushed them all aside for a while. I don’t really know why, except I suppose I was very confused, and needed time to think. On the way back from my mothers I had shut Lucy out completely, pulling on my headphones and pressing play. I sat slumped against the window, pulling my hand away when she tried to reach for it. Pretty nasty of me, I know, but I couldn’t help it. The memories were making me sad, and angry, and I was scared I would start shouting at her, or something. It just seemed impossible that I would be able to contain that much feeling. I kept my mouth shut and my eyes turned away, simply to avoid hurting her. If I’d opened my mouth I might have started screaming and I might never have stopped. So she sat there beside me, her hands entwined in her own lap, her teeth chewing at her lips, while I pressed my forehead to the glass of the window and nodded along to The Stone Roses. Never go anywhere without music, I’m telling you. You never know when you are going to need it. Sometimes I….fantasiiiiiiiiiise, when the streets are cold and lonely, and the cars they burn below me. I watched the town rolling past the window and a deep and dark depression seemed to settle over me. I felt like I’d always felt back then. What’s the point in anything? Really? There’s no god, there’s no heaven, there’s no afterlife, only this, endless turning shit and stress, so what’s the point? Are you all alone?…Is anybody home?….Are you made of stone? Dunno mate. Might as well be.
Back at the bed sit, I avoided their eyes and their questions, only shaking my head to indicate that I was not in the mood for talking. I changed the tape in my Walkman, clipped the lead onto Kurt and went back out again on my own to walk him. I left them behind, with their puzzled, cautious faces, and their weighted silence following me out the door. I knew they would talk about me when I was gone. Let them, I thought, let them. I walked Kurt down to the beach and let him off. It was freezing cold, the sea was rough and grey and violently throwing murky looking froth up onto the sand. Kurt ran about barking at seagulls. I lit a cigarette and sat on the steps to the promenade.
I didn’t think about anything for a while. Just sat, and watched Kurt chasing the birds, and listened to the music. That’s the nice thing about having music constantly with you, you see, you can immerse yourself in it, in the melody and in the lyrics, you can hold your own shit at bay for a while. I’d picked Radiohead, completely at random. The sea crashed silently, Kurt’s barking was muted, and my head was full of tortured words; You can crush it as dry as a bone, you can walk it home straight from school, you can kiss it, you can break all the rules, but still everything is….broken…Why can’t you forget?
I sat there and instead of thinking about my mother, and what to do about it all, I thought about calling Jaime up, buying some speed or some pills or some coke from him and getting high, getting really fucking high. I remembered how it used to feel. Like I was untouchable, like nothing could get through, like everything was fucking amazing. I remembered how I used to laugh, and smile, at nothing. How amazing the music would sound, how my imagination would take me off to other places, beautiful places I never knew existed within my own mind. I could do with some of that now, I was thinking.
Do you want to know the other thing I was thinking? You won’t like this. I was thinking about pain, and what it was, and what it amounted to, and how easy it was to withstand if you knew how to. I was wishing I still had my knife on me, but I didn’t, I hadn’t carried one about for months now. I pulled up my sleeve and traced a finger down the jagged scar I’d given myself that day on the bench at the park. I touched it, stroked it, and couldn’t deny the incredible urge I had to get something sharp and just tear into myself with it. I don’t know why. I’m not a shrink. I just felt the urge. I wanted to see blood and I wanted to feel that little hiss of pain that reminds you that you are still alive. I wanted to scratch at my own skin until it all fell away. I hated it. I hated the feel of it, weighing me down, coated in the shame of the past…how to get rid of it? How to get free?
I rested my elbow on my knee, dropped my head into my hand and tightened my fingers in my hair. I closed my eyes. I breathed in and out, and it didn’t seem enough. It didn’t seem real. I wanted to take my head and crash it into the rocks. I don’t know why. Tears were stinging under my eyelids, so I wouldn’t open my eyes for a while, refusing to let the bastards out, the weak shitty little bastards. I kept them in, I squeezed them backwards, I shook with it all inside of me. Finally I had to breathe, I opened my mouth up wide and sucked in salty sea air, and opened my eyes and the tears dried on them, and I stared out at the sea, at everything. I wanted a drink.
Weeks passed, and my friends watched me like a hawk. Lucy was more attentive than usual, walking on eggshells around me, the rigid smile she offered doing fuck all to soften the fear in her eyes. I was feeling suffocated. If they weren’t offering to come with me every time I left the bed-sit, then I’d find them whispering in corners, and asking me if I was alright the whole time. I knew I was lucky to have people that cared, really lucky, but all the same, I was having to bite my tongue the whole time for fear of snapping at them. I knew they meant well, but I didn’t want to be that person anymore, that scared kid they all felt sorry for, that little kid they wanted to look after, and keep safe. I didn’t want to be watched over, or seen as a victim. I decided it was time that I stood tall and took matters into my own hands. It was time I had some control for once. It was time I addressed the past, so that I could move on into the future, and leave it all behind.
I showed them my bravest face at all times, whether they bought it or not. I got drunker than usual when we went to Chaos, just to let rip, just to not give a shit, and it worked. I told Lucy to stop worrying, that everything was fine, but she didn’t believe me, I could see it all over her face.
“You’re thinking of going back to see her again,” Michael said to me when we were alone in the bed-sit one evening sharing a bottle of cheap wine. Anthony was on a late shift at The Ship, so we had the place to ourselves. I frowned at him, wondering how long he had been thinking about asking me that question. I took a sip from the wine bottle and held it out to him. He took it from me, and I stuffed my arms back under my sleeping bag, where I had Kurt all curled up asleep on my lap. It didn’t matter what we did, that bed-sit was always freezing cold, winter or summer. Anthony had bought two electric heaters, pinned thick blankets up over the windows, and stuffed towels under the doors, but it made no difference. You could always see your breath when you spoke. You had to wear three pairs of socks, and we seemed to be permanently wrapped up in duvets or sleeping bags.
“You mean my mum?” I asked him patiently, and he nodded, guzzling from the bottle, his dark eyes watching me carefully. I rolled my eyes at him, shook my head and looked back at the TV. TFI Friday was on, one of our favourite new shows. I didn’t want to have the conversation I could sense him gearing towards. “It’s just Lucy thinks that you are,” Michael went on, when a few minutes had passed, and I knew why he was asking then; because Lucy had probably begged him to speak to me. “Because,” he went on again when I didn’t answer. “You keep changing the subject whenever anyone brings it up, and you’re really quiet about it…not good quiet…She’s really worried about you mate.”
He passed the bottle back and I took it, easing one arm up from the sleeping bag to take it. I sighed and looked at him. “I knew it. She put you up to this.”
“You can’t blame her mate. You’ve been weird since you saw your mum. Might help if you told us about it, you know.”
“Nothing to tell,” I shook my head. “Nothing that Lucy hasn’t already told you.”
“But not what happened Danny, I mean how you felt, how you are now. Whether or not you’re thinking of going back?”
I drank the wine, staring back at the TV. I felt dozy and sleepy. I wondered why everything always had to be so hard. I swallowed, wiped my mouth and passed it back. “Let me ask you a question Mike,” I said to him. He nodded at me, waiting. “What do you think about your own mum these days? I mean, she wasn’t exactly mother of the year either, was she? Do you know where she is? Would you go and see her if she wanted you to?”
Michael smiled at me wearily. “We’ve got her address,” he replied with a casual shrug. “My Aunt sent it. Apparently she’s getting help for her drink problem. So fucking what? You think I care?”
“You wouldn’t go and see her then?”
He shrugged again. “Don’t think so. No reason to. She left, didn’t she? Her choice. I’m not chasing after her. If she wanted to see me, then fine, she can come here, see how it goes. I’m not running after her, not ever.” He passed the bottle back to me.
“What about your dad?” I asked. “Do you ever think about him?”
“Nope,” he said, shaking his head quickly. “Not once, not ever. Wouldn’t waste my fucking time mate. They screwed up, see? They don’t get another chance.”
I looked back at the TV, drank some more wine. Michael lit up a cigarette beside me and tucked his legs up under his chin. We were quiet again for a while, just watching and chuckling at the antics on TFI Friday. During the ad break, we finished the wine and I lit up my own cigarette. “Do you ever think about it though?” I asked Michael then. “I mean, why they screwed up so bad, or if they care about it now, if they regret it?”
Michael turned his incredulous eyes upon me. He looked about to ready to burst with indignation and contempt for my musings. “Why would I waste my time mate? The way I see it, it’s simple, right? They never wanted kids, ‘cause they were both fucking boozers, got pregnant twice by accident, had me and Anthony and then legged it the first chance they got. What more is there to understand?”
“But would you talk to them, if you could?” I persisted. “If you got the chance? If either of them turned up here, knocking on the door? You’d have questions for them, wouldn’t you? You’d want to try to understand it?”
He sighed. “Look Danny, I get it, this is obviously how you’re feeling since you saw your mum. I get it, you want to go and see her again, I don’t fucking like it, but I get it.”
“Yeah,” he said. “You must want to make her feel bad yeah? Rub her nose in it a bit, make her feel bad, ‘cause you got away from it all, and now she’s getting it, which is fucking funny if you think about it, considering she didn’t believe you.”
I frowned at him and shifted under my sleeping bag. “Hmm,” I said. “That’s not really it Mike. I mean, I do sort of want to let her know, the stuff she doesn’t know, to get it off my chest or whatever. But I don’t think I want to make her feel any worse than she does.”
“Oh you think she feels bad?” He shook his head and laughed. “You think she feels guilty about what happened to you?” I shrugged at him. “Yeah, right, well I don’t. I think she feel scared and wants your help. And I think if you go back there mate, you are asking for serious fucking trouble. Think about it. That bastard has left you alone for ages. You really want to give him a reason to start it all up again?”
“I know that,” I told him, dragging the ashtray across the bed to tap my cigarette against. “But it didn’t make me feel good Mike, seeing her all beaten up like that.”
“Yeah, she probably wants you back again so he can go back to hurting you, and not her!” Michael was staring at me angrily. He tapped his cigarette and wiped at his mouth hard. “For fucks sake Danny. Why’d you write the 999 down for her then? That must have made her feel like shit, and rightly so! Why should you help her?”
“I regret that now,” I looked him in the eye and told him. “I do. I’ve felt bad about it ever since.”
“Oh fuckinghell Danny,” Michael sighed miserably and shook his face into both of his hands, before dropping them heavily and looking at me in pity. “Mate. Please, please do not feel sorry for that woman! She is a grown woman mate! She can leave any fucking time she wants, she can call the cops, tell the neighbours, get a divorce! What’s stopping her? You were a kid, and you shouldn’t forget that Danny. Why the hell do you feel bad?” He glared at me, expecting an answer that I just didn’t have. “What have you got to feel bad about? So you were a pain in the arse as a kid? So fucking what? You should have been able to tell her the first time he did anything, and she should have believed you, and that should have been the end of it! He should have been out! You know that don’t you? You know she let you down, fucked you over? What about Freeman and all that shit?”
I got off the bed then. Pushed my sleeping bag down in one quick motion, tipping unsuspecting Kurt out onto the floor. I ran my fingers through my hair, back and forth, stretching and yawning as I stepped out from the bag. “Don’t,” I told him, before walking into the kitchen to put the kettle on.
“Sorry,” he called out after me. “But you have to remember all that shit Danny, so you don’t make the mistake of going back to her! I don’t wanna’ fucking remind you of all that shit, all the stuff that went on, but you have to remember, you have to ask, where was she eh? Where was she the day you broke down on the beach? Where was she the day you had your famous bike crash? All the rest of it? Eh?”
I turned the kettle on and reappeared in the doorway. It was time for the conversation to end. And to do that I knew I would have to give in to him. “Alright,” I said. “You’re right. I’ll leave it.”
He turned around on the bed to face me properly. I thought how much like Anthony he looked these days. If he grew much taller they would look like twins. “Look,” he said to me. “Let me tell you what I think, for what it’s worth. You don’t owe her anything. She’s done sod all for you. She let that cunt move in when she knew nothing about him, she didn’t care if you liked him or not, she didn’t believe you, she turned a blind eye and she’s still fucking with him! And now he’s beating her up, she wants to see you? You went and saw her, and you told her to call the cops. What else can you do? Nothing mate, nothing. Because if you go back there, if you try and help her or anything, that crazy bastard is gonna’ catch wind of it and then we’re right back to square fucking one, aren’t we? You don’t want him back in your life, do you Danny?”
I looked at him and shook my head. My mouth felt dry, and my skin was crawling with goosebumps. “Okay,” I told him, and in that moment, I meant it. “Okay. You’re right. I know it. Sorry.”
Michael laughed a little nervously. He got up to turn the channel over. “Well hallelujah! Thank fucking god!” I made the tea and brought it in. We wrapped our hands around the warm mugs, with our sleeping bags pulled right up to our chins. “This much coldness is insane,” he remarked, puffing his breath into the air to demonstrate. “It would drive anyone mental. I can’t cope with it much longer, I’m telling you. I keep expecting to wake up and find us all frozen stiff!”
“We should complain again,” I said.
“Anthony has, millions of times! They don’t give a shit, but hey, you know what?” he looked at me with a sparkle in his eye. “Anthony reckons another month or so and we could afford another place, a bigger, better place. Like a flat, with bedrooms, and heating!”
I grinned back at him. “God, that would be amazing Mike.”
“I know, I know it will. Everything will be amazing, just so long as you stay away from the past, yeah?”
I smiled, and nodded, and looked back at the TV. I knew that would be enough to satisfy him, but inside my own head, I knew it was never going to be as simple as that.
So in my head, I devised a plan. I didn’t mean to. I want you to know that. I didn’t want to. It just kept happening. It got into my brain and refused to be kicked out. It formed, painstakingly slowly over several sleepless nights. I would lay awake, remembering how those cold fingers of fear had once lived inside my belly, scrabbling around in there night after night. How they had fallen quiet, for so long now. I wondered if it was the same for her, my mother. I imagined how she felt, hearing her husband return from work at night. I wondered how quickly he started laying into her, what little things he used as reasons and justifications for hurting her. I wondered if there were house inspections, and interrogations about her whereabouts. She had no friends, I knew that. No one to turn to. No one to tell her what to do. I’d lie awake, knowing exactly how she felt if she broke a cup, or left a smear on the window when cleaning it. I knew that she probably found herself living with a constant gnawing terror in her gut, that warded off sleep, and peace, and sanity. I lay awake, night after night, denying to myself, what I knew deep down inside. That I had to see her again. Maybe just once. On my own, without Lucy. I had to see her again and get some answers. I had to find some peace somehow, from somewhere.
I knew what my friends would say, so I did not tell them. I asked Terry if I could work late one night. “You don’t have to pay me,” I was quick to point out when he looked about to argue. “I’ve got this list, getting longer all the time, of people I’ve got to call about records they wanted. I’m too busy to do it in the day.”
“Well it’s up to you then,” Terry told me with a shrug. “I’ll be upstairs getting my lips around a frozen meal for one. Let me know if you have any trouble closing up.”
I had no trouble closing up. I ran up the stairs and knocked on the door to his flat, sliding the keys under the door for him. “Cheers!” I heard him call out, as I dashed back down the stairs. I grabbed my coat from the hook, pushed my arms through it, clipped Kurts lead on and went out the back way, taking care to properly slam the heavy door behind me. It was dark. I paused to button my coat up to my chin, and pull my scarf out from my pocket to wrap around my neck and over my mouth. I put my hood up, shoved my hands into my pockets and set off down the alley as if I owned it, with Kurt yawning and trotting alongside me.
I tried to ignore the violent lurching of my heart, which felt like it had been asleep for some time, only to be rudely awakened by the memory of fear. It was remembering now alright, as I walked with my shoulders hunched against the cold, towards the back of Howards club. They would just be starting to open up, I thought, and sure enough, there was Howards flashy silver Merc, parked out the back. I breathed in, and then out, looked straight ahead and kept walking. I walked down to the end of the alley and then turned right and came out onto the high street. I walked fast, because it was cold, and I wanted to warm up my bones, and I walked fast because I wanted to outrun my fears. My mind was fighting a battle with my body the entire way there. My body was playing the old game, screaming at me to stop, to turn around and run, to get away and be gone, while my mind attempted to argue calmly back, and I took deep breaths, and thought about Lucy, and music, and my friends, and I walked on and on.
I listened to Oasis as I walked. Don’t ever stand aside, don’t ever be denied, they roared into my ears as I marched grimly on, you gotta’ be who you be, if you’re coming with me, I think I got a feeling I’m lost inside, I think I got a feeling I’m lost inside…When I reached the house, I stopped on the driveway and pressed stop. The security light flicked on, drenching the drive and me in cold yellow light. Immediately I saw a movement in the kitchen, and as I approached the front door, it was opened to me. She was surprised to see me. You could see that. She was really shocked. Tears filled her eyes again. Her face looked much better, not so swollen, and the bruises had faded. She looked like she was going to have a scar on her lip though. I slipped past her and into the hallway with Kurt, and began to unbutton my coat. She was wide eyed and nervous, but was smiling. “He’s at work,” she told me, her voice coming out croaky, little more than a whisper. She closed the door and gazed down at the dog. “So who is this then?”
“This is Kurt,” I told her. “And I know Lee is at work, because I checked. Walked past his car.”
“What are you doing here?” she asked me, stepping forward and sort of reaching for me with her arms, before thinking better of it, and wrapping them around herself. I shook a hand through my hair, flattened by my hood.
“Came to see if you called that number yet,” I said. She opened her mouth, and then closed it again, her shame turning her cheeks pink. She shook her head at me.
“I know I should…”
“Easier said then done?” I asked at her, a smile tugging at me lips. She smiled back.
“I need to work out what to do,” she said. “I’m not as strong as you Danny.”
“Plenty of times I should have called that number, but didn’t,” I told her then and shrugged. “Don’t even know why I didn’t, half the time. So are you gonna’ make me a cup of tea or what? It’s bloody freezing out there.”
She nodded, and turned into the kitchen. I unclipped Kurt, and he scampered around the hallway with his nose down, before hurrying quickly after me, and sitting down on my feet. I didn’t blame him. I felt the same. Everything about the house made me feel small. The kitchen was immense. The shininess made my eyes ache in their sockets. At the far end were French doors that led out onto a patio. Two cream sofas were positioned there with view of the garden. The ceiling was high, as were the cupboards. I could imagine my mother stretching up on tiptoes to try to reach them. The interior doors were huge, making me feel like a child. It was like the house had been designed for giants. Or monsters. I felt an overwhelming sense of relief that I had got away before they moved. I didn’t fit in a house like that. I stood out like a sore thumb. My mother looked tiny, I thought, as I watched her move jerkily around the room, making the tea. She was wearing a long floaty blue top, and tight jeans. She had lost weight where they had been none to lose. Her golden waves were twisted and pinned up at the back of her head. I leant back against the marble worktop and felt my mouth growing drier. My stomach was now in knots. I kept expecting Howard to walk back in at any moment.
“Can’t say I like your house much,” I remarked to break the silence. She crossed her arms and waited for the kettle to boil. She offered me a wry and knowing look.
“Well not exactly your taste is it?” she grinned, nodding her head at my scruffy attire and nearly shoulder length hair. “I’ve missed you, you know,” she said then. “I was shocked when you ran away that day. Really shocked. I was that naïve, I really thought things would be better in this house, when we all moved into it together. Then I was sort of relieved, in a weird way. I don’t know, it was like I always had this awful tension inside of me, and whenever I looked into your face, I would see it staring right back at me.”
“Yeah? What was it? The truth?”
“It was after my mum died,” she went on, gazing at the kettle as the steam began to pummel out of the spout. “I realised what an awful relationship I’d always had with her, and that I was doing the exact same thing with you. I started to see things about Lee, after she died, things I’d either not noticed before or made excuses for. I started to feel uneasy, but at the same time, I so wanted things to work out. Didn’t want to be on my own again, I suppose.” She shrugged her small shoulders and turned to pour the water from the kettle. “So I was relieved for a while when you went, for you and for me. What I couldn’t understand was Lee’s reaction.” She was frowning as she set the kettle back down and picked up a teaspoon to swirl the teabags in their mugs.
“He hates to lose,” I said, my eyes shooting back to the front door. “It would have been okay if he’d thrown me out, if it had been on his terms, not mine.”
“Maybe you’re right,” she sighed, picking up one of the chrome canisters that lined the worktop like soldiers. “Are you still one sugar?” I nodded and watched her spoon it in. “He kept going on about it, especially the first few weeks. Storming around the house, furious all the time, accusing me of helping you go. He even accused me of not caring about you like he did! Said you were holed up with druggies and criminals. I couldn’t understand why he cared so much, I mean, he was horrible to you most the time you were here. Why would he want you back? I didn’t get it.”
“Control,” I said flatly, taking the tea when she handed it to me. “There’s probably a name for what he’s got. He has to be completely in control, of everything. He has to own you. That, and he’s addicted to violence. Which explains why he attacked my friend Jake for no reason because he couldn’t find me.”
Mum turned and rested her back beside mine. She wrapped one thin arm around her body and held her tea up to her lips. “I think you’re tight,” she murmured. “The first few times I made excuses…I was probably in shock. I couldn’t think straight. I tried to understand why he did it, but all along I knew why really. Because he wasn’t the man I thought he was. He was someone else entirely. And it all came out. And then it got worse.” She sipped her tea as her eyes filled up with tears. “I’m terrified of him now,” she said softly. “I don’t know what to do.”
“He’s pretty good at deceiving people,” I said to her. “You ought to see the people down at the club, they all fucking love him! He’s king of the castle, and that’s what he thrives on. Yeah, he fooled you, but not just you. He fooled the cops, the school, John. He took advantage of what he walked into, you know.”
“I do know,” she nodded firmly. “Me and you at each other’s throats, because you didn’t like my boyfriends.” She laughed a little and pushed a strand of golden hair back behind one ear. “Well you were right weren’t you? They were all bastards or idiots one way or another. Jesus Christ, I should have listened to you. I should have known you were only trying to protect us all. I really don’t deserve you, you know, not then, and certainly not now.”
“I was a little shit though,” I reminded her with a grin. “I wasn’t like John.”
“God no,” she laughed. “You weren’t, and I bet I bloody told you it a million times a day! But I didn’t love you any less, you know that, right?” She turned her body to face me. “You were hard work, oh yes, from day one, but that just scared me you know, as you got older. You were becoming more and more like me.”
She looked me right in the eye. “Yep. I was just like you, with my mother. Didn’t think about it until she’d died. But I was always arguing her, challenging her, fighting her. Now if you ever kids, just don’t make the same mistakes hey?”
She winked and smiled at me, but I felt unable to return it. I felt terribly worn down then, as if just being in his house was draining the life from me. “I am never having kids,” I told her. “Never. No way.”
“Well of course you’d say that at sixteen years old.”
“No, I mean it, I really do. No way I’m risking passing on that motherfuckers parenting skills.”
She just stared at me in silence. I sighed and looked down at Kurt sat on my feet, and wondered what the hell I was doing there. I checked the door again, and I hated the feeling that was rising inside my chest, that old fluttery feeling of panic stirring. I rubbed at my eyes with my hand. “I don’t even know why I came…”
“I don’t deserve you to be here, I know that…”
“No one knows I’m here. Not even Lucy. They all think I’m nuts. They think I’ll get all caught up in it again. Get myself in trouble.” I shrugged and put down my cup. “So are you going to leave him or what? ‘Cause I think that’s the only way I can keep coming to see you. If you’re not with him.” I found it hard to look at her then. Inside was this awful heaviness pulling me down, grabbing at my heart and squeezing all of the joy out of it. Michael had been right, I thought, I should stay away from the past. She was thinking about it, holding her cup in both hands under her chin, as he eyes scanned the room nervously and her teeth chewed at her lip.
“There’s a part of me that still loves him,” she replied so softly I almost missed it. I felt like punching myself in the head when I realised what she had said. I pushed one hand through my hair and held onto my head, while my heart was yanked down to the floor.
“Don’t say that,” I begged, turning away from her. “Fuck, I come all the way here, to fucking help you and you go and say that! You can’t say that mum, if you fucking knew him like I do, you wouldn’t be able to say that!”
“A part of me, I said, a tiny part of me. There are obviously sides to my relationship with him that are different to yours.”
I just stared at her, enraged, unable to believe what I was hearing. “What the fuck does that mean?”
“It means it’s complicated, that’s what it means. It’s not as simple for me to just leave, Danny. I’m not young. I have no friends round here thanks to him, and the house is in his name, and I have no job!” She finished her tea, wiped her mouth with the back of one hand and carried the cup over to the sink. I felt the strongest urge to just laugh at her.
“You don’t need money. You just go. You just leave. Go to John, or back to Southampton. Call the police. Get him arrested. There are plenty of choices mum. Or you can carry on like you are, a prisoner living with a psychopath, and this will be the last time you ever see me.”
“I do want to leave him Danny, for goodness sake, I do!” She whirled around, tea towel clutched in one hand. “I just need to work out what to do, financially and everything else. I know I can’t go on like this, I know that, I know I can’t..” She made a noise like a sob and covered her face with her hands. “He’ll kill me if this carries on….I know it.”
“He’s dangerous,” I said, my eyes shooting back to the door again. She lowered her hands and traipsed slowly back towards me. “I’m serious mum. If he’s only just started hitting you, you’ve got no idea how bad it will get. He’s twisted inside. He enjoys it mum, haven’t you noticed that yet? He gets a kick out of it, I swear to God, it’s like a drug, it calms him down…” I had to break off, move back from her, my eyes held prisoner by the fucking door. The memories were back again, trying to choke me, dark images crashing through my mind, trying to force their way through before I could push them back where I kept them.
She folded her arms and her eyes searched my face. “That’s why you came back today? To convince me to leave him?”
I sighed, my shoulders dropping under my heavy coat. “I dunno mum. Don’t know why I’m here, or what good it will do. Maybe I’m an idiot hey? I ought to stay away. Let you get on with it.” I thought suddenly of Lucy, up in her room, doing her homework, and a sharp pain pulled at me and made me want to run towards her. “No one thinks I should be here.”
“Then why are you here?”
“I don’t know,” I repeated again, helplessly. But I did know. I knew there was still this little part of me that felt like a kid, a kid who just wanted to make his mother listen to him for once. “Maybe I needed to hear something from you,” I exhaled loudly and glanced again at the front door. “I don’t know.”
She stepped towards me, her face so wrecked with emotion that I could hardly bear to look at her. She was slowly reaching out for me, and I was torn in half, caught between wanting desperately to fall into her arms, and running for the door and never returning. “That I’m sorry?” she asked me. “That I was a crap mother from start to finish, that I let you down so badly, that I will never forgive myself? I should have known better Danny.” She stopped right in front of me, and her hands rose hesitantly and jerkily up to my face. I froze, dreading her touch as much as I craved it. Then I watched her hands curl into fists and draw back under her own chin. “I thought it was drugs,” she whispered, her eyes brimming with tears. “And god, how much I want to ask Lee about what Lucy said, about the drugs, because I still don’t understand Danny, I don’t understand any of it. Was that true? Was it him and Jack all the time?” I nodded at her and her eyes fell shut, squeezing our fresh water. “Bastards. I can’t say anything, I can’t let him know I’ve seen you…”
I pushed my hands into my pockets and tried to swallow the lump that was forming in my throat. “No,” I said. “Don’t let him know, don’t say anything to him, whatever you do.” She moved forward suddenly then, catching me off guard, and her arms were around me before I could react, or pull away. I stiffened against her and despised the tears that were threatening me, and she just held on. She buried her face in my clothes, and the sobs shook both our bodies. I gave in to it quietly. I toyed with the grotesque possibility of Howard walking in and catching us. “My son,” she was mumbling into my chest. “I’m so sorry….so sorry….”
“It’s alright,” I told the top of her head. “I’m okay, you know. I’m okay.”
“I will leave him,” she said, wiping her eyes on her sleeves and pulling back to look at me. “There has to be a way. I’m going to speak to John. What do you think?”
I managed a tight smile. “Think that’s the best thing I’ve ever heard.” She nodded firmly.
“The least I can do is get that man out of my life and then I can start to try to make it up to you.” She planted her hands on her hips and shook her hair out of her eyes, and I thought she looked stronger like that, almost like the old her. “I’ve got to get myself out of this god awful mess.” She eyed the kettle and then looked back at me. “How long can you stay?”
I shrugged. “Another hour maybe. As long as it’s safe.”
“We can see the road from here,” she said, nodding at the window. “And the light goes on when a car pulls in the drive. If he does come back, you’ll have plenty of time to run out the back way.”
I nodded. “Okay then.”
I ended up staying another hour. I breathed, in and out, slowly and methodically the entire time, nurturing a thin restraint on my pounding heart. Never again, I kept telling myself, my eyes narrowed as they moved constantly between the door and the window, never again will I get stomped on by that evil bastard…and if mum leaves him…Relax, I told myself. My mind whirled with confusion, hope and fear. My mother chattered on. I took my turn when I was supposed to. I told her about the bed-sit, and my job, and my writing, and my dog. She sat up on a high kitchen stool, her hand wrapped around her cup, and her eyes moist as she listened to me talk about my life. “You always were a strange kid,” she grinned at me, and I supposed I was meant to take that as a compliment.
“I’ll write down my address,” I said to her, before I left. “So you can pass it on to John.” She passed me a piece of notepaper and I scrawled the address on it and passed it back.