Shona Woods is from Trim, Co. Meath, and studied at NUI Maynooth. Her first short story was published in Boyne Berries magazine in 2017. She lives with her family in Dublin.
Dread, me and my son Shane. Dread hits the dash with a steel boot and pushes the passenger seat further back, to give him more room, to wrench even more from us. Don’t pull my hair. Don’t.Pull.My.Hair. Shane shuffles about in his back seat playpen like we are on a sea and he is tossed to and fro by its swell. He is a small boy now, but growing, adding muscle to his body all the while. One day he’ll run out of space and there will be nowhere for him to go. Though when I’m gone, I’ll leave behind mine. When I go, Dread will go too.
Outside I open his door and warn him to be good and not to let go of my hand. His eyes are glazed and unsettled and my words are on the loose, carried by the breeze over to the garage forecourt to be clobbered by the fumes and sprays. I zip his jacket up that final inch and he jumps down onto the ground and then keeps jumping. Look at me. Look.At.Me.
I grab hold of his hand, that’s so much smaller than mine, and he insists that he walks backwards all the way. He is looking into the sky at aeroplanes that are daylight’s shooting stars and cirrus hovering like floss. A purple kite is groping towards freedom, the human grip on it long gone. His eyelids flicker with excitement, and then he’s calmer and I wonder if he longs to be free too.
We get to the crush of trolleys and I change my mind and head for the basket stack inside, we can make do. Take my hand. Shane doesn’t like restriction, he yearns to run away, up and down the aisles past the fruit and vegetables and other luminous things he doesn’t notice, on pigeon toes. An itch he must scratch. I realise my list is in the car so I’ll have to rely on memory. I will forget something, inevitably, and all this will be a waste of time.
I hold him with one hand, the basket handles are wedged in the crook of my other arm. It’s getting heavier the more I fill it and harder to keep hold of him. The heat around us is rising. After a while he slips from me, aided by my sweaty palm. Off he tears, into a sample stand as he goes; throwing everything that was so perfectly arranged into chaos. The aproned lady is hunkered on the floor picking up her cheesy surprises like the shards of a sculpture, and my offer to help is rebuffed by the slice of a scowl.
Now where is he? I search for a minute though it feels longer. I check behind those towering pillars, the special offer containers that contain nothing special, the rolling crates piled high with boxes to be unloaded by bantering teens. There he is by the fish counter, a spinning spectacle barricading the hake and trout, knocking into Anger with his tiny propeller bones. He won’t bruise her though. She is impenetrable.
Take My Hand. I Can’t Take You Anywhere!
He won’t and I seize his wrist, feel the bones in my hand drain the tendons and muscles in his; and march him down to the checkout to pay for our things. The presence of an audience fuels my adrenalin rush.
Don’t judge, I tell them, to myself.
This could happen to you. This could happen to anyone.
As we arrive, the cashier is buried in conversation. My eyes are boring into her, pleading for respect and a little work ethic.
Hurry the fuck up.
He’s spotted the sweet packets and I know all he wants to do is pull them off their hooks one by one, like he does with Christmas baubles until the branches lie bare. Finally she’s had her fill.
‘How are you?’
‘I’m good thanks’, I lie.
‘Have a loyalty card?’
‘No I don’t.’
‘Gorgeous day isn’t it?’
‘Yes it’s lovely.’
‘Are you collecting the stamps for the tupperware?’ stretching for a roll of stickers.
‘No, I’m not.’
She returns the stamps to obscurity under the counter and scrutinises me. A disloyal shopper who doesn’t bake. I dig into my purse, and then the cashier notices him and turns her head horizontally. Here she goes.
‘Were you a good boy helping your mummy today? Hmmm? What’s your name?’
There is no response but she’s started now and not about to lose face.
She turns to me. ‘He’s in his own world. Were you a good boy? Hello? Little boy?’
‘You’ll have to take a stab in the dark Anne,’ I’ve seen the name badge, ‘because he doesn’t talk.’ Still. My change comes to me vending machine style and we are free to go. Cereal!
Outside, and as we near the car, I’m relieved to see that it’s an empty vessel. Dread has left us for now. But the sun is withering and the clouds are drawing towards their cliques, thicker and harder of heart. He wants to walk backwards and I won’t let him. I use my adult strength to force him to do this my way. He sinks his teeth into my sleeve, twenty milky daggers trying to break through. But it’s the grip sneaking its way around my gut that really has me gulping. Pressing on me, and relentlessly tugging the breath out of me like cigarette smoke into his own lungs. And I know that Guilt must have been waiting for me, he’s come home with me before.
© 2018 Shona Woods