[Remember Your Story, My Story? Well after writing that one for an assignment I ended up changing it around a bit at the last minute. This (version 2) is what it turned into. There are a fair few similarities as they are drafts of the same original idea, however the plot is somewhat… different. Please also note there is adult content in this particular post.]
Smiley Faces and Stick Men
Death is a funny thing. Not funny HAHA, funny strange. It is taboo, spoken of in code words and hushed tones. Shushed at dinner table, avoided in the street, tiptoed around every day. And yet, it is inevitable: you will die. I can assure you of that.
The car trundles along, slugging its way through the slush, churning it up beneath the wheels then depositing it on the laden paths. This time last year was so different. It’s funny to think how much things have changed, even the people in this town. Last year, the snow lay thick, blanketing pavements. The air was crisp and clean. Outsiders could marvel at the beauty created by something as simple as a covering of snow, ignorant to the dirty streets, dilapidated buildings and empty stores. Meanwhile, the town’s inhabitants could forget about the reality of our poor, ramshackle home and allow themselves to delight in its temporary splendour. It was as simple as disguising a badly risen sponge with a dusting of icing. We all knew what lay beneath, but were willing to ignore it and appreciate it for what it was. We could live in the moment.
You were always so good at that.
This year, however, the snow has not lasted, and has now been replaced with varying shades of slush that line the roads and clog the drains. It is not the mystical town of last year, with the wintry glow that captured the town now long gone.
How things change.
People no longer take their time passing through our little town. Instead, they slog their way along the streets, shoes sliding instead of crunching, eyes trained on the slush covered concrete instead of up at the trees and the buildings and the sky that once sprinkled little flakes of geometric perfection down on them. They nod when I pass, unable to find any words anymore. They have been snatched away from the beauty of yesterday, and have succumbed to the grey of today. Oh, if only they knew what really happened.
I watch in the rear view mirror; he sits proud in his car seat, watching the town go by through the tiny circle on the window he’s wiped of fog. It’s chilly, but I’ve wrapped him up warm, don’t worry. His golden curls are hidden beneath his favourite bobble hat, and his thick jacket makes him look like an adorable blob. Outside, the streets are practically empty. It is Christmas day after all. Inside people gorge themselves on turkey and stuffing, sitting round Christmas trees and enjoying the festivities. Presents will be handed round, crackers pulled and kids will spend the day playing with those ridiculous cracker toys as opposed to their shiny new ones. Just like we should have done last year, and this year if it weren’t for you. Out here, lights hang from all the shops, though their shutters are closed today. I glance back at him; he loves the pretty lights. I remember you telling him once to scrunch his eyes up when he looked at them, so they would look all fuzzy and even prettier. He does it every time now.
We reach the edge of town, past the butchers where you got our turkey last year. Past the church we used to go to on Christmas Eve. Past the lit up tree we used to huddle around and sing carols with the rest of the town. Past the bakery where you used to bake all those cupcakes and ice on perfect little designs with your fancy tools. All are silent now.
We’ve stopped at a red light, though we’re the only ones on the road today. In the back, he draws lines on the steamed up window. You would have drawn pictures for him. Smiley faces and stick men. He feels my gaze on him and looks up. He has your eyes. I notice more than ever now. And your dimples. I can see them just above the scarf I wrapped tightly round him this morning. He doesn’t say anything. I wonder if he knows what today is. If he remembers.
I hear my own voice inside my head, as though listening to a track. I’m calm, collected. I’ve just found out. But you don’t know yet. As I stare down at the letter in my hands, I ask what you want for dinner. What do you want for dinner? Why am I so calm? I should be shouting, but I never shout. I should hit you, should throw you out. But I don’t, because I see his wide eyes, staring at me from between the banister railings as he sits on the stairs. He has on his spaceship pyjamas, the ones I picked for him. I’ve just read him a story and put him to bed but something brought him down. Clutching his blanket, he stares at me.
I scrunch the letter into my pocket and scoop him up from the stairs, cradling him to my chest. He’s so soft. He still has a baby smell.
The lights change and we drive on. He’s getting squirmy in the back. You’d tell me off for ignoring him, if you were here.
We’re in the car. You’re driving. It’s the day before the results came. The day before I found out the truth. Christmas tunes play on the radio and he sings along in the back. As we reach the edge of town the signal goes and he begins to cry, sniffling away to a crackling ‘Rudolf the Red-Nose Reindeer.’
“Hey, don’t cry. How about we play a game?” I turn in my seat to see his snuffling immediately subside. He loves games. Call anything a game and he’ll be up for it.
I used to think he got that from me.
“See there,” I point out the window to the postman. He nods, wiping snot from his face.
“Well I think he’s called Paul. What do you think?”
He gives me his confused face and doesn’t answer.
“What do you think, Mum?” I turn to you as you wrinkle your nose.
“Definitely not! He is a Wilbour. And he’s about to drop all his letters in that big puddle!”
He giggles. Though he’s still too young to understand our game, he takes pleasure from it all the same. I think it’s your voice, you can always make him laugh.
As we drive along, I think about that game. It was one we used to play all the time, long before he was even born. Do you remember? We’d make up stories. Give strangers names and back-stories. You would always laugh at my suggestions, calling them boring. Like that man there. The little old man crossing that side street. He seems to be the only person out today. His family has moved away, his wife long gone. She was a Margaret, and he is a Mike. She used to buy their grandkids an advent calendar every year. Even once they moved. She’d post them off in plenty time to reach them, even once they’d grown up and gone off to university. And her soup! The best soup in town! He would grow all the ingredients in his allotment for her, they were such a team. They grew old together, surrounded by family and love. That’s the sort of story I like. He misses her dearly now that she’s gone, but they had their happily ever after.
You would tease me if you were here. Mock me for being pathetic and a hopeless romantic. I never used to care; it was funny how different we were. You were never bothered about family, having never really had anyone but me. But I lived for it, you were my family, and him, I didn’t care we had no one else. I loved hearing your stories though, they were always so full of adventure, exploring and travelling, or the secrets hidden behind people’s faces. There was always scandal and drama. I should have known then.
But now you’re not here. And we won’t ever play that game again.
Street after street we trundle on. All of us with our different stories.
It’s Christmas Eve. We’re on our way back from Church. I have known for a while but I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to react, how to cope, how to approach it. We’ve barely talked all day. You know I know, I can tell. You’ve been quiet, anxious. Waiting. You must have found the letter.
The lights sparkle and snow dances to the ground. A perfect Christmas. He’s sitting in the back, cheeks glowing, his face stuffed from all the goodies he was given by the towns elderly inhabitants. They love spoiling him.
Now more than ever.
You suggest taking a detour on the way home. We could go past our place in the woods. Our special, secret place. We’ve never taken him before. For some reason I agree. I don’t know why you want to go there, not now that it is tainted.
We’ve been driving for a while now, and are well out of town. I am on autopilot. I do my best to concentrate on the slippery roads ahead, on the piles of grit, but I can’t seem to focus. In the back he begins to sniffle. I ignore him and carry on.
It is late but we’ve finally made it. The air is cold and stings our noses. I unbuckle his belt and lift him from his car seat. You watch uneasily, offering to take him. I ignore you and smile at him, his perfect little face, all rosy from the cold. His little hands wrapped in stripy mittens, his feet in Spiderman wellies. He grins up at me, excited at the prospect of adventure. I kiss his forehead. He really is perfect.
I guess I knew this was where we were going. I had to come back eventually. I pull the car into a layby and climb out. His face lights up, I wonder if he recognises this place. He’s still so young. I take him from the car and put him down. He takes my hand instantly. It’s soft, reassuring in mine.
I set him down and we each take one of his hands. You seem to have eased off. Maybe you think I don’t mind, maybe you think I don’t care. Or maybe you just don’t care anymore. We guide him down paths and through the wooded landscape, well off the track, until we reach the hidden gate. It sits concealed amongst the trees and bushes; I remember the day I first took you here. We were young and innocent – happy. I lead you down the narrow paths, amongst the great trees that mask the clearing. In and out until we reached the secluded haven, where not even dog-walkers came. Now we walk it again, a little angel boy in tow. The natural pathway is lined by trees laden with snow. They droop across the path, blocking us from view. Ours are the first footprints of the day. Our version of the red carpet, leading to centre stage.
We follow the familiar path, the trees paving our way onwards. Only this time water droplets fall from above. The musty bark smell fills my nose. It is melting. The sun hangs low in the sky, only just visible through the trees. It really is beautiful, despite everything.
The clearing becomes visible as the trees thin out, creating a stage in the middle. You drop his hand and, as though in a trace, step forward. You let your feet carry you, gliding across the wintry fortress. Then you stop, right in the centre. Your stage amongst the trees. We watch you, me and your little infidelity. What are you thinking? About us? About me? About your deceit and your betrayal? You stare up at the sky. At the flakes that flit down, landing on your face and outstretched arms. It’s as though you don’t even care.
We reach the clearing. He clutches my hand tighter. I rub the back of his hand with my thumb, soothing him.
You turn, smiling at him. At me. A final ray of sunshine steals through the branches, catching the side of your face. Rosy cheeks, full lips. Bright eyes, gleaming in the light. You begin to laugh. I feel myself smiling too.
You really are beautiful, aren’t you?
As you laugh you being to spin, crunching circles into the icy carpet. Throwing your head back and letting your cries flutter into the air. Your golden hair flies out behind you as you twirl.
I stand in the clearing. Centre stage. I hear your laugh. Can smell the perfume you wore that day. Can see your breath. Lingering as it dances in the cold air. It’s a montage of senses, all playing in slow motion.
Savour the moment, I think to you. Your snow will soon become slush.
We are still behind the tree line, just standing, watching. He soon gets bored and drops my hand. I turn and watch him stumble away in his too-big wellies. He begins picking up the snow, and putting it into piles. I watch him for a while, his innocence radiates within me. He’s so small, so dependent.
When I turn back, you have stopped spinning. You have stopped laughing. You are watching him too. It is silent in the clearing. It is still.
I start towards you. Anger flickers in front of my eyes as the impact of what you did hits me. Your deceit is a flashing light, erupting from the little boy that plays in the snow, ignorant to how you hurt me. Ignorant to the fact the man he calls daddy is not his father. I want to shout at you, to scream, to let it all out. I want to hit you, to shake you, to make you CARE. But instead you just turn away. You turn away from me. After all you’ve done, after all the lies laced into the love you pretended to give me, you don’t even give me the courtesy of your attention.
So what else can I do?
I pick up a stray branch and I raise it above me and I bring it down on the back of your head. Not once. Not twice. I just kept on going until I’ve hurt you like you hurt me. Until I’ve bashed your fucking head in. Until your blood stains our beautiful clearing. Dripping your debauchery into the pure clean snow. And I keep going, I can’t stop, I’m possessed, I see red. I keep going. I keep going until my hands are numb. Until your cries turn to whimpers. Until I can’t feel anything anymore. Until the tears burn my eyes and my breath catches and I can’t even see your lying fucking face anymore. Until small hands tug at my trouser leg…
Until your body lies crumpled at my feet, in the middle of our perfect Christmas scene.
I look down at his tiny body and his big eyes that stare up at me. Your eyes. I raise it again, ready to strike… But he’s so perfect. So innocent.
Even if he isn’t mine.
I can see you now, too. Your beaten body, your perfect face just a puffed up, bloody mess. How frail you look, the pain in your eyes, the fear. Nothing compared to the pain I felt. Nothing compared to the pain you forced on me. On him.
I drop the branch, the weapon, the hate, the fury, and I pick up my precious little angel boy and I walk away. Away from the spatters of blood than cover the white floor, and ooze from your limp body. Away from the branch that is soaked in your blood, and away from you.
I turn and I walk away.
I take your perfect child and lead him from your pathetic body. I lead away the child I had loved so much, the child I had thought was my own. The child that was the result of your adulterous ways. I take his hand and I lead him from our special place. And I keep going, keep on going until we’re far away. I’ll protect him from you, from your sin and your guilt. We just turn and walk away. To forget about the real you, about the truth. We’ll pretend it never happened. We’ll walk away from it all. Away from the place I once romanticised. From the woman I once respected as a wife, as the mother of my child. Because it was all just a big fucking lie.
We leave the clearing. I am done here. I turn from the memory of your body, lying in the melting snow. And as we make our way through the trees that now feel too close, collapsing in on me; I feel tears trace tracks on my cheeks. I let them fall. I let them fall, but not for you: for me, and for him. We are the victims. The warmth of the sun has gone now. It has done its job. The snow is slush.
As we reach the gate, I realise there is nothing keeping me here anymore. The pitying looks and the whispers that flit aren’t worth it anymore. They think I care that you’re gone, that the unanswered questions of what happened to you, of where you went, why you left us, are what haunt me. But it it’s not that. I did love you, you know. I really did. And I know it was wrong, what I did. But I don’t regret it. You hurt me, tore our perfect family apart, and so you hurt him. And he has to be protected. For your story is over now. And mine, and his, are still playing. Now you can’t hurt us anymore. I will tell him about you, about the perfect, beautiful Emily. The Emily I fell in love with. The Emily that was his mother. But I’ll know what you really were, and I’ll never forget it.
As I close the gate behind me, I turn back one last time. The trees sway in the gentle wind, drips of water fall to the forest floor, but everything else is still.
Death is a funny thing. It signifies the end of something, of someone. But standing there in that moment, I realise, as the snow thaws and the rain washes away the evidence, it is making way for a new season. A new start. And I cannot deny our son that. For he is ours, no matter what you did, he will always be a part of me, regardless of DNA. And I will protect him and love him and cherish him. He has finally made it through your winter, and I promise you, spring will be all mine.