A BREAK IN ROUTINE

I knew it was him as soon as I heard the screams. But not with my ears, it was my heart that heard him first. Son No2 broke his wrist in two places playing rugby. He had the ball in his right hand when he was tackled, he pushed out his left arm hoping to break his fall but ended up breaking a couple of other things into the bargain.

Strangely I was talking to our team manager moments before. I have known her for a couple of seasons but have never asked what she did for a living. “I run the orthopedic ward at the local hospital.” That’ll come in handy next week when my child gets his second plaster.

As soon as I heard his cries I panicked. I am not good with my children in a crisis. Years ago, when I was Son No2’s age I suggested I might like to be a nurse when I grow up. My mum stopped laughing around the mid 90’s.

I did remember a rule told to me weeks before. ‘No mums on the pitch when a child is injured’. I accepted this as I was prone to screaming when my children are hurt which can be distracting. Anyway I left the mercy dash to the officials, my husband (a line judge at the time, so kind of official), my other son and my sister-in-law. New to the area, she didn’t know the rules. At least she’s a nurse.

Once my son was propped up in his dad’s arms on the wall, waiting for the ambulance, the other rugby mums formed another wall in front of me, a human shield. Preventing me from seeing my son’s misshaped arm. I am forever grateful. The husband nearly fainted when he saw it. We waited for the ambulance with a nervous boy-man medical assistant. He was an injury virgin and twittered around trying to work out forms. Bless.

Our team manager, the orthopedic team manger woman, kept talking about green whistles in the ambulance and how our boy needed one. I assumed it was a giant lolly to take his mind off things. I wasn’t far wrong. It did take his mind off things. Now full of drugs he relaxed, the creases drawn on his face by pain smudged away. In the ambulance he requested a purple cast, when the time came. His favourite colour.

At the hospital they struggled to manage his pain, especially after he was man-handled for the x-ray. He screamed in pain for what seemed hours. The husband sent me away one time as it was upsetting me so much. I could hear his cries down the corridor as I made my way to the waiting room. Not being able to make it better for him was hard.

My brave boy was operated on and spent the night in hospital. There was another boy in the bed opposite who had broken his wrist in two places and had surgery too. His name was William. Luckily neither boy needed pins or plates.

We took our hero home the next day, trying to assuage his disappointment. He had three sporting events he had qualified for that week. All had to be cancelled. And of course it’s the end of his rugby season.

I kept him home for the week where we watched far too much British comedy. And I read to him. A book about a dragon rider and his dragon, a present from a friend (the book not the dragon). I picked the story up where I had left it a few days before. Oddly the hero had broken his wrist too. But by climbing a rocky outcrop covered in moss to reach his dragon. Maybe rugby is a modern day version of dragons and riders. The ball the dragon’s egg. His rugby pads chain mail. And the goal posts, well they’re just goal posts really. Who am I kidding?

By the end of the week I had to go into our little town for meat and Son No2 came with me. I got talking, as I always do, with our butcher who’s very into sport. His son plays for a local league team. I told him what had happened and he said one of his son’s teammates had broken his wrist too. In two places as well. Turns out it was William, my son’s hospital chum.

Coincidence? I think not. Or perhaps my life is so small now, with so few players that themes keep cropping up. Between the bone-rugby-woman, Eragon and William it’s like dots joining up connecting us. A bit like those dot-to-dot books from our youth, that turned a dotty mess into a recognisable shape. Not sure what the shape is though. Maybe it’s a big smiley face and the message that we’re being looked after. I quite like the sound of that.

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CHOOSING EVE

This story was shortlisted for the 2011 Doris Gooderson Award

I’ve been coming here for a few days. Watching the children play. Brightly coloured like so many butterflies. Only noisier. Each one making their delight or disdain known with volume. I know I shouldn’t be here. Punishing myself, spying on the angels at play. I have found my feet leading me here, almost against my wishes, over the past few weeks. I teach English to foreign students at the local language school. It’s mostly evening work which leaves my days free. Long and empty. I like to come here. Despite the sadness I feel my heart is momentary lifted as I drink the laughter of the children. How spontaneous they are, no hidden agendas here.
There is one particular girl who catches my eye. A little slower than the rest, she doesn’t quite keep up with the others’ games. Her dark hair falls in two plaits, tied with red ribbons. She’s in her own world and appears quite happy there. Chattering to herself and skipping, Her mother is on the edge of the playground, distracted, chatting to a group of other mothers. Smug with the acceptance of fertility, as if it is their birthright. They are all dressed in the uniform of tracksuits and sporting attire. All that is missing are the whistles around their necks.
The child had arrived late, her face flustered, her mother agitated. She had stayed close to her mother until the woman finally lost her temper, yelled at her young cherub in exasperation.
“Will you just go and play! I can’t bear you to be under my feet constantly.”
The girl fled to the play equipment, bottom lip wobbling. Comforting arms around the vexed mother, understanding words uttered from her comrades. I was shocked at the little outburst. I would never have spoken to my child like that. I wonder how that mother would feel if her child was spirited away, never to be seen again. Would she feel relief that the girl was no longer under her feet?
My motives are coiled up like a snake inside me, lying deep and desperate, A beast that mostly sleeps, with wakefulness and attack lurking beneath it’s passiveness.
I wasn’t always a bitter shell. I started out with hopes and dreams, much like anyone else. Hopes that were slowly destroyed over time, worn away almost unnoticed until one day I realised they’d all gone, dissolved in a soup of disappointment, putting up with men who were damaged as if I could make them whole. Concentrating on their problems was so much easier than facing my own. Month after month, each period turned up, the only reliable thing in my life. Months soon turned to years which sped along of their own accord. My own child would have been wonderful. It’s too late for me now. I am dried up, useless. But that little girl, it’s not too late for her. In her eyes are dreams and fairytales, magic and wonder. If only she would come nearer.
The mother isn’t watching. She wouldn’t notice if I took her child’s hand. Would the girl cry out? I’m sure I could think of something that would stop her. Little girls can be very curious and love a secret.
My mother never watched me, not properly and not out of concern, only to catch me out, to confirm her suspicions of my uselessness. I have a clear memory of her dressed up in midnight blue taffeta applying the reddest lipstick I have ever seen. Lost in her world, mesmerised by her own beauty, heady with the knowledge of her power over men. I watched from the doorway. Suddenly she caught sight of my face, spying on her. Guilt flashed over her perfect features.
“Go away! Don’t spy on me, you freak!”
Sobbing I ran back to my bed where the rental grey of my bedroom walls enveloped me. Surrounded by secondhand furnishings and things no one wanted, neatly placed about the room, as if they were beautiful, special.
I have already prepared a room for my would-be child. Painted in shades of magenta and violet, I have painted fairies and flower on the walls. I even moved in my childhood bed where she would lay her beautiful head. I would call her Eve. I would bake her cupcakes and we would decorate them with butter icing in pastel colours. Eve would be more special than other children. Didn’t I choose her myself; hand picked her from among the other butterflies in the playground.
“Eve always slept through the night”
“Oh yes, I had such trouble when Eve was teething.”
I can hear myself telling the mothers at the school gates. Creating a history for Eve and me. I can see us gathering wild flowers in the spring, splashing through puddles in our gum boots in the rain, kicking up the golden leaves in the park in the Autumn. We could create our own fairyland which would be infinitely better than this world. Where one only had to think of something they desired and it would appear. Where everyone smiled and was nice to each other. Where dreams came true and hopes were realised. Even the light would be softer, pinker and it would never be too cold or too hot.
“You’re crying. Why are you sad?”
Startled I look up to see Eve with her plaits swinging as she hops from foot to foot. My hand touches my face which is wet with tears. Eve looks at me, her big eyes widening in concern. This is it. This is my chance. I have her attention now I just have to create something to hold it, to take her away from her complacent mother and into the world I can conjure up for us. Her face is so innocent and without malice. She would trust me I’m sure. Suddenly my mind is made up. I know what I must do, a delicious moment passes.
“Sweetheart, your mother is calling you.” I breathe to my would-be child.
Eve frowns. “I can’t hear her.”
She looks over to the group of huddled mothers, cold air steam coming from their mouths as if they were a group of dragons. I point towards them.
“I heard her call. It’s time for you to go.”
She chooses to believe me. Runs off, little legs hitting the ground daintily and then she turns and waves to me. My heart is heavy and hurting but I know I have done the right thing. I see Eve take her mother’s hand and her mother’s face split into a huge smile, the love for her child evident. No nonchalance there. Only love. Love only a moment ago I hadn’t been able to see.

GREEN BUT NOT IN A GOOD WAY

This week I went through a range of emotions my body is not used to. I live in the middle layers, happy and sad as my journey takes me but safe from extreme highs and lows. Every now and again something happens that tips the scales.

When a friend screams at me unexpectedly. My cinema girls going to see the film I really wanted to see. Without me. Anything to do with my children and their disappointment. Not getting picked for the team, being left out of a sleepover (them, not me).

Yesterday a lovely lady I know, a fellow writer and one of the few people who came to see me in hospital, won a big prize. The news came with a free ticket to the roller coaster for me.

First up I screamed the house down with joy. Honestly, not one negative emotion ran through me. Euphoria, ecstasy and pride. Woo hoo!

About an hour later envy started to kick in. I didn’t really notice it until I decided on a red wine or two. To celebrate. Or something. I picked up a green coloured wine glass when normally I drink from midnight blue. The green glass caught the lamplight as I poured my drink, the colour of blood, from the bottle. Was I channeling Snow White’s Step Mother? Cruella Deville perhaps? I drank while a vicious cackle caught in my throat. I would spike an apple, pay a woodcutter to take her to the depths of the forest. March on her house with an army of other forgotten writers.

Nah. I just watched the telly and tried to work out what the hell was going on inside me. I always support my friends. I love it when they do well, go on European holidays. I do, really. I don’t really do competitive. It’s not my thing. Yet everywhere I looked all I could see was green.

The first light of a new day. Was I still consumed in a soup of jealousy? Had I turned bitter and twisted during the night? Well no. I hadn’t. I wasn’t turning hoops and singing while I made my breakfast either. But the seething had passed and I could love my friend and her wonderful victory again. A bit.

The new day instead brought forth feelings of deep disappointment. In myself. I had worked hard for a decade and had earned rewards along the way but nothing this big had poked its head around my front door.

I performed chores I would have normally ignored as if they were a penance for my lack. Then I remembered a recent conversation with another friend, a seasoned writer. Her writing buddy had been shortlisted for a very big fiction award. She told me how awful she had felt, howling at the moon with the unfairness of it all. “Then I said, for goodness pull yourself together girl. This isn’t about you.”

That’s right. And this isn’t about me. Wow. The relief. I can feel my negative emotions dissolving like aspirin. I’ve dealt with and made sense of it the only way I know how. By writing about it.

I’m off the celebrate my friend’s victory by eating cake.