In that moment, the memory of when she discovered she was pregnant pushed itself into her mind. She had been in awe, amazed that her body could incubate and bring forth another human being. Underneath her warm skin was another, smaller heartbeat. This new life was her responsibility now: a big responsibility and hers alone.
He had grown up as a happy child, full of life’s zest. A sprinkling of stubbornness and his temptation towards the unknown had always kept her on her toes, but he was forever her boy. Scraped knees were healed with a kiss, hungry tummies always fed, and that’s as complicated as life got. She would wake up to his warm skin beside hers on cold nights. His cheeky grin and dirty face underneath all that bouncy, curly hair was the reason she got up every morning to face the day. It was just the two of them, and that was all she needed.
As he grew older, he started distancing himself and seeing her less and less. The two bedroom apartment was small enough that it was hard to hide, but he did. He began communicating purely in short grunts, like some kind of cave-man. She told herself that this was just a phase, that all teenagers did it. She herself had stopped being a daughter many years ago. She convinced herself that she could be there for him, for the moment he decided to return to her.
She let him have his privacy; she knew that was important to him. She began smelling the distinct smell of marijuana smoke around the house, seeping in from underneath doors and out windows. She closed her eyes, gathering strength. What should she do? Would this continue? Should she act now or let her boy figure it out himself? She had no-one to ask. She felt helpless.
He began becoming more aggressive, refusing to help out around the house and yelling at her about the smallest things. He would play loud, angry-sounding music late at night and she cringed, knowing that the entire building could hear it, thanks to the paper-thin walls. She grew afraid of him, this life she had created. He had grown in her womb, small and happy, but now he towered over her, shouting and smelling acridly of cigarettes.
He continued growing, physically up and mentally down. He locked himself in his room and refused to come out for anything but food or more mind-numbing drugs. Existing with him made her anxious and confused. He was far from her little boy now. She tried to love him unconditionally, but loving him became harder and harder each day.
Desperate to get away from her, he moved out at the first possible opportunity. She cried for days, her heart aching. Not for the monstrous Neanderthal that had left her, but for the small boy whose tiny body had snuggled close to hers when he felt frightened. Now she was alone.
Years went by, and she missed her boy every day. Every day she prayed to God to protect and shelter him. Her small child was out in the world with no-one there to help him. He was lost and she couldn’t find the bright little boy he used to be. Grey crept into her hair and her eyes grew dull. Worry aged her.
She received a short message from her son in the early hours one morning, containing an address and a few words about wanting to meet. Her heart leapt into her throat. Was this true? Was her son returning to her? She rejoiced!
She pushed the door open with great difficulty. Beer cans and empty spirit bottles littered the floor, and the rancid stench of alcohol wafted from them. The posters on the wall were torn and slowly beginning their descent to the grubby floor. Chip packets crunched under her feet and tin cans clattered as she moved slowly across the room. The mattress haphazardly thrown in the corner of the room was stained and the small, thin blanket barely covered the corner. He sat, slumped in the darkest corner of the dingy room with his chin on his chest. His soiled, oversized clothes hung limply on his skeletal frame. He looked like a child sitting there. Like the lost child he was. This was her boy. She had found him, and he hadn’t aged a day.
His matted hair still showed small signs of curl around the edges but most was stuck to his face and scalp – with blood or sweat she didn’t know. His limp arm was dotted with his needle-marks, more than she could count. As she drew closer she could see that his mouth was slightly open and his face was pale. She knelt next to him in shock. His once baby-blue eyes were bloodshot and glazed. Rips in the knees of his faded jeans revealed scrapes with dried blood crusted over them. No kiss could fix this. She reached and clutched his bony arm. His skin was as cold as ice. This was no Prodigal Son. He was dead.
As she sat amongst the filth, she began to shake. Her eyes filled with tears at the loss of this part of herself. She struggled to lift her arm up to rub her face, her arm was heavy. As she pulled her arm away, now caked with the makeup she had so excitedly applied only a few hours before, she spied something lying underneath his foot. It was a picture of her, smiling and holding him tight. Her heart broke into a million pieces, and she let out a guttural cry. Her small boy, she had failed him. In that moment, the memory of when she found out she was pregnant pushed itself into her mind.
Words by Sarah Ingham
I’m Sarah Ingham, and I’m completing my first year of a Bachelor of Professional Writing and Communication. I have folders of unfinished writing, and I am so glad that I can put my ramblings to use! Being a part of Tulpa Magazine has made me feel like I can release my full artistic voice, and I love it dearly. I hope that I can continue to write my way into a writer, editor or publisher position after finishing my degree. Until then, I hope that you enjoy my imaginings.