Saturday, 1 October 2016

A Memory of Bliss

  "Hold close to my side. I don't want you wandering off again, alright?"
  Jason looked up at his mother, slightly confused.
  "I mean it. I don't want to spend an hour leading a manhunt again. Just stay close to me, okay?"
  Jason did as he was told. As he clutched at the arm of his mother, the world passed him by, blurry and nondescript. Strangers were faceless and unknowable, full of motivations and knowledge he couldn't possibly yet comprehend, but that was not important. At least he was by his mother's side.
  The shopping mall was full of bright lights and colours, but most of them held little meaning to Jason. The bits and baubles inside display cases, the mannequins and powerful lighting; all of it was irrelevant to him, but that didn't mean he couldn't be fascinated by them. A cartoon played on a TV screen, and he slowly drifted away from his mother's arm.
  "Ohh no you don't. I got you." He heard her voice as his own arm was grabbed in a grip that was immeasurably firm but impossibly gentle. He looked up and the face was as clear as day, as sharp as knives, as real as reality could get. She gave him a rough smile, torn between amusement and annoyance, and pulled him closer to her side.
  "We are getting these groceries and we are leaving. No distractions."
  He nodded. No matter the pretty colours and wonderful lights, no one was more luminous or wonderful than mother. A constant, solid as stone and immovable as mountains.
  The groceries were purchased, lugged into a shopping cart, and pushed out into the car park. This time, Jason didn't wander off. Instead, he kind of helped, placing his tiny hands against the cold steel of the cart and heaving as hard as he could. Sometimes he could move the cart with ease, and other times he felt as if it was taking his entire body strength; a variable he could never understand on trips like these. He heard his mother laughing.
  Eventually they reached the car. He tried to assist again reaching his tiny hands up and trying to reach over the cart, but his mother shooed him away. She loaded everything into the trunk herself, slamming the door with distinct satisfaction. As she dusted her hands, he ran into her and hugged her. He was a little surprised himself. His mother placed her hands around his head. "What's wrong?" she asked in a quiet, warm voice. He clutched her legs tighter.
  "I love you mommy," he replied. He wasn't making sense right now, but he just felt as though it was the right thing to do at that moment.
  "I love you too, sweetie." He thought he could detect a hint of choking in her voice.
  They piled into the car. She put the key in the ignition as he settled in the back, throwing his hands up and about. The car began to move, inciting him to kneel on the car seat and gaze out, laughing as the shades of grey, white and black of road and tarmac, the green and brown of  trees and shrubbery, became indistinct hues blending one into another as they gathered speed toward home.
  "Put on your seat belt sweetie," his mother said, and he obeyed. He sat himself back down and pulled the latchplate down, letting the strap fasten him to the seat and buckling it with a satisfying click. He always loved that sound. Secretly, he pushed the button that unbuckled the seat belt and reinserted it, hearing the click come once again.
  "I heard that," she said. "Keep it buckled, please."
  He giggled, and repeated the action, trying to make the click as quiet as possible.
  "Alright kiddo, if you want me to pull over and lock down that buckle with super glue, feel free to keep trying."
  He laughed and left the buckle alone. He didn't want to be super-glued to his seat."
  For an immeasurable length of time he sat in that car seat, straining himself to stare out the window into a blank and unrecognisable landscape. He wondered at the way things seemed to bleed into each other, at how their lines blurred as his mother drew faster and faster. Then, he thought that perhaps they were not driving faster and faster, but that the world was simply bending around them. Then, he realised that it didn't matter, because he was in the car with his mother, and everything was outside it. He was safe within, not without.

  Suddenly, something occurred to him that he hadn't noticed before. He was alone with his mother. That shouldn't be right.
  "Yes, sweetheart?"
  "Where's daddy?"
  Silence filled the air. There was no noise for a time, not even the hum of the engine. "He's... not here sweetheart." came the reply, "he had... other things to do. But he'll be back."
  "When?" he asked.
  "When he's ready," she said.

 Jason frowned. That didn't sound like an answer at all. He looked outside the window with ease, but the world beyond had disappeared. "Mom, where's Dad? How come we're out grocery shopping alone when he should be here, helping you. Pushing the cart, loading the trunk... he should be doing all that. Where is he?"
  "I don't know sweetie... I don't know when he's coming back." He heard a strain in her voice.
  The belt buckle felt abnormally tight around his midriff, and he straightened up slightly, letting the strap readjust itself over his body.
  "But Dad should be here right now; helping us, helping you."
  "It's fine, we don't need him for now."
  "But-he-should-be-here," he insisted.

  He looked directly at where her head should be behind the headrest. His eyes were completely level with it. "How come you've never told me why Dad wasn't around?"
  His mother was definitely crying now. "Because you were just a kid. How could you understand our world of adults? How could I ruin someone who was perfect to you? How could I ruin you like he ruined me?"
  "I'm not a kid anymore, mom. I deserve to know the truth."
  "We all deserve to know the truth, but we're not always prepared for it. Please, go back to being a little kid."

  There was no car. They were standing in empty space, staring at each other surrounded by darkness.
  "I can't. Please. I want to know."
  She wept tears from tired eyes, cheeks lined with care and hair grey with stress. She was no longer luminous and wonderful, but sad and forlorn, her glow of love and courage replaced by depression and exhaustion.
  "Everyone makes mistakes. History repeats itself. Love is temporary, and frugal in more ways than one."
  "I've heard that all my life, from sources other than you. Those are abstract reasons; concepts of human nature. I want to hear what you have to say."
  His mother looked at him. There was a smile on her face. It was the type of smile that she'd given him when he'd finished secondary school, when he'd graduated primary school, when he'd painted his first picture, when he'd drawn his first character, when he'd said his first word, when he'd smiled at her face, when he'd lain in her arms, dirty and unsightly, but alive.
  "I'm sorry. I can't. I wish I could, but I can't. I have to go."
  Suddenly he was a kid again. He was in the shopping mall, surrounded by strangers. The colours were blinding and lovely, bombarding him with feelings and sensations he didn't care one whit about. His mother was right there, staring at him with regretful eyes as the world swept around them. "Don't leave me," he cried.
  "I'm sorry I can't stay."
  "But you're here right now!"
  "I have to go."
  "Don't leave me..."
  "I love you."

  Jason woke with tears in his eyes. He sat up, wiping them away to stare outside the window. A bird tweeted at him from the treetop, as real and alive as the world was. He stared at the photo of his mother on his bedside table, and lay back down. She had never answered his questions. She never would. She'd been his mother, but she'd never been his friend.
  He turned and buried his face in the pillow, dampening it. Perhaps he could fall back asleep. Without his questions and anger, it had been such a good dream.

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