Perched on the rusted chair, nursing my third coffee, thinking. About last night: the worst yet. About what I’m doing wrong. I watch him tame the rampant ivy with Grandma. He looks like any normal seven-year-old. He looks like sugar wouldn’t melt.
‘Good boy,’ she says. ‘They’re sharp. Keep them pointed at the ground. Good boy.’
She wanders into the shed. As soon as she’s out of sight he lifts the shears. The shiny edges dazzle me with sunlight. Seconds later, eyesreadjusted, the blades point at my throat. He inches closer. I grip my mug, legs frozen, palms burning.
‘James,’ shouts Grandma, holding a rake. ‘Point them down, please.’
He drops his arms, runs to her. I inhale the whisky in my drink.
‘Be careful,’ she says. ‘You’ll hurt Mummy. Now come here and help me clean up this mess.’
I cool my hands under the kitchen tap, pour something stronger, worry about what will happen after Grandma goes home.
* * *
He kneels in the old ceramic bath, facing the wall, hugging his chest, shoulders tense. Dirt from the garden muddies the water. The dripping tap echoes under the high ceiling.
I soak the flannel and squeeze; water trickles down his back. He flinches, turns, clamps his mouth onto my forearm. I pull but he clings on,piercing skin. I force my fingers between his teeth. Prise open his jaws. Push him away. Stumble over. Run.
* * *
Frozen peas numb my arm. Merlot warms my body.
He’s crying so I know he hasn’t drowned.
* * *
Back upstairs, the bathroom smells damp. I wrap my shawl tight, smile at the sight of my breath. Smile at the vivid bruises across his sunken chest, the cigarette burns that dot his knees, those bottle-blue eyes, that perfect nose.
‘It’s OK, sweetheart. Mummy’s here.’
* * *
He curls up in darkness. Silent. I shut the bedroom window, unscrew the light bulb.
A sob – just audible above the squeak of the lock. ‘You fool,’ I say. ‘Do you think you can win?’ I put the key in my pocket, wipe away tears. ‘You stupid fool,’ I say to myself.
Danny Beusch (@OhDannyBoyShhh) lives in the UK and tells stories. He spends rainy days reading Joanne Harris and Margaret Atwood novels. He started writing flash fiction in 2017