By Keren Heenan
Time is thick, achingly thick, but just for a moment, and then it rolls greyly on. They are released and their eyes shift away from each other. Mother and son and twenty years of trapped time bristling between them; busy with its rumblings and churnings, its hurts and hot, sharp words, its bitter hate-filled silences and regrets. All things unforgiven festering under false new skin.
She adjusts her glasses, as if they’ve let her down, shown her something unbidden – how small, how soft and clean he’d once been, all the world in front of him then. But she won’t turn, can’t turn. The back of his head across the crowded square, she knows this will drive the knife further into her chest. Your father is dead now, and I’m not long for this world the doctor says. She thinks the words, loudly, clearly, but can’t and won’t turn, and her feet take her further away, settling in to the rhythm after that pause, that brief hover of one foot as their eyes met across the heads of school children jostling and cursing and play-punching each other.
He wipes the back of his hand against his mouth, flings his wrist aside as if to dispense with it. Sinks one hand palm out into the back pocket of his jeans, something violent and obscene snaking into his skull, something on old legs and brittle as glass. He can’t believe it’s the same handbag. Remembers the brass clip at the top, can still feel the metal between his fingers as he unclips it, muting the sounds of the snap! Eyes on her back as she bends to the fridge or the bench, preparing another meal he won’t bother eating. The last one ever, thrown at his back as he leaves, no longer bothering to mute the snapped metal clip, no longer bothering to look aghast as another piece of jewellery goes missing, and through the red mist of his mind he takes her thin form and flings her against the wall not bothering to see if she rises. You have a grandson, and his mother keeps asking about you; who are you, where are you. He thinks the words, loudly, clearly, but can’t and won’t turn, and his feet roll on in their soft white sneakers, heel-toeing away from her half turned body, school kids shouldering her out of the way, bustling past with backpacks knocking her handbag. His feet find their rhythm as he rolls along.
When the hand on her shoulder comes, it’s electric.
Author Bio: Keren Heenan has been awarded in a number of short story competitions, and has been published in Australian journals and anthologies, and in Fish Anthology (Ire) and Aesthetica Annual (UK). Follow Keren on Twitter @keren_heenan