© Hazel Peet
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AN UGLY BLEMISH
As far as she was concerned it was a rip off. It was a complete waste of time, and a miscarriage of justice. It was all of those things and more, although she couldn’t think of anything more at that moment.
The train had done that as it filled her head with its monotonous click-clicking and rolling from side to side. It was as if it was caught in the dead centre of a spinning top or something, obsessed with rhythm and speed, hell bent on getting there, on finishing its course.
And what with the fields and fences speeding past, the telegraph poles appearing and disappearing, woolly sheep munching and grouping like patterns on a nursery cushion, she had been altogether glad to get off the damn train.
She had stood up before anyone else. The very minute the driver came on the loudspeaker to warn everyone-well, anyone who was interested that is, that they must make sure to take all their personal belongings with them, to have a nice day and watch out for the damn doors trapping their legs or something. Before he had even finished issuing all his crap instructions, she had jumped up and stood by the door ready, gasping even, to get off the bloody thing.
It was even more embarrassing for her when she found herself on the wrong side of the carriage, she had to suffer the gross humiliation of pressing the button several times, and nothing happening, even though the instructions had said:
‘WAIT FOR THE BUTTON TO LIGHT UP BEFORE PRESSING’
For God’s sake! How many more instructions would there be? She was not stupid. And then someone tapped her on the shoulder and pointed out that she was on the wrong side. 'Take care', he said. 'Take care not to get out on that side’ or you might fall on the track and kill yourself’, he chuckled. Some hope!
Don’t tap me on the shoulder, she had wanted to say. Don’t tap me anywhere at all. If it looks like I’m going to die, then just let me. The last thing she wanted was a pervert tapping her on the shoulder, telling her where she was going wrong for God’s sake.
The platform was lousy, cold and miserable. People everywhere, pushing to get on or get off, bumping into each other, dragging suitcases and luggage trolleys after themselves. The station master, if that’s who he was, bellowing into the microphone from his dingy old office, rattling on about the time and the table. No mention of the bloody chairs she thought. Just as well, no one seemed to be listening.
She wished now that she’d kept back some of the contents of the miniature bottle that she’d stuffed into her shoulder bag as she left home, and then once it was empty, transferring it to her pocket. She wished she hadn’t drunk it all at once, but it was too late for that now, much too late.
She glanced from side to side, her eyes trained on the gaps between the bodies, looking over the shoulders and in-between the elbows, looking for his face and wondering if he would be wearing the olive green anorak or the brown zip-up. Would his hair be long and dry, or would he have been to the barber's that very day and allowed them to put the inky smelling putty on to spike it up, to make him look trendy? She couldn’t see him, he must be there somewhere.
The judge had finally granted her access, after all the rigmarole and the argy-bargy, the balancing and the considerations, the ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’, the crying and the wailing. After all that, he had decided she could have access. Once a week initially, just to see how things went and all the shit that goes with it.
That first time, the very instant she had been released from the pangs of her labour, when her eyes had caught sight of him, wriggling through her legs, she could recall the sharp gush of gratitude, for his safe arrival and her own skill at creation. Like something, or someone had been guiding them both, willing them to go forward and rejoice.
She caught her breath, focusing with bleary eyes on the moment now, the reality of it all, the pain that would stay forever, (but still cursing again the empty miniature bottle in her bag), swallowing hard and pulling her shoulders back.
It was her son after all. He was hers no matter what. The sight of him should not have taken her by surprise.
He had hardly changed at all from the moment they, the nurses, had placed him in her arms and advised her to let him take the breast, the very breast, where, only the previous night her husband, the child’s father, had been busy taking the breast. Taking and fondling her breast in his slim freckled hands. There was no problem getting him to take the breast, the problem had been in getting him off the breast and all the other parts of her body for that matter.
And how strange and wonderful that the freckles from the father's hand, had been transferred to the cheekbones of the son, strange and wonderful that. It would always be a reminder of the father, the deed, and the son, a complete circle-a hula-hoop of nature if you like.
She used to imagine he was still attached to her physically, as if they might have forgotten to cut the umbilical. She had felt so close to him; his sticky chin, his tangled hair, his wobbly gait. He was a gift from God, a prize, awarded to her for having endured the mediocre sex that had brought him about.
He, the child, was wearing a waterproof jacket, with the hood pulled around his head allowing his little nose to poke out at her from in between the freckles. He was staring at her, trying to remember perhaps, or maybe forget. She hoped he might forget, or even forgive. He was too young still, too young to forgive, but maybe old enough to forget.
He was attached to another; not his father as she had expected, but a woman. This woman stood beside him, one of her arms placed loosely at his shoulder. She could see they were together, on this occasion.
She was surprised at first. It took a second or two for it to register, and then everything fell into place. It came together in her head, as if she might have been reading the opening chapter of a book, the synopsis, a short explanation of a complicated plot.
This was the woman whom he had decided to move in with. This was her, the alternative, the personal choice. He had found what he had always been looking for, the right person even to bring up his child, to keep house, to warm his bed and boost his ego.
She, the real mother, had been a mistake, a big mistake he had made at an odd moment. But one that could be easily rectified; other women, replacements, were ten a penny. He didn’t have to put up with someone, anyone who didn’t measure up, and she had been told by him frequently that she did not measure up.
She walked towards them, bumping into a briefcase on the arm of an older man. She caught the shoulder of a young woman in high heels, almost knocking her over, and a filthy look was thrown at her, but she didn’t notice.
They stood facing each other now, maybe a yard or two apart. The boy looked up at the woman, and then at his mother. He checked them both for reaction. Even at this young age, he knew to look out for a reaction.
The woman was OK, she was not bad anyway. A straight nose, pale grey eyes and thick strong hair-she had all of that going for her.
She opened her mouth to speak, nice teeth, big though, not big enough to fit in a horse’s mouth, but almost, not far off.
“He’s been wetting the bed at night.”
“Wetting the bed. David said to tell you, so that you know. He wants you to know what’s been happening.”
“Right,” she said, not really paying attention to the words, but noticing a medium sized mole on the woman’s chin. It was dark brown in colour and had the makings of a single hair in the dead centre of it, like a marker, about to grow and stick out in a purposeful way.
So, she thought to herself, he left me, me his wife, for some other woman, this woman, with a mole on her chin!
All through the trauma and discomfort of the divorce, she had not once felt rage. There had been a whole stack of other emotions, all negative, that had boiled up and spewed out over the three of them, but never bare, unbridled rage. Now there was rage, hot, blistering rage, rage that came upon her and engulfed her entire body.
Only a few minutes, five minutes at the most, had passed, but in that time her thoughts were filled with recollections of how it had been. How he had always said he had standards that she had to live up to. His standards, standards of beauty and deportment, that’s what he had called them. And how he had criticized her for the tiny pock mark on her forehead. He had wondered why her mother had never cut her nails to prevent her from scratching. Apparently all other mothers had done that. He could remember having chicken pox himself, and his mother had done the right thing, his mother had thought to cut his nails.
And what about the chipped tooth? It’s not as if the tooth was all that obvious. It wasn’t at the front of her mouth, it was right at the side, and could only be seen if she smiled very broadly. And during their marriage she had hardly ever smiled at all, let alone broadly. But he had gone on and on about it.
And her feet, what about his nagging at the size of her feet? He had said over and over again that her feet were too big for her body. Once he had said she must have been born deformed on account of her feet! That was in the middle of a row they were having, but even so, it hurt, it really hurt. It was not as if her feet had suddenly grown overnight. He had known what he was taking on at the time when they had decided to get married. Her feet were there, he must have noticed. But he had never said anything, at least not at the beginning. No one had ever mentioned her feet before. She had been perfectly happy with her feet, the size of them and everything.
But over and above all that, leaving out the other stuff, what really took some beating was the fact that he had left her for this other woman. A woman with a mole on her chin; an ugly blemish in fact. For God’s sake! Why? How could he do that?
She grabbed at the bottle in her pocket, running her fingers along its smooth, familiar shape.
The woman thrust the boy’s hand towards his mother. He crossed the divide between them and took up his new place beside her. She felt his hand as it slid into place with hers. It was warm and gentle. She held her breath, trying not to smile, not wanting to give the wrong impression.
Some things never change, thank God, thank God for that. Warm hands, sticky chins, grazed knees and a million freckles, some things stay forever, she hoped.
“He’ll pick him up at six OK?”
She nodded her head in reply.
“Be here, right here, then he knows where to find you OK?”
The woman turned and left, taking her mole with her.
“We’ll go to the station buffet, there’s a machine there. I have some change. You can play on the machine while I get a drink, OK?”
He seemed to agree-at least he didn’t disagree. He ran alongside her, his legs going like pistons on her express train.