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My Son Now

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The night is, in a word, brilliant. There’s so much about that time of day that Arthur loves — he likes the stars that only come out to twinkle at night. He also likes the moon and her different funny shapes (the smiley one's his favourite), though sometimes she doesn’t appear at all and that makes him a bit unhappy, but then she always returns in a couple of nights so he looks forward to that.

He likes walking around their house in his jammies when it gets dark out, though he doesn’t like skunks all that much because of that one time when he’d found one digging by the garden fence and it’d been adorable and he tried to give it a cuddle because of how adorable it was and it wasn’t very happy about being cuddled even though it was so adorable and it ended up spraying him and that bit wasn’t so brilliant and after that Dad had made him sleep in the garage for a week because of the terrible pong. Most of all, he likes stretching out his hands to the warmth of fires in the hearth when it gets a bit nippy and Mum’s hot cocoa and blankets and bedtime and stories about brave little pilots who could.

Tonight, he’s playing another one of his favourite games. Like last night and the night before, he’s playing secret-agent-undercover-as-a-pilot, sneaking out of bed past his bedtime and down to the doors of the living room where Mum and Dad usually are until they go to bed themselves. He is rather good at it — neither of them have noticed him as of late, and he’s going for a third point even though the points are more or less all made up and don’t really matter because the game never ends and goes on and on and on and everyone who plays it is automatically a winner.

Besides, it’s great fun to peep in on Mum and Dad when they’re together and he’s not there because they play their own games. They’ve been playing a peculiar one for the past two nights and they’re playing it again tonight. Arthur can’t exactly figure out the rules, but it seems like whoever can shout the loudest and longest at the other wins. They talk about him an awful lot, but he can never make any sense of their words or their shouting matches. Maybe he’ll understand one of these nights.

Dad’s pacing about the room, looking more flustered than usual — the drawstrings of his tartan dressing robe have come loose, and his pepperish hair needs a bit of a combing. He says something, really loudly and pushes a lamp off the table. Mum just sits on the sofa with her arms by her sides, looking very tired. She lets Dad do all of his shouting first before she stands up to take her turn. She replies at length, a long stream of shouty, angry-sounding words and jabs a finger at Dad’s chest.

Now Dad’s gone a bit of a funny colour, sort of like the time Arthur brought him bed in breakfast on Father’s Day and accidentally got some — well, all — of the bangers and mash on his silk bedsheets. He waves his arms madly over his head, lips twisting as he speaks, and then he grabs Mum by the elbow.

Arthur doesn’t expect it when Mum slaps Dad across the face. Hard, it would seem. Not just hard, but really, really hard, almost like she wants to hurt him. It’s a loud, crisp sound, clear as the break of day. It reminds Arthur of firecrackers going off or doors slamming shut or when you blow into airplane barf bags until they get really, really big and then burst them with your palm. He jumps a little in fright and surprise and holds down a nervous giggle, continuing to watch as Dad stumbles back with a hand over his cheek, gaping at Mum.

Dad stalks out of the room so swiftly that Arthur ducks away only just in time, hiding in the shadow of the large door as it swings wide open. Arthur flattens himself against the wall the best he can and stares after Dad as he snatches his coat off the rack and his keys off the table and barges through the front door. The car rumbles about a minute later and Arthur can hear tires crunching the snow outside, ebbing away into the night.

What doesn’t fade, though, is Mum’s soft crying inside the living room. Arthur can’t help but look inside. This hasn’t happened before, and it sounds awful.

She’s seated at one end of the sofa, an elbow propped up on the armrest. With her white hair and white nightie and white bedroom slippers and her face so pale like that she looks exactly like the mother polar bear that his classmate Julia had drawn in art class the other day. Mum even looks sad just like the bear, and when their teacher had asked why the bear looked sad, Julia told the whole class that the polar bear had lost her cub and couldn’t find him. It’d made Arthur feel sad too, firstly because polar bears are brilliant and secondly because no one should ever feel sad, so the very next day he drew a picture of his own of the same mother polar bear except she had found her cub and he drew smiles on both of them because they were happy they had each other again and it was brilliant as well.

He’ll do the same thing here, he’s sure of it. It can’t be any different or any harder. When he goes up to her and reaches out to hold her hand, Mum looks at him and he looks back at her. When he says nothing but curls his small fingers in her palm she bends down and hugs him and he returns it. When she whispers goodnight in Arthur’s ear he grins and waits for her to take him up to bed and perhaps there’ll be another story in it and tomorrow Dad might come back with some breakfast and then they’ll be happy again and everything will be okay.

All he knows is that everything will be okay in the end, because it has to be.