A toy truck – third wheel missing, door leaning vulnerably from it’s hinges – lies unassumingly in the center of floor – small in size but huge in it’s significance, booted feet passing it. My throat tightens, saliva thickening, acidic realization burrowing into my thoughts.
Assigned to a routine inspection they had said at the precinct. I walk further into the room. I need hope to replace my lost faith.
Grasping the cool metal dumper up from the linoleum, I give a quick twist of my wrist, the word ‘TOMMY’ in bold tipex glares on the black molded underbelly.
My mobile rings, it’s shifting tones filling the tobacco laden air of the sixth floor bedsit.
I ignore it, jabbing a button to restore the silence in the room. Keep boundaries, the shrink had said. My boundaries are – in all senses of the word – reluctant. As a man, boundaries fracture when your wife – an unrecognizable woman – looks to you for justice and vengeance and you are unable to deliver either.
Letters, unopened are piled high against a stained, chrome bread bin – evidence of his long absence. I spare a glance. Amongst the beige envelopes familiar hand writing begs attention. The curled tail of the letter y, the familiar slant of the L.
F.A.O. Mr D. Duncan
My mobile vibrates – a gentle rhythm against my leg. No longer something I can ignore, I raise it from my trouser pocket. Seeing the unnervingly familiar number…HOME…my finger jabs the answer button.
“John, where is he? I can’t find our baby anywhere…”
There is a moment as a man, as a father, when the walls of self expectation crumble, when your whole being, as a provider and protector – in a few seconds – falls away from you. This, is that moment. Each day for the last two years, since loosing Tommy, have been brimming with rippling reminders of my inadequacies.
My hand drops.
I hang up on my wife who’s world remains in stasis. The pills and self-help hypnosis pod-casts, sustain her etherial existence.
Straining my eyes in the darkened room, the night’s blackness spilling in through the small window, I search for something. There, in the corner, lies a small grey sweatshirt, limp and discarded. My feet labor. My breathing is shallow. I hear voices and scuffing boots; I see the expressions of my colleagues.
Tommy has been here. My hand grasps up my son’s top from the flood. The logo on the front is rough against my fingers – it was his favourite, it had been over washed; dull stains of blood are noticeable in the threads.
Easy to make the connections, harder to face them. My synapses push, snap together, to show me the truth. My head aches with the pressure it’s taking to maintain my denial.
I drop the top back onto the graveyard of clothes in the corner and trace my steps back to the door of this stuffy room. Taking in every detail, walking close to the kitchen counter, I snatch up the unopened letter. They don’t see. All eyes are elsewhere, not wanting to look at the broken man.
They drive me home in a squad car. I listen to my voicemails in the backseat. Her voice, shrill, panicked, digs through the centre of my chest. I find it hard to breath. My fingers fiddle with a sharp corner of the envelope in my pocket. I raise my hands to my temples, apply pressure in an attempt to ease the pain. The journey is short across town at this late hour. In twenty minutes I am home.
Outside the house, I unfold the letter, slide my thumb under the glued lip, rip it open. The words unfurl. My mind won’t accept the sentences, only; words jump out: ‘feeling lost,’ ‘miss you,’ ‘I want you,’ ‘ where are you?’, ‘All my love forever’.
This is the only evidence I need. A dog barks. My stomach heaves. I double over and my body expels the sickening truth of her lies, out onto the grass of our family home.
The house is dark and quiet inside. I smell her, her antiseptic and medical wraps. She took to cutting herself six months ago – shame she hasn’t gone deep enough.
I take a detour to the kitchen, drain a glass of whiskey. The TV is on silent – hazy light pushes at the shadows in the room.
Climbing the stairs, my hand grips the banister painfully tight. I attempt to remind myself, this is the real world, not a nightmare. The dull churning in my solar plexus tells me otherwise.
Angling my watch face to glint in the moonlight filtering through the landing skylight, I read 1:00am. No need for soft steps, she would have passed out after drinking a bottle of wine and taking her pills.
Was it guilt, or something else, that etched the worry lines on her forehead and around her eyes? I sit in the whicker chair in the corner of the room watching her.
She moans, shifts her position. Is she dreaming?…of him? – the bastard who took our son? My anger grows. How could she not have seen the lies? While betraying our marriage she had opened our door to a murderer.
In Tommy’s room, planes dangle from the ceiling shifting position in the breeze from the open window. I can feel sweat sliding down my back beneath my shirt. I take off my jacket, lying it gently on his bed, my hand lingers on the cotton bedspread, unchanged for two years. Now only the memory of his smell lingers.
Her letter to D. Duncan is still in my hand. I look at the postal stamp on the envelope. It was posted one week ago – her grief then, not for our son, for her loss of his killer. I snap my badge from my belt, place it beside my jacket on the bed, take my gun from its holster, bring it to my temple … peace.