A brief explanation: A Day in the Life was written as a contribution for a local arts festival. Part of the remit was the inclusion of local scenery, which explains the references to local parks etc. The school mentioned provides excellent support for Special Needs children, including, in the past, my own son. I thought it deserved a ‘heads up’…
Jamie sat on the carpet in the middle of the front room, the wreckage of a teak laminated display cabinet scattered all around him. The wooden shelves were largely unscathed save for crumpled ends freckled with small shards of sawdust, but the glass door panels, picture frames and various ornaments that had sat on them were reduced to scattered shrapnel .
On the sofa, Sally cried softly, fighting to regain her composure. Her face was red from shouting and her face streaked with the mascara she had been applying when the crash had called her through from the bedroom. It had been so loud and so heavy she had felt the floor shudder at the impact; had worried momentarily about exploding boilers and collapsing ceilings. She looked at the bright red oval her hand had left on the back of Jamie’s leg and felt nauseous and ashamed. She looked at her hands in her lap, sniffed back snot and wiped her eyes with the balls of her palms, sweeping her long brown hair back from her face in the same movement. She took a deep breath.
‘Are you okay?’ she asked, quietly.
‘Yes.’ He didn’t look up.
She knew there was no point in asking ‘why?’ She had been screaming that over and over moments before and it had been the shocked look on his face and his total inability to offer any answer at all that had pushed her anger over the edge. She looked at her handprint again and this time it made her want to go to him, to hold him and kiss him and reassure him, but she knew it wasn’t time for that yet and that he would eventually come to her.
She tried a smile, hoping he would notice from the corner of his eye so he would know she was asking now in an attempt to understand rather than admonish. She knew his mind was incapable of decoding such a complex, grown-up signal, but hoped he would understand anyway.
‘What were you doing?’
‘No, I know you don’t know why. I meant what were you doing?’
‘Climbing. For the park.’
They had been getting ready for a picnic. That’s why she had been in the bedroom applying lippy and mascara to her tired eyes and bitten lips. She usually did it in the front room, but he had broken her little make-up mirror a couple of days before while chasing light reflections over the walls and ceiling. She’d been using the full length one, safe so far on the inside of her wardrobe door.
The park at Haysden had a small climbing wall at the end of a frame supporting a slide and swings. Jamie loved it, grabbing hold of the little green and red moulded grips and pulling himself up to the top. He liked the slide and swings too, but the climbing wall was his favourite. She had been talking to him about it all morning.
‘How high had you got?’
‘Nearly there.’ He pointed to the small area between the ceiling and the faint scuff-mark left where the top of the unit had been resting against the wall.
She saw it now, in her head, and scared herself all over again with the realisation he must have been that high to have been thrown clear of the wreckage. Had he been nearer the bottom the falling section of the cabinet would have pinned him to the floor. She thanked god for the broken safety glass and wood. Thanked god for her unbroken child.
He looked up now, his bottom lip trembling, eyes wet.
‘Yes. You always are.’
He frowned, confused. Then; ‘Sorry’.
‘I know, baby. I’m sorry too.’
He came to her then, fast and heavy, jumping into her lap and wrapping his arms around her neck. His tears came in a flood, soaking her collar. She enfolded him with her arms and rocked him gently backwards and forwards. She remembered the handprint on his leg and started crying again herself, whispering all the while into his burning ear. Hush. Hush. It’s okay now, it’s okay…
He sat on the sofa watching TV while she cleared the broken glass and wood, Thomas the Tank Engine buying her the time she needed. Jamie knew all the words; narrating along with Ringo. It was too late for the bus ride to Haysden, so they ate their sandwiches at home then walked to Dunorlan instead.
They walked that way often, and as they passed each landmark Jamie would tick them off on the map in his head.
‘Shops, shops, shops, shops…’ he chanted, as they passed the little parade of shops and the community centre, then ‘Doctor, doctor, doctor, doctor…’ until they were past the medical centre. They passed two bus stops and Clare’s house before reaching busier roads. Sally’s grip tightened on Jamie’s hand, anticipating the tug as he spotted his old preschool.
‘Rainsdale, Rainsdale, Rainsdale, Rainsdale…’
He was dancing and pointing, his hand squirming to escape her fingers. He still went there a couple of times a week during holidays, but the windows were dark today. She stopped, bent and picked him up, ignoring his legs kicking against her thighs and groin.
‘Yes, Ravensdale,’ she said, carefully, ‘Ra-vens-dale. But not today. We’re going to the Park!’
They crossed the road and passed the school, then used the zebra crossing to navigate the frighteningly busy main road, Sally struggling to carry him all the way across. She understood why many mums resorted to outsize buggies and wrist links, but hated the idea of creating a dependency. Instead, she held his hand, always walking him on the inside of the pavement, the pressure of her hand constantly adjusting as traffic or interesting landmarks loomed. Jamie recognised the gates and Normandy stone pillars of the entrance and immediately started tugging at Sally’s arm again.
‘Boats, boats, boats, boats…’
Jamie loved the lake and the brightly coloured boats. They had tried taking him on one once, when Sally and Dan had still been together and there were two pairs of hands. They had managed to wrestle him into a lifejacket, but he’d screamed and kicked as Dan tried unsuccessfully to hand him to Sally in the boat. He had remained wary of the water, and that and the Canadian geese were enough to keep him at a relatively safe distance from the lake’s edge. Dunorlan was one of the few places where Sally could almost relax if there weren’t too many dogs around, but the boats and gardens weren’t quite enough to keep Jamie occupied for a full day.
Unrestrained at last, Jamie was spinning in faster and faster circles, giggling to himself when he stopped and the world didn’t. Sally smiled as he wobbled and fell on his backside.
‘You’ll make yourself sick,’ she said, but he was already up and spinning again.
‘Sick, sick, sick…’ he chanted, and Sally laughed, popping twin buds into her ears and lying back in the grass. The music flowed through her, relaxing and warming her from the inside as the sun’s rays warmed her outside, the pulsing beat and floating pads of Underworld’s Eight Ball helping her remember and forget. With her eyes closed the world was a rose tinted magic lantern show of slow dancing shadows that swayed with the breeze and her gently rocking head. When she opened them, as she did every minute or two, it was to a paradise of variegated greens and whites and blue; grass and leaves and daisies and clouds against a backdrop of endless sky. She watched Jamie and listened to music, composing lines for a poem she would commit to paper later if she remembered or got the chance. She smiled when Jamie started jumping and flapping, watched him marvel at the ladybird that crawled on the lolly-stick he held in his hand. She couldn’t see the bug, but watched Jamie’s eyes track its flight path when it finally tired of his attention and saw the tiny ‘o’ his mouth made as he blew it a kiss goodbye.
They bought lollies from the tea pavilion but ate them outside – too many breakables indoors and too many bright objects to catch Jamie’s attention. She watched him eating, knowing that the last piece of coloured ice would drop off the stick and into the grass and saving her own last bite in readiness for it. When it did, Jamie looked up in shock, and she laughed and waved her own stick at him.
Jamie doesn’t smile often, but when he does it is a smile that can melt hearts. He smiles now, seeing the orange ice on the pale stick, and Sally smiles back, wishing every day could be as good as this one.