Published by Wildfire on March 31, 2017
September – Last Year
‘He didn’t mean it,’ Rob says. ‘I’m sure he’ll be back for a visit before then.’
‘I know he didn’t mean it, of course he didn’t,’ I reply, picking up my pace so I’m slightly ahead of him, although I’ve no hope of maintaining my lead, Rob’s long legs taking one stride to my two.
Fin’s parting words, ‘I’ll see you at Christmas’, were clearly meant to lighten my mood, but I can feel the swell of my tears, a hard lump in my throat as I march towards Rob’s car, parked at the opposite end of the campus to Fin’s accommodation block. The realisation of this had finally stretched Rob’s tolerance beyond breaking point and he’d argued with the jobsworth parking attendant, pointing to Fin’s belongings which were stuffed into every inch of the car. It had already been a long morning, but Fin’s quiet words, ‘Dad, don’t’, had silenced him and he’d driven into the packed car park without further complaint.
‘Come on, Jo. Don’t cry.’ Rob catches me up and grabs my hand. ‘I thought you’d be okay today; second time around and all that.’
He’s right, but it’s actually much harder this time because we’re going back to an empty house. I glance at Rob and he grins back, squeezing my hand. Everything is so simple for him, emotions dismissed with reason and logic. He wants to solve my problem, always has, but I’m really not in the mood. I’d prefer to lick my wounds than be consoled or cajoled.
‘Anyway, you’ve still got me,’ Rob observes. ‘God help you!’ He laughs, swinging our clasped hands between us and I smile back, but the tears fall too. ‘Come on, Jo. You and me. It’ll be fun!’
I pull my sunglasses from the top of my head and we walk on, past sixties concrete accommodation blocks identical to the one where we’ve just left Fin; right-angled buildings with square windows which afford brief glimpses of student life: empty beer bottles and pizza boxes, stacks of textbooks, and posters of films and bands I’ve never heard of. We drop hands to crush ourselves against a wall, past unloading cars, each one a repetition of much the same scene; teens disassociating themselves from their parents, ready to become something other than a child. I smile at a woman who, like me, is losing her battle with threatening tears, her cheeks damp as she cradles a box of belongings to her, hugging them tight. She smiles back; a moment shared.
The drive home passes slowly, each mile extending the distance between me and my boy. And he is still a boy. I saw it in his eyes as we’d left; the throwaway comment to mask his emotion, his fragility as he’d allowed me to hold him and then shaken his father’s hand. I check my phone again, resisting the urge to send Fin another message, the first unanswered.
‘You okay?’ Rob taps my knee as he changes gear.
I’m looking out of the window at the lorry we’re overtaking, the solidity of it then replaced with the blur of the endless grass verge. ‘I’m fine,’ I reply. ‘Just tired.’
‘Have a sleep if you like,’ Rob says, turning down the sound of the tennis game on the radio.
‘You think he’ll be okay?’ I ask, glancing at Rob’s profile against the fading light. ‘I mean, after what happened at school. He’s never really settled well, and—’
‘That was years ago,’ Rob says, patting my knee more firmly this time. ‘This will be the making of him. He’ll love it, promise.’
I close my eyes, but although I’m exhausted, my mind is not. I see Fin in his student room, the accommodation so basic and lacking in home comforts, despite the posters we BluTacked to the wall and the bright bedding I’d chosen. ‘You sure you’ll be okay?’ I’d asked Fin, hugging him one last time; taller than me, but still a boy.