Constance, failing

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July 17, 2018 by The Citron Review

by Shauna Mackay


He comes seldom, sometimes often, there is no pattern to the turn of his key. The
sound of the scrabbles at her lock now bring to mind those little bill clicks her
budgie, Bobby Dazzler, used to make.

Swooping in; blueness of tattooed arms spectacularly on the hunt. He dives for
the locked box he keeps beneath her couch, catching her ankle. Connie’s fingers
stretch to press down on the warm gumminess there. When she stands up she
has to close her eyes against the sting of the friction where the nylon sock has
moved against the graze.

Box safe in his arms, his breathing adjusts to the room’s feel. “Oh, I’m sorry, Mum,” he says, “how’s you?”

She looks up and the touch of arthritis in the back of her neck makes a tiny personal crunch. “Better,” she says, and it’s true now the girl from 19a has the money. The girl had been placing bin liners by the lift—moving out, having to, but not because she was a bad lass, just a poor one—when Connie had pressed eighteen hundred pounds onto her.

He hasn’t opened it. Just needed to hold it. Trusts his mum. Only his mum. He puts it down and uses his foot to slide it back to its dark place. “You’re a good’un, Mum. Fact is, you’re such a good’un, I’m going to make you a cuppa.”

“Oh, I shouldn’t, I had one not long since.”

“Go wild,” he says, already halfway to the kitchen. “Mind if I get my head down here tonight?”

“You don’t need to ask,” she says, on her way to the window, “you’re my son.”

The sky seems too low tonight. Nineteen floors up, it seems to be both above and below her. She could step out and somehow know both sides of it like one of those Möbius strips she has read about in his old boyhood annual. The Blue Peter one she’s never quite been able to let go of at the rubbish chute.

Her chest flutters. She is sixty. Not old, just feeling it. She has been living on snatched palmfuls of raisins. She keeps falling off cliffs. She’s having those sorts of sleeps.

He’s come with her tea. “Not having one yourself?” she says, turning.

“No, you’re alright, Mum, I might nip out after I’ve had a shower.” He’s looking around the room, at its neatness. He’s noticed something’s off. “Where’s Bobby Dazzler?”

“He’s dead.”

“What did you do?”

“I didn’t do anything.”

“I meant with the body?”

“Oh,” she says. “The chute.”

“You should’ve lobbed him out the window. It would’ve been the furthest the poor sod ever got to fly.” He points at the cage. “Get rid, Mum.” He goes to the bedroom to fetch clothes from the drawers where she keeps underwear, tee shirts, jeans clean and folded for him. The drawers still have bits of Sunday School stickers on them. Joseph’s coat, bleached of colour. A half-vanished manger.

No boy now. A man. A man with no job to speak of. Like his father in build only. Her husband had filled a room. A big loving man.

Love should be enough. A memory. Half a lifetime ago. She and a friend in the church hall, one of the toddler group sessions held there. Her son in a red plastic car, her belly full of babies. Words slithering out her mouth, a choker of a question. “Do you ever feel like there’s something missing?” And the friend, with smiling eyes fixed on children playing had said, “No, Connie, I don’t.”

But for her, disoriented moments, lostness, even then, with her sun-warmed moving belly, yes, even then before she’d gone on to lose the twins; born asleep in the world was the least angry way to say it. Be gentle, Constance. Be gracious, Constance. Always, she’d been aware of a little bowl deep inside herself, full; yet still lacking something it really needed, and as she’d looked around at the other young mothers that day it appeared she was alone in that.

The soul-burning shame of it.

The good girl from 19a had said seven thank yous. Bobby Dazzler still close.

Little gold green bird in a box that smells of bad money. Tiny heart gone.

Shauna Mackay’s work has most recently been published, or is forthcoming, with The Weekend Read, New Ohio Review, Ambit, Mechanics’ Institute Review Anthology (Issue 16) and Phantom Drift.


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