Saturday, September 15, 2007

John's new game

"John, love. Look, I'm sorry ..."

He could see her reflected in the window shop, a still body among the hurrying shapes in the street, merged into an array of violent, sophisticated computer game display boxes. He was there, too, a pint-size parka jacket, hood up, fat sleeves shoved into pockets.

"John, come on, now! There's no need to behave like this. Let's go home, now ..."

The rush of words took him by surprise: "Whose home? Your home? His?"

"Our home, John. Yours and mine."

"Until it's his turn to have me!" How could his Mum and Dad have stood there in the street arguing about him like that? They didn't even ask him what he, John, wanted to do.

"That's not my choice, John. You know that. The court said you have to visit him twice a month."

"And you let them tell you what to do? I hate him! I don't ever want to see him again!"

"John ..."

"No, Mum. You let him shout at you in the street. You let him order you around: 'do this, do that. Drop him off tomorrow at eleven. Don't be late!' It's like he owns us!"

"He loves you, John. You know that. He's taking you to see the game tomorrow ..."

"I don't want to go and watch football with him!"

"Now stop it, John!" In the window he could see his mother reach out her hand to his shoulder. When he felt the touch he scrunched his head down, turned to face her as he moved away. But he couldn't look at her. Beyond them the crowds had turned into a surge of adults heading towards the station. Some of them were staring at him and his mum, slowing a little as they passed them – like a car crash.

"Look, love. I know it's been hard on you. But this isn't the time or place to talk about it, okay? Lets go and buy this game of yours and then we'll go home. We can pick up a McDonalds on the way home, if you like."

John said nothing. He didn't know what to say. He didn't know what to call the tight knot of rage and embarrassment just below his heart. Instead, he punched the window.

"It must have been faulty, flawed," his mother had tried to explain to the shop manager later. "It shouldn't have just shattered." But John didn't notice – all he could remember was the way the shards and sparking edges had danced around his fist, a kaleidoscope of rush-hour crowds and startled cars.

Tears pinched their way from his eyes; something hot was dribbling across his wrist. Yet just like the window, the strange pain in his belly had shattered, flown away. Beyond the glass remnants, boxes called for his attention: 'Play Me!' they cried.

'Why should I?' he thought, not noticing his mother's hugs and screams.

'This game's much more fun!'

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