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In collision with a 3-inch-thick plate-glass wall a toddler’s head makes a dull thud which audibly resonates for less than half a second. Lasting much longer are the groans, gasps and ‘oh my gods’ of the public in the bar of the theatre that the mum was anyway reluctant to visit but conceded, as long as he was paying, to the father’s assertion that the family did need cultural outings together, and, now far past wishing that their marriage didn’t need an armoury, in later arguments enjoyed its use as ammunition.
When unconscious not all three year olds will convulse. Not all fathers will sink to their knees and whimper as if those lids will never again open on green.
Contradicting the theories of parental care described in the science documentaries that years later they watched on Sunday nights while Mum ironed clothes, and the now conscious kid and his brother with their tongues poked the congealed skin on the surfaces of their hot chocolates until, over the hiss of the iron’s exhalation, the mother spat at them to drink it properly – contradicting those theories, most parents will not ignore their unconscious son to yell at his conscious brother that she had told him to be careful, how many times had she told him to be careful, not to swing him round like that, what was he thinking, did he think he knew better than her, the stupid little prick.
Almost all six year old brothers will cry, but not all fathers will ignore the shuddering chest or crumpled face that just a second ago was so smooth and unwet in fear and shock at his unconscious tiny brother who he was just trying to entertain while his mum and dad hissed and pointed at each other across the small plastic table that held his and his brother’s apple juices, a tea, and the latte that was supposed to be cappuccino.
Few children when awoken from a faint to find their parents looming over them will begin hyperventilating not because of what just happened but the fear of what is about to. A knot of emotions that chokes the throat the same way a noose does.
Skies and trees and the drone of engines now will always seem like film sets for lonely characters until they don’t. An americano costs two ten and is paid for with coins that are unreal and weightless but screech across the counter when you slide them to the cashier.
Most children don’t remember their early accidents unless as adults sitting in a cafe trying to syphon onto a lined page of paper the gush from an emotional reservoir rent by a single precise blow they see the event re-enacted before them, though differently: the dad is now absent and the mum, on her knees, strokes her son’s head and holds the brother’s hand until the toddler comes-to, his eyes widening and face re-animating, crumpling to cry with fear and confusion at the tiny time he just lost that no one can assure him wasn’t an age.
From their position on the floor, looking up at a crying man who seems to have come from nowhere and asks if he can help their little kid who a minute ago was unconscious, some mothers might feel intimidated or even scared, but all crying men sat at tables just watching will hate themselves for ignoring the urge to ask.
Strangers in a cafe will worry over a crying child even if it’s with its parents, but no one asks an upset adult alone at his table if he’s okay. Most adults right now anyway wouldn’t want that hand on the back, the dipped head and low voice of concern, the offer of a tissue or a hot cup of tea, except the tiny grain of their soul that right now needs these more than anything.
Not all chair legs are uneven and rattle and shake as you sob. When wet, all paper becomes translucent, all ink spreads.
All funeral speeches deal in euphemisms of love and respect, of bright young things with abundant potential and the peaceful aged who lived their lives to the full. Words layer on like the clay and earth that buries the dead who no longer can challenge the truths of the living. All drafts, with their scratched out honest sentiments, resemble the choked stumble they will be spoken as.
Some words you could write have never been spoken, words as children you always dreamed you one day would. A pen held for too long digs a recess in the finger that you worry won’t heal but will. Why do people tell themselves to remember to ask the person they can’t. This will have to do but will never be enough.
Each parent comforts the other that they always did their best, though not all parents believe it. Somehow all faces are the same when they cry, adulthood undone, stripped now to how they were as wounded infants. Dregs of coffee bring saliva to the mouth the same sour way as when you’re about to cry because you’re being screamed at. Words are wet caves of betrayal. All full stops are failures.
If everyone knew how to say why then maybe they wouldn’t have to.
Not all suicides will first cry for help like they did when they were just scared kids lost in the forest of a national park that daddy had decided was important to visit, and which forest was suddenly almost lightless as clouds covered the sun, and the kid who had walked away from the path where his parents were ten silent metres apart was nudged from his interior world that always was more precious and exciting than the exterior one, and became aware of the pine, leaf and moss carpet of the ground, the trees, the silence and the twilight; that he couldn’t see his parents or brother or even the path, was tiny and alone amongst all these rowed uniform evergreens that in the distance were darkness, and though he didn’t want to be found by his family was more scared that he would never at all be found by anyone, and so screamed as loud as he could, which in the forest caused no movement or sound at all, not even of insects or birds, a scream heard only by his brother but ignored.