Saturday, 25 August 2012

One drink and then home

Just a coffee, he thought. One coffee to show solidarity and then back home. Back to normal. But it was a mistake. As soon as he'd positioned the baby buggy next to table and sat down, he noticed the hush that radiated away from him like the tiny drops of blood in his shaving water this morning.

Two years ago he would have been almost hard at such a reaction, would have looked each person is the eye with one of his too thick eyebrows raised quizzically. Come on fuckers.

Not now. It wasn't shame he felt - real shame was something he'd discovered at the hands of his dad - but a kind of humming disappointment. The ripples of quiet were not fear or awe, he knew, but a pause of discovery: phones were raised surruptitiously, apps consulted and symbols disscussed in hushed tones, glances as people walked passed became scrawled images on beer mats that he would pick up as he left. No, it wasn't fear that people felt now - even after Anders had shown what real men were capable of - but raw, unwavering contempt.

Beer or coffee. Irma was having coffee, which meant she'd be sober to put Liam to bed, so he ordered a beer and waited patiently in the silence that wasn't silence for the ragged waitress to serve him. Irma talked to her friend - what was her name? - about the festival the previous weekend, her high-pitched nasal whine doing nothing to mask the tap and slide of research going on around them.

At some point someone would see the life rune, turn their eyes to the baby, and make the inevitable connection. Someone might say under their breath as they passed "rapist" or "cunt" and he would pretend not to hear.

One drink in a public place to show solidarity - Christ whose idea was that? - and then home. Back to normal. Maybe stick some of the uniforms and flags on ebay and let someone else get the use of them.

It was Liam. Little boy sucking his dummy, occasionally looking over with massive eyes to make sure mummy and daddy were there, as though they might disappear in a puff of black smoke. It was little Liam, a year older than his first steps, happy to enjoy the sunshine and listen to Irma's whining to Clare - her name was Clare - about the heat and the sun and the hangover from the festival.

It was little Liam first crawling, then holding a branch as he walked hunched from the carnage behind him. It was little Liam who watched the man in the tight black and blue outfit raise his gun and calmly fire into a crowd of children, the sweat on his brow not a consequence of fear, but from the effort of killing, of carrying his machinery.

It was little Liam running, calling quietly for mummy and daddy, calling under his breath so the man with the gun wouldn't hear and turn his machinery to his left, fumbling for his phone to send a text to the world before dying.

It was little Liam crawling along the rocks, palms and knees bleeding, to swim through bodies in the water like logs unaccountably wearing bright summer clothes; listening to the cries of help from friends who could no longer swim and would sink beneath the unwavering water; climbing inside a kitchen cupboard almost deaf from the noise of gunfire; holding his breath knowing that a few more seconds under the water was impossible, but breaking the surface would be death; praying someone would arrive to save him before there was no one else left. Little Liam pleading for his life into the blank eyes of a man who knew nothing, understood nothing, felt nothing.

As he waited for his beer, a flush of blood crept slowly from his collar to his cheeks.

Kids change things.

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