Boy On A Window Ledge (Extract)
When she comes in from the shops Dolores has that preoccupied look that is a sure sign that something is wrong. You can feel your body tensing. She sits down at the table with her bag still over her shoulder and she looks up at you with a frown. There’s that heavy feeling in the air that you sense sometimes before a thunderstorm.
‘There was this child in a window; I thought he was going to fall out.’
She is silent then and you feel a whoosh of relief that it’s not about you. After a moment she continues.
‘I went to the park by the river; I wanted to do some thinking. On the way back I was passing the row of terrace houses, you know those ones just before you turn to come this way, and for some reason I looked up. The upstairs windows in those houses open out from the side and there was a little boy, about four years old, sitting sideways along the window ledge.’
You frown. ‘You mean on the outside?’
She nods. ‘And he had nothing on but a red check shirt and he seemed to be looking into the room and edging further out as if he was afraid of something inside.’
Dolores hands are on the table in front of her and she is scrunching them.
‘I was afraid first that he’d fall but I saw a man in the background a few feet away from the boy and he was saying something so I suppose he was trying to coax him to get down. And I hesitated but I didn’t see that I could interfere.’
‘No, of course not,’ you say, and you reach out your hand to still hers but you lose courage and just leave it sitting uselessly near her.
‘But on the way home I’ve been asking myself why he was only half dressed at this time of day. Suppose the man was abusing him or something.’ She shudders. ‘He might have been really frightened. And if he’d moved another inch even…’
‘Well it’s Saturday, he might have been watching TV all morning. Parents having a lie in. And maybe then he didn’t want to get dressed. You know what they’re like at that age.’
You keep reassuring her and remind her of times when your own kids threw tantrums. At last she seems to relax and she begins to unbutton her jacket.
‘You’re probably right. Remember the struggle we had with James to get him to go to sleep in his cot. Remember how he couldn’t fall asleep unless one of us rocked him in our arms.’
‘Yeah, we hadn’t a clue then had we.’
‘And he turned away from me and wouldn’t look at me –imagine- you’d never think a nine month old baby could sulk.’
She gives you a little smile and puts her bag on the floor.
‘I got some steaks. Maybe we’ll get out the barbecue later.’
You’re so happy for the reprieve that you’ll do anything and you whistle as you check the charcoal in the barbecue and you sweep the decking and do some weeding. Because you’re in that limbo time after she’s found out but before she’s fully decided whether or not she can forgive you. And you love her so much, you always have.
You calculate that it will probably be at least a month, maybe two, before she’ll let you have sex with her again and you hope you can keep strong. You think about Samson and Delilah—you’re not a total philistine after all – and you know that there’s more than one way of cutting off someone’s hair.
That Melissa though- the way being with her made your blood hum. You felt strong and sexy and young again like when you met Dolores first. A trigger that released all the stress you’d been building up. Things you didn’t want to worry Dolores about. But then the guilt that just made things worse. Maybe that was why some men pay for their pleasure like it’s just a service rendered. You wrinkle your nose.
You squish a fat pink worm when you close your hand around a dandelion root. She likes looking at those programmes that have celebrities in the jungle eating wriggly insects and disgusting bits of glutinous whatnots. You couldn’t do that not even for a million. You could lie in a tank and let anything crawl over you just so long as your eyes and mouth were shut. You couldn’t have sex with just anyone either, even though Dolores would have something to say about that right now.
She’s eating a sandwich and listening to the radio when you go back inside. She has that anxious look on her face that tells you she’s still worrying about that child and you want to put your arms around her and give her a hug and tell how much you love that she cares so much about things, but you don’t know how she’d react and you feel awkward so you sit down on the couch. A fellow with a whiney voice is talking about global consciousness in one of those arty programmes she likes. You never listen to them normally and there’s a match on the telly you want to see. Usually she’d bring the radio into the other room if you wanted to watch sport so you sit there with the remote in your hand and wait. But she pretends not to notice.
So you’re there on the couch looking at the little red light on the telly and the remote feels like a live weapon in your hand that you don’t dare move so you say nothing, just sit back and listen to the radio. Whiney voice is talking about consciousness and about how different people in different parts of the world come up with the same idea at the same time. You kind of hope that Dolores might link having an affair with the whole tribal thing, like some kind of………