Her boy was sat at the kitchen table, school bag slumped on the floor. He was tapping furiously on his phone, names and faces scrolling down the screen as he cycled through his remote social network. He’d done what she’d asked as soon as he’d got home, setting two plates – one slightly chipped, knifes, forks and two polished glasses on the pine table. A stew was simmering on the stove; his meal was waiting patiently for him, as ever, for when he stepped off the school bus into his mother’s arms.
She stood looking at him for a brief moment. Still tapping away at that phone she’d got him last Christmas, so he could keep in contact with his friends. She felt guilty: they lived on the last stop on the school bus route, out of walking distance, and she’d never let him walk back at night. She usually drove him around, which was safer than travelling by bus.
He growled and swore. It’s frozen. She didn’t ask; there was no point. She’d never been the one who dealt with the technology, she’d normally’ve just left it to him. It was a wonder half the gadgets in the house still worked. It was probably the best opportunity to get him off the thing.
Do you wanna have a kick-about outside?
He tapped for a few more seconds then paused, and shrugged.
He hurried a few more messages, then dimmed the screen and slipped the phone into his right pocket, reaching for the old kit-bag. She turned the stove down, and stepped out through the glass door. The lack of sound would’ve surprised her if she weren’t so used to it. An intimidating quiet. The two apple trees were as though dead and the little, chirping bird that lived within didn’t seem to be there. There was a slight hiss of grain from the endless fields that reached right up to the fence on each side.
The clatter of football boots on the step broke the silence, and her son’s muddy shirt brushed past her. Boots two sizes too big upon his little feet, with missing studs and worn, dull leather, sunk past the unmown grass and into the earth. A red-brown football shirt, slightly torn on the bottom, stained, also muddy, with the loose seams causing the white “3” to peel off the back under a surname she didn’t even know, but remembered fondly. The frayed sleeves slid back, exposing his slender fingers as he bent down to place the ball. Cracked white, once grey, and slightly flat, it rolled slightly to one side on the uneven turf.
Are you ready?
He barely nudged it, uncertain of how hard to kick it to his mother… they never played football. It stopped short… she managed a glancing smile, making a conscious effort to rush excitedly towards it, swinging at the ball; the tough leather stung her skin exposed through her shoe, woefully inadequate for the outdoors, but she beared it for him. It rolled faster than her son’s, but at sharp angle to him, rolling into the bush. Her smile dropped and eyes turned to face him, worried. She expected to see a grimace, to see his smile drop as well… but he was smiling. Laughing. He dived behind the bush.
She paused for a second, lips still tweaked upwards, ears awash with the sound of trees in the fresh wind and the shakes of dense fir-fronds as her son scrabbled for the ball. She watched the white cloud gliding in the cool spring air, and smelled the honeysuckle that shone green as it clambered up the side of her kitchen window. Distant farm machinery hummed from afar.
He’d emerged from the bush, shirt dotted with torn leaves and splinters of bark. His hair was ruffled, and hands brown. She started half a step forward, seeing him, but held herself back, reassured by the smile on his lips as he replaced the sweat on his brow with dirt from his sleeve.
He kicked it once more to her; she knocked it a stride with her shin and, undeterred, kicked it back, fairly on target. He seemed surprised, and they passed the ball excitedly between each other, her shots improving in confidence with each attempt, his increasing in enthusiasm. Finally, inevitably, one of her shots flew wide, and struck the dark, rotted panels of the shed in the far corner, hidden forgotten in the overgrowth behind the trees. An ominous rumble of balanced boxes and tools collapsing punched through the garden, exposing the two as they followed the arc of the ball. The sound continued for longer than she’d wish to note as all other ambient noise seemed to cease around them, the sides of the shed trembling with each beat as it trickled quieter with the last few items, then stopped. The broken, wisp-strands of cobweb hung still over the dust-opaque panels of clear plastic.
Are you ready?
She hadn’t been in there in years. God knows what state the inside was like, with old belongings filed in boxes, gardening equipment, nuts, bolts and trinkets scattered in drawers and shelves and cupboards. She didn’t really want to know, but she’d have to tackle that corner someday. She’d left it too long. She knew she’d have to forget the majority of it, to be rid of it, but the issue of sorting the good from the bad stood in the way. She stared at the door, with its thick, rusted padlock.
Her boy made to fetch the ball, innocently, but she grabbed his arm. Not now. She looked down into his eyes. Not right now; he could get it another time. The stew was ready anyway, and the sky had started to cloud over. Night chased day rapidly across the gaping flats; she could almost watch it approaching. She led him back inside, ringed hand pressing into the small of his back, muscles tensing as a cold wind gathered behind them. She passed over the threshold and shut the door, drawing the curtains together sharply, and exhaled slowly.
The stew is ready.