blog, Pat Aitcheson writes, short story

15.07

child holding toy car
venturaartist via pixabay

I don’t remember when I first saw him, although my life divides into before and after. It’s a simple fact that he wasn’t there, and then he was. I have a lot of time to think these days, so I might as well write those thoughts down. Maybe it will make sense one day, if not to me then someone else. Nobody believed me then, but it’s still true. I’m so very sorry.

He was around four years old, or so I thought. I found out later he was nearly five, about to go to school that September. I can see him now. He had a mop of curly brown hair, the kind that aunties would love to ruffle while exclaiming how big he’d grown. At first he smiled, showing little white teeth and a mischievous glint in his hazel eyes. He always wore the same green jacket, jeans and black trainers, clutching something in his left hand. I never liked children really, I preferred dogs. Much easier to train, and they o

*

Sorry about the sudden stop before. I try to keep track so it doesn’t catch me out, but it’s hard. I’m torn between watching the clock and trying to ignore it by distracting myself with anything, any mindless activity. There’s not much to do here and I can’t talk with the others.

Anyway. The first clear memory I have of him, he was in the cereal aisle at Tesco’s supermarket. He looked directly at me and smiled. I expected his mother was around somewhere, and sure enough when I glanced back after getting my Weetabix, he had gone. It should have ended there, there was no reason to remember him. But it didn’t end there.

Some days later I saw him again, this time in Waterstones. I thought maybe he was lost, because what was a four year old doing in the crime section? Still, he wasn’t my problem, and I turned back to looking through the latest bestseller. Crime fiction is great; people get what’s coming to them and all the plot lines tie up. It makes sense, and that’s so much better than real life.

The boy turned up at the petrol station, across the forecourt near the shop. I’d just shut the filler cap, and as I walked towards him he turned and ran behind the building. There was no sign of him when I came out after paying either. I asked my mate about it, but he was glued to his phone. He hadn’t seen him, and after a couple of pints I forgot about it.

*

It’s been a while since my last entry. The tablets make it hard to think straight sometimes, but I need them to sleep. And the insomnia is always worse after my mum visits. I can see the pain in her eyes, but she at least hasn’t abandoned me. This visit was different though. Mum was trying to understand, she kept asking me why. I told her I couldn’t explain it. Just this child, turning up everywhere, haunting my dreams, never speaking and his smile gradually fading.

I couldn’t go up to him, what would people say? A grown man and a four year old boy? I’m not like that. The boy looked familiar, but I thought it was just because I saw him more often. I described him to Mum, and she stared at me, eyes wide. When I mentioned his clothes, she started crying, and she left without another word. That hurt.

*

It went on for months. If I was with someone, they never saw the boy. He always vanished before they spotted him. One Saturday in the shopping centre, I saw him standing silently in the distance while the crowd flowed around him. Something inside me snapped, and I strode towards him. I was furious, and I fully intended to give his mother a piece of my mind.

He turned and moved towards the door. I gave chase, heedless of the strange looks I was getting. It seemed to take forever, people getting in my way, and I gave a cry of frustration as he disappeared through the sliding doors.

I ran outside, and he was nowhere to be found. But he had dropped something. I picked up the red car, still warm from his grasp, and turned it over in my hand. I thought kids only played with consoles these days. I had no energy for shopping after that, and dumped the toy car in the bin. Damned if I was going to give it back.

*

I’m so tired. Day after day, the same thing. But writing this down helps, just a little.

Anyway, after the chase he appeared every single day. I learned not to mention it to my mates, they thought I was obsessed and I didn’t like the looks they gave me. I’m no paedo, but that boy made it seem like I was a pervert. My anger grew and grew. He stopped smiling and his eyes were darker.

I felt like he was accusing me. I felt like I was going mad.

My brain fog has lifted, since I stopped the tablets. I hide them under my tongue and then store them inside a sock. So I can tell the next part. It’s hard to tell, but I deserve what’s coming.

One July afternoon, I was driving back from Sunday lunch at mum’s house. I hadn’t seen the brat all day, and I was starting to relax. Finally, I thought. But then.

But then, I saw him down side streets and across intersections, standing outside houses and shops. He was everywhere I looked, and that’s when I knew he couldn’t be real. I had to get away. I turned left into my street, almost home. He stood outside my house, holding up his right hand. I couldn’t believe it.

I stamped on the accelerator shouting, “You’re not real!”

I hit him. Even as I braked, tears pouring down my face, he cartwheeled through the air, and landed twenty feet away. I wrenched my door open and ran over to his all too solid body, limbs twisted like a discarded ragdoll. By his left hand lay a crumpled red car. Blood leaked from his shattered head, but his black eyes stared right at me.

He wasn’t supposed to be real.

I can’t write any more today. It’s almost time.

*

I woke up in hospital handcuffed to the bed, with a policeman by my side. They said I screamed and then blacked out at the scene. I pleaded guilty of course. There were witnesses who heard and saw my car speeding towards that poor boy. I didn’t get to know his name, they never identified him.

I cried at the trial. They said it showed remorse, but I knew better. I was convicted of vehicular manslaughter, but they sent me to hospital instead of prison because of the delusions. My mates testified that I was fixated on a child nobody else could see. They never visited.

My mum hasn’t come back. Instead she sent me an old photo, creased and faded. A smiling, curly haired little boy in a green jacket, jeans, and black trainers holds his red car out towards the camera. The back of the photo is discoloured, and I recognise the marks as tear stains. Of all people, I should know what they look like. Her handwriting is shaky. It reads Jack aged 4 1/2, died in a hit and run, 15.07.83. Mum looks so much younger then, holding her son tight and smiling. She looks happy, and I suppose that’s why she couldn’t talk about the older brother I never knew.

*

Now I’m truly alone. I’m saving up my tablets to celebrate the anniversary, and I find I am mostly calm. I don’t sleep much, but Jack haunts my days, not my nights. I cry every day. Every day, no matter what I’m doing, I burst into tears at 15.07, the precise time I killed him. No amount of meds can stop it. I am ready to give my life to atone for my actions and I do not fear dying. The thing that keeps me awake at night is this; what if he is waiting for me on the other side, for all eternity?

****

First published in Talking without being interrupted, Northants Writers Ink, 2017. Available from Amazon.

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