Extract Two from 'Fathom'
Fathom explores the evolving identities of a mother and her sons, against the backdrop of a former slate mining village and Wales' 2016 Euros campaign.
She leaned her head backwards so that it rested on the back of the sofa.
Through the thin ceiling above her she heard the whispered gathering of bed sheets, then the protestations of floorboards at being disturbed at this hour. Her eyes closed for this had become a familiar dance and she knew the next steps before they’d occurred. With each one, she nodded her head gently as if she were ticking off a list: the considered tip-toeing along the landing floorboards; the volt into the bathroom; the slow downward draw of the light cord and the click of the light; the gentle pushing away of the door; the lift of the wicker laundry basket lid and the dip to hide the pyjamas at its depths, before the tumbling of clothes to hide them away. Her eyes returned from the ceiling to the school photo of the boys and then onwards to one of their father on the wall in the hallway.
Dylan sat at the lip of the bath, reaching to wet a flannel under the running tap of the sink before wiping his legs. He reached behind his knees, guiding the cloth carefully down the backs of his calves. The collar of his pyjama top suddenly felt tight, making him hot. He pulled it downwards, stretching it but knowing that it would soon return to its original shape and be back against his skin. The spaces in the weave of the laundry basket looked like dark eyes peering from their warrens, gazing at him as if to say they knew his nightly secret. Feeling a creeping unease, Dylan raised his chin, stretched the pyjama collar again and with a closed first pulled down on the hem at the bottom until it covered the tops of his knees. As much as he didn’t want anyone to know when this happened to him, he always left the bathroom door partly open so that she could come in. Dylan and the holes continued their locked stare stand-off as she walked in. She placed a folded pair of pyjama bottoms on his knees, held the back of his head with her hand and placed a kiss on his crown. This was the interval before their dance began again; a silent dance shaped by guilt and shame and confusion and a love with nowhere to go.
He slides sideways along the cold edge of the bath, disturbing the leaves of the plants that fill it, giving her the space to come further into the bathroom. As one leg straightens into one pyjama leg, she reaches into an airing cupboard and gathers bed sheets to her chest. He waits, waits until she turns to move out of the bathroom until he puts his other leg in and stands up. This is the choreography of understanding and patience and a love with somewhere to go. Upright, he closes his eyes, and listens to the gentle re-making of his bed; the last evidence of his dark secret being removed like an error from a classroom whiteboard. His fingers reach behind him, their tips tracing the ribs on the underside of plant leaves while his thumbs glide across their burnished surfaces. His eyes open and a dimming of the light on the landing signals that she has finished and closed his bedroom door.
She looked at him appearing from the bathroom, the same smile as always but now it was fainter. Every time he had done this, the depth of his smile grew paler like pages through a printer shallowing of ink. How can he go to High School when he does this? His mismatched pyjamas and the pigeon toed walk he did when he was feeling unsure seemed to be a flame that lit a primal need in her to protect him. She wanted to protect him from everything: sharp tongues; sharp corners of cupboards. She fumbled and floundered through a list as if she had the distance of his walk between the bathroom and his bedroom to decide what a higher power could protect him from: a cold; grapes that went down the wrong way; the wind; falls on stone; nettles; the sun. As he crossed the threshold into his room and her hand touched his head, she added a final addition to her list; his father.
The landing light lit up the near side of their bedroom, making gargoyles of Cadfan’s crumpled clothes on the floor and Dylan, with his hands formed into binoculars, navigated his way around them and back towards his bed. A tongue of towel hung from beneath his bed sheet and over the side of his bed as if it were thirsty. He had never quite understood why his mother did this when she changed his bed in the night. Dylan lay down slowly on to his bed, his hands at his side and traced the rough weave of the towel through his bed sheet as if it were cut grass stiffened by summer.
Cadfan lay above him on the top bunk, facing the wall. He always woke when Dylan did this but pretended he was asleep, partly because he didn’t want him to feel worse and partly because he didn’t want to be involved in it. He would turn away from it, stare at his poster of Hal Robson-Kanu and in the dark, mime the commentary for the goal.
Bale. Good run from Aaron Ramsey. Well found. Dinked into Robson-Kanu. Taylor is available. What a turn. What a goal ... What a goal, what a moment for Wales. This is unbelievable.
Beneath the sheets, his feet twitched the turn, the strike and the wheeling away but his movements were shallow so as not to draw attention to himself. Beneath the sheets he hid his own secret; his new shoes, the laces of each coiled around the index fingers on each hand. He turned his hands to draw up his laces, raising his knees to his chest as if landing a haul from the deep or the lifting of a drawbridge. He gripped the laces as if there were a palpable danger in them falling from him. He closed his eyes.
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Between your detailed imagery and the way you describe each moment, movement, and gesture, it's like you slow down time. You pick up on the smallest details that are normally lost. I love the line about her kissing his head - there's something about the way you wrote it and where you placed it that it felt like a sacred but invisible moment has been unearthed. And this line - a line any mother or guardian or protector knows well: She wanted to protect him from everything: sharp tongues; sharp corners of cupboards. Well done!