An excerpt from my book
Everything felt so loud. The din of the bus’ engine and gear changes through the thin floor; loose screws rattling in handrails; the creek of stiff anoraks creasing with turns in the road; voices; the passing air whistling as it funnelled into gaps in the body of the vehicle. Gwendolen imagined her heart and the speed it was beating, tapping her finger in unison on the handrail on the top of the seat in front of her. . The bus felt smaller than her, smaller than her heart and she was being squeezed tightly within it. She looked at them. They needed this. They deserved it. She tried to remember the last time they’d been out of the house together, when the three of them had sat in such close proximity to each other. In the past months, they had all seemed unable to settle, stay still. It was as if every floor or surface were a bed of nails or hot coals and their feet or backsides could only tolerate so much before they scattered with an elaborate stretch or yawn to different parts of the house. The house had felt so heavy, as if each of them were holding it up somehow. The storm they had found themselves in had somehow shaped them physically; they seemed to lean forwards as if walking into an invisible wind. She knew what the weight was : confusion; questions; anger; hurt. It felt as if the scree of slate behind the house had enveloped it and with its shift, drawn out the light and the air. It left her breathless but there was a strange comfort that they were cocooned, protected, hidden. Hidden from what, she didn’t know. But, it was their new eyes that affected her the most. They had lost their old colour, become duller like those on fish exposed to heat or a grey paint brush added to a jar of once clean water. She had watched them both as the heavy weeks and months walked slowly by; how their eyes would suddenly dart to a left or right, at something that was not there, their eyelids narrowing before returning to the now and checking to see that no one had witnessed that their thoughts had taken them, momentarily, away from here.
She reached into her pocket and fished out a folded piece of paper from within it. As careful as she was in unfolding it, her deft movements caused Dylan at her side to peer down at it.
‘What’s that?’ he asked, blinking three times as he always did when asking any question. It was a morse code that had become part of him. A code that only she had worked out.
‘Just a list of things you need for next year. For big school’ she replied.
On the paper were pictures of school uniform, bullet point lists of equipment and pictures of dyed hair, piercings and elaborate running shoes all with either a red x through them or a clipart dismissive finger beside them. Blazer, trousers, shirts, tie, shoes, PE kit, pencil case, calculator, bag, coat. She began to estimate the cost and tally up all this but stopped at the blazers, folded the paper in half and closed it away. It seemed like an order of service, that she was losing her sons to something. The din of the bus’ struggle along the lanes echoed like the singing of mourners too burdened by sadness to give a hymn their all. She thought of the open back door that day and now imagined the boys walking through it. She had locked it for a time; to keep them in; harm out. But it had become impractical. Gwendolen looked from one boy to the other. Two coins created from the same event. A left and a right glove. A beautiful entanglement. Dylan was tactile, at least with her but there had been a distance between him and his father. It was unspoken but it was there. And Dylan had sensed it. She knew he had. Gwendolen glanced down at him and the thought of him going to high school brought out a primal protection in her. He was so innocent in his mannerisms and ways; left them unchecked. The handbrake of self-awareness had not arrived yet, had not forced him to face his ways, to change them, hide them, desire invisibility. He was open and she wanted him to stay that way but she knew that a new school would leave him exposed and at this thought she squeezed his arm and he drew him closer to her.
She looked at Cadfan in the seat in front of them. She felt guilty at the thought but she worried less about him. Loved him equally but worried less. His father’s leaving had hardened him. They had been closer, an ease between them that did not exist between his father and Dylan. She could sense that he was now caught in that hinterland between vulnerability and that masculine need to appear indifferent. He sat on his own throughout the journey, silent. Every now and again, he’d pretend he’d seen something pass by them outside the window and follow it backwards. She knew it was his way of checking that she was still there. Had not gone.