by Gaynor Jones
We splash together in the musty paddling pool, naked but still too young to be curious. You lean forward, placing your eye onto my freckled cheek and blink — once, twice. I bask in the light tickles. Your mother calls and we waddle over, relishing the air on our bodies. Then snuggled together in the warm towel we tumble and laugh as she rub-a-dub-dubs.
We play together, shrieking around the carved tree on the back field where only Upper Juniors dare to tread. The chase ends when a deliberate football thwacks me on the leg. You stall, caught between my pain and your embarrassment. The players call for you to join them and you do. I sit against the tree, eyes closed and wish my red cheeks away. The second thwack hurts more. I shriek and look up as the football rolls. You receive back slaps, arm punches, acceptance. You mouth an apology, then turn your back.
We travel together, separated by more than rows of chewing-gummed seats. Spitballs and spearmints fly at regular intervals, most hitting their intended target. I brush off my blazer and turn up my Walkman but I can still hear the laughter, and the boasting. Sweaty encounters at phone boxes, park benches, the path behind the youth club. It sounds dirty and demeaning and I hate myself for wishing you were talking about me.
You laugh with her. Sprinkled as she is with beads and tie-dye, she can’t help but draw the room. Your hair is as long as hers and the matching armband tattoos bind you to each other forever, or at least until the henna wears off. I pull your pints and glow crimson as our fingertips touch. We make small talk; family, friends, the usual. You return to her but look back at me, raise an eyebrow and a glass.
We mourn together. First at the old church, then back in the beige room where your poor, pale father blends into the walls. The cushions aren’t plumped and the nets aren’t back.
I find you in your childhood bedroom where you shake as I hold you. Your wife holds court downstairs with ease; she only met the broken version of her mother-in-law. You just want to be with someone who knew your mother as she was. I was there with you then, and I’m here for you now.
We splash together in the gleaming paddling pool. Your colourful nappy sags but you don’t care. I poke you gently in your protruding belly then crawl my fingers up to your neck. You melt into giggles and I pull you close. Resting my eyes on your cheek I blink — once, twice. You curl your podgy fingers into my hair and turn your face to the sun.
When you are older and ask me about your father, I will simply say that I loved him all my life.
Gaynor Jones writes micro, flash and short stories. She also organises the Story For Daniel flash fiction competition to raise awareness of blood stem cell donation and childhood cancer support. She tweets at @jonzeywriter.