She knelt beside the bed, her face damp with tears. The closed window allowed only the faint sound of traffic, while the thin, drawn curtain softened the glow of the streetlight outside. Stretched out in front of her, two weathered, bony arms lay limp on the quilt, which was crumpled and dented where she had pounded the bed with her fists. Her knees were aching but she refused to move; she refused to sit or stand. She had spent the last ten minutes in silence, after pleading her case for nearly two hours. The rise and fall of her tiny shoulders as she breathed was the only visible movement in the room.
The sound of keys jangling in the front door stirred her. She arose and dried the tears from her face with her apron, and fixed her hair. She left her room and entered the kitchen, to resume preparing the dinner she had started earlier. Her son finally managed to unlock the door. His heavy footsteps echoed down the hallway, followed by the smell of whiskey. He passed through the kitchen on the way to his room. “How ya goin’, mum?” he said.
She hesitated to lift her eyes from the cutting board in front of her.
“Smells good,” he said. “Hey listen, I can’t stay for dinner—I’m just stopping by to pick up some stuff and then I’m going out again.”
“Who are you going out with?” she asked, looking up at her son. His eyes were bloodshot and his lip was split. When he was like this it did no good to talk to him; it did no good to plead with him, yell at him or cry in front of him. She had learned to keep silent and let him go.
“Just a few of the lads,” he said. “You look tired, mum—are you looking after yourself?” He left the kitchen and headed to his room without waiting for an answer.
She stopped what she was doing and looked up at the ceiling, tears welling. When her son came back through the kitchen on his way out, he was carrying a small, black bag containing God knows what. She watched him walk past, offering her neither a word nor a glance, and leave. “Be careful,” she called out after him, though she knew he would not hear.
With tears rolling she took off her apron, left the half-prepared meal and marched back to her room. She placed a cushion on the floor next to her bed to kneel on; she was going to be there a while.
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