“Hello, Lisa,” Charlie said, as I entered the foyer of the Harraseeket Inn with Babar and a softboard tucked under my arm. I’d left Louise in the car, citing her declining health and suggesting she take a nap in my short absence. Brushing past Charlie without making eye contact, I addressed a young woman beside him.
“Follow me,” she said, glancing nervously at Charlie and making clickety-clackety noises on the shiny tile floor with her stilettos, as she led me down a long corridor to a small conference room at the end. Charlie took a chair outside the room, and the woman opened the door, then followed me inside and closed it gently behind us.
Except for a table with two orange plastic chairs at one end and a clock, wall mirror and folding chair—on which the woman perched---at the other end, the room was unfurnished. At the table, a boy with blonde hair that hung down to his eyebrows sat playing with a couple of small metal cars, backing them up and smashing them together in loud crashes. With each collision, his hair swept his little face, bouncing and swaying as if caught up in the destruction. He seemed oblivious to our entrance.
“Logan,” I said, my voice competing with the beating of my heart.
Logan stopped playing but did not look up at once. It was if he were trying to determine if he was asleep and still dreaming. When he did look up, his face wore the stress of the past nine months like a fresh coat of paint.
My heart ready to explode, I approached Logan to give him a hug, but he drew back like a Sunday morning chicken.
“Logan, it’s Mummy. I brought Babar. And your softboard.”
“Mummy?” a little voice quivered.
“Yes, Sweetie. It’s really me. I’m so sorry about what happened.”
He could’ve been any seven-year-old, but in that singular moment, a moment which seemed like eternity but which I knew would end too soon, he was mine. I studied him then, wondering how I could have produced someone so amazing, silently grateful that he had inherited and would always have my sensitivity. That part of me, at least, he would always carry with him.
Conscious of the mirror on the far wall, I took a seat in the other plastic chair alongside Logan. On the opposite side of the room, the woman with horned-rimmed glasses and shiny black stilettos sat quite still; every now and then, she shot a glance in our direction and looked at her watch. The clock on the wall ticked by minutes like a stopwatch, as I searched for words.
“Forty more minutes,” the woman said, interrupting the eternity that separated me from my flesh and blood, the only flesh and blood I had ever loved without reservation. Now, a desperate fear that he would slip through my fingers and out of my life forever began to claw its way into the room.
Placing Logan’s toys on the table and moving my chair closer to him, I put my hand over his, stroking his fingers the way I used to do when he’d jammed one of them in a drawer or a door, or when he’d landed badly upon being flipped by a big wave.
We sat silent for five minutes, before tears started to fill my son’s eyes, finally spilling over and flowing down his cheeks.
“Logan, I’ve missed you so much,” I finally said, aware that I’d been thrown off balance and had not even attempted to explain my absence. “They wouldn’t let me---”
Something crinkly and hard poked its way into the palm of my hand, still on top of Logan’s, and I looked down to see that he had slipped me a note. One quick glance at the woman told me she was not aware of the transaction, and I quickly and casually pocketed the piece of paper. He had come prepared to see me after all.
“Nothing happened, Mum,” he finally said. “Dad said you lied about a lot of stuff. Like Dad dying. Just tell him you’re sorry.”
I considered the possibility that going underground for as long as I had might have erased the past, might have turned it into a mere figment of my imagination, a nightmare that had vanished with the darkness of night. But it had indeed happened. That much I knew too well, felt too keenly every time I felt the cold ache in my old-before-their time fingers, the ones that had been broken over and over again. Every time I looked in the mirror and saw the peculiar bend in my nose or the scar on my left cheek, or the scars on my arms. Every time I felt the hitch in my gait or heard the beating of my heart whenever a car backfired.
And if there was, even now, any doubt that what had happened represented reality, that poster that still hung on the wall down at the Post Office erased any last shred of it. The poster that had my picture on it and offered a ten-thousand-dollar reward for information leading to my capture.
Though I tried to stay focused on the thirty minutes we had remaining, I found myself remembering what was impossible to forget…