The air is shower damp and the smell is body butter. Almond. The blind is down, the light is on, the quilt has not been straightened.
My arms are twisted behind my back. One hand pulls down, the other up. My shoulder muscle cricks. Spasms. My mouth and my cheek do the same. I stop myself from swearing.
‘I think I’d better help.’ He pats the corner of the bed. ‘Sit here.’
I do. He sits on his knees, behind.
‘The tag is stuck,’ he says. He fiddles. Clumsily, because his hands and his fingers are small. He gives me updates as he works. ‘I’ve pushed the tag down.’ I feel his fingers on my skin. ‘I’m holding it down’. He pushes a deep breath out and I feel his fingers pull. They reach the top.
‘Got it,’ he says.
He bounces once then leans his head against my back. He says ‘you should make your clothes like mine…my zips are all at the front’.
We are in the hurry we always are. I close my eyes to slow time down.
And then he moves. There is: breakfast, socks, shoes, teeth, hat, reader-folder, lunch, in the car, in the car, I said in the car, why did you hit him, seatbelts, please just put your seatbelt on, until we’re at the lights and I say ‘we forgot the sunblock, we’ll have to do it at school’ and he says ‘mum, you should have remembered before’.
And so we stand at the lockers. He lets me do it, because he’s an Oldest Child, but his arms are tense by his side and his eyes are closed and he bites at his lip. I rub the cream down his lightly-freckled nose, and across his soft round cheeks and down to the point of his chin.
This is the face I kissed in the mornings, the nights, the evenings, the afternoons. He fed, then slept on my chest. It was my yesterday.
The children are a stream behind him and he whispers ‘mu-um, I’m the only one.’
I brush at his hair. I want to kiss his cheek and whisper to him I know my love, I know.
He joins the stream, but I know he knows I’m watching him. By the way he doesn’t look back.