“Oh, he’s here now, I’ll get the door!” the man called back to his wife.
She looked up at him over the top of her glasses and smiled, lovingly.
“Thank you, you’re so good to me.”
He smiled back and went to answer the door. Her son stood on the doorstep:
“Ah, good to see you, young man! Come in!” The older man gave him a quick hug and took his bag from him.
“Your mother’s just through there, she had one of her heads yesterday. She still gets a little… unhappy.” The man laid his hand on the younger man’s arm.
“I know, I know, don’t worry, I won’t upset her,” the son reassured the older man.
“Darling, it’s wonderful to see you!”
He entered the warm, bright sun room as his mother rose to greet him. Small and gently blonde, she radiated happiness as she accepted her son’s embrace.
“It’s good to see you looking so well, Mum,” he said.
“Oh, it’s all down to him, you know, he thinks I don’t notice, but he’s so kind, always there; I – I’m not afraid any more.”
The older man re-entered the room and glanced sharply at the woman, both assessing and reassuring as he gently touched her arm.
“Come through, my love, I’m making tea, and then we can sort something out for dinner while we catch up…”
The younger man followed his mother and her husband into the kitchen, another warm and inviting room and took a place at the table.
He watched his mother move about the kitchen confidently, putting dinner together, her husband passing her things as she reached for them and always tender, aware.
The younger man told funny stories about his friends and their escapades at university, scandalous enough to elicit gasps of delighted shock from his mother and humorous, reproving glances from her husband.
After dinner, a comfortable silence prevailed and the son was quietly pleased with his mother’s progress, as she leaned against her husband, watching some television programme.
He closed his eyes briefly and was instantly taken back to a small, dark, smelly room, his mother sobbing in the corner as the small fat man shouted angrily at her, berating her for yet another imagined slight. She shrank in fear as the small fat man, his father, raised his hand and –
“Darling, whatever’s the matter? You’ve gone as white as a sheet!” His mother looked at him anxiously.
“Nothing, nothing – I thought-for a moment, we were –”
“No. No. That’s over.” Her husband leant forward and patted him comfortingly on the knee. “Look. Go to bed. You’ve had a long journey and you’re obviously tired.”
The son said goodnight and left, and as he did, he glanced back and was inexplicably moved by the tender way the older man lifted gentle hands to his wife’s face. He smoothed her hair and kissed her softly. For a tall man, he was quiet and controlled in his movements, calm and gentle to be around and as his mother leaned into her husband’s embrace the son watched and had a sense of truly coming home.
* * *
That night, he slept badly. Disturbed by dreams of past, loud voices and banging footsteps, screaming televisions, slamming doors and womens’ tears.
As he woke, he woke in a blur, cold sweat beading his face and sticking his armpits. It was early, but he could hear voices, so headachy and cross he went downstairs.
He opened the kitchen door, the door to his past and was taken straight back to the nightmare. His mother, tears rolling silently down her bruised cheeks, thin shoulders trembling as she stood in the corner, facing the small fat man who was his father, brandishing fists and words…
His mother and her husband looked up from the Sunday papers they were reading, startled by his abrupt entrance into the quiet warmth of their kitchen.
“Darling, would you like some tablets – perhaps the wine at dinner last night didn’t agree…” She looked concerned and put her hand on top of her husband’s. “Would you –”
“I’ll get them. Don’t worry.” He rose to his feet and as he passed the younger man, briefly rested an arm across his shoulders.
“Don’t worry.” He said again, and smiled, kindly.