Fragment

When it began, it began with a lurch. A burst of energy that shocked me as much as it did my wife. Somewhere over my left shoulder a child screamed. I dunno which one it was. When you’re young, shock or terror is verbalised with an androgynous high pitched yelp. It is an amorphous sound. It’s formless, shapeless. Primal. One moment there is silence, the next some vocal chords vibrate and a howl is thrown into the world. An ancient sound from a new source.
And there’s something about that sound which is chilling when it comes from your child. I’m now certain that I could recognise my own wean’s scream in a crowd of them. Like a fingerprint.
It wasn’t the last time I heard that noise.
Her head recoiled and smashed against the handle of the cupboard next to the sink. Her hand shot up to her eye and I pulled back my arm, ready for another swing. The background shriek pulled me out of the stupor,  and yanked my head up from the murk, tossing me into a whole other world of pain. That’s when the lunge forward turned into a lurch. I stopped dead in my tracks. The black and white world of rage suddenly exploded into colour.
I turned around to see Isla and Martin crying.
Shame.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean…”
I took a step towards them. They took a step back. Behind me their mum sobbed.
“I..”
I took another step forward. The kids took another two steps back. I kneeled down and opened my arms.
“C’mere…”
Guilt.
Isla screamed again, dropping her Baymax teddy, tears streaming down her face. Martin put his arm around his sister’s shoulder, both backed up against the wall. I swear I heard their hearts break.
Children get scared of things. You never get used to seeing it, but as a parent your instinct is to shield them, reassure them that whatever happens they need not be scared because you’ll always be there to assuage those fears. But when you become the source of their fear? There is no measure of heartache more profound than watching your own children’s brains recalculate their perception of you through abject fear. In life, heartbreak is an inevitability, yet one should not have to feel it at the hands of their parents and one should definitely not have them feel that pain as a result of violence.
Sadness filled the air with an inalienable weight. Something in the world changed that night.
I stood up and look round to see Angela crying on the worktop. Her left eye had swollen and there was a small trickle of blood on her right temple.
Disgust.
I left the kitchen, grabbing my car keys on the way out.
I was over the limit. In the pages of a dusty old noir novel I would have been described as over the limit and over the line. Speeding into the night, down the country roads in between Coatbridge and Moodiesburn, I careened through the darkness with my eyes burning. I screamed myself hoarse with the radio cranked loud, giving whatever trance music George Bowie cranked out a whole new flavour.
I hurdled down the road in the gloom. No streetlights to expose me. I checked the rear-view mirror and caught a glimpse of myself. Eyes red from the tears, face blotchy from the booze, my hair a straggly mess of brown and grey, black tie hanging limply around my neck. I tore it off and threw it in the passenger seat, pulled over at the side of the road and got out of the car. I was isolated, surrounded by acres of shadows. I looked up at the void and the full weight of what I had done bore down on me like a weight. Then I threw up. I hadn’t learned a fucking thing.

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