Callum

This was her sixth time on a plane, she had travelled twice before for funerals. When death came for

her house it seemed he did it internationally and without a budget in mind. She hated it, detested the

experience. The fake smiles, the faker food. The endless crinkling of tiny bags of dusty fucking

pretzels and flavourless peanuts. The stewardess enlightened her to the direction of her seat, 6F,

‘great, thanks, I couldn’t count to 6 for that myself’, she thought.


She was next to him. A two-person row, lovely. Cramped with a miserable fuck for three more hours

is just what she needed. She was miserable too of course, but she had the decency to hide it at least.

Good old Irish decency, God forbid someone saw your true feelings. Her eyes were a give away,

decency aside. Blood red. Four solid days of crying will certainly do that. She had make up on but it

didn’t hide the bags – low and hanging, making an old face older, a sad face sadder. She often thought

that she hadn’t been pretty in years, but she was sure of it now. When did she tip over the edge, she

wondered? Fifties probably, happens for most then she supposed. Her bi-monthly run became a guilt-

edged biannual event, her long solitary walks gave way to wine on the couch and packets of biscuits

became her one true hobby. A secondary hobby at least, worrying about her youngest, Callum, was

her main event.


*


He took up most of the arm rest beside her, she didn’t fight it. They were very different, the two of

them, father and son. Jim was quiet and mean. The kind of secret, behind-closed-doors mean that

comes naturally to Irish men, where it seemed that as soon as he shifted his gaze from you, you ceased

to exist to him. The son was mean for sure but not to her, and not in secret to anyone. He was loud her

son. Since the day he arrived, and she can only assume until the day he parted, having not been

present herself. Voice to action. Loud loud loud. When he was in a room it wasn’t that he was

boisterous, it was that he made the room itself loud. His voice, sprinkled with rising inflections and of

varying poshness depending on the company, didn’t fill the room as they say. It assaulted it. Attacked

it from every corner, it harassed you from each direction and violated every conversation. He spoke in

a boom and then in a whisper. When he spoke he drew you to him, it was inevitable; and the best part:

you were all the better for it.


He spoke posh to the rich girls and spoke down to the others, he made fun of the rugby guys and acted

the common man. ‘I guess I didn’t know his true self’, she thinks. He switched circles and friends

week on week. A new group of friends that meant the world one day were enemies the next. ‘Two

faced pricks the lot of them’, he’d say. They’d be back at some stage. He was awful with money,

spending and loaning and owing, he’d have all three vices on the go at once, but he never asked her.

He might have asked him, he would probably give it, in the early days anyway. The days before

people were turning up at the door looking for cash owed and threatened broken bones and worse. He

didn’t gamble, not with cash anyway. No interest in sports, he didn’t watch films or play video games,

he never exercised. No for him the only motivator was responsibility, oh he could run from that

alright.


Jesus he could run from that, and he did. All over the world. A missed call from Germany she

suspected was him, a postcard from Poland.


A police call from Spain.


*


He was drifting off beside her now, hadn’t even taken off and he was gone. He hadn’t slept, she

hadn’t either, nice of them to share that final commonality. The last night they’d spend together. They

had sat through the night in relative silence. The odd break from her as tears took over, the occasional

cough from him when he mannishly held back his. No weakness from him, to love a son was fine but

to grieve him was less apparently. The AC was the only constant and didn’t it serve a purpose. It kept

them cool in that dead Spanish heat of the night, but it also blew the smell. The smell of vodka and

formaldehyde mixed together. She had looked that one up before she went. ‘What do morgues smell

like?’, she had googled.


*


There was no smell in the lobby was her first thought, the drab front desk sat baking in the Spanish

midday sun. Her son would’ve made a joke about siestas and bodies and sleeping; she almost smiled.

They were led down a white-washed hallway (supposed to be comforting) and eventually down an

elevator. Ah! she thought, here’s the smell. Buried underground where the bodies belong, the eternal

rot is halted by icy cold coffins hidden from the relentless Andalusian sun.


Here was her son. He was already out. A withdrawn curtain revealed the only son she’d ever borne.

He didn’t look asleep. He looked very much dead. Totally and utterly dead, gonzo as he might say

himself. He was fucked to put it bluntly.


She noticed the silence of it, the absolute finality of it. The fucking absurdness of it. And it was that

quiet stillness that haunted her thoughts now. How the sheet lay perfectly over the lower part of his

body, tucked just beneath his chest, folded delicately to hide the damage rendered against her only

son. (He never cried beside her, he didn’t even hold her hand). The hands. Callum’s hands were by his

side. Skinny, so so thin, he hadn’t been chubby but his hands had been. Not now. The skin had begun

its creep back unto itself. His arms: bruised and bearing the unmistakable little pricks around the

elbow. And she always thought that’s what would kill him.


*


He was audibly snoring beside her now. He wasn’t wearing a ring, he never had. She had never

removed hers, part of her hand for thirty-two years. They hadn’t spoken since that morning. After a

cold night spent next to the body, he had broken the silence.


‘Is that that so?’ he had asked.


‘It’s been that for a while Jim,’ she replied. ‘It’s been that for all your late nights not coming home,

me sleeping in an empty bed, it’s been that for a long time so yeah this is it.’


‘And this now, you blame me for it. I know you do.’


‘I do not, stop looking for pity, you know well that….’


‘You do blame me, you do! I can see it. Since he first left you’ve held it over me.’


‘Since he left, you were why he left Jim. You drove him away!’


‘I drove him away? You smothered him and you’ve killed him, now you’ve killed him!’


She left then. It was true, she had killed him. Her little boy. Naked and alone on that ice table, his

body punctured, needles for his pleasure and a knife for someone else’s. Her little boy.


*


A gentle knock. ‘Marie, are you ok in there?’ he whispered through the door. She unbunched her fists

pushed up against her eyes and blinked. She didn’t even remember coming into the bathroom. As

sterile and cold as that room. She opened the sliding door and the stench of recycled air hit her face.

She stood up to leave but he began to squeeze himself in. She let him. It was tight. Someone might

think they were up to no good in here but she doubted it, she had seen the sad eyes of every

stewardess upon her when she had boarded (your man on the ice box down below, that’s the mother).


She didn’t speak, they were close in here. His early morning whiskey was crisp on his breath. They

stared at each other, really stared. She knew now even if she stayed she would see HIM in those eyes.

Her waking days would be looking at her son.


‘I don’t blame you’, he whispered. ‘I don’t … just let me say my bit ok?’, he had anticipated the

interruption on the tip of her dried-out tongue.


‘I’m here Marie, the same as you. The same as you I’m on this plane. I’m on this plane with my only

boy in an ice-cold coffin in the fucking holding. I’ll be there when we take it out and I’ll be there

when we bury him. And I’ve been there Marie, Jesus Christ I’ve been there. I stayed up the nights

same as you, I wiped his arse at the start and wiped his fucking puke near the end. This isn’t just your

burden, I live it too. You remember now, where this began. Mommy’s lovely little boy who could do

no wrong, a slap on his perfect little wrist and off he went. When we both, BOTH OF US Marie, we

saw the slope he was on. When you ignored the odd twenty euro note going missing the same way I

did. When your watch was gone and my wallet would appear in a different room we turned away, but

we turned together. We watched and we waited and we knew it would come. When that phone rang I

wasn’t surprised, nor were you. I wasn’t surprised.’


He cried now.


Sixty-four-year-old Jim. Whose father schooled him in the way of manliness, who could hardly kiss

his wife or child or push a buggy for fear of embarrassment wept here. And it came. Years in the

making and he let if flow for the first time in his life, he unleashed it. She held him. Through knocks

on the door and concerned voices she held him steady.


‘C’mon Jim, let’s go back to our seats. We’ll be ok.’


She pulled back the slider to open the bathroom door, flushed the sucking toilet and gently eased Jim

out the door with a loving hand on his back. She glanced at herself in the mirror and smiled.


She took the ring from her finger and dropped it in the bin.


Back to her seat.

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