Two pieces – Alyson Hill

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Another brilliant piece from a GUNNAS WRITING MASTERCLASS WRITER.

Slow Learner 

This kid flops heavily on my bed, pushing my feet off so he can wedge the length of his body across the mattress. His jostling makes me lose my place in my book and while I reread the sentences, he rubs the dog’s belly and starts talking at me. I think I’m listening to him, until I realize there’s a pause with a question mark hanging in the air and that I wasn’t paying attention at all; I’m such a shit mother. I ask him to repeat the question and can already hear from the huff and tone that it’s a whine – another whine, and that is, of course, probably why I’d tuned out in the first place. As it turns out the question is not really a question…it’s a complaint disguised as a question…”Why do you always blahblahblah…? How come you never….whathaveyou?” This kid only ever complains in absolutes. And, fuck me, I’ve missed the question again and if I make him say it a third time, there will be ranting and I’m not up for it this minute. I take a deep breath, scratching my brain for something broad and non-committal to win myself some time to get context.
And while I’m still inhaling, before I’ve even said anything:
“And Mum? Before you start? Not everything you say has to be a fucking life lesson!”
I exhale, about to bite out a reply but I stop this time and think about it. This kid needs life lessons sorely – he is and always has been a slightly loveable holy terror, and he has only ever learned his lessons in life the very hardest way. In this moment I realize he hears everything I say to him but he disregards it or ignores it because it doesn’t have value for him. My teaching tales are meaningless to him because they are not his. His life lessons are all hard won – every one of them played out and experienced excruciatingly by him, and BAM! I get a life lesson of my very own…17 years too late to save myself the anxiety and him the irritation, but a life lesson just the same. I’d tell him this too but I don’t want to give him the satisfaction.
Why can’t he just take my wisdom; I’m so fucking wise!
This kid rolls his bowling ball head painfully onto my hip, flings his arm behind him, knocking my book out of my hand, closes his eyes and sighs.
“Play with my hair?” he mumbles. I rest my hand on his forehead resisting, with some difficulty, the urge to slap it hard and I start to draw squiggles over his scalp.
Lucky I love the little shit.

 

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Touched

Once upon a time there was a man who lived a blinkered life thinking, not completely incorrectly, that everyone around him lived the very same blinkered life that he did. His days were carbon copies of each other: he rose, showered and dressed, ate breakfast scrolling through his phone, drove to work, logged onto his computer, completed his checklist of duties, chatted politely with his office mates and went about his day with minimum fuss and effort. At the close of his workday, he went home, logged onto his computer and enjoyed himself in various solitary cyber-recreational ways.  He didn’t question his life and he wasn’t bored by it. It was like he’d been born this fully grown man so adept at his routine.

Everyday he got a little older and found it a little more difficult to spend more than ten minutes at a time talking to any one person on any one subject. Away from the screen, his attention span seemed to shrink from people with their faces of skin and muscle and lines, but the man’s colleagues who were all very busy completing their checklist of duties didn’t notice this.

One day during an unavoidable conversation with the woman who answered the phone in the cubicle behind him, the man realized he couldn’t understand a single word she was saying. He rubbed his ears and frowned at her and she, unused to seeing him display anything but the most bland of expressions, grew concerned. Because of that, she placed her hand on his arm and asked ‘Are you OK?”

The man, still not understanding what she was saying, was deeply shocked. He could not remember the last time a person had deliberately touched him as she was doing. He puzzled over the sounds coming out of her mouth and the way she looked very seriously right into his eyes. He felt the warmth of her hand pulse right into the bones of his arm, up his shoulder and across his chest. His jaw started to ache. And instead of the man’s last breath being a final cutting short of the repetition that cradled his life, he died suffused with a moment of intimacy and wonderment that he had never experienced before.

The man dropped at her feet, and the woman stood frozen, her arm still outstretched in the air where it had been when she was touching him. She stood like this until finally the rest of the office appeared around her, jostling her, bending over him, asking questions, reaching for phones, calling ambulances, taking photos. The woman glanced down at the man now being rolled onto his back at her feet; the man so like a puppet every day she had seen him, now seemed shockingly human. She should be at home, she realized, picking sweet cherry tomatoes in her garden, talking to the chickens of her childhood memories, drinking tea on her back step, her bottom warmed by the sun they had soaked in all day. Life, after all, was a lucky dip.

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