I plunge my hands into the sink of washing-up and rattle around for the scrubber whilst gazing out of my kitchen window. I don’t like looking at my hands. I take in the view of the neatly trimmed hedges that border my garden from the fields beyond it and smile at what is mine. The sky is scattered with vague off-white summer clouds that contrast with the blue background. My gladiolas stand tall and orderly, I scan them noticing a chocolate brown butterfly flickering excitedly, almost in a panic. It lands on the peak of one of them and becomes still, as if immediately at peace. I find a spoon in the sink and start to massage it with the scrubber whilst watching the butterfly. Just then, Charlie makes a loud zoom noise on the floor behind me, startling me. He is playing with his Lego bricks on the kitchen floor, as he usually does when I potter around the kitchen, tidying and cleaning. I turn around, smiling to see Charlie on his knees, walking one of his little Lego men along the floor. His brown wavy hair that is unruly and defiant of all combs flops over his face as he bends down, zigzagging the little man, mumbling to himself.
I watch my son in awe and smile at him. He whizzes one of his Lego cars along the tiled floor, knocking over the tiny Lego man and giggles. He looks up at me but I turn away, smile shrinking, and look down at my hands as I submerge them again in the murky water. I spread my fingers apart and glare at them like I’ve never seen them before. The force of their power pulsates through me and although I am still, inside I can feel myself violently flapping like the butterfly. Images are flickering before my eyes like a dazzling nightmare slideshow. I squeeze my eyes shut, trying not to let the scenes appear in my head, but as always, I can’t halt the images from appearing. And I am back there, on that night six years ago.
I was raging down Pentley Road in my car, staring ahead with my arms at length, and gripping the steering wheel until my knuckles went white. I’d had an awful row with Dave and had stormed out, leaving him wide-eyed and looking afraid. Afraid of what? I had thought that his behaviour had been unacceptable. Talking to my parents behind my back – trying to make them think I was a rubbish mother, allowing visitors into the house without asking me. And that night, lifting Charlie from his pram when I wasn’t there to make sure he was doing it right. I thought I had every right to be angry with him. I didn’t know where I was going but I thought that I was doing the right thing – getting my baby away from those people. Keeping him safe was my only priority. Tears poured down my face, making me see the road ahead wobble and melt like a reflection in a rippling pond.
I saw traffic lights in front of me turn red but wondered who would be out for a walk at that time of night and so I held my foot to the accelerator whilst glancing in my rear view mirror at the tiny baby asleep in the car seat. My grip loosened a touch and my foot eased off the pedal as the rush of love that I felt for Charlie gushed about me, diluting my rage ever so slightly. I wanted to hold him. I wanted Dave to hold me. In that moment, I felt a small portal to reality open and was about to allow myself to move toward it when a massive thud jerked my eyes back to the road in front. I saw his legs at first, rolling up my front windscreen as I smacked my foot to the brakes. The car slid to an aggressive halt, screeching loudly into the quiet street, throwing his body several feet in front of me. A tiny yelp came from my open mouth as I glared at the mangled body lying still on the road. I knew then that he was dead.
I tried to think coherently but my mind wasn’t working. I asked my hand to open the car door. It didn’t move. I asked my mouth to scream for help but it stayed as it was, slightly open and mute except for a high-pitched squeak - that was all I could muster. I glanced again in my rear-view mirror at Charlie, who had shuffled slightly but was still asleep. I looked at the road, hearing the word ‘drive’ being repeated over and over getting louder and louder in my head. I gripped the steering wheel, put the car in first gear and drove. I heard a few distant screams and shouts but dismissed them, my thoughts going back to the fact that I had to protect my baby- at all costs.
The neon lights of late night Take-aways and taxi ranks whizzed by like a movie on fast-forward as I sped along, my eyes transfixed on the road ahead. Whilst my mind was numb to what had happened, my hands were shaking and I started to shed more tears - I had to pull over. I had my head in my hands, sobbing and muttering nonsense to myself when the police came. I told the officer that peered through the window at me what I had done and about Dave and my parents trying to take control of my baby and he looked at me, his face a mishmash of expressions that I had never seen before or since. Unimaginably, I assumed that the police would be on my side – that they would understand that I was protecting my baby. But when the police officer pulled me from the car, and I realised that he was not on my side -he was ‘one of them’, and was going to take Charlie from me, I struggled and screamed and lashed out, hysterically whilst clawing at his face. Somehow, in the scuffle, I was handcuffed and bundled into the back of the police car. I let a terrified scream out of me as I saw a female officer lift Charlie from my car and take him to another police car. And then I was driven off, away from him.
The rest of that night and the days that followed were a blur. A nauseating haze of psychiatric assessments, restraints and sedation. I didn’t feel human. I spent several weeks in a secure hospital after that, away from Charlie. The walls of my cell-like room glared at me and forced me into the corner where I took turns in weeping and becoming hysterical. The time passed in a trance-like state. Sometimes, I wished I could be back in the trance, the smog, to smudge the harshness of reality. Then, eventually, I was let out on bail. Post-natal Depression, it had been called. After just a few weeks of medication and talking to a doctor, I felt different, like sunlight breaking through clouds and warming your face. Or that first coffee on a cold early morning that allows you to fully wake up and think logically. But the feeling of normality didn’t last long. The realisation of what I had done fell on me like a heavy downpour that continually pelted me, morning, noon and night.
The court case took almost a year to happen. The Judge gave me a five year suspended sentence. That was no sentence at all to me – I had never broken the law before, I hadn’t even a speeding ticket on record. My diagnosis had changed my crime from ‘Death by dangerous driving’ to ‘Manslaughter’ and had allowed the Judge to show leniency. The real punishment was looking into his mother’s eyes in court. I had murdered her son – a fifteen year old child. And the eternal living nightmare that I had to live each day when I remembered what I was capable of.
Dave had left. He couldn’t cope with living with someone who had done what I had done. I didn’t beg him to stay, or cry at his feet or any of those things that I would have done in any other circumstance, I understood. I could barely live with myself. He had a degree of sympathy for me and what I had been through with the depression, but he couldn’t deal with the daily struggle of living with the consequences of it. I saw him looking at me, searching me for familiarity – but it wasn’t there. I was broken. If only I had asked for help. If only someone had noticed that I was on the edge. Dave had tried to talk to me that night, but I had pushed him away- as I had everyone. I wouldn’t let him hold the baby, MY baby. I didn’t want visitors, or cards, or presents – I just wanted to protect my baby and keep him to myself. So I had taken Charlie and flown out of the house in a panic, thinking that I couldn’t even trust Dave anymore. I had thought at the time that there was nothing wrong with me; it was everyone else who was acting strangely, everyone else who couldn’t understand.
When Dave moved out, we decided to share care of Charlie, meeting only when picking him up or dropping him off. We talk only of Charlie’s activities, what he had for dinner, how smart he is becoming and the like - leaving unsaid the things that are eating both of us.
I submerge my hands in the murky water again and think about the boy. Stephen. The brown eyed boy with dark wavy hair, not unlike my own son. His picture had been in the local newspapers and had flashed up on the TV screen on the local news over and over again and each time, dragged me through the whole scenario once again. ‘Tragedy of boy killed by hit and run’ and ‘Post-Natal Depression blamed for mum’s road rage murder’ flash across in front of me. He was just a boy out drinking beer with his friends, and had just decided to go home when I had ended him, every thought and dream he had, vanishing forever. Dave had tried to make me believe that the lad had been drunk and had wandered onto the road and that maybe he was partly to blame but I knew how I was driving that night. I knew that the light was red. He hadn’t a chance. I had killed him. Mowed him down in the street, and not looked back as I drove off.
I shiver as I look down at my hands in the basin and start to pick the rubber gloves off my fingers, one by one, exposing the clammy flesh to myself. The soap suds have shrunk and disintegrated in the now tepid water. A tear teeters on the inner corner of my eye as if unsure and then runs down the side of my nose and plops into the water, closely followed by another. Charlie whizzes his car into the back of my foot which pulls me from my thought and I quickly cover my hands in a tea towel, rubbing and drying them as if to rub away the images from my mind. I kneel down, ruffling Charlie’s hair and force a smile. He knows nothing of what happened to me- what I have done. He was only six months old at the time and at six years old now, is too young to understand. I know that one day, I will have to tell him and he will look at me differently, as everyone does. Confused, scared, trying to work me out, wondering when I will snap again and do something terrible to myself or someone else. I have that to look forward to. But for now, he adores me and thinks that I am perfect, as all six year old kids should. And that makes me smile, for real. I look again at my hand on his head and decide to abandon the dishes. I pick out some flour from the cupboard and bend down to the fridge, sliding out a box of eggs. I side-glance at Charlie on the floor, knowing he will be watching me. His face explodes with excitement as he realises what I am doing.
‘Wanna make cupcakes, Charlie?’ I ask, knowing the answer.
‘Yeah!’ He squeals, jumping to his feet like a jack-in-the-box. I pull a chair up to the kitchen work-surface and he hops on, rolling up his sleeves. He knows the drill. I put my arm around him, cupping his shoulder with my hand and lean my head against his. ‘I love you, matey’, I say, rubbing his shoulder. He giggles, saying dramatically,
‘And I love you too, mum!’ I pour a mound of flour into the bowl, crack an egg into it and we both thrust our hands into the mix, rubbing it together, our fingers and hands entwining.