He’s got Joe’s nose. The bump in the middle, that time he fell off his bike at the bottom of the hill. It was smooth when I ran my fingers over it, healed, scar just five days old. If it wasn’t for his eyes (brown, honey brown) his ears (still small, elfin things), his mouth (thin, bitten, a habit never kicked) I’d say plenty of men have broken noses. Plenty of men have fallen off bikes. But he was my first son, and he’s hardwired into my brain. This is not another man with freckles and a broken nose.
Someone behind me coughs. There’s a gap in the line. I should move. I should. Questions, so many questions, stuck in my throat. Does he even recognise me? I haven’t got him a present, I think, and I’m gone – the sob rips through my wobbling mouth before I can stop it.
“Joe,” I stumble towards him. Boxes clatter to the floor. “Joe, where have you been?”
“I think you’ve got…” He peers. He leans close. I don’t move. There is no doubt this time. “I think you…” My heart thumps. “Mum?”
The joy is so strong it’s painful. My fingers shake. He glances around at the other customers, but I’m in this moment. If I don’t keep looking at him he might disappear again.
Someone hands me my boxes. I hear him say thank you. That voice. Something in me knows it, but it’s deepened, morphed, a man’s. And I missed it. I missed it all.
He leads me out of the queue, whispering explanations to people who are just blurs to me. We sit down. I see he’s still never mastered wrapping. His corners are sloppy and his bows limp. He shifts the packages in his arms. There might be a girlfriend – there are handwritten labels, letters curling with cutesy flicks. To Sarah, I read, Love Joe and Eliza.
“Where have you been?” I ask again. He hands me a tissue. “Twenty years, Joe… where have you…” I swallow my anger, but it’s stuck.
“I couldn’t find you,” he says, reaching for my hand. “They wouldn’t tell me where you’d gone, I asked, I looked, but by the time I got out it was too late.”
I grip his hand. The last time I saw him it fit in my whole palm. Now I’m gripping his fingers. There’s something hard, cool, under my fingertips. A ring. A ring. I stare. I’ve missed so much. Too much.
And the prompt was:
An estranged mother and son who haven’t seen or spoken to each other in more than twenty years meet in line at the post office in December, arms full of packages to be mailed. What do they say to each other?
Let me know what you think!