SON [SHORT STORY]
Eleanor didn’t know exactly what Son would go on to become. How could you know?
But, even on the day of his birth, she felt a coldness and distance that forewarned her of the problems to come with Son. Most mothers put it down to post-natal depression and move on. But Eleanor felt something deeper as she looked upon Son. Eleanor felt a chill, a fright, lingering anxiety that said that all will not be well with this one.
A few days later, when she took Son and herself home from the hospital, she made sure that Hugh spent all day with Son. Eleanor meanwhile, cried herself dry in the bedroom. She spent that week tossing and turning in bed and asking God why she can’t bear the sight of her own child.
Eleanor didn’t love Son from day one.
Not because she was a cold and crappy mother incapable of love but because she felt something dark and unlovable emanating from Son. Something that only she could feel, it was impossible to love him. Hugh didn’t see, he didn’t sense it nor feel it. But Hugh wasn’t a good husband and Eleanor was doubtful that he would be neither good nor insightful father. Hugh was a man too quick-tempered and too easily agitated. A son as difficult as Son would be a challenge for the likes of Hugh and Hugh didn’t have the temperament to manage Son.
She couldn’t give Son up however nor give Son away, the judgemental mist that would cloud over Eleanor and deem her a ‘bad mother’ gave such fears that she was more willing to raise a Son she didn’t love and was petrified of than have her in-laws, her own mother, her aunties and the community look upon her as a degenerate that would dare to give up her own child.
And so, she raised Son with Hugh.
Eleanor first realised her fears about Son when he was four and Son first started painting. Son always wanted to paint with the dark colours, the dark tones, the blacks and the browns. It seemed asinine at first but Eleanor soon realised that Son was drawn to the darkness. Son was compelled by the darkness. The paintings themselves were horrific. Painting at a quality much further advanced than that of a four-year-old, Son painted pictures of scruffy beasts with long tails and sharpened red teeth swallowing a blackened mist.
Eleanor wasn’t even sure where Son would conjure up such imagery. She never played anything inappropriate on the television for him. She once found Star Wars too offensive for Son and demanded that Hugh turn it off immediately during the scene where the young girl was chained and bound as a slave to the giant slug.
And yet, somehow – despite having never seen anything of this nature, Son still had the imagery in his head of beasts swallowing mortals and would paint them in darkened tones of angry infantile rage. It horrified Eleanor. Hugh never saw what Eleanor saw in these paintings and would beam with paternal pride at the artistic skill of this young boy.
The confirmation of Eleanor’s fears occurred when Son killed the babysitter Donna, a mere young girl of seventeen. And in retrospect, Eleanor should have done something about Son there and then. But she didn’t, she fucking well didn’t and now she only has herself to blame for what came after.
It was Hugh that wanted to cover it up. Hugh didn’t want Son taken away from them and not for this.
A young seventeen-year-old babysitter that goes missing on the way home, they’ll never suspect us, they’ll blame a boyfriend. Hugh said.
Eleanor can still see the blood dripping from her own hands when she thinks back to that day, her knees caked in dried blood, as she scrubbed Son’s bedroom floor.
The day she found Donna’s throat sliced from her left ear right through to the right ear. The blood seeping out from the open wound and Son staring up at her. Son, aged just nine years old, the broken shard of glass left on the bed in a tiny puddle of blood, soaking through the sheets.
Son was smiling, a terrific and large smile. The blood had dried by the time Eleanor entered that room, Hugh and she had just come back from the cinema to find Donna that way. The second Son was left alone, he struck, and he struck hard and fast and slashed this poor teenage girl’s throat.
Hugh dumped Donna’s body in the quarry uptown while Eleanor cleaned the bedroom of all the blood – it took ten hours. The sheets and mattress burned to an unidentifiable black.
Eleanor wanted to hand Son in straight away but Hugh was resistant. He didn’t want to give up Son over this, accidents happen; we don’t know what Donna did to cause this herself.
It could be her fault. She got violent, or sexual. We just don’t know.
Hugh had all his hopes pinned on Son and he wasn’t going to give up on him. Hugh constructed himself a lie about Son and sat atop it.
Donna only lived half a mile away and could easily get grabbed on the way home. Hugh ran through the story over and over again with Eleanor.
We will just look like selfish bastards that should have given her a lift home.
But that was enough judgement for Eleanor to kick her back into an anxiety-ridden, agoraphobic depression.
She locked herself indoors for the next few years.
They did get away with it though. Donna’s body was drained from the quarry and an ex-boyfriend named David Hawthorne got pinched and sentenced for the murder. Hugh standing right in the court and fingering David, making sure he made up some bullshit about seeing him outside the house as Eleanor left it. The harassing and threatening text messages David was sending Donna in a rejected rage had saved Son, Hugh and Eleanor. It gave David a motive and the family and the police used this to railroad the boy.
Despite Hugh’s optimism that he would change, Eleanor knew otherwise. She knew Son. She knew he’d never change. And now she was trapped in an agoraphobic relationship with a child she feared and hated.
The next the incident was at the local football club. Son was eleven now and playing in goal for Corinthians F.C Under-11s. Son loved football. It was great to see him so passionate about something for a time; he almost started to resemble a normal child. He collected the cards, the stickers, played video games and every evening would go down to the park with friends and a ball. The only problem was that Son wasn’t very good. Wasn’t good at all. He was so weak and scrawny that he couldn’t make a challenge for the ball without being sent flying across the field, so they put him in goal.
As goalkeeper Son failed too, he was clumsy and gangly and the Corinthians lost every match by five or six goals. The manager Simon was harsh on Son. Used to call him names and heckle him from the sidelines every time a goal went in. Hugh knew Simon from work and it was in Hugh’s interest not to defend Son from this man but try and fight the abuse with positive heckles. Simon would drown them out every single match and Hugh was unwilling to fight for Son.
When a new keeper named Robert was called in, they threw Son out of goal and put him on the bench. Son didn’t play again for the rest of the season. Son soon regressed into anger and bitterness. The bitterness culminating in the football club catching fire. Nobody knew what caused the roof of the changing rooms to spontaneously catch ablaze. They sent three arson investigators in to see if it was an insurance scam but nothing was confirmed.
What was even worse was that Simon was inside at the time of the fire. Simon, working the child’s football teams like it his full-time job. Spending every spare minute he had inside the changing rooms and writing up strategies and tactics. They just found themselves in a fifteen game win streak after Son was taken out of goal and Simon was relishing the managerial success, making sure he devoted every second to maintaining the streak.
Simon died of smoke inhalation and was fortunately dead before the fire started melting away at his body. A painful and torturous death was avoided for a quick and uncomfortable one. In some ways, Simon got lucky.
Son told Eleanor that he didn’t like football anymore after that. Eleanor understood that the traumatic events would turn anyone off. Son said that he was more focused on painting and this is what we wanted to spend his time doing. Eleanor was pleased that despite the horrors of Son’s early years, he’d found himself invested in passions and hobbies.
Son held up his most recent ‘art’.
It was magnificent. Eleanor was astounded that a young boy made this – it was almost unbelievable. It was so lifelike and so vibrant.
It was also, the football club on fire.
The detail of the terrain and picturesque angling of the viewpoint and realistic thatching of the roof set against the fourth-dimensional feel of the blaze itself caused Eleanor to shudder and take the painting from Son. She told him that she’d keep it in the basement so that it would be safe up there and out of the eyes of any jealous critics that may have something to say about Son’s art.
Our little secret. She said and Son nodded in telepathic agreement.
She knew, she looked into Son’s eyes and saw the reflective orange from the painting’s colouring and knew instantly. It was the babysitter all over again.
As Son got older, Eleanor gave Son more independence and began to gain some herself.
Eleanor took it in small steps. Leaving the house for the first time, to go to the shops and face the prying eyes and whispered words head-on (or were they words merely in Eleanor’s head).
Before long Eleanor was more comfortable out of the house and away from Son than in it and around him. She then enrolled in night school and begun forging herself as a career-woman. Juggling a husband and teenage child. She almost felt like she got a part of herself back. The part that Son had taken away.
Eleanor got a job as a paralegal for a law firm. She worked long hours and Hugh decided to work from home and help to carry the parenting. Hugh knew that Eleanor was a half-arsed mother petrified of her son. But, this way, the income could remain steady and Hugh would always be on hand to look after Son.
Hugh didn’t have the behavioural issues that Eleanor had with Son. Son was a good son around Hugh. Hugh had the temper and ferocity to bark orders at the boy and the boy always obeyed his father. Son knew that Eleanor had those deep deep fears of her own child and was wilfully disobedient to her. Son thrived on being able to hold any sway of power over those fearful to him.
But Son wasn’t always going to toe the line with Hugh. Especially as Son got older and the darkness within would sporadically appear in violent and sudden bursts. Like everything that came before, Son was always going come to boil with those that stood in his way.
It would happen again…
For a time things somehow slipped back into normality. Not the previous normality of Son’s lingering carnage but the normality that Eleanor dreamed of when she was pregnant. Actual normality.
Hugh had mellowed with the passing years. Staying at home and helping with Son’s development had calmed him. Son hid whatever darkness compelled him and was becoming a respectable young adult. The teachers praised Son’s intellect and aptitude. They saw great potential in Son, and marvelled at the well-mannered child that stayed attentive and quiet during lessons when all the other children didn’t. And Eleanor, for the first time since she had Son, began to wonder if the babysitter, the football club and all of her initial loathing were just some hazy, unreliable recollection she’d given herself and that she had actually given birth to the kind of child mothers wanted to give birth to and he was now blossoming into the kind of man that serves society well.
But how could you forget something like murder. You couldn’t. And any time Eleanor began with such wistful meandering, she remembered the bloody, open neck of a seventeen-year-old girl that was getting paid twenty quid to watch a young boy and lost her life as a result. A young boy that had the gumption to slice broken glass through a human throat before he could even say the alphabet.
And inevitably, Son will likely strike again…
Eleanor returned home from work and there was Son in the kitchen. Fifteen years old. He was casually holding a pair of scissors in his hands and running them under the tap. Eleanor knew immediately. She’d been here too many times before and saw that cocky, satisfactory presence that Son affected way too many times to not know.
Son smiled at his mother. His eyes lowered and he did that demonic thing with his head where he titled his eyes up towards her and gave a callous smile – it was the same smile she received when he sat over Donna’s mangled throat and when she was shown the fire artwork. It was that purposeful, telepathic and insidious smile that Son gave his all-knowing mother.
She didn’t even need to ask where Hugh was or what happened. She picked the phone up before anything else was said and without even seeing Hugh and the current state that Son had left him in.
Hello, my child has killed my husband. Please send someone –
Son lunged for her with the scissors and was frantically throwing his arm back and forth. He stabbed her seventy-two times. Every time the scissors made contact, a loud burst of blood would splurt up spraying Son. Son enjoyed puncturing the face most; the sense of destruction gave Son exactly what he’d been craving.
Eleanor somehow survived. Scarred up, her face covered in purple lines of violence.
Son was to be taken away somewhere, somewhere far, somewhere away from the mother that could do such a bad job that she raised the kind of child that could kill their own dad. With Hugh now dead, she took the blame for Son. Those sneering eyes and mouths around town hissed at Eleanor, once again.
The murderer’s mother.
The trial was a farce. Son was acquitted. Hugh’s violent history of bar fights and temper tantrums all came out during the trial and Eleanor’s growing resentment towards Son was regurgitated and spewed out by the defence team. They even called in the nurses from Son’s birth to testify about Eleanor’s apathetic and scornful attitude on what should have been the greatest day of her life.
Son was clearly acting in self-defence against his abusive and foul parents. NOT GUILTY.
The crappy justice system that saved Eleanor first time around condemned her as a shit parent this time around.
Three murders in and Son had played the innocent yet troubled teen and gotten away with them all. He moved far away and was given a new name, a new identity and new foster parents. Eleanor didn’t see Son again. Didn’t even know his name. Didn’t want to know. Eleanor could hazard a guess what kind of misadventure Son was engaged in now and probably still getting away with it.
It had felt like many years had passed since then and they had. Eleanor never married again, she never had any more kids and when people asked her if she had children she said no. She’d changed, the same way Son had likely changed himself. She had become a lonely spinster, regressed back to her agoraphobic, timid and fearful ways. Time healed but time also wounded. The separation of time feeling like sinking into the pointless abyss. Her career stalled and capitulated at her own wish and she was a traumatised woman desperately trying to forget the past. The past was never forgotten but was fading away at least.
That was until she looked down into the newspaper and saw the picture of an adult Son. Different name, a different identity, different everything… Older now, late-twenties, he was uglier, more world-weary, fatter and more erudite. He wore an expensive suit in the picture and was preaching to a large crowd. She could never forget the diabolical architecture of a face magnetised to evil.
Son was forming another gathering soon the article said. And then one after that. Son had followers. Nobody knew Son’s past, his present or the dark torment within his soul. Nobody except Eleanor.
Son was running for Parliament or office of some sort, some political movement that Son was at the forefront of.
She knew that despite every fear in the world, she had to see Son again, one last time. Show him her purple marked scarred up face with its twenty-seven puncture wounds and let him look upon the destructive carnage of his nature.
She drove two hundred miles to see Son speak. The crowd was huge. Thousands of people holding flags, wearing T-Shirts and handing out pamphlets all with Son’s evil mug on the front.
She watched him from atop the podium. He was already knee-deep into his speech. Son’s hands wavered about in a fury. He spoke with conviction and enraptured his audience. He spoke with flair and charisma. He had a charm and likeability that Eleanor had never seen from Son before. He was convincing. He was a convincing pod of a human being. But she knew what she’d been through with Son. She knew the real Son, not this Travis E. Howarth that he now called himself. The speech went on for forty minutes. It was full of hate and polarising ideas that sought to catapult Son’s popularity.
Midway through his, speech Son spotted her from within the crowd, as she stared back up watching him. His eyes met her in a magnetic glare and he smiled that smile.
Seeing Eleanor neither stopped Son from his flow nor caused any haltering or stutter to his mellifluous speech. Son looked at the purple lightning scars that decorated Eleanor’s face – his own handy work; he saw that frail, weak and self-effacing frown that gave him so much disgust during his formative years. Son stared at mother and mother stared back at Son. Mother saw the darkened abomination within Son’s eyes. The loathsome willingness to do man wrong in the name of nothing but chaos. The psychopath that she loathed from the first time she saw him, newly birthed and covered in embryonic ooze.
Mother stared at son and son stared at mother and there was an equal understanding of pity, of hate and of dubiety.
Son turned his attention away from his mother after a time and back to his audience.
Thank you, ladies and gentleman. And remember – a vote for me is a vote to be free.
The crowd repeated the mantra long after Son started it. They all chanted and cheered and sung out in prayer like bleats.
Everyone was drinking from the same Kool-Aid.
Eleanor walked back towards her car. She felt relieved, she was glad she laid eyes on him. She was glad that she saw the man he’d become and that she was always right and that her hunches had value. She was glad that she looked into the face of Son and that Son looked back upon her. Eleanor felt a sense of closure.
Let the world deal with Son now, I’ve had enough. He’s not my problem anymore.
Eleanor felt ready to move on and enjoy the rest of her life, scars and all.