Northwords Now Issue 36

The FREE literary magazine of the North

The Boy

by Jo Gilbert

It made a car crash out of my best friend, stretched her flat stomach like a balloon, she cursed and swigged Gaviscon like a wino from a brown paper bag for 8 months.

When it finally came out after days of false alarms, it tore her from hole to hole, 38 stitches in all and when I saw her, she looked like a cock-eyed Victorian asylum patient, all mad curls and shell-shocked. Congratulations, it’s a boy.

I’m glad it was sleeping the first time I saw it otherwise I might have accused: what the fuck did you do to my friend? I was only there to see her anyway, but didn’t say, just nodded and smiled before turning away from the wrinkled alien version of its Dad in the Moses basket.

The thing was awake next time and I didn’t coo like the others, I don’t have a maternal bone in my body and I was thirty years old and I’d never even held a baby.  

Do you want to hold him?

No.

Here.

You would have thought she’d handed me a ten-pound slug by the look on my face and I saw the baby’s face contort like mine oh fuck no its gonna start greetin. I’m nae good with babies I stated and politely handed back the living machine that did nothing but eat poop puke and cry.

As much as I tried to avoid what I called The Boy, my friend had him now and no time to herself, so The Boy went everywhere we did. I tried to be a friend and I passed things politely from the giant bag that held everything a baby would ever need and more and I took my turn at pushing the pram and feeding the thing but managed to avoid the nappies for a long time and thank God for that because that arse was stinking – how can something so small create such evil?

I had no intentions of forgiving The Boy for hurting my friend. I kept my distance, but she had other ideas. Rabid early morning calls went something like this:

Where are all the people who said they’d help me when I had this baby? You were one of them I don’t care if you’re ill, get down here! I haven’t had a fag since 5.30 this morning, where are you? The wee man has been calling for you.

Talk about a punch in the guts. Calling? For me? Why would be my first question. I made up terrible stories, refused to speak to him in baby language, told him he smells all the time and called him things like bap heid, tattie heid, muffin boy and anything else apart from his real name. I wasn’t aware that babies could ‘like’ people. He couldn’t even say my name properly. It was like a ch-ch noise and then he’d clench his whole body like he was getting an electric shock.  Apparently, that’s what he did when he was excited.

Can you take him a couple of afternoons a week?  

She was demented and needed to go back to work.  

You know I know fuck all about kids.

Oh please.  I don’t want to farm him out to people he doesn’t know.

The first time I took The Boy out on my own, I was handed four hundred pounds in cash.  To change it into pesetas for her holiday.

I trust you, she said.

The magnitude of that statement hit me like an artic lorry. In my former life as a full time professional dosser, nobody and I mean nobody, not even my own Mother would have trusted me to go to the shop with 50p for a pint of milk. I’d never have come back with it. This woman knew everything about me, my past and here she was, handing me four hundred quid of her own money and her child.  I still can’t name the feeling, but it kept me going in some of my darkest times.

He was kinda cute for a rugrat. People would comment on it all the time. He’s not mine, I’d qualify before anyone had a chance to think it. The Boy was never a whiney kid or a high-pitched squealer, aye, you know - that scream - the one that could smash glass and explode brains at the same time.  

We, I mean me and The Boy just giggled and capered, giggled and capered, giggled and capered.  It was usually me being told off for taking things too far. I tickled him mercilessly and I liked making him laugh. We began to bond, the friend wrecker and me, despite my distance he did not want to leave my side fucking hell I couldn’t even pee. I’ll just be a minute I shout as I make a run for it and I’ve hardly sat down for two seconds before his fat little sausage fingers appear under the bathroom door I’m having pee I shout, and The Boy replies with a muffled jooojooo as he tries to slide his face through the wood. Now, The Boy is making me laugh and I feel a weird flutter in my chest.

Muffin Boy would fall asleep, holding my hand from the snug car seat and my friend would get all teary eyed and think it was adorable. He’d rub my scars with such gentle concern, looking up with a frown sore bits jojo and I’d smile, all better now and walk away. What am I supposed to say? How do you explain self-harm to a toddler?  

I learned children go through stages, phases and odd behaviours, ones that aren’t as weird as my own mummy would have me believe. Bap-head went through an ‘oh, I’ll just break my heart any time someone I love’ leaves phase. Fuck’s sake, can you get him off me I plead. Mummy peels him off my leg. I’m coming back soon! I could not bear that snotty face of genuine heartbreak, awkward pat on the shoulder okay then bye love you and I scuttled away. I could still hear him screaming from around the corner. Waaah, joooojooo. I never wanted a human to have that much power over me. I wondered how my friend bears it.

My little best friend helped me defrost, become a real human. The Boy and I grew up together and he taught me how to laugh and play. He doesn’t have any hang-ups or bullshit, he just loves, unconditionally. This wee soul has taught me more about love than any other person on this planet.

Now, he’s not so wee. Twelve going on fifty and I call him by his name, but occasionally still The Boy because we think it’s funny. I told my Mum, I want to go back to uni and be a writer and I got waves of fear and panic oh my God you can’t do that what will happen if and a raft of assorted barriers as to why I couldn’t. I ran it past my brother, who is a logical Vulcan, often scolding me for being into all that ‘tree hugging hippie shite’.  He’s my voice of reason sometimes though and I got supportive, yet practical advice well how will you afford it etcetera waffle waffle.  I told my best friend and she was like yeah go for it, jack in your job you hate and do it and The Boy’s face lit up and said are you going to write a book and I said aye and without a flicker of doubt he said straight away can you dedicate it to me? He believed. So, I believed him, and here we are.

For Seamus, because he asked first.