‘Oooh look, Mr Tiddles, we’re getting some new neighbours! Won’t that be nice.’ Meryl fusses over her cat, a fat ginger tabby that she keeps her strength up by carrying around. ‘We’ll bake some cakes to take around, how does that sound?’ Mr Tiddles just stretches in her arms, pawing softly at the air. She puts him down onto the ground and he looks up at her as if she’s committed a cardinal sin. ‘Don’t go pulling that face. You’ve got legs!’
He sniffs, and stalks away. She stretches her liver-spotted arms, the joints and tendons fighting every motion. Age sneaked up on her. She’d been young and vibrant only yesterday, she’d swear it in a court of law, but now look at her.
Her hair is grey and lifeless, where once it was luscious and blonde. Every movement is a war, her thoughts getting twisted in the pathways of her mind. She huffs and puffs her way back into the house, shuffling steps up to the back door.
‘Excuse me?’ A voice calls from behind her. ‘Excuse me?’ She turns around and stops dead. It’s his face. He hasn’t aged a day since Callum took him away. ‘Umm… My dad said that I had to come and say hello to our neighbours. We’re moving in next door!’ The child is clutching a teddy bear. He can’t be older than six.
‘Oh, he-hello.’ She stammers, taken aback. ‘What’s your name?’
‘I’m Henry. And this is Mr Bear.’ The child says quickly, holding out the toy. Of course it was called Mr Bear. She’d bought David that bear on his fourth birthday. Seen it in a charity shop. Callum had hated it, but David had absolutely adored it. It went everywhere with him.
‘Henry! Come on, come inside!’ A strong male voice echoes from the back door. A big man follows it, scooping up the child. ‘I’m ever so sorry. He’s not been bothering you, has he?’ He points his finger lovingly at his son, who cracks into a huge smile. ‘You’d better not have been or I’ll have to stop… Pudding!’ The child runs back into the house, laughing and screaming ‘Noooo. The pudding!’
The man turns back to me over the fence. ‘I did mean it, I really hope he’s not been a pest. The name’s David. David Harkness.’
‘Meryl. Meryl Barhill.’ She’s staring. She knows she’s staring but she just can’t stop. It has to be him. ‘I’ve got to go. I have bread in…’ It sounds feeble in her ears.
‘That’s fine. Would you be free later? We’re planning a little get together for all our neighbours. You can meet the wife.’
She stammers a quick response before rushing into the house. She’s breathing fast, her prisoner heart hammering against the bars of her rib cage. She would recognise it anywhere.
The last time she’d seen it she’d been screaming and crying as Callum drove away. That little face pressed to the rear windscreen, pudgy little hand waving as he’d driven out of her life. She’d turned back to the bottle for a long time, lost years to it as she pined for her son. For the life that Callum had legally taken away. No access, no visitation. Just the knowledge that her beautiful baby boy was growing up in the world somewhere.
It had to be him. A memory from when she was young and vibrant. But here he was, moving into the house next door.
She shuffled to the shower, looking at all the photos she had on the way. She would go around later. Find out everything she could about David Harkness.
Though she could already tell anyone most of the important things. It was her baby boy.
The Idiot in Tin Foil