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The Carrot of Doom Presents... Desperate Measures

Living in the mind of Karen Dunn

Last night I wished Him dead.

In a moment of howling despair I prayed to God to make Him better or take Him away, and now I’m afraid to open the bedroom door in case he listened.

The day, while no worse than any other, had been fraught enough to push me over the edge.

Never one to pray for anything for myself or others, that pounding day had dissolved into night as I huddled outside His room and begged the Lord to answer the worst possible prayer.

Too many things today had been out of synch, just this side of the norm, for Him to cope, and I had borne the brunt of His frustration as usual while His father escaped to work and His brother sought solace with friends and normal adventures.

I remember when He was born - all mothers do.

No matter how many years pass, no matter how many children they bring into the world, they remember each first breath, each first cry as if it were yesterday.

He didn’t cry. Not at first.

He curled up against me in a feral moment of blood and warmth and tried to go to sleep. He looked so peaceful that it was almost a shame when some one slapped His foot and brought on the first heaving breath and a healthy pink howl.

He was never peaceful again. Even in sleep a frown would wrinkle His face as if He was annoyed with the whole world.

We muddled through the extra challenges that life with Him would often bring, and until yesterday I had never even toyed with the idea of despair.

But for one eternal second I almost lost Him, and consequence of that gut-wrenching moment proved one burden too many.

Calling on God Almighty to take Him back to that special place that he reserves for children was my coward’s way of refusing to accept responsibility.

“You want Him so badly, you damned well come and get Him.”

That way it wouldn’t be my fault, and I could weep and wail the grieving mother role without a prick to my conscience.

The car had been so big and there had been too many people in the way. I couldn’t reach Him.

I had told Him to wait, told Him not to leave my side while I paid for some unimportant nonsense, but He had wandered as soon as my eyes left His.

He’s six years old, for God’s sake. He should know by now. He should be aware. But He’s not.

He should sleep at night, but He doesn’t. He should be able to tie a button, pull a zip, clip a belt, but He can’t.

He should come to me for comfort when He is upset or hurt. He should comfort me when I cry at sad songs or slushy films, but He doesn’t. And He never will.

If it hadn’t been for the swift action of a faceless stranger it would have all been over. Done with.

As my eyes locked with the panicked stare of the driver, he stepped in front of the car, this knight in Burberry and denim, and swept Him up in the crook of one arm, a day’s shopping heaving in the plastic bags looped tightly over the other.

The car stopped an inch from the hero’s leg and, while others hurried to congratulate him on his actions - “You beat me to it, mate.” “Good job you were there, mate.” “Some people shouldn’t be allowed to have children. Poor little mite didn’t stand a chance.” - I stood and stared at the driver and wondered whether I would have cried if she had been travelling just a little faster.

His screams snapped my eyes away from the trembling gaze of the woman behind the wheel.

He was struggling against His erstwhile saviour, demanding to be put down.

Flinching as His kicks connected with unprotected knees, I stepped from the crowd and accepted Him.

His screaming did not stop as I led Him away, dozens of pairs of eyes boring into my back - accusing, concerned, disgusted.

We stopped outside the supermarket to remove His jacket - it had been creased during the drama and was therefore unwearable - then began the walk home, the screaming silenced.

When it began to rain I didn’t even bother to offer the jacket, knowing it would be turned down with a wail of frustration.

He was shivering by the time we got home but now was not bath time so an improvised game of hide-and-seek beneath His duvet ensured He soon warmed up.

He helped me tidy the house, as He always has; His room first, then Michael’s, then ours; carefully rolling pairs of socks into balls and arranging them in neat rows on the bed while I dusted and straightened and wished He was at school so I could get out the vacuum cleaner and do the job properly.

I found Michael’s diary whilst picking up marbles and action figures and comics.

I didn’t mean to find it - I didn’t know what it was until I saw my name written in smudged black ink on one of the pages, and by then it was too late to put it down and pretend I’d never seen it.

He has kept a diary since infant school - a homework project that struck a chord and became a nightly habit.

He never let me read it.

“It’s private.”

Shoulders straight and chin raised, he had looked me in the eye, silently pleading with me to recognize this first step towards growing up.

I never betrayed his trust. Never went sneaking into his room when he was at school.

I didn’t even know what the thing looked like until it fell open in my hands.

Turning it over in my hands, I smiled at the hotchpotch of enthusiastically glued pictures that graced the cover; Bart Simpson baring his bum at this season’s line-up of Chelsea football club while a dragon and a unicorn battled it out over a deck of Yu-Gi-Oh cards.

The front door slammed, snatching me from my inspection of boyhood treasures and my face fell when I stepped out onto the landing, Michael’s diary forgotten in my hand.

I had not realised how late it was - His father was home.

Although He was the picture of serenity at the moment, with balls of socks lined up before Him, one wrong word could switch His mood, and His father had an unconscious knack for flicking that switch.

Today, though, no amount of damage control would have helped.

I should have known, should have guessed.

He was glaring at me, his coat not even off his shoulders.

One of his drinking buddies had been in town today.

The coat fell to the floor.

He saw a boy who looked just like Him run in front of a car. Almost got Himself killed while His mother stood there like a lemming.

“It’s alright, Daniel…”

“What happened?”

“He ran off. He sometimes does that…”

“You’re always making excuses for Him.”

He had stormed into Michael’s room then, his face like thunder, his temper unleashed.

He didn’t touch Him - he never touched Him - just swept the neat rows of balled-up socks from the bed and ordered Him to His own room.

The scream that spewed from Him was nothing to do with His father’s anger and everything to do with the decimation of an afternoon’s obsessive work.

I was ridiculously pleased that none of the socks were His, for He would never have worn them again, meaning more expense when the contents of his underwear drawer had to be replaced.

He tore past me, a ball of fury, slamming His bedroom door hard, and I once again fought down hatred for the man I had vowed to love for all time.

He was staring at His door.

“What the hell is wrong with him? Why is he like that?”

“I don’t know.”

“You must know. How can you not know? He’s with you all the time. Why is he like this?”

“Daniel, you know what they said…”

“No! Michael’s not like this. We never had any of this crap with him.”

“I know.”

“Well, what did you do different this time?”

“This isn’t my fault.”

“Well it isn’t mine. You’re the one bringing him up. You’re the one he learns from. Why is he like this?”

“You know why he’s like this - you know what they said. I don’t know how to fix it.”

“Well, you’d better work out how because I don’t need this. I get home from work and the first thing I hear is him screaming and I really don’t need it.”

“And how do you think I feel? You’re never here - you don’t have to put up with the screaming and shouting. You don’t have to watch him banging his head against things and not being able to tell you why. At least you get a break. Nothing I say or do helps him and I can’t put up with you shouting at me too.”

For the first time in our lives, the look in his eyes had scared me.

“Sort him out and quick, or you’ll be managing on your own.”

“Don’t say that.

“If I come home tomorrow and he’s playing up…”

“He’s you’re son! This isn’t a problem that will just go away. They said…”

“I don’t care what they said! Diagnosing crap they know nothing about. He’s no Rain Man, he’s a brat and it’s your fault. So now you can sort it.”


The door had slammed too loudly when he stormed from the house, the glass rattling in its frame, and I was left alone, one hand on the handle of His door, the other reaching out to a husband who seemed to do nothing but run away from us.

The angry cries that filled His room were joined by the familiar sound of hollow, frustrated thuds as heels and head were slammed into the mattress.

I wanted to go to Him…

A muffled sob from the foot of the stairs drew my frantic gaze to Michael, his sweat-soaked hair and muddy clothes telling the tale of a football match fought and won.

He was slumped on the bottom stair, his head buried in his arms, his mind no doubt heaving with the implications of another fight between mum and dad.

Both sons needed their mother but only one of them knew it and would allow the comfort of being enveloped in loving arms, wordless lullabies hummed softly as tears turned to hiccups and drifted into sleep.

Michael had scrambled up the stairs when I called to him, trying hard to hide the tears that were running trails through the dirt on his face.

Holding him to me, one hand stroking his head as his heaving sobs soaked my dress, I had pushed open the door and called to Him.


The scream was pure fury.

He jumped down from his bed and hurled Himself at the door, slamming it hard, only just missing my fingers.

I heard his bed squeak as he threw himself back on to it, and then the thumping started again as his head and feet pounded into the mattress.

Michael pushed himself away from me, wiping furiously at the treacherous tears that streaked his face, making him look so much like a little boy who needed his mum.

“I hate him!”

He had stormed into his own room and slammed the door behind him, leaving me wondering whether he was talking about his father or his brother.

And in that one moment it became too much.

Silent tears chasing each other down my face, I sank, boneless, to the floor, eyes turned heavenward to a God I wasn’t sure I believed in.

“Please, God.”

My voice caught in my throat, the words too heavy to come easily.

“Please, God. If you can’t make him better then please…please…take him away.”

It was only when I buried my head in my hands to sob out my guilt in private that I remembered the diary.

Michael’s handwriting was obsessively neat, mistakes covered over with Tipex and then that covered over with his tiny letters.

In some places the letters were almost too small to read but they told a story that broke my heart.

It was all here. Every film we had had to leave early because his brother was playing up; every meal we had left uneaten because the restaurant staff hadn’t understood that food is inedible if the beans soak into the mashed potato; every fun fair we had given a wide berth because it was too loud; every fight battled out by mum and dad in teeth-clenched whispers over his brother’s latest failure to be a normal boy.

Every telling off he had received because they had been fighting and it had been easier to chastise the one who understood.

And still between every slight borne by his childhood there were tales of laughter.

Innocent mistakes and mispronounced words danced from the pages ­- the ‘five cold things’ and ‘two tutu ducks’ that graced His version of The Twelve Days of Christmas were still fresh enough to raise a chuckle.

And then there were the moments of black and white justice - right and wrong with no in-between that only brought a laugh when looked back on later.

“You a bad man!”

I could still hear His righteous indignation as our neighbour stole a moment to sneak in a crafty watering of his wilting geraniums one long, hot summer, in violation of a newly-imposed hosepipe ban.

“You a bad man! You not use a nosepipe. Mummy tell the council man.”

Michael and I had giggled from the safety of the kitchen, ready to duck out of sight, while He - all four-and-a-half years of Him - had tackled our ex-Army, hard-man neighbour over the rights and wrongs of preventing ones geraniums from dying of thirst.

I think I was still smiling at the memory when I drifted off to sleep, my head resting against the frame of His door, the diary slipping from my fingers.

I woke from a night of dreams that were filled with Him and the inadvertently silly things He did that had made me smile.

And then I remembered the prayer.

Last night I wished Him dead - this morning I am desperately wishing Him alive.

The door to His room opens easily, silently, the room hazy in the early morning sunshine.

One hand still on the door handle, I watch for any sign of movement from the little lump in the bed, swaddled in a duvet - any sign of life.


Then His face appears from beneath the cloud of bedding, His blond hair a tousled mess.

He frowns as He blinks sleep from His eyes, wondering what has woken Him.

Then the frown melts into a smile and He grins at me, “’Lo mummy.”

And I want to cry with the joy that we have all lived to fight another day.

If His father returns, we will deal with it; if His coat becomes unbearably wrinkled, we will iron it; if His beans touch His mashed potato, we will cook more.

What ever happens we will face it together until He learns how to face it Himself.

I smile at Him, yesterday’s adventures forgotten; new challenges ahead.

“Hello, Jack.”