"It'll make a great car!"
We looked at the box, a large cardboard egg box that arrived in the garden by some mysterious means. Our hands held, he to my right. Two figures locked in a time warp of our own. I marvelled at the imagination of a five year olds mind.
"Just cut the sides for windows and a bit for my feet." His excitement had an infectious nature and, for a moment, I too, could see the prospects of the box. Wheels were not required to transport his spirit far from the realm of the garden with its neatly manicured lawn and trim borders. How easily it is for a child to go to far-flung corners where no man has trodden. A spark, an object, some piece of debris and they are instantly thousands of miles away.
As we stood there, I wished I had the same capability, but needed it to be for real and not the fantasy of imagination. I wanted to be elsewhere. A new place, anywhere, but somewhere without the problems that faced me now.
The treatment had cleaned us out. So many days, nights and weeks at the Hospital. Tests and more tests. Treatments and more treatments. It seemed that each cost more than the last and each specialist doubled in charges. The house had gone, as had the business and our car. Susan had sold her jewellery and the only other thing that had any value, a painting by some Scottish artist. The picture had been almost sepia in colour and lurking in the uniform brownness were Angus cattle on a hillside. We hated it, but had kept it because it belonged to her Grandmother and had been handed down via her Mother.
My stamps went quite early, back in the days of James still being just sickly, right at the start of trying to find the cause of his seemingly constant illnesses. Although neither one of us had counted the total to date, a rough estimate had to be around seventy thousand. There was nothing left now. Susan had gone back to work to try and support us. She hated it, working alongside young girls with nothing on their minds but sex, makeup and going out at the weekend clubbing. Technology had moved on in the six years since she had left to start a family. Computers had taken over completely in the office. Instead of a typewriter sitting on the desk, it was now a smart screen and keyboard. The telephone came over a headset and coffee came from a machine in the middle of the floor in a vending area.
Moving house had seemed exciting, a new beginning. We had to rent in the private sector because I earned too much to get help from the Council. Since the company folded, that no longer held true, but it seems, we still didn't qualify, not enough points they said. God knows what scores enough points, although it had been said that if I had been a one legged alien with lesbian tendencies, I would have got a place, just like that. Even in the midst of the seriousness of our situation, I smiled at the thought of mincing into the Housing office with a Halloween mask on. The humour would have been completely lost on the automatons that habituate the other side of the desk.
It was uncertain how long we could continue renting a flat with two bedrooms and a bathroom big enough to touch all four walls if you lie down and spread eagled. Susan and my diets had gone to crap. Fast food and hurried meals were telling on our waists and skin. I suppose the anxiety had a lot to do with the constant eruptions on our faces, but it was quite positive that too many McDonalds eaten on the run helped to push spots of volcanic proportions out.
James flipped the lid of the box, peered over the edge and then entered head first, using his hands to break what could have been a serious fall. Surprisingly, the box held together. Although none of the doctors could tell us why, bruises on James became a serious problem and would stay for weeks, sometimes breaking into sores and weeping watery blood.
His muffled voice urged me to get to work and create him this super fast machine. I had to lift him out in case I accidentally cut him with the penknife that was to be the tools of a production line. I even remembered to cut a small back screen. Two roughly square holes in the sides served as passenger and driver windows, while a larger oblong cut formed the windscreen. I lifted the driver back into his top of the range, latest all gadget, extreme machine. Brrrrrrrrrmmmmmmm emanated from the sides and flashes of his hands, sawing at the steering wheel. James was in the fast lane and the foot was firmly planted to the floor.
"Right!" He screamed. "Lets see what this suckers got!" Again I marvelled at the imagination and at the same time, felt a little guilty for the exposure to television that taught him the street language of American movies.
Too bad he would never get to drive a real car. The thought came unbidden and brought yet another hic and a burning behind the eyes. A second thought followed that it was probably just as well he wouldn't get to drive if this style was any example. How can anyone think like that? I wondered for a millionth time. One second, so sad and in the next split, coming up with a funny. Sad and guilty, simultaneously. Was I getting used to it? Or was I uncaring? No, that was never the case; perhaps my brain was trying to relieve some of the strain.
It was clear he would be driving and terrorising the pedestrians and other road users in his minds eye for some time. I turned and headed back to the kitchen. I could watch him from the window while I got dinner ready. For the first time in weeks, we were going to sit down around the table and share a mealtime together. I had even eked out a few extra pounds and bought a couple of scented candles to grace the table centre, while food was going to be real lamb chops with a rosemary and honey glaze. Susan would appreciate that; it had been the rational for spending a little extra.
James tired from driving from one end of the world to another and wailed when he realised I had gone back to the kitchen even though I had told him just about the same time as he was flying over an open bridge or a canyon, so I guessed it hadn't registered.
Susan came home at last. Her feet were killing her she said. How is James and what's for dinner? I held her and caressed her hair. I had always loved the way she did it. Held back plaited in the French style. Her natural highlights seemed to be accentuated in that manner, although some grey was just starting to appear. I felt guilty for that too. Jesus, but she was only thirty-two and going grey already. I felt guilty for feeling guilty. Wasn't that a form of self-pity after all? In all the trials we were experiencing, not once had Sushi (a nick name), ever employed self-pity. Hadn't she been the strong one? Only crying at night when she thought I was asleep. I was not allowed to comfort her in these times, it was a private grief, but I wanted to hold her, cling to her and share the burden of emotion. I knew though, as she did, I would just unload my sorrow and guilt, heaping it on her.
I only had to think back to the moment the doctor told us in a small cubicle sized private office, that James would not see his next birthday. I remember doing the mathematics and screaming in anguish, "That's only six months away!" I remember how I howled, I remember how I broke down and I remember my wicked thoughts when I looked at Sushi who had sat there in rigid shock, with no outward emotion for either her son's impending death sentence or the evident grief of her husband. I remember thinking that it was supposed to be her who fell apart and me who should be the one to remain staid and comforting. I remember the feelings of role reversal and the realisation of inadequacy.
Susan pried James from a light sleep in his special cot and brought him into the kitchen. His appetite had all but vanished some time ago. Pills and drugs filled the spaces I suppose. Trips to McD'S had no interest these days. Occasionally though, it was possible to tempt him into eating enough to subsist. The smell of the honey glazing seemed to awaken an old longing and two bottoms sat down in anticipation quick smart.
"You should have seen my car Mummy, it goes really fast and beat the crap outta anything on the road." James's face lit up with his remembered experience and he completely missed the fact that a naughty word had escaped him.
"James, we don't use words like that in this house." Susan mildly admonished him while looking at me as if to ask if I was teaching him these little snippets of street vernacular.