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All the Ways We’re Hurting

Story by Emma Brankin (Read author interview) March 21, 2022

Art by Stacy Guinn

My living room is filled with too many family members with too many opinions who all say ‘Ellie, your son is a nightmare, you have to do something before it’s too late’ so I listen with a set jaw and blank eyes as each person states their case mentioning such times as when he flushed his uncle’s prescriptions pills down the toilet, bit his friend’s ear in drama class, got caught stealing five DVDs and a Coca-Cola, showed pornography to his cousins and, his most recent offence, hacking into my Facebook and updating my status to say ‘Ellie Ray is a Dirty fukin wHORE’ and they load the post onto their phones, thrust its cruel glow into my face and ask ‘it’s been up all day, why haven’t you deleted it yet?’

My family wait, expecting my face to crumple, but I am looking at the corner of the room at the new chip in the plastering and something akin to shame skuttles down my spine as I re-hear last night’s sick thud of skull bounding off that exact spot after my fifteen-year-old son told me he wanted nothing to do with me, that I disgusted him, that his father had told him the reason he has a new wife and son was because I cheated, I ripped the family’s stitches out, so he’s going to go live with his dad now, he’ll never have to see me again and there was such a swell in his whippet-thin frame, such vile pleasure spiking across his soft, sweet face that when he spat out the word ‘slag’, I saw his father standing there, lost in screams, leashes of spittle dragging across his wild, angry mouth… so I propelled myself forwards and pushed my son, pushed him too hard, momentarily forgetting that he was not his father, not even a man, still a half-formed boy stunted by the bitterness of a marriage that died with no dignity. And my child stumbled backwards with wide eyes and a hand stretching out for help, he connected sharply with the wall and whimpered while flailing, fists like a typhoon, desperate to keep me away, and, as I rushed forward to hold him, he smacked into my cheek hard in his panicked, wild, relentless force.

I continue to stare at the chip in my wall, ignoring the intervention’s expectant stares. I wonder where my son is, in what particular ways he’s hurting and think of how relieved my family will be when I confess that he’s gone now, he can’t outrage and upset them anymore. But. I give him a bit more time, I let him find himself in the dark, sit with his rage and his broken plate of a heart, let him make phone calls to his father, let him learn how wanted he really is. I must give him this silence, this space, because, really, what else can I do?

And, finally, I start to cry.

I touch my face where he struck me, the same part of my cheek his small, rosy hand used to reach out and stroke when I rocked him to sleep. And I wish he had hit me harder. I wish it had left a bruise.

About the Author

Emma Brankin is a teacher from Glasgow, Scotland with a Masters in Creative Writing and Education from Goldsmiths College, University of London. She was recently shortlisted for the Bridport Prize’s Short Story Contest as well as winning Fugue Fiction‘s Short Story prize and the To Hull And Back Short Story contest. Other work has appeared in places such as Reflex, X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine and Maudlin House. You can contact her on Twitter via @emmanya

About the Artist

Stacy Guinn is an Illinois-based photographer whose work explores the transience of life and the traces of emotion we leave behind in places, clothing, and forgotten possessions.

This story appeared in Issue Seventy-Five of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Seventy-Five

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