A lot can happen in a second.
So the phone rings, when I am in my office. ‘Is that Spider-boy’s mother?’ says a voice I don’t know. She has used his full name and her tone is neutral. I pause. Just for a second. Catching a bit of breath in the back of my throat. I can feel in that shift of air uncertainty in my voice.
My arms begin to goose up. This all happens very fast, but also, very slowly. I take that second and stretch it out. Twist and turn it, bend it through force of will. Now it stretches out for ever to the horizon and over, like Route 66, or an enormous ocean. It spreads around and keeps everything still, inhabiting a space between one movement and another, spilling into the gaps between ordered time. I cling to it.
Why do I do this? It is at once involuntary, and I realize, a very deliberate last line of defence. That catch of uncertainty is actually hesitation. Not because I don’t know I’m his mother, or even because I don’t know who I’m talking to. It is something more complex but simple. As my mind plays with time, I find I’m actually trying to barter for it. To stall, to hold on, to keep the ‘now’ in all its complacent bob-bob-bobbing-along-ness alive.
Because even though it is usually nursery with a minor bump, or the doctor’s surgery confirming an appointment, or the play scheme people or the health visitor, there’s always a chance that it could be something else. Something properly, unthinkably bad and terrible like all this Godawful news at the moment. A situation where my life would be forever changed.
I feel oddly haunted by Amy Winehouse’s death, partly because as a friend noted she was still a baby herself. 27. Who knows exactly what they want or how to do things at 27? Not many of us. But also because of her Dad, floating above the clouds as the world discussed his daughter’s death on social network sites hungry for gossip, devouring speculative tit-bits including the fact that he didn’t know yet. And it seemed so wrong and indecent, that we should know before him. But at the same time? He had those hours. Just a couple, but all those minutes and seconds where, for him, she was still alive, where his life wasn’t ruined, where he understood the parameters of his stress and his life without his heart being broken to crumbs.
And so, in my office, I cling to my second, to the world as it was ‘the last time I checked’. To a world where my lovely boys were safe enough, and my husband too for that matter.
I think about the one whom I only got to kiss this morning while he was still asleep, hair glossy, face relaxed, cheeks warm and befuzzled like a peach, and who I think might have gone to nursery without a cardigan as I didn’t leave one out. And the other, smaller one, who woke early enough to have a feed and a cuddle just after my alarm call, all coy morning smiles and neck rubs and kisses before giving his father a hard time when I left. And I hope, with the sick through my stomach, metal tasting slightly dizzy hope, that when I’ve been apart from them, nothing has changed, nothing has happened.
I think how much we trust in others and the world when we let them out of our sight. I remember that we have to let them roam outside our eye-line, and that if we didn’t, we’d do them a huge disservice.
I think it is such a rotten cliché, being called up at work, like the dreaded phone call in the middle of the night, but I am cowed by its potency. I understand why my Dad prefers it when we’re all asleep under one roof, when his girls, who have long moved out of home, are back where they should be, all together.
And then I summon my courage as I’m just out of time, no more can be bought or played for.
‘Yes’ I say. ‘I’m Spider-boy’s mother’
‘He has a place in his after school club,’ says a secretary from his new school. ‘Starting in September. Call in to the office to confirm it at the start of term.’
What can I say, but ‘Thank you’?