He’s a freak. There are places we could send him. I’ve had enough.
Her husband’s words circled her mind as she guided Ben away from the wall. His knuckles were bloodied and he made a whistling sound from the back of his throat. Jacinta hadn’t strapped him to the bed as she couldn’t bear his screams. She refused to send him away. There were moments when he stilled and gazed at her with pure love, his blue eyes as guileless as a newborn. He would clutch her shirt if she tried to leave. His lanky teenage body grew as fast as his needs and confusion.
She was all he had.
Their home stood in a wide street of precision-cut nature strips. The rooms were large and airless, crammed with antiques passed down from Colin’s grandmother. He had talked about having children for years, even before they married. Rapid-fire words and hands steepled on the table.
‘Children are a blessing,’ he had said. ‘They’re a test from God, to show him how perfectly we can love.’
Yet Colin had been unable to love Ben—the bubbles of saliva at the corners of his mouth, his monosyllables and flailing limbs.
Ben rocked as she sat next to him, the mattress squeaked. Colin stood in the doorway his face maroon and lips pressed hard.
‘I told you strap him down. Honey.’
Tears stung Jacinta’s eyes and she blinked. ‘I just wanted a break from the noise. His distress. Don’t you understand?’
Ben swept the teddy bears from the pillow to the floor. He hummed and his voice broke high and low.
‘I’m warning you. My house, my rules. I want that boy restrained in the afternoons. Look what he’s done to the wall.’
Three fist-sized holes punctured the plaster. Above them a decal of bobbing sailboats.
She nodded and stroked Ben’s back. He pressed his forehead against the wall and the humming increased in volume.
To her relief, Colin disappeared. She heard thumps on the roof, the tinny warble of a transistor radio. The whine of a drill. Closing the door on Ben she walked outside and craned her head for a glimpse of him.
‘What are you doing?’
‘The air conditioner is blocked. I’m fixing it. You’d better go back in.’
Jacinta served her husband pork chops and mashed potato for dinner. His napkin was tucked into his collar and he smiled. It was unfamiliar. She hadn’t seen his mouth turn up in months and a frisson of fear crept up her back.
From the bedroom came the muffled moans of her son, strapped to the bed. She stood at the counter and ate a chop with her fingers, the grease leaked onto her chin.
‘I’m fine, thank you.’
Colin stared at her and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.
‘You’re still pretty, Jacinta. How about it?’
‘I’m fine, thank you.’
As he rose from the table she ran to their bedroom. His heavy tread pounded behind her and he seized her wrist.
‘Skittish, are we?’
She froze. ‘Leave me be, Colin.’
‘One for the road, Jacinta.’
‘What do you mean?’
He ripped her blouse. The buttons flew as he clamped his lips to her breast. She allowed her body to go limp and her mind to float. She focused on the rose-patterned sheets, the repetition of pink and green. His hot breath pulsed on her neck.
Much later, she rose to the sound of Ben’s cries. He thrashed in his bed, his eyes wild in the semi-darkness. She unstrapped him. As she clasped him to her, she felt his heart gallop in his chest. A hissing sound came from the air vents and she inhaled something bittersweet.
Soon they were doubled over, their coughs convulsive. From the edge of her vision she saw the bulky form of her husband. His eyes met hers and in their glint she saw triumph before he collapsed. For the last time she took in the face of her baby, touched his cheek and fell into the void.