This is Where I Live
It all looked the same: identikit houses with identical lawns and gardens, variations on the same family car parked on the mostly block-paved drives. The sun was a tiny disc in a big, clear sky, shedding plenty of light but not much heat. There were hardly any clouds. The sound of birdsong. The smells of petrol and cooking fat. Just a normal suburban street.
“Hi,” said a quiet, amiable voice behind me.
Turning, I flashed what I thought was a friendly smile. “Hello.”
There was a small boy sitting on the kerb at the side of the road. He was wearing a curiously dusty school uniform with frayed cuffs and several small rips in the material of the blazer. The trousers were too short for his stumpy legs. He was not wearing any shoes but his feet were white and clean, even the soles.
When he smiled, I finally realised what disturbed me so much about his appearance. The child had the face and head of a fully-grown adult. This caused in me an odd, discombobulated effect: he resembled some weird disproportional puppet there on the path, and I was entirely unsure how to react.
“I’m Ben,” he said, still smiling. In fact, I could hardly see his mouth moving because of the expansive grin.
“Oh…” I didn’t know what else to say.
“My father’s over there.” His choice of the word “father” rather than “dad” seemed deliberate somehow but I wasn’t certain what it implied. In a jerky, restrained motion, he lifted a narrow hand and pointed in the direction of the nearest unremarkable house. He did not turn his head; I had the impression that he couldn’t. His neck was completely immobile, his shoulders stiff.
A tall, broad-shouldered man was mowing the lawn with an old-fashioned rotary mower. He was wearing a pair of cut-off denim shorts that looked to be a size too small and no shirt. His torso was lean and hard; even at this distance, I could make out his straining muscles. The man’s head was too small for his body. It was, in fact, the head of a child.
I glanced at Ben. His horrible empty smile. His male pattern baldness. The five o’clock shadow on his cheeks. Then I looked back at his father, and the contrast of the man’s cherubic, grimacing features was vaguely horrific.
Stumbling backwards. I raised my hands in a ridiculous defensive gesture. I almost tripped and fell as I inched away from the boy at the kerb.
“Why don’t you join us for brunch?” said Ben, cordially, starting to stand but losing his balance slightly because of the weight of his oversized head on his little body. He tried again, supporting himself with an outstretched arm.
I turned and ran; sprinting all the way back to my unsecure home, where the locks now seemed so flimsy and the glass in the windows looked too brittle to offer any form of protection from the outside world. Where I locked the door and squatted down on the floor, out of anyone’s eye-line.
I waited, hoping that I would not hear slow footsteps walking calmly up the drive, or the sound of a polite knock on the front door.
I waited, knowing that I could do nothing to change this.
I live here now. There is nowhere else for me to go.
© Gary McMahon, 2022