“Please!” she said. “Please go!” Sobs shook her thin shoulders. She looked ugly and pathetic, her sweatshirt twisted, her jeans now smeared with mud. Unbrushed, greasy hair straggled over her eyes and stuck to her cheeks where tears had left shiny tracks. She clung to the rough rendered wall as if it was the only thing keeping her on her feet. “I only did it for my boy.”
I was aware suddenly of the many windows that overlooked her tiny garden. Though our scuffle had taken place mostly in silence and neither of us had raised our voices much, it had looked violent, and I wondered just how many people were currently in the action of picking up a phone. I went up to her and took her arm. I was gentle, but she cringed away before her resistance crumbled, allowing me to lead her into the house.
Inside, I sat her down at the kitchen table where she slumped, face buried in her hands, while I filled her kettle and began to look in the cupboards. I heard her snort a moment later and swear under her breath. Losing patience with my searching she stood and pushed past me, delving into a low cupboard and producing a half-full bottle of cheap brandy. She nudged the cupboard closed with her foot and snatched up two glasses before resuming her place at the table, banging the bottle down so hard the liquid sloshed and it would have overturned if she hadn’t immediately steadied it.
“Want some? Don’t usually drink this early but if I going to die what does it matter?” She filled her own glass and downed it like someone condemned. Her eyes, staring at me over the rim of the glass, were red-rimmed and tragic and tired.
“What about your son? What did you do?”
“For God’s sake!” she cried out. “Sit down!” She seemed so near to breaking that I did what she asked and watched as she filled the other glass, pushing it toward me. When I didn’t take it, she sighed. “What’s wrong?”
“I don’t drink.”
“Liar,” she said.
“Sure. You’re not fooling anyone, know that?” She laughed and I wondered how much she’d already drunk or whether she was on any medication. She wasn’t right. She was behaving like someone in the throws of a nervous breakdown, impulsive and completely unpredictable. “You’ve come to take him, haven’t you?
“Take who?” I said. I was getting a headache, my elbow smarted where she’d caught me with the bat. The brandy in my glass shone like gold, winked at me like we were sharing some joke.
“What would I want with him? What are you talking about? You scared someone’s going to take him? I’m not from social services.”
She laughed again, a hysterical tinge to her voice. “God, you’re clueless!”
“So fill me in. Tell me what’s going on Mrs. Gordon. Please?”
“Ellie,” she said. “It’s Ellie.”
“Ellie then,” I said quietly. “From the beginning. Don’t leave anything out.”
She nodded. “From the beginning.”