He’d always liked the snow. And when you’re 8, there’s something magical about it.
That day, the whole world was covered beneath a freshly washed comfort blanket, waiting to be loved and worn. Holes needed to be made, threads needed to be pulled and annoying blobs that appear if the cloth gets caught were ready to be plucked and flicked at people in the form of snowballs.
Ben was one of the first kids of his street to venture out from the depths of his duvet; armed with two pairs of socks, two gloves, one hat, his play coat and red scarf, along with his spare blue one for his yet-to-be made snow like friend.
The day was great; full of adventure, no school and fun. Blue skies and a yellow piercing light failed to melt the 8 foot snowman of Harrington Close. Even the usually cranky, Mrs Halford, came out with mugs of hot chocolate for everyone. Nothing could spoil the enjoyment of that day.
Dad came home.
He’d had the day off work too; full of booze, man-talk and anger. The anger only appeared once the front door had slammed the earth behind him, and number 4 Harrington Close became his universe.
“Where’s ma’ tea?”
His command boomed through the house as an unwanted intrusion, creeping underneath and up through the floorboards to Lyla’s room, who was fighting to finish off her homework before Dad got home. All focus had to be on him. Homework was to be done at school or straight after. She’d learnt that lesson long ago.
“It’s here love.”
Lyla crept down the stairs to see her Mum looking frail and yet happy on the surface, placing a full plate of steaming steak pie, new potatoes, broccoli, carrots and peas smouldering in gravy onto the table in front of her Dad.
She watched him judge and analyse the first forkful as if it was some kind of criminal evidence before consuming and acknowledging, with a slight nod, that it was satisfactory.
Everything seemed normal, quiet even, especially as Dad had spent an entire afternoon guzzling pints down the pub. But something wasn’t right. Lyla could sense something behind that glint in his eye and it wasn’t good.
Any moment now
His fork crashed to the floor.
For anyone else it was a slip of the hand.
For Dad it was a trigger.
“He’s out.” Lyla answered on behalf of her Mum as she crawled under the table to find his fork.
“Out! Doing what?”
“Sledging.” This time her Mum broke the news, clearing away his dinner plate, running it under the tap, waiting for the water to heat up.
“Sledging! Out sledging at this time. It’s 5 O’clock! Where is he?”
“Just in the Street.”
“In the Street, sledging! I’ll show him what bloody sledging is, you watch!”
The back door wafted in the Ice-bitten wind, the thud of Dad’s feet dampened the snow and sound of children’s laugher that echoed back to the kitchen.
He reappeared with Ben’s coat clutched, his face poking through his collar, snuffling tears, clinging on to the yellow plastic that was his sledge.
“You call yourself a good Mother. But look at yourself!” He snarled. “You let this hooligan, who we need to keep an eye on, out at all hours! While you swan about making a crappy tea, playing happy families.”
“Sam come in, you’ll be freezing! He’s only playing. No harm in that.”
“No harm in that? That’s what you’re saying now. But that’s how it starts. The staying out, the not coming in till midnight, the drinking, the drugs!”
“He’s 8 and it’s 5 O’clock!”
“I don’t care!”
“But Dad, just because Jamie went that way, doesn’t mean Ben will. Ben’s good, Jamie...”
She could see the fury rising in her Dad’s face.
She’d crossed the line.
No one ever mentioned Jamie.
No one knew where Jamie was.
Jamie had disappeared years ago.
Soon after that they moved house.
Lyla didn’t remember much of her older brother, but if she tried hard enough, she could sometimes recall the bumps and loud fragments of swear words that would filter into her room if Jamie came in late at night.
One morning she woke up and Jamie was gone.
No one had seen him since.
But that line had been crossed.
That word had been said.
Dad’s fist tightened and scrunched Ben’s coat further. Spit escaped from the cracks between his yellowing teeth.
Ben struggled to speak between the tears and puffs of panic that floated in the air.
“But Dad. I-I-I was only playing. W-w-e were having fun.” He looked straight, with pure happiness through bubbles of fear into his sister’s eyes.
“It’s been the best day ever!”
A bridge of warmth with a smile at each end was built for an eternal second.
The bridge cracked.
Dad dragged Ben, still clinging to his sledge, down the drive.
“Where are you going?” Lyla ran after them.
“Sledging.” Her Dad shouted, “we’ll be back.”
Only Dad came back.