Login   Sign Up 


A Hard Life

by Chestersmummy 

Posted: 22 June 2017
Word Count: 1003
Summary: For Challenge 645 competition

Font Size

Printable Version
Print Double spaced

A Hard Life

The boy was scowling.   His mouth was sealed into a thin line and his eyes were sullen.  
Julie read the caption under the poster and turned to her husband.
‘Not likely.  Imagine having to deal with a boy like that.’
Greg didn’t answer and Julie glanced at him. 
‘Maybe he’s had a hard life.’   He said at last.
‘Oh, face it Greg.   Some kids are born prison fodder’.
Just then a young mum came swinging along the pavement pushing a gleaming pram.  Julie craned her neck, trying to see the baby, but just caught a glimpse of a snowy mound of blankets edged with pink satin.     
Her heart shrivelled.  How she longed to be that woman pushing her baby along the street; a tiny girl smelling of rose-scented talcum powder.      
Greg’s arm slid around her.
‘You know, we could always adopt, or even foster’.
She froze as if he’d thrown iced water over her. 
‘What and end up with something like that?’  She flung out her arm in the direction of the poster.
Knowing her dam of tears was about to burst, she turned away and was almost running by the time she reached home.   Racing up the stairs she flung herself on the tiny bed, waves of misery rocking her body.
 When she’d fallen pregnant, they’d turned the box room into a nursery but ever since that first crushing disappointment, it had stood empty and now she only went in there once a week to vacuum.   The last time, she’d felt frightened because it wasn’t just that tears were dimming her vision, little by little the room was fading.  Colour was leaching from the walls and the curtains were yellowing. 
* * *
Dumping a pan of cabbage into the colander, she peered through the steam at the clock and her lips tightened.
She’d told Greg dinner would be ready at seven and he was late.  From outside, she could hear the high pipe of childish voices mingling with a bass rumble.  He was playing football with the boys next door.    She banged hard on the kitchen window.
His eyes were sparkling when he eventually made an appearance.
‘Sorry, love’.   He said.
‘They’ve got a father of their own, you know’.  
The light died from Greg’s eyes as he winced.
‘I know, but he works long hours.’
‘That’s not your problem.’
She turned away, hating herself for being jealous of other peoples’ children.  She slammed down the plates and they ate in silence.  In bed, each kept to their own side.  Julie wondered if he felt as miserable as she.   They were drifting apart and she couldn’t seem to do anything about it.
The next day the sky was suffocated by cloud and to kill time, she went shopping.   Drifting through the store, fingering clothes draped like empty promises upon their hangers, she vowed to stay away from the children’s department.   Never again would she wander through aisles crammed with the delicate froth of pastel coloured dresses and cute baby-gro’s.
Eventually, she glanced at her watch.  The over-heated store had made her throat dry.  There was a run-down café opposite and it would have to do.
As she sat sipping her tea, the swing door bumped open and a grubby pushchair was wheeled into the crowded room.    A girl stood bowed over its handles, scouring the room from out of panda eyes, the studs in her face mimicking a bad case of acne.  Her lips were moving rhythmically, they stopped when she saw Julie’s table. 
‘D’yer mind?’  The girl pushed back a wisp of greasy hair.
‘Not at all.’  Julie said reluctantly.
The girl bent, hoisted a small boy out of the pushchair and dumped him in the seat opposite.
‘Don’t you move.’   She commanded, disappearing towards the counter.
The child sat staring at Julie out of huge, unblinking eyes.   Slime trails of tears cut through the grime on his tiny face.   He seemed swallowed by clothes sizes too big for him and Julie wrinkled her nose as the sour smell of unwashed body wafted towards her.  
The girl plonked some chips and a drink in front of the child.  Silently he reached a grubby hand towards the food and began cramming it into his mouth.    Julie looked at his mother.   She was skinny, almost emaciated, and sat staring at her mobile phone.
 The child stopped chewing and reached for his drink.  As he did, he over- balanced -   the carton went flying and spilled sticky orange liquid that puddled on the table, slowly spreading towards the edge.
The girl’s head whipped round as she exploded into life.
‘Now look what you’ve done, you little bugger’.   The girl screamed, veins protruding from her scrawny neck.   ‘Can’t take you nowhere.   You’re always making a bleedin’ nuisance of yerself.’
Her screeches reverberated in the suddenly shocked silence and heads turned to look.  
‘What are you lot starin’ at?’ the girl yelled.   Abruptly she got up and stormed off.
The child sat as if frozen.   His small face seemed to shrink and Julie saw tear drops begin their familiar journey.
‘Where’s my mummy gone?’   His lips quivered and Julie’s heart felt as it would break.
‘She’ll be back soon.   Don’t worry.   Let’s get you cleaned up’.
As she lifted him onto her lap, she was amazed at how light he was.
Julie hardly noticed the journey back home.   She kept remembering how delicate and vulnerable the child had felt.   The girl had eventually returned to claim him and Julie had stared out of the window long after the girl’s bobbing head had disappeared into the crowd. 
Julie thought that perhaps Greg was right after all.   Maybe the boy in the poster had had a hard life.
As the train drew into the station, Julie hoped Greg wouldn’t be working late.   They had a lot to talk about and afterwards there would be all those forms to fill in. 
999 words

Favourite this work Favourite This Author

Comments by other Members

Bazz at 15:52 on 23 June 2017  Report this post
Equally moving and stark, Janet. I like how this very naturally develops, without anything feeling forced. The poster and their different reactions are a great beginning, and you really capture Julie's emotions, especially her exchanges with Greg. 

I think this a really striking response to the prompt, layers of perception, pain and challenged notions. Delicately done.

TassieDevil at 16:35 on 23 June 2017  Report this post
Hi Janet,
A lovely emotional tale with some clever images like

the sky was suffocated by cloud

What more can I say. Well done,

Cliff Hanger at 17:31 on 23 June 2017  Report this post
Very natural and believable. The emotion is very well handled. I really enjoyed it.


BryanW at 11:06 on 24 June 2017  Report this post
Thoughtful and effective - the sequence of incidents which lead to Julie's moment of revelation are handled really well. Tight, focused writing. A  touching and very human story.

Browntrout at 12:20 on 28 June 2017  Report this post
Atmosphere is the first thing I get especially the cafe scene, you could almost smell the stale cigarette smoke and feel the sticky formica topped tables I was very impressed by the way in which so much of the couples relationship came across in relatively few words and the turnaround from definately not adopting to lets get the forms filled in was extremely well managed. While not a particular fan of this type of story very impressed with the way in which it was written and it left me at the point where I would like to have known more about the improvement in the couples relationship.

To post comments you need to become a member. If you are already a member, please log in .