Illustrated by Joey To
Something isn’t right with Jamie’s mummy. He can tell before he sees her; he knows it by the smoke creeping out beneath her bedroom door.
She’s left him in the bath too long, and the water’s gone all cold and grey. He’s wrapped his slippery, three-year-old body in the bath mat, which is heavy and rough, and leaves his bottom exposed for the monster to pinch.
The smoke creeping underneath the door is the colour of the bathwater, Jamie thinks. They are both the colour of his mummy’s eyes.
He presses his face against the keyhole like they do in films, his eyelashes scrunching, but he can’t see anything but smoke, although he stands on tiptoes and stares hard. The smoke smells sweetly sinister. Jamie can feel it sticking to his damp skin.
He grips the doorknob with both hands and turns it silently. His weight parts the door from its frame, just a tiny, creaking crack. He’s afraid to let go of the doorknob in case it makes a noise.
The room is full of dragon’s breath. He can’t see the monster, but he sees his mummy, lying outstretched on the bed. She’s in her underwear, and he wants to press himself against her warm tummy and her soft breasts. The smoke is coming from her mouth – puff, puff – as though the dragon is inside her. He watches her lips pull at the stick between her fingers, and then the second inhale; the one she loves, the one that matters.
She hears Jamie approach her, little toes sinking into the thick carpet, but she doesn’t move. She thinks, The milk’s gone off, she thinks, When we made you, I didn’t come, she thinks, I am a wall of pain. When Jamie gets close enough to see her face, she isn’t there.
He whimpers. He wants to touch her arm, but he’s frightened of the monster. He wonders if he should put himself back into the cold bath, and wait for her to come and get him. He wants her to hug him; he wants, he wants.
Jamie’s mummy takes her first, and then her second, inhale. The one that counts. Her lungs are singing. She wants, but she says, “Jamie”, and his dragon flees.