Mother and son were out for a stroll one cool, clear winter’s afternoon when they wandered by a hair salon. At the time of the North Korean Horror Story captives’ liberation, every child involved had worn the same, hair shaven to the scalp, hairstyle. At the time that Unspeak had joined the Walters family it had grown out by a few millimetres but was still basically an unstylish crew-cut. Now, as Beth gazed upon the beautiful black pate of her only child and back up to the hairdressers’ window, she knew what had to be done. They strode inside and up to the counter. A middle aged woman who was not willing to let her youth slip by without a fierce battle took a break from washing a customer’s hair and slid in behind the desk, smiling at Beth, who without hesitation, asked: “Hi, can my boy have a haircut today without an appointment?”
The stylist performed a cursory assessment of the woman standing before her: tight body, natural blonde, good makeup, hair done nice; very attractive. Her son: stupid little Asian kid whose father is clearly punching above his weight. “Yeah, I could do him,” the woman said in a tone devoid of emotion, while puffing thick smokers’ breath all over Beth’s face, “if you don’t mind waitin’ for a bit.”
“That’ll be fine, thank you,” said Beth, “although, ah, how long is ‘a bit’ in this case?”
“Well I gotta do this chick here first, that’s all, so what’s that, ‘bout, half an hour?”
“That’s fine thanks, we’ll wait.”
“OK, just take a seat and I’ll be right wif ya,” she said before ducking back behind her bedraggled customer.
Beth and her son sat on a sofa and, to Unspeak’s unspeaking delight, started a game of ‘touches’. The boy’s smile, his giggles, and soon his sweet laughter, were a greater reward for the job of simply being a mum than she could ever have imagined. She loved the boy more than life itself and was eternally grateful for the opportunity she had been given.
The next thing, the hairdresser was summoning Unspeak to the chair. Beth stood and led the way. When they reached the chair she gestured for the boy to climb atop the swivelling leather behemoth. Unspeak was unsure. Beth apologised to the impatiently waiting woman and demonstrated to her son how it should be done. Unspeak was still unsure. Beth tried physical encouragement, actually pushing the lad towards the chair; this only made him defiant. Finally the hairdresser proposed that Beth take a seat on the chair, cradling the boy between her legs. In truth she had already considered this option but had really wanted Unspeak to do it alone. Nevertheless, with her arms around her son, shepherding him as she moved, Beth slowly stepped into the big chair, pulling Unspeak up onto her lap.
“What’s he got?” whispered the middle-aged woman once the two were in position.
“I beg your pardon,” Beth answered, genuinely shocked.
“I mean, is he, Down’s Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, or what?”
“Excuse me,” Beth clenched her teeth, “my son is none of the above, thank you very much.” She took a moment to compose herself before asking, “Have you ever heard of the North Korean Horror Story?”
“Oh yeah,” said the woman in a conspiratorial tone, “bloody awful that was, those poor little Asian bas…” she trailed off as realisation struck her.
“Thank you, Ma’am,” Beth said with conviction. “Today, we would like a number two around the sides and back, blended in with just a little off the top – just a nice trim, that’s all.”
“Lovely…” was all Beth heard as the clippers started up only centimetres from her face.
The phone started ringing as he pulled into the driveway. He opened the car door, heard the shrill tone, thought, not this time, grabbed his work satchel; dashed to the front door. He was inside shortly thereafter. He had the button pressed and the phone to his ear just in time: “Yes! … Please.”
“Mr Walters,” said the oddly theatrical tone, “seven rings, good heavens, I was starting to worry.”
“No no, Mr, ah, Gleeson, just doing my bit for the nation.”
A facetious chuckle ensued: “And how, may I ask, are you, ‘doing your bit’, for the nation?”
“Well sir, you see, I fly the good buggers of New Zealand wherever they want to go.”
“At a price, I’m sure.”
“At a very reasonable price, I’m sure.”
“Mr Walters, how glad I am that you are not making your living in marketing.”
“Yeah, that’d be a push wouldn’t it – what was the reason for your call today, Garth?”
“Oh, first name basis, are we now, Dave?”
“Sure, why not?”
“Well, Dave, I was, in fact, calling to check how your relationship was progressing with our boy – what’d you finally call him?”
“Oh, shit, actually, we called him, ‘Unspeak’, you know, short for, The Unspeaking child, you know, because we thought that one was a bit long – but that’s just until we come up with a real name … You see, Garth, my girlfriend’s got this phobia of calling a kid a name, then having to change it, that’s all, so she wants to do it right the first time, you see?.”
“How admirable, for your, girlfriend, Mr Walters, and she is indeed right, it can prove very traumatic for a child to have to go through repeated name changes and such forth.”
“Yeah, well that was her thinking, anyway … I tell you what though, Garth, she and the little one, they are just inseparable, I mean, she truly loves him, just as if she was the real birth parent – you know, if I were an Asian dude, I would swear it was her child.”
“And what about you, Dave, how’s the relationship there – being that you’re not ‘an Asian dude’?”
“Yeah, honestly, Garth, we’re not that tight – but only because I’m so seldom home when the kids awake – but that Beth, I tell you what, she is truly amazing with him.”
“I’m glad to hear that, Dave, so tell me, what are you doing about the boy’s education?”
“Ah, no problem there either, Beth has become Unspeak’s personal tutor and -”
“Yes, that name does have a certain ring to it, you were right – just be sure to amend it before too long … Sorry, what were you saying about your wife – your girlfriend’s tutelage?”
“Oh, she is devoting every waking minute to the lad, it’s amazing to see.”
“Even though you’re seldom around to see it..?”
“Oh … Well what I do see is fantastic and what I hear – from Beth I mean – is just … Transcendent.”
“’Transcendent’,” Garth appeared to be taking notes, “and what about the lad’s personal progress – how is he coming along?”
“Oh, Garth, you would be impressed – Beth’s taught him about all the hygiene stuff, how to take care of himself and that, she’s taught him how to eat properly, and she’s even working on teaching him table manners…”
“What about language, Dave, how’s he coming with that?”
“Well, Garth, I haven’t spoken to him personally, but Beth tells me he’s really coming along – making our temporary name just a little outdated.”
“Yes, a boy of his maturity, I would expect basic speech sounds in the first two or three weeks – do you read to him, Dave?”
“As I said, Garth, I’m not usually home when the kid’s up so I don’t, but I know Beth has come into a cache of kid’s books from somewhere, and I know she reads to him about six hours a day.”
“That’s very good to hear, reading to children is the most effective way to enhance speech patterns … It sounds like you and your, girlfriend, are doing very well then.”
“Yes, thank you, we are.”
“Finances, child supplies, additional support, is anything like that you need help with?”
“No, actually, being in a working relationship with no kids for so long, we’re financially pretty right, thank you.”
“Well, Mr Walters, I am very glad to hear that and on that note, I shall bid you good day.”
“Nice one, Mr Gleeson.”
She and her son arrived home shortly before evening and the onset of a bitter south easterly chill. There was something remarkably different about them both. The child’s freshly cut hair made him look like a proper little gentleman but it was Beth, who was truly changed.
“Oh no, my little baby girl,” seeing the streaked mascara he knew something had happened. “What’s the matter?” he asked in his best consolatory tone.
As if that was her cue she hung her head and started crying again.
Dave moved closer, glancing over her shoulder at their son who seemed oblivious to this apparent devastation. He kissed Beth’s cheek and brought her in for a cuddle; it was then that he saw the grin. “Alright, what’s going on?” he asked with a smirk, leaning away from Beth and casting a sideways gaze at her, “Who’s havin’ a laugh – who’s pullin’ the piss on ol’ Davie?”
“No, no one’s pulling the piss, hun,” she whispered between residual sobs, “they’re good tears, not bad ones.”
“Oh,” said Dave, feeling a little silly, “forgive me for not being able to distinguish.”
“I’ll forgive you, honey bun, because, guess what, our son has a name.”
“You didn’t even give me time to guess,” he muttered, still mildly confused.
“Guess what it is then..?” she prompted.
“Shit, I dunno, what’d ya pick for ‘im – Bruce – no it was Robbie, wasn’t it?”
“Nope,” she said with a playful grin, “this is our son’s name … His real name.”
I killed one of them today. He got too close so I had to kill him. I killed the little yellow bastard. It was bad when he started chattering like a monkey, so I had no choice, I had to kill him. Then I realised how good it felt. Then I realised this is how it has to be. I have to kill all of them. I just need to work out where I’m gonna put them cos this ones already starting to stink up the joint.
Still keeping the pride, K.