See the boy. Small for his age, made smaller still by the way he cowers. He stands on the porch, barefoot. A girl he likes passes by with her friend, moving quickly in the pouring rain. They titter to one another as they catch sight of him. His tears mingle with the rain, rage and humiliation burning his cheeks.
He wraps his skinny arms around his naked torso, trying to warm himself. His cotton y-fronts cling to his wet skin, his only concession to modesty. His bare legs cross over one another, contorting and folding him smaller still. He stares at at the porch tiles. Maybe if he folds himself small enough he can shelter in the cracked valleys of the grout lines. The rain pelts the ground. He sobs and wishes he was dead.
See the boy. Burning this experience into his memory. He will not forget. This is what he deserves. He is bad. A bold brat. Bold children don’t get to stay in this house. They belong outside.
Mammy shouted as she shoved him out the front door, get out and don’t come back, she’s sick of the sight of him. He wants to leave, to run and run and never look back – wouldn’t that be a triumph, for her to open the door to find him gone! – but she’s gambled on him being too terrified to leave the porch, and it’s a gamble she’ll win.
He wonders if he would have the courage to run if it weren’t raining.
He tenses as he hears the bolt click in the door, and it opens slowly. She stands there. He wants to hug her. He wants to scream in her face. He does neither. She puts her hands on her hips.
“Are you going to behave yourself?”
He nods, miserable yet enthusiastic.
“You know if you weren’t so bold I wouldn’t have had to put you out here.”
He nods again. He knows these words. He embraces their malevolent familiarity, the awful comfort that they bring. He’s been bold and she’s had to do this for his own good. This is a dynamic he learned as a toddler, and now at eight he is utterly indoctrinated. This is his world. She is his Mammy and she looks after him.
“Get in would you. And don’t be dripping all over the floors. Get yourself a towel.”
The house has never experienced central heating, yet it is warm and welcoming and the boy feels an exhausted relief and an overwhelming sense of gratitude as he pulls on his pyjamas. He wonders how only a few minutes ago he was wishing he would die. He feels terribly ashamed of himself.
Fists balled and trying to control his breathing, the boy leaves his bedroom and walks downstairs. He finds his mother in the kitchen.
See the boy embrace his mother.
“Sorry mammy” he says, his voice quavering, eyes swimming.
His mammy holds him tight.
“Shhhh now. You’re a good boy.”