The Lost Child / by Alex Williamson

His mother had left him playing with his toys on the lawn. When she returned, holding his younger brother, he had disappeared. At first she thought he was playing hide and seek. She searched the garden, calling his name and trying to remain calm. Then, when all the obvious hiding places in the garden had been exhausted, she searched the house, starting in the kitchen and small pantry, then through to the living room which they only used on special occasions, upstairs in the bathroom airing cupboard, and finally in her bedroom, under the wrought-iron bed she shared with her husband. A note of mania crept into her calls as she became increasingly panicked, terrified, that he had wandered out onto the street, and God knows where. Now, as she stood on the driveway, looking down the street, there was no sign of him.

It was only when she returned to her youngest son in the back garden that she noticed the laughter of two boys playing next door. She vaguely knew the mother and her son from playgroup at the local chapel, but the mother wasn’t in her circle of friends. The husband worked at the truck factory in the centre of town, on the shop floor, and the family didn’t have a car, or a telephone. Their gardens shared a boundary hedge, but the house itself, a small bungalow, was some distance away, on the next street over. The mother was from Scotland, and it was her sharp Glaswegian accent his mother could hear now, calling her son’s name and that of the other boy in the garden. Gathering up her youngest child and placing him in a pushchair, she walked at speech around to the bungalow, where she found her son running in circles round the lawn with the other boy.

He leapt out of his skin at the sound of his mother’s voice, surprised by her presence in the boy’s garden. Right away he knew he was in trouble. There was a ferociousness about her demeanour which he had never seen before. She was shaking with an anger which made him afraid. All he thought he had been doing was having fun. The other boy watched as he was taken by the arm by his mother and marched from their neighbour’s garden back to their house. Possibly she told him on the way, That was a really stupid thing to do, and I was worried sick, and Don’t you ever do it again. Possible, too, that she smacked him, either in the boy’s garden or in the street or back at home, he couldn’t say for sure, but he could remember that her being angry with him hurt more than her grip on his wrist or her hand-print upon his backside, that her unhappiness was something he would have to flinch from, or swerve.