The Fall

He held no memory of the incident, being an infant when it happened. His mother, still tending to her guilt, waited over a decade to tell him.

His parents had taken him, their firstborn, for a holiday in his paternal grandparents’ chalet in north Wales. The chalet was a timber-framed, asbestos-lined prefab on a small conurbation of similar dwellings known as The Warren. The Warren was a home from home for the businessmen, Rotarians and retirees of north-west England, where they and their well-coiffured wives annually decamped for gin-soaked long summers.

This particular week was coloured by the presence of a toddler, a new and difficult experience for his young parents. In keeping with the times, his father worked long hours while his mother carried the burden of responsibility for the child, and their large, puppyish male Labrador, who also made the trip to north-wales.

The inclement Welsh weather didn’t help. At some point during the week, possibly driven from the chalet by the spectacular rain pelting the granite patio and drumming a tattoo upon the chalet’s tin roof, his parents decided to take a day trip in the car.   

Somewhere between the chalet and the waiting car, in heavy rain, he slipped from her arms as she hurried through the downpour, striking his head on the ground and fracturing his skull.

The day trip became forty-eight hours in hospital.

For a long time after his mother’s confession, he thought of it often as a threshold moment, a break that catalysed everything that came after. He was troubled by both the ramifications and the possible permutations. Had he been a little older the bones in his head would have been more fused, and the damage to his cranium more severe. The bone may have splintered and caused bleeding on the brain.

Had he not been treated immediately. Had he fallen from a greater height. Had she not been rushing, or dressed in a waterproof jacket. Had his father not been waiting in the car, but carrying his son instead. Had they stayed in the chalet and not gone out. Had they not gone to north Wales at all.

There is a photograph from that week: he is sitting in bed with his grandparents, the remains of toast on his chin, their laughing at the expression on his face. He looks faintly cross-eyed. He can’t work out if this picture was taken before or after the fall.

Throughout his childhood other injuries followed, as if the chemistry of his body had been thrown out of sync.

The cheek trapped in a door lock at his maternal grandparent’s house aged two.

The arm accidentally dislocated by his father one winter's day later that year.

His forehead split open at nursery aged three. Running in circles, he tripped and landed face-down on a metal digger. Thereafter the abiding memory of screaming hysterically and being physically restrained by his mother's while the doctor doggedly sewed up the wound, while nurses and doctors came into the room with concerned faces.

Falling into the ashes of a day-old fire and blistering his wrists aged five.

The right-hand wrist fractured at a friend's birthday party aged seven. Playing in goal, one of the other boys dad's decided kick the ball as hard as he could at his goal. Saving the shot, his wrist splintered like a sapling. The last thing he saw, as pain convulsed through his body, was the dad walking away as if nothing had happened.

The large mole removed without anaesthetic from the underside of his left forearm aged eight. The doctor botched the operation in job hurry to get it done before the child started to panic, and left him with a ragged hole in his arm. His mother trying to comfort him as he screamed.

The left eyebrow torn open in a playground collision with a female pupil aged nine. As the blood poured down his face and streaked his sweater, a dinner lady ignored him to check on the unbloodied other child.

The trip to A&E on Boxing Day aged ten after falling backwards onto a radiator aged ten. The yellow acrylic jumper he was wearing now bore a bright orange stain down the back.

The moped kickstand that gouged a hole in his shin on a petrol forecourt on the Greek island of Paros aged twenty-one. A large American woman sat on an idling moped released the brake and smashed into him. He made no fuss, and rushed towards the large American woman, now pinned to the ground by the moped, with one of her flip-flops in his hand.

Before and after. In later years he would recognise the philosophical resonance of what happened. He was lucky, and yet he was not. He didn’t blame his mother for what had happened. Every event has a specific set of circumstances which determines the inevitability of its outcome. What remained with him now was that singular, arresting image: an infant slipping from its mother’s arm, falling and smashing its soft head against stone.