No One To Blame But Marlee: Part 1
The woman leaned down and pulled Ethan’s seatbelt tight one last time. Ethan drew back from her and scrunched up his nose, she smelled funny. She handed him a sticker book and Ethan saw her look at the man on his other side. Ethan couldn’t tell if she was happy or sad. He was sad though. He missed his mummy.
As the plane sped up, Ethan started screaming and tore at the sticker book. His ears hurt and the sound of the engines was just as scary as the sound the clouds make when they are fighting with the lightening. Mummy always cuddles him extra tight when the clouds get too loud.
The woman sitting next to him didn’t try to cuddle him though. He saw her take something from her handbag and pour it into a bottle of orange water.
She held it out to him, “Here Ethan, you like orange juice, don’t you?”
Ethan sniffed at the bottle and put it to his lips. It was sweet and so yummy! He drank greedily, juice was good. Better than water and better, even, than milk.
Before long Ethan felt his eyes grow heavy. He tried not to lean on these people next to him but his head kept lolling over.
Soon, he was asleep.
A long time later, after it had been night and day again and he’d had two more orange juices, some ice-cream and a cheese sandwich, they finally let him get off the plane.
They took a bus and then got in a car that smelt like trees. It was dark and his seatbelt was too tight but the rocking of the car made his eyes feel sleepy.
When he woke they were at a house. It was too dark to see what colour it was but it looked much bigger than his house.
The man and the woman led Ethan into a bedroom. They were being silly. The woman’s hands were shaking and the man was making funny noises when he breathed. They were like the noises his mummy makes when she wakes up from a bad dream.
Ethan looked around. It was the shiniest bedroom he’d ever seen. So many toys! He wanted to reach out and touch them all but he didn’t know if he was allowed.
The man lay Ethan down in the bed, he wasn’t breathing funny anymore. Ethan was scared but he was starting to get used to them now.
“It will be alright.” The man said. Ethan saw him touch the woman’s shoulder. “He’s young. He’ll forget.”
“But will we?” the woman said.
“We’ll give him a better life than he would have had there. She couldn’t even realise the possibilities of her own life, let alone his.”
Ethan thought they were talking about his mummy and he suddenly felt really really sad. He closed his eyes. The man didn’t like it when he cried.
He felt soft lips kiss his head. They were cold. It must be the woman. He heard footsteps leave the room but he could feel the man still sitting on the side of the bed.
Ethan felt the man’s finger trace his forehead, his nose, his ears. He lay still, frozen, his chest felt so tight and he desperately wanted to cry.
“Night son,” the man whispered.
On the other side of the world, Marlee sat alone watching her kitchen clock, missing her baby boy but helpless to do anything about it. The hands on the clock spun around and around, turning minutes to hours and hours to days.
Eventually, the police decided that Marlee was right, Ethan had been abducted.
They put out notices at bus stations, railways and airports but Marlee knew it was too late. She could sense it, just as she would always felt the hairs stand erect at the nape of her neck moments before hearing Jack’s key in the lock.
Her sweet boy. He was like an angel, too good for her. She had known deep down ever since he was born that it was too good to be true. Something so precious could never belong to Marlee. He didn’t even look like her.
And now someone had a hold of him…She knew what happened to little boys who were taken.
It was all Marlee’s fault, Jack always told her it was her fault. He was right.
She had left the door unlocked, she knew it. Marlee remembered the first time she’d done it. She had just arrived back from the supermarket, coming in through the kitchen as she usually did. Her fingers had automatically tripped the deadlock into place with a click. At that moment she’d felt Ethan kick in her belly for the first time. Real proof that he was there, inside her, her new family. Things were changing; she had wanted them to change. So she’d flicked the deadlock back, as though she could alter the course of her life with that simple motion.
Stupid. So stupid.
Marlee thought of the neighbours she’d invited in, the postman she was on first name basis with. These were strangers. Any one of them could have stolen her boy. She’d rarely known anything but hostility from the world before Ethan. And then they’d all fawned over him and she had lapped up the attention. But it wasn’t her they loved, only him.
Now he was gone. She was being punished.
Now, Marlee closed up her house against the world, slept with one eye open. Every now and then, in the twilight between sleep and wakefulness, as she walked the tightrope above the madness nipping at her ankles, she would hear Ethan cry out. The air would be knocked from her as she’d bolt upright in bed, heart pumping so loudly she could hear it. Then she would remember, tormented by the memory of him.
So Marlee kept to the shadows, hoping that if she didn’t provoke the world, it would eventually leave her alone.