The Shadows


-"Clare, we all die one day" Leon would say.

She found him particularly annoying in those moments. As if nothing mattered.

Since Alex was born, she could sense the shadows. At night they would come in the form of terrible stories; Alex would die in his sleep, swallow one of his toys, fall from his bike, be knidnapped whilts she was asleep. They were millions of stories, like dark birds flying towards her, keeping her awake and terrified. 

-"I'll check on Alex" she would say to Leon, asleep.

She would bend slowly towards her son's small bed. His soft and regular breathing would make her smile and relax. Then she would feel his cheeks. Worry for a second that they were "a bit hot". "He has some fever, may be it is Meningitis?". She would whisper to herself next to Alex's bed, watching on him. Leon would get up, reassure her and walk her back to bed. She would eventually fall asleep, lost in dreams she never remembered. 

Leon had thought that the worries would go away with time. But they intensified as Alex's became increasingly autonomous, spending his days far from her, at home with the nanny, at nursery, at school. Alex was happily growing and living his life, in times and spaces where Clare was not. Places where she could not keep an eye on him. Rooms full of dangers and unknowns. Shadows she would imagine hiding in every corner. 

She would call the school several time a day to check he was OK.  She was never too far away, and would sometimes drive to the school and pick him up, pretending that he had a doctors' appointment. 

Work should have helped her focus her mind away from Alex. She was employed by a small travel agent. Building packages for British customers who wanted to visit France. She was good at her job. But she was increasingly distracted, feeling the urge to check on Alex, obsessing about him, calling Leon, the school, the nanny several times a day.

When she realised she needed to travel to continue to be relevant at work and keep her travel packages fresh and appealing, she resigned. She just could not be far from Alex, leave him exposed to the shadows. 

Leon was upset that evening.

-"This is something we should have discussed first, Clare" 

They could do with the money. And Leon felt she needed the distraction. Staying alone at home when Alex was at school could not be a good idea. 

Clare was annoyed. "Coud not he see the dangers?" . Leon refused flatly when she said she wanted to home school Alex. She then decided to get a job at the school as a teaching assistant at Alex's primary school. 

Those years where probably the best of their lifes. She was always close to Alex.  Alex seemed so happy and cuddly. Leon decided that on balance it was probably a good change. Clare relaxed and slept peacefully at night. They discussed having another baby. Clare refused. One was already too much worry. Leon agreed.

Things got worse when Alex moved to middle school and rebelled against his mother constant  attention. Alex just did not want her on her back any more. He could not stand having her pick up him at school when all of his friends were taking the bus. He was angry at her for refusing to have him join sports' teams inventing all sorts of medical excuses. 

The shadows had come back, stronger than ever. Alex would take drugs, be run over by a car, have an allergic reaction, or die suddenly from a heart defect that had gone undetected since he was born. She school would burn, be attacked by a terrorist, the school cafeteria food would be poisoned and the school bus would fall in the river by the main road.

Clare worried every minute of the day. She had Leon remove the lock of the bathroom and toilet just in case. She did not want Alex to play sports or go to school trip and was dragging him to the doctor twice a week. 

-"This has to stop Clare" Leon would tell her. "This is not good for the boy, you have to let him be". 

Silently, she would nod, look sadly at Alex, and let go for a few weeks where she would let the shadows invade her thoughts. She would lie awake in her bed for hours. She would call in sick at school and seat on the sofa all day. The pain was intense and she was unable to talk, smile or eat for days. 

-"Are you OK mum?" would ask Alex.

She would burst into tears and stammer "Yes, I am fine". 

Alex would go to his room and put some loud music. Lying on his bed, he would dream of travel, adventures and friends. He would imagine what life would be like without his mother. He would not get out of his room until his dad was home. 

One evening, Leon knocked on his door and found him packing a bag with his clothes,  books and favourite child toys. It was just before Alex's 12th Birthday. 

-"I am leaving home, dad", he said. "Mum is unhappy with me around".  He added "I do not think she loves me very much, she does not want me to be happy".

Leon looked at him. 

-"She does love you, Alex. She loves you too much in some ways. She worries too much". 

Leon hugged Alex for a long time. The he helped Alex unpack his bag and told him that he was going to take care of his mother, that all would be fine, that his place was home. 

When Alex came back from school the next day, Clare was gone. Leon was home waiting for him. He was pale and his eyes were red. "Your mum took her life this morning" he said. "She loved you very much". 


Brigitte Bellan