No One’s Prize

Children want and need love from their parents. When those parents fall out of love, the effect on their offspring can be devastating.

‘Mummy has been very naughty, Archie, she went with another man, and now she wants to take you away from me, you, my only son.’ 
  Archie sobbed, a tear started down his cheek, why was his father so angry? What had he done wrong? Had he been naughty? He reached up to his father’s arms and felt himself being lifted into the warm security of daddy’s chest. He was enveloped in strong arms that squeezed a little too tightly. He burst into a torrent of tears as the misery of the last few weeks poured out of him. 
   The first three and a half years of Archie’s life had been blissful and carefree but then tensions had started to creep into his life. His parents’ voices had changed from loving and gentle to harsh and loud, with long silences in between. Both made comments to him that he could not comprehend ‘Your father’s a two-timing no-good son-of-a-bitch’ his mother had said just that morning. Archie only knew that it was something bad. 
   Ronald and Moira Beddows were in the process of splitting up. Ronald had had numerous affairs and Moira had slept with her office manager for revenge. It was a small office and, as Ronald worked for the same company, the affair was soon discovered. 
   The front door clicked open then closed with a bang, Moira came into the lounge. Ronald turned to see her standing very still, her face pinched and pale. She stared at him balefully, fists clenched at her sides ‘And if you’re thinking of getting custody of my son, or even visiting rights, you bastard, think again.’ Her face twisted into a snarl, eyes narrowing to hate-filled slits ‘with your record of infidelity, you won’t stand a chance.’ 
   Archie felt his father’s grip tighten, it was hurting now and he howled his protest. Ronald ignored his son’s wriggling, too wrapped up in his problems. ‘See what you’ve done now? You’ve upset him with your nastiness, bitch.’ He glared at her long and hard before finally realising he was holding his son too tightly. He eased his grip and kissed the boy on the forehead ‘sorry little man’ he whispered in his ear. 
  ‘Give him to me you clueless bugger’ she snapped and quickly closed the distance between them, grabbing Archie firmly and wrenching him away. Ronald let go to avoid hurting the boy. 
    Archie’s screams rose even higher in his distress, everything he knew that was safe and loving was being torn away by the two people he loved with all his four-year-old-heart. His misery knew no bounds, what had he done wrong to make mummy and daddy fight?       
   After Archie was put to bed Ronald and Moira sat in their living room in icy silence, each staring disinterestedly at the TV. Finally, Ronald could stand the atmosphere no longer ‘I’m off to the pub for an hour.’ 
   ‘Got a new barmaid that needs screwing, have they?’ 
   ‘Piss off, bitch.’ 
    The front door slammed, Moira sighed and went to the drinks cabinet, pouring herself a large gin and tonic. ‘Bastard’ she muttered ‘if he thinks he’s getting my son, he’s dead wrong.’ 
    Ronald came home at eleven-thirty, drunk, to find Moira on her i-pad. His lips curled downwards ‘checking out the talent, are you? Looking for some other poor sod to foist yourself on, or is it just a bit of quick dick you’re after?’ 
     She threw the i-pad at him ‘I was looking at children’s’ clothes if you must know, not that you’d care if my son went bare-arsed.’ 
  ‘Our son, bitch. If you think you can stop me having joint custody, forget it.’     
  Their voices rose as the argument raged; upstairs, Archie awoke. The little boy lay silently weeping, listening to his parents fighting. He heard his name being shouted; it must be his fault they were unhappy; he must have been very naughty. He couldn’t think of what he’d done, but he knew it must be all his fault that’s why his name was being shouted. Then he heard the thuds and his mother’s screams as his father started punching her. He climbed out of bed and taking Reggie, his teddy bear, he went downstairs.     
   They didn’t notice him as entered the lounge clutching Reggie to his chest, fat tears rolling down his crumpled cheeks. ‘please stop’ he pleaded ‘please, daddy, stop. Hit me and Reggie, not my mummy.’ he walked between them facing his father’s flushed angry face. He held up his Teddy bear ‘please, daddy, hit me and Reggie, not my mummy.’ 
  They fell into shocked silence, his father sobering up immediately. ‘Oh, dear Christ! What have I done to you, my little man? Daddy is so, so sorry.’ 
   Moira wiped the tears from her bruised cheeks then scooped him up and hurried him back upstairs. ‘I’m so sorry Archie’ she said, ‘mummy and daddy have been very silly, darling. We’ll stop shouting now, I promise.’ 
  Upstairs, Archie’s large blue eyes were filled with tearful confusion and his lips trembled ‘Why were you and daddy fighting, mummy? Have I been a naughty boy?’ 
    Tears streamed down Moira’s face as guilt pangs pierced her heart, the full enormity of what they were doing to Archie crashed into her consciousness with brutal force. She sniffled, trying to calm herself. ‘No, darling, it’s because mummy and daddy don’t love each other anymore and we want to live apart. We were fighting over you. Who would you like to live with, darling, me or daddy?’ It was an impossible question to ask a four-and-a-half-year-old. 
   ‘I want to live at Grandma’s house, mummy. Grandma doesn’t shout, and she lets me eat lots of  cake.’ 
   ‘But Grandma lives a long way away, Archie, remember? We went on the train?’ 
   ‘Can we go on the train in the morning mummy, please?’ 
   ‘No, Archie, but soon, darling, soon.’ 
   In the morning Archie was dropped at day nursery where he tried to play with the other children but his heart wasn’t in it. He sat on a chair in the corner feeling miserable until Sandra, the nursery nurse he liked most, came and asked him what was wrong. 
    Archie hadn’t the words to tell her how he felt so he just mumbled ‘my mummy and daddy fight, daddy hit my mummy.’ 
   Sandra’s gentle heart ached, she picked him up feeling desperately sorry for the little boy. Archie clung to her, his tiny arms tight around her neck, crying miserably. She’d seen this sort of thing before.  Two adults using their children as the emotional rope and the prize in a marital tug-o’-war, it always had a terrible effect on the children. Children were not the tools of vengeance nor prizes to be won. 
    The next night in the Beddow’s house was a repeat of the night before, both were drunk and yelling their frustrations at one another. Archie lay sobbing in his bed thinking of Grandma, she was always kind,  always smiling. No one fought at Grandma’s house and she cuddled him and gave him cake and sweets. He made his mind up, he would go to see Grandma, tell her about mummy and daddy. Grandma would make it all better. 
     In the pre-dawn light, Archie awoke and went to his mother’s room ‘I’m going to see grandma, mummy.’ 
   Moira was groggy from drink and half asleep ‘OK, darling, you go back to bed and we’ll go to see her soon.’ Archie turned and went to his father’s room ‘Daddy, I’m going to grandma’s house on the train.’ His father grunted in his alcohol-induced sleep. Archie stood there thinking for a while. Mummy had said it cost a lot of money to go on the train. His father’s wallet was on the bedside table. Archie opened it and took a twenty-pound note. That should do, the train people would take him to grandma’s house if he gave them some money. 
   He went to his room and took his little suitcase from under his bed. He packed some clean pyjamas, socks, underpants and his favourite Winney the Pooh T-shirt. He went to the kitchen and made a clumsy sandwich which he placed unwrapped in the suitcase. It was a long way to Grandma’s house and he might get hungry. Back in his room, he got dressed feeling proud that he could tie his shoelaces all by himself. ‘Come on Reggie, we’re going to grandma’s house.’ Downstairs he dragged a chair from the dining room and climbed on it to open the front door. 
   Outside, on the empty street, Archie encountered his first problem, he didn’t know where the station was. Mummy had taken him in a Taxi. ‘I don’t know where taxis come from, Reggie.’ He stood at the street corner pondering this until he remembered that he knew where the railway line was, it was only at the bottom of the next street. ‘If we walk down the railway line, Reggie, we’ll find the station.’  He set off, a deeply troubled little boy, carrying his tiny suitcase, his teddy bear under his arm, determined to go to his grandmother’s house. He found a hole that older children had made in the fence and squeezed through. The line was deserted. He wasn’t sure which way to go so he turned to face the rising sun and started walking. ‘There are lots of stations, Reggie, we’ll find one soon, then we’ll eat our sandwich.’ 

   Archie heard a train coming, he turned, it was a long way off and seemed to be going very fast. ‘I’ll wave our money, Reggie, then they’ll stop and take us to grandma.’ Archie pulled the banknote from his pocket, tucked Reggie higher under his arm and, placing his suitcase on the track, waved his banknote at the train. ‘Please stop, Mr train, me and Reggie want to go to grandma’s house.’ 
   Hurtling into the rising sun at ninety miles per hour the driver of the intercity express didn’t see the tiny figure of Archie until he was almost on top of him. The horrified man screamed as he slammed on the emergency brake. The horn blared and steel shrieked on steel as the wheels bit the track. The train was still travelling at sixty-five when it smashed the life from Archie, hurling his shattered little body seventy metres down the line. He was nobody’s prize now. 

© pronto 2023
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