by Tania Hershman

He shouts, she shouts, the cat slinks under the sofa, the neighbour turns up the television, and finally they fall asleep.

The baby is listening from his room and wondering what all the fuss is about. He is too new to know that this is not new, this is habit. He has only been in the world for four months and it has taken him a while to overcome his wonder at the surroundings. Now that he is older he is registering events, processing them, distinguishing between his parents and others, between smells and noises and colours and where they come from. He knows that his walls are blue, and his sheets are yellow and sometimes green. He doesn’t have the names of the shades, of course, but he feels the differences. He knows that the cat doesn’t like him, that he musn’t bite Mummy when he breast-feeds, that Daddy sometimes smells sour-ish in the mornings and that when Mummy cries he musn’t join in because she cries harder and for longer and doesn’t feed him.

When Daddy has gone and Mummy takes him into the kitchen, sits at the table and lifts her shirt so he can feed, he looks up into her face. He sees the dark patch around one eye shift and change, into purple then green then pink. Then one day there is a new patch, on the other side of her face, below the eye, and that changes colours too. If he touches it with his hand, Mummy twitches, says No, no, baby, and covers his fist in hers. And he knows that if he smiles at her after this, if he smiles at her any time Daddy isn’t there, she will stare at him for a moment, and then slowly, slowly, her lips will move and she will do the same back to him and then she will hold him so tightly and whisper into his ear, We’ll leave, next week, I’ll pack and we’ll go to Grandma’s. Don’t you worry, my love. I’m just waiting for the right time. We’ll go soon. Soon. Then everything will be all right.

Tania Hershman is a former science journalist originally from London and now living in Jerusalem, Israel. Her short stories have won several prizes, been broadcast on BBC Radio and published in online and print journals and anthologies. Tania’s first short story collection, The White Road and Other Stories, will be published by Salt Publishing in 2008. This is her website.