Perilous Adventures
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Saturday Mornings

by Robert Cocker 

Three or four hours were all we had. They were difficult hours, but the most important of my life.

Al was my son; I tried to be a father to him, though the intruder, as always, had words to say about that.

You’ll never sleep again. You’ll never see him again. He’ll have no father. You can’t function: what choice do you have?
It had long ago made home in my head, and the words it spoke seemed to belong to actuality more than the thin brick walls of my bed-sit. Through the hours of incessant, whispering monologue, Friday night became Saturday morning. I wrestled the sheets for sleep. Sat on the hard, thinly-carpeted floor, the air of cold, damp three a.m. mornings tickling my throat. Watched television and turned it off; the noise and colours, the blaring commercials hissing and hammering at my head. I swore at the tearing away of the sense of humanity I’d once possessed and loved. Back in bed wrestling, suddenly lying still, and realisation I couldn’t keep our Saturday morning reinforced by the residing internal voice.

Sunlight pierced the thin curtain and the pain tightened around my skull. I clutched my head, mentally banishing the vision of Al’s face. The screeches of woken birds perforated the silence and I mourned the passing of the dark and quiet night.

Somewhere between seven and seven-thirty on Saturday morning, I said goodbye to Al. That’s when I got up and took the mobile phone out of the kitchen and placed it on the floor by my bed. I waited to text the message to his mother: Cancel today. Though, even then, I thought maybe tomorrow.

As eight approached, the minutes on the digital clock slowed. I constantly thought they’d stopped. I could have cried, but I’d done enough of that and I was dry. The boy faced a life alone. I lay heavy as concrete in the bed I now hated, enervated, without hope of getting up and changing his future. And then, with no time to feel myself falling, I sank deep; sleeping, submerged in thick, warm liquid, painlessly, gently, thankfully drowned.

I woke to the sound of knocking and a beautiful voice that held some magic over me. ‘Daddy, I’m here! Are you there?’
Love shook me to a rare clear moment. I’d slept; enough at least to get through a few hours with a smile on my face. I rolled onto the floor, came up on all fours and called, ‘I’m coming!’ I was rapturous as I stood, and felt a grin pulling at my lips.
I opened the door, dropped to my knees, and he came running in and slammed into me, wrapping his arms around my neck. His gleeful face shone. I felt and heard his rushed breath, it came from deep inside him - his body exuding life - and in our gaze, I knew absolutely we shared the same deep comfort and pleasure at meeting once again. He pursed his lips - his breath smelt slightly of something stale - a scent, a taste, I loved - and kissed me. For him the searching for my lips was a test, the final act of greeting before we could enjoy our day. I kissed him back and smiled. Immediately he got busy, throwing down his pack and running into the bed-sit. ‘Come on, Daddy,’ he said. ‘You got the Lego ready?’

‘I’ll open the cupboard,’ I said, kneeling alone by the front door. The straightening of my knees and pushing up from the floor brought my body and mind back into the realm of cracking, woozy reality.

I walked round the bed, grabbed a beanie off the chair and braced my hair down, wincing at the wet, burning sores scouring my scalp as the hat cut strands through them. My fingernails were grey with congealed skin flakes. I rubbed the fingertips over the jeans I’d slept in, pulled the zip and buttoned up, opened the cupboard door and reached in for the Lego. The box hissed against the cupboard shelf and slid out. My son stood by my side watching the box. I stared into the haze of coloured bricks. I felt Al’s warmth as he leaned against my leg, and forced myself to look away from the enthralling kaleidoscope within the box. Scorching pain shot through my head and face, tugging and twitching about my eyes. My dry eyes stung and I blinked furiously then suddenly remembered Al. I fought the urge to blink, ashamed, afraid he would absorb the behaviour and suffer the looks of absurdity from the eyes of those surrounding him through life. I fought hard, fearing this was where it started, the shrinking into your own nailed-in hideaway, the walls thickening inward to the point where any gesture of kindness or genuine human reach towards you was unrecognisable. I saw my son’s future, his inability to distinguish kindness from cruelty in a malaise that would own him completely.

I decelerated the blinking and smiled at the boy gazing up at me, felt the smile go down deep inside. Something warmed my core. I told myself I would cope.

Al reached in and got serious with sorting and constructing. I watched him, just a moment, before kneeling to ask what he had in mind to build.

He explained each new part as he put it together. He was building a toy to play with. He had me by his side like an apprentice. Maybe he wasn’t building a toy at all. In all the fug of pain and dry-eyed, bed-sit isolation, I guess I had no clue about anything, let alone constructing Lego buildings, or being a father. I sat by his side role-playing what he needed me to be, though with a powerful sense that he was in charge.

He glanced up at me and said, ‘This goes here.’ Pain spread around the sides of my head and I felt its grip intensifying at the back of my skull. ‘This is the crane,’ he said. I nodded and pushed the air out through my nostrils.

‘This is to lift things.’

I smiled; it felt like a snarl. I had a habit of putting my hand to my face. ‘What are you doing now?’ I asked, and forced my hand down. Maybe he hadn’t heard me. His little hands were struggling to connect two bricks. ‘What’s that?’ I said, holding my breath. The muscles in my neck contracted and agony spread through my neck and bowed my shoulders. My muscles were a beast, squeezing me like prey. I tried to will it away but it tightened. My upper body locked up and my weak, taut arms, the clawed fingers, curled like ugly rigor mortis.

‘What’s that?’ I said again. The coarse sound of my voice shocked me.

‘It’s the crane, Daddy. I told you already. I can’t get it on.’

‘Be patient.’ He seemed to be playing far away, as though at the end of a tunnel. My vision blurred. Not now. Give me one moment with him.

‘Be patient,’ I said again. My voice didn’t fit the situation. It sounded belligerent, like my own father’s. I was a boy. A hopeless little boy, with my father’s voice resurrected in my mouth.

‘I can’t,’ he said. ‘It won’t go.’


He fiddled. Blotches mottled my vision. His struggling hands shifted strangely, suddenly closer, then far from my face. The Lego sprang from his grasp.

‘I can’t,’ he said, and he leaned out and snatched at the bricks.

‘Do you want me to do it?’ Irritation clawed in me, made my skin itch. ‘I’ll do it.’

He clasped one piece of Lego.

‘Al, I’ll do it, I told you.’

He seized the other piece and glared at me.

‘I’ll do it, if you want,’ I said. He was morphing into something horrible: eyes blackening, forehead and cheekbones deformed. I could barely look at him. I couldn’t see my son. I wouldn’t look at him like this. ‘I’ll do it.’ I opened his hand and took out the Lego and clamped the two pieces together. ‘Where do you want it?’

Al was quiet. I squeezed the bricks in my fist and pressed my knuckles against the carpet, staring down at them. I squeezed and pressed harder, concentrating on the sharp edges against the skin of my fingers and the hard knots indenting the skin of my knuckles.

Al remained silent. I glanced at him. Then I took a good look at him. I saw tears over his green eyes. Dread spread fast through my mind and body. He was crying. He didn’t make any noise. I’d done something bad. I couldn’t remember what I’d done. What had I done? Then I realised the distortion of his face had gone. I felt ecstatic suddenly and detested feeling so pleased with myself.

The cry came out of his throat now. Had I hit him? I searched my memory. Images of my arms lashing out at his face.
‘What’s wrong?’ Again my father’s voice. I care, I thought deliberately against my own doubt that I did. My cruel external voice was a grindstone, crushing resolve into powders of irritation that blew into my eyes, stinging, lining my nostrils with grit and grating my throat. The internal voice fevered the frustration. The carpet yanked at the knuckle skin as I lifted my hands. Al looked frightened. He was coughing up his own sobs.

‘Come on,’ I pleaded over a dry tongue. I reached out and patted his back.

He riled. ‘No!’

‘Al,’ I said. ‘I’m a useless father,’ my external voice barked. ‘What happened, Al? I didn’t do anything.’

‘You hurt me.’

His crying out churned the dread in my veins.

I tried to blink the violent images out of my head, but the arms swung harder. ‘What’d I do?’ I asked. I felt sick. I checked his face. It was fine, except for glistening trails down his cheeks.

‘You squashed my hand,’ he sobbed. He leant away from me. I saw he was holding his hand against the carpet.

‘When I took the Lego?’


I leaned forward tentatively. ‘Can I hug you?’ He remained stiff, as stiff as my own body had become.

I hugged him. I felt my boy crying against my chest. I was a damn monster. But at least I hadn’t hit him. ‘Do you want Mummy?’ I leaned back and looked into his eyes. He held the sobs back. His face was very wet. He looked dazed.

‘Do you want Mummy, Al?’ I wanted him to say yes. I wanted him away from me, safe. ‘I’ll call Mummy,’ I said. Say you want to stay with me, I thought. I reached for the phone.

‘No,’ he murmured. ‘I want to stay here, Daddy.’

Bloody hell, I thought. He loves me.

I was shaking. I took hold of him and hugged him. ‘I’m sorry, Al. I didn’t mean to hurt you. I wouldn’t hurt you on purpose. I didn’t know. I’ll be more careful.’

‘I’m sorry,’ I pleaded. He was quiet in my arms. I kissed his cheek. ‘I love you, my boy.’ I said the words. The resident in my head doubted they were true, said that I was a fake, cowering from my real self, my true nature. Let yourself be what you really are, it said. The pain will go. I tensed the muscles around my skull to hurt it, punish it, and squeeze it out. I had said to Al that I loved him. I told the resident in my head they were true words. I wanted to feel the truth of them as strong as the misery; even stronger. To have certainty: as strong as the fear when breathing my last breath. That’s something I’d imagined over and again since I was a boy: the terror as the world around me grew distant, closed in to a pinpoint, then the shiver, the end… But I’d never gotten past that place. Still, I wanted to feel the love for my son as strong as I felt the cold sweat and taut-chest shivers in waking from those pinpoint encounters with death.

We hugged a long time. He didn’t move. He was warm. I could sense his comfort in resting his head on my shoulder. I listened to his steady breathing. His lips were close to my neck and his breath hot. He would have stayed in my embrace until he fell asleep. He would have let me hold him for as long as I could. Eventually, I did move him back a little. I didn’t mind the ache in my arms or that my legs had gone numb. I thought we’d better have some fun time before I got too tired to take him home. I wanted him to remember a good time. He was a little boy. He should be having fun times, not all this serious stuff.

I’m going to make you happy, I thought. And then I’ll take you home.

I stood and leaned down and swished his hair. ‘Come on,’ I said and offered my hand. ‘I’ll put the tele on and we can watch a cartoons video. You can have the chair.’

He glanced up and placed his small hand in mine. He loved the big chair. He looked a proud king on a throne sitting in it. I lifted him and then landed him gently. ‘You can fly,’ I said. There was a half smile. He had crooked teeth and cheerful eyes. He was a handsome boy.

‘In you go,’ I said and eased him onto the cushioned chair. I wondered how it felt to be lifted high and low with two big hands holding him under his armpits. I wondered if it tickled, or was warm, or comforting. I grinned at him. He was so polite at such a young age: even before he smiled in return, I knew he would. He did in these moments when things were calm. I wondered where he got that from.

For a moment I felt dizzy. The blotches mottled my view. It’s anxiety, I instructed myself mentally, and I walked to the cupboard and got out one of the Cartoon Classics videos we’d bought from the City Mission.

I put the video in and switched on the television. I sat on a small mattress on the floor next to him and leant on the armchair to share close space. Porky Pig came on. We watched the first cartoon and then a Woody Woodpecker one Al loved. During this he put his hand on mine and rested his head on my arm.

He turned to me, grinning, and said, ‘It’s just you and me, Daddy.’

‘Yes, it is,’ I said.


The bus jolted. I closed my eyes again.

The internal squatter yammered in my head.

‘Don’t sleep,’ Al said. My eyes were heavy. I waited a moment. Al’s hand was in my hand. I gave it a little squeeze and then opened my eyes. Al sat by the aisle, his short, stubby legs splayed to the edge of the seat.

‘Do you want to press the button?’ I asked.

‘I want you to press the button,’ he said.

‘Okay. It’s nearly time.’

I waited for the bus to pass a run-down church then pressed the button.

‘Done,’ I said. Al looked up at me.

‘I didn’t hear it.’

‘The motor’s a bit noisy. It worked.’

He looked at the lit sign that read: Bus Stopping. He couldn’t read, but he seemed satisfied.

I lifted Al with one arm and hitched his back-pack over my other arm. It was too small to go over my shoulder, so it hung from the crook of my elbow, much heavier than such a small pack should have been. I wondered how much longer I’d be able to do this.

We walked up the steep street that led to his street. At the house I knocked on the door then stepped out of the porch and crouched by the front wall. I put the pack against the white weatherboard and hugged Al. ‘I love you,’ I said. Our chins were hooked over each other’s shoulders. It felt perfect and I wished I could prolong the moment, but I heard fast footsteps coming from inside, so I kissed him and said quickly, ‘Next Saturday?’ He nodded. He was looking right into me. I thought, Maybe… No, he couldn’t understand the impact his probing gaze had, but I felt him reaching right inside and holding onto me. His look was unblinking. It gripped me so hard and it was beautiful.

‘I love you,’ I said again as the door opened.

His mother came out off the porch. I had already taken two steps back. I smiled at him and blew him a kiss. He was still there gazing at me as I turned and walked to the gate and out onto the road. I thought his mother had probably already coaxed him back inside. A thrill went through me, and pain, when he shouted, ‘I love you, Daddy!’

‘I love you, too!’ I shouted in return, but didn’t look back. I knew his mother was standing with him.

I was at the corner about to disappear. ‘I love you!’ he called shrilly.

‘I love you!’ I said and ignored the insecurity I felt at hearing the crack in my voice.

‘I love you, Daddy!’ he shouted, and already he sounded distant.

‘I love you!’ I called and marched hard down the steep street towards the cars crossing the T at its base. I heard another, ‘I love you,’ as I neared the main road. I didn’t call back or there’d be no end to it. Then there were no shouts. His voice was somewhere, being heard by someone else. I walked around the crumbling concrete fencepost on the corner of the T and left the little street behind. I felt empty. My ears were pounded by the roar of motors.

I sagged by the bus stop. Saturday morning was over. I had held myself strong for close to four hours. The noise of traffic and the ever-present glances and pointing fingers whirled around me. Dark blotches blurred my vision. I was spinning, and nauseous. I was on the worst ride; a kid, hoping like hell the thing would stop.


When I got home I vomited in the toilet. I went to bed and slept a couple of hours. Then I lay awake, fully dressed. My mouth tasted rancid, and my throat stung. But I lay on the bed. If I had toothpaste in the bathroom I didn’t want to get up and look for it. I didn’t want to stand. The head could do anything if I stood. It could press down on me like God’s hateful hand and crush me. It could decide to throw me to the floor. It could smash my face against the mirror. I grasped for the vision of Al’s smile. That would get me through. It had to. I had to make it to the next Saturday morning, and the next and all those following, or he might never remember our moments.

Time did pass. It was hard to believe it was passing, but the clock, slow as it was, clicked its digital digits over.
The hangover of fatigue receded slowly, like the images in my mind from the morning. The road-motion bile which had risen sunk and dissolved somewhere down in my stomach. The birds ceased chirping. A rat rustle-scurried up a branch outside the curtained window. Night was close. I felt its cool breath. The familiar quiet settled, and then seemed eternal. The internal squatter was in my head again, and that was no surprise, whispering incessantly, incoherently. I ignored the noise.

My heart beat loud in my ears. A trickle of sweat ran cold down my forehead to the pillow. I lay staring up at the thickening motes of gloom mustering in the grooves of the corrugated ceiling. More cold drops ran down my cheeks to the pillow. I listened to a whimper growing against the silence. I listened to it for a long time.


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