Short story by
Elínborg could hear that he was in bed. He tried to suffocate the screams in his pillow. Had locked himself in the room and now she was standing outside the door, trying to get to him. She knew it wasn’t possible, not when he was in the middle of a fit. Give it time, he will calm down eventually. But behind that thought, the truth gnawed at her. They didn’t have time, not now.
He was just about to exit the door when he asked for his hat. Hadn’t used it for many weeks. That was why she had forgotten about it. But she should have known that he would want to use the hat shortly after a haircut.
Elínborg pressed her forehead against the door. She tried to calm her breathing and to take control of the situation. Why did this have to happen today of all days? She put her fingers against the lip he had busted, it had started to swell. This wouldn’t look good at the interview. At least the bitemark wouldn’t show.
He had been okay with the new haircut when he got it. Something must have happened at school. Hardly a day passed without something coming up. Elínborg searched for the hat in every nook and cranny, but to no avail. It was like it had completely disappeared. Daníel wouldn’t go out without it. When she tried to reason with him, he lost his temper and hit her in the face.
She had to use all her strength to hold him before he would start to knock everything over in the apartment. And then he bit her arm. The long sleeved shirt she was wearing provided little protection against razor sharp teeth. When she jerked her hand away she felt the tearing of the skin. It formed an ugly, bleeding wound. Daníel ran to his room and locked his door. Next year he would probably be too strong for her.
His screaming had stopped.
“Go fuck yourself!”
Daníel’s teacher had notified Elínborg that the school’s social worker would attend the meeting with them. She couldn’t stand it when she came. Couldn’t stand sitting with them and listening to all the horror stories of Daníel, with a knot in her stomach. How he was falling behind on his studies. How he would lose his temper. How he would throw rocks at the older kids that had made fun of him. How he had sent one of his teachers to the hospital when he punched her in the groin.
Every time they would ask her how he was doing at home.
Every time she would reply the same way. “He’s a totally different boy at home. I don’t recognise these things you’re describing.” The shame would pour over her as she lied to them.
“Have you heard about PMT?” It was Guðríður, the social worker that spoke.
“Parent Management Training. It’s a course specifically designed for the parents of children with behavioral issues. There they go over methods you can use to handle issues he’s struggling with, for example alone time when he misbehaves or to set up a reward system to encourage good behaviour.”
Great, so I’m supposed to put an eleven year old boy in the naughty corner?
“I said everything was going well at home .” She was frustrated because of all the accusations she constantly got from them. Why were they always interfering with her parenting? Couldn’t they just make sure that he wouldn’t be bullied? Daníel could hardly walk home without being harassed by some kids from school. Very often he came home looking disheveled after a fight.These kids, these fucking kids were getting him all riled up on purpose. If they would only leave him alone he wouldn’t be getting these fits all the time.
She said she would think about it but when the time came to contact the course organisers, she couldn’t bring herself to do it. She was afraid of what others would say. The woman who couldn’t raise her child.
The shift had already started when she walked into the café. Stella had clocked her in so she wouldn’t lose out on any pay, she couldn’t afford to. Work was her shelter. Here she smiled at customers and allowed herself to forget about the problems that were waiting for her at home. She changed her clothes and went up to the service desk. There, Stella was waiting, with a smile on her face.
“Why are you smirking?”
“Þrándur is having a staff party tomorrow. He just posted it to the group”
Þrándur had started working there about two months ago. He was studying to become a lawyer at the university and had decided to get a part-time job so he would be able to afford the rent on his downtown apartment. They had soon started flirting with each other. She was pretty sure they could become a couple. She had managed to keep it hidden from him how Daníel was. She was afraid of it deterring him, it had happened before.
They would sneak in touches. Be very careful about no one noticing. Then they would share a kiss on the dancefloor at Prikið, a drunken kiss. He would invite her to come home with her, and then, and then. It had been a while since she was with anyone. The desire for intimacy escalated every weekend when she stayed at home while everyone else went out to party. Despite only being twenty six years old she felt forty. When her break started she called her mom and asked if they could babysit Daníel for her. Her mom sounded apprehensive, like usually when Elínborg needed a babysitter. She said she was going to check with Elínborg’s father first. Can’t you just do this small thing for me? It’s not like they were constantly babysitting. Usually it was only in emergencies that she asked someone to take Daníel for her. His dad wanted nothing to do with him. Had given up on his fits a long time ago. And his parents weren’t willing to help out since he wasn’t. Had gotten a new child and was happy with that family. The pessimism had become a bit too much and Elínborg got back to work. When she needed a distraction from things she often started cleaning the fridge. Now she was down on her knees with the disinfectant and scrubbed the cooler sparkling clean.
“Are you busy?” It was Þrándur that was standing over her.
“Yes immensely, come back later.” Her humor hadn’t gotten into a good stride yet today.
“Are you coming tomorrow? I reserved that day especially for you.”
“Is that true? Well then I’ll at least have to stop by.” Her mood shifted and the knot in her stomach was loosening up.
“I’m going to school to study. Wanted to get my coffee on. Can you give me one cappuccino?”
“No problem.” While she made the coffee her phone vibrated on the service desk.
It was her mom, replying. “No, we can’t, I’m sorry. Your dad has a pain in his back.” Damn.
When she handed him the coffee the smile that she had had just before was gone. “Unfortunately I can’t come. I can’t get a babysitter.”
“Oh, that’s too bad.” Þrándur kept his smile. “You’ll be there next time then. There are a lot of staff parties in your near future.”
“You think so?”
“Yeah, what’s the point of having a downtown apartment if you don’t have parties every weekend.”
Okay, I’ll catch you next time.
She wondered if the others were having fun. Probably. If only he was a little older, then she could have left him at home. Would have allowed him to order a pizza and watch this nonsense into the night. After Daníel was asleep she went into the kitchen and mixed herself a drink, orange juice and vodka. Her annoyance grew. It shouldn’t have to be so difficult. Can’t he learn to behave? Must it always end in chaos. She poured herself a few more drinks and then fell asleep in front of the TV.
The letter was waiting for her when she came home. It was hidden in between bills ans she didn’t notice it when she smacked the pile on the kitchen table.
Daníel ran straight into his room and turned on the computer. This was the only thing he wanted to do at home, be on the computer or watch TV. There was no point in asking him to go anywhere, he just sat there quietly when they went to the café. He just wanted to play computer games with strangers on the internet. He wouldn’t talk to her for many days sometimes, but would rather talk to some foreign dudes in perfect English. When did he get so good at English? This hadn’t been a good day. In the first break Stella had dragged her outside for a smoke to tell her about everything that had happened at the party. In the beginning Elínborg had listened with interest and laughed at the funny things that had happened.
“I slept with Þrándur”
“What?” The knot in her stomach came back. She felt like she needed to puke. Fucking idiot. Both of them, fuck them.
“Yeah, we were smoking at Kaffibarinn when he asked me to come home with him for an afterparty.”
She didn’t want to hear it but there was nothing she could say. Had never told Stella that she liked Þrándur.
“Then it was just the two of us left and one thing led to another.”
For the next four hours she avoided eye contact with Stella. Didn’t want her to see that anything was wrong. When Þrándur showed up for his shift she acted like she didn’t hear him when he said hello. Just got the disinfectant and started cleaning the fridge.
When they were driving home Daníel asked to get a haircut. She agreed to it and they drove downtown. He was very happy with his new haircut. The girl that cut him was cute and he blushed when she talked about how handsome he was. After that they sat down at a café and had hot chocolate. It was quiet and they watched the people that passed by the window. They didn’t talk about school, they didn’t talk about anything. A young woman stopped in front of them and tied her boys’ shoelaces, then they held hands to cross the streets. Elínborg couldn’t remember the last time her and Daníel had held hands.
The letter was peeking out from the pile. It wasn’t a bill, it was a letter. Elínborg opened it, it was from Child Protection Services. She had to attend an interview next Thursday.
No, no, no. How could they do this? I can’t control how he behaves at school. Please God, I will be better, I promise. I can’t do this.
She lay awake all night, thinking about what awaited her.
Elínborg announced her arrival at the front desk. Daníel was with her. After the fit about the hat had ran its course she took him with him. She promised him that they would have ice cream when her meeting was over. When they walked inside the building Daníel walked behind her quietly. He seemed to sense that something was wrong.
They got sent up with the elevator and Björk, a middle aged woman, greeted them when they stepped out of it. She acted friendly. Daníel was invited to stay in the play area where he got to play on a gaming console while his mom would go into an office for a chat.
“So Elínborg, the reason for you being summoned here is that we got a notification of possible neglect and violence.”
“What!” She just said this to her face. “Who said this? His teacher?”
“All of our reports are confidential.”
“I have never hit him. This is fucking bullshit.” The anger was boiling inside her. This was worse than she had thought. She would never hurt him, ever.
“Tell me, what kind of diagnosis does the boy have?” Björk was trying to get a control of the situation.
“ADHD.” Elínborg calmed down a little. “He has been on medication for three years.”
“Is that his only diagnosis?”
“What more do you want?”
“Nothing, but according to the descriptions we have received it sounds like there could be something more that is the matter.” Björk was silent for a little while. “What happened to your lip?”
The knot that had been there since Monday kept growing. Elínborg felt like she was about to faint but nothing happened. The feeling of nausea was constant but she couldn’t throw up because she hadn’t eaten for two days.
Björk was waiting for an answer but then started speaking herself. “In the report we received there are claims of loud screaming coming from the apartment on a daily basis. “Often you can hear furniture being knocked around and small items being thrown at walls. The child calls obscenities at neighbours and screams at his mother that she is a slut. He has on multiple occasions threatened to kill her and others.The boys mother is often seen with bruises and injuries on the days after fits and we think someone needs to intervene before it is too late.” Björk stopped speaking to give Elínborg a chance to reply, but she just stared out the window.
“There are resources for cases like this one. It is not our objective to take him away from you. But it has become apparent that you need assistance with him. Another evaluation of his diagnosis is needed and according to what is said in this letter it sounds like he is on the autism spectrum.”
Autistic? Can you be hyperactive and autistic at the same time? Elínborg stared out to the hallway, in the direction of the play area. Björk had started talking about applying for a space at the Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Department but she had stopped listening. She just watched him in the play area.
He sat there on the couch and played on the console. He didn’t look like he was violent. Looked like all the other children, perfectly normal. His face was innocent. He was so beautiful. She felt when the tears started pouring down her cheeks. She loved him so much, couldn’t think about losing him.