When Siobhan Yelnats woke up, her cold had gotten worse. It had begun yesterday, with a drippy nose and coughing fits. Now she felt like never getting out of bed. Her head felt heavy.
Her husband was up already...he was working on his latest experiment, she could smell it. It wasn't doing much to help her nose. She hoped, really really hoped, that the landlord wouldn't come over today. No more arguements. It was more than she could take.
Another twenty minutes passed before she finally managed to drag herself out of bed. As she walked out onto the landing Stanley's bedroom door was the first thing she saw. As always. She sighed. The door was closed...it had been closed for a while.
If this day was a normal day, she'd have been up a hour ago, been making him breakfast. With Stanley gone, there weren't any more normal days.
On their second date, she had sung the If Only song to him. He'd laughed. He'd liked it.
She didn't know why she was remembering this now.
"Zara, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. If I'd known...it just shouldn't have gone this far..."
She made toast for herself. Her husband and her father-in-law were in the living room, faintly talking about something bound to be highly important (no doubt concerning shoes). While eating, she listened.
They weren't talking about shoes. They were talking about Stanley.
"He'll be back soon, that's the important thing to remember."
"All the same...it's dangerous out there. That's what worries me."
It worried her too. She listened carefully, putting her toast aside for the moment. She felt slightly foolish...well, perhaps even a bit guilty...to assume her husband would sooner be speaking about experiments, shoes, fame and fortune than he would about his only son.
"Just...try not to think about it. I'm sure...I'm sure they won't let any harm come to him."
She thought about it. She had constantly been awakened by nightmares...nightmares of her Stanley lying dead at the foot of a mountain, or dead from dehydration in the desert, or...and this was probably the worst...killed by the other boys. Stanley had merely been in the wrong place at the wrong time, but the other boys at the camp...who knew what they had done? Stealing. Shoplifting. Assault. Stanley had never really fit in with people his own age...he had no confidence. He was afraid. Other teenage boys, they loved seeing people afraid, loved the small amount of power it gave them. And the sort of boys that would be at the camp...they'd be made as powerless as they could be.
Human nature generally scared her.
"Shouldn't have gone this far?" she whispered, so as not to wake the baby. "Jack, this is your son."
He was looking everywhere but her, the walls, the ceiling..."Zara, I'm sorry, I really am. But...oh God how do I say this...you're on your own."
She stared at him. Be angry, she commanded herself. Please, be angry. Hit him. Scream at him. Kill him.
Instead, she spoke, in the squeaky voice of the frightened teenager she wasn't. "Jack...you can't."
He didn't say anything, so she spoke. "Jack, you can't just do what your parents tell you, they're wrong, you know they are...you're smarter than that...I fell in love with you!"
She thought that would be it, that at those words the man she used to love would come running back and be the man who she could love for ever, instead. But he was walking away from her, across the corridor to the stairs.
"Jack! I have your child!"
He turned round just before he opened the door to the stairway. "I'm sorry," he said sadly. "I really am. But you're on your own now."
Then he left her forever.
Siobhan finished her toast, eventually. It tasted dry. Her throat was sore. She wondered what she was going to do all day. The house was clean...although her husband had done that. He wasn't a bad person...of course he wasn't, she loved him! He was just a bit...absent-minded.
Eventually, she decided to go shopping. Not for herself, just...for food. And she'd get something for Stanley, a nice video ame or something of the like. It would be good for him to come home to.
She got changed. Pink t-shirt, black skirt. She brushed her hair furiously for about ten minutes. At the end she looked presentable, although not particularly pretty. Aside from anything else, her nose was turning red. She stuffed some tissues into her jacket pocket before she left. She hoped the cold air would help her forget about her throat and nose and headaches for a short while.
Zara Zeroni didn't cry right away. First she tidied the apartment, and then fed the baby. After that, she finally got around to crying.
Jack. It wasn't fair. She knew exactly what his parents thought of her. But it had worked irregardless. They had worked. And now...
She knew exactly what his parents had screamed at him. How dare you, his father would say, while his mother sobbed on the expensive leather sofa. How dare you, sleeping with a girl like that, it's disgusting...
Tell her to get an abortion, his mother would cry.
It's too late for that, Mom, Dad. I don't know what to do.
First, get rid of her. You don't love her, do you?
Just as well, his father would say darkly. And then, If I had my rights, that filthy half-breed child would be dead by now.
Siobhan wound up going to the mall. It had been built only a few years ago, and she couldn't say she liked it much. It was cold. Teenagers came at night and broke windows and scrawled graffti. D DUNNE IS A DICKHEAD was the legend written across the door at the main enterance. There was no more glass in the door.
She opened it regardless and wandered around inside for a while. Most of the shops hadn't opened yet. She bought a cup of coffee from one that was and drank it gratefully. She waited on the bench for the shops to open.
Sometimes she wished she wasn't poor. You'd better marry someone halfway decent, her mother had yelled at her once, because there's no way in hell you'll be anything more than worthless with grades like these. Lazy slut.
She hadn't married someone halfway decent. She'd married someone all the way decent. He just happened to be slightly insane and in the possession of a) a million pairs of shoes and b) a family curse.
She smiled. The family curse. Indeed. It didn't seem possible. Surely if you had bad luck, it was down to you, not an ancestor's misdoings. Then again...
She thought of Stanley, and the smile faded.
I'm sure they won't let any harm come to him...
She hadn't expected him. When the doorbell rang, she'd thought it would be the landlord, telling her to get out. Or something.
Jack's father pushed past her, into the stuffy little flat.
"Boy or girl?" he demanded.
"His name is Hector," she said furiously. "And he's your grandson, whether you'd like it or not. Now get the hell out of my flat."
He stood in the door of the baby's room. She pushed him away in horror.
"GET THE HELL OUT!"
He glared at her and then spoke. "You should have had an abortion. Our people and your people...they should say seperate. Like God intended." He turned around to go.
Blind with rage, Zara picked up a vase from the shelf next to her and threw it at him. But, in her anger, she completely missed, and the vase shattered to the ground. Hector started to cry.
Jack's father raised an eyebrow.
"You and him," he said over his shoulder as he left. "Frankly, I doubt you'll survive..."
The mall was filling up now. It was mostly women going shopping, like her. There were a few groups of teenagers, undoubtedly kids skiving off school. She wondered if their mothers knew they were here. She thought again of Stanley.
She got up from the bench and started walking. She consulted her hastily made shopping list. She went to the nearest shops and bought some of the things she needed. Maybe she should go to the video games shop next. She sat down on a bench, again, and blew her nose.
Her head ached. She wanted to go home and back to bed. But she had to buy Stanley something.
She started walking towards the video games shop. It wouldn't take long. And Stanley would like it.
Then she saw the woman.
She was younger than Siobhan was, with dark skin and hair. She was wearing clothes that looked old and worn out. And...this was the most important thing...she was crying.
Siobhan did what everyone else was doing...she retreated. She went into the video games shop, and picked a game out for Stanley...one of the latest releases, he'd enjoy it. She paid, packed it into her bag, and went out. The woman was still there, still crying.
She shouldn't have been shopping in the first place...she should be at home and in bed. And she shouldn't really go too close to anyone, as she was bound to give them her cold. But...
She went to sit down next to the woman. Then she placed her shopping bags on the floor and said. "Excuse me? Are you all right?"
The woman looked at her. Her eyes were quite red. "What?" she asked, in a gasp for breath.
"I asked...are you all right?" Siobhan said. She realised while she was saying it that it sounded rather foolish. Of course she wasn't all right.
"I..." the woman said. Then she sniffed and rubbed her eyes. She looked at Siobhan properly. "I think...I'll be alright. I just lost control for a moment."
Siobhan nodded, not sure what to say.
"Thank you," the woman added.
They both stayed where they were, in a very awkward silence. Siobhan decided to break it first.
"Well, I think I...I'd better be going..."
But at the same time the woman said. "My name is Zara, what's yours?"
Siobhan stopped getting up. "Siobhan."
"It was nice to meet you," said Zara. Then she looked down at the shopping bags, and saw the video game sticking out of it. "Is that...for your son?" she asked quietly.
Siobhan nodded, wondering if maybe she ought to ask what was wrong, get to the bottom of this.
"I..." Zara shook her head. "I...it doesn't matter, doesn't matter," she murmured.
"He's away at camp," Siobhan said helplessly. "My son, I mean..."
Zara looked on the verge of tears again. "I you...my own son, Hector," she said quietly. "He disappeared. Anything could have happened...he could have been killed...there were people..." She trailed off. "Hector Zeroni. Could you...please...just look out for him?"
Siobhan nodded. What else could she do? Zara got up and went away. Siobhan stared after her, feeling awful and guilty. What could she do...?
In the end, she knew there wasn't much she could do. She went home. She spent the rest of the day in bed.
Hector Zeroni, now known as Zero, had used some of his money to hire an entire team of private investigators to find his mother. Siobhan Yelnats was determined to help. It was, in fact, largely due to her that Zara Zeroni was reunited with her son.
None of them ever forgot it.