Sharon sat on Arthur's Bench, her eyes staring into the darkness around her. She felt the biting late February air crash over her, but it didn't bother her. She wasn't sure how long she'd been sitting there, but a distant voice in her mind told her that she should be cold, that the temperature should be hurting her by now. But she was already too hurt for anything else to get through.
I need to feel the cold. It makes it better.
Leaning forward, she peered into the bassinet of the buggy, checking on the sleeping infant. Her hand reached forward, stroking his chubby cheek to check that he was warm enough under his bundle of blankets.
He was. He was fine.
Sharon closed her eyes, hoping the darkness would envelope her mind in its cold embrace. She felt an icy wind swirling around her, whipping at her pale cheeks, but she made no move to get up, to retreat to the sanctuary of home. Home. Where is that, darling? It was with your brother. Your father. My darling. They're all gone now.
She'd ventured out of Ian's house a little while ago, amidst Kathy's protests and no doubt under her watchful eyes, but Sharon had insisted she needed to take the baby for a walk. It didn't matter that it was gone ten at night, they needed the air, they needed the space. She'd said they wouldn't go far, wouldn't be long. "She's worried I'll do something I can't undo," Sharon spoke to her newborn. "Your mummy has a habit of doing that type of thing. There's a lot I would take back darling, but I wouldn't undo you," she told him, feeling as though the agony had gripped her by the throat and was squeezing unrelentingly on her windpipe.
Sharon let out a choked breath, her exhale misting in the cold air. She looked about herself, her eyes falling to where the market stalls had been set up earlier that day, empty now of course; everyone returning to their families, tucking their children into bed and sleeping peacefully in the night.
It was only earlier that day that people had come up to her, as she walked through the market pushing her baby's buggy. They had offered kind words and their condolences, but Sharon would rather they stayed away. She didn't need those things, words and kindness. She needed her eldest son. And no amount of "I'm sorry's" would ever give her that.
Sharon looked up into the night sky, surprised to see stars out, mockingly sparkling back at her. It was strange, everyone ran from the darkness, but Sharon relished it. It calmed her. Being outside and letting it surround her, the quietness, the way the night filled every crevice. The way the darkness kept everything hidden. She liked that.
Dennis understood that about her, understood that's why she loved having the club. There was something about the darkness that emboldened Sharon, she would say and do things that she never would under the cold light of day. The darkness let her lose herself, but also let her be. And Dennis used to bask in her glory. Sharon felt her heart constrict painfully, remembering the nights they had shared, the secret hopes and dreams that she'd never been brave enough to say out loud in the light, she would tell him in the darkness.
She closed her eyes, refusing to let the droplets that lined her bottom lashes fall. I miss you, darling. You must be so angry with me. I couldn't keep our son safe. I let you both down. I couldn't keep him safe. I promised you I would and I didn't do it.
Sharon's body trembled as she tried to keep her sobs from erupting. Her arms were tightly folded across her chest and she bit into the side of her mouth to keep her lips from separating, to keep a cry from being voiced. Her fingernails dug into her mouth, tiny darts of pain shooting through the nerve endings, but she didn't stop. She had to stay silent, she couldn't cry, because if she started, she'd never stop.
She opened her eyes and turned to where the voice had come from, surprised etched into the delicate features of her face, having expected it to be Kathy, ready to try and coax her back into the house.
"Jack," she murmured, her breaths coming out as faint wisps as they hit the cold air.
"What're you doin' out here?" He asked, concern lining his face. "Here, let me walk you back to Ian's-" He began, but Sharon cut him off with a shake of her head. Jack paused for a moment. "Okay, well, come back to mine for a bit then, yeah?"
She thought for a moment, her eyes vacant as she looked upon the still sleeping infant in his buggy. How do I keep you safe?
"Sharon?" Jack's repetition of her name jerked her from her thoughts.
Finally, she nodded, standing up from the bench and taking hold of her son's pram, following Jack's path back to his house.