Miriam called him Terrible Two because that was what everyone else called theirs. Except, maybe hers was the most terrible of all. He had a silence that couldn’t be broken. His screams, no sound. Just a yawning open mouth. It might have been a relief, if it hadn’t been for the way people stared. Besides, she could hear the sound anyway, coming from miles away, from that never-been-to place, where he’d lost it. It was a train moving steadily through the night. One day that scream would reach his mouth. The sound, so close and so loud.
‘When are you going to get some words, Two?’ Miriam whispered.
All the other little Twos were dressed in hand stitched outfits – blue shirts under dungarees for the boys, and pink dresses with frills for the girls. They pushed tiny plastic cars, or dolls in pushchairs, around the shiny laminated floor of the playroom. They didn’t tug their mother’s skirt hems. They’d stopped grabbing earrings lose from their mother’s ears. They were playing quietly, and orderly, as children should.
Miriam’s Two refused all offers a blue car, or a green one, or look a red one with a number 8 painted on the roof. He just wrapped arms around her legs and watched, everything. You’ll never make friends like that, Miriam thought. And neither will I. She didn’t have to tell the other mothers that her Two was the most terrible. They already knew. Not that it was all his fault. She was the one who’d worn her floral dress again, not noticing that everyone else had moved on to gingham.
Two began yanking her arms until bits of her starting coming loose. And there was that big open mouth of his, still waiting for the scream to arrive.
‘People don’t go to park when it’s raining,’ Miriam said. ‘People with any sense stay in, where it’s warm and dry.’
Two didn’t know the word sense. He had a sense for outdoor things, the wet and dark or the crisp and boot-crunchy. Earthy things. Things that made his clothes, and hands, and face dirty.
So they went to the park. Two ran into puddles, like they were meant for dancing in. Miriam stood watching, umbrella-less, ruining her hair.
‘Don’t get your trousers so wet,’ she said, but didn’t know why. Wet trousers could be dried again. A life past can’t be lived again.
Miriam went and stood right in the middle of the puddle Two was dancing in. She didn’t quite dance. But she did shuffle her feet around a little.
The park became their place. They were wet faces in the rain, muddy boots and never-a-need-for-umbrellas.
A soft downy hair began to grow on Miriam’s arms. The man at the checkout stared when he saw her stroking it, absent-mindedly.
‘I’ve forgotten something,’ she said, rushing back down the supermarket aisle to find razors and foam.
Two found her in the bathroom. He gave her a look that said, why don’t you just leave that, exactly as it is. So she did. But she did start to wear long sleeves.
And then, there was the warm earth smell. Extra deodorant wouldn’t mask it. Perfume mingled with it, and made it sour. Milk, gone bad. So she stopped wearing it, and she smelt like herself again. She smelt like children do in summertime, when their skin is made of grass and sweat. Two pressed his nose to the skin of her neck and stayed there.
There was a woman Miriam recognised in the queue at the supermarket. She should probably say hello, but the woman was staring at Miriam’s legs.
‘Trousers,’ the woman said.
Oh, Miriam knew none of the other mother’s wore trousers, but how else could she cover the hair that now grew on her legs as well? And weren’t trousers so much more practical for digging and climbing and dancing in puddles?
Miriam and Two planted flowers in wet soil, in colours that were not perfectly co-ordinated. They crawled on their knees to find the foxes’ den. They made pies of mud, and held frogs in their bare hands.
‘You know, it’ll be summer soon,’ she said. ‘There’ll be other people here then.’
So they took a train. It might have been the train she’d been waiting for. The one that had Two’s voice inside it. Then they walked until there were no more people and the trees were thick and dark. Two pointed to a cobweb sewn across his path. Miriam knelt down to his eye level so she could see it too.
Two said, ‘Spider.’ And what he meant was look at the way the light makes the web into spun silver.
Miriam held Two’s hand and his name was for both of them, because they were the only two. They dug a badger hole and covered themselves with leaves.
Copyright © Eleanore Etienne 2013
Terrible Two was written for, and read at, StorySLAM:Live – Slamming Gates at the Southbank Centre in November 2013. The brief was a five minute story. The theme was ‘Freedom of Expression’.