READY OR NOT • by Mary J. Daley

He chased her down the hallway. She was so startled by the initial breaking of glass she didn’t get a clear look at him. Except that he was young. That was all her consciousness would absorb as she ran for her life. Well, that and the dust that had accumulated along the banister of her staircase. Leave it to her to notice dirt, which in her current heightened state now stood out in perfect clarity. He grabbed for her hair. She screamed, swinging her arm around, knocking his hand away before he got a solid grasp. She ran through the kitchen to the back door, flipped the lock and yanked the door open. Head on she rushed off the edge of the porch and into a pool of dark. He followed. She could hear his short fast breaths in between her own sobs.

The grass beneath her was wet and frictionless and she fell to her knees. “Please, don’t hurt me. What do you want?”

“Money.”

“In the cookie jar on the kitchen counter. Just leave me alone.”

She waited. Expecting pain but nothing happened. He was stepping back into the light of the kitchen when she finally found the courage to turn her head. It was the set of his shoulders and his stride that triggered recognition. Something his shadowed face had failed to achieve. She rose unsteadily to her feet and followed him.

At the doorway, she watched as he reached into the ceramic cat cookie jar.  He looked over at her. A trace of blush crossed his pallid skin. For a brief moment she expected him to pull out two cookies and offer her one. Maybe even offer her a smile. But it had been years since that jar contained a cookie, and even more years since he last climbed up onto the counter to take one. How easily she used to remove him from the counter top and place him on the floor.

“I’m not taking it all. Just what I need.” He shoved several small bills and two twenties into his jean pocket.

“I haven’t laid eyes on you in six months and you show up like this. You scared me. I thought you were a burglar.  I wasn’t expecting…”

He shrugged. “Well, I wasn’t expecting you to be downstairs. It’s Saturday. I thought you would be sleeping off a bottle of wine by now. “

“I don’t do that anymore. ”

“Good for you. But it doesn’t mean you can start preaching.“ He stared down at the cookie jar. He looked ill. Thin. Tired.

“Stay and I’ll make you something to eat,” she said.

He laughed and shook his head. “And give you a chance to call the cops again when my back is turned. Sorry mom, but I don’t trust you anymore.”

“Let’s not bring up trust. You put me through hell.”

“You don’t know anything about hell. Or you wouldn’t have sent me to jail for two months.” His hands shook.  She noticed his fingernails were dirty and ragged.

“You had left me no other option. I was afraid for you. I was trying to help.”

He rolled his eyes. “Do you really want to help me, mom?”

“Yes.”

“Then give me a count to ten before you pick up that phone and call the police.” He turned and walked towards the open front door and across the broken glass. A moment later he was gone.

The last time he had asked her to count to ten was probably when he was nine, during a game of hide-and-seek. She was good at the game. She knew to count slowly, pausing between each number to listen while he scurried about the house on sock feet searching for the ideal spot.  ‘Ready or not here I come’ never really applied because she always made sure he was ready. That he was well concealed in his chosen spot before she started looking.  And regardless if she knew where he was, she never found him until he was ready to be found. After all she was once more mother than peer.

It all seemed like yesterday and long ago at the same time.  But maybe it wasn’t too late. Maybe there was still a little of that boy somewhere. A boy who was not quite ready to be found, but still wanted someone to look for him. She closed her eyes and began.  “One — one thousand. Two — one thousand….”


Mary J. Daley lives in Toronto, Canada with her husband and two daughters. Her short fiction has appeared in places like Allegory, Electric Spec, Gemini, and Moon Drenched Fables.


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Every Day Fiction