The night before school goes back, my son and I watch his ‘Welcome to Year 2’ video, sitting side by side at the kitchen table. Within a few seconds, I can picture myself, legs wrapped around my son’s teacher, him thrusting into me.
“Can we watch it again, Mummy?” my son asks.
“You can,” I say. “I’ve got washing up to do.”
I start running the water and I hear the teacher’s voice saying “I’m looking forward to spending time with you” and I can’t work out whether that’s him on the video now, or him then, all long limbs and spatters of teenage acne, when he asked me to sneak out of my parents’ caravan that night to meet him on the dunes.
“He seems really nice, doesn’t he?” my son says, only his mess of wet-sand curls visible above the laptop screen.
“Sure,” I say, sliding the dinner plates into the soapy water.
Every remaining night of that holiday I met him after dark, drinking bottles of cider for Dutch courage or some other kind of courage before we stripped and ran into the frigid waves. We’d warm each other up after, sand sticking to our wet bodies.
Having finished tidying the kitchen, I tell my son to turn off the laptop. “It’s time for bath and bed, kiddo. Big day tomorrow.”
In the morning, I wonder whether I’ve imagined it all. I put make-up on for the first time in months, crouching over a handheld mirror in the bedroom while my son brushes his teeth in the bathroom. When it’s my turn in the bathroom, I see myself in the full-sized mirror, and step back at my clown-like reflection. I take off my make-up, leaving my eyes red-rimmed and watery, like I’ve been crying.
“Come on, Mum, we’re going to be late,” he says, like he’s the parent.
We join the slipstream of parents filtering through the school gate. When we get to the classroom, the door is already open.
“Bye, Mum,” my son yells, and he’s gone. First time he’s called me Mum and not Mummy, first time he’s gone into class without wanting a kiss or a hug goodbye.
I stand still amidst the sea of kids and parents, until I hear my name. “Sarah? Sarah? Is that really you?” my son’s teacher says.
“It’s really me.”
“I’m so pleased to see you,” he says.
“Yes. Look, I’ve got to go,” he says, almost-touching my arm, but then pulling it back, “but I’ll see you at the end of the day? Maybe we can chat?”
My head tells me to remember that I never heard from him again and have been doing this on my own for the last seven years, but my heart is pumping out possibilities.
“That’s probably a good idea,” I say, a smile tentatively washing over my face. “See you after school.”
“Oh,” he says, “by the way, which child is yours?”
“You’ll know,” I say. “One look at him and you’ll know.”
Laura Besley writes short fiction in the precious moments that her children are asleep. She has lived in Holland, Germany and Hong Kong, but now lives in land-locked central England and misses the sea. Her flash fiction collection, The Almost Mothers, was published in March 2020.