I was as oblivious to it as any ten-year-old would be. I did wake up a little earlier that day, so maybe I’d heard something after all. Although, to be fair, I’d become quite good at blocking it all out; some sort of pre-adolescent denial at work or something similar.
Up to the age of nine, I think it was, things had been reasonably normal, whatever normal is supposed to mean. Perhaps I had simply refused to see the cracks appearing or feel the strain permeating as I dealt with my own glory, just as I had to deal with their mess.

As I got older, I found out other things were going on, too. Apparently, there were some sort of love letters stored in a box somewhere, and someone had a video of someone doing something that they shouldn’t have been doing and all the rest of it. I’m aware that it’s neither a happy story, nor a new story in any way, shape or form, and I’m not going to get into all the nitty-gritty details here today. Or any day, really.

Breakfast had always been a quick affair before rushing off to school for me, or work for them, but that morning, it lasted for quite a while longer than it should’ve done. It marked the beginning of the end as they splintered apart; shattered into tiny pieces just like the plate I found all over the linoleum floor that morning. There are many kids that talk about the hardship and turmoil of broken families, and even though I am one of them, those stories should always be taken with a pinch of salt. I don’t really trust memories anymore. Or anyone, for that matter.

Over the years, I have often asked myself if it really happened or if I’d simply merged memories of TV shows, films, and the odd book with the finality of that astonishing day.

Perhaps I should’ve done more to help and I regret not having been more observant; although, let’s be honest, next to nothing would have changed. Couples get married quick as you like when they are going to have kids, but they rarely stay together because of, or for them, right? The little brats have to fend for themselves, don’t they? Just like I had to. Toughen ’em up, it will. Such wisdom. And there was me having been led to believe that I was always the selfish one. Oh, and thanks for the choice as well; nice touch, guys.

The eggs and beans had finished their slow crawling decent by the time I came downstairs. I won’t lie: there was a certain beauty to their star-shaped demise, so violently and wonderfully recorded all over that wall. I’ve always loved the splurge effect; the runs and drips that extend out of it have always fascinated me when I happen to come across one, whether it be paint, tea, or blood. From Pollock to Dave Gibbons to egg-throwing festivals to spilt paint on a road, as well as happy accidents in my own home many years later, I’ve always been transfixed by the globules as they reach out, searching and stretching; it’s almost as if they are trying to get away, trying to find their own reasons, looking for something denied to them and just out of reach. Is that something else I need to thank my parents for? Is that yet another thing that defines me and that, in some perverse way, I actually owe them for? Well, thanks, I suppose.

The corkboard was quite spectacularly wonky that morning, and the egg and bean juice had coated one or two of the photos we had stuck up on it. The one of me, my aunties and my nan when we were in Spain a couple of years ago, was the worst hit; at least I think it was Spain, definitely abroad somewhere, anyway. In a funny way, the photo looked a little better than it had done before: the sickly and overly saturated Kodak colours were calmer, more subdued as the albumen went to work in a very different photographic way than it had been doing a century before. I distinctly remember enjoying the way the orangey bean juice merged happily with the red of my nan’s fantastic flaming Irish hair; there was something so beautiful about that; and even my auntie’s draconian stares were almost hidden, almost forgotten. I tried to fight the urge to get up on the stool and take a closer look—but I couldn’t help myself—knowing only full well that the stool was dangerous, as I’d been told a million times. I had to stop myself, though, from sliding my finger through the trails of gooey orangeness to taste it. I wondered if it was still warm; I wondered who would clean it up; I wondered if it was time for school yet.

“Oy, gormless! Get the fuck out of the way. And put some fucking shoes on; you’ll cut your feet open. Come on, don’t just stand there gawping like that!”

“What happened, mum?”

“What do you think fucking happened? We had a fight. I got mad and I threw breakfast at your cunting father.”

There was a stillness there, a silence to that day that alternated with the outbursts that I won’t claim to understand. The truth is, it lingered; it meant something to someone somewhere, no doubt.

“Where’s Dad?”

“I don’t fucking know. And I don’t wanna talk about that arsehole. Just go and get ready for school.”

“But what about breakfast, mum?”

She looked at me with fury in her eyes, as if all of this was my doing, like it was all my fault. I thought she was going to hit me, but she didn’t this time, and I saw her soften a touch; she became mum again—the protector not the destroyer.

“Well, for a start, you can’t eat that, can you?” A slight smile worked its way on to her face as she pointed to the egg and beans, and I wanted to say no, but I didn’t know how or if I should. She bent down and looked at me, and I saw her for a moment; I mean, really saw her. I realise now that those strange things I’d seen in her eyes that day had been doubt and weariness and perhaps even fear; things I’d never seen on her face before, things I’d have thought she’d never entertain. Wasn’t this the mum that was so strong in every way that nothing could ever faze her? This was the protector, right? Was she simply a woman just like all the rest? How could that be?

She held my head firmly with clammy, trembling hands and kissed the top of my brow with a pretence of bravery that belied the situation. But I enjoyed the feeling of calm that she could always give—when she wanted to, when she remembered to.

“I’m sorry you had to see that. I know we fight a lot, me and your dad.” She looked at the wall, then the floor, and then back to me slowly shaking her head.

“It’s okay, Mum,” I offered as if I understood what I was saying, as if it made anything better. Although maybe that’s a little too harsh, maybe it did help a bit, who can say?

“Right, listen,” she stood up letting go of my head and I wobbled with the terror of standing alone for a second, “Just get your stuff for school and you can pick something up from the shop on your way. Okay?”

“Okay.” I wanted her to hold me again, but she didn’t.

I went back upstairs to my room and got my things together. There wasn’t much to get, just some exercise books and my pencil case. I remember my room that day. It looked normal. It looked exactly the same as it would in six months’ time when we came back to collect more of my stuff and take it to our new flat, to take it to our new life without my dad. As I grabbed my things, I saw him from my window as he marched towards the house and I held my breath in case it made the curtains twitch, in case that fury in those ebony eyes was directed at me.

They started shouting, shaking the silence for the second time that morning, although this time I had no choice but to hear everything. I’m not something you wear; I’m a person. I checked my rucksack once more to make sure I had the right books, even if I’d already done it before. I knew they were the right ones although I stared at them as if I were trying to convince myself of otherwise. Take your fucking hands off of me; don’t you dare touch me again. I inspected my pencil case, too, and set about making sure my pencils were all sharpened and ready for the day ahead; my beloved 2B pencil looked a little worse for wear, so I made the point as sharp as it could go. So sharp I had to do it again. Since when did you ever really care about him? My Verithin colours were fine, although I sharpened them again, just to make sure, just to be on the safe side. Calm down, will you? Don’t worry about him; he’ll be fine.

I realised that my rubber was dirty, so I scrubbed it on my jeans to clean it until it was creamy white again; it took a while and I rubbed until I could feel the friction burning me through my jeans. Was that one of the last times I was able to feel anything? There it is. Typical. Always fucking running away; not man enough. I ran down the stairs and out the front door and didn’t stop or look back until I got to school. That was the last time I ever saw them together. That was the last time we were ever normal.

I stayed with my mum and I still remember the day she asked me who I wanted to stay with. I’m not sure if I should respect her faith in my supposed maturity at being able to make such a decision, or just hate them both for putting me in such a position to have to make that impossible choice. At least I got a choice that time, I suppose. Thanks.

As I said, we went back to that place to collect our belongings about six months later, and I remember standing in that kitchen looking at the wall. Perhaps that very wall was the foundations for my own walls that have been built up over all these years so that I now hardly feel anything at all. Is it thanks to their failings, thanks to the broken crockery of their doomed premature union that I have this protection? Should I feel eternally grateful for this cold and yet efficient superpower that they have given me? Bizarrely, I daresay I should thank them for one of the better things that they have given me from that part of my life.

The eggs and bean juice that were once brilliantly yellow and orange now looked like old black blood, and I no longer wanted to put my finger through it. Aren’t kitchens usually meant to be happy places full of goodies and smells and company and fridges and parties? I guess that sometimes they are also embarrassingly stark reminders of how things can come to pass; they morph from their functionality to something akin to myth, and from warm bright places to become a thing of darkness or the stuff of terrors, the stuff of nightmares. I hated them for doing that to me, for taking all that away from me. I hated them for taking everything away from me; even my love was gone.

I went upstairs and looked at my room for the last time. The view from the window was the same, and yet different, too, but I didn’t care about moving the curtains anymore. I no longer liked that place; the whole place stank and looked wrong. I heard my mother call me and I ran down the stairs and out the front door just as I had done six months before, and I never looked back and never stopped running.