There’s a blur of motion in the corner of my eye.
“Michael.” I call not looking up.
A few moments silence to allow for expletives to be muttered under the breath.
“Wha’?” The apostrophe is so pronounced it seems to suck sound out of the air.
“Come here a minute please.”
Again a few seconds of reluctant silence before a scarecrow head, the product two thirds of a tub of gel and half an hour in front of the mirror, appears around the door.
I look up from my magazine with a smile and wait. Eventually, realising he’s not going to win, the rest of my son appears in the doorway. The tee-shirt is distressed, although whether intentionally or through neglect I’m not sure, the jeans are at an obscenely low level, showing so much underwear that the crotch is almost visible.
“Where are you going?” I ask, turning my attention back to the magazine.
“Ou’.” I almost wince at the missing tee here; surely it would be easier to include the consonant.
“Not looking like that you’re not young man.” The no-nonsense tone switches on automatically.
“Oh come on, everyone dresses like this these days.” The nasal whine in his voice is like fingernails on a chalkboard.
“Not quite everyone.” The note of finality makes one of its all too frequent appearances.
The silent battle of wills lasts half a minute before I turn another page in the magazine and Michael, giving a grunt of disgust, undoes his belt and hoists the jeans to the compromise level. I have no doubt that they will drop a couple of inches as soon as he leaves the house, but this is more about me letting him know I don’t approve than winning a fight.
“When will you be back?” The voice is carefully pitched not to sound too controlling.
“About half eleven?”
I smile because it's a question. It’s an hour later than I’d like, so we compromise again, “Make it eleven and you’ve got a deal”, normally I hate the word got – too generic – but this is my concession to talking his language.
“OK, later,” and he’s gone before I can change my mind. No kiss, no hug (I miss that), but at least he didn’t ask to borrow the car.
“Dear Mary mother of Jesus”, I mutter under my breath, “I’m not a Catholic, so I probably shouldn’t be talking to you directly, but was it this hard for you? I mean I can’t imagine your son at this age going out with his robe tucked in his undergarments just because it’s the latest fashion, or drizzling aromatic oils over his hair and beard to impress the chicks and annoy the olds. As for talking back at you…
“I suppose there was that time when you lost him in the temple, but even then he wasn’t being rebellious so much as doing what his dad told him. I do wonder what Jesus’ teenage years would have been like if he’d lived them here and now.
“I mean I know I need to let Michael have his space. I know he needs the freedom to grow without my interference. I even know he has to make his own mistakes so he can learn, but does it have to be so hard?”
Now I’ll sit here with my magazines until eleven o’clock, or whatever time after that he deigns to return, and I’ll worry every second about what he might be doing or what might be happening to him until then. I’m pretty sure we’ll have that “Why are you checking up on me? Why can’t you just trust me?” argument when he does come through the door, and he won’t notice how relieved I am to see him safe.
I close my eyes and send up a silent prayer. There is a sense of comfort, but it doesn’t quite dissolve that knot of unease that gnaws at my gut.
I let out a sigh and turn another page of my magazine.
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