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Three Moments of Defeat

Doors should not be designed like that. It was unfortunate.

Gina’s head drooped. She sighed defeat. It was a sound defeat, total and resounding.

True defeat, complete defeat, has three parts. Three movements. Three moments. The first moment is requisite, the act that brings about defeat. The second moment is recognition, the awareness that defeat has moved from possibility to present to past. The third moment is resignation, acceptance of all that defeat brings — and all that it takes.

A day with William was never short. Today began at half past two. And then again at quarter past five — a time not even acknowledged by children’s TV. Gina filled the shortfall with supercharged coffee and slapstick breakfast. One clean-up operation later the TV was on and filled with the carefree smiles of childless children’s TV presenters.

Two years and counting and still no sign of sleeping like a baby. God, how she hated those newly mums with their two-month-old full-night sleepers.

Gina wondered when and where today’s tantrum would be. How far through the day would it be? Would it be at home or when they were out? William’s tantrums were one of life’s bedrock certainties, but they were not so well calibrated you could set your watch or size your shopping to them.

Today it was at the shopping centre, sprawling, crawling and caterwauling in the aisles. The choc chip cookie of appeasement had probably postponed the tantrum by ten minutes. Enough to get William past the toy shop, but not enough to have finished shopping for unstained clothes, overseen by posters of angelic identikit toddlers.

He gave his body fully to the tantrum. And now he needed his nappy changed. The look of surprise on his face at freshly realised discomfort. Every time. If nothing else it drew the tantrum to a close and gave Gina an exit. To search for the toilet that promised facilities for baby changing, yet always disappointed, always left her with the same one.

The toilet was multi-purpose and multi-access. It was for those with disabilities, including age and children. Shopping bags carefully propped against one another, Gina and William found the eye of the storm in the ritual of changing.

Now it was her turn. She sat down on the toilet seat, looked down at the floor and closed her eyes. A moment of relief. A short moment, but nonetheless a moment. A moment before…

Ker-klunk. First moment.

She looked up. There was William. On the concourse. It was busy. He looked back through the open door with his cherubic cum chocolate come-get-me smile. It was unfortunate that ease of access meant easy access in and out, able and disabled, old and young. It was unfortunate that ease of access meant the toilet, the door and the concourse all lined up. She could look out at the passers-by just as easily as they were now looking in at her. Second moment.

Gina’s head drooped. She sighed defeat. It was a sound defeat, total and resounding. Third moment.

Somehow she now had to recover. To recover her dignity from the knickers around her ankles. To recover her son from the concourse filled with passers-by and the now not-so-passing-by. To recover her keys, drive home and fight William into bed for a nap.

She would accept her defeat crashed on the couch. She would toast it with coffee — or possibly gin — and doze to the murmur of childless daytime TV.


Kevlin Henney writes words and code and words about code. His short and flash fiction has been appeared online and on tree with Fiction365, New Scientist, Litro, and Dr. Hurley’s Snake-Oil Cure.

Read more stories by Kevlin Henney


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