“How long have you lived on the street?”
The boy told him it had been a while. Long enough to destroy your vowels, David thought.
“Can you remember exactly?”
The boy shook his head and then, as if that response weren't emphatic enough, shrugged his shoulders. There was a fatigue in the gesture that almost caused David to lean across the table and squeeze the boy through his once-grey sweater, but he knew this would probably be misinterpreted, and he didn’t want to scare the child.
“Are you still hungry? Do you want more? I can buy you another meal if you want. Something you can take away in case you get hungry later.” David felt the words “on the way home” forming on his tongue and coughed them into his bunched fist.
The boy sat quietly except for the gurgling of his milkshake. In the companionable silence, David asked himself a series of questions, hoping not to be surprised by the answers. Did he still love his son? Yes, unequivocally. Would he be surprised to find him? No, it would feel as inevitable as a sunrise or the death of a star. Would this cause the blessed mother's return and the remaking of their family? Perhaps: It would be best for Giles after all. Would his son remember him? He couldn't be sure.
“Do you miss your mother at all?”
The boy told him that his mother was dead. David thought about the worlds a boy like this would have to create to keep out the horrors of the world he lived in.
The coffee sat uncomfortably in his stomach. He hadn't eaten since the morning, and it was now dark, almost the time when he would usually have to decide whether to take the last train home or stay the night, wandering between stations, looking for lost children and listening to the cries of the empty carriages.
“Will you stay here while I go to the toilet?”
The boy nodded, and David mistook his look of calculation for one of scepticism, a fear that the rescuing adult might abandon him, return him to the city's lost.
Victoria—David's face is wiped.
He walks back down the steps from the dingy toilet, bathed in familiar fluorescent light that for once feels warm and unanimous rather than harsh. His child sits in the room below. Finally. His mind howls, full of the things he needs to tell Giles. He wants him to know how much he has been missed. He wants to tell him what has happened between his father and the blessed mother, not so that the child will feel guilty but so that he will know how much he is loved and how his absence from their lives made the task of carrying on as impossible as breathing underwater. He wants to tell him how suffocating the world without Giles became. He wants the boy to recognise him and the love that has driven him for the past five years, and he wants him to want to come home.
He turns the corner at the bottom of the stairs and sees that the boy is gone.
David's coat is no longer neatly hung over the back of a chair but has been thrown carelessly across the table. His wallet is missing from the right-hand pocket.
Victoria—David is stripped of his garments.