The Boy is about five. He sitting at the wooden breakfast table with the Brother in the highchair and the Sister who is kneeling on the chair next to him. The Borther is about one. The Sister is probably three. And there is the Mother with the pot of piping hot porridge and the ladle.
The Mother ladles porridge into a bowl and passes it to the Boy. She tells him to cool it for the Sister. The Boy blows the porridge in the bowl for the Sister a few times and pushes it down the table, eagerly awaiting his.
The Boy doesn’t remember whether the Mother had given him any further instructions. He doesn’t remember whether he talked back. The Boy has no recollection of anything else between passing on the Sister’s porridge bowl and the sharp, blinding pain which followed the Mother taking his hand and sticking it with force into the pot of scalding porridge.
The Boy doesn’t recall in what order the events unfolded. He knows that he screamed. He knows that he saw his hand come back out of the hot sticky goo, which parted to reveal the marbled white-and-pink of blistering burnt skin over all of his fingers and the palm of his hand to his wrist. The Boy remembers, faintly, that words reached him. From the Mother. Something about his wilfulness… Sibling rivalry… Ok to feel jealousy but not to act on it… Not taking responsibility… The Boy’s burnt hand will show him the danger he had exposed the Sister to… The Boy has not taken the Mother’s request seriously.
The Boy finds that there are gaps in his memory. The Mother must have cooled and washed his hand. He remembers staring at the cleaned up mesmerising landscape of white blisters on pink skin as the Mother applies cooling cream and wraps his hand in a bandage.
The Boy feels the sting of injustice as deeply as the pain in his hand. “You’ve said that it is always wrong for parents to hurt their children!” the Boy says indignantly.
“You are old enough to know that blowing porridge a few times will not cool it. You deliberately passed on the bowl to hurt your sister. I had no choice. I needed to show you how irresponsible and dangerous you behaved,” replies the Mother.
“But you’ve told us about all these books that say it is never ok to hurt children. You’ve talked about how others get this wrong and that you are different,” the Boy protests.
“You gave me no choice,” the Mother insists.
The Boy remembers wandering down the hallway and taking the staircase down from the fourth floor to the ground level where he makes his way to the playground. The Boy meets another child from the housing projects further up the road.
The Boy shows him his bandaged hand and describes what his skin looks like underneath. “The Mother did this,” he says.
“Why would she do that?” the other boy asks.
“The Mother did this to me!” is all the Boy can say as he wonders off. “The Mother did this and she didn’t even apologise.”