by Steve Johnson


by Laura Besley


Dan was an easy baby until he was about four months old. His fat cheeks were blood red, his chubby fingers bunched and raging. ‘’’E’s teething,” my gran said. Oh. Right. I didn’t know much about babies.

Every tooth was a battle, but that first tooth put up the biggest fight.

A big fist / knocked it out / in yet another brawl / after pub kick out / Such beautiful teeth he had / Missing four now / that I know of.


Used to wean kids younger back then. None of this waiting until they’re six months old. Dan spat out every mouthful of baby porridge I choo-chooed into him. I ended up eating it – waste not, want not – and it was disgusting. “Try mushed fruit,” my neighbor said. “Apples, bananas, pears. Stick some sugar in an’ all – will build ‘im up.”

Once he’d tasted that, there was no going back.

I asked him about it / he said it was for “recreational purposes” / whatever that might mean / I’m not sure / he knew either / All I know is / he started using more and more / and more / until it was never enough.



“They usually either walk or talk early,” the health visitor told me. Dan was a walker. Only ten months, he was. I stood there, arms outstretched, ready to catch him.

He took his first tentative steps.

He was called to the witness box / his large feet / taking ever bigger steps / until his usual swagger returned / Only I knew / it was all for show.



As soon as he could walk, he wanted to run. As soon as he could run, he wanted to kick a ball. By the time he was two, he was running rings around me. The first time he scored a goal, I cheered like he’d scored for England and he clapped himself like he had, too.

It was all he ever wanted to do.

When he went down / his leg at a grotesque angle / his scream so big no sound came out / I knew it was the end / The end of him doing well at school / the end of him keeping his nose clean / the end / Not one of his teammates or coaches came to the hospital / Like failure was contagious.



“You’ll make ‘im soft,” his dad said. “Don’t want no boy of mine growing up soft.” Well, that didn’t happen—not that he’d know. Buggered off long ago. When Dan finally started talking, all those words came tumbling out, one after another. “I love you, Mummy.”

That was his first sentence.

“Guilty,” the judge said / I clenched my hands so tight / my knuckles nearly popped / out of my skin / He turned and looked at me / and all I saw was him / his different faces as they’ve changed over the years / all layered one on top of another / My face / with muscle memory of its own / tugged my lips into a sort-of smile / because he’s my boy and / I love him / no matter what.


Art by Steve Johnson on Instagram @artbystevej.