MOST of all Isabel noticed his hands.

They were good hands, dark-skinned, kind hands, but capable, too. It took huge effort during the 20-minute journey home not to glance directly at his face again. When the sound of the engine shifted, as the train roared through the short tunnels, she watched his window reflection watching hers.

And now they were about to get off at the same station. He was standing so close behind her, she could smell his aftershave: a smoky-brown manly smell. The awareness of his inadvertent breath caressing the back of her neck caused a tingling sensation to ripple through her.

The doors whooshed open and she and the other passengers spilled out. Isabel darted a few paces along the platform, as though she were late for an appointment. She then stopped and fumbled for her phone. An excuse to look at him without appearing to do so.

The man from the train carriage looked at her too as he walked by. She saw his eyes slide over her chest and down to her legs, then scamper back up to her face. He sort of smiled.

Isabel remembered this type of look from men. Almost. A look they pretended you weren't supposed to notice but made quite sure you did. A look she couldn't remember inspiring for years, not since before she and Don had yet to find each other.

Long before Robert existed.

This got Isabel thinking about it all again. The way he broke the news to her that evening five months ago when they came home from Sweden. How he was leaving her the house, and how, financially, she and Robert would never have to worry about a thing. He'd see to it. He was even giving Robert his car when Don's own car, the latest model, arrived from Germany.

Once she'd gotten past the screaming and recrimination, she heard herself sounding like a cliched abandoned wife. After 20 years. What had she done? What could another woman give him that she couldn't? Hadn't she always been a loving wife to him and a good mother to Robert?

He was sorry. He really was, but she'd thank him in years to come. He knew she would.


That morning, the first day back at school after the summer break, Justin had trudged through the streets with his skateboard tucked under his armpit. On the ground the fallen leaves were all wet and sad, and the wind blew the rain into his face and drenched his uniform.

By the time the bell rang to go home after lunch, the rain had stopped, his clothes were dry, and the sun made everything bright and yellow.

Bombing along the footpath on his skateboard, Justin felt giddy, a little lightheaded though in control. The way he sometimes felt when he and his friends listened to The Game, his favourite rap singer. He was racing the bus between stops and mostly winning. On the bus were some girls he knew to see from school. With his cool sunglasses on, he pretended he didn't notice them waving and laughing to get his attention. He imagined his own face looking cool and tough, wearing the look he had practiced at home in the mirror.

Weaving their way among the images of himself were fractured thoughts of the lads in school telling him that his new haircut was "deadly". He ran his fingertips through his tight scalp, and crouched, readying himself for a kerb.

The guy in the car next to Robert's tried to pull across him.

No indication. He floored it. The guy swerved back into his own lane. A 1999 D Golf. Red.

In the rear-view mirror, Robert watched the moron's car shrinking. A swelling sense of joy washed through him. He burst into operatic gibberish, imitating the Bocelli CD playing on his stereo, and laughed at the sound of his voice straining to land on the high notes.

Finally. He had one. A black BMW convertible. A gift from his father - what a gift! And he had just turned 19. The break-up between his mom and dad no longer seemed as crushing as it had been these past months.

He climbed down the gears at the sight of a couple of women wheeling strollers in the distance. Always worth a look.

Bingo! Yummy mummies.

That's when the moron in the Golf whizzed past. The driver held down the horn and waved his arm out the window and above the car roof. A wuss's wave.

Robert stabbed off the stereo and shifted from fourth to sixth.

He caught him at the lights. They were side by side. Peripherally, he could see the guy giving him the finger and pretending to laugh, as though he were better than him.

"Get out of the car!" Robert mouthed, and indicated that he'd snap him in half. The guy kept doing what he was doing.

Robert felt himself getting out of the car, even though he didn't want to. The lights changed.


The moron got away first. He caught him easily and zoomed past. Ahead, another set of lights.

Amber. Robert slowed down and then speeded up on red.

Isabel made a conscious effort not to open the doors to all the rooms in the house when she got home. A ritual she'd carried out every day since he'd left her. Had she really expected him to be back home, waiting for her with diamonds and roses, saying what a mistake he'd made, and what a fool he was to have been blinded for a while by some moneyhungry little floozy? Yes. She had.

Isabel poured herself a glass of wine, downed it in one gulp, poured another and took it and the bottle with her to the bedroom. Before peeling off the skirt suit she'd worn to the interview for a change of job, she studied in the wardrobe mirror how the young man on the train must have seen her. Standing akimbo, she used her eyes the way she'd been trained to in photo shoots as a young woman.

It wasn't about pouting, showing teeth or running a glistening tongue over moist lips. The eyes.

The eyes were what drew men in and captured them. Even if, or especially if, they didn't know it.

Not bad for 39. And who could possibly imagine she had a 19-year-old son? Isabel could understand a young man getting excited and disturbed by the way she looked. She began to undress slowly, holding the gaze of the invisible young man for whom she was removing her clothing.

Justin cleared the kerb smoothly and mounted the other one as though his board grew out of him.

He could see the girls on the bus clapping his cool move as the bus wheeled on by. Who else had seen him? Up ahead there was somebody, a tiny old woman at 50 paces, but she was shaking her walking stick at him. He slowed down and freewheeled for a bit then stamped down on the back of the board, dismounted, and snatched it.

As he and the old woman drew closer, he noticed her mouth moving but he couldn't hear any words. Her head looked as though it had shrunk maybe in the rain, and there were far more stripes on her face than on his granny's face. She looked about 100. Justin was readying himself and his board to shove off after the bus when the old woman's claw grabbed him by the jumper.

"Get off me!" he said. "Leave us alone missus!"

The old woman's walking stick clattered to the ground and she had him with both claws. She clung to him like Whiskers McGrath, his neighbour's cat, and her round eyes through huge glasses were crazy. She smelled sour. "The priest, " she said. "Do you want to come over to see the priest?"

"What are you on about?"

Justin said, feeling something banging from inside his chest. "I want to go home." He pulled free from the old woman, swiped up his board and sped off for home, only realising that he was crying when he saw the bus stopped up ahead at the traffic lights.

He wiped the corners of his eyes with the grey sleeves of his school uniform jumper and prepared for a really sharp move.

He built up the necessary speed by tearing along the path using his left foot. At the pedestrian lights he leaned sideways, his arms outstretched like aircraft wings, and hooked around the pole and onto the road. He jumped slightly to clear the low kerb onto the traffic island, all the time aware that the girls were watching his performance from the upstairs deck of the bus.

Robert turned his head pointedly to sneer at the moron coming to a stop in the left lane. Amber lights were for idiots. They let them know their station. Idiots couldn't function if they weren't told what to do. For Robert, a high-flying soon-to-be young executive when he finished college, amber lights means lowering speed and climbing down a gear in readiness to drive faster.

The speed made Robert's tyres screech horribly before he hit the boy that had come from nowhere on the skateboard.

With a couple more belts of wine in her while she soaked in the bathtub, Isabel was in a relaxed and drowsy state, thinking, or dreaming perhaps, about the encounter with the young man on the train when the phone rang in the bedroom. She let it ring out.

If it were important they'd ring again. They did.

Reluctantly she climbed out of the tub, draped her dressing gown over her shoulders and padded into the bedroom. "Yes, hello?" she said.

"There's been an accident."

"What?" she said. "Robert, is that you? What did you say?"

Robert's voice was panicky and the line was breaking up. In the background she could hear voices and the sound of traffic.

"Where are you?" she said.

"Are you okay?"

Robert said he wasn't sure.

"Near where that old church is, you know the one?"

"Ask somebody!" Isabel said.

"Do you hear me, Robert? Ask somebody where you are!

Robert? Robert?" She took the hand-piece away from her head and stared at it, then pressed it back to her ear. "Robert?" The line was dead.

In her first attempt to call him back, she couldn't get her shaking fingers right and must have hit a wrong button. A woman's voice answered. Isabel slammed the phone down on the hook. The second time she dialled his number she got through to his voice greeting.

"Robert, listen to me. . ." she said after the tone, but didn't go on.

He was probably trying to reach her.

While she dragged onto her wet body the dirty clothes she'd earlier removed, she was fighting the idea of calling Don, when Robert called again. He couldn't stay on for long, he said, but told her what had happened. She listened carefully to the name of the hospital where the policeman told him they were taking the boy. He himself would get there as soon as the police were finished with him. He thought they were taking the car, too.

Abruptly, he told her he had to go. "Don't worry, mom, " he said, and he added that he loved her.

Robert had yet to arrive when Isabel made it to the hospital by taxi. At reception in accident and emergency, she learned that nobody was permitted to see the boy. She seated herself in the waiting room, and scanned the unhappy faces, wanting to, and not wanting to, locate the child's parents. She couldn't.

The sound of a woman's hysterical voice screaming above other voices drew her into the corridor. Three men, one a priest, were struggling to restrain a woman who was wailing and smashing her head off the wall.

The successive blows of the woman's head pounding the wall reverberated inside Isabel's chest.