The thing with stickers

a short story by Sean Harris.

‘We’re going to see Mummy, aren’t we? Yes, she needed a break from you.’

The young man sat with his son on the cold metal bars of the bench, on the platform of the train station. It was just after rush hour now and not very busy. The young man had arrived with his son during the rush, and he had witnessed the chaos of the commuters running for connections and finding the correct trains in the thronging crowds. Now everything was very quiet and peaceful again.

The young man, whose name was Jimmy, sat on the bench looking out at the landscape from the platform.

There were two large derelict buildings in view. The inners of the buildings were completely gutted of windows and any sort of furniture and covered in graffiti and nesting pigeons. It was late autumn.

Jimmy looked at his watch. The train would arrive in five minutes.

‘We’re going to see Mummy, aren’t we?’ Jimmy repeated to his son.
The little boy said nothing. He looked at his book of dinosaur stickers.
‘Do you know who Mummy is?’ Jimmy said with condescension.

The little boy said nothing, only blew a snot bubble out of his nose. Jimmy pulled out a tissue from his pocket and started wiping the snot away.

When he finished wiping, he looked at his son for a second and thought about everything. He looked at the boy’s droopy eyes, and he looked at the red veins in his cheeks that were not cute or rosy at all—and some tears suddenly formed in his eyes.

The boy managed to peel off one of the dinosaur stickers, after trying for half an hour without any signs of frustration.

He just kept picking away at the edge of the stegosaurus’s spiky tail. If Jimmy had noticed his son was trying so much to peel off the sticker, he would have helped him. He was struggling to notice anything.

When the boy stuck the stegosaurus sticker to the bench, Jimmy did notice.

Wiping the tears from his eyes, he unpeeled the sticker and stuck it in the boy’s sticker book. Then e grabbed his son by the back of the head to make sure he was looking at him. The boy looked at him with placid bulgy eyes.

‘Look,’ Jimmy said. ‘You’ve got the book to stick your stickers in. You can’t just stick them anywhere. That’s not how the world works.’

The stegosaurus was not stuck down properly.

The boy, not seeming to register any of what his father had said or any of the desperate emotion in his voice, peeled the stegosaurus back up from the book and stuck it to the front of his jumper. The sticker stuck loosely to the fluffy material. It was a red knitted reindeer jumper.

‘The thing with stickers—’ Jimmy said, struggling to get the words out. ‘The thing with stickers is that you need a place to stick them. Do you understand me? Can you say something? Can you say anything? Do you know who I am? Do you understand that we’re going to see Mummy, because she needed a break from you—because she couldn’t even look at you anymore?’

The train arrived at that moment. The doors opened by sliding outwards. Nobody got off. 

Without looking at his son, Jimmy stood up from the bench and boarded the train alone. He looked down at the floor of the cabin. He was careful not to look up. He was shaking with every part of his body. His hands were cold and sweaty, and he could feel beads of the cold sweat running down from his armpits. The beeping suddenly sounded out, telling that the doors were closing.

The doors closed, after what seemed like an eternity, and Jimmy was alone.

The train pulled out of the station. It shunted along the silver metal tracks lurchingly, slowly gathering speed and momentum, until it was rushing along very fast and everything outside was a big blur.

all pictures by Sébastien Marchand.

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