The Next Step by Martha Williams

His heels are hanging over the edge, he is clinging to stay on. She grimaces.
He’ll be a climber, her mother said.
She can’t think of anything worse. She wants him to be a housewife, a pianist, a baker. No Everest, no cliffs.

He reaches for the next shelf, pudgy toes scrambling for a hold, fat fingers barely long enough to grip. One toe on and up. Peachy face set skywards, baby eyes fierce with determination.
He won’t be a housewife – he always seeks the next step, standing in his high chair, scrambling up the stairs… his balance perfect, her terror sickening. Not a baker.

He’s going for the third shelf. He has to lean backwards to reach, sliding his hands along to find a section not covered in books. He will fall, if not this shelf then the next.

His fingers skid, a foot slides free. She hears his gasp.
She can’t let him fall. She leaps forward.
She can’t let his first fall be Everest. She stops.
She must keep him safe.
She must teach him about falls.
She grips her own mouth.
His second foot slips and he is dangling from the sweaty fingers of one hand, “Maaaaaaa…!”

She shuts her eyes.

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5 responses to “The Next Step by Martha Williams

  1. guy

    It is indeed a balancing act. I just let them climb. They were fine, but other parents were frightened to see my children climb.

  2. I love the tension building throughout the piece! I love “She can’t let his first fall be Everest.” Nice work!

  3. Nicely done, but I was a little put off by the whole ‘housewife’ thing. If he’s a son, why a houseWIFE? And it seemed like housewife was used as a bad thing like underachieving or something…
    >He won’t be a housewife – he always seeks the next step<

    Housewives and mothers have some of the hardest jobs in the world.

    Nevertheless, this was well written and interesting.

  4. Thank you Guy, Cubehermit and Ganymeder for your comments.

    The housewife reference – this is not a disparaging term, more a familiar one. She wants him to be safe and she wants to help him.
    She understands housewives, bakers and pianists; they are safe (relatively) and she could help him achieve them – whereas Everest is both beyond her and known to be dangerous.
    The climbing and the slipping represent both the real life climbing of the stumbling toddler, and also the growth of a child away from his mother. The balance of terror is the mother’s fear that her child will be hurt versus her fear of holding him back.

  5. Pingback: 6 – Balance of Terror « 52|250 A Year of Flash

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