She's gotta get out of this place

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This time the disagreement is way beyond just a tidy bedroom. They face one other like boxers, not father and son.
What if they hit each other? What happens then?
I’m shouting.
Stop!
They don’t even blink.
I’ve got choices, like a tree forking into branches.
I make a decision, and the door slams behind me. They’ll continue circling like wild animals.
How did it start? Him coming in late. Pathetic.
He’s gotten so hard on him. Says he’s running with the wrong crowd. Seems like the same crowd who’ve come round for years, emptying my fridge. Polite boys. His dad says they roam the streets in packs. I say he needs freedom. Who’s right? That’s the thing with being a parent; you do your best, always walking a fine line. You worry, you really do.
One grown man, one almost grown, but bigger, broader, probably stronger. There used to be so much love. Play fighting, yes. But lots of playing too. The big one carrying the little one around on his shoulders, running, their screaming and shouting driving me crazy.
I go to the woods. I’m happy there. You’re never alone in the woods. Things rustle. Leaves fall. It’s the crisp and golden time of year. I kick them up, like the three of us used to do. Nice memories. Pretending monsters lay dormant under the leaves.
Back then he was tricky at bedtime. We didn’t know we were born. It’s not me he fights, and that annoys his dad. He says I’m partisan. I just want it to stop. It saddens me.
Leaves fall, dancing as they hit the path; the wind refusing them rest. Life feels like that. No sense of control. But this time I walked away. Left them to sort it out. I get the headspace I need here.
A snuffling sound. Will I see a badger? I stand still for a moment.
*****
I stand still, between them, not reaching their shoulders. I’m not running from this. This has to stop. I keep my voice low. They tell you you’ve lost it if you shout. We all lose it sometimes. Tiredness; being human. That’s what does it for most of us.
I’m invisible, and they’re in the zone, psyching each other out.
I’m so worried. He’s gonna walk if it carries on. Then there’ll just be the two of us. And what will we have to say to each other after that, me and his father? It’s not gonna be playing happy families, is it? I know it isn’t now, but maybe we can retrieve something?
It’s your fault, my son says, jabbing his dad with a finger. Not Mum’s, he says. She’s always been there for me, he says.
My husband won’t like that. He thinks I’ve given him too much freedom.
I wish my son knew when to stop.
They have to learn to make their own mistakes, he’s nearly a man, but they need boundaries too. My husband never did boundaries, working away so much when our son was small.
My fault is it? He’s shouting now. One day, son, you’ll take responsibility for your actions. You’ll grow up, and until then you’re no son of mine.
He turns to walk away, but my son throws a punch.
The punch hits me.
I don’t fall, but it throws me. I can’t believe he’s hit me, even accidentally. There’s silence.
I have to leave. I’m desperate for the woods, my refuge.
They call after me. They say it’s not safe for me to go there alone.
It’s not safe at home.
I glance back. They’re both staring, like they’re thinking, what’s happening?
*****
It’s time to head back. It’s dark before I know it; another night’s crept up on me. Let’s hope they’ve sorted it without a full on fight.
I use the torch on my phone. I know these woods so well, each branch breaking off, becoming a smaller path, then a smaller one still, until it ends. But it’s not so easy when it’s gloomy. I tread carefully, fearful of falling over some root, twisting my ankle. I’ve never done this before. Walked away. I’m always the peacemaker.
I hear an owl, and a cracking sound. Behind me? Or was that me, standing on a twig? Dry as anything, they are. I think of the monster we never unearthed.
If I don’t look back, there’ll be no-one there. I shiver and pick up speed. I can see the road, a car passing, lights on. Nearly home. Left, right, left right I say, like we did when he was small. Like soldiers. Left hook, right hook.
*****
I love that the wood’s so close to our house, although it’s dark now. The paths I know so well aren’t easy to navigate. There’s a torch on my phone. I pat down my pockets. No phone. I won’t stay out long. I’ll nurse my pride, give them time to calm down. Maybe I should have left them to it earlier, walked away before it was dark.
*****
My son opens the door.
Where’s your dad?
Here, love.
He’s standing behind our son.
Both man and boy stand aside.
Coffee, love?
Something stronger; I feel freaked. Silly, but remember the monsters?
They laugh off my fear. And theirs.
I gulp my wine, coughing, more laughing.
She never could take her drink, Dad.
Well at least she’s with her loving family.
Really, I ask?
Yeah, love, really.
We’re sorry, aren’t we son?
Yeah, Dad. It won’t happen again.
Best decision I made, running to the woods.
You never know how things will turn out, do you?
*****
It’s uphill. I hear my own breathing, my heart beating. A sound. A twig snapping. Not just my breathing. Someone else. I’m no longer calm. I think of the monsters from way back.
I call my husband, my son.
No reply.
Another twig.
A hand across my mouth.
You never know how things will turn out, do you?

About the Author: 
Fran is widely published in magazines in the UK and internationally. She has won a number of competitions and has stories in anthologies.