The other night, my husband and I had an argument.
Not very uplifting, and I won't bore you with the details. Suffice to say it was about one of the two main subjects married people tend to fight over, and it wasn't about sex.
The argument came pretty much out of nowhere, and our son was in the bath in the next room. He was playing away, chatting to himself, even as I stormed, and husband snapped.
Later on our son came downstairs to kiss me goodnight, and made no mention of the parental explosion. I put it to the back of my mind, still angry.
The next morning, he came downstairs with his bear, and told me, "My bear's said I have to pack my clothes and leave".
A knot formed deep in my stomach. Some of these words he'd overheard from me the night before. What had gone on in his mind? What had he understood? How had he come to the decision to use his bear to represent his anxiety? Which elements were conscious, and which unconscious? What had I meant by the words I'd used?
I took him onto my lap and said firmly that no one was leaving, that mummies and daddies sometimes had a fight, but that it was normal, and we would make up, that we hadn't yet, but we would.
He pushed his face into my neck and we sat together in silence. The room was in shadow, and it was a cold morning. I asked him to fetch my husband, who was making breakfast in the kitchen. He and I went into another room to make up.
Except that we didn't — the fight, perhaps to the astonishment of both of us, rekindled. Although it didn't lead to shouting (too aware of an audience), we were in a dark and narrow impasse, walls of resentment and misunderstanding penning us in, and we couldn't move forwards or backwards. I wanted an apology. He wanted exoneration. I left the room. The morning wore on.
We tried again at lunchtime, while the children were at school. In excruciatingly slow and halting sentences, we said again, like robots, the things that we were each upset by. No shouting, but no emergence from the impasse. We both worked silently, me upstairs, him downstairs, until it was time for me to fetch the children.
On the way home, my daughter had a headache, and my son collected daisies, dandelions, and violets. I told them that mummy and daddy still hadn't patched things up, and asked for their help.
When we got back, our son went straight to give some of his flowers to his father, and the rest to me. He took me upstairs to where my husband was working, and announced, "You need to say sorry to each other". He had to take a big puff of air to say this, his chest was pushed out, and he stood tall. The words came out of him as though they were large and important animals, difficult to swallow whole. He looked ceremoniously at each of us in turn. He waited.
We faltered, and mumbled, and said we forgave each other, and that we were sorry. The late afternoon sunshine filtered through the windows. The television drummed out Horrid Henry downstairs. Our son nodded, turned on his heel, and left. We kissed, and felt ashamed.