Family History by Emma Lawson

Ben sits in a room that smells of iodine. A doctor in beige chinos and a checked shirt asks him serious, gentle questions: “Are you safe, Ben?”

He closes his eyes and sees his mum. He sees her as he saw her that morning forty years ago in the living room of the old house. He hears the crinkling sound of her nail piercing the metal foil as he spoons cereal into his milk-rimmed mouth. “Mummy, can I have it?”

“No, Ben.”

“But why not?” A whine of injustice.

“Play with your toys, Ben. We’re going soon.”

He gives her one of his defiant looks, but she misses this; staring instead into a steaming mug of what always smelt to him like bonfires and grandad’s fireplace.

“When can we go to the park?”

“Ben, it’s a school day.” She grimaces as she swallows.

Ben stacks his wooden blocks into a hodgepodge tower. One false move and they’ll collapse.

“Mummy, why are you eating that?”

“To help me feel better.” She pulls him close and holds him for a few moments. That was the last time he would ever feel safe. Then she lets go and walks out the front door. Freezing February air stings his face. He never saw her again.

The doctor levels his gaze at Ben. “Do you know when these thoughts started happening?”

He tries to form and shape his memories into something neat and solid, but they slip from his grip like sand. His mother kneels down next to him now, weightless as air, gathering up the grains. The crease on her forehead has smoothed out; the lines near her eyes have all but disappeared. Her eyes are warm and glowing, and he’s lost in them. She whispers so quietly the doctor can’t hear: “Come home.”


When Emma isn’t running her business proofreading and editing other people’s writing, she manages to find the time to write herself. As well as copywriting, she writes flash fiction and short stories. She blogs at, and you can find her on Twitter @ejlawson_ and Instagram @emmalawsonproofreader.