Off key, with a banshee

Our son is strapped to my chest and is screaming like a banshee. What’s a banshee? Some kind of spirit, I think, with a pitch that shatters windows.

I’m on the bus, trying to mind my own business, but have the overwhelming suspicion that people are looking at me. Sorry, chums. I’m that parent who used to annoy me – and still does on most occasions.

The wean’s face is purple, and mine is probably a deep shade of red. The driver has stopped at the lights and is looking at us in his mirror.

Forget the lights, mister, this is an emergency. Can’t you see I have my siren on? We need to get home, to ... oh no, oh ... EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE ...

An elderly woman leans forward in her seat. “Your face is ugly.”I beg your pardon?



Oh, yes. So was my eardrum, God bless it. I need a car. I’ve never bought one, but I need one now. Anyone selling a car?

We’re on our way back from another boy’s first birthday party. Several variations of baby, toddler and child were there. It felt like a series of trailers for coming attractions, and made conversation nigh-on impossible.

I had imagined a laid-back scene of serene mothers taking their bras off discreetly and spreading the love, a bit like the 1960s. I was wrong.

Secretly, I was a little jealous that our boy wasn’t the centre of attention, but he’s making up for that now. He’s punching the underside of my chin with surprising force and I’m trying my best to look blasé. If he knocks me out, that’s his problem. I would prefer oblivion to this itchy hyper-consciousness.

The only coping mechanism I can think of is to imagine everyone else on the bus as the crumple-faced babies they once were, although the idea of an eight-week-old screamer at the wheel gives me sudden vertigo.

Oh, ah, ehm, our stop. Cheers, driver.

“I’d drown him.”

Excuse me?


“I hope you don’t mind me interrupting,” says a lady as I’m half-running down the street. “You remind me of myself. Our baby had ...”


“Oh aye, he was a ...”


The wean lands an uppercut to my jaw, followed by a dirty kick to the intestines. He sheds a raft of violent tears before head-butting my chest repeatedly.

“We always used to ...”


Yes, yes, bye now. Is this woman a banshee? She certainly seems attracted to the noise.

“You’re a dimwit,” she shouts as I scramble to get the key in the tenement door.

I’m sorry?



First published in The Sunday Herald, 2009.