the truth about jamison todd is that he’s afraid. not of the oversized boys that periodically catch him off guard after one of his frequent night raids throughout the downtown neighborhoods that he knows are far too dangerous for him anyways. not of the fog and smoke that liter the streets and cast dark figures and images on the ground and other foreseeable surfaces by a body intercepting light. he’s not afraid of the strange noises he hears brush against his ears and stalk behind him as he slips from one house to another to pick and pluck at belongings that he knows he’ll never be able to afford now or ever in this lifetime. jamison isn't even afraid of the guilt that he knows will come back to haunt him years later when his hands are cuffed behind his back and they ship him off to juvenile detention. no, jamison peter todd isn’t afraid of most things a normal six-year-old boy is afraid of.

he stands outside nicetown-tioga with his jaw clenched and a sinking feeling of despair raking through his chest and expelling out of his lungs into the cool, winter air. his breath crystalizes and he realizes that his feet have somehow stopped working and he’s been rigidly incapacitated for over an hour to the point where his legs ache under his locked knees, and his fists ball so hard at his sides that he can feel his nails cut into his palm. he knows he can't just stand there all night, though. still, it takes all the bravery in the world for him to move forward, foot over foot.

when jamison finally enters the house, he is confronted by the unchanging familiarity; the normalcy of the todd home with its dreary, peeling wallpaper and dilapidating floorboards. the air smells of smoke and urine, even with the cool breeze blowing in through the shattered windows. this is his life right here, he thinks. and in this life, nothing short of amazing ever happens. still — the kitchen table is awkwardly oversized for the family of two, and yet sheila’s belongings cling to every wooden inch so that when he finally sits, he must elbow his way to make room for a plate of food that she’s completely neglected to make for him anyways. “you’d better not break my shit doing that,” the woman scoffs threateningly, and her head tilts so that she can face him with cold fixed eyes. jamison cannot help but find his mother to be completely mental and unwaveringly cruel, though he isn’t overly concerned with her vicious gaze. instead, he matches her with a sour expression of his own until she finally succumbs back to her television program.

once the television screen fades to black and the credits begin to roll, sheila is back up and on her feet again. jamison watches her movements with minimal interest, leaning back into the chair at the head of the table as he drags the blades of his fork against the frozen dinner he’s heated up for himself. sheila disappears for a moment and re-emerges with a large, lumpy trash bag she's supposedly kept hidden in the other room. “you know what this is?”, she asks in perfect impatience, “come here and look.” just as sheila is swift and cruel, she is also cold and calculated. even more, she is infinitely skilled at physical punishments that leave jamison with a strangled kind of noise. his feet once again revolt against his body and refuse to bring him forward until the woman raises a hand, effortlessly swinging it against the side of his face.

“remember this the next time you put anyone or anything before your own mother,” she spits venomously in his direction, wagging that large, lumpy trash bag in front of him. jamison grits, desperate to keep the words from pouring out of his mouth in both spite and hatred; his cheek is hot and stinging, and the blood in his palms pool as he scrapes and digs his nails in his balled fists yet again. sheila offers a sheepish grin, her eyes flitting between her son and the bag with the dead dog inside … as though she’s looking for signs of jealousy and hatred. she gets what she seeks with satisfaction, and drops the bag in front of him without a single care in the world. “now go bury your stupid pooch in the backyard.” jamison cuts his gaze up to find sheila watching him with a dark expression, as though there is laughter behind it at his own misery. his vision is inevitably blurred by angry tears that start to swell up in his eyes instead, trickling down over his reddened cheeks.

jamison cannot help but find his mother to be completely mental and unwaveringly cruel. when he crawls in to bed, disgusting, cold, and shivering — too exhausted and weak from being out in the winter’s night burying the stray dog he’d come to care for that his own mother had murdered out of pure jealousy, he wonders if she enjoys hurting him. he has softer memories of climbing in bed with her, of her voice passing late hours in old stories that he loved to hear before drifting off to sleep. the last he remembers of his mother before he finally dozes off is her hand landing a deft slap across his cheek and her features distorted. his eyes roll back in his head and the colors blur together and he hopes to god, if there is even a god, that the next winter won’t be as depressingly cold and empty as it is now.