He holds onto her hand tightly, craving both the warmth it brings and the feeling of security.
It’s an old hand, aged and calloused, the dried and rough skin tangible signs of a difficult life.
The ground cracks as they walk, their virgin footsteps breaking the laminate of frost that dances on the grass. It’s as if they’re walking on glass. Or eggshells.
The little boy knows the feeling of walking on eggshells, so much of his life lived in a perpetual state of fear, fear of the menacing figure of his father, a man always just a moment away from unleashing his fury, his language of love, fists.
His hands look bruised now, resting in his grandmother’s as they continue to the hospital where his other bruises, the real ones on his face and his arms, will be looked at by a nurse who smells like vanilla
Now, his grandmother’s hand feels like safety. Nothing can harm him as long as he is in her hands, her arms, under her watchful gaze.
They don’t follow the path, a straight line of post-war concrete that runs from the edge of the park to the grounds of the hospital buried deep within.
Instead, their feet pick a path over the grass, crisp with frost – or eggshells – leaving a trail of dark green footprints against the lighter green of grass cowering under a veneer of ice.
His grandmother stops him, with a gentle tug on his hand. They stand quietly, the breath escaping from their noses and mouths forming a disappearing cloud around their red faces.
‘Did you see it?’ she asks.
He looks around him, turning on his feet, each step making the sound of glass breaking. He can’t see anything that might have caught his grandmother’s attention.
‘Nein, ich weisse nicht?’ he shrugs.
She smiles at him and points to a shadow on the grass up ahead. It moves, rising from its hunched position and lopes carefully across the grass, stilted movements.
‘Kaninchen!’ she says.
And this time he sees it, the little rabbit, brown with a mottling of white, picking its way through the frost on feet not quite accustomed to the cold. To him, it looks like the rabbit is tip-toeing. He would tip-toe too, if he had to walk barefoot across the icy lawn.
Soon, the rabbit disappears into a shrub, the last thing he sees the little white ball of a tail that looks like one of the tennis balls his mum sometimes lets him play with.
He thinks back to sitting at his desk at his mum and dad’s house, surrounded by notebooks and a fountain pen that bleeds onto his hands, staining them with a blue the colour of a fresh bruise.
His hands look bruised now, resting in his grandmother’s as they continue to the hospital where his other bruises, the real ones on his face and his arms, will be looked at by a nurse who smells like vanilla.
Ahead, another rabbit pokes its nose into the cold air, so close he can see its whiskers twitching and little puffs of breath that circle lazily for a moment before they are swallowed by a world unable to accept them.
He feels like that sometimes, living in a world unable to accept him.
His grandmother squeezes his hand a little tighter and he feels the safety her roughed-up fingers bring.
The rabbit hops away, its tennis ball tail the last thing he sees before they enter the gates of the hospital where he will face questions from a nurse who smells like vanilla he has no answers to.