Screams and shrieks tore the air. Manic laughter and crying filled the audible gaps left, overlaid with a few howls of pain, and anger.
Playgroup was busy that day. It was hard for the mothers to keep track of who was where, amongst the landscape of toys, slides and tricycles, not to mention the running, jumping frenetic mass of toddlers. Plenty of mothers let the kids run riot in places like this, but Jess was only just over a year old then, she was still my baby. I either sat, and watched her, or I was right by her side.
I think that might have saved both our lives that day.
I saw the little girl coming up the slide. Jess stood at the top, looking out over the toddler-led madness. The little blonde girl was trying to climb up the slide’s smooth plastic surface, her hands and feet working frantically to get to the top, the platform where Jess stood unawares. I watched the scene dutifully, absently noting how pale and sweaty the little girl seemed, and red around her eyes. Lots of colds going around, no problem. The blonde girl reached for Jess’s foot, and bared her teeth.
“No!” I yelled, grabbing at Jess, snatching her up in my arms. She began to cry, thought I was yelling at her. The little girl gazed slowly and stupidly up at me, her jaw still working on the newly vacated space. A stocky woman appeared from the fray, talking loudly.
“No Talia, how many times, no biting!” Then to me, “So sorry, no harm done, she’s not well today, more teething I expect.” I smiled thinly and commiserated, hiding the fact that I wanted to slap her and her daughter silly. But more than that, I was creeped out, and freaked out. Talia was still staring at us over her mother’s shoulder as she was carried off into the crowd. She slowly turned her attention to the meaty looking shoulder in front of her, and as I watched, she reared her head back, and bit. Her mother screamed, and then all hell broke loose.
I didn’t wait around. Still with Jess in my arms, I made for the door, grabbed Jess’s buggy from the cloakroom and dragged it through the outer double doors. I put her in and buckled up as quickly as I could, fumbling, as I fished for my phone in a deep pocket. I could hear shouts from inside the building as I fixed the buckles. Most of it was a jumble, apart from “god’s sake, get ‘er off!” and “…blood! She’s bit right through!”