She was taking the kids to school when it first struck. It made her grip the wheel, and list slightly against the window. Her son was quick to notice.
“Mum?” he asked with that slightly panicky edge, his slender neck and concerned face. He deliberately kept his voice down, and his eyes flitted to the back seat where his younger sister was abstractly glancing out the window and singing to herself.
“I’m ok, Jake,” she said quietly, trying to keep the steel in her voice. “Just fine.”
She gave herself away by the gritting of her teeth. There was a high pitched tinnitus sound in her right ear. She focused on the need to drive, drop the kids, get home again. Just focus. Breathe. Concentrate. Try not to think of it worming its way inside her skull, those shadowy movements masked behind her eyeballs.
Her daughter was thumping her feet on the back of her seat, humming inanely. The thudding made it worse.
Jake was keeping watch on her out of the corner of his eye, and swallowing nervously. He always was an anxious kid, and she smiled through her discomfort at his concern for her. He looked so smart in his school uniform, so grown up. His sister Lyddie in the back was the day-dreamer, immersed in another world.
The whining in her head smacked her back into the moment. The endless repetition, the beat behind her eyeballs. She knew she’d have to pull over soon. She’d do anything to make it stop.
Jake was leaning forward in his seat as if willing the car to go faster. He kept glancing over at her, then looking to the road.
They pulled up at the school and Lyddie was out and away. Jake gathered his belongings. As he opened the door he leant over towards his mother meaningfully. She could smell his soft milk breath.
“I’ll just change the radio station for you, mum,” he said softly. “I know that the only way to clear an ear worm like a Britney song is to play another piece of music.”