Junior

There is a certain power that comes with being aloof. Some people have nice eyes or sweet voices, but aloof people, we have mystery. The mystery is what keeps you coming back for more. You wonder if today will be the day you break down my walls and find out what’s at the heart of me. And I know that. So all I have to do to keep you around is never let you in. Never. You won’t leave without an answer, so you’ll never leave me. I keep you, for as long as I want you, because you’re weak and live for a good riddle. Or probably because your dad did the same thing to you. You recognise it in me and mistake its familiarity for comfort. It’s not. It’s not comforting. You should be repulsed. You should run in the opposite direction, because this is not a gimmick. I’m not playing at being broken, I just am. You want to know, need to know why I’m so gloomy, so comfortable with being alone. You cycle through causes, each one getting more and more romantic. ‘He’s a weirdo’, to ‘He’s lonely’ to ‘His dad walked out on him’. But the truth doesn’t matter. It will never be as good as what you imagined. It will never help you find the cure.

There isn’t one. You’ll go on trying to get at me, to get to know me and I’ll keep holding you at arms length. Cos I don’t have nice eyes and I don’t have a cute smile. I have a lot of anger and distrust and fear. I wear that shame the way he did because I have his name.

Most people, when they leave you, they just leave you. Pack a bag and disappear into thin air. Recollected, if ever, in whispers. You can forget about them. You can even begin to wonder if they ever existed. But my dad, it’s like he branded me. Stamped his name across my chest so that everywhere I go I get that look. Any place he’s been before, it’s like I’ve been there before too. They look at me like I’m something familiar even though I’ve never met them before.

What’s your name again?

I mumble it, but it still clicks. Still registers. I get a knowing smile and dig in the ribs.

Freddie’s son.

No. Not Freddie’s son. Just Freddie. I am Freddie. I am not his son, not just his son. But it’s no use. When you hear that click, watch it register, it’s already too late. Freddie, the Freddie that I am, evaporates. The phantom of my father stands in his place.

It happens anywhere, everywhere. I’m never quite prepared. One time I was at the greasy spoon around the corner, breaking up with my girlfriend and it happened. Another time I was at a church for my cousin’s wedding and it happened again. The weirdest ones are the furthest away. A pub in Manchester, for example. I walk through the door, someone hears my name, and there’s suddenly a swarm. Everyone thinks they know me. Everyone wants to tell me stories. Stories. Can you imagine what that’s like? People reciting memories to you, your own memories sometimes and you haven’t got a clue what they’re talking about? You’ve deleted them. You’ve actually removed them from your mind because they’re too painful to recall.

I met you when you were a boy, just a ickle boy. So high. You were bouncing on yer daddy’s knee, dya remember?

I saw you at Southend. You had a bucket hat on, sucking on a piece of rock. You and your cousins and your uncles and your dad. Do you remember?

I bought you a silver rattle for your christening. Engraved. Real fancy. I know your dad probably teefed it, but do you remember seeing it?

That one I did remember. I did recall seeing it in its box once in a while, when we would be moving and mum would forget what was inside. And then very abruptly, I remember seeing the box empty. I remember my mum yelling at him on the phone and I remember he was dead silent.

Regime

Wake up in the morning. Can’t recall dream because it’s always blurry and also I don’t actually want to. Slide out from under the human I’ve tricked into loving ‘me’ and head into the bathroom. Stare at self in mirror. Actual self. Verity self. Wait to see if this is the day I get a handle on my shit.

My name is Verity and I-

A vision comes in, blinding and jagged. A lot of blood. All over me. And I like it.

Concede that this not the day I get a handle on my shit. Open cabinet, take out pills. Count them into my shaking hands. One, three, five, nine. Swallow them with a handful of tap water. Lean on sink to steady myself. Wait for the calm to set in. Thirty, twenty-nine, twenty-eight. One more vision, duller this time. The sound of metal connecting with bone. A scream. Or a laugh, then a scream. Three, two, one.

Silence.

Verity who?

Get towel and begin traditional ‘getting ready’ configuration. Become ‘Ivy’. Shit. Shower. Human comes in. Shaves while I clean my teeth. Discuss ‘plans’. Make breakfast. Eat breakfast. Change channels when news about the investigation comes on. Take bins out before we leave. Black car rolls into view. Walk up to it and tap on the window. Handler opens door. Get in.

Have you eaten?

Yes.

Open wide.

Handler puts the worst pill in mouth. Like a battery has exploded on my tongue. Wretch at least once.

Swallow it.

Wretch again.

Have you swallowed it?

Yes.

Look at me.

Look at him. Deep in his hazy green eyes.

Tell me to what to do.

Kiss me. Slide your fingers inside me. Make me moan.

Properly.

Shoot the driver.

Nothing happens, except the blood trickling down my nose. Handler nods and hands me the same old blood monogrammed handkerchief. Wonder why he keeps, what he does with it. Know, deep down, what he does with it.

Enjoy the rest of the day.

Get out of the car. Call him a cunt under my breath. Wretch again one more time before I back into the house. Put on my coat. Wait for human partner to finish charging his phone.

Ready.

Ready.

Go back out into the world. Walk side by side, in time. Remember to blink. Remember to nod and smile. Remember what stop to get off. Remember to kiss him before I go. Remember pass. Remember seat. Remember lunch time. Remember to eat. Wonder what the real ‘Ivy’ would have eaten, would have worn. Remember to go back to work. Remember to get a coffee. Make small talk. Spot dealer. Remember not to follow him into the parking lot. Follow him anyway. Listen to him talk about Rembrandt, Bach. Snort a line off his wrist. Lick his wrist. Let him kiss me, but not on the mouth. Think for a second I can see-

Go back into work. Back to my desk. Become the master of spreadsheets. Leave when the clock hits six. Meet human partner for a drink. Flirt. Touch his leg. Think I see-

Kiss partner on the platform. Barely make it through the door. Clothes in the hallway. The bathroom. Afterwards, put on partner’s sweatshirt. Eat the takeout I don’t remember ordering in bed. Watch a film with my eyes but not my brain. Switch off the lights. Never close eyes. Stare with purpose. I know he’s not really here, but I feel like he is. Will him to be. In the corner of the room, at the window, on the ceiling. I can see him. If I remember him, I can see him. Grayson. I whisper his name over and over and over and over until I fall asleep.

Grayson. Thia. Asher. Blake. Me. Can’t forget.

Won’t forget.

Over and over and over.

It’s morning. Wake up. Can’t recall dream because it’s always blurry and also I don’t actually want to, and also it never happened. I don’t really sleep anymore. Not since they split us up.