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.

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