Not in this timeline

When I finally got out, the world was…It wasn’t the same. Everything was painfully dull. After you watch so many people die, it’s hard to be focused on washing dishes, or brushing your hair. The world is flat and heavy but I feel lighter. Like something otherworldly, floating through it. I have no roots any more, nothing grounding me. Everything I was before, everything I became has been erased. And the weirdest part is, I have no desire to start again. I’m spent. I’ve had enough of trying. I just exist now. Living my life on mute. So when it finally comes time to take me out, I’ll have nothing to miss.

When I meet people their mouths move but I can’t hear anything. When I’m working, I turn the keys and I stack the shelves and I walk up and down with my clipboard, but my mind is elsewhere. I just do what I’m told and live in my head.

I can’t really describe it. This french guy who fixes the vans told me about the idea of multiple timelines. I think that’s close to it. In my head, there are many timelines and I can tune into whichever one I want. There’s this one, where I’m siting in a four by four room with no furniture, smoking cigarette after cigarette until I fall asleep. And there’s another one, where I’m living in a log cabin. Or another, where I have a dog.

My favourite is the one where V and I- I suppose actually we have normal names in that timeline, names like Ben and Rebecca – but we make it. We meet for the first time somewhere normal, at work or at church maybe. We fall in love in a romantic way. Candlelit dinners and picnics and holidays and smiles. We get married, we buy a house. We have arguments, sure, but they’re about such inconsequential things, like what colour to paint the hall or where to host the wedding reception, that they’re more fun than destructive. We get pregnant. Have a child. Have four. We’ve got photos on the walls. Family videos. Tricycles are lined up next to bicycles int he garden. Little clothes hand on the washing line. When we go out we walk hand in hand, kids running ahead.

It is the best part of my day, visiting that timeline. It’s always warm in the house. It smells like pastry. There’s always chatter, always giggling and excited exclamations. As I walk into the living room, someone runs up to me. The youngest, maybe. She has my eyes, and V’s smile. When I hold her, she smells like baby powder and biscuits. She clings to me and I choke up. She’s lost her first tooth, she tells me. Asks me if I’ll stay up and make sure the tooth fairy knows where to find it. Eventually she falls asleep on my lap, and V is beside me on the couch, and we’re just watching TV. It’s getting quiet now. Calm. I carry her up to bed. Swap her tooth for a two pound coin.

Then we’re finally alone. I play those scenes out slowly. They’re part foreign, part memory. I tell I love her over and over. Sometimes she says something back, sometimes she just looks at me. It doesn’t matter. She’s here. She’s here with me. We are wrapped around each other. She’s so soft and warm and mine. Mine, mine, all these things are mine. And no one can get to them. Not even me.

I would never be sick there. I would never be high. Never think about my adopted father, or my dead brother, or all the shit and piss and pain and blood I’ve seen. I’d never wake up in the night screaming. Never hurt anyone. Never leave V.

I’d just enjoy it.

Really, finally, enjoy being alive.

The nights are the hardest

I have nightmares. Or at least, I call them nightmares. They don’t necessarily happen at night, or even when I am asleep. But they keep happening.

She’s at my dinner table. She’s washing dishes at my sink.

There was a point where I didn’t recognise her anymore. And rather than watch her drift away, I chose to leave. I believe some people are capable of holding onto something until it turns to dust in front of them. I cannot imagine ever holding her in my arms and seeing nothing in her eyes.

She’s behind the counter at the supermarket. She’s a nurse on the cancer ward.

At first, she would hold onto me so tightly that when they prized her away, she’d take my sleeve with her. My hair. One time, my skin.

She’s wiping down the table next to me. She’s giggling into a phone.

When she came back, she tore at the scar. Punishment for letting her go. Her rage was just as intense as her sadness, and though she was making my suffer, I knew that she was suffering too.

She’s pushing a child in a pram. She’s ringing the bell on her bike.

To have that go away. To disappear completely. To see that bright spark turn to a dim flicker, a shadow of itself-

She’s pouring over my hand. She’s slamming the door in my face.

I packed a bag and left. She didn’t come after me. I thought it would be easy. Easier.

But I keep having these nightmares.

I’m driving back to my house. She’s in the middle of the street. I know she’s not real so I keep driving. But she doesn’t move. Just looks at me. Looks so sad. So I stop the car. I get out. She’s covered in flowers. As I approach her, she falls back. Lies prone, flowered arms crossed over her chest. I kneel over her. I see that she’s not sad. She’s dead. Her black eyes are grey. Staring.

The flowers are wreathes around her naked, decomposing body. Her stomach is bloating, bloating- the skin splits. 

Fingers reach out. An arm. I recognise a scar that stretches from the elbow to the wrist.

I’m climbing out of her. A version of me that I do not want, cannot meet right now. 

I run back to car. It won’t start. He’s ambling towards me, damp. Naked. 

I slam my head against the window. Over and over until my surroundings fragment, fall apart. When I am back in this time, this world, blood drips from a cut on my forehead.

I wonder if she still suffers like I suffer.

Lost Clause II

Losing the house didn’t bother Caldwell. It had been chopped and changed so much since the divorce that it no longer resembled the house he had grown up in. What did bother Caldwell was what exactly his mother was selling. Was it the ornaments? The wood panelled flooring? The whole thing? The very land his summerhouse stood on?

Caldwell’s mistake, of course, was thinking that the summerhouse was his at all. In truth the glorified shed had not been gifted to him, or even loaned to him as a kindness. His mother was almost permanently abroad, and when she did vacation home, she spent most of her time staking out his father’s new bachelor pad. She had not noticed he was still there until he sat down at the dining table to confront her.

Mother, He began, quite ceremoniously.

Oh. Yes. She replied, taken aback.

Caldwell, isn’t it?

I’ve seen the sign in the driveway.

Oh, good. I was worried no one could.

What does it mean?

What do you mean what does it mean?

What does it mean for me?

Well…nothing, I imagine. You’ve got your own place now.

I’ve got-

It was at this point that Caldwell realised his mother had not gifted him the summerhouse, or loaned it to him as a kindness. He also assumed that the binoculars on the table were not a gift for him either, but for something much more sinister.

I see. So you’re selling the house?

Yes.

And the furniture?

Yes.

And the land?

Yes. If someone can afford it.

And how much would it cost?

His mother then suggested a price that does not bear thinking about and honestly made Caldwell break out in a cold sweat.

Why? Are you thinking of buying it?

He had been.

No. I was just…curious.

Well. This was nice. Shall I show you out?

She then, in a almost farcical manner, proceeded to escort him through a house he knew inside out, and out into the driveway where he pretended to walk along the country lane for five minutes before crawling back into the property through a makeshift entrance he had built eleven years prior.

Lost Clause I

In moments of high drama, some things will inevitably fall by the wayside. One might forget to wash their hair, for instance, or to iron their clothes. One might forget their wallet at home, or put on two different socks. Sometimes, one might forget a child they had brought into the world. Such is life.

We find Caldwell, our hapless protagonist, in that very situation. After 12 years of uncomfortable family holidays, and gatherings and photos, his parents decided to loudly and publicly uncouple. Many depositions were recorded, many articles were written and many gold bars were hidden in almost cartoonish fashion. Yet, somehow, when the final list of assets had been drawn up, Caldwell had not been included.

It wasn’t the first time that someone had forgotten about Caldwell. For the first three years of his life, he did not have a name because his parents ‘never got round to it’. The name Caldwell had been made up on the spot, on his first day of school and since no one could be bothered to protest it, it had stuck.

But having a name did not improve Caldwell’s luck. He just had, it seemed, nothing much about him. His eyes were very eye like and his nose could only be described as ‘on his face’. In fact, Caldwell’s invisibility had become lore. Locals would swap stories of how, one minute, he had been in the sweet shop and the next, right before there eyes, he’d still been there but it was ‘kind of like he wasn’t.’

The divorce only served to strengthen the myth of Caldwell. His two filthy rich and petty parents squabbled over door frames and window panes, while their son, if he indeed existed, continued with his day with only a set of earplugs to keep him company. That’s why he wasn’t at all surprised by being left out of the settlement. What did surprise him, though, was how reluctant his parents had been, once the mistake had been noticed, to  to fix it.

Well, they each said.

Well.

Seeing as you’ve already packed up-

Perhaps it’s time you stood on your own two feet.

But I am standing on my own two feet, he reminded them. And also, I’m twelve.

If this was the Sudan, and you were a girl, you would be married by now.

Caldwell could only agree.

So you see, this is entirely possible.

You’ve got to start out sometime. Why not start immediately?

Then they both got into their respective sport cars and drove away.

Surprisingly, Caldwell did not make it very far. Twelve year olds do not possess things like money or life skills. At least, this one didn’t.  He could just about drag his Goyard trunk to the summerhouse at the end of his parents’, now mother’s, home before he collapsed in a  pile of gilets on the floor out of boredom and frustration.

There he remained. For 12 years. Scavenging for whatever food his mother left in the fridge while she was abroad. He foraged for whatever he needed: water, warmth, all the episodes of Game of Thrones available on Sky Catch Up. He was a warrior, a survivor. A ghost even, depending on what the locals continued to say.

Until of course, our inciting incident takes place: Caldwell’s Mother decides to sell the house.

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.

Madness Made Manifest

You wake up to the dawn light. You know the sun is well beyond the open window, but as you open your eyes, it is a sharp point within your head. You want to cower, to block the view, to just turn away, but something is stopping you. You look down and see that you are bound with lengths of rope to one of the wooden beams that holds the roof of your winter cabin up.

You are confused. You try to wriggle but the lower part of your body does not respond. In fact, you can’t feel it. You can’t even flex a toe. You only have use of your neck, and even that usually sturdy support is waning. You survey the room. It is in disarray, chairs are over turned. The widows are smashed. Somewhere the fire is crackling. And the rug. the rug your father bought you when you moved into the house, the wedding gift. It’s ruined. Someone’s soaked it in some red substance.

You manage to let out a groan. The once still rocking chair by the fire begins to creak. You look towards it. You make out someone’s legs. Dark corduroy trousers. Hiking boots. The person gets up and you see the aging face of your father turn towards you. His face is wet with tears, his eyes bloodshot. His grey beard is damp, straggly. He turns but does not approach you. He stands cautiously behind the rocking chair, the shirt under his flannel is red.

 

Just then a piercing pain rips through your frontal lobe. You wince from it and bow your head. You’re not just confused now, you’re beginning to feel sick. Sick with confusion, with how much you don’t understand. You remember coming to the summer house. You remember closing the car door and taking in the crisp mountain air. You remember lighting the fire. You remember your wife in the garden, your sons clinging to her skirt. You remember-

‘Heracles?’

You open your eyes and look at your father. There is something in his eyes, something you don’t recognise. So you blink and look from him to your bonds.

‘Heracles, is that you?’

‘of course it’s me’ you manage to say, bewildered.

‘Heracles, swear it. Swear it’s you before I untie you’

‘You did this?’

‘Heracles’ your father urges. ‘Look at me, son. Tell me, are you okay?’

You nod.

‘Apart from being tied to a beam, and this splitting head ache, I’m fine, dad’

He creeps towards you, his footsteps are light, frightful. He keeps glancing at the door, as if he is expecting someone, you turn to look but there is nothing but a plank of wood bolted shut. Wait, you can make out the feathered fletching of an arrow. Two. You go to say something but he is untying you. His hands are trembling, and his lip quivers as he looks into your face. He loosens the ropes and then retreats immediately to the other side of the room.

‘Dad, what is it?’ you ask, trying to straighten up. You wriggle a toe, then a foot. You lean your head back as you push out your chest, and feel a shooting pain as the back of your head connects with the wooden beam. Instinctively you reach for source. It is wet. When you look are your hand is damp, red. You’re bleeding.

Now you are confused, sick and scared.

 

Some Written II

People died!

People died because my brother had given up on life and when he got tired of hacking people to pieces, he blew himself up.

How do I apologise for that?

How am I supposed to apologise for something like that?

Something I could never do, never in my darkest moments.

Something I had no part in, that I had no idea was going to happen, that I am still struggling to get my head round.

My brother.

Do you understand?

My baby brother, who used to sleep in my bed when he was scared.

My brother, who I watched grow up.

My brother, who I thought would outlive me.

He’s just done.

Dead.

And he took as many people as he could with him.

And I don’t know why.

I will never really know why.

And I have to live with that.

That’s suffering enough.

That’s pain enough.