The Boy Who Flew Away
I am a mixture of all things. Broken body. Broken mind. Weakened and conquered. Destroyed. Yet somehow still railing wildly against it, fighting back, resisting, no, no, no, no. I won’t go quietly. I won’t give in. I won’t let you win.
I drive him home in the car. I am fresh and awake, steely in my resolve to finally show him the way. My wayward son. The prodigal son. I am bringing him home. I am showing him the way. Progress has been made. I can breathe again now. Big, deep, long breaths, filling up my lungs. In, out, in, out. Calming, soothing, winning. Guiding him home.
He swings the car into the drive. A light goes on above the double garage doors. I blink up at his house. His castle and his kingdom. He has delivered me back to his lair. I look sideways and glimpse his face, and it is meaty and it sweats and gloats, and his small eyes shine. The door is rising up slowly and cleanly, and the car glides in. Sleek, slow and smug.
‘Home,’ he tells me simply. ‘Last chance saloon. Your new life starts now Danny. What do you say?’
I stare out of the window with dead eyes. I can see a work bench with shining metal tools hanging above it. I need to come to terms with something. If we go inside that house one of us will have to die. I look back at him and say; ‘thank you.’ He likes these kinds of words. He pats my leg and gets out his side of the car.
He gets out the other side and we look at each other across the roof. Like so many times before, the moment stretches out and we are both immobilised, lost within it. I feel like he is staring into my soul, seeing every inch of me, and I am doing the same to him. His face is pale. His hair is full of blood. He stands hunched, in pain, as his body starts to shake. I feel the rushing urge to be tender now. To lead us both out of the darkness.
‘Come on,’ I tell him brightly. ‘I’ll show you your room.’
I feel a tremble of excitement, at the thought of showing him his bedroom. We enter the house through the door inside the garage, and we come out into the utility room. I put my hand on his shoulder and walk him forward into the kitchen. The lights are off. The tiles smooth. I can feel him vibrating under my hand. ‘Time to start again,’ I am telling him, and my voice is husky and tight. I am brimming over with so many things. I just hope he can understand. I just hope this is really it. I squeeze his shoulder and reach for the light. There is suddenly something I feel the urge to do. ‘Just a minute.’
I wait, knowing, dreading. Sick yellow light spills into the room, and my eyes react by screwing up. Everything is too bright in here. The floor tiles, the kitchen cabinets and worktops. Everything shines and burns. I lift my hands and press them to my eyes. I cannot really believe I am here. I cannot really believe he let me live, and I cannot really believe this will continue much longer. I’m not the only one who is broken. We both are. Clinging onto a life which is doomed. He is pulling open a drawer, his fingers grappling, while metal implements bang against each other. My skin crawls and time stands absolutely still. I think, we are both finished, but I am the only one who can admit it. He thinks he has won. I know neither of us ever will. Now we are both dying, rotting on the inside. The stench of us turns my stomach.
I turn back to him with the scissors. He is this crushed and staring thing. Silent. His face still. His eyes blank. I stand behind him and press my hands down onto his shoulders. He is stiff, like a little doll, but he is also weak, and his knees buckle easily. He makes a little sound and then nothing. ‘Shh,’ I tell him, lifting his hair away from his neck. ‘We don’t want to wake your mum. You know, I’m looking forward to seeing her face in the morning. She’ll be chuffed to bits, won’t she eh? Us all back together again? Like a proper family.’ I chuckle softly and open the scissors. ‘Just need to sort you out a bit, eh? Start afresh properly. Out with the old. In with the new. ’
I kneel there in silence while the scissors open and close. He is careful and methodical, changing me. What he wanted all along. My lips are pressed together. I breathe in and out through my nose while my arms hang at my sides. There is tightness in my throat. Tears blurring my vision. I am putty in his hands. He thinks this is enough. He thinks this ends it. But he doesn’t understand. He doesn’t know that it will never be enough for him or for me. There will always be more, there will always be another day, another fight, another rebellion, another crushing. On and on and on. He must know this, somewhere deep inside of him. Last chance, he keeps saying. Last time. How many times has he promised this? Why does he keep going back on his word?
When the cutting is over, I help him up, turn off the light and urge him forward through the tufts of blood stained hair. He says nothing. ‘So much better,’ I am telling him. ‘You’ll feel a lot better for it. Cleaner and smarter. That’s the way forward now. Family business eh?’ We go through the hall and up the stairs to his room. At the end of the landing, overlooking the back garden, is his room. I open the door slowly and proudly, guiding him in, and reaching for the light. ‘Ta da!’ I say, as he gazes around. It was one of the first rooms I decorated, but I don’t tell him that. Midnight blue. Matching curtains and wooden shutters. Double bed. Matching wardrobe, desk and bedside table. En suite bathroom. ‘Lucky boy eh?’ I close the door behind us and he looks at me briefly and nods his head. I walk around, strutting, checking the window and shutters are locked. I beckon him into the bathroom and he follows slowly, painfully. ‘So much nicer than where you’ve been hiding out,’ I say, pulling the light switch. He stands out though. Pale and shrunken down. Blood on his t-shirt. Sand in what is left of his hair. His jeans are stuck to his legs with sand and rain. I pull open the shower door and give him a nod. ‘Come on. In you go. You can’t go to bed like that.’
There is no point arguing with him. There is no point in me thinking, feeling or reacting. I have to be what he wants me to be for now. I have to be a robot. A nothing, a no one, a shell, a puppet, a doll. While he lets me live, I have to take that and nothing more. So I kick off my wet trainers and I hold onto the wall while I pull off my wet socks. I undo my jeans and let them drop. I pull my t-shirt over my head and my messed up body screams in protest. I cry out, just a little, but then I stop, biting it down, returning to nothing, no one. He steps out of the bathroom while I remove my boxer shorts, and while I am showering off the blood he took from me, he steps back in to gather up my soiled clothes. I am under the water, remembering a scene just like this that was played out three years ago.
I lay his clothes out on the bed. T-shirt and pyjama trousers. He has a whole new wardrobe of clothes and shoes. Tiredness is hitting now. I blow out my breath, and think of my bed and my woman, and tomorrow. Danny comes out of the bathroom with a towel around him and he does not look at me. He looks at the clothes, and then he goes to them and starts putting them, on. ‘Do you want something to help you sleep?’ I ask him. He stops.
‘Something to help you sleep? I can sort that out for you. Wait.’ I go back into the bathroom, open the cabinet and take out a bottle of pills. He is sat on the bed, hands between his legs. He looks like a ragdoll now. Lifeless and lolling. Collapsing in on himself. His lower lip hanging and swollen. His eyes on the floor. I feel sorry for him then. That always happens, I remember. I yield and soften. He does that to me. I go to him, opening the pot, making him an offer, and he takes it, like a good boy, like a good son taking his medicine, with his new haircut and his new clothes. And then I tell him to go to sleep, I say goodnight and I lock the door behind me. I stand outside for a moment, my eyes closed and my smile soft. I did it.
Why not take the pills? Why fight, why cry out, why question, beg, or scream? Maybe I am in shock. I feel cold all over. I feel like I am floating outside of my body. I lie back on the bed, locked in, broken down, infiltrated. My hands claw at the bedding, holding on, while my body floats. I close my eyes and welcome darkness. Just like before when I was in the car, whilst my mind was drifting on the ocean listening to The Smiths…music is coming back to me now but it’s a different song…where did you go? When things went wrong for you…I whisper to myself in the darkness, like I used to do, mouthing along to the words, comforting myself. I’m coming home…I’m coming home…just for a short while…
In the morning I tell her to wait in the kitchen because I have a surprise for her. Cautious, she does as I ask and I go to his room to collect him. I unlock the door and breathe him in like I used to do, and then I clap my hands together, and this is it, this is how it starts, our new life, our real family, our last and final chance to make this work. I feel new. Without me even asking, he slides out of the bed and heads for the door. I smile, wondering what is in his mind. He is locked up, closed down.
‘Come and have breakfast with your mum,’ I tell him. ‘She’s gonna’ be so surprised to see you. Can’t wait to see the look on her face!’
Shuffling, wincing, but holding it all in, he comes down with me to the kitchen. I notice that his eyes are wrong. Probably the pills wearing off. He is off kilter. A shadow. Her eyes though, her eyes explode when she sees him. She slaps her hand to her mouth. Cries out. Reaches out and then stops herself, looking at me, terrified, disbelieving, overjoyed. They both look to me, waiting for instruction. ‘Give her a hug then!’ I tell him, pushing him forward. ‘She’s been going out of her mind you know!’
Pretending, make believe, a game, a lie. She knows it and I know it, and Lee, knows it too. How long can he keep it up? Smiling and chuckling, with gentle hands. Not for long. We all know that. She wraps her arms around me and whispers into my ear; ‘what happened? Are you all right?’
‘What do you think of the hair?’ I ask her, ignoring the question, pulling back to take up the stool he has pulled out for me. My voice sounds strange when it comes out. Thick and slow. My head is fuzzed. Everything is blurred. Her hand shakes as she reaches out to touch it. Tears are falling down her trembling cheeks.
‘Very nice,’ she says, because she knows this is what she must say. ‘Very nice indeed. It’s so good to see you…’
‘Coffee is on,’ he announces to his bright shining room and his dulled and fading prisoners. ‘Oh, that’ll be the newspaper.’
He goes to get it, and her eyes widen and her head jerks towards the French doors leading out to the garden. I laugh softly and look away from her. She still doesn’t get it like I do. This is going to end, one way or another. One of us will have to die. But not yet. Not today.
Today is a good day. Today is the best day. Today is the day we all get another chance, another shot. We are all reborn and new today. We enjoy a quiet, lazy morning. Coffee and toast. TV and newspapers. Danny and his mother sit together on the sofa, and she strokes his limp hand and when she looks at me, I can see how grateful she is. He doesn’t say much, but then he never did, not really. Not unless he was losing the plot and screaming at me. But there will be none of that now, not this time. He is home.
Days pass like this. Me and him, playing the game. Mum on the outside looking in. Her white face and her bruised cheeks and her mouth hanging open, never knowing what to do or say. Days and nights. I don’t have my music here, but it’s okay, because it is in my head. I sing all the songs inside my head. I keep them all going. Days when we march like tin soldiers, and nights when I am dead, because he gives me the pills. Oh the temptation of the pills…To not feel, to not think, to not care or wonder or wish or dream. To not exist. All night long I do not exist. I am gone. Until morning, when it wears off sluggishly and I feel more weighed down than ever. The police come and go, but he has not seen me, no one has. My friends come and go, but the same story applies. No one has seen me. I have gone.
He never leaves us alone. He keeps the doors and windows locked. He tells me that there is a cellar below the house and he will take me down there if any of that old defiance comes back into my eyes. So it is good to have the pills. It is safer to be blank, and dead, and shut up. But I still know one thing. I know and he knows, that it doesn’t really matter how well I play the game, it doesn’t really matter how good I am, or how short my hair is, or how neat my clothes, or how silent my life. He can’t keep this up forever, because he needs it. He needs to release the beast inside of him every now and again, like a werewolf on a full moon, like a vampire that needs a taste of human blood, he can’t survive without it.
Days pass, and all is good. All is well. We all feel like we are on holiday, but holidays always have to end. I feel a great sense of achievement though. I go back to work on the fifth night, leaving them together, and while I am working, a hollowness opens up inside my chest. It fills with ice and I am cold from top to bottom. I resist calling them. I have to trust them. Or am I an utter fool? I rush home early, my shirt sleeves rolled up, spilled beer down my front and sweat across my forehead. But I needn’t have worried. She is asleep on the sofa with the lights off and the TV on. I run up the stairs two at a time, but he is in his bed, snoring softly. The little bottle of pills is on the bedside table. I check it, a brief stab of paranoia lurching me forward, but it is fine. It’s fine. He just took one. He just took it early and now he is asleep. I let out my breath and my shoulders roll down and I close my eyes and smile and inhale. No need to panic.
On day six his personality cracks open and splits right down the middle. The devil is set free, for a brief and predictable two minutes. He is spitting rage and eyeballs rolling. He is muscles tight and huge and hard and he is tiny teeth bared like a wild animal. If I wasn’t so spaced out on pills I would probably laugh right in his face before reaching for a knife and going for it. My movements are thick and sluggish because of the pills and in passing my mother the strawberry jam, my elbow makes a grand error and nudges his coffee mug just as he reaches for it. He knocks it more than I do, but that does not matter. Truth never matters. The next thing I know he has my face down in the coffee, my stubby hair soaking up the hot brown puddle, while my mother sucks in her terror with hands over mouth and huge moon eyes. Afterwards I feel gratified and amused. And that night I take the pill and hide it under my mattress. The time is coming.
He’s still a good boy though, he’s still a good boy. He says sorry and he does whatever I tell him, and he keeps his room clean and tidy, and he has his nice short hair and new neat clothes, and no music up there in his room, and takes his showers, and eats his food and does his chores without a word. And his friends stay away, they all stay away. And the cellar is a threat, and the puddle of coffee is just a warning. And it’s just a twitch, the way I am, the way I feel, it’s just a twitch inside of me, a little explosion that takes place sometimes. And the truth I try to bury is that I really quite enjoy it. I don’t like fights. But I do like beating flesh.
I don’t have much time. Not much time left in this house with the monster. Not much time left in this world, or this life. I don’t feel sad about this. I am still numbed and silent, except for the music inside my head. The music is always there. The music is my only friend now. It washes in and out, takes my hand and holds it tight. I curl my fingers in response and remember to breathe. The spiralling guitars jangle through my ear canals, warming up my brain, pulsing inside my heart. It’s time, they say, it’s time to go, it’s time to move, it’s time to act.
He’s humming in his room. I can hear him from the hallway. Humming and murmuring. Singing along to nothing. Why does it make my fists clench? Why does it make my jaw tight? Why does the sound of it grate on my nerves like finger nails down a blackboard?
He comes up to see me, and I can see it there on his face. His jaw is twitching. His eyes are restless. His chin quivers as he points his finger at me and demands to know what I am singing about. ‘Nothing, sorry,’ I tell him and I try to tell him something else with my eyes, because we are almost telepathic, me and him. We don’t need to speak, or argue, or beat around the bush. He can feel it trembling to life within him, and I can feel it vibrating inside of me. We stare at each other and I feel like fireworks are going off in my brain.
I’d like to…I want to…I don’t though, I don’t. We’ve moved on. We’re doing better now. I back off, I back out of the room and move quickly down the stairs. I want my heart to slow down.
I wait until I hear the garage door rising up to release his beast. I go out onto the landing and into their bedroom. It’s all shiny black silk and mirrors. The doors to the balcony are open and the cream curtains are blowing in the wind. I go to the doors and watch his car leaving. It purrs away down the road and he is gone. All I need is a ten pence piece.
I don’t need to be in work for long. I am thinking this as I drive. The hairs on my arms are all on end. I shake my head, try to rip free of the tingles down my spine. Why did he stare at me like that? What was he saying? I don’t need to be long. I’ll leave the manager in charge. I’ll just tie up a few things in the office and hurry back.
I don’t take anything but the ten pence piece. I find it in my mother’s purse which is on her dressing table. She is downstairs, swishing the mop around the wet look tiles. I won’t speak to her. I won’t go near her. I can’t. It’s life or death, you see. His or mine. I know exactly what I am going to do. I take nothing. I don’t need a thing. I climb over the balcony, and ease my legs down one by one. It’s about a ten foot drop to the soft lush grass beneath. I let go and land neatly and silently under the kitchen window. For a brief moment I think of her in there, swirling circles on the floor. I wonder if she can see her face in them yet. I wonder if it will kill her that I never said goodbye. But I can’t hang about. The look that passed between him and I meant too much, and he will be back. I turn around and run. There is a phone box at the end of the road, and I have one number in my head. It’s the only phone number I know off by heart, and it is the only number I need to call.
In my office, on the phone, behind the bar, checking stock, and the feeling grows and grows and swells and consumes me. It’s like I can’t breathe properly. I have to keep opening my mouth to swallow more air, and it doesn’t work, it’s never enough. My chest is getting tighter, as are all my muscles until I feel like I am too stiff to move. My head is pounding, pain rippling at the temples. My throat is dry, my lips are trembling. That look. That look he gave me. That humming and singing and mumbling. I need to go back and check on things. We’ve come so far now…I can’t relax too quickly and let it all go wrong again…I just can’t.
As I run I wonder if anyone can see me. I wonder if anyone is upstairs in their house, looking out of the window, or standing on the balcony. It doesn’t matter anyway. I am running so fast I am nearly gone already. No one could catch me now. No one could stop me. I am running so fast, and soon enough I will take off and fly.
My hands are shaking as I stick the key in the ignition. My palms greasy with sweat. I try calling home, just to check, but no one picks up the phone, which enrages me further. He gave me a look. It was the way he used to look at me, back then. Even after I’d pounded him, even after I’d smashed him into the ground, even after I’d made him vomit and bleed. He’d look at me in the same way. It was always the same, always the same. Fuck you. It was fuck you. Again and again and again, until I wanted to kill him. I will kill you. I will end it. I’ve warned him a million times. This was the last chance, the last, I am not going through this again, and again and again!
I run along the cliff-top. I am so close to the edge now. I can see over, I can see down. I can see the water crashing against the rocks. I keep running until I am back where he put me. Beyond the red and white tape, to the spot where the land caved in. I stop here, as close to the edge as I can get. The tips of my shoes teasing the land, daring it to crumble. I lean forward, smiling down at the water, wondering if it wants me.
Traffic all the way home. And the bad feeling rises and expands inside of me. I finally get through to Kay on the phone. She sounds confused and far away. ‘Where’s Danny?’ I ask her. ‘What’s he doing?’ She takes the phone around the house with her to check. I hear doors opening and closing. I hear her breath getting shorter, more panicked.
‘He’s not in his room. I don’t know where he is!’
‘Fucks sake!’ I spit at her and hang up the phone.
On the edge of the cliff I am standing and falling at the same time. I close my eyes and the air on my face is cold and pure and I think about flying and soaring and I think about finally being free. I think about living without fear and hatred. I think about one of us living and one of us dying. I’ve got so much music in my head that I think it will explode and become me. Just me and the music. All that remains.
Finally I swerve the car into the drive, get out and start running. She follows me around the house, breathing and sobbing, ducking from my punches, as I scream and shout and tear the place apart. He’s not anywhere, he’s not hiding, he’s gone! I search his room and nothing is missing. Nothing is missing from anywhere. He has left in the clothes and shoes he was wearing this morning. Little bastard. Fucking little bastard! I push her away to escape her mewling and I am back out of the door, looking right and left, thinking, my head hurting too much to think right! Where would he go? Who would he go to?
It’s cold here. I have a heaviness inside my gut when I think about leaving them all behind. So I try not to. Instead, I just think about being free. Weightless.
It’s too late by the time I get there. I wasted all that time driving around looking for his friends. They were useless, they knew nothing or are very good liars. Nothing. Nowhere. Until I remembered that night on the cliff top. Something made me go there. I went on foot, my shoulders hanging, my head low. My feet like concrete. As I make my way towards the cliff, the rain starts to fall. I can see something sat there, right on the edge, waiting for me. When I get closer I see that it is his shoes. He has left his shoes on the edge of the cliff and he has gone. I am on my knees, my hands clutching his shoes, and down below, the waves are giants pounding the cliff, breaking and rolling and screaming over the jagged rocks.
We’re in the car, Jaime and me. The only number I knew by heart. He came as fast as he could, and I ran to his car as fast as I could. So fast and light I was flying. Leapt in and slammed the door on myself before the pull of the fall became too much for me to resist.
‘Where we going?’ he wants to know, as we hit the motorway and the speed climbs towards seventy. ‘Where are your shoes?’
I want to say a lot of things to him, but only one thing is important right now.
‘I’m dead Jaime, okay? I want you to remember that. I’m dead.’
Author’s note; This short story is actually an alternative ending to my novel The Boy With The Thorn In His Side. If you would like to know more about these characters and how they ended up in this situation, you can get the book here; http://www.amazon.co.uk/Boy-Thorn-His-Side-ebook/dp/B00W8DLGKA/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1431972783&sr=1-1&keywords=the+boy+with+the+thorn+in+his+side