Thursday afternoons are my favourite afternoons. I push my key into the door, discover only silence and then bask in it. To be honest, the reality is a little less graceful than that but still, on afternoons like this, I am the King and Luke is free. We stumble into the house, drop our disguises and open our mouths to the sweet, sweet taste of Captain Crunch. As our stomachs begin to pity us, the television gives its performance. Maybe Batman is on, maybe SpongeBob is on or maybe even Thomas the Tank Engine is on… no matter the show, we watch. Luke watches because it makes him happy and I watch because it makes him happy.
The beginning of the news is our warning. He soon bashes on the door, expecting it to bow down but everyone knows that it only does that on special occasions. I pick myself up from the big armchair, his armchair, and pace towards the entrance of my Kingdom. As soon as I twist that handle though, it is no longer my kingdom.
He stumbles in, places his arms around me and suffocates my torso.
“Sorry, I forgot my key. How was your day?” He bellows.
“It was good. I got in the football team,” I murmur.
His head almost hits the ceiling.
“I knew you’d get in! We’ll go and get you some gear tomorrow.”
“Thanks Dad.” I almost whisper.
The rest of the night is a normal one. Dad prances around the kitchen with every dish at his disposal and eventually presents to us his take on Mexican cuisine. We sit at the table, one chair empty, and “eat”. I use the word “eat” as a subjective term because Dad and Luke spend the entire time pretending that their corn chips are aeroplanes flying through the sky. My planes would’ve flown with theirs once.
The front door squeals on its hinges and in she comes. Like always, a briefcase is attached to her hand and a frown is attached to her face. She paces towards us and in that moment Luke almost stages 9/11. The dining room lights fall upon her face and for the first time in a long time, I see her. Ash blonde hair is pulled behind her head and a face ever so slightly touched with makeup, awaits admiration. Her cheekbones contend with Angelina Jolie’s but her eyes are their own kind of beauty. They stage a dance of blue and green with thick eyelashes orchestrating their movement. All I can think of is irony. Her beauty is so damn ironic.
“How was your day?” Dad asks.
She nods and continues with her expedition for food.
“There are some leftover nachos in the kitchen.” He pushes.
An elongated sigh escapes her mouth and she rushes towards her bedroom, leaving her family without a sense of family yet again. Little Luke begins to call out, and I instinctively pick up one of his corn chips, pretending that it is a plane once again. That stops him… for now.
The circus finally comes to an end, and Luke and I shuffle into our room, our tongues removed on entry. It is time to sleep. I lay him down on his racing car bed and pull the white duvet to his chin.
“Goodnight little man.” I whisper, fully aware of the risk I have taken.
I fall into my own bed, half-wishing that it was also a racing car. One that I could drive from this house, from this town, from this state, from this country and from this planet. My wishes never come true though. I place my earphones into the most sensitive part of my being and allow Bob Dylan to carry me to slumber.
A shatter. A shatter possesses my body and I rip the earphones from my head, exposing myself to reality.
“Fuck Luke!” A voice screams.
She has awoken. The circus is not over. The circus is never over. How could I have been so naïve? What have I done? Before I can step into battle, Luke falls into the bedroom and begs for mercy. I slam the door behind him, and wedge a chair under the handle. I shouldn’t have slammed the door. Why did I do that? My legs give out and I sink to my knees. He winces on the floor. Luke. Little Luke. What have I done to you? I pull him from orbit and merge our bodies together. One eye shut. He has one black eye shut. The bruise of her love now lives on his face. I place my hand beneath his head, holding him like a newborn. He is vulnerable. He is a newborn. My hand grows moist. I see red. All I see is red. Is that her favourite colour? She growls at the door, clawing at our childhood. Please God, save us. Why am I begging for him? He’s not here. He has never been here. I take the white duvet from Luke’s bed and wrap it around his body. White? The duvet is not white. She bleaches it. Look. What colour do you see?
“Honey. Come on now… let them be. They’ve learnt their lesson.”
The beast is lured back to her cave. Her prey is in my hands. I am shaking. I am crying. I don’t know how to breathe anymore. I don’t want to breathe anymore. Little Luke opens his mouth. Don’t do that. Just sleep, just sleep. Please… just fucking sleep!
“I broke her vase.”
Discuss the influence of Adolf Hitler on German society.
Every couple of weeks, we sit in these damn seats and whatever we write on this damn paper, is supposed to be indicative of our potential. I usually write nothing and therefore, I am nothing. Not today. Not fucking today.
Adolf Hitler was tragically powerful and a true symbol of humanity’s weakness. He came to Germany at a time they were vulnerable. They were still disheartened by their loss in World War I and they now struggled to cope with the socio-economic issues that plagued their country. Hitler was their alleged saviour. He stepped in and used carefully crafted rhetoric to hold prisoner, the hearts and minds of many. He spoke of their pain, how Germany was the greatest country of all and how they would become triumphant once again. People listened. They listened because they were desperate and that desperation led to approximately 11 million deaths.
Today we tend to place the blame on Hitler. We say that he is responsible for the pain that lives in our history. We are wrong. Humans are selfish by nature and this selfishness is what gave him power. We gave it to him because we thought he would make us better. We were weak and even now, nearly 100 years later, we are still weak because we refuse to admit that we are the fucking problem.
I push the paper away from my wrath and catch my breath. The teacher rises from her alleged throne and comes to collect the offering. I lift the piece of paper, amused by its lightness, and hand it to her. She rolls her eyes and snatches it, pulling it from my fingers.
I await the sigh but it doesn’t come, instead she just stands there with my declaration of being in her hands. She’s reading it. She’s actually reading it. As the words draw pictures in her mind, I bite my fingernails. I care what she thinks. I really do.
“See me after class,” She sighs.
Yet again, I am fooled into hoping and dreaming. It’s my own fault really. Now I have to sit here for an hour, listening to the pens of the undead until I am released back into the wild.
I watch the old clock as each minute transmutes into history. Is that how life works? Minute by minute, am I transmuted into history? Does death signal the moment at which I become a permanent fixture of the past? Before I can draw conclusions, the bell rings. One by one, the students give their offerings to the old hag and leave the classroom, returning to their state of ignorance. Before I get a chance veil myself in the crowd, everyone has left and it is just her and I sitting in our respective seats. I’m at the back of the classroom, she’s at the front.
“You have no idea do you?” She calls out.
“No idea of what!”
“You have no idea what you are capable of. I haven’t read everyone else’s papers but I can guarantee you that none of them will be like yours. When are you going to stop feeling sorry for yourself and do something with your gift?”
Before she can finish her sentence, I am standing at her desk, facing her head on.
“I do not feel sorry for myself. I feel sorry for you. You’re the one stuck here teaching fucking zombies.”
She grins. She bloody grins.
“Maybe you’re right… maybe I am teaching zombies. But maybe you spend too much time hating this world when you could be coming up with ways to fix it. You think we are all weak right? Well why don’t you make us strong?”
I look into her eyes, unable to speak.
“Uni applications have to be in by the end of next week. You might not have the grades but I think we can get you in there. Meet me here at the same time next Monday.”
I don’t know how she did it but she did. She took my fucking tongue. I pick my schoolbag from the floor and leave her bathing in flames. As I walk through the hallway with my little brother in hand, I notice my reflection in a glass pane on the wall. Fire. I see fire.
This time I am ready. This is my kingdom and it will stay my kingdom. He pushes open the door with that same wonky smile on his face. I look at him, I really look at him, and attempt to understand how this man can be content with his existence. I love this man but I pity him.
“Dad… I need to talk to you.”
“What’s the problem.”
Problem? What’s the fucking problem?
“For the past week, I’ve had to tell Luke’s teachers that he got a black eye in softball. I’ve had to tell Luke to pretend like he got a black eye in softball. I can’t do it anymore. Mum’s had you on puppet strings since I can remember. She can do anything to us and you don’t care. You don’t fucking care!”
Maybe it was the profanity or simply my challenge to his blindness but either way, I am pinned against the wall. His hands, Mum’s hands, no… his hands are clasped around my neck.
“You ungrateful little shit! You’ve no idea what you’re talking about. You don’t know what your Mother has sacrificed for us to be here. You don’t know what I’ve sacrificed to be here.”
My pale skin is coloured purple and my eyes begin to bulge from their sockets. In this moment, I wonder about the connection between my eyes and head; Is it strong enough?
Before I am the shown the answer, he removes his hands. I drop to the wooden floor and become saturated in my own urine. He looks at me, for the first time in forever, and begins to cry. I lay on the ground, marinating in our fluids, and hope by some miracle that I will dissolve. Instead, he drops down beside me and pulls me closer, not caring for the piss. I feel his heartbeat on my back and notice the irregular rhythm. It’s almost as if his body cannot keep up with this life… with her. Poor man.
Little Luke walks in from the living room, pretending that he didn’t just see what I know he saw. He’s getting good at that. He sits himself down beside us and places his little hands on our tired arms.
“You guys okay?”
Parents argue… it’s nothing new. Whether it be the financial burdens of adulthood, the inability to remember why they got married or a simple instance of miscommunication, they argue. That’s all this is… right?
I remove the music from my head and carefully push the buds into his ears, gifting him oblivion. He’s always liked Bob Dylan’s Mr. Tambourine Man. I pull the duvet over his body, harder than I ever have before, hoping that he will get the hint and go under it, becoming lost in the silence of cotton. He doesn’t. He doesn’t because he’s brave. He shouldn’t need to be this brave.
I lay back down on my bed and stare at the bedroom door. I think there was once a time when it was blue. No… there definitely was, I remember now. They had just come home from the hospital, spellbound by the second child that was to come.
“It’s a boy! You’re going to have a little brother!” They screamed.
I then remember Dad going into the shed, taking some stale paint and brushes and laying newspaper beneath my door. We spent the entire afternoon with our hands blue, colouring the wood with our hopes and dreams.
The faded door swings from its hinges, showing me all of its cracks… showing me my Mother. Her perfume falls from her hand, spills on the wooden floor and intoxicates the air. Somehow her beauty is still contained and she looks at me, into me.
“Why hello there!” She howls while raising her perfume from the ground.
There is a smile on her face and I should be happy to see it, but I am not. I don’t understand. There must be an invisible man standing in front of her, piercing his hooks into her cheeks and pulling them from side to side. That’s the only explanation. Then I look at her perfume.
“I think you two should have a drink. Maybe you’ll lighten up.” She slurs.
I immediately take the bottle from her hand, knowing the alternative, and put it to my lips. I look over and Luke and see his eyes on mine. If there was ever a time to sing as loud as you can, now is that time Bob Dylan. Please.
I drink the perfume; I drink all of the perfume. It falls down my throat, coating my oesophagus with her soul, and lands in the pit of my stomach. She stares at the hollowness of the bottle and begins to open her mouth, showing me the pain within her, the pain that has become her.
“Good one dick! Now there’s none left for your brother.” She screams.
She takes the bottle from my hand and pounds it against the once upon a time blue door. Shatter. So much shattering in this house. Not even Bob Dylan can contain the sound. Luke pulls himself up onto his knees and leans back into the wall behind his bed, hoping that it will swallow him whole. She runs her skeletal fingers along the jagged edge of her perfume bottle and all of a sudden gains the co-ordination of a surgeon, thrusting it into my shoulder. I was right. Her favourite colour is red.
Like clockwork, her keeper enters the room and pulls her from our presence, back to the cave from which she came. I slam the door, that damn door, and wedge a chair beneath the handle yet again. The wall regurgitates my brother and he sits on his bed, rocking back and forth, intoxicated by the amniotic fluid that surrounds him. I grab an old t-shirt from the washing basket, and wrap it tightly around my arm, not caring for the shards that push deeper into my veins. I turn off the light, pretending what he can’t see can’t hurt him, and climb upon his bed. Come closer Luke. It’s okay. I’m okay. We’re going to be okay.
I hear his breath beneath me and for the first time in this little boy’s life, I listen to it. It whispers a sad poem. It has no words, only breath. It tells me of the air in the house and how it is too much for him. He tries to let it all out, he really does, but no matter how hard he pushes from his nose, it stays. As long as he is here, it will always stay.
I can do this. I will do this. I gently lay him on his back and sit upon him, staring at my purpose. Luke… dearest Luke. His blonde hair falls in ringlets and hides his swollen eyes. His freckles jump from cheek to cheek, illustrating their freedom… the kind of freedom he deserves. I take a pillow and raise it in the air, much like an aeroplane. It’s okay. You’re going to be okay. The plane comes in for landing and sticks itself to his face. The body beneath me begins to the shake. The soul beneath me begins to rejoice. I will not surrender, I cannot surrender. He will be happy.
I gently lift the pillow and uncover my doing. I smile. The circus is over one and for all. I untie the shirt from my arm and pull from my wound, a shard of glass. It doesn’t hurt. Nothing can hurt anymore. I bring it to my neck and with the wave of an arm, turn myself inside out. I fall towards Luke, still smiling and nestle myself into the safety of absence. My blood soaks into the duvet, painting our story, and I think one thing and one thing only; This can’t be bleached.