The double quotes should have wrapped the word “bachelor” and not “married”, as I am actually married. But someone once said that how you feel should take precedence over facts and reality. Now, before I stir the proverbial hornet’s nest let me clarify that this was a temporary spell of bachelorhood, as my wife and kids were overseas.
Now, if you were expecting a “here is what I could remember” recount of the mad drunken parties while the missus was away, you would be disappointed. These are excerpts from my Diary over 3 nights. This is about my interactions with a being from the other side. Yes, that’s right, the kind you dread and see in the movies. The kind you know exists, but ignore as life itself grabs you by the throat and chains you to the mundane – isn’t that an understatement?
So here I am in my 30s with not a care in the world and kids and the wife strategically packed away minding their own business. This is when a curious mind such as mine wanders in the wee hours of the morning and stumbles across some things that are out of place – in particular, my 2 year Old’s toys. His “Ducati” and “Cycle”, I could have sworn were neatly “parked” on the other side by the sofa ever since they left – which was 2 months ago. “Surely this must be a mistake”, I thought to myself. I mean, I have read and watched, The Shining and am under no illusions as to what seclusion can do to you. You tend to imagine and conjure up stuff. But then again, what if this was a revelation to a freer, sharper mind, keener to absorb, weighed down by less distractions? – Two sides of the same coin. Unsure which one to go with – one would force me to dismiss my suspicions; the other would lead me on. Sort of like the red pill-blue pill dilemma. Of course, I swallowed the “enlightened mind” reasoning and went about investigating the matter with a crucifix in my hand.
I mean, you can ignore, the dryer switching on at 3 am, the song ‘Radioactive Toy’ playing when one gets home, the squeaking springs from the attic in the middle of the night, the knocks on my bedroom door on stormy nights, only so many times.
I decided to trick It. Parked the “Ducati” and the “Cycle” in the opposite corner of the room next to the fireplace. The winter was unusually cold this year. I hate winters, but love to watch snow on TV. The moon had reached it’s three-quarters point this night, but was unusually bright – nary a cloud in the night sky. The chrome on the Ducati, soaked in the moonlight, gleamed menacingly. “Easy, Jake” I thought to myself. “Snap out of it”. I retired to my bedroom and watched another episode of Breaking Bad. “Ah Walt, how are you ever going to get out of this mess?”, I thought to myself before putting out the bedside lamp.
But sure as night turns to day, the “Heisenberg” in him always manages to get him out of whatever Mr Vince Gilligan throws his way. Checked the bedside clock and couldn’t believe my eyes – Eleven:Seventeen AM. I haven’t slept this well and for this long in…couldn’t remember the last time.
Feeling relaxed, I scrambled out of bed and head for the kitchen for my pot of coffee. A glorious Saturday with the sun out in all its splen…hang on, what about my boy’s Ducati and Cycle? “Did the “kids” take it for a spin?”, I smiled. I retraced my steps back to the living room, and there it was, the scaled down 1199 Panigale and the blue tricycle parked exactly where I left them next to the fireplace. Content, I turned around to switch on the Televis…..I leapt backwards and almost hit the wall. My son’s scooter! It has found it’s way from the bottom of the pile of toys in the basket to the exact spot where I thought the other 2 were originally parked. Kubrick, please get me out of this shot and set, I pleaded and scrambled down the creaking stairs and bolted out the house, half naked.
Okay, this wasn’t going too well. The cigarette pack and the lighter that I had tossed out the window, in yet another attempt to quit, a couple of days back, had to be lying around in the little garden by the front porch. Scrambled to see if I could find it. Picked it up and returned to the safety (and the cover) of the front porch. Lit up and took a long drag – “need to think clearly about this”, I thought, feeling woozy from the inhaled toxin. Can’t afford to lose my mind – so much for enthusiastically swallowing the red pill. Cussed and cursed myself before realising the doors lock automatically and the glaring fact that I am locked out with less thread on my body than I would like – perfect!
A not-so dignified trot to the next door neighbour, a phone call and an all-knowing smile from the locksmith, and I was back inside to ponder my next move. There is only one thing a man in my position should do – light another cigarette. Wonder if I will ever be able to quit, but that was the least of my concerns right this moment. Clutching the cross on the rosary round my neck I inched my way up the stairs. The creaking of the wood was more pronounced than I could remember. At the top of the stairs the glare from the large mirror perched on the wall in the living room had made a perfect rectangle – “the all knowing mirror”, I thought, as I took another step. The creak was so deliberate, drawn out and pronounced, I thought the plank beneath would give way. “The mirror that sees everything, the one witness to the dance of the toys in the unholy hour?” – the cold, dead eye that watches without judgement. “Snap out of it, Jake”, I reminded myself. Clenched the cross tighter. Peeked from behind the wall and everything was as I had left it. Obviously! Smacked myself on the head. What was I thinking? It was possible that I did not notice the scooter there before. “It is possible”, I tried to reason. I must have imagined everything. I need to just forget about the “red pill” and this stupid investigation. I need to get out of the house more.
Wound up the clock that night. It would seem that time was marching on at a leisurely pace as declared by my rapidly degenerating spring loaded grandfather clock – as though he had seen enough in this lifetime and was reluctant to journey any further. “Keep up Pops, live to fight another day”, I smiled as I wound the key as far as it would go. He has been in the family for more than 3 generations and had bore witness to the births and deaths of ancestors who passed away long before I was born – The Sentinel. Climbed under the covers and Pops let me know it was Ten:Thirty PM. Listened to a meditational track which eased me into sleep – Ah, sleep, welcome sleep.
The insomnia was back. Woke up when Pops declared it was Three:00 AM. Strange dreams – more like visions. They were as clear as day in my mind. I was riding my son’s red scooter round and round a miniature racetrack. I ran out of steam after a few laps and parked it in the living room, exactly where I found it yesterday. Got out of bed and walked to the living room. The mirror watched quietly and Pops was going about his business of tick-tock-tick and was grinding for the quarter chime. Everything was exactly where it was meant to be.
An uneventful day was concluding with the dusk creating long shadows that were reluctant to simply retreat and die. I was nearing the fag end of the cigarette I was smoking and listening to the song “Insurgentes” over and over again. What a beautiful, sad song – It reminded me of the fields that I used to play in with my brother when I was just a boy. “And out of breath, your work is done” – Some songs strike a chord like no other and reek of truth.
I had pizza for dinner and fell asleep watching yet another genius move by Mr. Heisenberg. Heard a thumping noise from the living room. I had to investigate. Crept up to my bedroom door and peeked through the keyhole. Moonlight washed and lit up the living room in a surreal way. I could see everything, but couldn’t detect any movement. I had to step out of the bedroom and into the living room. Turned the knob and slowly inched the door open. The door protested almost as loud as the stairs. Stepped out into the moonlit darkness and couldn’t find anything that was out of place. But there was an eerie presence. Crossed the living room to the kitchen for a drink of water.
Walking back to the living room I spotted him in the corner sitting in the basket of toys. The glass of water slipped and fell to the floor. I dropped to the floor and kicked with my legs until I was backed up against the opposite corner. I pushed with my legs covered my head and curled up against the wall. The silhouette of the boy bathed in the moonlight approached me slowly but deliberately, and asked if he can keep the toys. I pleaded with him not to hurt me. A permanent shadow obscured his face and I couldn’t make out who it was. He repeated the question. “Yes, yes…of course, keep all of it”, I mumbled. Satisfied, he turned around and walked away.
I woke up with a terrible headache. Reached for a cigarette and lit one up. “Was that a dream?”, I rubbed my forehead. It felt too real to be a dream. “But of course it was a dream”, I thought to myself as I climbed out of bed. “You need to get your head checked”, I smiled. I wondered if there is any help available online on recurring nightmares. Of course, if not Kubrick movies, Google has all the answers. One of the hits suggested that up to 8% of the population are plagued by nightmares. “That’s some consolation!”, I smiled. It went on to further suggest that Insomnia and Metabolism could be the culprits. But, deep down I had a hunch that it was something else.
Played a few chords that morning. I was finding it hard to complete the song composition which had started beautifully. But then again fingers don’t flow along the fretboard as intuitively and decisively during winters. “Now that’s great”, I thought to myself, “blame everything on winter”. Wretched winters. I gave up on the song and sat in the Study to complete the last chapter of my novel. Writer’s block…again. At this stage I was desperate to get my work finished. Bills were pending. I had to present this pile to my ruthless publisher in 3 days. But this is when one starts compromising quality, when working against a deadline. But I should be counting my blessings, I reminded myself, being able to do what I love, for a living, unlike most others in this rotting generation that I was born into. Still, there are bills to be paid. I was able to get to the very end but unsure of how to end the story. Looked up the clock in the Study…Wow…it was Ten:Thirty PM already. “Maybe the ending can wait until tomorrow”, I thought. Pizza again for dinner. Was tired so did not find it hard to slip into slumber.
Pops woke me up at the strike of Three:00. Pops was louder than he should be. That’s when I realised I was seated on the Ducati in front of the fireplace right next to Pops. This can’t be happening – how did I get here? I could not get off the Ducati, something was holding me in place – like I was glued to it. The wheels started turning and slowed when it got to the coffee table in front of the mirror. The Ducati tilted deliberately and was taking me round and round the coffee table – the miniature circuit. Faster and faster the wheels turned. I couldn’t move my hands to even pinch myself to see if this was a dream, or a nightmare, to be politically correct. The Panigale started lifting off the ground, still going round in circles, brought me on par with the mirror on the wall.
I almost died of a bolt to my heart from what I saw in the mirror. Riding the Ducati, round and round the table was the reflection of a little boy. I recognised those clothes from my childhood. The face would not reveal itself. The record player started playing “Insurgentes” from the other room. Pops started grinding angrily to inform me again of the witching hour but as a precursor to him striking the chord, the boy turned around and faced me. A cold, dead stare. Sadness welled up inside me at what I saw. The state of those eyes and the blank stare told me more than what I bargained for – my dead brother, Jake. A sad smile crossed his face before turning away.
All the painful memories of that accident came crashing like an avalanche from a bygone, forgotten era. My brother idolized and loved me more than anything or anyone in his Six-year-old world. We were brothers in arms; the invincible duo and we fought cowboy wars and were lords of our kingdom – unadulterated joy of two young lives entwined eternally and intoxicated with our lust for life.
Dad’s work had brought the family to this beachside abode straight out of the movies. We were buzzing that morning like a couple of excited bees that have discovered a new garden. But as kids, what caught our fancy was the secluded little beach and the 10 meter wall of untamed rocky terrain that rose on either side and extended out about half a mile into the dancing ocean that stretched out into eternity in front of us. The plan was to tread the slippery rocks at the base of the wall and trek as far as we could go. I should have paid more attention to the clouds of doubt looming in his eyes. I should not have reassured him and beckoned him to follow. Too young I was, to see the dangers lurking beneath the surface.
We climbed, to get past most of the rocks and crept through the gaps of the really large ones that were too steep or slippery to climb and kept out of the waves rolling against the sides. It was neat. The sea was getting a little rough but we managed to keep out of trouble, just. When we got to the end of our trek a sense of conquest washed over us. We had just landed on our secret turf unbeknownst to lesser mortals. We were Vikings that had surmounted the impossible to discover this wild medieval world. It was exhilarating. I went about studying life forms that had dared to arrive there ahead of us. I even squashed a snail and chased a crab that tumbled sideways and disappeared into the water to escape me. “Into the depths he fled”, I smiled.
I looked up to see Jake running to the edge of the flats that we were on and hopped on to the first rock that was jutting out of the water. He turned around and laughed. I ran in his direction to race him to the farthest rock that I could see. Of course he knew what I was thinking and turned and hopped on to the next rock.
That is when I saw it approach. A wave that was going to dwarf Jake and the rocks that were jutting out of the water. The dark Ocean had cheated us out of our naivety. The rocks he had hopped on to were the kind that only surface when the wave recedes. Just like how Pops wanted to pace time, everything slowed down to a crippling pace. Jake leaped to the farthest rock. I shouted out and tried to warn him, but my voice got drowned in the distant echoes of the crashing waves. He turned around, realising what was about to hit him and looked at me. “Brother, help me”, he eyes pleaded. There was nothing either of us could do. The wave threw him into the sea and I saw his frail arms frantically thrashing in the water and attempting to grab hold of a non-existent anchor. He was quickly dragged underneath and spat out into the ocean by the receding wave between two submerged rocks that created a high velocity current. I panicked and ran to the edge and hoped and prayed that the next wave would bring him back and that somehow I could pull him up.
My prayer was not answered that day.
Into the depths he journeyed.
The look in my brother’s eyes just before the sea swallowed him has remained with me ever since – that frightened stare. The helplessness and sorrow I felt had no end or equal. I prayed for his soul everyday since, but I really should have prayed for my own deliverance that was never to come in this lifetime.
I sobbed like a child for my dear brother after all these years. At that moment, I knew the only thing a man in my position was left with, to do. Time had slowed down again. The Ducati landed back on the carpet, screeched and lurched ahead and shot off in the general direction of the stairwell, in slow motion. Pops rang out of tune and out of place, as though reaching out to me, bidding me farewell. The record player played my favourite line from “Insurgentes” one last time for me – “And out of breath, your work is done”. It made a quick turn, before we tumbled and fell down the steep stairs. The split second between when the creaking stairs caught my head and twisted the neck beyond its threshold, the only thing I could think of was about how the choice between the red and the blue pills was an illusion and a lie – you are either born cursed and see “it” or are blessed and not see “it”. The “choice” if any, was made long before you were born and the consequence will eventuate before you bid your final farewell.
© Jim Mareath and Just me, 2013