I felt the smooth, soft skin of her back as I pushed her into the hard-cut gravel, then felt a rough and bloody sensation rub against my fingers as I helped her to her feet. It was my first time, and I’d become angry at Granddad that I didn’t get the opportunity to examine the sensation longer and annoyed at the screams of both mother and baby as he pulled me by the arm out of the park.
I was aggrieved over the loss of my right to purvey my aftermath. He stole it from me.
I felt the cool wet of the floor soak through to my flesh as I struck the match and felt a fleeting victory listening to her screams. Caught up and captured like an ungainly mermaid trapped in a fisherman’s net, I watched as she fought her way through the melting plastic of the shower curtain. I left before my neighbour saw me.
I was curious when father woke me during the night for our visit to mum’s park, and felt oddly gleeful, surprised even, to hear my neighbours cries of, ‘Murder, attempted to murder me,’ were still weaving their way through the neighbourhood like a moment caught in a loop.
I saw the real me inside those flames and liked what I saw.
I felt a sense of gratification the day we walked to the shops. It was a Spring day with a layer of dew over the ground, and the sun peered down warming my head. I was shorter than the normal boys around my age and had a future I’d already begun to live. Size played no part in that future.
We walked into the local deli, granddad told to get me a treat, but as he took me through a sea of old, tired, skinny, fat, hairy legs, hemmed by floral cloths all the same, but different, and sad and scuffed shoes, my head became caught up in a sea of fleshy balloons. We’d come to a stop. It was busy that day and suddenly I was rendered immobile.
My head was pressed in against a stranger’s hand bag and several well-fed stomachs. I was surprised I could breathe at all. A sudden rush of cool wind entered the small, warm, compact room. It filled my lungs with an untamed mixture of floral perfumes. It was the lady from the other side of the cross roads on Mayflower street. Only a day before I’d heard her tell the neighbourhood she’d been up all night because the music from Ivy street was, ‘Loud and gave her a splitting headache.’
I watch, and sometimes interact with, all my neighbours. Nothing gets past me.
‘I’m certain there were drugs too,’ she’d said between slurps of tea and the sound of crunching fresh baked biscuits. I could imagine the crumbs falling into her lap.
‘What did you do?’ my nextdoor neighbour asked after she’d been summoned to tea.
‘I called the police of course! I’ll not put up with that sort in my neighbourhood.’
There was no noise from Ivy street. I know because I was awake watching, listening to the screams and cries coming from her house. I went to look in the window and I saw her hitting, punching her husband. Full fisted punches and stiletto kicks. The bloodier he got, louder he screamed, the more she turned up the music. I knew our neighbour felt uncomfortable about the entire monologue of bullshit, about her sinful gossiping lies.
She believed others were blissfully unaware of her sins and liked a good tittle-tattle as long as it wasn’t about her. I listened to her complaints for hours. I could see the edge of a transparent ripple in the air as she confabulated what she believed had occurred. Her lies are banked and saved by universes all. Truth never attracts the attention of the universe but lies do. When she left my neighbours house, I followed her to the cross roads and sat in a bush that appeared to have been designed to sit in. I heard her change the story at every house she visited.
By the end of the day, she’d twisted so many lies, I doubt she knew which ones she should remember. I do. I remember everything. I’m good like that. So here I am suffocating in a sea of floral skirts and biscuit bellies when I saw her walk in. Everyone was talking about the stories she’d told, and I heard one of the ladies say she’d, ‘give her what for if she tries spinnin’ that shit with me!’
No-one, except me, saw her walk in. I’d know those ugly green crocodile woven pumps anywhere. The world differed greatly from where I stood, and I watched her shoes near my position. All the women were trying to get her story straight, and dad and granddad were still trying to get to the counter.
‘I’ll just get him a treat from the universe when we get home,’ I heard granddad say, but we were hemmed in from all sides. We’d only gone for a walk because dad was sick.
But everybody had forgotten about me and I stood amongst the skirts and toe to toe with those shoes. I know I smiled as she neared. The gossip in the small deli changed to a low hum, and her gossip from the day before still played out in my mind. Mrs Archer said she’d give her what for and I wanted to see it!
‘What if she finds out we know the truth?’ ask the nice, yet uncomfortable neighbour who always gave me treats, when her friend came to visit. I liked Mrs Delucia. I didn’t know she was in there too. I should have.
‘I feel so sorry for her husband. I don’t know how to help him,’ I heard Mrs Delucia say.
I shifted my hand to the hem of her skirt and watched as the universe drew its players into the one heavenly sphere, and I was the loaded gun. I know granddad knew it, but father was blithely unaware of my proclivities for bloody trickery, mischief and mayhem.
I felt my impatience rise as those ugly green crocodile pumps stopped at my feet. Using my small stature to my advantage, I tugged on the hem of her black floral skirt and she looked down at me. She opened her mouth to smile, but all I saw was a streak of furry fish caught between her teeth. I mean how do you not know you have anchovies stuck between your teeth?
‘Good day Mrs Reynolds,’ I said with a smile. I showed her my teeth and everything but she didn’t get the hint, so I continued, ‘They all know you beat up your husband and Mrs Archer is going to give you what for.’
I heard granddads tut tuts and dad almost had a heart attack. I could see granddads hand searching for mine. Mrs Reynolds was still looking down at me, and I, up at her. Our eyes locked and for moments her dark eyes appeared to become black. I didn’t know what was going to happen next but was excited to find as Mrs Archer neared. The deli had become so quiet each step she took resounded around the room of onlookers.
I gripped my neighbours skirt and waited for the explosion, of what, I didn’t know but hoped I would be the catalyst to bring about the undoing of gossiping sinful women. The silence was tinged with inaudible grunts and soft laughter. I saw fathers hand searching along the hemlines of their dresses looking for mine. I was no man’s fool even then, I’d shifted my grip several times to stand behind my neighbour.
Squashed together like sardines canned alive chitter chatting and snitching with a glint in their aging eyes until the cannery man soaked them in oil and sealed them all in. I felt a rush of glee at the sight of quiet, shocked, knowing, smiling women. Granddad found my hand, grabbed it and pulled me along the old and cracked lino flooring, through the sea of bags, shoes and hems. He pushed and shoved our way through until we were outside. I heard the single fly-wire door slam as dad walked out behind us.
I saw the look in his brown eyes as they peered down at me and saw love. I longed to return that look but found it not to be part of my social skills. Granddad though, he looked angry. He knew I knew better, but that’s what made it so much fun. A low hum made its way through the door to where we stood.
‘You go home Matthew,’ Granddad said to dad and opened a rift, ‘We’ll sort this out. We’ll be right behind you.’
Granddad was barely able to contain his rage as the rift closed. I was preparing myself for another round when the sounds of gasps and giggles floated out through the flywire. Suddenly the old tired door opened and those familiar crocodile shoes skipped out. Before I knew what was happening, granddad had tucked me up under his arm and didn’t put me down until we were halfway along an old railway line, long before her other shoe found the deli’s stoop.
It was a, ‘You can run but you cannot hide scenario,’ or a, ‘I know where you live,’ event and I wanted to see it.
Without forewarning, granddad dropped me to the dew-covered brush, and I felt the damp grass mulch beneath my sandalled feet as his wrath propelled them along the wet path before us. I felt prickles in my arse as I hit the ground, and his rage. I saw it in his eyes, his gaping black chasms had grown darker and he was angrier than usual, I could taste it in my mouth, smell it on his breath, it surrounded me and I felt comfort in his anger. Grandad doesn’t know what I am, I’ve heard mutter psychopath before, but I am so much more than that!
He was fast and agile for a grandparent. He had me by the neck and was making me run ahead of him. My small bare legs moved through thick sword grass, with their brown tips sticking me like needles, as we made our way back to the cross roads near our house. I felt the slice of every sword as they filleted my young flesh and the warmth of my blood as it trailed down along my bare legs. The full span of granddads large and ferocious hand wrapped around both my thighs as he lifted me from the ground once more.
There was a special place in granddad’s fondness for me. It was fear and fright wrapped up in one large bundle. I felt his power rising from a deep dark place he kept hidden inside. I knew it was there, I had it to, but he never spoke about it, maybe because dad was so sick. We made it to my back yard where he picked me up by the neck and carried me to the back shed.
Granddad teaches me things in the shed and as we reached the door he pushed my head against it. With mere moments between banging events I felt something grow within me. I didn’t know what it was and before I had a chance to explore it further I hit the door again. It took three blows before it opened. It wasn’t child abuse because I wasn’t a child in the truer sense of the word, but I was young and felt a deep satisfaction, curiosity even, at granddad’s reaction.
I do know this; the day granddad used me as a battering ram, was the day he openly feared me. It was the day I took my very… first… breath!
I heard the raging ageing women screaming at the cross roads. I could feel what they felt, experience what they did as they pounded each other with their defiled hands. I tend to influence people when they’re in my presence. It’s why granddad gets so worried, angry, when we go out. I absorbed each blow as if I stood amongst those sinful women. Grandad heard it too, saw my reaction and a look came over his face I’d never seen before.
It was odd and would take me many hundreds of years to work out what that look was, but that day he’d become agitated and his every exhale blended with mine and I absorbed them within myself.
From that day onwards, I became stronger with every breath I stole, and I was real good at it too.
You ask if I feel? I feel. I feel more than most, but that is my lot in this life. Maybe in the next things will be different, although I doubt it. I am what I am, and life, death and time cannot alter my fates.