My fingers were aching. I dropped the pen, my face contorting in exaggerated pain as I shook my hand wildly; it felt as though millions of tiny bees were having a race through my veins.
I cracked my knuckles a few times, turned my head until my neck popped, then rose, leaning back as far as I could until my spine gave a satisfying crunch.
I stood for a while, overlooking my room. My eyes were slightly unfocused as they moved across the darkened images of my bed, dresser, and desk–all piled so high that I was forcibly reminded of a miniature mountain range.
My eyes landed upon my composition book, which I had pushed to the side. It was laying lamely on my bed, the yellowed pages reflecting the moonlight dully. I must’ve been writing for hours; my room was completely dark, save for the light of the full moon. But I didn’t need it in order to see. I knew my room well–it was my domain, my cave–and I could move easily through it, dodging the “organized chaos” (as I liked to call it).
I knew when to step over discarded clothes, or when to turn so as to avoid a pile of books. My backpack didn’t trip me, nor did an overturned chair. (I guess tidiness isn’t really my strength.)
I moved quickly, though I wasn’t in a real hurry, and when I stopped, I was at the complete other end of my room, where a record player had been lodged into a corner. The needle had stopped moving across the vinyl, but was setting lazily atop the record. I squinted downward, reading the name of the band. I couldn’t remember choosing The Doors, nor could I recall listening to any songs, though I surely had.
I glanced across my shoulder, eyeing my composition book–the complete life story of The Man In The Shadows–and sighed, turning to select a new album. I chose quickly, setting the record on the turntable and placing the needle upon the first groove.
At first, there was nothing but the steady catch of the needle against the vinyl. It was a comforting, safe sound:
Fwup, fwup, fwup…
Despite the darkness, I could imagine the needle moving calmly across the record.
Perhaps that’s what I liked most about the albums–the undeniable calm that seemed to accompany the nostalgia. It was a type of serenity that seemed unreachable by today’s standards.
I suppose that must’ve been why I’d brought out the old albums. After all, I only listened to them when I needed to. The rest of the time I had the radio. Or the CDs. Or–goodness forbid–the IPod. I only used the IPod when I felt like one of many. But, today, I felt like one of a kind.
So I’d brought out the albums.
I’d been playing them almost every day; the songs seemed to understand me better than anyone else did–
Not that Virgil had ever understood me, nor had ever even tried. I heard a loud shout–one that I knew came from my mother–and tried to listen more intently to the album. My mom wasn’t really the type to shout, but Virgil–in my opinion–had brought out the worst in her.
And in me.
I’d grown accustomed to the fighting these past three years. My throat clenched at the thought of how long these three years had seemed: Mom marrying Virgil after Dad–
I waved the thought away, turning back toward my bed. This time, however, I made a detour to my light switch, blinking against the sudden brightness.
At one time, my room had been painted dark blue, but now the color was “Rock Star.” Every available inch of the wall had been covered with posters: The Who, AC/DC, and Pink Floyd–just to name a few. Any other bit of bare wall had been covered with song lyrics: “Bohemian Rhapsody” was staring back at me as I fell onto my bed, pulling my composition book towards me.
Another string of slurred curses came from downstairs, and I shifted so that my back was to the door. I sat, immobile, my composition book balancing on my knee, my jaw clenching slightly.
I’d learned a long time ago that it was best for me to stay in my room. Confronting Virgil was impossible for two reasons: One, in order to understand logic, a person needs an IQ of at least sixty and I’d seen chairs that were smarter than Virgil. The second reason was that by–
I glanced at the digital clock beside my bed:nine thirty. Yeah, by now Virgil had already met up with Jack Daniels.
I heard another shout from Mom and flinched.
Either I wasn’t stupid enough to go downstairs, or I was too cowardly. I hadn’t decided which.
But that didn’t stop me from tightening my fist around my pen as Virgil shouted his favorite word–one he liked even more than “dammit” (though I’m not repeating which one it is).
There were more shouts and the sound of glass breaking before I heard Mom run up the stairs and slam the bedroom door. The sound of an engine and the flash of headlights across my blinds signaled that Virgil had gone. The music was still playing; it was the only sound that now filled the house.
Everything had fallen into a predictable routine since… the accident. Virgil would drink; Mom would either fight with him or lock herself in her room; and I would stay in my room–completely alone.
I suppose I preferred it that way.
I shook my head as though the action itself would loosen those thoughts from my mind. I had a brief mental image of little men falling out of my ear, muttering, “This isn’t fair!” and “Why doesn’t she just divorce him!”
I figured there must be some reason why Mom was still with Virgil, though I didn’t know what it was. I mean, Virgil had fooled both of us. We’d been pretty easy to fool, though. He’d seemed sincere, concerned… he’d even taken an interest in my albums.
And she’d married him, only thirteen months after Dad had….
I still couldn’t say the word.
It was a hard word that caught in my throat like the meatloaf Mom had started making. When Dad was… here… she’d always taken time with dinner. Now, we had meatloaf-from-a-box, with potatoes-from-a-box, and applesauce that was always lumpy.
But now, we had Virgil and life was different.
If I had my way, I’d be twice Virgil’s size, with muscles bulging from beneath my shirt and a threatening gleam in my eye. Virgil wouldn’t bother us anymore. It’s hard to figure out how we even wound up with Virgil. I guess we were too numb to realize what kind of man he really was, but I’d sure like to get rid of him.
Nice dream, right?
I can’t do a thing to get rid of Virgil. I’m not strong or large. I’m just Todd: so scrawny that I look as though I can–literally–break in two. My hollow face and blue eyes can barely look angry, let alone threatening, and I’m almost positive that I was born without muscles. I don’t know what’s holding me up, but it’s not muscle.
My dad would have said it’s spite.
Virgil would say it’s bullshit.
Again, I shook my head. No more thinking–period. I opened my composition book, scanning the pages that I’d had written. I could barely read my quick scrawl; a few times, I had to turn the book sideways in order to decipher it. I frowned after a while, making a correction here, or adding a phrase there:
The silver cup trembled in her hand–
My frown deepened, and I skipped back a few pages–I hadn’t given her a name. Of course, I also hadn’t christened The Man In The Shadows, but that didn’t really matter. The Man had never had a name, nor had any name ever seemed to fit him. Anyways, I couldn’t really imagine calling him anything else.
But this girl needed a name–she was a feisty, red-haired fox, and a personality such as that needed a name that was equally vivacious.
I was alone, so I didn’t hesitate to make a slight gagging sound. I hated the name; it was hideous and awkward.
I wrote it in the margins, anyways.
I grimaced as soon as I’d written the final letter, but–unfortunately–it fit:
–trembled in Aislynn’s hand for a moment, before she let it fall from her worried grasp.
Yeah, it fit.
I finished reading what I’d written, then tossed the book to the side. I closed my eyes and heaved a sigh, thinking of my story. My brow furrowed in slight confusion, but I shrugged it away.
It didn’t bother me that I had no idea what The Man In The Shadows was talking about. I didn’t know who he was “protecting.” In fact, my story seemed to have skipped quite a bit. The last time I had written, The Man had been stealing a disc from Cyrus.
I closed my eyes, thinking back to that chapter. I couldn’t remember The Man hurting his leg during the robbery.
Because he didn’t.
Then how did he hurt his leg?
Unfortunately, I couldn’t answer that question either.
I sat, bolt upright in my bed. It seemed as though I’d forgotten to write a chapter.
I know that’s breaking the first rule in creative writing: know your story like the back of your hand. Writers are supposed to be omniscient, right?
But, somehow, I’d never been all-knowing with my writing. Even now, I still never knew what I was going to write until I got a pen in my hand. Then it just came…. and it always felt great.
The record clicked to a stop, and I rose to put the album away.
Now I could hear Mom crying. It was a soft sound, so quiet that–had I not known to listen–I wouldn’t have heard it. Mom tried not to cry in front of me…
And I tried not to let her know that I could hear.
Copyright Sarah Davidson 2020