The screech of the chalk stick on the blackboard slaughters Bram’s last nerves. He was overly happy to be back at school, but the emotional torment of the weekend lingered. His Grandmother fell ill, his step-sister dangled love in front of his nose, and his father showed his real discontent with a choice to move far away.
Putting his head in his crossed arms, he pulled himself away from the lesson. He was looking instead to his classmates who seemed enthralled by the topic. His teacher, Mr. McCrane, enjoyed having a modern spin on teaching. The desks were hand-built at the beginning of the year by the students. Large tables allowing five kids to sit together, but with no underside to the desks, everything they did was transparent. No passing notes, no hiding toys to entertain yourself. You were stuck listening and working.
Luckily, he shared his table with his classmates wasn’t ridiculously slow, like Christopher. If he shared a table with his friend, then all his work would be plagiarized. The students at his table were busily scribbling down the notes Mr. McCrane was handwriting on the front board. They were going over geography now. The conversations in Mr. McCrane’s class always seemed oddly fluid, though, moving smoothly from a topic such as a geography into deep science with why the grass is green.
Such as it had now, at the top of the board written Iceland and Greenland. Below them beautifully scrolled words on the differences between the two, mainly as to why Greenland was not green, but three quarters covered by a vast permanent ice sheet. The teacher paused to address Bram’s inattention, and he received an elbow in the ribs too. Pulling his head off the table, Bram copied the notes down as a proper student should. His eyes couldn’t help but wander to Malhi.
His hand is putting all the work to paper while his eyes worked her up. Her hair neatly braided in a beautiful French braid from the very top of her head, then wrapping down to the side, coming to rest over her right shoulder. The pieces of hair pulled and folded perfectly. Her face concentrated to the front where the chalk was scratching away, her nose and lips gave such a beautiful profile. Her ears pierced at a young age, she says, boasted emerald green studs this morning. The warming sun caught the cuts of the jewels and glimmered in Bram’s eyes.
“Mr. Blaskhe, are you attending the class today?” Mr. McCrane suddenly called Bram out. He hadn’t realized the sound of the chalk had stopped. Before he could even peel his eyes away from Malhi, she turned and met his gaze. She smiled softly, her last few baby teeth crooked and nearly falling out to make way for the bold new adult teeth. The class burst out laughing with Bram was put on the spot, and he didn’t mind much. Simple-minded elementary classroom politics, he smiled back at Malhi and turned to face the teacher. Nodding that he was, now, giving full attention.
“So, before Mr. Blaskhe decided to distract us with his googly eyes, I was saying.” Mr. McCrane turned back to the chalkboard. He now had a roll out map pulled down for a visual. Bram didn’t care about the embarrassment; he shared a special moment smile with Malhi and was content.
“Iceland is covered with spouting geysers and volcanoes. Mother nature has put the nearest different islands next to each other just for laughs, for they pale in the comparison between the two.” Showing Bram’s classmates where the two lay, Mr. McCrane flicked his wrist and the pointer smacked the chalkboard behind him.
“The sheer magnitude of the differences is startling. However, it’s the colours that stand out with Iceland. The Aurora Borealis is very prominent in this country, the pinks of hydrogen mix with the greens of oxygen.”
“Hydrogen is pink?” One of the girls piped up, evident joy sounding in her voice to learn her favourite colour is a gas as well.
“What colour is light?” The teacher retorted.
“No, it’s the full colour of the rainbow. It takes the gases to break down the light prism into different colours. Oxygen particles, for example, bounce only green from the light spectrum. Therefore, the grass is green, grass and trees emit oxygen and therefore bounce the greenest light particles around in their cells.” Mr. McCrane’s face lit as he spoke, even Bram was intrigued by this new conversation. Much better than showing where Iceland was on a map, yet the bell blared and finished the talk. The first break, thank god! Bram thought as he stood and stretched.
“Have your math books ready after break. And wear your jackets! It’s still cold outside, even with the greens and pinks of the light spectrum showing you it’s warm.” The teacher had to yell above the roar of the classroom, kids jumping up from their desks and dashing out the door. Half of them had left already with no jacket, Bram didn’t bother to stop for his either. It was old and tattered; the sleeves were worn nearly to the elbow. He never liked asking his Grandmother for anything, and his Mother was too spacey most days, and now father would be gone almost for good.
Grandmother got home from the hospital Saturday night, and she called Bram at his father’s house the moment she arrived. Thomas had come back into the bedroom to stir Bram, which took some work, considering Bram was still hiding his emotional being in Obscura.
“Hi, sweet pea.” Her voice had sounded worn, and she was tired. He could feel her drain.
“How are you, Grandma?” Bram cut to the point. He was desperate to get home now and pondered, telling his father to drive him home. Yet, he wasn’t sure what the news of his mother was. She usually took up to a week to recover from a break.
“I’m okay, and they say I had a myocardial infarction.”
“Thomas said it was a heart attack,” Bram corrected. His Grandmother laughed and said yes, it’s the same. She thought it sounded nicer for the infarction statement since she couldn’t think of it as her own body attacking her. Bram could still picture the red-hot vision of blood vessels he had seen in her, how it did quite literally look like her heart was trying to choke her out.
“It’s still beating, though, so now, I am home.” He could hear her smile, and in turn, it made him smile.
“She needs to stay in the hospital a little longer.”
The relief was a welcome blanket, but Bram was surprised too how happy he was. The tension his Mother added to the house was thick. Her sobs heard throughout the house, and any movement in the middle of the night, meant you dare not leave your room. It crushed Bram’s heart to live that way, to watch his Mother be tormented in her mind. He wished on every shooting star, on every blow candle, on every four-leaf clover (he would spend hours looking); he wanted for her to stop crying.
Now Bram followed the stream of kids through the hallway, and they were banging on lockers laughing and yelling. Paper balls flying, a hat or two went above the crowd and backed down, he wasn’t sure what the absolute excitement was over. It was only the first break in their day. He felt the odd man out often among his peers. He followed the crowd with his head hung.
His chest was massive with the reality of his sick Grandmother, mentally crushed Mother and abandoning father. The buzz in the hallway was overwhelming, his own feet not moving his body, but the crowd doing the work for him. If he collapsed right now from anguish, he would still end up on the front lawn of the school with his classmates.
Like being trapped in a rush of bulls, Bram caught himself on the metal handrail. He stood back from the flow of children down the concrete steps to the playground. The road just past the playground was bare, with only one school bus parked waiting for the six and a half hours, waiting to take children home. The sun was full in the sky above him, he knew full well you were never to look at the sun, but he wondered how else scientists figured out the colour of prisms and gases without looking. He turned his face to the sun and squinted hard to exam it entirely. The white brightness refused to allow his eyes to land directly on it, and he could make out the squiggly sidelines of the burning ball but nothing else. A small crescent-shaped rainbow circled either side of the sun, the reflection in the sky. Surely just pollution, but it was mesmerizing to Bram. He could see the colours, the green of the oxygen in the air sat still as if to mock him, and he couldn’t leave. He stared much longer than he planned too, and when he finally looked down to the playground, he could hear kids playing, but all that was in front of him was the black curtain of Obscura.
Encircled with a white smear, it too faded quickly into black. Without realizing, his mind wandered him straight to his Mother. Being pulled through his Obscura and wrung up onto hers. It was never a conscious decision. It had already been made for him, and quickly he could make out the shape of her head. Her hair neatly parted and pulled into two short pigtails, as if she were a classmate sitting at his homeroom table. She had perfectly cute bangs cut, straight across and making her appear younger. Innocent of her outbursts and poor parenting crimes.
It appeared she was sitting in a vehicle with her new prime hair cut. He tried to approach her closer, but she was forcing him away without even knowing he was there. She was sobbing again. He was not surprised there, but what he was surprised with was her mouth was moving. As if she was talking to someone. He tried to read her lips, tried to put words behind them. Bram had to overpower his Mother’s will to sense more of what was happening, who was she speaking to? Why was her mouth moving so fast, but there was no sound? Bram pushed harder, focusing on the shape her lips were making and concentrate on how she was twirling her hands as if nervous and uncomfortable at the same time. Her attention was on someone else, someone standing at the vehicle’s window.
She had let her guard down since her focus was now on whom she spoke to. The sounds of the children faded, and slowly her lips began to match with words, but there were words without her lips moving too.
“Why are you sitting here?” It was his father’s words, stern voice and surprised too.
“I didn’t know where else to go,” his mother sobbed.
“You’re scaring Sam! She says you’ve been sitting in your car here since the break of dawn. We are packing and trying to move to get away from this bullshit.” His angry tone grew louder, rage twisted in veins around his Mother’s throat in her Obscura. The anger his father spat at her appeared to cause her physical pain.
“No, no, I just pulled up,” she pleaded, holding her hands up and out to Thomas. Bram’s Mother needed his love, his affection. She yearned for it, and he was choking her with her affection.
“Dammit Victoria, this is half the reason we’re moving. You are stalking our house, showing up in the middle of the night. This is insane! Do you think we don’t see you here? What would our son think if he knew what his Mother was doing? You’re bat shit crazy, and you need help. Go home!”
Thomas’s voice moved away, anger still entwining around Victoria. Her hands are clawing at the invisible husband who had left her long ago. The sounds died out, and all that was left was her hysterical crying. She began smacking her head against the steering wheel. Bram screamed out for her to stop, and surprisingly, she turned. His breath caught in his throat, frozen now as he watched in horror as her eyes scanned for him. No way she could see him!
Yet, his Mother’s face was looking directly in his direction, her eyes did not match his stare, but the wildness of her scanning eyes told him she heard the scream. A small trickle of blood showed from her brow, where she had smashed the steering wheel. Her hand wiped it away, but her eyes still looked for the source of the shriek. Her mouth was moving again, but he heard nothing, he felt pulled back, away from her. He was not going willing. He had not turned to leave. He had wanted to comfort her. He had wanted to put his arms around her and remove the rage veins were still choking the life from her.
The force was more substantial than him, and it was dragging him fast. Flailing and punching the air, he turned his head to see what was pulling him, but nothing was there, nobody, no one, Nought. Nought filled his chest. Drowning his lungs with dread, Nought crawled in his nostrils, out his mouth. He was forcing everything out of him until he became encased in Nought. Threatening his very existence, the position he had just taken in Obscura was now a risk.
Without a sound, without sight, touch, or smell, he was warned. Warned he was wrong to force so much into Obscura, he was not allowed here in the first place. He had bent dark matter to enable himself to sneak in, and Nought was now threatening him he had gone too far and never invited in the first place, his ability to make changes or focus words was too far. Nought pushed harder on his throat before the monster threw him out of his physical body, half standing in front of the school doors; Nought tore a piece of Bram away. Nought took it to show Bram it meant death would show in Obscura before its time if Bram pushed too hard.
The darkness dissipated into white light again, and the sounds of happy children blissfully playing in the schoolyard filled Bram. Like a warm blanket after drowning, he coughed and choked. He was thanking the burning sun above him for forcing Nought away. Or had he only eluded him, was he still with him. He had no clue as to what it was, but surely it was what ought to come before death. Fear rushed up and filled the space which had been stripped from him, a piece of his taken as a warning, and he felt cold. His hands and feet suddenly felt heavy and full of heartbreak, his eyes welled up, and the tears followed before he could accept the fact of having a complete meltdown. The sounds of the play yard slowed and paused. The whole school seemed to freeze in front of yellow plastic slides, and the swings slowed and halted. Bram’s shattered the happy sounds; the kids dropped their basketballs, and the kindergarteners cried in response. The entire playground stopped dead to watch Bram fall apart.
His breath was harsh and jagged, and he fought each breath to come in and back out. Waves of anxiety pressed hard on him, he clung to the metal handrail on the top of cement stairs and wailed. His voice didn’t sound of his own, and it seemed to be what Nought had pushed into his void, where the piece was missing- anxiety flooded in. His hands were shaking and sweating as if he were at the top of a roller coaster, and adrenaline pressed down on his chest, forcing him to curl into a ball.
Still clinging to the metal railing, his fingers were cold from the drop-in blood flow. His body’s first response to the full panic attack was to pull all the blood back into his heart and protect its rhythm, and it was banging hard against his rib cage. Bram could vaguely hear kids rushing past him and the school bell ringing. He felt a hand on his shoulder, but his eyes pinched tightly closed. He sewed them shut with will power, Bram did not want to see. A shadow of the pain Nought inflicted on his throat lingered. Bram screamed in pain now from the rush of panic flooding in to fill his void. From the memory of Nought drowning in his nostrils, clouding his eyes. All his senses had become Nought. Then he crashed from the overload of adrenaline and fresh worries from the emotion thievery.
“I don’t know, principal Mackay,” Malhi’s voice touched at Bram’s unconscious mind.
“Son, son. Can you hear me?” A heavy hand shook his shoulder, he reluctantly groaned and opened his eyes. The nap time must be over if they are so insistent on waking him.
Other kid’s voices broke through the haze, “he’s not Bram the brain. He’s Bram, the bane!”
“Kid’s gone crazy like his mom!”
“Ha-ha, Bram, the bane!”
“Oh my god!” Malhi’s face was the first to enter Bram’s vision. Her small features were full of horror, her lips dry and cracked, and her eyes red as if she had been crying.
“I thought you died!” She threw her arms around Bram, but she was quickly pulled off by the principal who started chattering on about youth using drugs. Bram tried to interject. He was just having a nap, but the principal turned a deaf ear to him as he dragged him to the infirmary. Malhi was a short step behind him, holding his hand.
“I was so scared, you fell. I think you hit your head too. Are you okay?” She continued the whole trip down the school hallway. The lockers stood vacant. There were no peers at least to witness him forced to see the school nurse. His feet pulled behind him limply, and he wished he could go back to the nap. It wasn’t so bad there.
“Meet me after school?” Is all Bram could get in before Principal Mackey whipped him into the infirmary and closed the door. He hadn’t even seen the response from those blue-eyed gems of Malhi’s, but he was sure she would be there. He was waiting for him.
“Good afternoon, Mr. Blaskhe.” The nurse was kind straight away. Her hair pulled back neatly in a typical nurse fashioned bun. Her face was soft and reassuring, but she was wearing regular clothes, a baby blue t-shirt and blue jeans.
“He was found passed out on the front steps,” Principal Mackey snapped, his bald head bobbing angrily to have such a disturbance in his school. He carried himself like a vulture, ready to eat the rot of children if they didn’t fall in suit. Vultures were thin, lanky birds, Mr. Mackay was overweight, more like an ugly penguin with the big bushy eyebrows the pretty penguins would kick down the ice slide first to die or prove it’s safe.
“I wasn’t,” Bram argued, wanting to be sure his story was straight. “I was sleeping. I didn’t sleep well last night.” The nurse smiled at him and waved the principal away.
“I’ll take care of him.”
“The children said you were screaming.” He crossed his arms and refused to leave Bram with the kind-faced school nurse.
“Oh, sorry. I do sometimes talk in my sleep. Or scream, I guess.”
“Your forehead feels a little warm,” the school nurse held the back of her hand to his forehead. Of course, it was warm, and his whole body had been in a sweat. He remembered the panic attack before hitting the concrete step, but he refused to discuss it. He set it neatly into a box and filed it accordingly into his mind, to never open to expose again.
“I think we should call your Mother,” Mr. Mackay turned to leave, but Bram stepped in front of him and stood his ground. He was half the size of the robust vulture, but he knew how to stand tall. He could feel his bones ache to try to force his legs longer, his torso taller. Soon he would be taller than this fat man thought he knew so much.
“My mother wasn’t well last night. I’m fine. May I go back to class?”
“I got this, Mr. Mackay. Don’t worry about the boy’s mother. I will contact her if I have any further concerns, for now maybe Mr. Blaskhe will take a seat and relax. To ensure he doesn’t get drowsy again?” The nurse nodded toward a chair, willing Bram to oblige. The principal finally grunted an annoyance, and reluctantly left the small room. Unlike a doctor’s office, the studio showed nothing medical. There were no eye charts, no pictures of kittens hanging from tree branches quoting ‘just hang in there,’ no stethoscopes, tongue depressors or even a bed to lie down: just a desk, two chairs and a computer. The only poster on the wall was a poster of Isaac Newton, and a caption ‘Dark Matter sucks Gravity Rules.’ Bram chuckled to himself when he read it, how appropriate. The nurse caught his gaze.
“You know, Isaac Newton, one of the most influential scientists of all time, such a beautifully brilliant mind, snapped at one point too.” The nurse sat in a chair closest to Bram. She patted the one next to her, and still, he didn’t budge from the door. He was grateful she saved him from an embarrassing phone call home where anyone would quickly learn how unstable the household was. Bram caved and sat next to her, and he hated these adult ‘talks’ like the one his father tried to give him about sex when he had already attended sex ed in school two years prior.
“It is sometimes the most beautiful minds fall the furthest. Brilliance comes at an expense, and some can work through, others need a break from reality to recoup and gather their composure.” She never looked at Bram while she spoke, just stared straight ahead at the single poster. The outline of Isaac was not perfect, more a dark shadow of a man sitting under a tree with a bright red apple falling to smack him on the head. Bram wondered if he saw it coming through Obscura if he knew there was something different about that fall, what had intrigued him to question the process?
“I’ve noticed you don’t play with the other children. I know you are brilliant, Bram. You’re special, something about you. Isn’t there?” She now turned to face him and held his gaze. That was when he recognized her. Not as the school nurse, since this was possibly only the second time he had been in this room. The first being in first grade when bully Brian tripped him, and he fell smack on his nose, causing a nose bleed and two black eyes.
No, a more profound memory came up. This was someone from his past, Bethany Jorgenson. Her name appeared in his mind just as the words at the courthouse so long ago had. She had babysat, a mental picture of his chubby baby legs running to her open hugging arms. His Mother standing back, smiling and waving as Bethany would take him into her home. His parents were still together then, his Mother was a birth mother, and this woman loved him too. The flood of memories was quick, and just as Nought had threatened to drown him, so did these memories. There was something dark attached by a string pulling the memories together in unison. He dreaded the last one to come up, and he struggled to bury it. Keep it from surfacing, but with it, a string of emotions, fear being at the root of it.
Bram stood from the chair, “You’re Bethany.” He took a few steps toward the door, still unsure what the end of the string of memories held. He didn’t want to know what it was tied to, and it screamed sorrow.
She blinked several times as if the end of the string had already registered with her.
“There’s no way you could know.”
“Know what?” The question was out of Bram’s mouth before he wanted it to be. Her face contorted into an uncomfortable grimace.
“You were too young, and you couldn’t. You weren’t even there. You were…” Her large brown eyes filled quickly with tears, and they didn’t hesitate to spill over. Bram didn’t want to stay to know, and he didn’t want to remember. Too much lately, there had been too much. Malhi. He needed her now, he turned and ran from the room. Bethany’s sob echoed behind him and sounded all too familiar with his own Mother’s.