Bram hated emotion, he hated it more than trying to pretend to be a normal child. He hated showing emotion, receiving emotion, listening to women around him cry emotion. He ran from the emotion built up behind him from his old family friend. He ran from whatever was at the end of the emotional memory string. He burst out through the front doors of the school before the bell had even rung. He no longer cared if Principal Mackey called his non-existent mother. None of it mattered anymore.
Bethany’s emotion had sounded so like his mother’s. Why did he bring tears out from the women in his life, would Malhi cry too? Bram would hide in the closet when his mother was over the top upset, not that she would ever hurt him or even insinuate she might lash out at him. She would come at him with questions, drilling him as to why his father left. Why he didn’t take Bram too, why he left his mother with such a burden as being a single mom.
Emotion was a hard feature to control, it broke his heart watching her cry heavy tears of depression. It flooded his soul with black when his mother would stare out the window sobbing for no apparent reason. And so, he had learnt to run from emotions, push sadness down far enough it wouldn’t burn your eyes or sting your throat. He would turn to look the other way when his mother fell apart and was reduced to a whimpering pile of emotion.
He ran down the steps he had been curled on just an hour ago. Out the school yard and down the sidewalk still clung mounds of snow. The spring sun was melting it quickly into slippery puddles, but not fast enough to devoid the sidewalk completely. His heels slipped a few times as he ran but it felt good to have his lungs burn, it took away from the tears which were stinging his eyes. He recalled all the foot races he had with Christopher. Somehow the boy could run, and with how klutzy Bram surely looked right now, Christopher would school him. He would be off and gone down the road before Bram could even yell go. The boy may be slow with mathematical equations, location of Alaska on a map as well as how the apple fell from the tree; but he can sure run.
Bram slowed his pace finally; the crisp afternoon air made his lungs feel fresh. His chest heaved to slow the breathing and his nose began dripping from the exertion, but he had made nearly half way home from school. He wondered if the nurse had called his home yet, maybe he had done something to wrong her and that was where her tears came from. Maybe she called quickly just to get him in trouble since she was so upset. They would learn so quickly his mother was locked in the mental ward at the hospital again and his grandmother with a failing heart could hardly stand, would be the guardian. The negativity in his mind grew, as if a monster eating all the good would quickly turn into bad. Like Nought invading his mouth, ears and nose, forcing everything good out. The thoughts were hurting his head, making his eyes dizzy with the overwhelming realization of everything. Soon his father would be completely gone, possibly his mother too and he would live the rest of his youth days with his grandmother.
Or if she would last anyway. Which was possibly not long. And his mother was never much supportive of him having friends. The last time he had gone to his friend’s house after school, they had made chocolate milk shakes and tossed rocks at passing cars for several hours. A new boy started school with Bram and Christopher. Surely his mother wouldn’t mind, Bram had thought, she would want me to make friends. He trotted along with the boys for several hours then went straight home just after supper time.
By the time he walked into the door, his mother was so hysterical he felt he needed to call for help. Her face was swollen red from crying, or maybe not breathing and he hair was dripping wet. She was no longer talking coherently. Her last bit of energy spent telling him to never abandon her again before she passed out from sheer exhaustion. He never again accepted an invitation to play after school with friends. He knew then, even at such a young age, how much his mother needed him. How badly she needed his full attention.
Bram kicked at piles of slush, transmitting his angry vibes down through his feet. The splashing sounds somewhat calming him, but not enough. He felt he had to hit something, punch something or scream as he went through the street. He came just enough back to a sane level, the blinds of dysphoria lifting, sensibility rushed back into his mind. He seemingly took in his surroundings for the first time since fleeing the school’s front doors. The skin on his arms bit from the cold, his jacket hung on the silver hook in the classroom. The silence of the road next to the sidewalk he walked on now was deathly still. Reminding him he should still be in class at attention.
The anxious feeling of being where he was not supposed to be and completely alone caused his bladder to over react. As if jumping into action he body screamed he had to go and go now. To distract himself, he picked out a skinny twig in a melted snow bank and chained it along the links of the fence. He figured he still had another 20 or even 30-minute walk home. The goosebumps on his arms now began to really scream, the backs of his arms bright red bitten from the crisp air.
By fate only, his stick suddenly stuck in the chain link. Plastered with sticky snow having never been cleaned off by the owner. Possibly placed there by the hoarfrost of dead winter. The fence seemed to encircle a house straight out of winter wonderland, the roof completely white and all the shrubs were frozen solid. Strange how the sun hadn’t melted even a fraction of this house.
His pace stopped, and he felt enthralled by the ice crystal house. The sun glistened off the frozen windows and created a white light rainbow just inches from his nose. Lifting his hand up to the ray, he tried to grab the evaporated bliss hung in the air. Without thinking, he opened the gate and walked up the short walkway to the door. He wasn’t sure what drew him to the door, he had no right knocking and he certainly had no idea who was behind the door. His grandmother spoke to him often about the dangers of strangers, but he was a solid sturdy boy. His legs could move him fast enough and something called to him to knock.
Bram allowed his knocks to be loud and repetitive. Spacing the smacks perfectly as if following a metronome like a professional, the sound was poetically echoed on the front stoop. Encased in glass panels with pristine varnished wooden pillars. The door was a smooth russet brown and the short roof above his head seemed perfectly new. The echo vibrated just long enough for the handle to turn. The lock clicked, and the door swung open.
“Son?” The old woman blinked and seemed confused, not calling him son as if to think it was her son, but more a term of endearment she called boys. Although he stood nearly her height, he had to be at least twice her weight. The woman appeared close to death age, her hair white as the snow crystals covered her house and her wrinkles deep enough to hide dust bunnies. Her lips were hardly recognizable as the colour was completely gone and her eyes just about as pale. Bram felt instantly bad for rousing her, he wasn’t even sure what he needed at this woman’s house. He knew he was cold, tired and spent from the adrenaline rush. His bladder reminded him of the urgency.
“I’m sorry ma’am, could I use your bathroom?” Proper manners as always, he even paused for just a split second before flashing her his tooth filled smile (showing off all his adult pearls) and included the sweetest, “Please,” he could afford.
“Oh, of course. It is cold outside isn’t it!” the woman’s face lit from the unexpected company and swung her door wide to welcome the strange boy in. Bram was slightly surprised at her trust in him as well, he stepped gingerly into the house and was welcomed by the smell of coffee beans brewing, fresh baking and stale urine. The door closed behind him and the woman instructed him to remove his shoes.
“Is school out so soon?” the woman looked to Bram, he was trying his best to balance on one foot while pulling off the indoor school sneaker. His snow boots were neatly standing below his jacket, at school. Before he could reply to her question, which he wasn’t sure what to reply anyhow; she starts ranting about the kids walked past her house each day. Some days tossing sticks on her lawn, other days ringing the doorbell and running. Her rant followed Bram all the way down the hallway. The walls were a perfect smooth white and plastered nearly from corner to corner with family photos. Pictures of grown children, new babies, happy couples and aged aunts. In the centre of them all were an oversized picture of a man with bone white hair, thick glasses slid down his nose bridge and thin bluish lips.
“That’s George,” the woman answered his unspoken question. She must have seen him pause at the pictures, “he passed last winter.”
“I’m sorry,” Bram replied, feeling sore he made the woman revisit the death of her loving husband.
“It’s okay son, his death paid for the house repainting.” Her smile was full of too white of teeth as well. Maybe paid for new dentures too, thought Bram.
“Here it is,” she pushed a small pocket door aside, the type that folds into the wall as a slinky fold into itself, hiding away to appear as an open concept bathroom. It wasn’t small by any means, just an old-style cheap door to save space really.
“Be sure to flush, George never flushed. He always thought it would save money by flushing less often. The smell though,” her face turned up and away as if remembering the smell would emit from a stale toilet bowl full of unmentionables. As she turned to walk away Bram called his appreciation to her again and pulled the soft fabric door closed. It clicked into place with several magnets along the edge and there he stood in a stranger’s washroom, alone and a little shocked at himself. Shocked he had taken the bold step to knock on a stranger’s door and welcome himself into this old woman’s house. No, he was not of thug age. Nowhere close, his face was still baby soft, and his features not yet tarnished by stress or fighting. He was nearing the age when store keeps would allow their gaze to linger, ensuring you were not pocketing the chocolate bar but he was not at the age of home invasion concerns. Even for a little old lady.
After relieving himself and flushing immediately to prevent any loitering smells, he turned and looked at himself in the mirror. The blue in his eyes seemed to have faded to a dull gray, he had bags under his eyes and his hair was slightly unkempt. His freckles were brighter, possibly from the orange sun picking up the pigments. Bram’s check bones were becoming more defined by the hormones rising in his body, his voice had yet to lower or crack as they seem to do on television when boys begin puberty. He felt he was getting closer though, his arms and legs would prickle in the mornings. Threatening to shoot him up an extra foot or more any day now. He was pushing five feet now, he had no problem looking overtop of the old woman’s head and he was the second tallest boy in class.
As for the girls in his class, they were already taller than him and still completely uninterested in kissing. He exhaled heavily, remembering the embarrassment he felt with his stepsister in the woods. Bram thought she really liked him, maybe he would sample his first kiss with the tallest, most beautiful, perfect girl he knew. Then she had laughed at him. He looked at his choppy hair cut and remembered his mother cutting it, stating she couldn’t afford a proper barber and making his hair uneven and sloppy. He gelled it for school to prevent any other kids realizing how hideous she would cut it.
Bram saw the shadow of his father’s face looking back at him, reminding him right now as he stood in this bathroom; his father’s new wife was driving the household far away from where he lived now. His father followed happily, content in his new family and leaving the old broken one behind. He also saw the same eye colour of his grandmother, the eyes cried pain when she had grasped her chest at the water slide park and succumbed to a painful heart attack. One would ensure she would not be happy and bubbly any longer but now be chained down by dozens of pills, just like his mother. He looked at himself and sunk his head to look down into the sink. The tears hit the ceramic beige bowl and rolled down the drain. He felt the well of anxious thoughts growing inside him, the pinching in his throat and it frightened him. His eyes shot up and he grabbed the corner of the bathroom sink medicine cabinet. The reflective glass felt cool in his palm. He caressed his thumb along the sharp edge, allowing his mind to go completely blank.
He never thought about any of it, he didn’t plan any of it. Bram went along as if performing the actions to a play you read off a script without foresight to what it is. The cabinet door opened in his hand, behind the mirror were three steel shelves. Old and rusted they appeared as his mind felt; thin and fragile. Ready to fall apart at the slightest bump. The shelves were packed with pill bottles, some labelled from the pharmacy; others handwritten scribble. Meant to tell the old woman when to take the pills. ‘2 at tea’, ‘1 for bed’, ‘for headache’ were some of the words formed in black marker. Written over top of the manufacturer had said Vitamin C and Bram, with the little drug knowledge he had was sure did nothing for headaches. His own mother had a cabinet full of pills, his grandmother had warned him many times any one of those pills would cause Bram to be very sick if he decided to try them. His mother couldn’t seem to love him without taking all these apothecary cures. The anger was there, and it was real, and it was the anger which snatched the bottles out.
Struggling with some of the lids, but most of them came off easy enough. One quick smooth motion and he dumped the likely expensive pills down the toilet and flushed quickly. Watching the little blue lifesavers, fat yellow supplemental tea pills and hundreds of tiny white tabs to calm nerves swirl down the toilet. The breath left his lips was a huge release, he felt a weight lift off his chest and he turned back to the cabinet to seek more relief.
The second shelf in the medicine cabinet had a single row of perfectly lined make up. A gold canister of lipstick, a square black palette of eyeshadow and a concave pressed powder. Beside the powder was a beautifully crafted, possibly real horse hair powder brush. It laid on its side, but the bristles sat neatly on top of a silk handkerchief, also folded purposely. Bram pushed all the makeup parcels into the skin and turned the water full bore to flood the powder and eyeshadow. He used the toilet paper to break the lipstick and mashed it into the expensive looking horse hair makeup brush. He threw the whole creature into the small waste basket next to the toilet. The anxiety had crept into his soul seemed to ease back, it bowed out of the way for this new anger emerged. The anger grew as he destroyed these items in the innocent woman’s bathroom. The anger felt better than the anxiety, he could still smell the panic attack. It was someone in there still. Bram turned back to the open drug cabinet and examined the third shelf.
Sitting neatly in the centre of the last stainless-steel shelf was a black leather container. Shaped as though it contained eye glasses, he was not let down when he clicked it open and found exactly that. The optical were thick, telling Bram the old woman could not see well at all. Possibly why the black letters on the pill bottles were also mismatched to what drug it was meant for. He ran his fingers over the edges of the frames, mother of pearl white with beautiful scripted black ember lines. They were vintage cat-eye style and boasted a hefty price tag. His eyes lingered on them for a moment more before he looked sullenly forward while dropping the eye glasses onto the floor. There was no hesitation either when he lifted his foot and brought it smashing down on the lenses. He even spun his foot a few times to ensure even the frames would be destroyed and he exhaled the remainder of the anxiety plague which had crawled inside him. His belly deflated the fury and he felt normal. His pulse finally returned to what it had been. He felt he had been someone else almost completely since the Nought had appeared. It had twisted and contorted a part of him and created a space he felt uncomfortable carrying.
It felt better now. He closed the bathroom cabinet mirror and backed away from the sink. The pedestal sink showed carnage, the empty bottles on their sides stacked behind the faucet. The colours of the destroyed makeup filled the small sink. Bram turned the sink water off before turning and exiting the washroom. Closing the door again behind him.
“Okay, well I should get going home now.” Guilt wasted no time flushing into Bram’s face. By the time he had walked back down the hallway and found the old woman sitting on the couch, he regretted everything which had just transpired.
“Son, come sit. It’s been too long since I’ve had company. Honor an old woman with a short visit.” She patted the couch seat next to her. Her clothing hung off her body as if she hadn’t eaten even a cracker in a week or more. The smell of baking carried Bram into the living room and he reluctantly obliged. He rested his evil body into the armchair seat across from her and saw the incredible spread she had brought out to share with him. With this seemingly sweet, honest boy who stumbled upon her house by coincidence.
“I really should…” he began, the cookies looked delicious, but he felt he didn’t deserve even one. Who knows how much the medications cost? Did she even have children remaining would come by to find her pills gone? Someone who would be happy to take the day off work, long enough to make sure mother had heart meds and wouldn’t die today? The thoughts made Bram sick to his stomach.
“Nonsense. I have lots of cookies. All I do is bake, not often I get to share.” She picked up the flower printed china plate and with a shaky wrinkled hand and she held it out to Bram to offer a cookie. The smell filled his nostrils, the chocolate chunks stuck up in every direction. Clearly, she had used too many chocolate chips, the amount of cooked dough between the black chunks of sweetness was too little. No child would ever complain of course, but the skill it would take to double or even triple up the chunks and make it work had to be immense. The cookies had to be fresh as the smear of melted chocolate showed under the beige circular shapes.
“Maybe just one. My mother is expecting me.” Bram made the lie roll off his tongue, he felt his personal being hurt immediately from the white lie, but he felt it was necessary. Culpability from the slaughter of her bathroom was drowning him, he forced his mouth around the cookie he did not deserve. The sweetness made his stomach lurch. How could he have done this to a sweet woman? He was evil, truly evil. He thanked her with the mouth full of unwarranted treat and quickly exited the house. She was smiling and waving as he walked back down the pathway to the sidewalk. He couldn’t help but continuously look back, he felt he nearly wanted to turn back and warn her. Warn her when she next attended her loo, it would be trashed beyond recognition and she would have to spend possibly the last of her dead husband’s trust money to purchase new fancy eyeglasses and real horse hair makeup brushes.
Bram pulled the front yard gate closed as he left, reminding himself to never walk this way home from school again.