“Happy Birthday, buddy,” Thomas’ face filled the iPad screen, bringing life to the dark, cracked electronic. Bram didn’t even blink at the age showing on his face, deep stress lines that had settled in after Thomas had met a girlfriend, packed his house and moved two states away from Bram.
Bram didn’t complain as his grandmother taught him to pay bills and grocery shop. She showed him how to refill the medications for herself and his mother through the phone so that he could pick it up. She showed him through love how to be an adult, and Bram grew into the man of the house quickly. The bond deepened when she lent her ear to listen. He could tell her anything, and when the guilt grew too tall, he told her about the older woman’s house, how rage overcame him rage, like a virus it took over all his senses. She held him while he cried about the regret he had and how the anger never left again.
Evelyn stayed for him through his father’s move, his mother’s mental ailment and his friend’s ignorance.
Her words were kind and full of wisdom, “it doesn’t always matter how the pain gets out, as long as we allow it to move out.” It had comforted him, and more than that, it had allowed him to forgive himself about what he had done to that little old lady. It reassured him, and he never spoke of it again. He hadn’t mentioned that it nearly tore a hole in his being. It was too strange for him even to fathom.
He knew the extra money had come from Evelyn selling her farm. He saw the anguish painted on her face when he had asked if he could visit the farm to ride Spirit. She never outright told him or his mother what she had done, but Obscura hid nothing from him. A quick visit through that dark plane revealed a new owner of the farm and a recent grandmother to someone else brushing the white mane of Spirit.
Victoria’s most prolonged stay in the asylum had been a year. She was sent there shortly after Bram returned from his lonely ski trip, and Christopher confronted him. The boy was husky but also large and scared out of his simpleton mind by the ‘translocation’ he experienced at Malhi’s house. He came to Bram looking for reassurance that he and Malhi must have inadvertently ingested the heroin they stole from her father, he claimed it must have leeched through the baggie and made them hallucinate. Bram didn’t have the heart to tell him, from what he researched, heroin did not cause hallucinations.
Instead, he tried to calm his friend down, but Bram was left listening to the fact Christopher had told his parents they need to move out of Jackson Hole. He told them there were ghosts, “look at your mother for Christ’s sake!” he had screamed, maybe too loud, and Bram was sure she heard. She came barreling down the stairs, pinned Christopher by the shoulders and demanded to listen to the story again.
Christopher and his family moved two months later, and Bram was one friendless. Malhi acted as if nothing ever happened, Bram never told her he knew. Life went back to normal, as normal as could be with his mother undergoing shock therapy for the ‘mental break’ she had after claiming Christopher knew about the monsters too.
Bram looked to his grandmother now, and he much preferred to hang the iPad up and end the unnecessary conversation with Thomas. She put her book down, Sleeping Beauties by their favourite author, Stephen King. The book more extensive than the medical dictionary. Bram often consulted and looked to Evelyn. She was ignoring Thomas’ prying questions about Victoria. His questions about how his mother’s most recent return home had gone. It was enough to have his grandmother sit beside him, he smiled, but she motioned for his attention to return to the phone call at hand.
“So, anyways…how’s school?” Thomas persisted.
“I couldn’t tell ya,” Bram rolled his eyes. He had told Thomas last year when he had to pull out of public school. His mother couldn’t function in the house, and his grandmother had become too ill. Thomas didn’t seem to retain the information between his move and marriage. Every other weekend visit had stopped very quickly after Thomas moved states away. Bram didn’t complain, and he needed the time to watch the women in his life. The only plus side to Thomas moving out was that Victoria no longer cried for hours about missing him. She seemed to have almost completely forgotten he was there since he moved. Bram had visited a handful of times to Thomas’ new place, but the flight was expensive, and it was too far for Bram to drive alone. Thomas would never offer to pick Bram up either.
“Well, how’s the online work going?”
“Thomas, it’s my birthday, why the fu…”
“Watch your language, and you have no…” now Thomas’s voice was cut off as Samantha grabbed the iPad and put her face to the forefront of the conversation.
“Happy sweet sixteen!” her smile was genuine, and Bram couldn’t help but smile back.
Thomas never wanted to hear how fragile Victoria was, how ill Evelyn was, how much Bram was needed and wished to move back and be his father again. To stand tall and take charge. It was too easy to allow Samantha to take over the conversation and easily bow out, especially with how contagious her enthusiasm was.
“Thanks, Sam. But it’s only sweet for girls, though,” he chuckled and pushed his hand through his hair. Now that he was old enough to work and school was only part-time online, he could afford to pay for his hair cuts. The work was not enjoyable at the local bottle depot, but it paid minimum wage, and that was enough for Bram. He happily boasted as a faux hawk with a skin fade on either side of his scalp.
“Justyce wants to say hello too!” Sam moved away, and Thomas came back on, immediately jumping around into prying information.
“Oh, I have to go. Grandma’s calling me,” Bram interjected. Emotionally drained was too light of a description for Bram these days, Evelyn glared at him from the corner of her eye, but he didn’t let it affect him.
“Okay, buddy. I love…”
Bram clicked the red end button before his father finished, his step-sister, Justyce, would be too bubbly, and Bram had enough for the day. In no way did he forgive his father for leaving, but he understood a little more since spying on them through Obscura. Seeing for himself the anguish Victoria would put her Thomas through. The spying was anguish she was putting on herself.
Bram laid back on his bed, staring at his bare walls. The toys he had grown with long gone, he never bothered replacing them with anything. Not even photos of friends, he had none of those either. He chose to stay in, sleep early and spend his days with his Grandmother. His too tall frame put his feet into the metal bed frame caging, and his blanket never kept his toes warm. The mattress is too soft, worn from years of restless sleep. His mother had never attempted to revamp his bedroom. His grandmother tried once by bringing home an old, used fridge. Stocking it with Coca Cola and plugging it into the corner of his room. The old thing was broken and loud, keeping him up for even more reasons at night. He ended up drinking the pop and selling the fridge to Christopher for too low a price.
She had cried when she learnt he sold the fridge. Turning her face to hide the tears, he never understood why she was so hurt. It was just a broken old fridge. He knew her pills were costly, and no one in the house worked for a living. Fresh fruit and vegetables in their kitchen fridge were a godsend.
Beep wanna wanna Beep Beep
Bram’s iPad sang the robot tone beside him. He treasured the iPad, a gift from his father just before he moved.
“So, you can facetime me, buddy.” He had ruffled his hair as he usually does, Bram had been over the moon ecstatic for the gift but soon after he learnt it was useless unless his father answered.
“Being a dick again?”
The text was from Justyce. She had a cell phone, always the newest model too. A constant upgrade paid for by Bram’s father and yet Bram had to put tape over the cracked glass screen of his iPad. A one-time purchase, never to be repeated, and he dare not ask.
Justyce had graduated now and worked part-time as a waitress with no aspiration to go much further. She talked about becoming a model and putting together a portfolio.
Bram replied simply with the single finger emoji. Waiting several minutes for a response and when he got nothing retracted the implication with a ‘LOL.’ He didn’t want to push her away but also didn’t feel like discussing it with her. He had a good reason to hang upon his father. He was possibly too busy cooking a Saturday morning breakfast for Justyce rather than coming to visit his blood on the most significant birthday of his life. He knew Justyce loved Thomas as her father. She never knew anything different. Sam’s husband had died shortly after Justyce was born and remained on her own until meeting Thomas. It never made Bram feel any better about giving up his father so that she could have one. Bram was even sure he hugged her with more love than what he hugged Bram with. There was always a taught feeling of testosterone bumping heads when they were together, but watching Justyce around his father, it was a daddy’s girl.
“Dad’s pissed. You hung up on him.”
Bram glanced at the message and put the crumbling iPad back down, but the decision to not reply did not last long. The urge to argue the point boiled and burnt in him.
“He’s not your Dad.” Hit send.
“More mine than yours.” The reply came too quickly as if Justyce knew what he would say. She even sent the simple message with a tongue sticking out emoji. This time Bram turned the device upside down and left his bedroom to ensure he wouldn’t reply again.
“Hi, sweet pea” Bram was greeted by his grandmother sitting on the couch, reading a new Stephen King novel. He always found it amazing how she loved the twisted stories so much, she had to be nearly 80 years old, and still, he would see her rereading Gerald’s Game—each time coming up with new awkwardly construed faces.
“Grandma, I’m too old for a pet name.” Bram rolled his eyes. He remembers telling her years ago to stop calling him ‘sweet pea’ especially in public. The last time was when she was picking him up from school, and he had been 13 years old. The first year of a real ‘teen’ age and the boy walking just behind him had heard. This wasn’t just any boy either, and this was Sedric, whose head seemed too big for his body years before. Sedric was now the school tough guy, he chuckled innocently enough, but it was the next day when the sky fell. The boy had supposedly jumped a fence and filled buckets full of green peas. He was handing them out to all the kids in school. Every kid seemed to have a pocketful and would not hesitate to snap them at Bram’s head as he passed.
Sedric had even cleverly created a song to spread, ‘sweet pea, sweet pea, left to blunder with no family.’ Bram got chased into the boy’s washroom, where he sat for the day, hiding in a stall which smelt of rotting sweet peas. Sneaking out of the school altogether during the first block, making sure no one saw him. His eyes stung from embarrassment, and the truth of what Sedric sang stung his chest with despair.
Bram had sat his Grandmother down so seriously that night and explained why she couldn’t call him baby names any more. She laughed and kissed his cheek, saying he would always be her sweet pea. To mock it even further, she had cooked green peas for dinner. He hadn’t told her of the cruelty of Sedric. He couldn’t bear to watch the sadness spread on her face. Instead, he insisted he was a grown man now.
“Maybe I should call you green bean then,” she had replied.
He sat next to her on the couch, her book open, and her nose was deep in the pages. He could hear dishes banging in the kitchen. His mother had pulled herself from her bed and possibly attempting to cook him a birthday breakfast. He shuddered at the thought of what might end up on his plate. It was better, though, he recalled the doctor’s telling him, for his mother to channel her energies into something. Keep her occupied, they had warned. He found it difficult, though, her eyes would wander and too quickly would fill with tears again. She had admitted once, her mind began the downward spiral, and it was hard to prevent. Therefore, both grandmother and Bram tried their best to tiptoe around the house, keep everything clean and to run smoothly to limit the amount of stress on his Mother. Bram kept straight A’s in school to prevent parent-teacher meetings. He kept his bed made and room cleaned to avoid his mother finding a mess. Grandmother cooked dinner nightly, when she had the energy, to prevent his mother from burning food and crying.
They all did their best to keep the household happy. Bram had noticed grandmother was more tired lately, which meant more of the work would be put on him.
“DENIM!” His Mother’s voice screeched from the kitchen, Bram shuddered.
Bram reluctantly pulled himself off the safe couch to the door opening of the kitchen. Victoria’s hair had grown long again, beginning to show its first signs of grey. Peppered through the chocolate brown, she left it to hang down her back now. No longer bothering to tie it back from her face, but she took good care of her hair. No split ends, and it appeared as silk in the soft white light of the kitchen. She kept her back to Bram, and Denim sat next to the dishwasher as she loaded the dishes. The dog’s ears had grown longer than Bram expected, dark mascara like patches around her eyes and a perfectly square snout. Denim looked like a hound dog but twice as big. With paws the size of the saucer plates, she stood on the dishwasher door to lick the food bits off the dishes.
His mother was swatting Denim away as she tried to finish the cleaning task. Burnt food sat on plates near the sink. Victoria had ruined breakfast and resorted to throwing it in the garbage and tossing the dishes in the washer. She was moving quickly, and embarrassment was apparent with how she was trying to hide the mess she made.
“DENIM!” She screamed again, and the dog winced backward as if expecting a solid smack to the snout. A glass fell and broke on the floor, and Victoria let out a sob. Bram wanted to step forward to help the situation, but he full well knew it sometimes made it worse. She cleaned the glass without turning back to see her son shaking his head sadly. She was mumbling as she picked the glass up barehanded. Cutting a palm and not even flinching. She stood to count the ‘mason jar’ glasses left on the shelf. The blood from her open wound smearing the clean glasses and leaving perfect crescent moon shapes behind. Without warning, she shrieked the dog’s name again and picked out a drinking glass and dropped it purposely onto the floor.
“Mom, I can take over from here,” Bram announced, she never even turned to look at him.
“Your god damn dog is breaking things, Bram.” Her voice was cold, monotone and deadly. Bram knew better than to call out her lie. He walked into the kitchen and straight past the mess she was creating.
“Denim, come. Let’s go pee.” He clapped his hands, and Denim turned happily. She appeared scared, too, of what Victoria was producing as a scene. He directed her to the back door, which exited off the kitchen and opened the door to the backyard. The lawn was cleaner now that he was older and understood how to clean it properly. The garbage was taken to the curb daily, and no more bags littered the small lawn. He cringed at the memory of his classmates, picking piñata candy out of the garbage littered grass. Denim bounded about happily and went about her business. It brought him such peace to watch her, her long whip-like tail wagging in the cold air of the morning. Her nose straight to grass sniffing out gophers who were hiding deep in the soil. Burrowing their way around the yard and leaving small dirt mounds as evidence. Denim would suddenly jump onto one and dig furiously, trying to get to the little vermin. If nothing else as a birthday gift, this is all Bram needed. Was to watch his dog happily play.
Her head jerked up, and she looked past Bram, through his frame standing in the doorway. His mother had gone quiet, he realized. The house seemed deathly silent behind him. Knocking Bram nearly to the ground as his dog bolted past him into the house. He closed the door as his gaze pulled into the dishwasher. Denim had run straight past the open appliance, not even slowing to sniff the freshly dropped cheese bits. Bright orange slivers sat undisturbed on the yellow stained white door. She hadn’t even slowed to take notice. Bram’s eyes lingered on the strands for a moment, the weight of understanding not entirely sinking in. Before he could even conjure a guess, he heard Denim’s whining come from the living room. He looked to his mother as his chest felt heavy, his legs filling with sand of horror. A shadow created by doom crawled over him, but she seemed oblivious. Victoria was entranced by the pile of broken glass and blood speckles on the floor.
Reluctantly he pulled his gaze from his mentally anguished mother back to the door opening to the living room. Denim’s sounds were becoming more urgent, but they were not happy, playful sounds typically coming from his puppy when she found his grandmother. The ten steps to get through the kitchen were as if mud had solidified in his feet. The sand poured into bags being drug by his feet, and he only wanted to sit down and cry now with his mother. Interject himself into the dreamlike world she lived in, where burnt food paled in comparison to breaking glasses and rubbing your blood on it.
Stepping through the archway of the kitchen, Bram stood in the short hallway, looking into the living room entry. Denim’s cries echoed through the open room in front of him. The backside of the couch was in view now, the tattered blue cloth he had seen his mother vomit on from over drinking and pill abuse too many nights before. The sofa was condemned from the number of tears and urine she had induced to it. The couch no longer supported his grandmother’s full head of grey hair.
Usually, she would sense him coming up to her, and the greeting of a sweet pea would be resounding by now. The room was silent, and Denim looked to Bram with regret in her eyes. The type only a family dog can show when she is the one to sound the alarm. Her tail between her legs, head hung low, and a human tear was rolling down her pristine white snout and staining it with sadness. Bram rounded the side of the couch. The book was now closed and laying a mere foot from his grandmother’s hand. Her body lay crumpled, knees in opposite directions as if she tried standing up before being pulled entirely from this world.
Bram didn’t need to move closer to know she was no longer breathing. He didn’t need anyone to tell him his world has just fallen apart. The one stone left standing to hold him up had now crumbled and vacated him too. Leaving him to fend for himself in a world he felt he didn’t belong.
He slid to the floor next to the couch. His grandmother’s face turned from him, and Denim nuzzled her snout into her throat to stir her with no avail. Bram sat, defeated on the stained carpet. He touched the top softness of his grandmother’s hair. Denim was licking her to wake her, but Bram knew it was useless. He pushed Denim away, but she came straight back.
“Stop it,” he muttered through a veil of sorrow, his face turning wet from tears. Denim stepped forward again and continued to lick, the flowy tuffs of grey turning matted and sticky. Bram could no longer feel the warmth of her skin. It faded quickly as her heart completely turned off.
“Grandma.” He spoke softly, willing her just to sit up. “Grandma.” His hand came back from her now too wet from dog drool.
“Stop IT!” His voice now sounding like his mother’s as he screamed and kicked at Denim. Colliding his foot solidly on her chest. She stumbled backward, her eyes wide with horror. She whimpered and stepped forward again. She wanted to resurrect Bram’s lost grandmother. Bram lost himself into the wave of desperation and sorrow. His voice was crying out, and he finally broke down. Sobbing and curling into himself. Knowing full well, his mother would not appear behind him to give any comfort, and he dwelled deeper into oblivion. Away from the screaming truth in front of his face, he was now completely alone.
It had been years since he had entered Obscura, any time it crept into his peripheral vision, he would push it back out. This time, he embraced the white fuzz washing over him. He focused on the snow filling his vision and waited for the black spaces to appear.
“Grandmother?” He forced his voice to call out once he entered Obscura. It felt as an old friend’s embrace felt, always there. Always reassuring but just out of reach, he was back in Obscura after too long of a time, forcing it to stay away.
“Grandma?” Bram called into the blackness, the echo of his words bouncing sideways. He could hear nothing, see nothing, taste, touch or be nothing. Bram was just here, and not surprisingly, his grandmother was not. His call went unanswered, and he stood alone in this space for a while. Not wanting to rush back to reality, he felt safe and secure in Obscura. He allowed the blackness to calm his sorrow. To devoid it of any real feeling, any emotion flowing out of him into the emptiness of Obscura. Purposely this time, leaving a part of him in the vacant cavity.