‘Shall we do this thing?’
Facing the one rear-facing door that remained resolutely shut, Jeff rapidly began to lose control once again, as they both anticipated. The disgusting images of his mother and sister’s agonies were now also invading Lynn’s mind, as she grappled with how she might be able to help him with this final piece in the puzzle.
‘Christ Almighty! I can’t do this,’ he shouted, clenching his fists. ‘Fuck!’
Panic-stricken and angry, the deranged man delivered a swift left hook into the wall to the right of the door handle, its impact so hard that it left an impression in the plasterboard.
‘Hey!’ Lynn yelped, grabbing his fist and flicking it downwards, in the way she had been taught in self-defence classes. ‘Careful! You’ll hurt yourself.’
‘Fuck that!’ he raised his voice still further. ‘I love it. Being hurt. It’s great. You know how it is. I’m hooked on it. It’s what I deserve.’
Almost maniacally, the tormented adolescent laid into the wall with both fists this time, one after the other like a boxer. His girlfriend stood back and let her magnificent, crazed steed let loose again. It was imperative that he expel the fire from his system, and she didn’t feel in any danger. He would never touch her, even in this sort of temper.
‘Why don’t you kick the door in?’ she proposed, ad-libbing fast. ‘It’ll make you feel better.’
Somehow, this unexpected suggestion broke the twenty-two-year-old out of his furious rage. He looked at the gorgeous woman beside him and laughed out loud. He knew how ridiculous the idea was, but also that it might just work. Turning round, he put his back to the closed door and held his hands out towards her.
‘Why not? I keep forgetting this place is mine now. And this door sounds pretty hollow,’ he responded, leaning his head back against the door and knocking hard on it. ‘I’m sorry for getting so unhinged.’
Lynn shrugged, standing her ground. ‘It doesn’t matter. Come on. Do it!’
She beckoned for her rock star seductively to come towards her into his old bedroom, pointing at his feet one at a time while playing with the hem of her skirt. Her spent supplicant duly indulged her flirtatious antics, pretending to fall under her spell, his breath rasping. Then, on her cue and yelling at the top of his voice, he took two steps forwards, span around and delivered a well-judged karate kick just to the left of the metal handle. The door flexed and shot open, revealing to the young woman another empty, half-lit room.
Not so for Jeff though. Dumbstruck, he dropped to his knees in the doorway, staring straight ahead. Lynn held her breath, initially fearful of the cataclysm that might manifest in her complex beast. Yet as uneasy seconds ticked loudly in her mind, her doubts began to recede. There was no angry outburst this time, nor even his trademarked roar of lament. She advanced a few short steps behind him and stood with her hands gently massaging his aching, concrete shoulders while he came to terms with what he had done and where he was.
It was as if her boyfriend had been turned to stone. Save the rise and fall of his chest, his knees supported him stock still. Scenes from the past were mirrored in his mind like frame negatives burned into a television screen. The tortured soul pictured his mother’s inanimate body curled up on a blood-spattered mattress, an empty syringe dangling from the vein in her ankle. He visualised the broken glass around her right hand, where she had been clawing madly at her left wrist. One after another, he imagined the men on top of a deranged female, hitting her, teasing her. Some she knew, some she didn’t know and some she didn’t even know were there.
Overlaid on this ghastly home movie was the soundtrack... The neglected son could never forget the screaming and yelling which had come from this room over the years; first from his parents’ own volatile relationship, and later from the endless round of visitors his mother entertained. Then there was the ear-splitting sound of a little girl being grabbed by a grown man, and the hysterical objections of a spaced-out woman watching acts of cruelty unfold and being unable to do anything to stop them.
And superimposed on top of the video and audio tapes running simultaneously in Jeff’s head was the sense of utter helplessness felt by a lost boy, unwanted and misunderstood behind a closed door, desperate to drown out the sounds of his mother and sister and their so-called guests. The rejection felt by a teenager full of hatred, who would attack these unwanted strangers and who wouldn’t give up until they left the building, only then to be chastised for getting rid of them. Chastised by his mother for letting good money walk out the door, and chastised by his fly-by-night father for not protecting their women.
Kneeling in his deceased mother’s bedroom, it slowly dawned on the twenty-two-year-old that time had indeed been healing him. Granted, his nightmares kept the vivid, painful memories well and truly alive, but being here now, seven years after his mother’s fatal overdose, Jeff realised that he had become somewhat anaesthetised to the worst of his grief.
The ambitious and intelligent man who had been so afflicted for so many years sensed a sort of welcome disassociation taking place. A definite decoupling encouraged by the feeling of his dream girl’s loving hands on his tired shoulders and from hearing her soothing, unpatronising words of love; a separation that he had long hoped for but had never expected to achieve. He felt the distance winding back off his odometer, bringing him slowly closer to his real age.
The lost boy reached his left hand up towards the gift he had found, and his Regala held it tightly.
‘I love you,’ she reprised, leaning down to kiss the top of his head. ‘It’s over. The worst is over.’
Lynn sat on the floor beside the trembling body and turned Jeff’s face round towards hers. They kissed for a long, long time. She posed question after question. What had he seen when the door had first opened? What had been going through his head as he knelt in silence? How did it feel to see the room as it was now: clean and bare, with no trace of the horrors that had taken place? Patiently and without once losing physical contact with each other, every angle of the disgusting memory was dissected, never to be reconstituted again.
As the day’s stresses began to melt away, the young man’s watch informed him it was one-fifteen. ‘Jesus! It’s late!’ he exclaimed, finally breaking the pattern. ‘I can’t believe where the time’s gone.’
His girlfriend could. The morning had taken its toll on her too, but it was totally worth it just to feel his slow, regular breathing return and to see a hint of a smile on his face.
‘Are you OK now?’ she asked. ‘Being in here? What does it feel like?’
‘Not so bad, if you force me to admit it.’
‘It’s up to you,’ the nineteen-year-old replied, releasing herself from his grasp.
The statuesque rock star clambered to his feet and went over to the window, which overlooked an industrial warehouse behind the row of shops. The view was very different from the one he remembered, and he didn’t understand why. The buildings outside weren’t new, so his only conclusion was that he had not seen the view from either back window for a good many years. Or maybe he had simply blocked everything out.
‘Uncomfortable,’ he continued, staring through the glass. ‘I feel like a fraud. It’s just an empty room, angel.’
‘Don’t be ridiculous!’ Lynn yelped, following him over to the window. ‘It’s just an empty room now, but you can’t call yourself a fraud when you reacted the way you did. I’m sure you’d much rather have walked in and seen an ordinary, empty room.’
To her dismay, Jeff began to shake all over again, gripped by another panic attack as he leaned his back against the window and took a further look around the room. The gruesome scene rapidly rebuilt itself in his mind’s eye while the man turned back into the boy, raising his hands to his face and groaned. He slid down the wall, crouching under the window as if he were hiding from the outside world. His girlfriend moved to assume her rightful place beside him again, repeating the steps of her delicate reparation for a second time. She waited for him to speak, wondering what he was thinking.
After a minute or so, he too descended onto the floorboards and stretched out his arm to invite her to cuddle into his side. ‘Thanks,’ he sniffed. ‘Your support is gratefully received, Miss Dyson, but what took you so long?’
Ecstatic, the pretty star feigned offence, wilfully refusing his advances for all but an instant. She thought back to the cool, lanky teenager whom she had spied in the photographs on the wall in the Blakes’ den and tried to picture him in the bedroom opposite, doing his homework surrounded by posters of herself.
As if reading her mind, he carried on. ‘It’s impossible to believe I’m here, sitting in this room with you. Now that I have some clear space in my head, I guess it’s all pretty overwhelming. It’s as if I’m detaching from all those memories and supplanting myself in the present tense with you, but part of me doesn’t want to let go of what’s familiar, even though it’s revolting and painful.’
‘That’s no surprise,’ Lynn kissed his cheek. ‘It’s all you’ve ever known. Let it take as long as it needs to take. It’s just great for me to hear you’re detaching. It means the joy trigger thing’s working, doesn’t it?’
Jeff nodded. ‘Yeah, I guess so. Thanks.’
‘You’re welcome. Did you doubt it? You wrote it, Professor.’
‘Of course I doubted it,’ he smirked.
‘Hope for the best but expect the worst,’ the star-crossed couple chanted in unison, laughing and staring in amazement at their synchronicity.
‘Coffee?’ Lynn asked.
Her boyfriend stood up, flexing his stiff, cramping legs, and offered a hand to his beautiful best friend. ‘Yes, I think so.’
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