'no room for these demons in their normal, well-ordered lives'

Amy Chan

he told the truth.
The whole truth.
And nothing but the truth.
But they weren’t listening

.‘Hey, I read your chapter the other day. It was certainly a heartfelt piece.’
She glanced up at his words and the mirrored tiles caught her reflection returning a resigned expression. Gazing beyond, she looked out at the grass, all parched and straggling, and watched a pair of magpies hop an uncoordinated pas de deux amongst the daisies. Retracting her gaze, she returned her attention to the bottle of wine she was opening.
‘Well, now you know it all.’ she said.
He had come over with some papers for her to sign. At long last they’d transferred her other son to a residential unit. It had to be done; it was the only way. He was now in a safer place, a place where he would not be rejected out of hand after one violent rage too many. An unhappy and extremely angry child who was trapped in a labyrinth without a guide. Self-entrenched in a prison of his own making but stubborn to the end, steadfast in his fantasy role of the omnipotent little dictator. He had to learn to become a child again. It was his time to move forward. His brother had been placed two months ago and already he had re-found some compassion for her. But he had also believed that she had made all the mistakes and had placed the blame firmly on her slender but broad shoulders. That was certainly part of his truth, and in his own defence he had told her so in no uncertain terms. But he was told it was never too late to learn. For either of them.
‘Cheers then.’ she said, handing him a glass of wine.
‘Thanks. So, what are you going to do with yourself?’
She laughed. ‘This must be the sixty-four million dollar question. Just the other day I was asked had I got any ‘interesting’ things lined up?’
‘Interesting? In what way?’
‘Oh God knows what they were envisaging. A world cruise? A mad, passionate love affair? How about parenting courses for failed mothers with no hope? Ten years of intensive psychotherapy? On second thoughts, maybe I’ll forego interesting and just do a Lucan.’
He arched an eyebrow at her. She returned a wry smile. ‘No, actually, the thing that waits to be done is extremely banal and uninteresting. Standing on my own two feet I guess.’
‘Well, you won’t attempt to run before you can walk will you?’
There wasn’t much chance of that, she thought.

After her breakdown, the system had apologised for having buried her case file in some dusty, forgotten pending tray for the past two years and appointed her a social worker. For the next few years, she had failed miserably to get him or his superiors to take her seriously. She had even resorted to running away but to no avail. It appeared that nothing would make them take any action. Finally, in desperation, she forced their hand by giving the go-ahead for the arrests to be made. To have come this far had involved a journey crippled with setbacks. In the five months from that fateful morning till today she’d endured a plethora of professionals being unleashed to delve into her life. How many had momentarily taken her on board in their line of duty – the acting headmaster; the headmistress; the counsellor – a somewhat ineffectual one; the unsympathetic police officer; the youth worker – to name but a few and not forgetting the barristers who in their cross examinations had unsuccessfully tried to infer that her account was a tissue of lies… Mind you, there had been no free rides. For each and every one of them, an exacting fare had been paid. The shutters were unbolted and the most intimate details of her maternal misery were let loose. And when did this incident take place? How did it happen? Why? And do you? Don’t you? Can’t you? Until she was stripped bare and left exposed in naked shame.

And afterwards, stuck in traffic returning to their offices or to their homes, had they pondered in disbelief, or recoiled in disgust or merely despaired that the filial bond could be made to twist and turn upon itself so, until it metamorphosed into such a monstrous entity? And when the lights turned green, they could only place their foot on the accelerator, release the clutch and try to forget. There was no room for these demons in the normal, well-ordered lives that they returned to when the working day was done. They drove on.

She hated it all. She hated the unequal semblance unearthed by their probing and ferreting and the fact that they would never know the woman she had once been and still was within. They weren’t paid to hang around and await the emergence of her whole self. She wanted to lacerate these unbalanced images of herself that lay dormant in their memories and cast them into the stratosphere so that they would evanesce like the characters in our dreams when we rub the sleep from our eyes. And if she couldn’t, then they should never meet again: their paths should be magnetised to repel and never converge. Eventually, she could become like a forgotten taste none of them could quite recapture.

But there was one she wouldn’t be forgotten by. One memory she would never be able to set free or steal or banish. The memory belonging to the last one. The only one remaining. He’d gone the distance with her, the only one who had. Not through choice but it was his job to do so. That chapter was over now. It was time to move forward. Her time of feelings of guilt was passed. Acceptance of failure was long assimilated. In their place now resided a different emotion. Anger. The anger of those who had been let down. The anger of those who were not believed. The anger that things had been allowed to reach the state they had. And the greatest anger of all was at the frightened and weak person her children had turned her into and displayed to the world. It was anger now that would impel her. This emotion that burnt white and fierce like the midday sun would cast its light on the path and provide her with the energy to tread it. She certainly needed something, as finding the strength required was still hindered by remnants of her inner turmoil. When the conflicting demands of her children and the authorities rained on her in relentless succession, her emotions and her thoughts were like the fallen leaves outside on a gusty day, wind-scurried in frantic circles, as if driven to escape but not knowing where to – or how.
He passed the documents over for her to sign. ‘You’ve gone very quiet. What’re you smiling about?’
‘I’m just feeling gratified that I finally got extremely pissed off.’ she laughed.
‘What’s pissing you off then?’
‘Oh, nothing. Don’t worry, just got a lopsided sense of humour at the moment.’
She remembered something she had read the other day whilst flicking through the Sunday supplements.
‘The need to be adored is even stronger in an only child and attention becomes a symbol of love.’
She was an only child but there wasn’t much adoring going on in her life at the moment. As her son had said, ‘If your own children don’t like you…’ – well, you hadn’t a hope in hell. Moreover, it seemed a long time ago since anyone had paid the slightest bit of attention to anything she’d had to say, never mind anything more. If people took attention to be a symbol of that unknown quantity, then it was no wonder distressed and confused clients, even those with siblings, became smitten with their therapists or whoever was propping them up emotionally. Fortunately, she had held on by the skin of her teeth and hadn’t forsaken all dignity by falling down that road. It may have been the years of periodically banging her head against his brick walls - and those of others - that had rescued her from such ignominy. Of late, she’d eased up on the cranium bashing when she felt she was finally being heard; she resigned herself to a quieter patience - lots of it, and he began to empathise. And they lived happily ever after – just about. But it was the end of the road for him on this trip, whether she and her boys made it to their assigned destination would no longer be a bunch of thorns in his side of a working day. And for her, starting over with someone new, tediously rehashing the old tales, like a needle stuck in a vinyl groove…well, it wasn’t exactly his relief she was sharing in.
She returned the signed papers to him and he stood up to leave.
‘Well I guess I won’t be seeing you again.’ she said.
‘Not at all. You’ll be seeing far more of me.’
At first, she wasn’t quite sure exactly what he meant. Then she proffered the only interpretation her mind’s eye could come up with. ‘What? You mean…as a friend?’
‘Yes. You know’ he smiled, ‘at times, being in your presence is like being in a summer garden filled with all types of flowers and trees. The sun’s shining; lots sunflowers eveywhere. Though sometimes it’s been a bit bare…’
She burst out laughing. ‘OK. I’ll do my best to keep it all blooming from now on."
She showed him out and then leant back for a moment against the closed door, a smile forming on her lips for she sensed a melodic stirring in the air as her unshackled spirit charmed each bird in the garden to sing and sing.

In progress from Sep ‘02/Apr ’03
© Amy Chan May 2003

More Fiction and stories by Amy Chan in Dreamscapes


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