Take me home
His room was almost his fortress, and it had been since puberty when he discovered Littlewood’s catalogues. Still now he could be found perched on his bed, fumbling and fingering the pages in a frenzied sweat; a happy member gloved in the other. He strummed sweet music to every turning page, saving every rousing finale for one particularly lucky lady on page 352.
His bedroom door said 'Fuck off' in so many different ways - images of Satan and nuclear waste symbols overlapping one another. A 'Do Not Disturb!' warning looked positively tame in comparison, hanging like some afterthought over the drooping door handle.
Only hours before his mum had come knocking and the sentry was caught off guard, wearing headphones and dancing to thrash metal in his Y-fronts. It was hard to know who was more shocked. Needless to say, a vicar's welcome was going to be as rare as a fillet steak in a vegan restaurant after that intrusion.
This then prompted a radical rethink: thrash metal turned to Beethoven; homemade wooden wedges were kicked underneath the door; and three 'Toxic Keep Out' posters were somehow shoehorned into place; however, nothing could quite provide security like a lock on the door, which dad had removed (due to mum’s pleading) some weeks before.
Marcus used to love open spaces. He fell for them once on a plane ride to Mallorca just before his seventh birthday. Peering down from his window seat he had swapped with his dad, he downloaded image after image of magically patterned fields, snaking rivers and twinkling seas. He did this by blinking really hard and pretending he was taking high spec photos with his eyes. He was in goggle-eyed heaven up there. Weeks afterwards his downloads would swirl around his dreams night after night, and he never seemed to tire of looking. Sometimes he even shocked his parents by asking to go to bed early; and the slide shows would commence in the dark of his room and he could relive it all again.
Marcus liked to finish other people’s conversations; this was where he felt most comfortable. Doing so gave him the chance to say something - to prove he wasn't just a nodding horse. He hated being thought of as one of those.
Questioning was a good ally too. So much so that he often saw himself as a future interviewer, like the ones that do the news or help actors talk about their lousy films, although really he had no idea in what capacity. He was no fool, realising that ninety-nine percent of the population adored talking about themselves, so he had manufactured a question for every likely occasion.
All his original thoughts he saved for himself and his rambles. And there were many, which divided and multiplied like mold in a broken fridge (some being just as smelly). He often struggled to contain them, sometimes attempting to wrestle them away by talking to the Beech trees by the brook near his house, but this made his head swell and hurt because he was fearful someone might see him, think him mad and call for the nurses again.
One late afternoon, just as the sun was beginning to set, he caught sight of someone approaching near the very same trees. He was on a path without cover – no adjacent bushes or trees to speak of, and this was his worst nightmare. In a similar situation years ago he had actually turned around and headed in the opposite direction, covering this rather strange action by looking at his watch at the same time, as if to say: ‘Is that really the time? I must get home!’
This time he had a woollen hat yanked halfway over his eyes, which acted like the fingers of a child watching a scary movie. He could hardly see, and coupled with the fact that the light was fast disappearing, he ended up barging into the gentleman. The shock made him bolt, and he sprinted away to his hideout behind a disused shed. There he sank on his haunches and waited for the heartbeat in his ears to turn to silence, but all he could hear was his name being called over and over again.
Most locals knew his name. And considering what he went through to achieve the exact opposite, this was certainly no mean feat. Nobody would ever truly see him because his disguise was masterful; in fact, it was so good that it took him years to realise that he was wearing one of himself.
Around his tenth birthday, following a long day at school, he told his parents he really didn’t want any presents, informing them that if he got any on the day, he wouldn’t speak to them ever again. He even put this in writing and presented it to them on the eve of the day, printing his name backwards in code - he was leaving nothing to chance.
The day after his birthday there was a knock at the front door and he was told to answer it. Lying on the doorstep was a large box with a note that read, ‘You didn’t say any presents after your birthday, Marcus’.
For the rest of the day he circled a new red bike around the back garden with squinting eyes and furrowed brow, pretending not to enjoy himself.
Marcus had been collected before. This time one more person than normal arrived, with dripping hair from the rain one February day. There was a well-built black man, a second slimmer and fitter, and a third lady - she was the good cop.
Two strong injections and twelve hours sleep later, his head emerged from underneath the blankets, in a narrow room with an artificial light that flickered. He squirmed and wriggled, desperately trying to wake his legs up, hoping that they would jump-start his brain. Standing over him as if they were doing a post-mortem, a crowd had gathered. Mum dangled the closest, stooping at his edge and rocking slightly like she was on the edge of a cliff.
Mum was banging on his bedroom door – first with her knuckles and then with the sides of her fists. But the wedges under the door were holding firm. Marcus had buried himself under the covers with his fingers in his ears humming a high-pitched tune. He wondered how much longer the front-line soldier wedges would hold out, but was too frightened to look. He imagined them running out of ammunition any time now, and this led him to pile all the covers over his head in defiance. Any time now, he thought…
Marcus had always dreamed of magic slippers. Anybody who wore them would feel what you felt and have your thoughts for as long as they were being worn. He would patent them and give them a name. Problem was he knew that some would be more popular than others, and really couldn’t see any reason why anyone would care to try his. Even so, he would gladly give them up, even for a few seconds. He imagined the Dragons’ Den team mentioning that very issue, and thereby popping his balloon and the chances of any investment in one fail swoop.
Mum thought Marcus was dead; the mound underneath the duvet was unmoving. She hollered and shook him. Nothing. He’d played dead before so she wasn’t hyper-ventilating just yet. But almost.
‘Life is difficult’. Marcus had read that in a book once. They were the first three words in fact. It was a book on self-help called, ‘The Road Less Travelled’ (back in the nineties it was the go-to book for those in search of psychological healing). He’d wondered why it wasn’t covered at school instead of algebra and long division and blowing on recorders dipped in disinfectant. If it had been, maybe he would have a job now, or a girlfriend, or a sense of any self-belief, he thought. One day, he knew he would set about re-designing the new curriculum, imagined himself breaking down the door of the Education Secretary in tears, pointing fingers at teachers and waving his book in his hand.
Tuesdays were macaroni cheese days, and from about 4pm onwards it was wafting down the corridor knocking on the doors of every room. It reminded him of the good times, when Sundays were the Tuesdays and mum made it on toast, sometimes adding a secret ingredient, which to this day she hadn’t shared. Every week he hoped it might be there, to transport him away from there.
Nighttime - the chance to dig under the razor wires to the other side. And since he’d been there those nights had sure become weird. As much as he looked forward to sleeping, he never considered himself to be free because he wasn’t in control of them, and he knew that anyone who felt truly free was making their own plans, doing their own thing, not bound by the jurisdictions of unconsciousness. At least his decision to go to bed before everyone else did was his. Once he’d dreamt of having a lock on his door, and everyone would be attempting to scale his walls, but they failed.
*** Final ***
A book once told him that life was like being at the theatre: on stage were the actors and the scenery and the props – they were your life unfolding. Then there was you in the audience, always sitting in the seat you had been given, with the seat number and row clearly written on your ticket, just witnessing your life from one viewpoint; the same angle, the same perspective.
Marcus moved today, he tore up his ticket, scattered the pieces from the balcony at the Old Vic, propped up his feet on the director’s seat in front, scoffing macaroni cheese and downloading images from a childhood plane journey he once went on. He knew instantly it’d be different this time.
…And when the performance started, he was waiting with those seven-year-old blinking-camera eyes so as to capture the scene of the snaking rivers and the twinkling seas…of the magic slippers, which made walls invisible and carried him home, and being on a new bike he had always wanted, still blinking red in the brightness of the sun.