UKArchive ID: 8959thegeeza
Originally published on October 11, 2004 in Fiction
The manifestation of a child's guilt and loneliness.
‘I don't believe that you have anything whatever to worry about here, Ruth. Children of John's age, especially only children, go through this kind of thing quite often. He needs all the love and affection you can give, with gentle reminders about the differences between imagination and reality. I doubt this will turn into anything nasty, and you will probably not need to come back and see me.’ He stood up. It was the signal to leave. Ruth stood and offered her hand across the desk. The doctor looked surprised, but he took the hand and shook it.
‘Thank-you, Doctor,’ she said. He nodded and smiled at the boy as he sat down to attend to his papers.
Ruth prodded John on the shoulder. He turned and looked at his shoulder as if something should be there.
‘Come on,’ she said. ‘We’ve got to catch the bus.’
He moved the chair back and stood. He fiddled with his Parker jacket for too long, so Ruth guided him through the door.
‘The doctor said you’re going to be alright,’ she said.
‘I don’t want you to worry,’ she said. He shook his head. ‘I mean it, John,’ she said.
‘I’m not worried,’ he said. ‘Why should I be?’
They stopped under the bus shelter. She leaned down to whisper to him, looking at the other people to make sure they were not listening. ‘It’s not normal to speak to imaginary people,’ she said. ‘They are not real. You need to understand that he is not really there.’
‘But he is there,’ he said.
She blinked at him. ‘No, John … he’s not.’
The bus came and they sat in silence all the way back to their flat. They went up the urine-stained stairs, carefully negotiating the junkies sitting there. Ruth put her key in the light blue door and opened it.
The flat was neat and tidy. Ruth kept it well, given her limited finances. It was certainly one of the better kept places on the estate. John turned on the television. He heard the sounds of dinner being made, and she soon brought him sausage and chips. He put the tray on his lap and continued to watch almost without a glance to his meal. He listened to the sound of his mother shower and smelled the perfume that she applied liberally about herself. She came in and leaned down to kiss his cheek.
‘I should be home about nine o’clock,’ she said. ‘I’m meeting Dave for a drink in The Grapes. You know where it is, and you know my mobile number if you need to speak to me.’
John nodded and put his plate on the table beside him. He glanced at the clock, which told him Coronation Street would soon be on.
‘And you’ll put that plate in the sink, won’t you?’
She kissed him again and left.
He could smell the perfume as he watched the screen. He watched the characters on the screen acting out real life. Every person had some drama or another, but there was always something redeeming, and they always had the safety of the adverts, the end of the show or some thing that would help them out.
‘Why are you sitting in the dark?’ said a voice. Its speaker was beyond the doorway in the darkness of the hallway.
John strained to see. ‘I haven’t bothered to put the light on,’ he said.
The figure walked into the room and its hand felt under the shade on the lamp and switched on the light. ‘That’s better.’ It walked into the centre of the room and bit its nails. ‘What are you watching, John?’
The figure nodded and bit off another piece of nail.
‘It’s nearly finished,’ said John.
‘Well … good. I don’t think a nine-year old should be watching programmes like this anyway.’
‘Mannie?’ said John.
‘The doctor says you aren’t real.’
‘Mum says you’re not real too.’
Mannie sat at the opposite end of the sofa, looking at the television. He turned to John. ‘Do you think I’m real?’
‘I don’t know any more.’
‘Can you see me?’
‘Well then, I’m real.’
They watched the end of the programme. When it finished, Mannie pulled a pack of cards from his pocket. ‘Do you want to play twenty-one?’
John nodded, and picked up the two cards Mannie had dropped for him on the middle cushion.
‘So … where’s Mum?’ asked Mannie.
‘She’s gone out.’
‘To meet Dave … for a drink,’ said John.
‘I see,’ he said. ‘Twist?’
John nodded. ‘She said she would be back by nine.’
‘Bust. Did she?’
‘Why did you twist on nineteen?’ said John.
‘I thought I might get a two or an ace.’
‘Never! That’s dumb.’
‘Do you like Dave?’ said Mannie.
‘I just don’t.’
‘Okay. Twist?’ asked Mannie.
‘You should twist on fourteen, John,’ said Mannie.
They played some more hands. Mannie asked about school, but the conversation was stilted.
‘I don’t like Dave because he takes Mum away and makes me lonely.’
‘Oh,’ said Mannie. He put the cards down. ‘Did you tell Mum that?’
‘Because … because she said she hoped Dave might come and live with us.’
‘And? That doesn’t mean to say you can’t talk to her.’
‘She said we must make sure we don’t do anything to mess it up.’
‘Well, John, that’s not messing it up, is it? You can talk to Mum about it.’
‘I’m scared to go to the toilet … it’s dark out in the hallway.’
‘Ask Mum to leave the light on when she goes out.’
‘I did. She forgot.’
John stood up and walked over to the plant that sat in the corner of the room. He unzipped his flies and urinated on the earth around the plant.
‘You shouldn’t do that, John. It’s not a very clean thing to do.’
‘I’m too scared to go in the hallway. I have to, when I go to bed, because Mum will be angry if I’m still up.’
John sat down and picked up the cards. ‘Mum told me Dave might be my new dad if we are good to him. She said she had to spend time with Dave, and that’s why she has to go out. She never gets back when she says she will.’
‘Well, maybe that might happen. Would you like that?’
‘She says she has a life too.’
‘Twist?’ said Mannie.
‘I don’t like Dave. I don’t like talking to him. I wish he would go away.’
‘You’ve got nineteen, John. Do you want another card?’
John put his cards on the sofa and stood up. ‘I’ve got to go to bed now. They’ll be back soon. Goodnight, Mannie.’
‘Do you want me to tuck you in, John?’
John shook his head and stood in front of the door. He started mumbling the words of a song and ran to the end of the hallway and switched on the light. Continuing to mumble, he cleaned his teeth quickly and splashed his face. He kept his eye on the mirror to make sure no one was watching him. He dropped the towel and ran into his room, slamming the door behind him. He stood frozen and listened to the silence. Satisfied nothing was there, he climbed into his bed and covered himself completely.
He waited for a long time, until he heard the sound of the front door opening. He heard voices, then the sound of his door brushing against the carpet. His mother pronounced him sleeping and the light coming through the duvet went out. The door clicked and he slowly pulled back the covers. He heard them speaking in the front room.
He pulled the covers back and tiptoed to his door. They were laughing and talking in the front room. He opened the door and tried to see them. He could now only hear the sound of the television. John felt a cold rush and wondered if they had gone back out. He crept forward to the front room and looked through the crack of the door. The television was flickering and lighting the room in flashes.
‘What’s that?’ said a male voice.
Before he could move, Dave’s head appeared at the door. He heard his mother say something.
‘How long have you been there?’ said Dave.
‘John? John? Come here, honey.’
‘John … your Mum wants you,’ said Dave.
Open mouthed, John walked into the front room. His mother was straightening her hair and pulling her top down. She stood up and pulled her skirt into place. ‘You should have called out to me, Honey. How long have you been waiting there?’
‘Not long,’ said John.
‘Do you need the toilet?’ she said.
She walked towards him and ushered him from the room. He heard Dave tell her to keep him away from the plant. She waited at the doorway whilst John forced a couple of drops into the toilet. She led him into his room and leaned over his bed to kiss him goodnight. The smell of her perfume hung heavy in the air. He looked at the luminous hands of his clock, which told him it was half eleven.
He sat and listened to the front room door close, and saw the light at the bottom of his door go out. He heard the click of his mother’s door and then silence. He stood and went to his door and opened it slowly. There was darkness all around, but he could hear moaning and groaning coming from his mother’s room, as well as a persistent knocking sound. The noise appeared to grow louder until it sounded like someone was hammering on the wall, next to her bed.
All of a sudden it stopped. John listened, but could hear nothing. Suddenly her door broke open and a shaft of light fell across him. He instinctively closed his door, but not completely, to avoid making a noise. He stood, holding it against the frame, hoping it would not be noticed so they would not open the door and discover him.
‘Make us a cup of coffee, Ruth?’ said Dave.
His mother shushed him harshly. ‘John is asleep,’ she said, softly.
He heard her walk up the hallway and go into the kitchen. He heard the kettle and the clink of spoon against cup. He froze as he heard her walk towards the door. He thought of rushing into bed, but his skinny body would not move a muscle.
‘What you doing?’ said Dave. ‘Where’s my coffee?’
‘Will you be quiet?’ she hissed at him. ‘I’m going to the toilet, then I’ll be back.’
‘Hurry up,’ he said. ‘I’m waiting for more.’
John opened the door. The hallway was lighted by the open bathroom and the partly open bedroom. He looked towards the kitchen. He ducked back in when he saw a figure looking at him. He thought about the figure and realised it was Mannie. He slowly put his head into the hallway and looked again. Mannie put his finger to his lips and then beckoned him. John shook his head. Mannie signalled more urgently. John stepped into the hallway and moved towards the kitchen, petrified that someone would shout at him from behind. He walked into the kitchen and Mannie partly closed the door behind him.
‘I have an idea,’ whispered Mannie.
‘What?’ said John, looking behind at the door.
‘Do you want Dave to go?’
He turned, excited. ‘Yes?’
‘In the cupboard … under the sink.’
John kneeled before the cupboard and opened it. It had a child lock, but it was too easy for a nine-year old. ‘What about it? Quickly, or they’ll find me.’
‘Rat poison … in the corner.’
‘What about it?’
John remembered the mice they had had. He remembered the poison the council men had put in the corner of each cupboard. He remembered the warning about never, ever, putting it near your mouth as it was very dangerous for humans as well as rats or mice. He reached into the corner and picked up some pellets. He turned them over in his hand.
‘Put them in his coffee. Quick.’
He closed the cupboard and stood. Two cups were on the side. One smelled of coffee, the other had a teabag bobbing around the surface where his mother had poured a drop of milk.
‘Don’t worry, the coffee is his.’
John heard Dave shout. He ran to his room and pulled the door to, just as his mother flushed the chain and turned off the bathroom light.
‘Come on!’ He heard Dave shout. ‘What are you doing in there?’
His mother walked quickly past his room and the kitchen light clicked off. He heard a burst of laughter as her bedroom door closed with a careful click. The knocking sound started again, soon after.
John got back into bed and pulled the covers over his head. He waited and listened. He looked at the clock, then covered himself again. Nothing.
He wondered whether his mum would prefer it if he was not there. He turned the hard pellets over in his hands. Dave did not like him, he was sure of that. He tried to squash the pellets, but they were too hard. He wondered how the mice had eaten them. He wondered what Dave would say, and what his mum would do, if he ate the pellets. He put them in his mouth and moved them around, like they were clothes in a washing machine. He suddenly decided to swallow them, and he felt them sliding down his throat like small stones. He coughed, but they were already too far down. He curled into a ball and closed his eyes tight. It would all be okay, and he would have forgotten all about the day he swallowed rat poison, in the morning.
Archived comments for Mannie
bluepootle on 2004-10-11 02:49:37
Great ending. Really worked for me.
kenochi on 2004-10-11 03:15:51
this is the first new one of yours that I've read for a while, Steve and to be honest, to begin with, I wasn't too into it. I thought that unnecesary action was over described, like...
"He stood up. It was the signal to leave. Ruth stood and offered her hand across the desk. The doctor looked surprised, but he took the hand and shook it."
I reckon you could have said that in one short sentence, instead of four. Then, shortly afterwards there were too many 'he said's' and 'she said's' in a short space of time and at that point I began to lose a bit of interest, thinking it may have been a rush-job. But what saved it was content. As soon as Mannie was introduced, it became much more compelling and I just couldn't help but read on. That's what real fiction is all about - the story. You've got an interesting idea here (as you usually do) and you've executed that idea with originality - I actually thought it might be a story whereby Mannie killed Dave, only for it to be explained at the end that Mannie was imaginery and John had done it, which would have been predictable and dull. But it didn't go in that direction, which was cool - it kept me on my toes.
So all in all, I wouldn't say it was one of your best, there's things you could work on, but an interesting read that hooked me in.
TheGeeza on 2004-10-11 07:51:45
Thanks, BP, glad you liked the ending. It's more in line with what I was trying to say.
deepoceanfish2 on 2004-10-11 08:27:45
I don't think this needs any touch-ups at all. I felt the beginning was a necessary and added to the build-up of the characterization. A fav: fine and chilling read and a nomination. Well done.
uppercase on 2004-10-11 11:46:27
I loved this story it held my interest all the way and the ending was amazing...Erma
TheGeeza on 2004-10-11 12:16:03
I liked the start, the fragmented sentences reminded me of awkwardness.
Glad you liked the middle/end! The end was originally as you described, but I think this works much better, and is more consistent with what I was trying to say/do.
Thanks for reading and commenting!
TheGeeza on 2004-10-11 12:17:45
Thanks. Thrilled you liked it enough to rate it hot story/hot author.
Thanks for reading / commenting.
TheGeeza on 2004-10-11 12:18:36
Thanks for reading/commenting - glad you liked it!
Claire on 2004-10-11 17:03:10
A great read here. I was very interested at the start, and very strongly hooked when Mannie came in, and couldn't wait to know the ending when Dave came back with his mum. I thought John was going to put the pellets into his mum's cup, so I didn't expect your ending, which was still a very good one.
TheGeeza on 2004-10-11 17:46:37
Thanks, Claire ... glad you liked it!
alcarty on 2004-10-12 23:41:46
I liked the pace and thought the story progressed smoothly. The characters were believable and the story was easy to read. It could have gone in several directions but that would have put it into fantasy. Your presentation was starkly real and what we might find in a small item on the second page of the newspaper. Good job. I enjoyed it. Al
TheGeeza on 2004-10-13 04:20:19
Thanks, Al. Glad you liked it.