So, for the short fiction course I’m completing, I decided to keep a journal of sorts. The main philosophy espoused by the teacher, Dr. Sue Woolfe, is one of unbridled creativity – of understanding and harnessing the impulses, the fits and starts of writing prompted by your unconscious self.
In writing up all those fragments tonight, transforming hasty scribbles to polished, mechanical, perfect text, I found this:
I am reminded of the two little boys I saw on the train the other night. I’d had a bad day; awful, really, and I felt about as low as one of the tarred, congealed lumps on the floor of the carriage, felt about as messy and unfettered as the graffiti that sprawled across the glass, a growing infection.
I sat there as darkness rode by the train, a quiet companion, a thoughtful witness, only now and then pierced by idle lamps and lonely windows bright but distant, blank patches in suede. The doors inhaled and two little boys tumbled in, accompanied by a man. They were dressed in bright-coloured pyjama pants covered in little trucks; he was not. The boys carried a single big pillow each, both as ecstatically coloured as they were.
I was both charmed and repulsed by the unfolding tableau. What right had these wholesome, adorable creatures to come into my black thoughts, on this black day? The presence of any kind of innocence and joy – real, not imagined – too quickly revealed the nature of my disposition.
They all settled down on the bench opposite me. The eldest child – I’d put him at no more than six – said to the man, “Is that the phone with Transformers on it?” and he said yes, handing over the device. The little brother nestled close to the elder as the screen lit up their faces with an unholy, unnatural glow.
They curled around it the way children of old might have to a fire, primal and fierce in the night, a crackling, snapping god that kept them safe and warm. But this was a cold and plastic comfort – for all that, they seemed happy enough. The youngest had his chin cupped by his brother’s collarbone and they chattered and pointed and played. In this moment, they were whole.
They’re complete in the most natural way imaginable – brothers now, brothers always – unthinking in their closeness. I can’t help but wonder how long it will last. I can see all too easily the space forming between them as they become older, two branches on the same tree, growing ever more distant; the eldest no longer associating with the other, embarrassed that he ever did.
He has friends now, where before he had just the one, and his words are cruel-edged and hard – designed to hurt, to push the littler version of himself away. He rejects his past as it’s too close to him, too recent, and he knows it too well. He looks only ahead, to new friends and new schools and new things.
He looks ahead so he doesn’t have to see the misery on the child he leaves behind, doesn’t have to see the wreckage forming behind his eyes. And then it is too late, the damage is done and the second, forgotten child artfully arrays the destruction around him, an active minefield for any who try to get close.
He has no new things to discover, no new friends to make – his brother has seen these things, he has done them, and made them, and in their place lie only secondhand shadows. With a hand-me-down future, what surprise that he looks always to the past, to that moment on the train when in unthinking, unknowing grace, they nestled together without a single distinction between them; side by side, chin to shoulder, brothers now, brothers always.
The train came to a stop – it always does, no matter the times we want it to go on – and the man urged them off. The older boy looked up at him as they left and he said, “how far is it to your house?” and I watched as the night swallowed them whole.
I’ve been surprised by what I’ve found in these pages but this, I think, struck me most of all. Family always does, always has, always will.