When You Bleed You’re Beautiful

Approach and state your name

Did you come here to fight

Did you come here to blame

This road is not yours this house is not mine

You’re building castles in the sand this time

I’m so tired of drawing lines

We can, can fly above them

They’ll not matter when you see them far away

One more argument you bought and sold

I’m sorry to be the one who tells you, baby, when you bleed you’re beautiful

Fall into me, hold onto me, be there, fade away, say my name, let me know

Appear, what twists and takes all your fears

Knock, knocking you, get up fall down

That familiar feel of crumbling ground

I know you’re tired of endings and beginnings

Life’s long lists of what ifs and letting gos

Just remember when we bleed we’re beautiful

Fall into me, hold onto me, let me go, be there, fade away, let me know

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Til Death Do Us Part: How Modern Marriage Has Failed

sitting_te

Marriage, the word is a demonstration of our language’s ability to evoke and provoke some of the strongest emotions possible. These range from the worshipful to cynical. It is simultaneously sought after and hated, not uncommonly by the same person. Is it broken? Was it ever right? I’ve been thinking about these questions a lot lately. I find myself at that time in my life (early thirties) where those inevitable questions start to arise, as though I perceive a door slowly closing. It’s my conclusion, after a good deal of thought, that I’ve been fooled, we’ve all been bamboozled, tricked, whatever you want to call it, into thinking that the oft referred to (holy) institution of marriage is something we should care and obsess over.

Let’s dig into this where I enjoy it most: its history. Marriage has not always been interpreted through its current incarnation. Now what do I mean by that exactly? Well most obviously would be this idea of marriage for eternal love. This modern consideration is an incredibly recent advent. Marriage in the not so distant past was carried out pragmatically: for family interests. The mewling protests of those involved, should there be any, were silenced quickly as selfish prattle that had better shut the hell up, or risk the wrath of their elders, and when I think about it, rightly so. Life and survival are difficult enough in an old world without youth bemoaning that they don’t get to love the person they are with. We’d have been far better off if marriage were actually referred to for what it was at its inception: duty.

But we are a forward thinking species. How dare the wisdom of the old be inflicted on the young. Better we let them decide who they should marry, and then divorce shortly after. This has led us to marriage’s current state. The mass majority of marriages end, it’s indefensible to suggest otherwise. Growing up my parents were in the absolute minority that they remained together through my youth. Their staying together was the exception not the rule.

Which leads me to my next point: the language of modern marriage in its aftermath. Having moved away from the more ancient form of marriage, we have landed ourselves in an existential hell. We’ve exchanged the mild grumbling of a couple learning to be with each other for the impossible ideal of eternal love. We even hold this lofty standard so high above our heads that if a marriage were to fail in this context we have no shortage of cruel descriptors for it: broken home and failed marriage leap to mind. We describe something so obviously natural—the falling out of love of those together for an extended period of time—as something abhorrent, hateful, and shameful. This I believe is madness.

Life in the last hundred years has changed so rapidly when compared to the previous it has left our older social constructs outdated and staggered, barely able to bear the weight of keeping up. I think fondly on my father’s joking description of the problem, “When they said till death do us part, that’s what it used to mean!” This albeit dark humour summarizes what I am trying to say. A progressive step was needed to reinvent the dated survival-style of marriage, but caught up in our solipsist view of the world we failed to see that we’d set out for ourselves an impossible standard. Couples rejoiced at the idea of marriage for eternal love, but soon found the reality was not quite what they imagined. It never is.

Now I’m not suggesting a return to the old style. We do live in a time when choosing who we wish to partner with is a luxury we can more or less afford. What I am suggesting is that we face a more difficult reality: we live long enough to have deep meaningful relationships with multiple people, and should allow ourselves to do so.

I’ll anticipate the soft soul’s argument who will cry, “What about the children? You blind fool,” and say this: we can, and already do, leave behind marriages with children yet to grow. All I’m suggesting is if we do so, let’s do away with all the weight of this crazy guilt. Good parents exist, lots of them, who are not in “wedlock,” another great term I enjoy. As long-lived human beings whose lifespans are continually stretching we must throw off the shackles that the ideal of eternal love has bound us in. We need a new love renaissance, one that correctly acknowledges both our strengths and weaknesses: Yes we can love, yes we fall out of love, there is no one single love of your life, there are many.

I cannot help but relate this to a series of books written by one of my favourite authors ‘Peter F. Hamilton.’ In his wild sci-fi imaginings he’s created a world wherein people can potentially live forever. Not only that, he considers the profound social repercussions of this world. The obvious question that comes about from eternal life is: do I eternally marry? He would suggest no. Instead, people spend as much time as they want with each other. Some raise children, some don’t. The norm of the citizens that inhabit his world is to marry many over the hundreds of years that they are alive. This to me seems natural.

And before those dissenters start screeching at the computer screen, allow me to clarify what I mean by natural. Natural is the world we have grown up in. I’ll borrow from ‘Aubrey de Grey’ to clarify what I mean. When people object to his suggestion—that we should be able to live forever—and say it is unnatural to have such long life-spans, he immediately counters with a very sound argument. When you say natural, whose natural do you mean? If you had grown up in the colonial era a natural life-span was far less than it is now. Eighty to a hundred is the natural life-span if you were born in recent memory. To cement what I am saying vicariously through Aubrey’s point: “natural” changes depending on where you are looking at it from. In effect, it is always changing given your perspective. And that is now what we need for marriage and the way we pursue it. A new perspective.

Free

And now it’s time for you to run without this time a starting gun
Is it not how they told you it would be
They were singing songs of innocence before you were free
And Now you know experience a tiger that stalks inside your house
He’s been there a while now tearing up your floors showing you all those hidden doors
It’s like floyd said it’s not what you expected to see
When I looked at the tiger the tiger was me

So I run run run can’t seem to catch up with the sun
And each day I grow older just a little bit colder
But after all I wanted this wanted to be free

Are we all just dreaming of life
I wake and it’s not real
A lonely place just filled with steel
Each face passes by a glimmer of something the same
Will we ever be more than just our names
I have always been looking for that greater plan
But all the time knowing the tiger will eat the lamb

So I run run run can’t seem to catch up with the sun
And each day I grow older just a little bit colder
But after all I wanted this wanted to be free

I can feel my pulse it’s never the same
But somehow in the end comes round again
When does it all stop can you see by the veil
This tiger feels old from eating his tail
His back is broke and his mind is gone
So maybe this time we sing the song.

So we run run run can’t seem to catch up with the sun
And each day we grow older just a little bit colder
But after all we wanted this wanted to be free

Forgive Me

Forgive me if I’ve forgotten what we argued for

We washed up here without our fear left it on the shore

It’s in each other’s arms we’re guilty wanting more

Like an old photograph you hold in your hands

Timeless till the waves melt what seemed like solid sand

Let me wake from just one more dream
Where the sun is rising and the light touches everything
An unending ending is it so much to ask
When all our time descending falls through an hour-glass

If I am no more than a blink of an eye let me fall a million ways let me feel before I die

All those friends who’ve come and gone loved ones whose memories may persist

Aren’t we all just the same leaving folded at the wrists

So please

Forgive what I am forgive what I am not forgive that I’m forgetting what should not have been forgot

Let me wake from just one more dream
Where the sun is rising and the light touches everything
An unending ending is it so much to ask
When all our time descending falls through an hour-glass

Cristina’s Song

I had thought this world a graceless place
Only ghosts that walked around in empty space
But instead I find, I’ve lost and found my mind,
On the bed of a friend the sound cranked to ten and only you in my eyes

Please won’t you sing to me
In that secret key that you brought from across the sea
It doesn’t need a language
It’s not like we ever did
Bliss comes to you from the bottom the sky looks beautiful from the abyss
My lover, my teacher, my savior
What a world I have seen
To leave you I have found you it’s the same as it’s always been

I would have turned my dreams to dust experience then rust
Oh how I tried to hate you better numbness than the pain
So I went to hell but you followed me all the same
And when I’d made my last denial twisted my heart made you as a rival
Where that empty space it should have been was your love your smile and a place that I could dream

Please won’t you sing to me
In that secret key that you brought from across the sea
It doesn’t need a language
It’s not like we ever did
Bliss comes to you from the bottom the sky looks beautiful from the abyss
My lover, my teacher, my savior
What a world I have seen
To leave you I have found you it’s the same as it’s always been

So thank you friend until we meet again I wait inside this dream
I can feel you there as angels prepare one day that place for you and me
Our time was short and the distance now long but forever I will find you
Just look in this song

Please won’t you sing to me
In that secret key that you brought from across the sea
It doesn’t need a language
It’s not like we ever did
Bliss comes to you from the bottom the sky looks beautiful from the abyss
My lover, my teacher, my savior
What a world I have seen
To leave you I have found you it’s the same as it’s always been

Chapter.4 Hiding in plain Sight

In the first weeks of his new school Daniel developed a routine. He would wake long before anyone in the house. After wishing the farm on his wall a good day, careful not to make any noise, he would rush a barely warm shower and get dressed. Then, tiptoeing lightly down the hall past his parent’s bedroom, he’d descend the old wooden stairs that led to the kitchen and receive there the warmest greeting he’d ever known. Lincoln waited for him each morning, in a bed they’d set up next to their ghoulishly coloured yellow refrigerator. Always awake, standing at attention. When Daniel entered, his tail would begin to wag in a steady beat—thump, thump, thump—hitting the side of the fridge, like a drum-beat summoning soldiers to war. Daniel would then invoke the ritualistic question which preceded all their walks: “Who’s a good boy?” Lincoln’s joyous reaction, wherein he leapt up on his owner nuzzling and licking his face affectionately, predicated the truism, he—most certainly was.

They’d lap the block once or twice, depending on Lincoln’s energy level, then return to the house to meet Kate sitting on the steps of their home, usually shaking her head in disbelief.

“You’re crazy,” yawned Kate.

Daniel ceased twirling Lincoln’s leash. A game which left the dog comically walking in a diagonal line at his side. “You know,” he said solemnly, stopping to strike a pose, chest puffed out like a Saturday-morning-hero from the nineties, “they say love is crazy.”

Kate rolled her eyes. “Well then, you’re madly in love.”

“Oh, I am, dear sister,” said Daniel. Pulling back Lincoln’s ears, he planted a kiss on the adoring animal’s head. Kate had a special name for this particular canine expression: bliss in a slipstream. “It’s alright though, I don’t expect you to perfectly understand what it’s like to love a beast.”

“I love you, don’t I?”

“You’re hilarious.” Daniel gave his sister a lop-sided grin. “Just wait a moment. I’ll be back. I’m gonna top off Lincoln’s food bowl before we leave.” Their morning ritual replete, critical banter and all complete, the two set off for school.

Bam!

Daniel jolted upright, hand pressed to his stinging forehead. The students were giggling; everyone turned in his direction. On the verge of sleep when he’d lost consciousness, his face had slid from its precariously balanced position on his palm to smack into his desk. Judging by his teacher’s sigh and head shake of resigned indifference, it might not have been the first time. He glowered round darkly at those who laughed. That was, until a gooey spit ball wetly smacked the side of his head.

“Don’t be so glum, chum. Trouble in paradise?” said Milton, a twice failed older classmate. In the first weeks of Daniel’s arrival Milton had tried unsuccessfully to acquaint himself. He’d mistakenly approached the friendship in a traditional way: too kindly and without expectations. Daniel never trusted those who offered kindness without weighing return on investment. That’s not how kindness worked.

“I’m fine, you dick, just bored.” Daniel peeled the sticky wad of paper off his cheek and flicked it back at his classmate who made a show of dodging the projectile.

Milton jabbed a confident thumb towards himself. “Well, you wouldn’t be bored if you’d hang out with me. If there’s one thing I understand, it’s a good time.”

“Right…” said Daniel cupping his face, this time in both hands. Daniel turned from the moronically beatific smile of Milton, attempting to take something from the lecture. It never did any good. The harder he focused, the more his teachers words became a blur. The more he just felt like going to sleep. He sighed. what’s wrong with me?

Bam!

Daniel’s face smashed against his locker.

“How’d that taste, loser?”

Daniel turned, the warm coppery tang of iron filling his mouth. With one arm he clutched his textbooks. The free hand he pressed against the backside of his weeping lip. Drawing it away slowly, examining the ruby-red that smeared it, he licked his lips. “Delicious,” he laconically answered the three boys standing over him at his locker. His unnerving reply caused their leader to screw his face up in disgust.

“You’re a freak, you know that right?” He shoved Daniel back into the lockers with a loud clang. Other students in the hall hurried past, heads down; hate and cruelty are always hidden in plain sight.

“I do,” came Daniel’s answer, equally terse.

“That’s good.” The leader made a show of nodding around at his compatriots, keeping up the bravado. But, Daniel could tell he’d rattled their hollow confidence.“Just here to remind you, it’s the usual deal.”

Daniel simply nodded. The boys departed giving Daniel a final shove. It sent him sprawling and the books taken from his locker skidding across the floor.

 

————————–

 

“I don’t get it?” Kate whined. “Why do we always have to take separate paths home?”

“Because, we have separate paths to walk in this life, young one.” Daniel deepened his voice and pretended to pull a cape in front of his body.

“You are a brutal nerd—seriously…” Kate bobbed along next to her brother laughing. “I hate walking home by myself, it’s dangerous; you’re failing to protect me.”

Daniel kept his voice deep and the cape held in front of him as he walked. “You—are an idiot, young one; you do not walk home alone; you walk with Sandy.”

“Stop talking like that!” Kate batted his arm down, destroying the imagined cape. “I do, but I would rather walk with you. Promise me one of these days we will walk together.”

Daniel acquiesced. “Sure, just not today, Okay?

“Okay,” said Kate.

The exit of the school was barely that, just a road that met another road. Its only semi-significant characteristic was a middling sized leafless maple tree. Before the two parted ways under its barren branches, Daniel gave his sister a kiss on the head, hugging her and wishing her well. Watching her leave he took a seat at the base of the tree on a serpentine thick root. One of many that emerged from the earth, like the coils of a sea monster. Resting his back against its ridged trunk, he waved perfunctorily at his sister in the distance as she met with her new friend, Sandy.

The girl wore an intractable smile plastered to her face at all times, like the personae of Greek theater. But her sad eyes belied that smile, and told the truth that lay behind them. Daniel wondered what drew his sister to a person like that—but perhaps not—he knew of nothing more seductive than a lie.

His sister and Sandy soon disappeared out of sight around the corner of the block. Daniel took that as his cue to stand up. He brushed off the dust and debris of the ground and grabbed his backpack. He’d lain it next to the tree. Throwing it over his shoulder he took from his pocket his Swiss army knife. When sitting next to the tree he’d noticed inscriptions carved into its trunk. Like any prophet of the school, he wanted to forge his own. Between the timeless wisdom of “Claires a slut!!!”—incorrectly punctuated he noted—and, “Brandon and Josh forever”, he added, “Daniel was here”, an epitaph worthy of a king. Finishing his work he blew on it, removing any last clinging wood-chips. A stubborn sliver of bark resisted his breath and disrupted the proper reading of “here”. To correct the offending chunk of wood, he dug in and leaned hard on the blade. It cut loose with a twang, but the sudden release of pressure popped the blade out of his hand. It fell bouncing down the tree trunk coming to land in the dirt with a plop. He bent over to pick it up; doing so brought his eyes level with an inscription unseen from any other angle: “What matter where if I be still the same”. He read it multiple times. Deep, he decided. Whoever said that had their shit figured out. Standing up to stretch, he pressed his knuckles into the small of his back. He groaned, enjoying the release of pressure. It was time to go.

Except for the main street entrance, the playground was waiting for him penned in on all sides by low-cost cement-grey residential towers. No one was playing on its grounds when Daniel arrived: no one ever was. The small area hosted several physical distractions: a rusting jungle gym for kids to climb and practice breaking limbs on; a set of drooping spring-loaded sea-animals with their paint flaking off for night-time drunks to ride, bend and wear out; and the feature Daniel most enjoyed using, a three-seater swing set. Whistling to himself Daniel took a seat on the middle swing and set his bag on the ground. He built up an arc pumping his legs. As he gained height, with each pass of the parabola’s bottom, he’d kick up a spray of bark mulch on his way to the sky. At the top, he’d smile.

As the three boys entered the park he slowed the swing to a stop by digging in his heels. Thommy Humphreys was an angry-faced, straight-haired, pear-shaped boy. His waist— grotesquely ballooning at such an early age—foreshadowed opponents to come; opponents he could not beat with fists.

Loping along at Thommy’s heels came Dean Beakman. A gangly, tall, back-woods boy with straw blond hair, moved from a place named after an animal’s body part to the city; Dean exemplified willful ignorance. He was fond of telling childhood stories, wherein inter-species relations passed for rites-of-passage. Born with a tin of chew in his cradle, Dean had developed a mild celebrity around the school for his digestive tract’s capabilities. His esophagus and bowels, inured by years of use, allowed the boy to munch on the acrid cud without spitting. Instead, he swallowed the acidic juice, like bitter medicine.

Rounding out the wayward trio was one of the school’s rich elite. Chris Branch, a neurotic tick ridden boy who, in another time, might have been referred to as “prosperously plump”. Not so fat as his companion, he lacked the certainty of a cardiac ward in his future. But soft easy living had molded the boy in its image: fragile and temperamental. All three boys belonged to a different social strata, and formed an uncommon alliance; anger, with its power to bind those of like-mind in common-cause, had brought them together. Surrounded by all three, sitting still on his swing. Daniel found himself the object of their inimical attention.

“Why do you always come here?” Thommy asked. He breathed heavily while gazing round the empty play-ground. “Looking for kids to fondle?”

“Ya disappointed, D? No kiddies today?” chirped Branch, snickering. He wore a glossy red chromatic t-shirt with the word “What” emblazoned across its front. Looking from Daniel and back to Thommy he itched at the exposed skin of his arms while shifting his weight nervously from foot to foot. Beakman on the opposite flank of Thommy stood silent and expressionless as a cow, the only audible impression of his presence, the constant grinding of teeth as he worked away at the protrusion of tobacco held in his cheek.

Daniel kicked his legs, causing the swing to sway slightly. “Maybe I enjoy irony?” he spoke to the blurred ground rushing under his feet. Wasting words on people who wished him harm was exhausting. Digging pointed toes into the mulch he stopped the rocking of the swing. Hopping off his seat he then picked up his bag and slung it over his shoulder. He kept a level eye on all the boys aside from Beakman who stood taller than himself. Taking his back-pack from his shoulders he held it in front of his chest with both hands and looked at it quizzically. The odd gesture drew everyone’s attention to its matte black shape. “You know, I never thought this brand was ever any good, but my sister kept insisting, it’s the best. Costs three times more than the no-name version that looks similar—did you know that?” Daniel looked round at the trio, holding out the bag.

Thommy’s brow furrowed. “The hell are you on about?”

“No really, it is,” said Daniel, holding out the bag with a salesman’s can-you-believe-it expression and tone, “and you know the dumbest thing?”

Branch’s eyes shifted from Daniel to Thommy and back. “Seriously the fuck are you on about? We don’t give a shit about-”

Daniel interrupted, “The dumbest thing is, I’m such a huge nerd, I checked up on the manufacturer, and would you believe—it’s actually the same bag? Here look.” Daniel lobbed the bag at Branch. Instinctively the boy raised his hands to catch the thrown object. With his hands up and his guard down, Daniel kicked, hard as he could, into the boy’s unprotected groin, sending his nuts—Daniel hoped—somewhere up near the back of his throat. The boy went down making a sound akin to a pinched balloon releasing air. Shaken by their fallen comrade’s demise the two standing boys looked at his curled form. Daniel just shook his head. “I know… It’s ridiculous…”

The sudden ferocity of Daniel’s attack had momentarily pacified his assailants, but once the initial shock had worn off, rage replaced complacency, and they pounced.

The blows fell and Daniel reflected on what had brought him here. It was strange how violence could—at times—make perfect sense. He didn’t blame them.

He’d fought Thommy but the boy had knocked him down and his excessive weight kept him pinned to the ground. This allowed Beakman to beat away at his unprotected face. Without needing to look, he could tell the mounting damage was something he wouldn’t be able to hide from his sister—this time. Another fist connected with the crown of his skull and it rebounded off the ground behind his head. Pain blossomed behind his eyes and he saw stars: flashes of light. With his vision blurring, he fully expected a final concussive impact. Daniel kept open his swollen eyes and waited for the final strike. He wanted to see the end coming. Wished for it to release him from misery, into black nothingness. But Dean paused, fist raised, his face overcome with an idea.

“I think our boy looks thirsty.” Humphreys grunted in acknowledgment from atop Daniel. “I think he needs a drink.”

“You’re sick!” spat Daniel. New fear sobered his mind and he thrashed and flailed under his heavier opponent’s rolls of flesh, but Thommy was immovable. He achieved nothing.

“Pinch his nose, Thommy,” Beakman commanded in his woodsy drawl. Humphrey’s fat fingers stinking of onions clamped Daniel’s nose. Beakman started making sounds at the back of his throat like a clogged sink draining the last of its water. “Hold him still,” said Beakman, through a mouth half of equal parts spit and chew juice.

The last burst of resistance had drained what little energy Daniel had left. Accepting the situation’s futility, he chose to lie still as possible extending how long he could hold his breath, but the urge to breathe became overwhelming. A fire soon burned in his lungs, desperate for air. Anticipating Daniel’s breaking point, a leering Beakman positioned over Daniel’s head drew one final disgusting pull of air through his nostrils.

“I got your drink ready, D, say-”

He never did finish his sentence. Daniel was just able to register in his vision’s periphery the swinging fist. It slammed hard into Beakman’s temple. The blow connected so fiercely Beakman’s head cranked to the side and the boy dropped unconscious. The light in his eyes extinguished. His head landed next to Daniel face down. No longer in control of his jaw the vile liquid intended for Daniel began to pool around his face, draining slowly from his mouth like an oil spill, soaking the mulch he’d passed out in and leaking into his blond hair. Thommy who’d until this point focused solely on keeping Daniel pinned, looked up.

“What the fu-” He was the second to not finish his sentence. The boot connected flat with his face. Daniel could hear the wet snapping of cartilage and breaking bone, watched as the boy’s nose exploded, felt the spray of blood sting his eyes. Thommy went tumbling backwards off him, clutching his ruined face. “Here little pig pig piggy pig, come ere boy.” Daniel identified the taunting voice of his savior. Milton. Stepping over Daniel he leapt on Thommy, who’d fallen on his back. Descending into a crouched position with a foot on either side of his victim, Milton grabbed a fistful of Thommy’s shirt, using it to pull the disoriented boy off the ground. He began swinging. Thommy feebly attempted to block the onslaught with an arm but Milton easily passed the guard and punched through it, again… and again… and again…

Daniel watched from propped elbows in disbelief as the older boy turned the other’s face into a horror show. Watching the carnage Daniel’s stomach churned. In no version of his desired revenge was there ever this level of ultra violence.

“Pu… Pu… Please,” a battered Thommy pleaded through blood and spittle. Milton’s face, which had remained chillingly impassive during the course of the beating, split into a wide toothy grin.

“You’ll have to speak up—what was that?” Milton took the boy’s stained shirt in both hands and pulled him upright. Cocking his head to the left he brought Thommy’s lips in line with his ear. “Again please, did you need something?” In a heart-beat Milton had transformed: remorseless reaper became attentive angel. Allowed enough time to catch his ragged intermittent breath, Thommy wept.

“We didn’t know,” he began to sob, “We’re-”

Milton savagely backhanded the boy, cutting him off. He then drew their faces closer still—nearly touching—and screamed.

Cringing, Daniel slammed his hands over his ears. The loss he felt when Milton cried out was terrible, like dreams, still-born. Overwhelmed, Thommy’s eyes bugged in their sockets and rolled back; he went limp. Holding the boy for a moment, no longer screaming, Milton then let the dead-weight slip from his fingers. The body hit the ground with a loud thwump.

The sound managed to pierce a paralyzing fog that had rendered Daniel’s brain a mute observer. He sharply inhaled, having forgotten to breathe somewhere amidst the madness. With his hands flopping from his ears to his sides, on his knees he took in the playground around him: Beakman face down, black tar oozing around him. Branch curled in a ball moaning, grasping his genitals. And Thommy, looking like several stacked bags of flour laid out on his back, blood running freely from his broken nose and ruined features.

“Need a hand? You look like hell.”

“Huh… what…?” Dazed, Daniel looked at the outstretched hand in front of him.

“Your face man, those bastards really laid a whooping on you before I showed up.”

“I… Yes, thank you.” Daniel touched a hand to his face and pulled it away fast. It hurt, badly. He took the bloodied slick hand of Milton and stood up. He felt strange, light-headed, grateful, horrified. A wave of nausea tossed his stomach and he pressed both hands to his knees. Hunched over he closed his eyes to stop the spinning. He did not wish to join the others on the ground. Speaking sideways he asked, “Why did you help me?”

Milton cracked another famous grin and smacked Daniel on his hunched over back. “Well, I’m just your guardian angel, buddy.”

Daniel raised his head, looked into Milton’s radiant smile—and threw up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter.2 Family Reunion

Daniel watched as the window’s cold early light crept across his bed covers. He imagined it as some hungry beast, consuming his body. First his legs, then his chest. Given time, it would devour him completely. Kate stirred in the bed that sat next to him, rolled over, but never woke. She could always sleep longer than him. Sharing the room with her irked him. He hated giving up his privacy. In their previous home, before the court case, he’d had all the necessities: walk in closet, walk in shower and king sized bed. A home so big he could actually go the whole day without ever having to see anyone. Although he only ever avoided Grant.

Tossing off the covers, he grimaced as his bare feet touched the cold wooden floor boards. Add another thing to the list of past comforts gone. No more heated floors. On his parents list of prerequisites for their new place they’d written only two: cheap and can we move in now? Looking around his room, he was sure they’d succeeded in checking off both. The previous tenants, swiftly ejected for defaulting on rent, must have dreamt of turning this room into a nursery, but they’d succeeded in only half accomplishing the project. One wall showcased an amateurish collage of farm animals. A happy smiling cow stood next to a tree in a green field. At its feet, a family of six happy smiling yellow blobs marched in a line. Or, chicks maybe, he couldn’t tell. Above, in a too blue sky, a happy smiling bird with no eyes flew over their heads. Everything happy. The other three walls they’d not even started. They retained the colour chosen by the tenants before them. Black.

He remembered standing in the room with his mom when they’d first come to look at it with the building manager. Daniel was certain, listening to the two women talk, he’d never heard the word potential used so many times. At least it came with the two steel frame beds and a large dresser with a mirror. They needed anything they could get after Grant had sold all the furnishings in their last home to cover as much of the debt as possible. He hated how Grant always called it that, the debt. As though he, his mom and Kate had all together racked up the additional costs that sank them so badly after people first started getting sick. He’d bought it all: fancy cars, business trips to warm places, endless designer clothing, and always for the same reason. Grant would say there was a certain lifestyle expected of him. He had to keep up appearances. From a young age Daniel always wondered, how when he grew up, would he afford all the appearances? Turned out the answer to that question is most people can’t, unless by fraud.

After an insufferable shower where the water took two minutes before it heated up, Daniel got dressed and made his way downstairs. In the kitchen, Kate, his mom and Grant, all sat around a square table with round metal legs. A plastic stapled-on table-cloth decorated with oranges covered its surface. Leftovers again from the previous tenants, the table and the cloth.

“Hi, honey, did you sleep well?” His mom beamed with a smile that put the farm animals to shame.

“Still a little tired actually.” He pulled out the last remaining chair next to his sister and sat down.

“What’s for breakfast?”

“Just the basics I’m afraid: toast and fruit,” she chimed, pushing her chair back on her way to the kitchen. “But I can go shopping today. I want to take a look around the neighbourhood anyways.”

“It’s alright, Mom. I like toast.”

“Liar,” said Kate. She’d spoken with her head down. Eyebrows furrowed, focused on her e-reader. Swiping intermittently from right to left to turn the page.

“What are you talking about? I’ve always loved toast.”

“You love toast so long as it provides a medium for peanut butter. You love peanut butter, not toast.”

“That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.” After a pregnant silence, Daniel added, “Do we have any peanut butter…?”

His mother, slicing an apple, answered from the kitchen. “Well no, honey, that’s on the list for today. We have butter though. You like that don’t you?”

“Oh, yeah sure, no problem.” Daniel smiled at his mom, crushing the despondent feelings welling up that would prove his sister right. He attempted to ignore the smug expression she now wore while reading her book. “I really don’t mind you kn-” The doorbell rang.

Dropping off Daniel’s plate of toast and sliced apple in front of him, his mom stepped lightly by the kitchen table. “I wonder who that could be?” she said, her voice irritatingly coloured with a timbre that hinted she already knew the answer.

The door opened inwards and blocked Daniel from seeing who his mother spoke with. Grant, who’d been muttering angrily behind his newspaper, lowered it. Even Kate, whose attention could be no more ripped from a book than a sword from a stone, looked up in curiosity. It wasn’t possible. Daniel’s heart raced. Grant had told him it was necessary. He’d even said goodbye. But there was no mistaking that hopeful jingle of metal. That happy panting behind the door. He ran from his seat nearly knocking his mother over. “Lincoln!” he exclaimed, elated. The black lab stood outside the door. Upon seeing Daniel he wagged his tail so hard it bowed his whole body back and forth. Taking the leash from his mother as she scratched a signature on the delivery man’s paper, he led the dog inside. “Can you believe it?” he said, wrestling the dog to the floor behind the door while it licked his face and nipped him affectionately.

“No, I can’t,” said his sister, sounding worried, looking at Grant.

“That makes two of us.” The anger evident in Grant’s voice was barely contained. The happy reunion ended as soon as the door closed. “Beth, what the fuck did you do!” The pleased-with-herself expression slid from her face as though she’d never known it.

“I thought we could afford it, Grant? Lincoln’s a part of the family. We kept the Lexus. I thought we could keep Lincoln,” she offered with wounded hope, “for the children?”

“I need the Lexus, Beth, for appearances. That dog is useless. It’s just gonna cost us money we don’t have.”

“Lincoln’s more useful than you,” said Daniel, jumping up to stand protectively in front of his pet. The dog cowered behind him, confused and worried by the raised voices.

Grant stood up. He slammed his hand on the table, rocking the glasses set out for breakfast. “You spoiled little shit. I got that dog for you.”

“So you could give him away, because you got caught for approving bad drugs. That’s crueler than ever having him.”

“How dare you. I put food on this table. You owe everything you’ve ever had to me.”

“Grant, please.” Beth stepped between the two. “We can make it work.”

Grant moved threateningly from the table towards the door. Standing in front of his wife he held up his index finger inches from her face. “No, we can’t, Beth. We can’t make it work. You’ve fucked us. Now we’re even more screwed if I don’t find a job this month. Get out of my way.” Beth stood aside, back to the door with her head down, hands clasped in front of her. “Now I’m going to get changed and go out to look for a job, so this family can continue to eat. When I get back downstairs you kids better be gone for school. It’s enough you’re ungrateful; I’m not gonna raise idiots.”

Daniel stepped forward confronting Grant’s anger. Blocking his way up the stairs. “You think you’re tough, because you yell, because you can make people feel horrible.” He jabbed a finger into his face, as Grant had to his mother. “You’re just a coward, a coward with a loud-”

Grant slapped the hand out of his face and grabbed Daniel by his neck slamming him backwards into the wall.

Beth screamed.

“No, you little idiot,” said Grant, choking his son and forcing him down the wall. “I’m tough, because I’m bigger and stronger than you. You better be gone when I get downstairs.” Grant released his grip and stood up. “Or I swear to God…” With his path clear, he stomped up the stairs.

“Excited for school?” asked Kate from the table.

Daniel, rubbing his raw neck, hunched over on the floor, looked at Kate. She sat with her face propped between balled fists. The ghost of a wan smile on her lips.