Marie gave me a verbal beating. I got home after school on Monday, and she instantly pushed me aside to her and Simba’s bedroom, where she told me all about my rude, inconsiderate behavior. She couldn’t believe her own son would do something like that to our new guest, just abandon them… and so on.
She left the door ajar, and yelled louder than necessary, to make sure everyone in the house—Simba, Albert, the twins (not so much Felicia)—heard every single word. That was my real punishment: to have them hear mom punish me.
I didn’t say a word. I didn’t bother. I didn’t care. Fuck them, fuck her, I didn’t care. A sort of nihilistic serenity embraced me. I didn’t care, fuck yes. Mom could yell all she liked, and all that bothered me was having to sit there, bored, with my ears hurting of all her loud, disapproving words. I think she noticed this, because I saw this sudden flash of powerlessness in her eye. Yelling at me used to work. It used to send me crying to my room, and then make me come crawling back, pleading for forgiveness. When I got older, and stopped crying, I would instead be sort of dazed, withdrawn, and eventually, I would apologize. Now, now she could tell her words had close to no effect on me.
But then her gaze assumed this strange calm, and she lowered her voice, and said some final words, intended only for me. I didn’t listen. I choose to forget those words. However, her words wasn’t the point: it was all in her intonation. She reminded me, with her intonation, that her sharpest weapon wasn’t yelling, but acting in the background, manipulating the situation in her favor, play out people against each other. She could punish me without me knowing it. The tone of her voice told me I could expect more of that.
That evening, I spoke to Kris. He had been sleeping in my room alone this weekend. All his possessions lay scattered all over the floor, and he had moved some of my shit around. I decided to ignore this.
“So, you liked us so bad you decided to screw?” Kris said, sitting on his mattress and struggling with his socks, that——judging by his struggles——sat really tight.
“I’d like to talk to you about something”, I said, and closed the door behind me. I sat down on my bed. The sun had set an hour earlier, but some of its light still showed above the street lights. This was Tuesday, and we were all heading to bed early for school the next day.
“You slept under a bridge or what?”
I had the screwdriver in my pocket. I intended to give it to him.
Kris got one of his socks off. “Your mom didn’t do nothing but apologize for your behavior. Every meal, she said, ‘Oh, I’m so sorry Max isn’t here. He’s usually a good, good boy. All polite and calm and he doesn’t eat with his elbows on the table, and he’s house-trained too, believe it or not.’ ”
“Hey, Kris?” I said.
“I’d like to talk to you about something.”
“And what is that?”
I left my bed and sat down on the rug in the middle of the room. Kris and I are about the same height, but sitting on his mattress, he looked down on me. I went with Amanda’s advice: make him feel trusted. Sitting close, below him, talking in a confidential tone, I told him all I had to say.
I told him about my sleepwalking——how I strolled around in my sleep, wandered, silently. I told him about my old medications, and that I didn’t like them. I didn’t tell him about my brain degenerating into oatmeal. I told him about me roaming the house. I didn’t tell him about Felicia using me to acquire the bowl of cookies. I told him I liked to keep the door locked, keep my sleepwalking a secret, and that I had decided to trust him, even though we hardly knew each other. I displayed the screwdriver, and told him its purpose.
Afterwards, he just sat there, nodding, an ugly smirk on his face. Eventually, he said, “Sleepwalking, you say?” Like he only heard my very first sentence.
“Yes”, I said.
“You ever, like, done anything to anyone while walking?”
I didn’t want to know exactly what he meant by ‘anything’. “No”, I said. “I don’t think I notice people at all, when sleepwalking.”
“So, can I trust you with this? That you won’t tell anyone about it?”
He cocked his head. “Yeah, sure mate, whatever you say. And I’m a man of my word, believe you me.” He took the screwdriver from my hand.
“Good”, I said, getting up again. “I’m heading for the bathroom, and then we’ll sleep, alright?”
I went. I was dead scared he’d do something, tell someone, or mess with me, in one of the millions of ways possible. However, I realised another problem on my way to the bathroom: what if I had to pee in the middle of the night? Usually, I don’t, but what if I had to? I’d have to wake him up, request the screwdriver, and probably be forced to play some kind of cat and mouse game of his, where he ‘confirmed’ I wasn’t really sleepwalking. I got the impression he might be one of those people who like to indulge in such games.
On my way back to my room, I was sure he would have locked the door, that he already would be messing with me, laughing on the other side, making me plead… But the door was unlocked. Kris still sat on the mattress, only in his underwear, flipping through a book in front of him. I didn’t think he was the type who read much of anything.
He looked up, and said, “Should I lock it now?”
“Go ahead”, I said, and began to undress.
Kris locked the door, no fuss, no weird smiles, dead serious. He then lay down, at the same time I did, in my own bed. We didn’t talk anything that evening, or any evening after that, really. All he said was, “I snore, so watch out.”
And he didn’t lie.
All this unsettled me in ways I didn’t anticipate. I believe I’d preferred if he’d smiled, made silly jokes, messed around, or watched me while I walked, and when I woke up told me I was ‘interesting’ to observe. But none of that happened. The next morning, I felt I’d been walking, but Kris didn’t make a single comment, or act like anything in any way strange had happened during the night. We got up, he unlocked the door, and handed me the screwdriver. Then we had breakfast.
Oh, and one other thing. This morning at the breakfast table, I realized I was attracted to Maya. I hate it, but I can’t deny it. She, there, hair undone and in a wide t-shirt which the morning sun, like, made glow… I hate it, and I’m disgusted by myself. She’s family. This is someone I meet at Christmas, on fiftieth birthdays. However, to be fair, she’s my dad’s dad’s sister’s son’s daughter. It’s not like we’re closely related. Still, I feel sick.
And a third, unsettling thing: Simba has found God. Maybe Marie made it happen, I don’t know, but it’s clear he reveres Albert, The Man with the Pig’s Heart. They have some kind of history together, I’ve understood. Something to do with their college years… I don’t know what happened back then, all I know is that Simba never disagrees with Albert, that he makes sure to be the one to hands Albert the milk, that he makes sure to cook Albert all his favorite dishes, and clean his dishes, and play Albert’s favorite music, which happens to be atonal jazz, which I can’t stand.