The Lies We Tell The Children, That We Don’t Know Are Lies
He is standing near the window. She is sitting in a chair. The letter is sitting on the desk. She wants to reach out to it, fold it back into its envelope, and back into its hiding place… wanting to fold the piece of paper, and him, and herself, back, to a time before any of this had happened.
She can’t, though. She can’t lift her hands, or move from the seat.
“What are you going to do?” She says. Terrified. Her voice catching.
“I don’t know.” He replies.
He is looking at the glass of the window. It is dark outside, and it has been raining. Still is, but the direction of the wind has changed, and only occasionally do drops hit the pane. Drops of water sit fat on the glass, each of them reflecting the same light, coming in from outside.
In the dark, in the room, she can hear the television downstairs. The sound of childish chatter.
She clears her throat, and starts to say something. But she falters.
“I said I don’t know.” He responds to the sound.
“It isn’t…” She begins, then: “You don’t understand.”
He turns to face her, and his expression makes her flinch back in the chair, a captive audience.
“I wish I didn’t understand.” He snarls. “I understand perfectly.”
He picks up the piece of paper, glances over it, standing close to her, now. She knows that with a motion, with the will, she could leap out of the chair, throw herself at him, if she could somehow find the strength. Tear herself out of this chair and end this in a moment. But she can’t. The bonds hold her fast.
“I’m sorry.” She cries, and lowers her head, a sob escaping. He throws the paper down, and moves away again. Her tears just make him more angry and agitated.
“You have to remember, I’m really very intelligent indeed.” He says, as coldly as he can manage, looking out between the raindrops. “In the same second, I can see the world we live in as a 3-dimensional echo or a 2-dimensional plane, or a sequence of binary calculations operating at an atomic scale. Or imagine we’re all in a book. That all of this is happening on a speck on the eyelash of a cat in a box. Or in a drop of water, sliding against an infinite number of other drops of water, each of them containing it’s own reality.
Think about that. Then think about how many times you’ve found yourself with so many thoughts rushing through your head that it paralysed you. And imagine what it must be like for me right now, when I’m so very, very clever.”
“I know. I’m sorry.” She says. She raises her head, as he lowers his. “I didn’t mean you weren’t smart enough to understand.”
“What about me? What about your husband? What about your kids?”
“This isn’t about…”
“The truth is,” he interrupts, “and you should consider the concept of truth for a moment, because it’s clear you’ve got a blind spot there. But the truth is that we’re all just idiots. Barely evolved, barely capable, little more than animals. We’ve got this concept of society that we’ve developed, but it’s just to maintain the fragile balance between our urges and our emotions…”
“Honey…” She starts, and he turns and raises a hand. She stops.
“… Because without that balance, everything is wrong. With it, there’s some vague pretence of order, but without it, there’s nothing…
Just chaos!” He says, his voice raising and cracking just so, not a shout, but loud enough. The television downstairs persists, but the voices stop.
They both freeze. She considers getting out of the chair again, and tests herself against her restraints, but they are stronger than she is. She knows she has to sit this out. She’s bought it, so now it’s hers.
The chatter starts up again.
“Look!” he says, his attention back on the tiny points of light on the glass. She squints, and tries to see over there in the half-light. But she knows it is pointless. It is too far, and she never can see exactly what he sees, anyway. “It looks, at first, like the droplets of water are random, but if you step back a little way, you can see that there is a pattern. They cluster in some places, sure and it’s a complicated arrangement, but it works. Each drop sits a certain distance away from all of the ones closest to it. They maintain their distance…”
“Michael…” She says, nerves jangling.
“Madeleine?” He replies, and she regrets the day he asked her her name, and she told him. There are other names she would rather he call her. Something in his tone makes her rethink her position. He hasn’t turned around, and she stares at the back of his head. A slither of indignation – one she is not sure she is entitled to – slides its way in.
“…The droplets vibrate toward each other, because it’s what they do. They don’t know any better. But for as long as they keep apart, equilibrium is maintained, and everyone gets to stay where they are.”
They persist in silence for a few moments, him looking away from her intently. She can’t see what he sees, but when she turns her head, she notices the shape of the window panes, and the tiny circles of water , projected onto the wall, with him silhouetted in the middle. The lighter circles from the raindrops don’t appear to be moving, there, but as she watches, two that were very close to each other suddenly join, and burst, a dark streak shimmering down the wall.
“And see:” He says, his voice so loud and sudden, making her jump a little. “When two drops do get too close to one another, and break each other’s surface tension, they last a fraction of a second, before gravity takes hold. They burst, and take out all of the little drops close by, and every other one in their path.”
At this point, she has heard enough. Guilt and anger prickle and join on her cheeks, and she stands up, sharply, no longer locked in place by her peculiar sense of duty.
“That isn’t what people are!” She explodes. “That isn’t how it works!”
“Yes it is.” He says, and as always he sounds a lot older than he is.
“What are you going to do?”
“What do you think?”
“I don’t know. I never know, Michael.” She resents the hell out of the tears burning her eyes. “You’re so different. I never know what you’re thinking.”
He turns to face her.
“Should I call you a whore?”
“No.” She says, sniffing, the back of her hand across her nose.
“But aren’t you a whore?”
She shakes her head at that, eyes fixed at a point somewhere to his left, but doesn’t say anything. Until she does.
“It doesn’t matter. You don’t call me that.” She expects to see a sneer, but instead sees his face open in a way she wasn’t expecting. “I’m still your mother.”
“Okay.” He says, and almost seems relieved. “Do you love him?”
“It’s not like that.” She says.
“What about dad?” He asks. “Don’t you love him any more?”
“I don’t know. It’s not like that.” She says, feeling heavy and stupid and mean. She looks at the letter. “What are you going to do?”
“It isn’t up to me.” He says.
“Isn’t it?” She replies.
“Mother, I’m twelve years old. Nothing is up to me.” He sighs, and she almost starts crying again, at the casual look of resignation on his face. “I do whatever my parents want me to.”
She bows her head again, and this time she towers over him, even still. But the emotion she feels is the first simple one she has felt in a long time. Her lips crease up of their own accord, and somewhere deep down she realises that if she starts crying now, she might never stop.
“Right.” She manages, and it is a tiny, pathetic sound.
“It’s up to you.” He says, and turns back to the window, and though she wants to hold him, she doesn’t.
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