And then the whistle blew, the results were in and everyone sat there waiting. There could be only one. The weight of the world was on everyone’s shoulders. Until the name was drawn and the weight of the people passed over onto the chosen one.
And then she held the tip of the sword to his neck, softly. The skin dented but did not break but he still fell to his knees and wept.
The man in his mid 20’s is presented wearing a stiff white shirt with a bright blue necktie. He sits behind an oak wood desk, the paperwork covering it seems to be placed in even piles as a laptop has been placed to one side, idle.
The sound of a clock ticking in the otherwise silent room is piercing. The two occupants sit across from each other, sizing up who might be the first to speak.
“So, tell me about yourself?”
Curious eyes dart from the window to the eyes of the man behind the desk. There is a head tilt that suggests the man is being judged. Curious, dark eyes dropping to land on the file on the desk that reads: MILLS, Alexander.
“Shouldn’t you already know?”
“I’d like to hear it from you. In your own words, Alexander.”
“Alex.” Dark eyes revert back to the window, looking out at the view of the City.
“Okay. Alex. Do you want to tell me what brings you here to my office?” The man keeps his gaze on Alex, trying to gauge the boy’s reaction.
The following silence is heavy, weighing on the man’s shoulders. He sits in thought, wishing he had forgone the necktie – if only to not feel so constrained.
A buzzer sounds to mark the end of the hour, “same time next week, Alex?” the man says with a sigh. The only response is a lift of one shoulder, as Alex stands and leaves the room without a word.
The door opens, a woman with mousey hair wearing a warm cardigan leads in a boy of 17. He towers over her as he passes by and walks through the threshold. His posture straight, eyes determined he walks straight over to the armchair in the middle of the room.
“Good afternoon, Alex.”
“Doc,” Alex replies with a slight nod of the head.
“How have you been since we spoke last week?” The man asks with bated breath.
“That’s good to hear… what have you been up to since we last spoke?” he prompts.
Alex maintains eye contact as he sits there silently contemplating how much of a reply he wants to give. His eyes trailing to the Doctors collar and tie – it’s a dull red colour today.
“School.” Alex responds with a casual shrug, “that’s pretty much it.”
“You like school?”
“It’s alright. Same shit, different day. The teachers don’t care, why should I, right.” No hint in his voice that his statement is a question.
“What about your friends? You don’t see them outside of school?” The question is asked in such a way, it’s as though he is unsure of how it will be received.
Alex’s gaze shifts and drops to his shoes, “Not really.”
The door flies open, banging against the wall as it swings with surprising speed. With a startled jump and a raised head, the man looks up, speechless.
Alex stands in the threshold, face like thunder. He grabs the door and forces it shut, throwing himself in the chair opposite the desk.
“Alex? Is everything alright?” The doctor asks, head tilting to one side, unsure what may have caused such a reaction.
“Why do you do that? Why does everyone do that!? The sympathetic head tilt thing like you understand my life. You don’t even see me! No one sees me. I’m just a number to you, a special case, a “looked after child” whose mother can’t put the bottle down long enough to remember she has a kid.”
“What makes you think… Has something happened to make you think that?”
Alex looks up, eyes dark as he makes shaky eye contact. His lips form a tight line, the tension in his shoulders almost painful as he sits ramrod straight in the chair. Taking a breath to try and regain some composure, Alex returns his gaze to the window. Looking out at the City skyline he speaks, “I got a detention today because I didn’t do the homework and wouldn’t tell them why I didn’t have it.” He scoffs, “Detention. I’m 17, not 7.”
“Would you like to tell me why you didn’t do it? We haven’t discussed your new placement yet, have you settled in alright?”
“It’s loud and busy. Hard to concentrate on anything other than keeping out of people’s way. It’s fine. The best thing for me, right…” Another scoff.
“Alex, I want to start straight off from where we left things last week. I’d like you to tell me more about how you’re managing to settle in, in your new placement.”
“Like what? It’s not like if I say I don’t like it, there’s anywhere else for me to go.”
The man leans forward, hands clasped together over the desk, “Are you saying you don’t like it?”
Alex shrugs, “It isn’t home.” His eyes raise to meet the Doctor’s gaze before immediately dropping back down to his shoes.
“Last week, you acknowledged that where you are now is for the best. Do you believe that?”
“No. It wasn’t even that bad, we were fine. We were coping.”
“At home, you mean?”
“Yeah. We had issues but doesn’t every family?” Another shrug, “We had each other’s back. Now we’re both alone. They won’t let me see her. That isn’t the best thing for either of us.”
“Do you know why you aren’t able to see your mum, Alex?”
“She’s in rehab. Cold turkey, right. Treating us like I’m what she’s addicted to.”
“That may change, in time. Once she’s recovered. They might allow you to visit or to phone her. In time.”
“How long you been doing this, doc?”
The doctor flushes pink, clears his throat, “I graduated just over 6 months ago.”
Alex doesn’t answer, just sits contemplatively.
“How’s school been going?”
Alex shifts in the chair, “Fine.”
“Care to elaborate?”
“It’s fine. People mostly just leave me to get on with whatever. They don’t bother me.”
“Do you socialise with the other students?”
“They look at me weird. Like I’m damaged or like they might catch something just for being in the same room as me.”
“How does that make you feel?”
Alex looks up, an amused look on his face, lips curling up into a smirk, “Really? You’re going with that cliché?”
Once again, the doctors face turns pink. He laughs, embarrassed to be called up on using such a phrase.
Alex turns his head, observing the landscape. He has become drawn to the view, often getting lost in thought as he watches the clouds move.
“Invisible. It makes me feel invisible.”
The room holds a young man, in his late teens. He wears faded jeans with a short-sleeved shirt, band logo prominent. He sits in the chair that he has come to think of as ‘his’, a small smile on his face. Across from him is a young man, not all that much older, a white, crisp shirt tucked under a grey waistcoat, looking much more relaxed than previous weeks.
“They said I can speak to my mum in a couple of weeks,” Alex explains, smile growing into a grin.
“That’s good news, Alex. On the phone?”
“Yeah, they said she’ll be able to make a call to the group home and then I can talk to her.”
“I can see you’re happy about that.”
“Yeah. This group home won’t be forever. I’ll be 18 in a couple months. School will be over, finally and I can get my own place and when my mum comes home, I can see her again. I can help her.”
“One step at a time, Alex. She may be doing well right now, but it can be different once people try to return to ‘real life’. It might not be as straight forward as you want it to be. What do you want to do when you leave school?”
“I just need to get a job. Like labouring or something.”
“What about college or University?”
“Doc, I grew up in the worst neighbourhood and go to the worst school in our area. Kids like me, we don’t have the same opportunities that kids like you have. I just want a job and my own place. Then everything will be fine.” His gaze once again, only on the clouds.
If anything in the above causes offence or does not ring true, it was not intended. I do not know what it is like to be in any of these situations, this is fiction and something I have written to try and practice writing dialogue.
“Why are you glaring at me?”
“I’m hoping you’ll spontaneously combust.”
“…I’ve had a bit of a shit year. I got divorced.”
“Sorry to hear that.”
“I’m not. Bastard cheated.”
As she approaches the group, she slows down to debate whether to keep on walking silently or pause to exchange polite chit-chat. Hearing the conversation topic, her eyes narrow. The woman, well known to her, makes eye contact. There is a smile on the woman’s face that fades once she realises it is not returned, “You okay, love?”
The girl tilts her head briefly to one side, “Yeah, fine.”
“Why you glaring at me?” is asked with a humorous snicker, “ya know, if the wind changes, it’ll stay like that.”
“Maybe that’s just my face.”
The group dissolves into laughter, assuming the conversation is in jest. As if by unconscious consensus, the group starts to walk towards the centre of town.
The woman slows, walking towards the girl, “You’re still glaring at me. Why?”
“I’m hoping you’ll spontaneously combust.” The response is said so sarcastically it causes pause, the woman startled by the harshness of the words, “Dave left you?” the girl stands her ground, maintaining eye contact as she asks the question.
She spits out a defensive response, “I left him. He cheated!”
“Wasn’t he married to someone else when you met him? You were the other woman, right?”
“And you and Paul, you know each other quite well, right? Despite the fact that he’s been in a relationship with a friend of yours for the last decade…”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, hun.” The woman states, eyes lowing to the floor.
“Well… I’m just pointing out the fact that criticising someone for being the other woman when you have been in that position yourself, and continue to be in that position despite recent events and despite the fact that Paul’s partner is a ‘friend’ of yours… it kinda makes you sound like a hypocrite”
“Don’t shit stir. You’ll only end up hurting her.”
“Oh, she already knows. You don’t honestly think she wouldn’t?”
A defeated sigh leaves the woman, shoulders slumped, “Look, hun…”
The girl jumps in, interrupting the woman for the second time in as many minutes, “I’m just saying what everyone else is no doubt thinking. Only difference is, I dislike you just enough to voice it.” The girl walks closer, a hairs breath between them, “She deserves better. Paul is Paul, no one would be shocked to hear he has a wondering eye. It’s the fact that you call yourself her friend that gets me. That’s kind of the lowest blow. The kind that’s deserving of being glared at. In my opinion.”
“Sometimes I wonder about my life. I lead a small life – well, valuable, but small – and sometimes I wonder, do I do it because I like it, or because I haven’t been brave? So much of what I see reminds me of something I read in a book, when shouldn’t it be the other way around? I don’t really want an answer. I just want to send this cosmic question out into the void. So good night, dear void. ”
“Do you ever feel you’ve become the worst version of yourself? That a Pandora’s box of all the secret, hateful parts – your arrogance, your spite, your condescension – has sprung open? Someone upsets you and instead of smiling and moving on, you zing them.”
“The odd thing about this form of communication is that you’re more likely to talk about nothing than something. But I just want to say that all this nothing has meant more to me than so many somethings.”
There’s a sense of deja vu as she drives by the abandoned garage that sits between the two neighbouring villages.
It feels like so long since she was last home, her need to leave had been overpowering. The road seems a lot shorter than she remembers it.
Taking a right turn she takes in all the familiar sights and wonders if it is possible that not one thing has changed.
The church sits as peacefully as it ever did. The school kids zoom by on bicycles as the college kids wait at the bus stop.
Driving down by her first home is a ‘must’. Maybe that is the only change in this place. Practically a whole new house.
Of all the buildings, houses and shops surrounding her and her old home is the only noticeable, unrecognisable change.
She drives by and views it through her rearview mirror before moving on towards her destination.