When I get ready for bed I have to check the windows last. Well, I check them first and last. I pull the chrome latches towards me using all my weight. The frames groan with tension. There are three latches to check and I have to climb over my bed to reach them properly. Afterwards I roll back and close the door. I look under the bed and then in the cupboard. I can’t see anything—and I know there is nothing there—but I still pull the clothes to one side and then the other. The coat hangers clack against each other, revealing an empty white wall.
The therapist is making me do this. The writing, I mean. I feel stupid now, because the page looks empty and white. At least I’m looking at the screen instead of out the window. But saying that makes me look again. I’m scared I haven’t checked everything right. I start again.
I bounce on the balls of my feet because I have to check the top shelves of the cupboard too. Then I slide the mirrored doors closed and all I can see is my reflection. The skin over my right cheek, where Jack used his palm to shove me away, has faded from black to purple. My hair is limp, except for a crest that sticks up at the back where I’ve been leaning my head against the wall. The last time I showered was after the fight, that was five days ago.
This reflection should be different somehow. But it’s the same body, the same boxer shorts I’ve seen reflected back at me hundreds of times. I start to slap the skin on my legs—one slap on the left, then one slap on the right—like a march. I slap harder and harder until the skin flushes pink and then turns an angry red. I slap my stomach, my chest, and I don’t stop until my arms give out from exhaustion. My body is inflamed and at first every stretch of skin tingles, electric, but then I quickly lose feeling. This is the closest I can get to what I felt in my chest and my stomach that day on the street. Only the windows really matter, but all the rest helps somehow.
Barry. That’s my therapist. He sat me down and asked me what I wanted to talk about. So I asked him right back. He gave me one of those it’s-up-to-you-what-you-want-to-get-out-of-this kind of looks. Anyway, I’ve been sitting with this laptop on my knees for about four hours now, but I just keep staring at the window. Or the night behind the window. There are shapes out there. I know they are only silhouettes of what in the daylight is so familiar—like Alan’s barren mango tree next door—and I tell myself this over and over. But they insist on mutating into unrecognisable pieces of pure black. It feels like whatever is out there is waiting for me to open the windows, or fall asleep, so that it can fly in.
We were skating down Finn Street when it happened—me, Jack, and Cooper. I jumped off my board because Jack was making me laugh so hard, like he always does. He was doing it on purpose, trying to make me fall. During lunch, Mr Gregory had looked down his wrinkled nose at us, chiming about responsibility and maturity or something. The hairs protruding from his nostrils were flaring like mad, and so Jack made some comment about personal grooming and that’s when we legged it. Jack’s imitations of Mr G are deadly.
“I look forward to your—” he exaggerates the old man’s nasally pitch, “contribution today boys.”
Anyway, I jumped off my board because I couldn’t balance anymore. It was an effort just to suck some air in. Jack raced Coop to the end of the street. They were about halfway to the end, I was stopped, watching them. That’s when it hit.
It was just like in the movies when a piano drops from the sky. But there weren’t any of those last sounds of musical notes and it wasn’t a piano, it was a guy. Well, not even that. It landed so quick that I can’t remember if I saw the exact moment. I must have. But one second there was nothing there and the next there was a pile of what used to be a guy. That’s how I remember it. The head was there, facing me, but I couldn’t tell if the body was on its back or its front. There weren’t any eyes. Everything was all black and red. Not neatly severed. It looked like it had been turned inside out and then thrown off a balcony.
The world should have been silent—even if just for a second. But there were birds and cars and road works and the wind was disrupting the trees. And Jack was laughing. Like really laughing. The sound exploded in my ears; it was so loud and forceful. I looked up at him, he was pointing back at me. Blood was spattered on my jeans, lines of red were creeping along the bitumen towards my shoes. Jack’s laughter didn’t stop. I can still hear it now, hacking and hacking. My first instinct was to try and put the pieces back together. I’m embarrassed to write that down, but it’s true. I really wanted to, but I didn’t know where to start. I thought if I could do it before anyone arrived then everything would be okay. I guess I collapsed after that. The last thing I remember is Jack’s laugh. It’s the sound that keeps me awake. When I close my eye’s it’s all I can hear, the violent hack and hack and hack.
I’ve already taken the curtains down. When I was little I used to feel safe knowing that no one could see me. I would pull the curtains tight, and lay still under the blankets. But it’s different now. I feel safer when I’m looking out. My eyes adjust to the darkness, and I’m happy when everything’s still, as long as the windows are closed.
It gets hot. The longer I sit in bed the closer the walls feel. Sweat forms on top of my head and rolls down my face, sometimes it stings my eyes. I have a towel to sit on now, because I don’t want my sheets to start smelling. I keep telling Mum I’m okay, but I think she knows I’m not sleeping. Last night I tried to open one of the windows—just a little, to get some air—but once my hand was on the latch I pulled it towards me again. Tighter. Then I had to check back over my room to make sure everything was in its place. When I settled again on my bed, with my back against the wall and a pillow propping me up, I realised that in my peripheral vision I could see the door to my room and the window on the other side at the same time. I felt safer. I sunk further down into the pillow and watched the night.
I had tried to make myself cry, or feel sick, or anything. There had been glass on the road and it had cut into my hands when I collapsed. I didn’t notice until later. The glass must have been from the window he fell through or the balcony he hit on the way down. I didn’t think about it at the time, but I do now. Anyway, that’s why I have these bandages on, making it harder to type.
Most people say they feel numb from shock. But it wasn’t like that. I could feel all of it—all of it at once. I wanted to push everything away, and pull it all closer at the same time. When I looked back up, Cooper was disappearing around the corner at the end of Finn Street. Jack was turning to follow.
It was Mum who picked me up. Her arrival was understated compared to the red pulse of ambulance lights and their sirens, which sounded distant right up until the moment they were in front of me. One. Two. Three. Why were there so many vehicles when all they needed was that white sheet to spread over the remains?
Mum kept glancing at me on the drive home. Her face was frozen, but tears were streaming down her cheeks. I could tell she was trying to hold it in, trying not to sniff, but every few seconds her sharp inhale of breath gave away her distress. The car smelt like vanilla air freshener.
At the traffic lights she reached over and squeezed my knee. I didn’t say anything. I was thinking about funerals and pain and skating and flying and scenes in movies, and trying to think how people are supposed to react when someone dies. Every time I settled on an emotion, I was stuck with how to show it. I didn’t even know if it was going to do justice to anything I was feeling.
That night Mum cooked a roast. It was pork. She made fresh apple sauce and put the pot on the table right in front of me. There was still no conversation. Mum cut everything on my plate into tiny pieces. I tried to tell her my hands weren’t that bad. She looked at me, and then at Dad. Dad looked at her, and then at me. They didn’t even ask why I’d skipped school. The scraping of knives and forks on dinner plates was the only noise in the room. I got up and turned the TV on.
Footage panned from the penthouse of Finn Street Apartments down the length of the building, cutting away before getting to the road.
“James Lee Green has tragically taken his own life,” a reporter said.
A piece of pork crackling jarred my throat. The story jumped between shots of his performance at the MTV awards—girls screaming and reaching to touch him. Green offered his hand to the crowd. There was a close up of his face. His eyes were dark blue—almost grey.
My parents asked if I was okay, and I nodded. But I didn’t go back to the table, or watch the rest of the news. I walked into my room and closed the door. ‘Before and after’ images were playing in my head. I swayed slightly as I stood looking through the open curtains. Backward, forward, backward, forward. I wondered at what moment Green’s smiling eyes had been ripped away to leave those empty sockets. And if that brain—his brain—had time to form thoughts about the kid with his skateboard below, before it collided with the road and spattered on my jeans. But I guess it doesn’t really matter if it did. Or if he did. Or whatever. The sky outside was dark blue—almost grey. I slammed the windows shut.
It was the same sound. The same thump. Jack was rolling around on one of the foam mattresses on Maddi’s floor. He was trying to scare the girls. He said I must have looked like that when I was born—all covered in blood and squirming, like I didn’t know how to control myself. The look on my face, he said, he wished he’d caught on camera. I was sitting on a couch against the wall. Some of the girls sat fidgeting with their rings and bracelets. Maddi was flicking through a pile of DVDs. I couldn’t catch anyone’s gaze. Only Jack was laughing. Coop left the room. It was Maddi’s birthday party. It had been planned for weeks. Mum insisted that I call and cancel.
“You shouldn’t go out so soon,” she pleaded.
“What should I do so soon?” I asked.
She pursed her lips, shook her head, and grabbed the car keys from the kitchen bench.
The girls greeted me with soft eyes. No one wanted to smile in my direction. Hands moved slowly into chip packets and the crunch crunch of chewing was loud in the room. A phone beeped. I reached forward to check my screen. Jack was faster.
“It’s Mummy,” he said, “Mummy checking up already.” His voice was high.
I pulled the phone from his grip. There weren’t any new messages on the screen. Maddi’s mum came to tell us the barbecue was ready. Her heels clicked loudly on the wooden floor. Maddi looked up at her mum and smiled. It was genuine—the first I’d seen all day. I waited for everyone to file through the back door before following. Coop was helping at the grill with a pair of tongs. I stood beside him.
“Don’t worry man,” he said, “Jack’s hurting too.” He was whispering, but it was loud enough for everyone to hear.
I breathed in the smoky smell of cooked sausages. Jack was the first to step forward with a slice of bread. He took the meat from Coop and paused at the sauce table.
“Why don’t we put some music on?” said Mrs Young. She stepped back inside.
The laughter. It was back. It pulled my stomach right up into my chest. Jack held the tomato sauce bottle in the air like a trophy. I looked down. The red was spattered all over my jeans, my shirt too. I could feel the lines of thick liquid in my hair. I ran at Jack. Each hack and hack and hack I hit back hard into his face. I could still hear the sound ringing in my ears even when I knew he wasn’t laughing anymore. I knew the girls were screaming too and the bandages on my hands were flapping and I could smell vanilla and cooked meat and I couldn’t breathe and I was in pieces and my skin was tingling, but then everything was numb. Coop didn’t pull me off, or calm me down. He legged it.
My heart is racing now. Jack didn’t look like Jack when Maddi’s dad pulled me away. His face was so swollen I couldn’t see his eyes. There weren’t any, only empty sockets. I wonder what Jack was thinking while the sauce-covered kid tried to force the world and him into silence. Barry is going to read this. I thought only mental people went to therapists. Maybe I sound like a mental person. Maybe that’s what this writing is for. But I know there’s nobody under the bed, or in the cupboard, or in the top shelving. That doesn’t matter. It’s just the windows. I want to smash them into tiny bits. I do, but I’m frozen here, staring. I can keep watching, as long as I’m awake. And then I know nothing can surprise me. Mum’s awake now. The toilet just flushed. I can hear her footsteps moving down the hall. She’s paused outside my door, listening, waiting for the patter of keys on my laptop to stop.