Archive for November, 2014

Callum

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on November 19, 2014 by ofherbsandaltars

When people talk about irrevocable acts, about things that you do and can never take back, things that ruin your life forever, they mostly talk about murder. I used to dream about committing murders all the time, not so much about the murder itself, but about the consequences. Either running from the law with this terrible feeling of impending doom, or the guilt and horror of knowing that a body covered in evidence lies buried at the bottom of the garden, just waiting to be uncovered. Sometimes I would dream of vengeful spirits, of the furious souls of those I’d killed, haunting me eternally until I killed myself as well. But I never knew that the irrevocable act I would commit would be the exact opposite of murder. I never knew that the act which would ruin my life, was not the taking of a life, but the creation of one.

I never liked children – I certainly never wanted any. Never even thought about having any, because why would I? Why would I waste any thoughts at all on something so utterly dreary? Whenever you meet someone else’s baby, the novelty wears off in all of thirty seconds, but those poor fucks are stuck with the thing forever. And the full ghastliness of that situation doesn’t really assault you, until it’s you that’s in the middle of it.

I got pregnant at 33, by an earnest idiot of a mechanic, who thought it was the best thing that had ever happened to anyone. He’d just gotten some kind of promotion and was all puffed up with ridiculous masculine pride, the self-importance of being able to take care of us, to take care of his family – every time he said those words his stupid ape eyes would light up with idiotic joy, because it was the only thing he was good for in life, that reeking lump of a man, just another jangling link in a chain of bad genetics. But I didn’t hate him back them, not quite, and I think between the hormones and his happiness I was swept along in the whole stupid lie of it. My mum was already dead by then, but his mum was delighted, kept telling me that 33’s a good sort of time to do these things, the best time really, after you’ve led your own life but not so late your eggs go strange, and I never heard the insidious hidden meaning in this, the blunt truth glossed over by rapidfire words of comfort, over tea and custard creams. After you’ve led your own life. That part was literal, but I never heard it, not until it was too late.

You start seeing yourself the way everyone else sees you, and it’s a bit novel, a bit strange, and like playing any kind of a rare role, you get swept along with the whole sentimental theatrics of it. The new mum, the glowing, adorable, dewy-eyed pregnant lady. Your life is never worth more than it is at that moment – if you were on the Titanic they’d be helping you into the lifeboats before anyone else on the ship. Everyone loves somebody pregnant, and it gives you licence to do anything you like, to eat icecream for breakfast, to go shopping in reindeer slippers because your feet hurt, to cry at Sainsbury’s adverts or to throw a plate at your boyfriend’s head for no reason at all, and no one ever seems phased, because you’re pregnant, you’re precious, you’re the vital, mysterious vessel from which all life springs. Dave’s mum insisted on taking pictures every time she came around, recording every second of the ‘journey’, the point when our ‘new lives’ truly began – family photos and custard creams, rose tinted tales of labour and breastfeeding and a glowing maternal love that would be greater, more powerful than anything I had ever felt before. There were the signs though, when Dave and Sheila weren’t around, when the custard creams and sappy tales weren’t glossing over the truth – dark signs of what was to come. Times when you begin to realise you’re being duped, that the people around you, it’s not optimism – they’ve been overtaken by base biological imperatives, by stupid birthday card clichés and faulty nostalgic memories – they’re blinded to logic, blinded to truth. I was never comfortable, when I was alone, with all that mummy shit. When I was alone I stopped feeling glowing and mystical and instead felt like a big fat cow who’d been duped into playing lead role in the stupidest pantomime on Earth. Those times, I’d often have a glass of wine, which I would wash up before Dave came home, so that for half an hour I could pretend it wasn’t all happening, could pretend I was still myself, in my own body, in my own life, and that I had any kind of freedom left at all.

When the baby came I actually felt relieved, for a while, because the fucking thing was out of me and at least I had my own body back and I could leave the baby with Dave for an hour or two, and I could have a glass of wine without everyone looking at me like I’d just shot the pope. But that feeling quickly fades, because you soon learn they’re a lot louder, a lot messier and stinkier and uglier, once they’re outside your body, and the novelty of the role’s wearing thin now. And at the same time, the role becomes full time, becomes demanding, becomes exhausting. Everyone you’ve ever met wants to come and see the baby, and you have to repeat the same thing over and over, bringing the baby out with your widest, most indulgent smile, trotting out all Sheila’s best clichés about maternal happiness and unconditional love, and every second fighting to keep it inside, keep it inside, never speak those words. Those words that you want to say, that you want to scream from the rooftops, that you want to accompany with the rhythmic pounding of a sledgehammer – I hate him. I wish he’d never been born. I wish I could give him back to the hospital. I wish I could leave this house, this life, and never, ever return…

In retrospect, I think I just knew something that everyone else didn’t. Maybe there was some kind of a mystical maternal bond after all, and if we’d been in some primitive tribe in the Amazon rainforest, my maternal feelings would have been listened to, and it all would’ve been alright. Because what I knew from the start, what I knew without truly knowing, was that the baby was wrong. That baby, little Callum, was broken inside, irrevocably. He would never be a functioning person, would never be another jangling Dave-shaped link in the genetic fence – he was a drain on resources and a blight on every life he touched; that was the unspoken truth. In the Amazon, Callum would’ve been left outside in the woods at night, to starve to death, to be eaten by animals, the way nature intended. But here, in England, surrounded by the throttling webs of social convention, of mystical motherhood and unbreakable family bonds, it was anathema to speak those words. Even by the time Callum was four, when everyone knew the truth, proved time and time again by doctors and specialists all over the country, I was never allowed to speak those words. Even Dave, in all his stupidity, all his dumb predictable dreams of teaching Callum football, teaching him to ride a bike and fix a car, all those things that Callum would never, ever do, he never once admitted that he hated him. The only things Callum ever did were shitting and eating and screaming, screaming like a maddened, possessed, lobotomised elephant, the kind of sound that could drive a person insane in minutes, and I’d been listening to it for years. Once Dave bought him a xylophone, and Callum smashed away at the same ear-shattering discords for half a day before I threw it out of the window and told Dave the baby had broken it himself. Often Callum tossed his own shit around, smeared it on his face, poked it into his earholes and then licked his hands clean, and again and again I wished we could just leave him out in the woods, for the animals to eat.

I would see my own unspoken feelings reflected back in the pitying eyes of all our friends, when they left our house and went home to their own ‘normal’ kids – thank God that isn’t us. Thank God we aren’t stuck with that kid forever. Dave’s sister had had one kid before we had Callum, and she always made it obvious that she wanted another, but after Callum turned out wrong she soon changed her tune, and I could easily imagine the discussions that had taken place behind closed doors – what if it’s genetic? What if we end up with a kid like that? Better to have no kid than a kid like that. Even other four-year-olds were horrified by Callum, because he looked like a normal kid, almost, and sometimes we’d be walking to the shops, and for once in his whole goddamned life Callum wouldn’t be screaming, and some other kid would be outside the shop, playing with a toy or struggling to unwrap a chocolate bar, and it would start talking to Callum. You see a lot of stupid kids, ones that are just slow in the head, and they have that same dead expression in their eyes as Callum, the same noisy mouth-breathing and snot-encrusted nostrils, but when you talk to them they can string a sentence together, so that’s what kids expect when they see Callum. But then he either tries to smack them in the face or to snatch their toy, or he just starts screaming like a brain-damaged pig that’s been half run over, and the normal kids are so horrified they run into the shop to find their mum, traumatised for life. And when the mum comes out and they walk past us, Callum still letting out those wordless, guttural, retarded howls, she’ll give me this tight, nervous little smile, and in her eyes I see a weird kind of awe. She thinks I’m some sort of angel, some sort of eternally patient, saint-like Good Samaritan, suffering through the trials of life with perfect grace, and caring sweetly for my soulless abomination of a child.

That look of awe drives me insane every single time, combined with the lobotomised grunting that won’t stop pouring out of Callum’s dribbling, twisted mouth. It makes me want to pick him up by the hair and slam his face repeatedly into the wall of the shop just to shut him up, rather than returning that tight, tense smile and continuing on through this lie of a life. I am not a Good Samaritan. I am not a fucking saint. I don’t even see why I should have to pretend to be a saint. Why is it so taboo to speak such an obvious truth? No one who has spent five minutes in Callum’s presence would ever want to look after him for a week, much less a lifetime. Why should I have to sacrifice my entire existence, any shred of happiness I might ever feel, just to keep alive a creature that should never have been born? It’s not like it makes Callum happy – Callum doesn’t even know what happy is. Callum is perfectly happy poking lumps of his own shit down his ear canals, and that says it all. I never wanted children, I came into this whole deal reluctantly, but I could have loved a normal child – a real child. A child with thoughts and emotions and words, a child with intelligence in its eyes rather than the vacant black cave that yawns behind Callum’s. A child with a soul and a future – a child that wasn’t empty inside. I could have been swept along in that continuing fantasy – homework and boardgames and holidays to Butlins, reliving the joys of youth through the burning spark of my loving, bright-eyed offspring. But Callum…there’s nothing about Callum that anyone could even tolerate, much less love. The worst thing is that physically, he’s fine. Healthy as a horse. Callum could live to be 103. If he was one of those children who fizzled out and died, maybe then I could love him, in his weakness, in the brief span of his tragic existence. But Callum doesn’t even have that going for him.

I began to see my own future spreading out in front of me, this endless, unbearable desert of Callum’s lobotomised shrieking, Callum’s shit-caked ears. Every day and every night for decades, no holidays, no weekends, no respite. Eventually he would get big and strong, and I would get old and weak, and then he would go into care, but that would be little better. All Dave’s money, all our savings, would be sucked into a yawning black hole, supporting Callum’s worthless life while he shoved more shit down his ears. Every time I looked into the vacant gaping holes of Callum’s piggish eyes, that was all I saw – my own cursed future, spreading out around me like a never-ending sewer. When I took him to the shops I would find my grip tightening on his sweaty hand until the bones ground together inside his clammy flesh, but no one ever noticed, because Callum’s screams are just as horrible whether he’s in pain, or whether it’s just a day with a Y in it. Sometimes when I fed him the noxious ooze of pureed vegetables I would ram the spoon into his disgusting mouth until he choked on it. When he screamed and no one was around I would grab a handful of his hair and yank it sharply sideways, and these moments were the only ones in four long years that I had felt any kind of pleasure. It was a brief pleasure, a small, sharp surge of euphoria flaring in my chest, and I would find myself gritting my teeth together as I fought against that feeling – fought to leave it there, just a small and harmless bit of mischief and nothing more, because every single fucking time I just wanted to keep on going – until the screaming stopped, until the breathing stopped.

I quickly began to realise that Callum’s death was inevitable, and it was only the manner of his fate that I could choose. Rationally, I saw no reason why I should have to sacrifice my own life to the constant care of a creature like Callum, but it was the irrational side I could no longer suppress. My hatred for Callum, my resentment of every noisy breath he took, festered within me every second of every day, and soon those small acts of violence ceased to stem the flood of fury. Whether I planned it or not, I would end up killing him, one day, one sleep deprived day when he screamed for eight hours straight, or when I woke up at 5am in a bed covered in Callum’s shit – one of those endless, awful days, I would lose it for the briefest second, and Callum would end up dead. That was the simple truth of the matter, which meant that the only thing I had control over, was the when and the how. The only thing I had control over, was what happened to me afterwards. If I acted on impulse, all our lives would be ruined, but if I made a plan, and acted with care, then I could simply right the wrongs of the past, and walk away scot free. In some small and twisted way, I almost felt that it was my right – mine, above anyone else’s. I had given Callum life, had created him from nothing. Didn’t that give me the right to take back the life I gave him, to turn him into nothing once more?

It took me two weeks to formulate a plan, and for those weeks I was nicer to Callum than I’d been in years. I played the part of the saint better than I ever had before, because I could finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. A few days before I enacted my plan, I took Callum for a nice walk in the woods, and I told Dave about it afterwards, how calm it was out there, how it was lovely to be out in nature, where Callum’s screams didn’t bother anyone. Dave glanced up from the football with an approving grunt, said we should all go together one weekend. I made a non-committal sound of agreement, said I was thinking of going again later in the week. Dave returned to the football. Callum was sitting in the corner, staring at his bare toes and quietly humming in an unwavering, off-key monotone. The woods were where it would happen, that was important – it had to be somewhere quiet, somewhere out of the way. A place where the sound of my little silver car barrelling into a tree would go unnoticed, because I couldn’t predict how long it would take – how long it would take for Callum to die.

On the day of the plan, I dressed carefully – a little makeup, because being cute never hurts, when you want people to believe your lies, but not too much; I had to be believable as the downtrodden, overwrought mother. I wore the chunkiest cardigan I could find, hoping that the extra padding might fend off injury. My seat in the car was perfectly adjusted – that’s important, too far away is as bad as too close, when it comes to airbags. Callum’s seat, the passenger seat, I pushed right back, hoping that the extra space would add to his momentum, when he flew headfirst into the windscreen. I sat him down and strapped him in carefully, shoved a Mars bar into his hand to placate him – it wouldn’t matter if he smeared chocolate everywhere now. Then we drove away.

I drove very carefully, all the way through town, just in case anyone should see us – in case it should be important later. I had to be the picture of respectability, while anyone could be watching. Callum was surprisingly well behaved, staring open-mouthed out of the window with nothing more than vacant, humming grunts. Perhaps he sensed that it was all coming to an end, and he was happy about it. Soon enough we were out in the countryside, on an open stretch of road, and I pulled over to the side to unstrap Callum. It had been raining earlier, the woodlands sodden and brown, the tarmac wet and gleaming – that seemed good, a hazardous slippery road. Callum remained still as we pulled back onto the road, vacantly gnawing his chocolatey fingers.

I had mentally marked the perfect tree on our previous visit – left side of the road, Callum’s side, obviously, a great big solid old tree, just as the road bent away to the right. As we rolled down the hill towards it, I took a deep breath, relaxed all of my muscles ready for impact, and accelerated to 40, to 45, to 50. No tree had ever seemed so solid and menacing as that one did, as it came closer and closer, and I fought to keep my foot off the brake, before my eyes instinctively squeezed shut, and the car seemed to explode around me. I was thrown forwards, then punched in the face by the explosive force of the airbag, a screaming pain shooting up my left arm as a hammer-blow of dizziness smashed across my forehead, the sudden tightness of my seatbelt making it impossible to breathe. I heard a noise from Callum, a sort of weak, high pitched moan, as wordless and primal as ever, but it faded away quickly. When I managed to open my eyes I saw his limp little body hanging from the shattered windscreen, but it was still, and pale, blood slicking the cracked glass. I moved to touch him, to check his pulse, but another surge of pain shot up my arm, and I realised that it was bent at a horrible angle, a wave of dizziness and nausea assaulting me. I sucked in a shaky breath, and tentatively used my right arm to undo the seatbelt, before I leaned over, touched Callum’s wrist. Below the warmth of his skin there was the barest flutter of a pulse, but it looked as though his neck had been broken by the impact. His face was through the windscreen, scratched and bloodied, and I could see no sign of life in his half-lidded eyes. I sank back in my seat, counted very slowly to two hundred, then I got out my phone, summoned hysteria, and called the ambulance.

It all went very well, really. Though they tried to revive Callum on arrival, it was clear from their expressions that there was no hope at all, and he was profoundly dead by the time we reached the hospital. My own injuries couldn’t have played out better – enough head trauma that any delay in my calling the ambulance was put down to unconsciousness, as was any vagueness in my details of the crash. Even the arm I broke, it was the left one, the one on Callum’s side, as though I’d been struggling to keep him in his seat as the car left the road, ploughed into the tree, which was a story I picked up from the paramedics, and ran with. My initial line was that Callum had unstrapped himself and grabbed the wheel, and my broken arm was a pleasant addition to this story. My head and my arm really did hurt, and it was quite easy to summon tears and hysteria, to break down in Dave’s arms when he arrived at the hospital, and he placed no blame on me, covered in bandages and teary mascara. I saw not the faintest hint of accusation in his eyes, in anyone’s eyes, and when they gave me the strong painkillers and I started to feel happy, too happy, I simply thought about my car. It wasn’t a special car, just a little silver Fiesta, but it had been my one place of freedom, from Callum, from Dave, and I’d always had this odd tendency of attaching anthropomorphic feelings to things like cars. When I thought about my faithful little car, lying crumpled in the woods, all on its own, its life willingly sacrificed so that I could have mine back, it made me very sad indeed, so whenever I needed to show strong emotions over the loss of Callum, I thought about my car instead.

Everything went smoothly with the funeral arrangements, too. I was often quietly amused at how Callum shifted in people’s eyes, now that he was dead. He became a poor, tragic angel of a child, a kind, piteous Tiny Tim figure, and when I got out of the funeral I went home by myself just so that I could laugh and cry all at the same time, with relief, with hilarity, with fury at all the lies, all the bald-faces lies I’d been surrounded by all day, these people who were behaving as though it were a genuine tragedy, as though it were a terrible loss, as though they wanted Callum back. None of those people would have tolerated Callum’s presence in their house for half an hour. After the funeral, with Dave, things were awkward, now that we were alone. There was nothing to distract from the fact that I felt nothing towards him bar contempt and irritation. He had been a part of my four-year prison sentence, and he had been the catalyst for Callum’s very existence. It was horrible to me, lingering in that house, in that bed, and so as soon as I could, I left – moved away, started a new life. Dave seemed vaguely appeased that it was the action of a disturbed, grieving woman, and he didn’t try to stop me.

I find pleasure in the strangest things now, in this new town, in this new life. Silence especially, silence is the greatest pleasure of all, silence or quiet music, not interrupted by perpetual lobotomised shrieking. I like going to refined cake shops and sitting there surrounded by delicate, breakable china, relishing the presence of fragile adult possessions, the quiet rippling conversations of sane, civilised people – people with thoughts and words and light in their eyes, people who drink tea and eat Victoria sponge, instead of playing with their own shit. Anything can be a pleasure, laid out in those terms.

When I used to dream about murder, I always felt guilt, felt the terrible pressure of dark judgments weighing on me, the souls of those I’d wronged, forever haunting me. But with Callum, I feel nothing, because Callum never had a soul in the first place. He was empty inside, broken, just a stinking, screaming, shit-encrusted vehicle, with no one inside to drive it. I didn’t kill a person – it was nothing more than crushing a particularly large and ugly insect under my shoe. Even in Dave’s stupid eyes, after the accident, I didn’t see devastation, not really. I saw in his eyes the same furtive relief that I felt washing over me. I took Callum’s life, but I saved my own, and I saved Dave’s – I set us both free. The only thing that makes me sad, and angry sometimes, is that the world won’t accept this bitter truth. That was the main reason I moved away. I’d gotten so sick of the lying, of the acting, for all the years of Callum’s life – being the saint, playing the martyr, pretending to love the thing I hated most in the world. It was exhausting, and I couldn’t do it anymore – I knew that one day I would slip, and the truth would come out, if I had to keep on playing that tired old role, eternally the grieving mother. Callum was finally gone, and I refused to carry around the sticky, stinking trails of his useless existence any longer. So I moved away. I came here, where Callum never existed.

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