Monday, 22 October 2012
Not Now, Bernard - Consequence
Clarissa drinks alone most nights. Not at a pub, not at a bar, just drinking at home in the dark.
It has been six months since Michael left, give or take a week or two, and the ache lingers. The ache for his touch, his voice, his company. All that is over now, gone without a chance of reconciliation. The warmth of their love now absent from the home they once shared as a family, Clarissa sits and drinks alone most nights, in the cold chill of the evening.
She favours the clear drinks. The cloudy cocktails she loved in the early years of her marriage, the sugary ones she had snuck in while doing the housework, the murky ones that had initially made her light-headed and loosened her up but crashed her mood into inky depths when her beloved boys returned from school and work - those were too much for her now, evoking memories of the noise and chaos of a busy household, reminding her of the mistake they had made all those years ago. She flavours the clear drinks, neat.
When Bernard was a baby, he had never needed much attention. He didn’t cry, he didn’t shriek - he was just full of love and wonderment. Clarissa recalls how he would look up at her and smile silently during a feed, during a change or just while she held him in her arms. She thinks of how the need for physical contact diminishes as a child ages; from growing inside you, actually attached; then every moment as a perfect, beautiful newborn you want to hold them close to you; a little older now, the terrible twos, you want a moment to yourself but all your moments belong to them, as should your attention; their first few weeks of school where the realise they don’t need you all the time but still crave your attention; and then the teens when they pull away completely, looks of defiance and embarrassment as they start to find their own identity separate from you and the concept of a hug provokes looks of anger that betray the memory of the needy loved one you knew just a few years ago. But Bernard had never needed much attention.
In fact, Bernard had never reached the stage where the thought of being held by his mother made him cringe. That evening, when she had been too busy to talk to her son, he had not been a moody, sullen teenager. That evening, when her husband had not even turned around to acknowledge their son’s greeting, he had not yet developed that thin skin and overly sensitive demeanour that makes a teenager withdraw into their bedrooms. That evening, when Bernard had warned her that there was a ‘monster in the garden’ and Clarissa had simply been too busy to pay him any attention for what would turn out to be the last opportunity she would ever have to do so, he had been just seven years old.
Sometimes Clarissa thinks about what kind of adult Bernard would have become. Seven years on, he would have been fourteen years old now; settled in at high school, maybe on the football team, barely thinking about his future - boys at that age think the future will never come. That’s true enough for Bernard, Clarissa laughs darkly to herself. Then the tears come again, but the bitter saltiness is lost in the liquor. She drinks in the dark.
The monster. That’s how children interpret the unknown, isn’t it? Monsters, creepy things that they don’t understand and don’t know how to communicate with. Bernard’s monster was waiting in the garden, that’s what he’d said , wasn’t it? Clarissa had heard him but didn’t have the time to listen to his stories. She pours another glass, wondering if it was possible to quantify her regret for not listening to him that afternoon. If she’d just taken a second, just left the houseplants for a moment, she wouldn’t be sitting alone in her kitchen, drinking a glass or two for each of the seven years that have passed since the last time she heard his voice or saw his face.
The monster. She remembers now the urgency that she had missed in his voice, the edge to his normally chipper voice. Oh, the details. Those were the things that stuck. How he used to pull his sleeves right over his hands, his cute/sad expression when she told him that he was going to stretch it, the regretful tremble of his bottom lip when she admonished him for not looking after his things then sent him to his room. He would lie on his bed and sob - not weep, Bernard never cried like other children. His was a unselfish cry, one that required no comforting. But children always require comforting, don’t they? She had been wrong. She had been the selfish one when he should have been, he should have cried and called out for her. Maybe he had done. Maybe she just hadn’t heard. She sips her drink desperately, the tipple dripping down her chin and neck as her own lips quake with regret. The monster.
She cautiously stands, knowing the alcohol will have started taking hold of her body, and starts the long walk up to Bernard’s bedroom. Her fingers linger on the bannister - here, where they had thrown their coats after a long day; there, where Michael had leaned her against the rails and kissed her passionately on their first anniversary; and there, where Bernard had almost broken his arm after trying to slide down like in Mary Poppins. He had barely cried even then. So starved of attention, yet so quiet in his craving. Her beautiful boy.
Clarissa stands in the doorway of his bedroom. She stares at the bed where he used to sleep. Where he had his first nightmare. Where she saw her worst nightmare. Where the man in the purple coat lay in her son’s bed, on her son’s sheets, covered in her son’s blood. The monster. That purple coat, the dark red patches and the frayed edges of the sleeves and hem - had Bernard pulled them and made them that way? Had he had ignored Bernard’s screams? Had she ignored his screams?
She doesn’t realise that she’s crying. She remembers things in blurry flashes; the police lifting Bernard’s body out of the crude, shallow grave in the alley behind their home, still freshly dead; coming home from the police station after 50-odd hours, and collapsing on the floor in a heap with Michael as they held each other, crying out in anguish for their lifeless boy; the first night at home without Bernard; the nightmares. Her mind turns to the first time Michael chose to sleep on the sofa instead of with her, and how she noticed for the first time just how big their double bed was - and how she didn’t miss him when he wasn’t it. Does she miss him now? Physically, yes. She doesn’t think about any other needs right now, because she doesn’t really have any. What about Bernard’s needs? She had turned him away so readily and consistently, always telling him “Not now, Bernard” or “Come back later”; she couldn’t be bothered to pay him any attention, so somebody else did.
They had brought his battered, violated little body back to the house for one day before the burial, and she had sat next to his coffin with a cigarette in one hand and a glass of chardonnay in the other, afraid to touch him. She felt strange acknowledging this, but she knew that aside from her ignorance toward his pleas, one of her greatest regrets was not touching her son for one last time. She could have simply stroked his cheek, brushed his hair, kissed his forehead - but no, the last succession of hands on her son’s body had been sexual and murderous, then clinical and sterile. Even after his death she could not afford him the physical contact he had still craved from her. Her mind brings forth the memory of the the morning of the funeral, the young police officer lingering at the back of the church, catching her on the way to the burial to inform her that the man who had killed her only son had been declared as severely mentally unstable, and would therefore be committed rather than put on trial for the murder of her child.
She knows a little bit about being unstable herself, these days. The house remains dark, even in the brightest hours of the day. Even on those beautiful summer days when parents should cherish every moment of their off-spring’s childhood by taking day-trips and outings, basking in one another’s limitless love and attention. She recalls the day that Michael left, merely six months ago. He had taken the suitcase that they had used on their honeymoon and left her two days before the anniversary of Bernard’s death.
Sometimes on nights like this, in the blurry moments as time passes between each drink, Clarissa knows that she would give her whole world for another day with them both; another day to lavish the attention on her son that he so badly needed and deserved; another chance to hold him, play with him, listen to his voice and tell him stories. Just one more night to tuck him in safely to sleep, and let the world turn around them both without fear or consequence. But there is no chance of that anymore. Not now.