"It always begins in blackness, until the first light illuminates a hidden fragment of memory...."- Mark Raphael Baker; The Fiftieth Gate
Memories of the accident always kept Scott awake at night. He was afraid to tell Mum; it would make her cry. What good would it do bringing up reminders of Dad? So he tried to expel it, like a bad dream. Sometimes he would sleep, but it wasn’t peaceful refreshing sleep; more a harsh imitation, serving only as a momentary break from reality.
He didn’t want to get out of bed in the mornings. He liked staring into his room’s deep corners, light desperately trying to force itself in, held black by his cold blinders. He could hide, be a child again and forget everything else, for a time. Eventually, the pressure to get up exerted by his red digital alarm clock showed dreams to be just that.
He observed his desk, as he did daily, shaking his head. His schoolwork was a strewn mess of crinkled papers, his computer caked in dust from the many nights of him trying to restart work, but instead getting distracted by porn and YouTube videos, and the walls covered with lists of assessments he should have finished a month ago. Schoolwork seemed so pointless by comparison to Dad.
Scott dressed himself in the same orange T-shirt and ripped tracksuit pants that he wore yesterday and left on the floor. He knew Mum was waiting for him downstairs. She sat patiently by the old coffee machine, her sagged eyes desperate for another coffee kick to start the morning.
Scott acknowledged her cumbersomely. She made small talk with him about how the blasted coffee machine was playing up and how Dad could fix it if he was here, while he made vegemite toast, and grabbing sparkling apple juice from the fridge.
“Carlson’s sisters party is today, honey. At Bilgola Beach. Carlson asked if you were keen”
Mum stopped him leaving.
“I don’t wanna go out” Scott mumbled. “Wanna stay in bed. It’s that kind of day”
He saw in her eyes a sense of desperation.
“I think it’d be good for you to have a day with your friends. Carlson, Dean; they’re asking after you. Some time with them might allow to you think about things. You know? See the bigger picture with Dad. We can soldier on—
“No Mum. I don’t want to go” He left.
Galloping up the stairs, the sound of the door closing behind him a relief. He preferred silence. It gave him control—
“Baby, could you please open the door?” Mum anxiously knocked.
Scott stayed silent. Please go away! Please!
“At least consider it. Your friends miss you. Love you” Scott heard a small sob as she went creaking down the stairs.
He wished he could cry that easily. Ever since the accident he hadn’t cried. Not once. He had tried to cry by walking home in the rain, because apparently that works. He got wet and cold, but never wept.
There was a pain, sitting in deep in his gut, but he could never force it up as a sob.
This crap isn’t happening, he concluded. It’s happening to some other guy who looked and talked like him, loved the same music, played on the same footy team… but it wasn’t him.
He shut his eyes, letting his mind wander.
Sitting at her table was the school counsellor; Mrs. Ryan. Scott recognised her blonde, frizzy hair. It was an exact replica of her office; posters of puppies surrounded by bible quotes, and well-touched psychiatrist books behind her immaculate desk. He felt scruffy just dreaming it. Of all shit things to dream of, why her?!
“Tell me what happened again” she said, her spectacles directing him to a red chair opposite her desk.
“Tell you what?” he queried, sitting down.
“The day… It was a Saturday afternoon wasn’t it? You’d just finished a game of footy against Manly Selective Campus…” she said, the sound of the beach twinkling through the blinds outside.
“Again?! Why must I freaking tell you—?!” Scott snapped.
“We’re going through this again and again until you acknowledge it happened. In your own mind” Mrs. Ryan replied sternly.
Scott wanted to protest, but he was far too tired to think of a response. Eyes to floor, he began:
“About three weeks ago we played Manly. Was a nice sunny day, a good day for surfing. It was so hot. We got hammered hard. Dad still came anyways. He always came to my footy games.
“I was pissed we’d been beaten again. It had been a terrible season. Dad cheered me up with beer-battered chips from his favourite place along the main drag at Manly Beach.”
“Then?” she edged him on.
“We went home, back to Mona Vale. I remember he drove, I was exhausted. He promised me he’d take me to Bilgola Beach and we’d have a swim. So I hopped in the shower; he went to throw my footy gear in the wash and get the surfboards.
“The first thing I remember was the shaking. Like an earthquake. Then the explosion, it shook the whole shower cubicle. After throwing some clothes on, I rushed to see what happened. The smell hit me next. At first the hot, smokey burning smell, but kinda like someone was cooking. When I got to Dad in the laundry… that’s when I heard the screams.
“The doctors and police said it was just bad fucking luck. Wiring short-circuited in the washing machine, caught fire and exploded in his face. When he hit the brick wall from the force, it fractured his fifth vertebrae in his spine. Mum and I waited all night while they did emergency surgery. I thought he was gonna die.
“We saw him in ICU next morning. He couldn’t see us, his face was completely bandaged. He couldn’t feel anything below his chest. I knew underneath the bandages and scars he was crying. The Dad who’d taken me to Manly yesterday was gone. ‘You’re gonna have to grow up quickly boy. Look after Mum’ he muttered with all his energy.
“The more I visited, the more I saw that he wished he had died that day. I couldn’t see him like that. That wasn’t my Dad. I felt it was my fault. So I stopped seeing him two weeks ago”
“No…. It’s not your fault. You cannot blame yourself for a freak accident, Scott” said Mrs. Ryan. “What about now? Do you want to see him?”
Scott opened his eyes.
Same, dark room. He was glad he woke up, he wouldn’t have answered. Freaking Mrs. Ryan! He knew she’d been speaking to Mum about him. How he used to be bright, always involved in class, always tidy. It’s none of her business. Let me be alone!
He sat up, head in his hands. His gut ached. He knew Mum worried about him. He saw everyday how she struggled to keep life normal. She tried to have breakfast ready when he woke up before school, she helped with assessments, and asked how his day was, like Dad used to. He asked her why she did it. “The world won’t stop for us. We have t