Anyway, despite being confined to my death bed for a week now (a full week, people! This is torture!!), today I have managed to gather the strength to put on an acoustic Mars playlist and get some editing done. This is the first productive thing I’ve done since last Saturday, so I think I deserve a round of applause. It’s okay, I’ll wait. Nobody?? Okay. With that in mind (and ignoring all the rambling that precedes it) I present to you…The next instalment of BLAME. We are now at the end of Chapter One. Hoorays all round!
As always, comments are loved, cherished and greatly appreciated.
Also, just a reminder that this entire story comes with a TRIGGER WARNING. Stay safe.
If you need to get caught up, you can do it here.
Chapter One (continued)
She freezes in the kitchen, holding a box of cereal in one hand and a red bowl in the other. Her eyes involuntarily slide over her left forearm, and she wonders if he can somehow see through the thick black material of her sweater.
“Morning, Dad,” she mumbles, risking a glance at him. He hovers in the doorway, adjusting his navy blue tie. She looks away and focuses all her attention on pouring her cereal into the bowl without spilling the multi-coloured loops onto the kitchen floor. Out of the corner of her eye she sees him shift on his feet and her hand trembles, sending a small pile of sugary cereal onto the shiny white tiles.
“Sorry,” she says reflexively, putting the bowl and box on the counter and bending over to sweep the stray cereal into her palm. He watches her silently for few seconds before speaking.
“It’s just cereal, sweetie. No big deal.”
There is nothing sweet about the way he calls her sweetie, and she bites the inside of her cheek hard enough to taste blood. She swallows, walking over to deposit the cereal into the rubbish bin under the sink and wash her hands. She feels his eyes on her but she ignores him, making the water hot enough to instantly redden her skin.
“So.” He clears his throat. “I’m taking Theo to school in about half an hour. The elementary school isn’t too far from the high school… I could drop you off too, if you’d like?”
She shakes her head with more force than necessary, making her head spin in a way that is not entirely unpleasant.
“No thank you. I’ll walk. I paid attention when we drove down for registration yesterday -- I’m sure I can find the way.” She switches off the water and dries her hands, returning to her bowl of cereal.
“Are you sure? It’s at least a couple of miles, and I don’t mind taking you in…”
She idly wonders whether he is offering because he wants to take her in, or because he feels like it is the right thing to do. She suspects it is the latter.
“Thanks, but I’ll be fine.” She forces her lips into a smile. She imagines it looks more like a grimace, but it will have to do. He stares at her for a few moments before nodding and turning to leave without saying anything more. She counts the colourful loops remaining in her cereal bowl, holding her breath until she hears his footsteps ascending up the stairs. She exhales slowly and picks up a single blue loop, placing it on her tongue. She listens to the thumping footsteps upstairs, imagining Theo searching for his Spiderman costume. She chews slowly, deciding to ignore the way she sometimes thinks of him as Theo. That isn’t his name. His name is Teddy. But, of course, only she calls him Teddy these days. It used to be the other way around. It used to be that everyone called him Teddy and only her father called him Theo, but… Things change. She swallows her single piece of cereal and quickly pulverises the remaining thirteen pieces between her fingertips, scattering the crumbs in the bowl. She hears her father’s laughter float down from the top of the stairs and she splashes a small amount of milk onto the crumbs before putting the bowl into the sink. A moment later there is the thunderous sound of tiny feet pounding down the stairs and she turns, watching the entrance of the kitchen expectantly.
Teddy bounds into the kitchen, stretching out his arms on either side of his tiny six-year-old body. He is dressed in blue and red spandex, and even though she can’t see his face behind his matching cotton mask, she knows he’s grinning triumphantly. She takes a silent breath in and rearranges her features into a friendly smile.
“You look great, Ted.” She walks over and crouches down in front of him. “Are you sure you want to go to school like that, though?”
He nods his head enthusiastically. “Uh-huh! I’m the amazing Spiderman!” He flips his wrists up towards her, holding them near his face. “Pew-pew!” he says, pretending to shoot a web from his wrists. “I’ve got you, Auty!”
She laughs, hoping it only sounds forced in her ears. “You sure do, Spidey. Now what would you like for breakfast? Flies? Moths? Mosquitoes?”
Teddy drops his arms, giggling. “I’m not a real spider, Auty,” he informs her, shaking his head. “I’m just pretending.”
“Ohhhhh,” she says, picking him up and walking him over to the breakfast counter. “You tricked me!” Her arm starts to sting and she clenches her teeth, ignoring the damp patch she can feel spreading beneath the gauze. She sits Teddy down on a kitchen bench, swallowing.
“So what will it be today, Spidey?” She works to keep her voice light. “Cereal, porridge, or toast?”
“Ummm…” He raises his finger to his mouth, only to discover that his access is blocked by his mask. “Toast,” he says, pulling the mask off his head. “With honey and peanut butter, please.”
She deliberately turns away quickly, reaching for the bread bin. She puts two slices of whole-wheat bread into the toaster and walks over to the fridge, opening it and pulling a box of orange juice from inside the door.
“Juice?” she asks, retrieving a glass from the cupboard. Out of the corner of her eye she sees him nod and she turns to face him, cementing a smile on her face. “Here you are,” she says, handing him a glass. Her eyes unwillingly trace over the thick line of scar tissue framing the right side of his face, and she counts the faint circular scars dotted along either side of the raised pink scar.
“What is it, Auty?” Teddy asks, picking up the glass and taking a sip. The toast pops, giving her an excuse to turn away.
“Nothing, kiddo.” She busies herself by spreading a thick layer of peanut butter onto his toast. “Nothing at all.”
He frowns, putting the glass down. He lets go of it too early and it clatters onto the counter, spilling the remainder of his juice.
“Oh no!” he squeals, bursting into tears. She is by his side in an instant, putting a reassuring arm around his shoulders.
“Don’t cry over spilt milk, silly,” she says gently, rubbing his back.
“It isn’t milk,” he says between sobs. “It’s juice.”
She laughs, reaching for a tissue from the box beside the sink.
She turns to face him and bending down to his level. She uses the tissue to wipe the tears from his cheeks, taking a steadying breath in as she looks into his eyes. One eye is hazel, just like hers, but the other is pale blue and covered in a milky film. It roams around aimlessly, never settling on anything in particular.
“There,” she says quietly, kissing his forehead. “No more tears.”
He smiles tentatively, revealing his two missing front teeth. It only reaches half his face. His lopsided smile is almost too much to bear and she straightens up abruptly, grabbing the sponge out of the sink and cleaning the spilt juice off the counter.
“Auty,” Teddy starts, tracking her movements with his good eye, “what’s ‘dept perpeption’?”
She freezes for half a second before taking the sponge to the sink and rinsing it out. “Why do you ask?” she asks nonchalantly, handing him the plate of toast. He picks a piece up, biting off a corner using one side of his mouth.
“Daddy told my new teacher that I don’t have any.” Crumbs spray from his lips, littering the pale granite counter. “He told her it makes me drop things.”
“Daddy is an idiot,” she mumbles through clenched teeth, turning away. Her father could have at least made sure Teddy wasn’t in hearing distance before talking about all the ways she’d ruined his life.
“So what is it?” He covers his chin in peanut butter and honey as he tries to cram more toast inside his mouth. She smiles, getting a clean face washer from the drawer under the counter and wetting it.
“Manners,” she says, smiling as she wipes the sticky mess from his face. “Daddy was telling your new teacher that you don’t have any manners.”
He smiles his devastating lopsided smile and she turns, pouring him a second glass of juice.
“Try not to spill this one, okay kiddo?” she says, handing it to him. He nods, swallowing the juice in one gulp and wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.
“You’re a pig,” she says, shaking her head.
“Who’s a pig?”
She stiffens at the sound of the voice, glancing up towards the doorway. Her father is standing there with a Spiderman backpack in one hand and a black briefcase in the other.
“I am!” Teddy squeals, snorting. Her father laughs, setting the bags down on the ground.
“Spider-pig it is then,” he says, walking over to lift Teddy off the bench. “You just about ready, Spider-pig?”
Teddy nods. “I just need my mask.” He reaches to retrieve it from the counter.
Her father watches him pull it over his head, and she knows what he is going to say before he says it.
“Theo…Are you absolutely certain that you want to wear this? What about that new pair of jeans I bought you? They were pretty cool! You’d be the coolest boy in the first grade with jeans like that!”
She bites her tongue, distracting herself by putting Teddy’s plate in the sink and wiping down the counter. She tries not to notice the way his shoulder slump down and his hands touch the right side of his face.
“I want to be Spiderman,” he says in a barely audible voice. She glances at her father, who is staring at his son with sad eyes.
“Okay, kiddo,” her father says softly. “You can be Spiderman if you want.” He looks up at her and she immediately drops her gaze. “You sure you don’t want to ride with us? Last chance to change your mind.” He shifts his hold on Teddy and picks up both his briefcase and Teddy’s backpack with one hand. She shakes her head, rinsing out the sponge and washing her hands.
“Thanks, but I’ll be fine. I’ll see you tonight.”
He nods slowly, almost looking like he might protest before turning and leaving the kitchen with Teddy in his arms. The front door opens and closes, and a few minutes later she hears his car drive away. She walks to the front door and opens it, checking that he really is gone before closing the door and locking it. She wanders into the kitchen and pulls up the left sleeve of her sweater, unsurprised to see the deep red stain slowly seeping through the gauze wrapped around her arm. She pulls down her sleeve and quickly washes the dishes in the sink, wondering why she even bothered to pretend to eat breakfast. He doesn’t notice things like that.
He doesn’t notice anything.