Antithetical

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Chapter 13 - Isaac

I never knew what pain was. Isolde, uncontrollably sobbing in my arms, pales in comparison to this.

I run the knife along my arm, before applying pressure. Blood appears at the site of the gash, and spills over, running down my arm.

*

When I come in, Mum and Dad are sitting on the sofa, neither of them saying anything or doing anything to each other.

Mum is shaking, Dad is sitting completely motionless. I can immediately tell that something has gone wrong.

I worry at my bottom lip. “Mum?” I say.

She turns towards me, her eyes bloodshot.

“What happened?” I say urgently, throwing a look at Dad.

Mum dips her head, and her voice is barely comprehensible. “Gideon,” she croaks, and slumps.

“What happened to Gideon?” Millions of possibilities run through my head, and chills travel down my body at many of them.

She stutters some words, none of which I understand. The suspense is killing me right now.

Dad is the one who tells me. “Antithetical,” he says, his voice dead, void of emotion. “One . . . got to him.”

I gasp. “He’s in hospital?”

“He’s dead.”

Two, short words with a massive impact.

I stare at my father. “What?” My voice is suddenly several octaves higher.

Mum dissolves in quiet tears, while I stand there, trying to make sense of Dad’s words. ‘Dead’ and ‘Gideon’ do not go together. I just saw him this morning . . . though that doesn’t mean anything . . .

“No.” My mouth forms the word, but no sound comes out. I wouldn’t trust Dad telling me this, even though Gideon is his son, but Mum . . .

“No,” I repeat, audible this time, though my voice is a cracked whisper.

I feel my knees weakening, but I straighten myself. It’s not possible. My brother can’t be dead.
Dad doesn’t concern himself with me, but heaves himself off the settee and slowly walks up the stairs.

I dive into his former place, and grip Mum’s arms tightly, my eyes imploring her to tell me that Dad is lying. She stammers out the words ‘life support’, and I release her, my muscles going slack.

I can’t come to grips with the matter. I don’t feel sharp pain, but a dull throbbing.

“Let me see him,” I say.

“They’re taking him off . . .”

“No. They can’t do that. They can’t!”

Her face puckers. “You don’t . . . he’s in pain . . . “

I put my face in my arm and order myself not to weep.

But then Mum starts crying and I can’t help but cry with her.

*

Mum didn’t want me to go see him, but I still went. I needed to see him with my own eyes to accept . . . no, wrong word. I just couldn’t believe. I will never accept.

I wish that I didn’t go. That boy did not look like my brother. I don’t even want to recall the image of Gideon’s mangled body lying prone and still on the white hospital sheets, a machine beating his heart for him.

They said that he wouldn’t wake up. That he’d lie in pain if we didn’t take him off the support, and we should let him go.

I screamed like a child, threw a colossal tantrum, but Dad just hauled me home, kicking and screaming, and locked me in the bathroom.

He went to watch my brother die while I tried to kill myself by swallowing soap and random chemicals, but I vomited the stuff up. Dad forced pills in me, and sent the doctor round, so I’m still alive.

The doctor wanted to put me in hospital to treat me for ‘depression’, but there was no way I was going to stay in the place where they allowed my brother to die. I managed to get my way, so I’m at home, and dreaming of killing the person who destroyed my brother.

The Antithetical.

I used to think that there was some good in them, but those thoughts have been completely and totally eradicated. Their kind killed my brother, and their kind are going to pay, somehow.

Before I do anything else, I go out of the room and clean my cut, bandage the wound. Doctor Amadeus would have a fit if he saw that I intentionally cut myself. I will make something up about sharp edges on furniture.

Returning to my room – completely mine now Gideon is gone – I look at his bed. Messy and unmade, it’s exactly how he left it. I haven’t dared to touch any of his things for fear of losing it again. I’ll probably end the day crying myself to sleep again, anyway. Actually, I definitely will. It’s inevitable.

I pull my blanket from my bed, and ball it up, then stick my face into the cloth and scream with rage and grief, over and over again. My throat becomes dry, my voice horse, my head throbbing with a bad headache.

When I finally wear myself out, I throw the damp fabric to one side. I should get into bed. Mum will take a pause from her own mourning to come and check on her remaining child, and will call Doctor Amadeus if she sees me in this state, but I feel too weak to get up. I drag some sheets off the bed and drape them over myself instead, but the cold doesn’t leave me. My eyes close as I whimper like a beaten dog. I can’t ask for my brother to be spared, I can’t even ask to be warm.

Why am I even alive? Why can’t I just die?

*

In the morning, Mum comes into the room to tell me that Isolde is downstairs.

I don’t respond. I haven’t moved from my position on the floor. Isolde can find someone else to talk to. She probably knows about Gideon, and I definitely do not want to talk, and loathe the thought of any pitying looks.

“Should I let her in?” Mum asks.

Silence.

I hear her sigh and close the door. About a minute later, she returns, and puts her hand on my face.

No. It’s not Mum who comes. The hand is bigger, with nails bitten down to angry red edges and lots of calluses, product of climbing too many trees.

Isolde.

I can’t find it in me to tell her to leave me alone.

I open my eyes and stare at her. She looks like she has been crying as well.

I don’t care.

I care, and quite a bit.

“Isaac.” Her voice wobbles. Her expression is desolate.

I try to say ‘No talking’, but my jaw weighs too much.

Her hands move underneath me, and her face sets rigidly. What’s she trying to do? Pick me up?

She is.

I am in her arms for a couple of seconds, then on my bed. Isolde leans against it, breathing heavily, her usually pale face red from exertion.

“I’m sorry,” she says, not in a pitying way, but like she’s actually apologising.

“Stop,” I get out. I don’t want anyone else to tell me that. A dozen doctors and several neighbours are too many as it is.

“What can I do?” she whispers. “I’ll do it.”

“Really?”

“Yes,” she says, not knowing what she’s signing up for.

I very much doubt the truth in her words, so I voice a smaller wish: “Just don’t make me talk.” My voice cracks on about every word.

“OK,” Isolde murmurs.

I want to ask her to do something like hug me while I cry, but I’m not six anymore, and I’m trying not to be any less pathetic than I already am.

“You need a quilt?” Isolde asks after a hushed few minutes.

I nod, and she disappears out the door, to come back with a duvet and freshly washed blanket. She hands them to me, and I arrange them around my body. I am still quaking, but not from the cold anymore.

Hot tears drip silently down my cheeks, escaping from my closed eyelids.

Isolde brushes them away, but they are quickly, continuously replaced, so she stops eventually.

“Should I go?” she whispers after a while. I don’t know how long. Time is relative; it has no real meaning. All I know is that it feels like an awful lot.

“Stay,” I breathe.

I don’t want her to leave. She doesn’t relieve me of pain – nowhere near – but I feel just that little bit less dismal.

Isolde stays with me through my hours of crying, for which I am insanely grateful.

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