Antithetical

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Chapter 9 - Isaac

Isolde.”

She jumps at the sound of her name, spoken angrily by me. Isolde’s sitting in an alcove in the library, and has been staring at the wall. She looks almost as bad as Amanda did – though her hair and clothes and so on are of normal appearance, she looks so cadaverous, with pallid skin and an almost dead look in her eyes. And the way she holds herself – she is slumped against her seat, looking deflated – is very unlike her.

My anger disappears like it was never there, replaced by anxiousness.

“Did something happen?” I ask, my voice less harsh.

She stiffens as I sit next to her. “Yeah, a lot of things happened,” Isolde replies, her voice tight.

“Like?” I prompt.

“Like –” She hesitates, and shakes her head.

Her crypticness is beginning to annoy me. “You’re not going to tell me?” I ask, but it’s more of a statement than a question.

“Maybe, Isaac,” Isolde says distantly.

My lips mash into a hard line. “There was no Crabbins, right?”

She frowns, clearly confused. Well, that makes it crystal clear. Amanda was lying.
“Does this . . . happening have to do with why you wouldn’t answer the door?”

“Yes,” she responds after a few seconds.

Do I overreact all the time, or is she just unnaturally serene? How could she not be driven to open the door in irritation with crazy thumping like that?

“I’m never too busy,” I say brusquely, and stand up.

Isolde smiles, just a tiny bit. “Thank you.”

*

Mum sits on the sofa, enveloped in a blanket as she reads out loud from a book, her voice soft and somehow fragile. Gideon is next to her, back on the floor, feet pressed against the radiator, looking like he’s about to drift off.

“Isaac,” Mum greets me, her voice a light sigh, and Gideon mumbles something sleepily.

“Hello,” I reply.

I hang my coat on the door and go to fit myself in the space next to the couch, then remove my shoes and socks.

“Really need to get thicker socks,” I mutter, trying to wiggle my toes without much success – they’re almost frozen into place.

“I’m going shopping this weekend,” Mum says. “I’ll get you some better ones.”

“Thanks,” I say, and stretch my legs to touch the radiator. The warmth is soothing; I sigh with content.

Mum smiles at me. I can’t help notice how weak the smile is – a mere pressing of her lips.

My mother, married to a savage. It’s not the type of thing you can evade easily – I can see his effect on the way she speaks and walks. I can see it in her eyes.

She is young – much younger than Isolde’s mum. But tragedy has shaped her into an older woman, with lines deep-set in her fatigued face, testimony to her hardships. Her light blonde hair is thin, with clumps missing – she loses her hair over stress, and she sure has a lot of that.

I touch her bony hand. She looks up from her book, and the timorous expression on her face makes anger suddenly swell up inside me.

“You have to,” I say forcefully.

It doesn’t take her long to figure out what I’m saying. She drops her gaze, and doesn’t reply.

“Mum,” I say, a pleading tone creeping into my voice.

In cases of abuse, reports must be sent to the Arc, where the Keepers of Peace – the KoPs – deal with it. Dad would be taken to RepAnt, and we wouldn’t have to deal with him – for a while. What Mum is dreading is what would happen when he came back. It’s the reason she’s keeping quiet. I’ve tried to report, but then Mum always breaks down. Pleads and cries. And always, I cave in, not wanting Mum to suffer any more than she already does.

Weakling, I hiss to myself.

“I can’t do it,” she whispers, and starts to shake. I automatically put my arms around her. I remember my brother, and wonder why he’s not saying anything. When I realise that he’s fast asleep, I turn my attention back to Mum.

We can. All of us.” I gesture to myself, Gideon, and her.

Mum closes her eyes. “Please, Isaac.”

“It’s gone on long enough,” I insist. “It will only get worse.”

She doesn’t answer, and I clench my fists, then sit on them. Mum often enrages me with her timidness, her lack of courage. I hate my Dad for turning her into this frightened, exhausted mess.

I don’t want to try to send a report without Mum’s knowledge or consent again – it will make her extremely upset. But I can’t just keep letting the maltreatment continue.

“You deserve better than that,” I tell her quietly, spitting out the last word. I get up from the sofa, and head to my bedroom.

Once there, I flop onto the bottom bunk, the springs creaking loudly in protest. I lay on my back, and shut my eyes, listening to the harsh wind blowing against the house, listening to my every inhale and exhale. I make myself not think of anything but the quiet sounds around me.

I manage to do this for maybe a minute – Gideon soon comes in, looking like he’s going to drop any second. He walks over to the bed with shambling steps, and collapses onto the bottom mattress – next to me – and starts to snore again, without even going up to his bed.

I glance down at my younger brother. He’s so tall, Gideon – about six inches taller than me and three inches shorter than Dad. Looks just as old as me. He, too, is suffering from Dad’s cruelty. How long? How long will this go on?

I stare at my brother, deep in thought, until I too fall asleep.

*

I wake to the sound of Gideon’s frantic footsteps, loud upon the squeaking floorboards.

“It’s eight,” he says breathlessly.

The two, simple words jolt me fully awake. I throw myself out of bed, rubbing the sleep from my eyes with my palm.

“Alarm didn’t go off,” Gideon explains, grabbing his towel off of the rack in the corner of the room and disappearing out of the door.

I groan. Late. With my first exam of the Finals facing me in forty minutes.

I get out of my bedclothes and into my school ones – no time for a shower. Hopefully I don’t smell too badly. I’ll dash back home at lunchtime if necessary.

I do up the last button of my shirt, seize my bag, then sprint out of the room, down the stairs, through the living room, out the door. I yell something so that Mum knows where I am.

Isolde being enigmatic and making me spend hours agonising over what is wrong with her – day one. Late for the most important examinations of my school life – day two. What’s waiting for me tomorrow?

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