Friday, 21 May 2010

Chapter Seven

Jobe called his sister’s mobile but she’d switched it off. He wondered if perhaps he was a little envious of her. But he wanted the best for Serima. He wanted her to strike out on her own and make a life for herself. He didn’t want to feel like a fake parent, constantly castigating her for valiantly attempting a life.
Today MasterKey wasn’t busy, which he was glad for, giving him time to work on his novel – a drama set in a housing-estate. The tone was pitched at darkly comic, but Jobe’s mind wandered as he typed. Eventually he decided it wasn’t comic or edgy, it was just derivative nonsense. He deleted all sixteen paragraphs in a flush of anger and shame, closed up the shop and drove towards the library, dialling Serima again. Her phone was still switched off, and in the rear-view mirror he caught himself scowling. He didn’t like the look he saw in his face.

Wells Gate Public Library was a gothic building on Queen’s Avenue, across the road from Keeley Park, with tall windows containing stained-glass community scenes designed by some of the students from the college. Though erected in 1889 its interiors were now fashionable and its security system reassuringly hi-tech. Jobe came here all the time, more recently to see Monica hard at work in her new job.
He first met Monica Lees in secondary school, when they were both twelve, and slowly but surely they became inseparable. Talking easily of films and books. Jobe was first attracted to the girl’s eyes, then to her voice. He watched and listened as she answered questions with a depth that made alarm bells go off in his young head.
Monica quickly became Seri’s new big sister, to Jobe’s delight. People said it was strange that they should consider themselves ‘best friends’ in the traditional sense, though he didn’t see why. Most people didn’t believe the two of them weren’t secretly screwing each other senseless.
There was definitely something between them, fourteen years of friendship, an intimate history together. Jobe liked to call her his fuck-bunny. She teased him for being a fluffy new-age beatnik who surrounded himself with literary trappings only for comfort. He teased her in turn for being so perceptive, usually eliciting her ‘evil laugh’ – a glorious laugh that was normally locked away in the chastity-belt of her watchful smile.
Monica was at a computer terminal near the counter when she glanced up, as a grin spread across her face, “Hey, fuck-bunny. I missed you on Friday.”
“Sorry I couldn’t make it,” he tried pathetically. She looked happy to see him.
Jobe knew her face too well. Tousled hair the colour of dark chocolate. Pale green eyes behind a pair of smart, silver-framed glasses. Her face was delicate and studious-looking, a face that most would call pretty but others would see as a touch too plain. Jobe knew, along with her dark and simple outfits, that it was all a carefully engineered projection; an inner truth presented as an exterior image.
Also a keen way to ward off unwanted suitors.
Miss Lees was a beautiful, intellectually adept young woman. And she was, in his humble opinion, the kindest person he’d ever met. She’d always allowed him his shabby social etiquette.
“You said you’d call. There’s this Ooh-la-la French movie I wanted to watch with you, but you weren’t answering your phone. It had tastefully handled domestic violence in it and everything. Even a sexy, tragic little kid with a red balloon…”
He leaned over the counter and smiled at her, “Sorry…”
“I sent you three texts,” she said, regarding him with what Jobe assumed was irritated affection.
“I know, Mon’, I’m sorry.” He flashed a crooked smile at her. “You’ll be done in fifteen minutes, right? We could go do something.”
“Can’t. Working on until Nine tonight.”
“Well…we could go to the pictures tonight, catch the last screening.”
Monica smiled, “I’ll kick your pretty little head in if you don’t turn up.”
“Agreed.”
“I’m deadly serious, Jobe, you complete whore…”
Despite the humorous delivery her words seemed undercut with a vague resignation, a sadness that made Jobe pause and stare at her. Monica had never really approved of the way he lived his life, but she preferred illumination to darkness. He wouldn’t lie to her. He held her gaze until a more accepting smile surfaced on her lips.
She sighed carefully, smiled again and said, “You only live once, after all.”
“Maybe,” said Jobe, which made her smile even harder; flashing that dark grin that she usually tried to conceal in polite company.

At the flat he threw his jacket on the sofa and went into the kitchen, fetching himself a can of beer. The living-room was blue with touches of red and dark green amongst the furniture, sometimes reminding him of Christmas. He sat in front of the television, cracked open the beer and lit a cigarette. There were over a hundred channels of soap operas, sitcoms, news, reality-TV shows. None of it interested him. He glanced at his video and DVD collection. He’d seen them all so many times before.
He stabbed the remote at the television and sat in silence, smoking.
Seri’s dream. She said she would tell him about it tonight. Was that why he was feeling so anxious? She didn’t want that halfway place, between madness and prophecy. It wasn’t a thing of beauty anymore. Perhaps it once was for him, when he was young and the world was new and exciting, a time when he could pin entire universes to a necklace of threaded light and wear it with abandon.
Long before Serima was born his mother would tell him about the second sight. How she was ‘blessed’ with it, and how perhaps her children would be blessed with it too. He’d lived with it for a long time; prophecy, precognition, the validity of the psychic plane, those ideas informing and shaping his subconscious. A natural product of his environment. He understood his mother’s hand in the creation of his inner worlds, but he also knew that beliefs and truths went beyond any human norms.
Jobe both loved and hated his mother. Sometimes he had dreamt of killing her, from a disturbingly young age. Once, he found himself standing with a kitchen knife over his mum and dad’s bed, thinking about plunging it into her throat. She stirred in her sleep, muttering Jobe’s name on her breath. It frightened him but he wasn’t surprised. Hurried back to his room, slipping the knife beneath his pillow. Dreamt that mum came into his dream, scolded him for his rash and violent desire.
Troubled sleep.
But when Serima was born, he recalled, light exploded into his life. Like a message from the heavens; a sister, a compatriot. A friend to share in his confusion and illuminate it. He could still remember his dad on the phone, glancing at him and whispering, ‘It’s going to be a girl!’ Jobe leapt around the living-room like a madman, grinning from ear to ear.
His sister had changed his life. Somehow he got older, caring for her however he could. Somehow she got older too. Eventually their mother began to tell her the same strange stories.
The girl was considered ‘brilliant’ for her age, just as Jobe had been. At first Serima lived with a disturbed mixture of fear and excitement at those stories, at the thought that she might be a part of them. Later she grew more comfortable and began writing poetry, always laced with a youthful but oddly cogent mysticism. Jobe began to wonder where it would lead his little sister, this flirting with madness.
A shapeless, nameless anxiety began to return, and then an anger, then a vague hate. He thought they would share things, sure, but now it seemed she was becoming more like him every day. Not what he wanted. Serima was supposed to provide contrast and clarity, not drag him deeper into this noble nothingness he lived in. She was supposed to be the cool, clear spirit that filled him with an ascension, away from the dark fire that haunted the edges of his consciousness. That dark light had only grown as his sister got older.
He had once dreamt of murdering Serima too.
Their mother, Maya Kistori, had been awed and somewhat feared by her town, as a young girl growing up in Calcutta. At least, that’s how she told it to her husband and her children; that many in the town spoke in hushed whispers about her, of how she could enter their dreams, of how she could see what was to come, and of how she was not like other girls in the town.
She was fortunate enough to come from a rich family of successful farmers, and they allowed her an education because she was the only child, and the gods hadn’t gifted them with a son. They wondered if she herself was the gift, or perhaps a curse, as some of the town believed. As a young English teacher, in a private school in New Delhi, she was never far from the energetic world. She was followed by spirits, both good and bad – spirits who took the forms of dead relatives or the popular images of Hindu gods.
Her grandmother in the hills at night, the time when she broke her bicycle. Vishnu in the shadows when she’d stayed with her cousins.
Jobe and Serima were rapt by their mother’s tall tales, but their father laughed them off. She’d been that way since they first met, he told them both, always willing to spin a vivid fantasy. Their mother would shrug and smile at his sweet chastising. Jobe wondered why a non-practising Catholic like his father was so attracted to her. There was something hungry in the way his parents looked at each other.
For Peter Vesson, a Historian and a rationalist, any genuine spirituality was to be found only in the realm of fantasy. Maya would always counter that imagination creates reality, that nothing and no one could escape their origins. Then she would quote Karl Marx, and make barbed comments about Globalisation, New Imperialism, how modern cultures were secretly fascist, until all Peter could do was just laugh strangely, stalking her with his gentle eyes.
Jobe saw it was a turn-on for both of them, and he wondered why. Maya’s imagination was all over the house as they grew up. Children couldn’t escape who their parents were, Jobe thought now, sipping his beer and sitting in the silence of the living-room.
Serima’s dreams were getting more intense, he knew, even though she had never stated it outright. She was probably terrified that she would break because of them. Imagination. Tall tales. She didn’t want to end up like their mother.
He could remember the exact moment when everything changed.
Maya had become moody and withdrawn following the divorce, constantly listening to music or writing alone in her room after work. He and Serima weren’t allowed to speak about it when they were around her, though they tried. Their mother was an expert at seemingly benign dismissals.
It had been the same night as the Aquinas fire. Four years ago. A blaze had raged that night; he remembered watching the news with Serima, as firemen and cameras gazed up at orange-black licking from the cinema windows. He and Seri often went there. It scared them both. Later, their mother came home from work. She spent an hour screaming down the phone at their father about the Aquinas, about signs and portents and the loneliness that comes with seeing them. Serima had tears in her eyes and Jobe held her, rocking her gently, singing ‘Silent Night’ to her in an atonal whisper. In the middle of the night he went to the bathroom. He saw his mum standing in the corridor.
The kitchen knife in her hand.
The sheer calculating coldness in her eyes. He realised in a split-second that she was going to stab him to death. His mother was going to kill him. In that moment he recalled his own dreams of killing her, and the night he stood over his parents bed with a knife in his own hand. The flashing blue sirens of police cars and ambulances. They took her away. She was silent and dead-eyed.
Jobe downed the last of his beer.

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