Fade to Black

by Iain Wear

It's 6.30 in the morning. I know this because the alarm clock has just chosen this moment to come to life, interrupting a dream in which Angelina Jolie had just invited me in for coffee. I hate it when that happens. It's also Friday. I know this because I'd had an argument with my girlfriend last night about our weekend plans. She's invited her mother around for dinner. On a Friday night? I'm less than pleased about missing a night out with the boys for a woman who can't stand me and thinks her daughter is wasting her time with me. Neither of these things help increase my enthusiasm for the morning. Not that I had any to start with. I'm not a morning person. Never have been, never will.

Chester, however, is a morning person. Well, he would be if he wasn't a cat. He takes up his normal position for this time of the morning, straddling my head with his paws and purring as loudly as he can until I show some signs of getting up. Why he bothers with me in the mornings I'll never understand, as it's always Lisa who is first up and feeds him. Comforted that life is normal, I wait for the remainder of our routine to play out. Lisa leans over to turn off the alarm clock, which is on my side of the bed, kissing me good morning before rolling back over and out of bed, calling Chester for breakfast. Life, like my bed, is warm, comfortable and familiar.

My happy thoughts are snatched away by what Lisa does next. Ignoring the ringing alarm, she rolls out of bed, pulls on her dressing gown and heads for the kitchen without so much as even a glance in my direction, much less a kiss and a warm word. The one-too-many glasses of wine we had last night while arguing about her parents clangs unhappily in my head as I hear her making her usual cup of coffee with more force than is necessary. There's something else battering at my brain from the region of my left ear, and I reach up and pound at the off button on the alarm clock until it stops. Now I can hear better, I can also hear Chester meowing loudly for his breakfast, but no breakfast making noises. "Love me, love my cat", I once said to Lisa, the first time she spent the night. And until this morning, she always did. But if she doesn't love Chester any more, does that mean?

Wrapped in my own thoughts, I hear Lisa head for the shower, such a normal part of her morning routine that I start to wonder if I imagined the whole thing. As it has since I was a child, the sound of running water relaxes me and I drift away, with my semi-conscious mind only barely registering the out of place click of the door being locked and that she's not singing in the shower like most mornings.

I'm still dozing half an hour later when Lisa comes back into the bedroom. Rather than getting changed in front of me, as has been normal since we became accustomed to one another, she collects her work clothes white shirt, black trousers and heads back to the bathroom to change. This time, she does favour me with a glance and a few words, but not the ones I was hoping for.

"It's half past seven. You're going to be late if you don't get a move on", she said, inadvertently sounding like my mother. Then she was gone, pulling the door closed behind her and once more locking the bathroom door. I fell back into my thoughts of what was wrong. I knew this abnormal behaviour must be somehow related to the cross words we'd shared last night, but I couldn't remember what I'd said that was so bad it merited this kind of treatment.

I must have dozed off again, as the next thing I remember was the sound of the door slamming. As much as I hate to admit it, particularly the way this morning had turned out, Lisa was right. I hadn't got a move on, and I was going to be late. I jerked awake, starting Chester who was lying next to me and started meowing loudly again when he realised that I did actually intend to get up this time. Clearly, Lisa hadn't fed him and I headed blearily for the kitchen, knowing I'd not get a moment's peace otherwise. On the counter there was a note, which showed that whatever else I'd ever done, this time I'd really pissed Lisa off. "She'll be here at 7", it read, in large heavy letters completely unlike her normal handwriting, "do NOT be late." It was unsigned, but a p.s. made my obligations clear. "Remember she drinks red wine, and we don't have any." I suspected that the purchase of some flowers on the way home wouldn't be a bad move, either. I may not be able to remember what I'll be apologising for, but even I could see that some show of contrition was required.

I head for the shower, hazily noting the dressing gown hanging over the back of the bathroom door instead of the bedroom door where it usually is. It's been the kind of morning where something like this ceases to bother me. Normal rules don't seem to apply and it's no longer the differences that this morning has unearthed that worry be but the reason why. For now, however, I simply don't have the time to be curious and settle for trying to use the hot water to restore my balance.

Half an hour later, hastily dressed and with my hair still wet, I slam the door myself, much to the disgust of Chester, who has received even less attention than I have this morning. Sure, he's been fed, but he's gotten used to be made a fuss of first thing in the morning, usually by Lisa. Whilst I may have had the time to feed him, I was too self absorbed to care for him. So far, I've managed to upset two of the most important figures in my life and, if I don't get a move on, I'm going to seriously annoy a third the boss.

Seeing the bus go by before I even reach the end of the street is no real surprise. In all honesty, it's been such a strange morning that this brief moment of sanity is strangely reassuring. I slow my pace with the early morning sun on my face and think that everything is alright with the world once more. Until it occurs to me that I'm still late for work, and getting later by the second. Ignoring the protests from my still caffeine free head and a stomach still trying to cope with too much Indian takeaway from the night before, I force myself into a jog, figuring that with the school traffic I might just be able to get past the bus at the traffic lights and pick it up at the bus stop the other side.

Turning the corner out of my road and ignoring the obscenely worded protests of the woman with the buggy I've only just managed to avoid knocking over I see that, up ahead, things are on my side for once. The lights are green in the direction the bus is trying to take, but the traffic going across its path has blocked the junction and nothing is going anywhere in a hurry. Again ignoring the interruption from my head, this time trying to tell me how silly a slightly overweight thirty something looks running full pelt down the road in a business suit, I pick up the pace, knowing how much more stupid the boss is going to make me feel if I'm late. Again. Despite only living about a mile and a half from the office.

The traffic on the road I need to cross is stalled in the lane closest to me, and I dodge my way through the traffic, determined to be at that bus stop before the bus is, and not wanting to risk a sudden space allowing it to get through and ahead of me. I burst into the opposite lane from between a car and a transit van, concentrating on the opposite pavement and with neither my mind nor my eyes on anything that might be coming the other way. Some short circuit has me thinking that the traffic is stalled in both direction, which isn't the case. But I only realise this when the sound of a horn and the squealing of locked up tyres to my left alerts me to the danger I've just placed myself in.

The sound freezes me. Rather than running myself out of danger, I find myself rooted to the spot. Suddenly, I'm aware of what make a deer caught in the headlights stand still. Fear. Sheer, unadulterated fear. I've had daydreams of throwing myself through traffic to save a grateful, beautiful, young woman from a fate like this, being proclaimed a hero by all around when we reach the safety of the pavement and being rewarded with kisses and the promise of more by the lady concerned. But when it's real, when it's you, thoughts like this fade away. There is no hero, there is only me. Me and the red double decker bus that is headed towards me, brakes locked, horn blaring, tyres squealing and headed, my mind bizarrely notes, for Turnpike Lane. And I find myself unable to watch, frozen in place, but with the best seat in the house.

Suddenly, my life begins to flash before my eyes. I've heard of this happening to people when they see the moment of their death approaching, but I've always scoffed at the stories. After all, if they are telling me the story, clearly their mind has over-reacted to the situation because their death wasn't all that imminent after all. I know I should be scared to be witnessing this sight, but it's strangely reassuring. The sight of the approaching bus is replaced by my memories, the sounds of an accident about to happen fade away like the end of a CD track and the me of the present is reacquainted with the me of my past.

Suddenly I am seven years old, choking on a piece of chicken skin one Sunday afternoon at my aunt's house. I feel the intrusion of my father's fingers down my throat, trying to hook it out and clear my airway and feel the shame of having everyone's eyes on me. I am five and it's a Monday at school after having been fitted with my first pair of glasses the weekend before. I stand there in the playground with the tears coming from my eyes misting the lenses of my horrible, brown framed NHS spectacles as children I thought were my friends point and laugh.

I am nine and my family have just moved house, moving from one town to another due to my father's job. I feel the pain and isolation caused by not having a group of my own and standing scared and lonely in a corner of the playground nearest to the door, hoping I don't get noticed. I am still nine, still in roughly the same place, but this time I have been noticed. By the school bully whose way I didn't move out of fast enough. I lie on the ground where he's left me with holes in my trousers and a pair of broken glasses in front of me crying and crying and crying. I am ten, I am in the same school and I am in the same state. Except this time, the person who has left me there is not the bully but his younger sister. There is a crowd and they all laugh and point and shout "you lost a fight to a girl, you lost a fight to" I see the aftermath of these days, when I get bawled out by my mother for ruining another pair of trousers and breaking another pair of glasses. I try to explain my situation, but she won't let me speak. She is unhappy here, even more so than I am, but cannot escape the tyranny of my father and so take her frustration out on whatever target presents itself, her only child. I feel the blows, the I see her shaking me, I hear her say over and over again that she wanted a girl as girls don't get into this kind of state.

I am eleven, my first day at what I've always thought of as the big school. And it is big, so much bigger than that old playground. This time it is the sheer size of the building that scares me, even more so than the size of the people. I see a group come up to me, laughing and joking with each other, and my heart leaps at the prospect of making a new friend. Or any friend. Until the one in front looks at me and say "You look like a monkey. Is that your name? Monkey boy? That's what I'm going to call you, monkey boy", and they wander away, their laughter mixed with monkey noises as my cheeks burn red once more and the tears that always seem to be hiding behind my eyes waiting for their cue appear again.

I am twelve, and the monkey noises are still a feature of my everyday life. But this time I'm not in a good mood. My weekend has been spoiled by a constant row between my parents. She's drinking too much and he doesn't like it. Plates break, glass shatters, and I cower under the covers, hoping that they'll forget I exist, like most normal days. I snap, I fight, I lose. Another pair of broken spectacles, a bloody nose, another night of being on the wrong end of my mother's frustrations. I am fourteen and my taste in music isn't cool. Again, derision. "What's up monkey boy, don't gorillas like music?" More tears, more derision. It's a vicious circle, one I seem unable to break. Fifteen and the new thing is illicit smoking in an alleyway just around the corner from the school gates. Not wishing to be left out again and appear uncool, I accept the offer of a smoke, feeling that the offer itself gives my life meaning, until I try to smoke it and make myself sick. Suddenly I discover that trying to be cool and failing is worse than merely being uncool. Sixteen and most of my peers seem to have girlfriends and I am, once more, an outsider, caught behind on another trend.

Seventeen and the freedom of a car. The front part of my mind leaps for joy, thinking that I'm about to see some of the happy memories I know are there. If I'm about to die, I don't want to go out this way, reliving the worst moments of my existence. I know there were good days. I know there were. But I can't seem to find them. My conscious mind isn't in control and can't dredge them up and insert them into the film currently playing in my head. So the memories are the battered and rusty Mini that my dad buys as my first car, ridiculed next to the Escort XR3i's that other people's fathers seem to be able to afford. There too is the first accident I was involved in, crashing into the back of a lady at a roundabout. A lady who, it turned out on the following Monday, was the mother of one of the hardest kids at school. This time, the nose actually breaks and my nickname menagerie moves from monkey to panda until the black eyes fade.

Eighteen and a job in a local convenience store at weekends. Which was OK, the film reminds me, until I was spotted by someone I knew and they took to hanging around outside the shop, getting drunk and shouting obscenities at me and scaring potential customers away until the manager has no choice but to let me go as being bad for business. The unfairness still makes me cringe, or would if there were time. But there isn't. There's another scene, another bad memory. This time at nineteen and my first experience of sex. The inexperienced fumbling, the inept kissing. And the shame of coming before we even got anywhere, making a mess and being thrown out of the girl's house with her screams echoing round the neighbourhood. My memory doesn't recall what she shouted, merely that she did. This is the only relief my subconscious wants to give me, it seems. For next, twenty, heading towards a dark alleyway that is a shortcut home. I want to scream at myself not to go down there, knowing the figure that awaits in the shadows. The scar on my stomach burn briefly with pain of the knife going in and I feel again this stranger going through my pockets for my wallet before leaving me to bleed. The disgusted looks on the faces of late night passers by as I crawl out of the alley, blood all over me.

Twenty-two, and desperate to try again, as I'm getting on quite well with a woman at work, my first job, I take to visiting a local "Massage Parlour" for practice. Just when I think I'm ready to make a move, I'm spotted by a colleague on my way out late one night. Suddenly I'm the talk of the office, and I'm greeted with ridicule by all the guys, as word went around like wildfire that I can't get any without paying for it. Worse, I'm greeted with complete disgust by the one I was doing it all for. She won't even look at me any more. Short weeks later, a disciplinary meeting. My request for a date has been reported as sexual harassment and I'm asked to leave. More shame, more tears. It seems that my subconscious is out to make me want to curl up and die with shame. Maybe this is how it softens the blow of dying, by making the last few minutes of life a living hell.

Faster, my mother's death. Finding her crumpled on the kitchen floor one evening in a pool of her own vomit, having finally succeeded in drinking herself to death. An attempt to do the same in a local pub, leaving me throwing up over a garden wall, and being arrested by the police after the homeowner called them. A night in cells, and being let go in the morning with a police record for having been drunk and disorderly. A failed job interview, where they tell me that they can't afford to have someone with my reputation on their staff. More drinking, more oblivion. Begging on street corners, unshaven, unwashed. Nothing jobs, a nothing life.

Lisa, my saviour. But there is no redemption in this movie. Her mother, knowing some of my past, but not prepared to forget about it the way Lisa has. Telling me every chance she gets that I'm not good enough for her daughter, that she could be more than she is if she'd only see sense and leave me, that she knows my mother drank herself to death because I was such a disappointment to her. That Lisa only stays around because she feels sorry for me. And on, until last night. The argument, the raised voices, her accusation that I can't hate her mother just because my own is gone and my retaliation by telling her everything that her mother says to me whenever we're alone. The bad blood as I refuse to apologise, knowing I'm right and accusing her of being blind to the bitch her mother really is.

Up to date, my subconscious steps aside and the sights and sounds of the present moment flood back at me. The horn still blares, the tyres still squeal. I can hear the screams of pedestrians and smell the burning rubber and I glance up at and through the approaching windscreen and see her. Dressed in the white shirt of her company uniform and doing the job her mother hates. The face that looked at me without love an hour ago is now open mouthed, caught in a scream, the hands I've held in mine now clutched tight around the steering wheel of a bus. Lisa, my Lisa, the love of my life and the cause of my death.

Impact. Head against windscreen, body against bumper. Flying through the air, until. Impact. Body on tarmac. I hear rather than feel my wrist break as I hit the ground and bounce. My mobile phone flies from my pocket and I see it strike the road in front of my eyes, breaking into pieces and bouncing away. Impact. As my head follows the phone to the road surface. I see my glasses, no longer framed in brown plastic, but as shattered as the days they used to be. My broken body bounces once more, and I feel my house keys digging painfully into my thigh. My body and the bus stop in tandem. I can no longer hear the squealing tyres. I can no longer hear the screams. I can no longer feel the pain I know is there and wonder if my memories are trying to take over. But this time, there is nothing left to see. The eyes in my head and the eyes of my mind are both closed. And the life, like the movie of my memories, fades to black.

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