He stared blankly in front of him. He’d been trying to suppress his thoughts with numbness, and for some time he’d lost himself in that fog. But he could only drift so long before his eyes refocused.
Mother and father had gone quiet. Their fight was a tennissed shouting match punctuated by glass breaking and thuds as father beat her. He was out now, baring his sobbing soul to some faceless barkeep. She was either asleep or pretending to be asleep. The boy knew better than trying to console her by now. There was no comfort for her anguish, and her humiliation infuriated her and made her say things she’d regret. The boy didn’t want to put her in that position. He’d sat with her so many times to let her voice her pain. Sometimes she let him see her vulnerability, but in those brutal and sweet moments, the comfort invariably left. At some point he had become too fatigued to keep trying to support her.
It was best to let her weep silently and speak to her the next day. She would hobble then – they called it the whiskey limp, a joking colloquial for school children who never saw one in their own homes.
He was surprised to find himself numb even as he let his thoughts creep back on him. He wondered whether this made him a bad person. He wondered whether he was losing his soul in the war of attrition between compassion and circumstance.
He looked at the academic books on the table next to him. They were his key to something better. If he could study them well enough, he could earn his degree and hop a government grant anywhere in the world. He would be able to forget all of this in the blissful Elysium of an alien land.
But it was difficult to care about concentrating at that point. Instead he looked at his hand, imagining it flayed of the skin, flesh pulsing and, bones disconnecting joint by joint until it evaporated.
Enough. He was all dressed up for the ball, he drank an opiate and waited for the tangle of anxiety to unravel in his belly. He smiled.
He went outside and hailed a handsome cab. He felt his thoughts dulling as the drug spread. He would see Caddandra, and together they would dance through the mist.