Just Wanted Some Tape
By R. S. MacDonald
R. S. MacDonald lives in Australia. His writing has appeared in a variety of literary journals across the US, Australia, Canada, UK and Ireland. When not writing, he enjoys spending time with his dog, sipping cups of tea and enjoying the words of others.
I want to be the next Picasso, to complete this masterpiece before my eight o’clock bedtime. I tilt my head to the side, small dog beside me does the same. It needs something else, something to make it next level. The lightbulb moment strikes. I leap from my chair, steps filled with purpose – until I reach the top of the staircase.
My legs tremble, mouth dries up. I peer down at the closed door; its foreboding presence staring back, daring me to venture down. It usually doesn’t end well - the man on the other side dislikes interruptions, but I need the tape and this is where it lives.
I creep downstairs; careful, timid movements. My feet edge closer to the door, entrance to the study. I clench my little fist, gingerly raise it to the wood and pause. Heart races. I knock gently. Nothing. Seconds pass. I knock louder.
Door swings open.
“WHAT IS IT!”
I could buy my own tape, avoid the angry man, but this requires money. I’m lucky to have kind grandparents who send birthday cards filled with cheques. I’m unlucky the man downstairs takes them.
“I’ll put it in the bank for you,” he says. “Be safe there.”
I never see the money. Years later I learn they go on school fees. I pay to attend the school of horrors. I’m paying to be bullied.
I fall to my knees at school, cup hands beneath my mouth and catch the blood. My small hands shake as a front tooth joins the bloody mix.
Bryce laughs, admires his handiwork, and takes a seat. I start to cry. I want my mum.
“Will you please be quiet!” the teacher demands, undisturbed by a bleeding child. “It’s nap time. Find yourself a beanbag.”
“We need a meeting with that teacher,” Mum says that night. “Need to protect him from those thugs.”
“He needs to fight back,” says Dad, who then takes me outside, suggests we kick the football.
“They put me in a garbage can when I was in school!” he says. “Rolled me down the steps.”
I nod, make note to watch for garbage cans next.
“They flushed my head down the toilet!” he continues. “Had to get changed before an exam.”
I don’t understand how these anecdotes will help. Am I meant to feel grateful my face was punched instead of flushed?
He kicks the ball towards me, it slips from my grasp.
“Hold your hands out!” he demonstrates.
I kick the ball back with pinpoint accuracy. He doesn’t say anything. His leg launches into a spearing kick, sending the ball hurtling towards me with speed.
I’m on the ground, clutching my mouth, imprint of the ball on my face. I start crying. I want my mum. He rolls his eyes. Game over.
My younger sister randomly cries as many children do. It’s not good when I’m in the same room. Heavy footsteps up the stairs are the first sign. My sister cries louder, I grip my G.I. Joes harder. The door swings open and Dad looks at my sister. He grabs me by the hair, drags me away, filled with rage, red in the face.
“But I was just sitting there!” I beg.
I don’t know why I plead my innocence each time, as if honesty and truth even matter. I’ll always be guilty in his eyes, the wrongfully convicted for life. In the same way my sister can do no wrong, I can do no right – at least to him.
It’s not my ass that hurts each time I’m smacked - it’s my hand. Instincts are such that I automatically shield whatever part of my body is under assault. My hands receive the worst of it. It’s not even the pain that makes me cry, it’s the shame and injustice.
I’m forcefully shoved into my bedroom, stagger across the floor, struggle to halt momentum. As I turn around, the door slams shut.
“Don’t come out!”
I lay on the bed, stare at the ceiling, rub my hands and sob. When I gather enough courage, I will slowly open my bedroom door and peer into the hallway. Too soon, and I run the risk of it happening again. Too late, and my dinner grows cold.
This happens for years and most of the time I don’t know why. Home isn’t the only place it happens.
Sun sparkles over calm blue ocean, people on holidays laugh, ride bikes on nearby trails. Seagulls stand watch on the fence, observing an unhappy family inside a house. Despite being on holidays too, we are not calm like the ocean and we are not laughing like others.
Voices are raised, adults fight, faces beam red. No heavy footsteps on stairs, but the signs are the same. He lunges towards me, arms outstretched, anger out-of-control – but something changes.
I’m eleven-years-old now. Instead of cowering, retreating for cover, I push back. My hands fly forward, land on his torso; the force knocks him backwards. He staggers in disbelief, grips a wall for balance. He stands there stunned, processing the strength of an eleven-year-old.
“I said this would happen!” Mum yells. “One day he would fight back!”
Parents split-up. One house becomes two. I visit sometimes, stay other times. He doesn’t know how to cook at first. I’m hungry and need food, so I look for money. I open draws, cupboards, wardrobes, and then I find it.
I’m not old enough to know the thing taped to the inside of the wardrobe is a vision board. But I’m wise enough to know it stands for everything he wants, the things he most desires in life. I stare at the picture of a house and then the picture of a woman. I know her.
“Just a friend,” Dad would say to Mum during her many visits to the house when they were married; the visits she was expected to tolerate.
Beside the woman’s picture is a photo. It’s a baby boy. A son. The one he currently has apparently isn’t good enough.
21 years later.
The hospital bed appears to swallow up the shrinking frame of the old man.
“I’m not too good,” he says, clutching the bedding.
His eyes leak fear, a sense of disbelief at the situation. Anger bubbles under the surface, unable to manifest, disease acting like a straitjacket.
“Did you bring the grapes and Kit-Kat?” he asks.
A bag is placed on the table. He nods, coughs, and starts crying.
“They stole money!” he says. “Thugs!”
I look around at the clinical setting, the friendly nurses working hard, caring for others on the Acute Geriatric Ward.
“I don’t see any thugs,” I say.
“Thugs!” he yells. “They’re everywhere in here.”
I shrug my shoulders, help myself to a grape.
“Well,” I say. “Perhaps you should fight back.”