I wake up in the dark.
I wake up, and I don’t know where I am. The bed is not my bed and the air smells wrong, like disinfectant and industrial carpet.
Close by, someone is crying, a soft, damp sound that goes on and on. It kind of makes me feel like crying too. But I don’t. Instead, I wrap my arms around the pillow, pull the blanket over my head. I should get up, see what’s wrong, find a door or a window or a light switch, but my arms and legs feel heavy and I’m beginning to shake. The crying goes on forever.
I wait, heavy and shaking, for the dull sleep that I’ve been sleeping. I wait not to dream.
Around me, the dark is like water and I find it hard to breathe. It is a dark as dark as being underground.
“Do they ever tell you to do things?”
The doctor. Doctor Gloria Marquette. And the answer is yes. They do.
I look at the floor. It seems like most of my life, I’ve been looking at the floor. The sun comes in at a slant. Shards of light go spilling across the carpet. It must be afternoon.
I want to answer, but the words are stuck in my throat, so I close my eyes and pretend it’s a game.
A disappearing game. Not like the ones I played at home, but a new one, strange and scarier, like I am winding myself in and out of the slashes of sunlight on the floor, too dizzy to keep my head up. There are bruises down my arms, pinpricks weeping from the times I couldn’t keep still, times where the skin tore on the needle. I never made a sound.
Dr. Marquette is patient. She knows the mute confusion and the drugs. “Martin, what do you think about when you see or hear something that doesn’t seem consistent with what’s happening around you? Is there a particular thought you have?”
On days when the tension in my throat eases up, I’ve told her to call me Pike. Martin is my father. So is Pike, but it’s also my mother, my aunts and uncles and cousins. I can pretend I’m someone different. That I’m less like him than he thinks.
I clear my throat, feeling the words on my tongue, trying to get them out before they disappear. “I think, please God, don’t be real.”
Dr. Marquette nods and smiles and makes notes.
The bloody thing that is Badeker is sitting in the corner of the room, watching with dark, glittering eyes. He smiles and says, voice high and mechanical like a talking doll, “Heretical little thing, aren’t you? You just said you don’t want God to be real.”
“When was the first time you saw Badeker?” Dr. Marquette asks, rolling her pen between her fingers.
The day I beat the holy hell out of Todd Giarusso, surprising everyone at Macdonald Prep, but most especially me.
After, when the security guards had pulled us apart—pulled me off of him—they dragged us into the office. There, we were brought before the tribal council of my father, Todd’s mother, Mr. Waters the principal.
Mr. Waters was leaning forward, hands folded on his desk. “I’ll be honest, Martin. I’m a little surprised to see you in here.”
I nodded and looked at my hands. Bloody.
“How did this happen, would you say?”
I looked at my knees. The dirt was rubbed into my jeans. It would probably need to be soaked out before I put them in the washer.
“Did something happen to provoke this?”
My father breathed in, a long, slow inhalation through his nose, like he was trying to suck in the whole room. “Answer Mr. Waters.”
I looked over at Todd. He was a mess. There was blood and dirt everywhere, and he didn’t look at me. He just slumped in his chair, holding a cafeteria towel against his face.
“He—I guess he spit on me. And called me . . .” My voice came out hoarse and too quiet. “It doesn’t matter.”
I felt embarrassed. Not embarrassed that he did those things to me, but embarrassed for him, that he did those things to anyone.
Mr. Waters nodded, watching us. Watching me, and I tried my best to disappear, but it wouldn’t take. In class, all I had to do was put my head down on my desk and it was like I stopped existing.
After he’d threatened us with suspension, then dialed it down to two weeks detention and a lecture on deportment, he let us go.
Before turning me loose from his office, he put his hand on my shoulder. “Take care, Martin. I mean that.”
The door swung shut then, and we were out in the hall. My dad turned to face me, but he was looking somewhere over my head.
“I don’t ever want to hear of this happening again. Do you understand?”
“Yes sir, it won’t sir.”
“Wash your face,” my father said without looking at me.
The bathroom was empty. School had been out for almost an hour. Above the mirror, the florescent lights buzzed softly. The mirror and the light made me seem very white and red, and no colors besides those two. The blood was all over me like war paint.
I filled my hand with powdered soap from the dispenser and rubbed it across my mouth, watching as it left a grainy smear. The smell was like laundry detergent and blood. I could feel the way it scraped my skin, but it didn’t really hurt. It felt like I was scraping off a layer of myself, grating like sandpaper, like I was smoothing something out of me.
That’s when I saw Badeker. He was standing in the open stall behind me, reflected over my shoulder. His face was a pulpy mess, but he looked grim and satisfied. He looked proud.
Dr. Marquette is sitting with her ankles crossed, waiting for me to tell her any of the things I have knocking around in my head.
“Martin.” She sounds tired. “In order for this to be productive, you need to answer some of these questions. Can you tell me anything about your father?”
“Have you met him?” I watch long enough to see that she’s nodding, before looking down at the knees of my jeans again. “Then you don’t have to ask what he’s like. You know.”
“I thought he seemed nice. A little lonely, maybe. Worried about you. Is that pretty accurate?”
“No. It’s different.”
“How do you mean?” she asks. “How is it different?”
But I can’t tell her what I mean. There might not even be words for it. She could live in my house for a year and still not know what it’s like to be Martin Pike’s son. It’s the kind of thing you have to live with your whole life and you still can’t understand. It’s just something that happened to you, kind of like being in a car accident.
In the corner, Badeker is grinning, wiping at the blood from his ruined nose and licking it off his fingers. He winks at me. “Tell her your father is the devil. Tell her he’s insane. Tell her that your mother died, you mother died, your mother died and left you with a monster.”
And there’s something about the way Bedaker smiles, even through the bruises and the blood, familiar and comforting, like I should know him. He’s me. He’s my father. He’s out of his corner, creeping up behind Dr. Marquette and her leather armchair, standing over her.
“Is there something you’d like to tell me, Martin? You look anxious.”
But Badeker’s hands are already around her throat and I don’t move or make a sound.
I sit and watch as her lips go bl
ue. Blood vessels burst in her wide, startled eyes, light the whites up red.
I work hard at disappearing.
Photo by Janrito Karamazov