The gravel is cool and wet against my face, its mouldy, mossy smell fills my nostrils and passes into my mouth. I can almost taste it, mixed with the metallic, sweet flavour of blood.
My eyes slowly bring the ground into focus. A puddle lies a few paces from me, beyond my fingers. I try to lift them, but they are glued to the stony path, throbbing with pain.
It is a relief to feel pain still. The rest of my body is now numb, detached from my senses as if it doesn’t belong to me any more. I am aware of the rain washing over me, of the voices echoing around, confused into one blurred, buzzing noise.
Except for one.
That one voice soars above the others and rains back down on me like a shower of rocks cast to cleanse my shame and sin.
‘Bloody perv!’ The harsh, disgusted tone hits me, more painful than the strike at my kidneys, more degrading than the warm spit dropping on my cheek. ‘I hope never to see your face again.’
My jaw jolts and cracks under the blow of one last kick. A rush of heat engulfs my brain and I watch the red tinted rain trickling away from me. The world becomes fuzzy and I slowly plunge into silence and darkness.
Sunday afternoon always smells of cabbage.
Or broccoli. Or whatever other vegetables mum decides to boil for lunch. She never chooses gentle greens, like courgettes or runner beans, she always goes for the boldest, most arrogant plants, that impose their presence long after they have left, overpowering pretty much any other odour in the house.
The auditory sense, however, is subjected to a much more fragmented assault.
In one corner, mum is watching the Eastenders Omnibus while at the same time mending a pair of trousers, the living-room filled with cockney accents and raspy voices.
Sitting by her side on the sofa, same slight figure and dark, wavy hair, her fifteen year old legs wrapped in a pair of black skinny jeans, Lauryn keeps a distracted eye on the soap and concentrates on replying to texts, generating a repetitive tune as she presses the keys of her mobile phone, strangely in rhythm with the drumming noise coming from Shane’s room, upstairs.
It is all quite soothing, oddly enough, like a distant, familiar rhyme lulling my thoughts.
Here I am, perched on the padded bench by the bay window, an island of silence in the sea of cacophony washing at my shore, my long limbs dressed in jeans and plaid shirt, my eyes hidden under the long hair framing my face.
I am present and oblivious at the same time, observant of my surroundings, while detached, as I doodle at the margins of my notes, my English lesson for college, tomorrow.
My drawings are staring back at me and I realise I have almost subconsciously filled the notes with eyes, wide open, terrified. Why, I’m not sure, I just feel the need to add tears and blood vessels to them.
‘Listen to this.’
The decisive, baritone voice breaks through the room’s perfectly orchestrated commotion, like a bugle suddenly calling everyone to attention. Mum and Lauryn drop mobile and needle and I stop tormenting the eyes on the page, as we all gaze back at my father.
He sits straight and rigid at the desk in the opposite corner, his back to the work space, facing us, all arranged in a carefully conceived composition: him to my left, mum and Lauryn to my right and me, not siding with anyone.
The sun from the window reflects on the thin piece of paper he is holding in his hand, allowing a glimpse of his neat handwriting on the other side.
‘I finished the letter to the Bishop,’ he announces.
‘Already, dear?’ Mum reprises her sewing while Lauryn takes advantage of the temporary distraction to change channel.
‘Just tell me what you think.’ Dad clears his throat and lifts his balding head a little higher. ‘Your Excellency, as you might be aware I have written to you in the past highlighting problems and malpractices taking place at our Parish…’
‘An excellent start dear,’ Mum buts in.
‘… malpractices taking place at our Parish.’ Dad frowns and recovers his thread. ‘I am unfortunately forced to write to you again…’
I have to listen. Unlike other noises, I can’t escape my father’s voice. It demands to be heard, it grabs my thoughts and doesn’t let go.
Next to the suffering eyes, I now draw a mouth, open and big. I wonder if this is my father’s mouth - slowly and relentlessly listing Father Anthony’s many failures as a shepherd of our flock, his slap dash approach to church duties, his laid back attitude to Communion distribution, Confession, sin – or if it is in fact someone’s screaming to break free. Perhaps it is my mouth.
The reading is finally over. My father is waiting for approval. He never asks for advice. He already knows what’s right and what’s wrong.
‘Very good, dear.’ Mum smiles serenely, as she has done for nineteen years.
I close my ring-binder and stand up, suddenly visible again.
‘Are you done with your studying, Sam?’ Mum asks.
‘I’m going for a walk.’
Music, drumming, ring-tones… I’m invisible once more and I leave the room and the house barely noticed.
Continues in Part Two