*Stay With Me by Gabriella Szaszkó is coming soon in English to the readers all around the world. For the English version please scroll down, and you can also read an exclusive excerpt from the book.*
David Pennington a saját szabályai szerint él: sikeres író és öntörvényű alak, aki mindenkit távol tart magától, a bátyját, Christ kivéve. David élete azonban teljesen felborul, amikor Chris, a sikeres manhattani ügyvéd öngyilkosságot követ el a saját lakásában. Látszólag semmi sem indokolja a szörnyű tragédiát, hiszen a testvére mindig rendezett életet élt, sikeres volt a munkában és a magánéletben egyaránt.
David úgy dönt, megírja családjuk történetét, és megpróbál válaszokat találni Chris tettére. A nyugodt visszaemlékezést azonban bátyja volt menyasszonya, Amy megjelenése szakítja félbe. Ahogy David egyre mélyebbre merül a múlt sötét bugyraiban, és szembenéz a családjában történt szörnyűségekkel, Amy és ő egyre közelebb kerülnek egymáshoz…
Túl lehet-e lépni a múlt sebein és fájdalmain egy új élet reményében? Fel lehet-e dolgozni egy szeretett testvér halálát? Lehet-e jövője egy olyan kapcsolatnak, mely egy ilyen tragédia árnyékában születik?
Vajon David képes lesz lezárni a múltat, vagy örökre a szörnyűségek rabjává válik?
Vannak történetek, amelyek képesek úgy mellbe vágni, hogy napokkal később is nehezen találom a szavakat. Szaszkó Gabriella Maradj Velem című könyve is egy ezek közül. Fájdalmas, nehéz, apró darabkákra szakítja a szíved, ugyanakkor valami igazán jelentőségteljes.
A Pennington testvérek közül mindig is David volt a lázadóbb, a féktelenebb természet, akit, mint egy megrepedt üveget, csupán egyetlen óvatlan érintés választotta el attól, hogy apró darabkákban heverjen a földön. Mégis bátyja, Chris az, aki végül feladta, aki nem látott kiutat a múlt sötétjéből. A felfoghatatlan pillanatig, amikor végső nyugalomra helyezik, csupán egy hét van hátra. Egyetlen hét. 168 fájdalommal teli óra. Az óra mutatója szélsebességgel halad, az emlékek papírért kiáltanak, és David eldönti, hogy testvéréért újra megjárja a múlt poklát, és megírja gyerekkoruk fájdalmas emlékeit…
Hogyan engeded el a múltat, ami örök nyomokat hagyott rajtad nem csak kívül, de a lelked minden zugában? Mi történik, ha mindez nem sikerül? Milyen romokat hagysz hátra? Választhatsz-e a szerelem és egy emlékhez való hűség között?
A könyv két testvér története, akik olyan dolgokat éltek át, amelyek örök sebeket hagytak rajtuk, akik megjárták a poklot, és akik közül csak egyikük maradt állva. Ugyanakkor a Maradj velem válaszok kereséséről szól, egy olyan férfi szemszögén keresztül, akinek fájdalmát a könyv minden egyes sorában éreztem.
Ez nem egy könnyű történet, és számtalan nehéz témát érint. Szó volt benne családon belüli erőszakról, öngyilkosságról, drogokról és önbántalmazásról. Az egész könyv kicsit elkeseredett, nyers, fájdalmas és reménytelen hangulatú, főleg mivel bár párhuzamosan játszódik a történet a múltban és a jelenben, minkét idősík kifejezetten komor volt.
Nagyon tetszett a két testvér kontrasztja, és a közöttük lévő mély kötelék leírása. Az írónő igazán komplex karaktereket alkotott, egyedül talán Amy volt az, aki számomra még egy kicsit kibontásra várva maradt. A szerző kiváló stílussal ír, és egyáltalán nem érződött, hogy debütáló regényről van szó. Bevallom, mindig picit félve veszek a kezembe egy külföldön játszódó magyar regényt, de a New York-i helyszín igazán hitelesnek hatott, és egy pillanatra sem éreztem hamisnak a könyv hangulatát.
Fájdalom, veszteség, hibák és múltbéli démonok. Egy történet, amely sokáig velem fog maradni. Őszintén ajánlom!
“…ugyan a sebeim felszívódtak de a lelkem sérülései nem engedték hogy éljük tovább az addig megszokott őrült életünket.”
„Az írás volt az egyetlen, ami egyben tartott. Christ újra élővé és elevenné varázsolhattam, ha csak tünékeny napokra is.”
“Nagy testvérnek lenni mindig nehezebb. Ezt a felelősséget én sohasem érezhettem meg. Mindig volt valaki mellettem, aki érzékelte helyettem tetteim súlyát. Aki utánam futott, hogyha éppen el akartam volna tűnni az esti tengerpart sötétjében.”
“Lassan szívtam be a füstöt, az ismerős New York-i szmoggal együtt. A kapcsolatom ezzel a várossal olyan kettős volt, mintha egy olyan szeretőm lenne, aki szétrombolja az elmémet, mégis imádom. Rosszat tett nekem, mégis ragaszkodtam hozzá.
(…) A veszélyes viszony ellenére továbbra is szerelemes voltam a csaló felhőkarcolók sziluettjébe. Tudtam, hogy mindig hiányozni fognak. De a gyomoromban a szabadság és a rombolás iránti düh lassan alkotási vággyá alakult.”
“Ekkor szakadt le felettünk az ég, mintha különleges egyensúlyban lett volna azzal, amit átéltünk. Amy a zuhogó eső miatt közelebb lépett hozzám, mire én megfogtam a kezét. Szédültem a képtelen mennyiségű vodkától, gyűlöltem saját magamat, hogy éveken keresztül nehezítettem a bátyám amúgy is kegyetlenül nehéz sorsát. Felnéztem az égre, ahol a felhők elfedték a csillagokat. Az eső végigfolyt az arcomon, amitől össze kellett szorítanom a szememet. Szabadon sírhattam, az önuralom lehullott rólam, az eső elfedte férfiatlan könnyeimet. Csak nyeltem a cseppeket, miközben magamhoz szorítottam a lány hideg kezét. Ott akartam meghalni, hogy a túlvilágon kérjek bocsánatot a bátyámtól és az apámtól. Azoktól, akik életem nagy részében megmentettek saját magamtól.
Bűnös voltam, amiért nem tudtam megmenteni a bátyámat a pusztítás vágyától. Ő az éles tárgyakat választotta, hogy külsőleg roncsolja szét fiatal testét. Én magam a drogok, a szex és az őrült bulik mellett döntöttem. De én túléltem.
Ezt neki köszönhettem és annak a lánynak, akinek a szíve ott lüktetett mellettem az esőben.”
Szeptember 24-ig a Maxim Kiadó oldalán a Maradj velem, és minden
sorozatindító kötet 35% kedvezménnyel kapható!
Szaszkó Gabriella kreatív írással, szerkesztéssel, blogírással és online újságírással foglalkozik. Írói pályafutása valahol gyermekkorában kezdődött, már akkor is meséket alkotott. Erről azóta sem szokott le, és úgy véli: „a fantáziavilágot nem kinőni, hanem ápolgatni kell, hogy minél messzebbre érjenek ágai”.A szerző jelenleg Angliában él.
My Review of Stay With Me by Gabriella Szaszkó
There are some stories that hit me so hard, that even after a few days I still can’t find the right words. Stay With Me by Gabriella Szaszkó is one of those stories. It’s painful, heavy, dark, it shreds your heart into little pieces but it’s truly meaningful.
Of the Pennington brothers, David was always the rebellious, the more reckless, the unbridled natured. He was like a cracked glass, separated by only one careless touch from falling into little pieces to the ground. Still his brother, Chris was who gave up at the end, who hasn’t seen the way out of the darkness of the past. There is only a week left till the unimaginable moment when he will be laid to rest. One week. 168 painful hours. The clock is moving at high speed, memories are crying for paper, and David decides to return to the hell of the past for his brother and writes down the painful memories of their childhood…
How do you let go of the past that left permanent marks on you not just the outside, but in every corner of your soul? What happens if you fail? What ruins you will leave behind? Can you choose between love and loyalty to a memory?
The book is a story of two brothers who have experienced things that have left eternal scars on them, who have been to hell, and only one of them left standing. But Stay With Me is also about searching for answers though the eyes of a man, whose pain I felt in every single line of the book.
It’s not an easy read, and it touches several heavy subjects, like domestic violence, suicide, drugs and self-harm. The atmosphere of the book is bitter, raw, painful and hopeless, especially since story alternates between past and present and both timeline is pretty dark.
I really liked the contrast between the two brothers, and their special connection. The author created really complex characters, maybe only Amy’s character felt a little unrevealed for me. I loved the writing style of the author and I didn’t feel like I was reading a debut novel.
Pain, loss, mistakes and demons of the past. This story will stay with me for a long time. I highly recommend it!
Five- Devastating- Stars
Excerpt From the Book
*Official translation by Fanni Sütő*
Sometimes tears say all there is to say
Sometimes your first scars won’t ever fade away.
(The Script: The End where I begin)
I collapsed in the hall with numb lips and a glass of vodka in my hand.
I could hear the thumping of my heart inside my head, my eyes burnt and memories of the afternoon flooded my brain. A phone call from a stranger who told me my brother was dead. I didn’t believe it. I got in my car, palms sweating, legs shaking, and I drove straight up to Manhattan. Chris had a posh, 3-room flat he could easily afford from his ample salary as a lawyer. An ambulance parked in front of my second home. Its flashing light wasn’t blinking. A black car with open doors behind it. I bit my lips, wanting to feel the pain, hoping that it would make me forget the bathtub full of blood where my bother ended his life.
I felt myself standing in the middle of his living room again, where just a few days ago we watched a film on his huge TV. A red-haired woman spoke to me telling me to fill out papers, but her voice seemed very distant. My day was filled with painful paperwork a heavy lump sat in my throat. A man shouldn’t cry while making sure that his 35-year old brother, with whom he spoke just the day before, should be buried in a week. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to weep or to shout.
I took a gulp of the bitter vodka; its smell brought back memories of my mother. My hand balled into a fist. A hot teardrop ran down my face, I trembled with rage. It was our mother who killed Chris and nobody knew about it. Everybody was dumbfounded by the death of the successful lawyer.
His posh neighbors shook their head with contempt when I stepped out of my brother’s flat.
Staggering, I got up from the carpet. I wiped away a few papers from the brown surface of my desk and I turned on my laptop. I decided to do what I did best. I had one week until the funeral and one week to tell our story. The story of how Chris saved me from our own mother.
Our parents got married very young. Margaret Thompson and James Pennington met in a house party in New York. My father was in his last year in college, mother was just visiting the city for the weekend to chill. She was only seventeen. Not surprisingly, their meeting culminated in a one night stand. Most probably there would have been nothing else between them after this short lived affair, had Chris not arrived unexpectedly. Our father was the son of a rich New York family, while Margaret was a simple girl from the suburbs who never thought about getting into higher education. My father was a responsible young man and he married the beautiful Margaret Thompson immediately. His parents weren’t too happy with the thought because our father quit his studies to get a job. He needed to support his new family. Our father got only negligible support from his wealthy parents and he had to earn a living alone.
We grew up in a small town called Glens Falls, at the northern part of New York state. The first years were pretty okay because James helped around the house and our mother didn’t have to stay alone with Chris. In less than two years she was pregnant again, with me. After my birth everything got out of hand. My father took on a second job because he had to support a family of four. Our twenty year old mother sunk into a deep depression and soon she found her only consolation in drinking.
Chris’s endless caring showed already when he was four. I could was probably six or seven months old when my mother knocked herself out so much that she forgot about me for a whole day. Dad was working a twelve hour shift, so it was my four year old brother who gave me the baby bottle and fed me milk. We only know this by the stories of our father, of course.
Our mother beat us many times even when we were younger. We lived according to strict rules; we tried to stick to them because we had horrible beatings as punishment. It was mostly my brother who suffered these. Margaret Pennington’s mood and alcoholism deteriorated year by year.
The fragile harmony broke in 1992. It was the hottest summer of my life, I will never forget any of its sweat drops. My father’s work demanded more and more of his time and James Pennington was unwilling to give up on the idea that his two sons would go to university. He worked as a travelling agent which meant that sometimes he spent two or three night away from home. In the fall of 1992 he needed to leave for weeks, so that he could visit the states which lay further away.
Our mother spent her days at home. Officially she took care of household chores and raising us, but she couldn’t have bothered less with the house or us. But she loved spending money on clothes and perfume and anything else a respectable suburban housewife could need. Sometimes she didn’t leave the house for days and then went out at night to paint the town red.
From the outside, we might have appeared to be a completely normal family. We didn’t get into the focus of attention until that certain Fall. Everything had happened behind closed doors until then.
I remember that first school day vividly. Chris was sitting on the second stair with his head hanging, his new backpack lying next to him. He was just fifteen and he watched our father getting ready with a grave expression. Dad was in his late thirties. My brother resembled him more with every passing day. Both of them had short hair and vivid green eyes. Dad had darker hair than Chris, he inherited the dark blonde of our mother. Both Chris and my father had regular features and lean bodies. When he grew older Chris became a haunting image of the late James Pennington.
I had two months until my thirteenth birthday. My eyes were light blue, just like my mother’s. I prepared my peanut butter sandwiches in a hurry while I carefully listened to every word between my father and brother.
“Will you be gone for five nights?”
I threw the sandwiches in my bag, I hardly wrapped them, I just put them in a napkin. I wanted to listen to the conversation from the door. I leaned on the doorpost and watched as my brother ruffled his hair and drummed on the stair with his sneakers. Dad was fixing his tie in the mirror of the lobby, he only shot a glance at Chris.
“These few days will fly by, don’t worry. I’m going to hurry back home.”
My pulse accelerated from this new information. Dad had never left for such a long time before. I broke my silence.
“If you’d known about it why didn’t you warn us earlier?”
“You were already in bed last night when I got the call. I’ll be home Saturday morning!”
My stomach somersaulted from the thought of staying alone with mom, even the peanut butter bread lost its appeal. Dad stepped next to me and hugged me tightly. He smelled pleasantly of aftershave.
“Don’t worry, David! The first week of school is gonna be awesome and I’ll take you somewhere on the weekend.”
I nodded and glanced towards the upstairs bedroom, everything was silent. Our mother usually woke up around eleven. Dad ruffled Chris’s hair too.
“Come on, boys, we don’t want you to be late from school on your very first day! That wouldn’t be too nice, would it?”
We got an encouraging smile as a parting gift to help us through the week. We had to commit it to our memory so that we wouldn’t forget it until Saturday.
Dad drove off soon and we walked towards the school which was only a few streets away from us. Chris turned to me almost immediately, carefully grabbing my shoulder. Deep wrinkles sat on his forehead.
“David, today I’m going to stay in school till four, it’ll be half past four when I get home.”
A lump formed in my throat. I swallowed.
“Our time tables are on the fridge, so make sure you get back latest at two. Do you understand me?”
I shrugged to get rid of my brother’s hand.
“I’m not a baby! I’ll be thirteen soon.”
Chris sighed, shook his head and started walking towards the school. It was a chilly morning, but I was suddenly feeling hot.
“You only have to survive two and a half hours with her till I get home. Please, David, don’t do anything stupid.”
My stomach shrunk from the gravity of his sentences. The rules were incredibly strict when dad wasn’t home. Chris was getting continuously punished; blue and green bruises covered his body, that’s why he didn’t like to wear short clothes. Despite the summer heat he wore a pair of jeans and a long T-shirt.
“Just be on time!” Chris warned me again.
Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to keep his advice.
The morning flew past in the whirlwind of classes and old friends and we were walking each other home so long that the second hand of the clock crept slowly towards half past two. I saw this on the main square of the town because I didn’t have a watch.
When I realized how late I was, I ran. It took me around ten minutes to run home from the town centre. I leaned on my knees, panting, my side hurting from the effort. Our two-storied house towered over me menacingly.
I turned the doorknob slowly. Pleasant coolness greeted me as I stepped in the short corridor. The door clicked quietly behind me when I closed it but it broke the perfect silent of the house. I tiptoed towards the staircase. I hurried, I wanted to be in the safety of my room as soon as possible.
I was halfway through when I felt the stale smell of alcohol, followed by my mother’s voice. I shuddered.
“Where do you think you’re going?”
I spun around, straightened up and squinted.
“Hey, mom! I’m home.”
“I can see that,” she said in a strange, slushy voice. “Could you come back here for a second?”
I walked to the kitchen slowly. My mother was sitting by the table, clenching a glass full of transparent liquid. She wore a flower-patterned summer dress, her long blond hair was restrained in a strict bun. Red lipstick was a permanent feature of her make-up.
“What’s the time, David?”
My heart was beating in my throat.
“I forgot about time.”
Her lips twisted into a smile.
“You know that only naught little boys forget about time, don’t you?”
I didn’t answer, I tried to avoid looking at her.
“It’s impossible to properly discipline you when your stupid brother and father are around.”
My face wasn’t prepared for the hard slap, tears welled up in my eyes. The sour smell of alcohol tickled my nose. I knew she wasn’t going to hit me again. She didn’t want it to show.
All the strength left my legs, the scenes of my previous beating flashed up before my eyes. Luckily it happened two years ago but I still couldn’t forget it.
Mom grabbed my shoulder strongly and dragged me to the living room despite all my protests. I repeated in myself that it wouldn’t last long and then I’d be able to go up to my room. She closed the curtains and took out a leather belt.
I lifted my T-shirt silently and kneeled down for my well-deserved punishment. I was squinting so hard, my eyes started to hurt. I could feel the smack of the belt on my back in a second; pain-roses bloomed everywhere it touched me. Still, I didn’t say anything I just clenched my teeth.
For a second the beating stopped. I gathered the last shreds of my strength but my mother spoke.
“You’re going to be thirteen this year, ain’t you?”
I nodded. I had no idea why she was asking it, then I felt the cold metal buckle hitting my back.
I lay on my bed with teary eyes. I couldn’t turn to my side, I had got exactly five hits with the buckle because of my lateness. I’d never been punished this much before. Chris asked for the punishment for all my mischief.
I stared at the white ceiling in my dark room. My thoughts were empty. I was only open for the pain throbbing along my heartbeat. I didn’t have the strength to put on a T-shirt, although I was shivering.
The opening door interrupted this strange state. The sound made me shudder which sent pain to all my bruises.
“Shit,” my brother said next to me, although we were forbidden to swear.
He kneeled down next to me quickly and shook his head.
“You were late.”
“You mustn’t be late, David.”
He left the room. For a second I believed that he wanted to abandon me because I deserved my punishment. He returned a few minutes later, carrying a few things.
“She’s not in.”
I heard the lock of my door closing. I could see Chris from the corner of my eye putting some sandwiches and drinks on my desk. We were also forbidden to eat in our rooms.
Chris sat next to me on the bed.
“You’ll have to sit up.”
I shook my head. He was asking the impossible, my back hurt so much.
“I brought you some painkillers. Trust me, it’ll help!”
I raised my hazy eyes to my brother, I was swallowing back tears. By the time I managed to sit up, I was crying on his shoulder and he was caressing my hair.
“Don’t worry, Dave, it’ll be alright. It’s just horrible on the first time.”
I got a white pill in my hand, Chris stole it from the medicine box. I swallowed it quickly with water. I knew that if mother discovers it, he’d be severely punished. I rubbed my eyes and looked at my brother.
“Who helped… you, when she did with you… the first time?”
Chris smiled faintly then shook his head. He didn’t have to say anything, I knew the answer. He motioned me to turn around and he spilled some stingy fluid on a cotton wad.
“Where did you get it from?”
“I’ll put it back, don’t worry! We only need a little.”
He caressed my back carefully with the wad. It stung horribly but I didn’t say a word.
“Was school alright?”
“Yes,” I answered. “We haven’t done anything yet! How was your day?”
Chris sunk the used wads in his pocket, he couldn’t throw them in the rubbish. He took out another T-shirt for me and continued chatting.
“Mine was also good. I’ve a few new classmates, they look quite nice.”
I changed into the clean T-shirt, I felt much better. The painkiller was slowly working its magic. We covered the bruises as though they had never existed.
“You don’t have any homework, do you?” he asked. “I think you need a bit of rest.”
Under different circumstances I would have protested. Who wants to sleep at five in the afternoon? But a very heavy tiredness descended on me and I felt safe beside my brother. Even though my favorite series was starting in an hour, even though we were alone in the house, I only wanted to forget.
“Will you stay with me?”
Chris smiled and nodded.
“Sure, I’ll stay”
I lay down on my bed and pulled up the blanket despite the heat. My head grew heavy quickly. The last thing I saw was Chris sitting next to me, and searching his bag for his books.
With his other hand he was wiping his eyes.
Next day I was woken up by the sunlight which shone upon the shiny surface of my light brown desk. I felt hot but when I tried to throw off the blanket a horrible pain hit my back. For a moment I got scared that I overslept and forgot about school, but when I looked up at my white clock I saw it was only five. I calculated in myself, I’d slept a lot because last night I only got up to grab a sandwich then I fell back to sleep. I turned to my side and saw my brother on the floor next to my bed. He wrapped himself in an ancient brown blanket, he didn’t even have a pillow. A school notebook lay open in front of him. I smiled because he’d kept his promise. I was wide awake so I took my notepad and started drawing small monsters. I’d been a big fan of horror stories since I was ten. My father wasn’t too happy about it so I had to hide my cheap horror novels very deep in my room. Nobody could take my imagination, though. I could always make up new stories for myself. My inner world was always there to hide me from reality.
That morning I was drawing a werewolf head on the empty page. I was so immersed in drawing that from my wild motions the pencil tumbled out of my hand, straight to Chris’s face. I held my breath for a minute, hoping that he wouldn’t wake up but he said with a quiet moan:
“Dave, you can’t stay put even in the morning, can you?”
“Sorry, I didn’t want to wake you up.”
Chris sat up then stretched. He wore his yesterday’s clothes, which was forbidden because it would wrinkle them.
“I’ve been awake for a while, I just tried to sleep back. How is your back?”
I shrugged while I picked up my pencil.
“It hurts only a bit.”
“That’s good,” he said with a huge yawn.
“When did mother get home?”
Chris took off his T-shirt, he couldn’t go to school in the same one. His back was riddled with rows of scars although only the trained eye could see them.
“Some time in the small hours of the morning. I woke up but luckily she didn’t check my room thoroughly. I’d tucked a pillow under my blanket, just in case.”
He folded the blanket and threw my school clothes at me. He grinned wildly.
“Come on, get dressed quickly!”
I didn’t hesitate for a second, I put on jeans and school T-shirt quickly because mornings were our time of the day.
Mother never got up before ten, so we were free. Of course only silently and within limits.
We made our way downstairs carefully, skipped the fourth stair because that one was horribly loud. We had our schoolbags on our back with all our guilty pleasures which we smuggled bit by bit into the safety of our school lockers. I had horror books and comics while Chris had a couple of AC/DC tapes. We had to pay attention to hide them really well during the summer. Before enjoying our complete freedom, we only had to take care of the dishes, mop the floor, clean the counter and prepare our lunch.
When we got to the kitchen, we exchanged a look: it was a sad sight.
The chaos was even bigger than usual, so it took more than just five-ten minutes to clean up. There were cans all over the floor and a bigger bottle with a transparent liquid in it; breadcrumbs and some chips lay around them. I smelled the bottle which had a white label around its neck and I smirked. The smell of stale alcohol filled the kitchen, so Chris opened the window facing the neighbor’s house. The pungent smell made me feel uncomfortable, my stomach became one tight knot.
Chris shook his head when we started collecting the cans into an old bag, they rattled emptily. He couldn’t comment on the case, it was nothing outrageous. I followed his example and I helped him collecting the garbage. With our joint forces we cleaned up the kitchen in half an hour, so we could sit down in front of the very quiet television to watch anything which was on. We sat close to each other, sometimes poking each other and eating Lucky Charms. We chewed extremely slowly, least it could be heard upstairs. Sometimes I reached into Chris’s bowl to steal his marshmallows . He shot pitying glances at me in return. I looked at him with pursed lips, so he ended up giving me all of his colorful sweets.
These mornings were my best childhood memories.
In the afternoon I was sitting by my desk with my legs folded under me and I entertained my insatiable imagination with ghost stories.
I’d forgotten each of my pulp stories in the school, I was quite angry with myself because I could have brought at least one to have something to read in the afternoon. I was waiting for Chris and my senses were tuned on every small noise. Luckily, I avoided meeting mom, I didn’t see her downstairs and it was strictly forbidden to enter her bedroom. My back ached only a little, but I guessed soap and hot water would sting horribly under the shower. I got stuck in the story and I didn’t have any homework so I just stared at the window which was darkened by the curtain. My room would have become too stuffy in the unusually hot Indian summer if I let the sunshine enter freely. The door closed behind me suddenly and it startled me. Chris threw his bag on the ground, he panted and smiled.
“Everything seems alright. I hurried as much as I could!”
“Everything is okay.” I gave him thumbs up. “I haven’t even seen mom.”
I shouldn’t have uttered these words because at that very moment she walked through the door. She was fixing her spotless hair and she smiled at us wildly. She reeked again of the scary smell of alcohol.
“You’re home?” she nodded towards Chris.
Her appearance radiated perfection. I understood only later how young she was back then: only thirty-three. It was only the alcohol that left barely visible traces on her face.
She was a pretty, lean woman with huge blue eyes. Her soft features were corrupted by the blood red lipstick. The contrast of red and blue became scary and the circles under her eyes became darker and darker.
“How was school?” she asked.
Chris answered nonchalantly, without any sign of fear.
“Totally fine. Everything went well.”
Mother sat on my bed and straightened the non-existent wrinkles of the sheet.
“Of course, clever boy, what else could I expect from you?”
Chris smiled faintly. I noticed how much he grew in the past months. He had his light brown hair cut very short during the summer which made him look even older. Mother’s voice brought me back from my musings.
“I found a sandwich in David’s room this morning.”
My heart ran faster from her words. I looked at my brother with big eyes but he stood with his back towards me. I blamed myself because I knew the rules, yet I made a horrible mistake.
“Boys, you know very well that it’s forbidden to eat in the bedroom. David deserves to be punished.”
If I hadn’t been sitting, my legs would have surely given way under me. My back ached at the memory of yesterday’s beating and I wouldn’t have been able to survive another punishment. Mother didn’t usually punish us this often.
Chris broke the moments of silence.
“I brought it for him,” he said in a firm voice.
“Christopher. It’s very noble of you that you’re trying to protect your brother, but he should also learn the rules.”
Chris seemed to have suddenly grown older. His look was determined, his voice didn’t tremble for a minute. I shrunk into a small eight-year-old in my chair. I knew I was a coward, I wanted nothing more than to hide under the stairs not to hear the quarrel. That’s what I always did. I wanted to cover my ears with my hands so much that it hurt. But I couldn’t. My fate rested with my brother.
“Yesterday David had a horrible back ache, he couldn’t go down to have dinner, so I brought it up for him. I’m the one who deserves to be punished.”
Mother’s red lips parted into a wide grin. She looked only at my brother so I felt immediately relieved.
“My dear Chris, the rule is that if somebody is unable to go down for dinner, he simply doesn’t dine that day.”
Chris nodded. His green eyes radiated bravery.
“I broke this rule too.”
My brother opened the door of my room and made his way towards the living room voluntarily. That was the usual scene of our beatings. I wanted to stay in the corner of my room but my mother looked at me.
“You’re coming too.”
I shot a questioning look at her and I started trembling again. I thought we’d made it clear that it was my brother who deserved the punishment.
“You’re going to be the audience. Just so that you learn that in this life you’ve got to do everything alone.”
It seemed like hours while I watched the buckle of the leather belt cut into my brother’s back. A Rainbow song played in the radio, the happy tune hurt my ear. I couldn’t look away, mother had forbidden it.
My brother suffered in silence, he didn’t even make a sound. After a time the scene became blurred before my eyes, I barely dared to blink which made everything even hazier. I wanted to be elsewhere so I made up a story in my mind about a boy who fought monsters every night. I called him Tom and he always won, whether his enemy was a werewolf or a vampire. He was never afraid of anything.
He was the exact opposite of David Pennington.
Mum went out in the evening again. We were watching the TV in the living room at eight, when the front door closed shut behind us. She left without saying goodbye as usual. Chris stared at the door for long moments, afraid that she only took the garbage out and she would return. After a few minutes Chris got up from the armchair and looked at me.
“She won’t be back until the morning?”
“I don’t think so.” He shook his head. “Do you want to go outside?”
I grinned at him. We were preparing for a secret and forbidden pleasure because normally we couldn’t leave the house after eight. But we were sure she wouldn’t be back until dawn. Chris took a blanket from the wardrobe and pushed it in my hand.
“You can go, I’m coming after you in a second,” he said and ran upstairs.
Our tree house was the most awesome place in the entire world. It sat on the branch of a huge maple tree in perfect stability. We had the cabin for as long as I remember, dad built it for us many years ago. It served as a sanctuary in the summer, mother never came out to inspect its tidiness. That was also the reason why she didn’t like when we hung out there. We saved the tree house games for times when dad was home or when mum wasn’t. The cabin was in a perfect place, we could see the path leading up to our house which left us time to escape if we saw somebody coming. We hated winter because then we couldn’t use our garden refuge.
The inside of the tree house was full of hiding places only the two of us knew. We perfected the secret doors where we could hide pulp books and tapes. Of course for winter we had to smuggle everything into our school lockers because we didn’t dare to risk the snow and the long frost.
As soon as I pulled myself up, I pushed a small plank in the floor and I took out one of my half-finished stories. I blew off the dust, cleaned the paper carefully and hid it in my pocket. I reached deep into the crack to see if I could find any other treasures but there was nothing except a few bottle caps. I had been looking for one of my baseballs for weeks. The cabin creaked under me as Chris made his way up. It wasn’t him I saw first but two bottles of coke. I grinned like hell.
“Where the fuck did you get this?”
Chris’s reproaching look joined the coke as he climbed up the trapdoor.
“What?” I crossed my arms. “You also swore yesterday.”
Chris thought for a moment then shook his head.
“I shouldn’t have. It’s just better if you don’t use such words at all, we wouldn’t want it to slip out of your mouth in a wrong moment.”
I grimaced, but decided to drop the subject. I was more interested in the forbidden coke. We were expressly forbidden to drink soda, especially in the evening because it prevented us from sleeping.
“I bought in the shop on the way home, I had a few cents left.”
In a few seconds we were up on the roof with our bottles. It was one of our guiltiest pleasures, the top of the tree house was a dangerous place. Even dad forbade us to go up there. It was well worth the risk though: the starry night was a breathtaking sight. The warm autumn breeze hugged us and the weather stayed completely clear.
Chris put down the blanket, but when he lay next to me he groaned. I didn’t look at him, but said what was weighing on my soul.
“I’m sorry for the sandwich thing.”
He looked at me, smiled then continued staring at the sky.
“It’s okay. It was my fault, I should have taken the plate down in the morning. I forgot it, I deserved my punishment.”
I fixed my gaze on the sky, it was as though the infinite darkness had been sprinkled with glitter. I filled my lungs with fresh air.
I wanted to talk with Chris but I didn’t know how to start. We hardly ever discussed our beatings. I bit my lips.
“How can you bear it?” the question bubbled out of me.
That day mother had beaten my brother more than she’d ever beaten me, but Christ never even hissed or cried. He didn’t answer for long minutes. I wanted to suck back the question, I didn’t want to spoil a perfect soda evening. He drummed on the roof with his fingers then he said:
“I’m not there when she does it.”
I turned towards Chris, but he was still staring at the sky.
“Do you remember the time when I accidentally broke the vase?”
I swallowed hard and took a gulp of my drink to make the dryness of my mouth go away. Of course I remembered. It happened years ago, Chris couldn’t have been more than ten. We were playing tag when he accidentally knocked the vase over. He was severely punished.
“That’s when it first happened,” he said. “I left my body.”
“But that’s impossible!”
“I hadn’t thought it was possible either. Since then I don’t even feel the beatings. I usually watch from a corner of the room. I don’t feel anything, only later.”
I stared in front of myself seriously. I thought that the thing Chris just told me was incredibly cool, it was as if he had been some kind of superhero.
“It’s stupid, isn’t it? You don’t believe it anyway.” He drank a bit of his coke.
“Of course, I don’t!” I gave him a little push with my shoulder.
Chris laughed and turned his gaze back to the sky. There was a strange look in his eyes when he added.
“You know that I was only pulling your leg, don’t you?”
We were quiet for a few minutes but I knew he’d told me the truth. He wouldn’t have joked with this. It was his little secret he never discussed with me again. Later I discovered that it wasn’t a gift from the heavens. It was more like a curse.
The hoarse ringing of the bell woke me from long hours of writing. It startled me so much that I almost knocked a half-empty beer can off my desk. I looked around in the living room which also functioned as my study. I had a writing corner upstairs, but I couldn’t work there. It seemed that my muse only felt at home downstairs.
It was obvious that my flat was unfit to welcome guests. It didn’t look better than the dorm room of your average college student, where only boys lived. Beer bottles, dirty plates, pizza boxes and remnants of Chinese takeaway lay everywhere. Not to mention my clothes. I rubbed my face, my four day stubbles almost hurt my hand. At least the clothes I wore were tolerable, as long as you consider black sweatpants and a T-shirt, which only had a tiny hole at the bottom, acceptable. I kicked some shoes and socks out of my way as I went to open the front door. I had no idea who it could be. My head was pounding so badly that I decided whoever it was, I’d send them away mercilessly. Across the opaque glass of the door I could see the silhouettes of a slim figure. I let out one last sigh, I swept the hair out of my eyes and opened the door. The sight came as a shock. My brother’s ex-fiancée stood in front of me with puffy eyes. I’d always had very controversial feelings about Amy Forester.
I’d never seen her so desolate as on the day when the tragedies of life brought her to my threshold. Her green eyes were swollen, her hair fell on her shoulders disheveled. She wore light blue acid wash jeans and a simple white tank top. She didn’t say anything at first, just hugged me tight. Her familiar sweet smell hit me immediately. I felt strange, she hadn’t hugged me this long and strong for years.
“I can’t believe it,” she whispered.
I didn’t answer. She started to shake from crying in my embrace, it brought tears also to my eyes.
“Come in!” I motioned her to enter and closed the door.
“I’ve heard it this morning.”
Guilt woke in me as Amy sat down in my chaotic living room that I hadn’t notified her. I’d have been incapable to tell it to anybody.
“I’m sorry I didn’t call. It was just…”
She fished out a handkerchief from her huge white tote bag. She blew her nose and shook her head.
“Nobody expected you to do that. I can’t even imagine how hard it must be for you!”
I sat next to her on the sofa after I took away some books and placed them on the floor. I couldn’t say how hard it was or wasn’t for me. What I felt was emptiness, as though something had been ripped out of me. I knew that Amy loved my brother very much, they were together for more than ten years.
“I always thought he was able to hold on. I don’t understand how he could have done it.”
Her hands were shaking, so I squeezed them a bit. Her touch was ice cold despite the heat outside. I didn’t want to talk about the suicide of my brother. My feelings were uncategorisable, my mind resembled a library ravaged by an earthquake. I was too exhausted to arrange them, I only looked at the torn pages and covers.
I glanced at my word processor and started to speak. My voiced seemed unfamiliar.
“I’ve been writing. I want to write our whole story, in Chris’s memory.”
Amy squeezed my hand stronger and I felt as she trembled in her whole body. I turned to her, she scared me for a moment. Her face was white and wet from tears.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
“I’m a bit dizzy, I think I’ve exhausted myself.”
I got up from the sofa and made my way to the desk to return with some sedatives.
“Maybe it’d help you to take one. You could go upstairs and sleep in the bedroom.
Amy smiled and took the medication.
“I didn’t come here to be a burden, I wanted to help.”
“You’re not a burden, but you’ll be if you don’t rest a bit. I guess you haven’t slept a minute.”
“You neither, I guess.”
I pushed a glass of water in her hand, I judged this one to be fresh enough, that is I hoped it hadn’t been there for weeks. Amy’s presence wasn’t burdensome, even if when the bell rang I was dead sure that nobody’s presence could calm me, not even a bit. I didn’t really know why, because during the years I had a lot of conflicts with her. But I knew her pain was real and that she really loved my brother.
She listened to me and took the pill. I walked her upstairs while she didn’t stop apologizing.
About the Author
Gabriella Szaszkó is a creative writer and editor, who is currently living in England.
If you would like to learn about her more, check out her website.