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Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Blog 72: Paul's Pretend Friend

I’ve been looking after him for years, he’s a complete recluse with several psychological conditions which I perhaps indulged too much for too long. He has odd arrangements with any delivery service that I can’t deal with for him. When maintenance work happens in his flat he’ll wait in another room with the door bolted and pay in cash by sliding it under the door.

None of his clothes were less than five years old despite my endless offers to buy him new things. I tried acting more directly and bought him a complete outfit once but he just started shouting and threw them out of the fourth story window. He refused to open the door for me for three days after that. We were operating under a deal that he would wear clothes for only one week consecutively before he let me wash them.

He allowed me to see him for one reason and one reason only. He, for five years, believed I was his imaginary incarnation of his little brother. I am his little brother of course but at some point after the death of our sister in the car crash he thought that I had died as well. Paul never left that state of denial after sitting in the broken car as it slowly burnt and watching me and Danielle in the front seats. Danielle died instantly as debris from the wall we’d hit broke her neck. I was pinned in place by rubble as smoke from the engine filled the car.

He saw me in hospital but never found it in himself to believe I had survived what happened. I tried to tell him I was fine in the beginning but his resistance only grew with time. Long walks did nothing to alleviate his fragile mental state. Whenever he hears a car engine Paul begins to shiver and shrink into the foetal position in a breakdown that can last for hours. Something appealed to him in me living on as his imaginary friend. I guess subconsciously there’s an admission there of psychological dysfunction which he never conquered openly. I comforted him as he rejected all others to live alone in his flat.

On his behalf I settled a court case with the company who make the breaks that failed us on that way home. They agreed to make regular payments to my brother through me as his carer. By representing my brother in legal matters life was a little easier in some respects but in others it bound me to him more than I would ever have chosen. I had only enough free time for odd night shifts at local supermarkets and delivery centres but I pay my bills with my allowance as a carer. I had to give my mum and dad regular updates on Paul’s current status which was vastly the same for months at a time with his depression peaking during the winter around the anniversary of the accident. I brought him books from the library which he read at a pace of roughly two a day. He’d hadn’t been much into reading before the accident but even hated the sound of cars on television. Luckily VHS allowed me to screen his viewing experience and enjoy worlds beyond his room together more than him telling me about the latest saga he’d been reading. Animated films or those set in the times before the motor car were the extent of things he would watch. I preferred watching the samurai epics with him. He loved samurai films so much he let me buy posters for his flat, it was invigorating to see new splashes of colour in the otherwise chronologically stunted world Paul inhabited.

He liked drawing samurai battles, not that he was good, but improved gradually as it took up more of his time. I preferred him to tell me about his forming samurai world than his previous fixation which had been talking to the potted plants Danielle had given him when he moved into that flat. The plants which had previously been known as Danni and Bethany, Danielle’s middle name, were renamed Yukimura and Satoshi in honour of noble warriors Paul liked reading about.

Things seemed to be getting worse for Paul when he began retelling the story of his own life through that of the samurai in his to be written book. He thought I would be flattered by the addition of a guiding spirit character based on me who helped his broken warrior brother end a war. In his story that war had brought about the deaths of entire generations which on the side of the warrior left him as the sole heir to broker peace with the rival clan whose loses had been comparable.

The most infuriating thing about such ideas for me was where to pick apart which bits of the story represented something real and meaningful to my brother and which were more irrelevant creations to flesh out his story. Did he see himself as at war with some force which he, as part of another, had somehow wronged equally?

I sought the help of psycho analysts who had helped me in my case to become Paul’s legal guardian. I became close to one, Ellen, who said that she saw Paul’s writings as metaphor heavy embodiments of the battles raging within his subconscious that would become more and more accurate to how he saw himself with time as he replaced vaguely imagined elements with ideas that represented a previously unexpressed partition of his psychosis.

This interpretation seemed reasonably accurate as Paul’s imagining of the world became more and more fulfilled. He drew vast diagrams of family trees depicting dozens of generations of the two warring families and their allies. In keeping with the dire outlook of Paul’s perception of life the vast majority of characters represented on these charts died either in battle of through assassination until there were none but the brightest new leaves on the tree left. His warrior was the last male of his family to survive a war that had broken several peace treaties over four generations and claimed all but his ill mother. The warrior spoke to his family through his brother who began to realise that both families had been manipulated by a darker force bent on revenge. Paul’s dark force had been born during the assassination of a friend of both families who had stood in the way of a business venture between them. Having been killed to further the venture that character chose to incite war between the two clans which had been allied for so long before. Paul envisaged this force as corrupting any possible moments of clarity which might have brought prolonged peace to the clans. At the climax of the book Paul wanted his character to make a pact with the evil spirit to take his life to make amends for the wrongs of his family and that of the other clan.

The dark climactic ending had me worried for a few weeks that Paul might be contemplating suicide to which Ellen agreed it was possible. My fears were lifted when the good spirit rallied the forces of lost clansmen from both sides of the war to face off with the spirit of vengeance. The two clans combined manage to overcome the spirit of vengeance and lift the cloud of misguided rage from both families who make amends. As a lasting symbol of peace Paul envisioned the warrior laying down his sword and marrying the oldest daughter of the other clan to cement the peace. In return for his heroic deeds and dispelling the curse on the two families the ghost of the warrior’s brother is granted a body of flesh and bone during the light of sunrise. The two meet each other to talk each morning before the ghosts body fades in the morning wind when the light turns from red to yellow. The last pages of the book describe as Paul eventually wrote them describe in detail the smile on the face of the ghost as he holds his niece in his arms, born the night before.

This work steadied Paul emotionally. I asked him if he wanted me to see if I could have it published for him and he agreed quite amicably. The book was rejected outright by the first two dozen publishers I took it to who called it run of the mill nonsense. Eventually I took it to a smaller firm who specialised in that particular genre and spent far longer looking over the text. I was told to arrange a meeting with Paul which was the most awkward negotiation of my life. The publishing representative had dealt with plenty of odd shut ins in her time but never any who insisted on talking to her through a bolted door. Small tantrums occurred during edits conducted over the phone with Paul’s permission.

Paul was given a handheld computer as part of his publishing deal. He spent a week and a half staring at it in his chair between trips to the toilet which were the only break he had. This is where the story of Paul’s imaginary friend ends. Another publication, cheaper and less read than Paul’s, discussed my relationship with him less heavily laden with metaphor on my blog which I began at Ellen’s suggestion to combat my own developing social problems.

Paul expressed his betrayal with a punch that broke my nose and threw me from his flat with muscle I would not have thought he had given his lifestyle. We haven’t spoken since that day and in a complete role reversal I now receive updates on Paul’s progress in life through my mother and father with whom I lived up until moving in with Ellen only a few weeks ago.

Paul’s book is doing well for him, heavily advertised by his publishers who seemed to have a lot of faith in it. As with the two clans moving on with life beyond their war now Paul and I are left to get back to normality. I miss him as much as I have ever missed anything but realise he has made more progress in the past few months than the five years before. He still lives in the flat with Yukimura and Satoshi to whom mum and dad added Kenji and Haruda. I enjoy more sleep now than I’ve known since the car crash which gets me through the depressing boredom of a nine to five stacking shelves. Life goes on, so do the issues.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Blog 71: His Second Shadow (Lethe Three)

So for years I lived a lie and for no reason it seems. My son knew all along who I was. I wondered. I guess plastic surgery only works to deceive vague acquaintances. Usually the hand tattoos are enough to distract people anyway. Those who knew me before would say I’d rather have died than have a tattoo. In Russian culture my tattoos represent two kills in the mafia. One of the men who referred me for having my face cut apart had the tattoo and laughed when I said I killed me and my wife. It should have scared me to hear the hit man laugh but something about dying, even if it was a lie, made me feel braver.

Lethe introduced me to his wife. He told me she lead a militant woman’s rights group who had been disbanded by an even more militant band of puritans. Apparently Lethe managed to dissuade the would be killers from stoning her to death with a nuclear bomb. Having convinced them to set her free my son punished the men who might have killed his bride to be by letting them drink from his stores of poison. Immune, he drank with them and watched the small army writhe in agony. Lethe’s second shadow Sacer took on the role of bodyguard for my son and clearly takes it very seriously. I saw the handles of six throwing knives in the pockets of her body armour and a silenced pistol in its holster at her side.

For the first time in years my wife and I would meet our son and it seemed he would be multitasking as he arranged munitions deals on his palmtop while we tried to ply information from him. He looked nothing like the shadowy child I’d seen in my chair only months before. He was a man enjoying knowledge withheld from the world. I was going to ask his new wife to join us when she kissed one of the guards who’d been relaying information to her. Our son smirked as we sat, shocked, watching his wife kiss another man. He told us the marriage was more of a formality. Neither he nor his bodyguard were under any allusions as to the purpose of their relationship. She had sworn to protect him in return for his aid in her cause.

We’d created an unashamed monster. He told us if we wanted to know him then we would know him for what he was without polite vagary. He was no more a squeaky clean merchant than I had been an honest lawyer. We had no right to judge a son he said that we’d let think us dead.

It seemed slightly unfair for him to sit there and tell me his crimes were no worse than mine. His mother took the deal as he’d offered it, accept him for what he was and join the ride or be left in the dust behind him. She told him that no matter what he did we would be there for him, I was not so sure.

He told us that during all of the back and forth with European security agencies it had become inevitable that at some point a taskforce would be put together to find him. He’d taken the initiative to start that group himself and as yet the best efforts of that task force had proved unsuccessful. He wanted to know if I had ever considered a career in criminal psychology. I had not. Apparently security wages were far more substantial than those of a regular psychologist. I agreed more for the sake of his mother to become the consulting psychologist in the group meant to catch him.

Two weeks later I was in a conference room in Brussels looking at a photo of the man the others thought was behind the mayhem all over the world. The photo was of an older, more beardy gentleman from either Iran or Syria thought to be the head of a terrorist cabal with nuclear ambitions. Clearly my son was spinning his stories well.

I gave my opinion that the suspect while drawing conviction from his religious views was more than a mere fundamentalist. Sad as I was to be my son’s puppet he does write a good script. He wanted me to build him a legendary counterpart behind which to hide. I will not disappoint.

Blog 70: The Second Amendment (Lethe Two)

Niall was facing a heavy handed investigation by police looking for charges to bring against him. He made the national papers bringing him all sorts of attention. Business proposals came flooding in. Criminals wanted his help to evade capture by faking their own death. He took the offers and the money, he hated the reprobates but thrilled in the challenge. He could reset the counter for mobsters who were grasping at threads with the fuzz at the door. He helped them disappear with all of the money or die and relieve themselves as kingpin with a clean new rap sheet. He became indispensable to the scumbags, with him on their side they were invincible. He’s admitted to me that those days were his worst mistake. Well placed ‘friends’ could only keep him safe for so long.

Niall despised reliance on anyone. The bullet proof glass was installed at his house, metal shutters blocked out the few rays of light he might have let in anyway. He became a surveillance enthusiast. I wondered why he trusted me with the knowledge that he’d bought up the houses either side of him and renovated them to accommodate escape routes. There were no doors between the adjoining buildings but thin walls that he could easily fight his way through if he had to. I smiled slightly wondering if he had considered the difficulty of fighting his way into a packed room should it become so. He answered the smirk by telling me that the space between the thin wall in his house and the other would accommodate excesses enough to facilitate his escape. The one, wooded front door was fronted with ornate metal caging and backed with an inner stronghold door. The police had not failed to notice the changes in his life, they had nothing on him but that didn’t stop them looking.

He would cancel our sessions sometimes and I’d ask why. He’d say I wouldn’t be safe with him. That didn’t mean he’d be any safer on his own. Sometimes he was shaking, not openly but trembling. On other occasions I saw the deep pool of thought behind his eyes. He might be staring beyond me at notes on the wall or further through it to some mechanism of escape. I saw a smile grow gradually over a number of weeks as the plan came together. He had the blueprints for a path to freedom but it would take him time to lay the foundations. Time was running out, death threats were catching fire in his sealed letterbox as fuel was poured through it. His sprinkler system saved him from those first weak attempts but he knew the situation would escalate.

His solution was quick and brutal. He advised his underworld friends to carry out blanket assassinations of their rivals. Several criminal empires were snuffed out in the first night. In a week he was down to the last clan of killers. By then they were beginning to realise the new territories would no more be theirs for long than the pulse they were born with. I was under no allusions as to what he’d done, he felt no remorse. He disappeared, sold the house and moved away. Our next and last sessions were held via video call. No one who knew who he was knew where he was.

Via the video calls he told me his life was comparatively quiet. I knew what he meant was he’d found a preferable noise. Interruptions to my electrical interactions with the world suggested that Niall had turned his attentions to virtual manipulation. A laptop and scanner were delivered to my house. They worked alongside his software as a decryption engine. I was told very forcefully never to use either in view of a window and to keep them out of sight to even my wife.

Niall had become slightly more legitimate in this new, shadowy incarnation. He told me he was working with European intelligence agencies to decipher coded messages that compromised national security. As payment he wound steal vast stores of money from their budgets. Some intelligence agencies set up separate accounts and let him take their money. Niall had no sense of the ungracious wrath that was coming for him. As much help as he was to them the intelligence agencies did not like feeling fools at Niall’s hand. They were biding their time and wondering who the mysterious thief and benefactor could be. His pen name to them was Lethe which could easily be taken to mean he had connections with Alaska.

The version Niall I had known was dead, I never called him that again. He was something more than I had known back then and it seems he knew all along who I was. Amidst news of upheaval in the near east I received a message printed on rice paper in food dye. I got married, it said, did you see that coming dad?