Benedetto | a short story

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“That’s not him!”

The sister’s cry was the first thing he heard since they managed to resuscitate him.

“That’s not him!”

Every time he blinked. Every time she caught his eye. Her brother’s eyes were not there and nobody would listen to her because his eyes were open and he was alive.

He looked at his sister as if he’d never seen her before. A girl at the other end of the bed making him feel guilty, but he had forgotten why she might have been right.

His mother’s hand on his forehead conveyed to him a familiar pressure that he must grow old, that he must outlive her at any cost. The father’s abandoned posture as he sat on the chair next to him brought back a sense of resignation and consequential silence. The image of an empty pool came to mind, the father’s water had been drained and the son’s water had been prohibited to fill the hole. His heart began to pound harder, nothing felt right. He was too young for this. There was too much happening in this hospital room that didn’t belong to him.

“We can’t wait to bring you home!”

The mother assured him and the squeeze of her hand signalled to him that she’d never let go.

He tried to find words in his mouth, across his teeth, the tongue, he was looking for his voice. He screamed instead as if to pull something from his stomach. The sister stared at his tears and started to mourn.

“Come on, son, take it easy now. There’s no need for grand gestures and conversations. You rest now and we’ll come and pick you up once the doctors give us the green light.”

When the father stood up, he took up the whole room. He felt small, too small, all of a sudden, to say anything. The mother felt heavy around his body. For the first time in this short amount of time, the sister’s recognition that something was wrong comforted him because he knew that she was right and he smiled at her in a way he just knew how, with tears disappearing around the edges of his lips.

When they brought him home a few days later, he got a feeling that he hadn’t lived there anymore, that they just wanted him back without knowing why. He wasn’t invisible to his sister, she was scared of him because she saw him, but she hadn’t made up her mind yet whether she should stay afraid. He didn’t react to the photographs of him that hung on every wall because he couldn’t recognise himself. He moved as if he had never set foot on this earth before, except for his body.

“Are you a ghost?”

He knew the sister was talking to him. His eyes widened, he was thinking.

“Why are you doing this?”

The mother always put her in her place. The mother’s hands could harden, especially around her daughter’s wrist.

“He hasn’t said a word. I don’t think he can speak.”

The sister’s words disturbed his mother and the room filled with expectations. He had no idea how to act. His body twitched in certain places. His eyebrows seemed to pull his mouth open to verbalise what was absent within him. Everybody stared at him, so the parents did know that his sister’s observations were truthful.

The father broke up the tension by stepping towards his son and patting him on the back a few times.

“Come back to us, son. It’s time to live and forget. All right?”

The father took an ice cream from the freezer, left the wrapper on the isle and turned on the television.

“How about a good long bath?”

Without waiting for an answer, the mother rushed to the bathroom.

“Do you want to see your room?”

As soon as the sister mentioned his room, his body turned and he knew where to go. He looked back at her and she followed him. They hurried past the bathroom, startling the mother with her fingers under the faucet. When he stopped in front of a shut door, he felt drawn into the room, into a history that wasn’t his own, that he couldn’t take responsibility for, that he couldn’t answer to, and thought that the closed door was his only protection from a world that he hadn’t been a part of.  

“What’s wrong?”

He shook his head.

“Do you remember?”

He looked her in the eyes.

The mother came out of nowhere and opened the door to his bedroom. She was pretending. She was smiling. Standing tall in the middle of his room.

“Come on. Nothing to be scared of. Here is your towel. I’ve drawn your bath. Go now, before the water gets cold.”

She sounded like herself when she said that.

The mother disappeared as quickly as she came.

“You don’t have to stay here. Nobody can make you stay. You know that, right?”

He looked lost in his own room, lost in his body, he had lost his language, his connection to everything, everyone. But the pull from somewhere wouldn’t stop tugging at him. He started to get undressed, he responded to the mother that way, without moving further into the room.

“Oh no, not in front of me!”

The sister shrieked and shut the door, leaving him alone.

He knew that the silence wouldn’t last long. He put the towel around his naked body and felt that all his wounds were covered and hidden. Inside the bathtub he let go of everything within him until the water got cold and he repressed where he was, staring at the tiles on the wall.

The father burst into the bathroom.

“Are you out of your mind? Where do you think you are? Clean this shit up!”

His father drained the water. He washed and scrubbed his hands clean whilst looking at his son in the mirror. He disgusted his father. Not everything that had been within me had been drained like the father would have wanted. And he stared at it. The pieces of him. That he let go. The dead pieces spread out, leaking, in front of him.

“Look at you!”

The father whispered with his back turned to him. The mother entered the room as if she had known what to expect.

“Take care of your son!”

The father barked and left her with him. Sometimes he seemed to be closer to his body than he could comprehend. He waited for guidance, instead every knot came to the surface. The mother was on her knees, toilet paper in her hands, blocking the way between him, standing naked outside of the bathtub, and the towel that hung above the toilet next to her. She cleaned what was already clean. When she handed him his towel, his skin had already dried.

That night, in his bed, he understood how everything and everyone would turn into a memory, that he had access to images that weren’t there anymore, that what could move inside of him was free to go. He looked at the furniture that always failed to hide him, the moonlit mirror that contained the history of his room, the dust that had already settled everywhere.

My own drawing © Laura Gentile 2022 | Instagram: croque_melpomene

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