Continued from here:
He lay on the bed, staring past the ceiling.
Josie slept by his side. She’d had a rough day by all accounts and the money had been less than he was expecting. He would have had harsh words for her but he felt nothing at that point. What had happened earlier that day had been enough.
Seeing William apparently not understanding anything that had happened between them had been hellish enough. Seeing his mother take William’s side…
Well, that was unfair. She had had words for William as well, and he gloated at the memory of seeing him unable to twist and dodge like he had always done. He could never fully admit to what he was doing but oh, how satisfying it had been, hearing him be denigrated for not being a father, not being a man. William had looked like he would yet burst into tears himself – that would have been perfectly appropriate. Damned idiot milksop.
But then she would turn from William to himself, and then it had grown hot.
William barely looked at him during those times – he seemed only to have a distracted smirk on his face, and in seeing that he had balled his fists in his pockets more than once. How he would love to serve him once more, and this time in the old house, this time in front of mother. Yes, and even father, or at least that disturbing painting that mother seemed to worship. He saw her stealing the glances at it the whole time and the whole experience left him even more removed from her than before.
Father is DEAD, mother. We saw him die.
Perhaps he should do what she so preferred to do, it seems, and write a letter. If she had gone on to him about being the head of the family as the oldest son, well, then she should fully accept why it is he was the head of the family now, a role he’d never wanted, that even William could have if he desired it, or had any sense about him. But not when he was a babbler, a fool like he had become.
But he could not find the words right at the time to say that. Instead he had to sit there and take it all, the whole rush of it from her. He couldn’t blame her but what did she expect? What was she wanting? Could all of it be a surprise?
“What would your father think of you? Are you even slightly ashamed of yourself, what you do, how you live? Dwelling with the dregs of the City, serving them in their awful saloons – nothing but corruption, destruction, Richard. Nothing more!”
Her imperious tone made him laugh at other times – she could sound so shrill, so impractical. Now he felt browbeaten and impotent, angry.
Shame! What was shame? He knew his path, he knew what he had done, he loved it. People gave him respect now. He’d done some more jobs recently, he’d stolen more than a few things now, sold them on, handled them well. His knife had not been idle in that time either. How would mother have reacted had he told her everything then and there?
He gripped the thin sheet of the bed and almost snarled at the memory. Yes, what if he had told her, brought out all those details she would try and pretend were not real, that she would claim she could not accept. She was the one accusing him, then let her deal with the consequences of that truth! Imagine her darling Richard as Black Dick, terror of the Coast, patron of fallen women, thief.
Yet he still could not find the exact words then or now. He had tried for something else instead.
“Mother, you only seem to think the worst of me. I live where I do and I live how I please. You can’t complain about that, not when you and father both spoke about how you felt the same way about your lives!”
The look on her face both terrified him and thrilled him as well – as if she had finally realized that perhaps she had either gone too far or maybe had never fully accepted until now that there was another way in the world besides theirs. Or so he hoped she felt, in the few seconds before she spoke in response, icily cold:
“Comparing your father’s work to that…that sin you wallow in…no son could be more ungrateful.”
Just like any other woman, he’d wanted to shout, who thought that somehow they were all pure and wonderful, and only men like them mattered. He’d seen those women who understood better, who knew their role and place, who understood what drove men and obliged them, hell even got money out of it. He knew who he would rather deal with, who would understand him, appreciate him for what and who he was in turn.
He had only brooded instead. He looked over at William – seemingly looking off into the distance, slightly amused – then back at mother.
“At least I’m not abandoning a son while going off and doing god knows what with myself in some fantasyland of the insane.”
William had blinked and then turned to him.
“Richard, I would never abandon Percy. He means too much to me and to the world as a whole. He will understand my ways and carry them forward.”
He said nothing in response, but simply turned an arching eyebow towards mother, whose mouth was drawn in a tight line.
“We will talk about that later, William.”
“I will seek to oblige you on the point, mother. But Richard really needs to learn more of the manners that I would have hoped he had not forgotten from his youth.”
He felt the blood on his palms from where his nails were digging into them, pooling further as William continued on.
William paused, then settled back into his seat, apparently acquiescing for once. This honestly surprised him; he had rarely if ever seen William take such a hint smoothly, but perhaps today was that day.
A silence had lasted for some time, all three seeming only to focus on something else in the room besides each other.
“Your brothers miss you. Your sisters. Many more. Both of you seem determined to simply carry on as if nobody else exists but yourself, each other, and perhaps a few other people in this world. Everything else might as well not exist. If you don’t understand how this hurts us all, how this hurts me, then I cannot see why I should continue now, why we should detain each other from whatever is important to you in your day.”
She had spoken this with her eyes to the floor, understating but moving swiftly through the words, unimpeded by apparent hesitation or doubt. He did not want to argue the points…he agreed with them, to an extent. But he failed to see why it was that he should adhere to a rule that he had to do things only one way in life, and he had long since concluded that it was better to live for the moment.
He’d concluded that after what had happened those years back, when a sudden decision on his father’s part changed everything. He saw no reason why he had to explain something so obvious.
So he had stood, thanked them both, and left.
On his way out he passed by Martin again, who had been waiting outside on the porch, apparently looking at nothing as he sat. He greeted Martin coldly.
“So you’re leaving?”
“Yes, I’m leaving, and you don’t have to pretend you miss me, Martin. I always knew you never cared.”
Martin’s head turned towards him slowly. “It’s nice to hear these kind words, Richard. Truly.”
He turned away from Martin and left, stalking down the street and seeking his way to an easy connection back to the Coast as quickly as he could manage.
He continued to stare past the ceiling.
Upstairs had long been quiet – whoever lived there or pretended to do so kept to themselves so much that he’d barely heard a footfall. His neighbors on either side were noisier, though in the case of Bill that would almost be by default, as the man seemed only to get to sleep by cursing and ranting in lower and lower volumes over the night. Josie continued to sleep.
He could not. He dared not. He did not want to dream again.
Loathing the night was something that felt so unfamiliar to him, so strange. He had always loved it, even more so in recent times – something to hide in, something that covered up work that needed doing. But here he was, cowering, afraid, less so of the night than of sleep and what it would entail.
He looked fearfully at the dim walls. They were there as they always were, he told himself. Immovable. Surely.
He had stopped seeing the walls move in his other times, when he had his fix, when the needle had been left behind at his supplier. He only dimly remembered that time when the walls did not threaten him with their motion. Now he felt nothing but smothering, terrifying atmospheres when he saw them move, and he only now seemed to do so in his dreams.
So the solution was to avoid dreaming. To do that meant avoiding sleeping, though, since how else could a dream emerge unbidden? Yet he had to sleep.
He wanted to imagine what was beyond the ceiling…eventually there was the roof, of course, and then further up into the air. What was it like to be there? He wondered what it would feel like if he could ascend in a balloon, float above the City, the Coast, and see it all for what it was below him. Imagine he could do so being the person who somehow spoke for it all, owned it all. If he could make that name for himself in the truest of fashions, to be loved and revered and hated as “Black Dick,” a terror among criminals and a threat to others’ happy homes (and those daughters in them). He would give them all what they really wanted, all of them. Then they would understand.
He giggled, startling himself, then turned and noticed that Josie was not there.
His head whipped around to the wall.
It was moving.
The terror gripped him again, something pressing him down even more strongly than ever. He felt like he was a bug on the verge of being squashed flat. He felt wild-eyed, raving, yet still unable to move, staring at the wall with a horror that he could not even begin to comprehend.
A sound came from the door.
He moved his head just enough. It sounded as if someone was fumbling at it, near the doorknob but not quite grasping it, maybe as if it was unable to.
If so, then what was it?
He swallowed in a throat that felt parched. The wall’s movement had stopped, something for which he was grateful enough, but what he was facing in exchange did not seem like he had improved his situation in the slightest.
Other sounds reached him from beyond the door, suggesting images to him he did not wish to contemplate in full detail. They sounded liquid, even viscous.
He waited, eyes remaining wide open. If this was another dream, like all the rest, this one he would see through to the end properly, and he would confront that which had now long tormented him.
The doorknob seemed fully grasped now, for there was a curious hiss, then the turn of said doorknob. The door silently swung open.
Nothing but absolute darkness could be seen. It didn’t even seem like there was a hall floor.
He felt his breath being held, unconsciously.
Something in the darkness then shifted.
For a long while after this, the only thing he remembered were the screams echoing in his head and the rawness of his throat.