The Abduction- Paul Cezanne
by M. M. O'Driscoll
What Thornton did that evening, what I saw him do, was as strange to me as the girl who came home without her baby. When John returned from London in early summer, I wanted to tell him about Thornton, but my brother had changed. He'd lost weight and his eyes no longer shone with anything other than despair. He came home stripped of his smile and of his youth, greeting our parents awkwardly and kissing Colette on the cheek. He gave me a brief nod, the way you would to a stranger, and said no more that day.
I had dreamed often of my brother, dreamed him home from London and back the way he had always been, except for his mind, which in my dreams was always as cold as a winter gale raging in off the Atlantic. Once I saw him standing in the doorway, pointing an accusatory finger. A knife glistened in his other hand and then began to dance, making patterns all around him. When it slid from his fingers all shiny and slick, I saw the awful wound in his side, and him probing around in there, trying to find reasons for the way he felt. He pulled out a mess of viscera and held it towards me. Smiling, he said "They're yours now, little brother."
I woke to feel a dark fist clenched about my heart, squeezing a quiet terror into my veins. I mumbled a half-remembered prayer, and demanded of God that he send my brother home and not the stranger I'd dreamed into being.
John had worked the farm with Father. I had an older brother, Noel, who was in Alaska now, laying oil pipelines. He came home every three or four years, but never really having known him, I'd never really missed him. John was different. Despite the fact that I was eight years younger, I had always felt that he was as much my friend as my brother. He'd been my source of knowledge about the world and the people in it. He took me to the pictures most weeks and gave me all his books. It was John who told me about girls and sex, and to not feel guilty about wanking. He said the proper word was masturbation, and said that most fellas did it at some time or other, and that those who said they didn't were liars. He taught me all the old stories and legends of Drumassan: of the tinker and his horse who drowned one night in the lake; of the Protestant Squire murdered in 1919, who was still said to haunt the crumbling Rectory; and of the night a burning Blackthorn tree lit up the hills north of the village, and how the next day Jack Crowley's body had been dug up from a shallow grave not six feet from the ruins of the tree. And he spoke too of the hardness and cruelty of life, and said that the only way to survive was to dance around creation and never let her hold you still.
But that all ended when I told my friend Georgie O'Connor something I'd sworn not to tell. I never thought Georgie would repeat it, but kids have no use for secrets unless they've someone to tell. When the story got out, John's girl was sent off to England, and when he found out, he knew who to blame. But he never did, never said a word, just took off one night and followed her to London. She returned two months later, the baby no longer in her stomach, nor anywhere at all. But John didn't come back, just sent a card to Mother saying he was well and working on the sites, and to me, not a word. Father hired Donie Thornton, a boy of eighteen, to help manage the farm, and for a short while I'd thought we might be friends and talk about films and girls, the way I had with John. But it wasn't long before Thornton disabused me of this notion.
"D'ya always have to be mopin' round me?" Thornton said one time. "Is it the way you've no pals of yer own?"
"I used to help John," I said. "He would tell me things."
"I aint' yer fucking brother, so get that straight. And I don't have time to fuck about." He put a fist against my chest and shoved me into the drain. "Jesus, watch yerself, you'll ruin yer clothes."
Guilt lingered in me for having driven John away, and I felt I deserved some form of punishment for my act of betrayal. Thornton must have sensed this, and so obliged me with some new torment on every occasion that our paths crossed. Even so, I couldn't hate him. Like me, he had a role to play.
And then I saw the thing he did in the sultry heat of the piggery. My initial fright gave way to curiosity. It puzzled me, why someone would do that, and what it meant. This failure to understand worried me and made me miss John all the more. He would have explained it so that the world once again made sense.
Only John wasn't there. But then he was.
We took turns killing crows with Georgie's .22 rifle. We lay in the scrub at the edge of a copse overlooking a field of barley that shimmered in the hazy sunshine. A line of telephone poles laden with glint-eyed birds marched across the killing ground. Georgie had scored five, I just the one. Neither my mind nor heart was focussed on the slaughter. I'd hoped to talk to John this morning, but he'd stayed late in bed. I'd heard him come in last night, his voice drifting up the stairs, slurred and brutal as he raged at Drumassan. I saw it in Mother's eyes at breakfast, a look that said, "leave it be."
"Have another crack at it," Georgie said, removing a finger from his nose to examine his find.
I took the rifle and sighted along the barrel, sweat trickling into my eyes as I raised it towards a pole. Nothing there, so I swung it towards the ditch. In the two years since John had left, I'd grown used to his absence, found that I could, after all, live without him. I still had my parents, and though my sister was a pain, I loved her after a fashion. Life went on, only in different ways. So what was it made me feel so tense and ill at ease? Was it that having wished so long for John to come home, what I'd got was someone else in his body? Like in Invasion of the Bodysnatchers? Certainly it wasn't the John that I remembered. Perhaps I was thinking that way so as to avoid the simple truth, which was that John would never again be my friend.
"Christ, Liam, shoot the bastard," George said, pointing to a large crow atop the pole.
I swung the rifle, aimed and squeezed the trigger. Too fast. The bird flew off on drowsy, taunting wings.
"What a fucking hames," Georgie said, lying on his back. "What's up with you?" He took a pack of cigarettes from his shirt and lit one for himself. "Have you ever seen your sister starkers?" he asked.
If there was one thing Georgie always came back to, it was sex. He was obsessed with it. But then, as well that as anything else. I turned on my side, facing away from Georgie. Colette was sixteen and imagined that she had reached a level of sophistication beyond the reach of most boys in Drumassan. She was certainly unattainable to any thirteen year-old. Invariably, when Georgie and I were together, the subject of Colette would come up, and he'd ply me with questions about what colour knickers she wore, her toilet habits and so on. But she held no fascination for me. The truth was, I considered her a bore.
"Do you ever think about her when you're pulling your wire?"
Why would George ask a question like that? Dumb ignorance? Or did he seriously think it was a possibility? "No," I replied. "I usually think about Helen." Helen was Georgie's eldest sister, but even so, I was lying because the girls I fantasized about only existed in books or inside my head.
"That cow?" Georgie said. "Sure she thinks she's God's fucking gift. Head the size of Cork and an arse to match."
"My brother fancied her."
"Did he do the business?"
"Not everyone is only after the ride."
"Yes they are," Georgie was certain. "Except maybe you. Why'd ya always have to be so fucking different?"
"Different how?" I asked, turning towards him.
"Jay, any fella in his right mind wants to get his hole."
I wondered if that were true. "And what if you couldn't?"
"What d'you think God gave us hands for?"
"I didn't mean that."
"What did you mean?"
"Nothing, forget it. Do you ever talk much—to your brothers?"
"Just talking, anything. Like you talk to me."
"Talking bollix, you mean?"
I sighed. Even now Georgie remained unaware of the pain he had caused by blabbing about John's girlfriend. I'd never pulled him up about it, knowing that he'd meant no harm. But since then, I was more careful about what I told Georgie. For a while I'd considered telling him what I'd seen Thornton do, to see if any of his brothers had ever described such a thing. But the thought of word getting back to Thornton kept me silent. After breakfast, I'd hung round the yard waiting for Georgie. Thornton had sauntered towards me from the barn.
"Made a show of himself last night," Thornton said.
"Who?" I said.
"Yer prick of a brother." Something like glee burned in his eyes. "Thinking he can come waltzing back any time he wants. He's got another fucking thing coming, so he has."
I turned away.
"Mark my words," Thornton called. "Ya little cunt." I left the yard, Thornton's malice sucking at my resolve, thinking of John and of the creature into which he had been transformed. Home nearly a week, he seemed to have lost his zest for life. He spoke to our parents in monosyllables and to me hardly at all. Is it my fault, the way he is now, I'd asked myself, or was it something else changed him? What had kept him in London, even after his girl came home? I imagined London as a vast and wonderful place, a world of punk rockers, skinheads and other mythical creatures. Was it that essential difference to home, that unfamiliarity, that had held him there?
Later, Georgie remembered that his sister, Patsy, and some of her friends were swimming down by the Graney. He suggested we go and spy on them. I thought about going home to try and talk to John, to ask him about Thornton. Surely the bond between us was not completely broken? But doubt festered inside me like a tumour, and it wasn't hard to let Georgie persuade me to go with him. As we walked through the fields, Georgie held out the promise of a glimpse of forbidden glories. He said, "Sure, if we're lucky, we might get to see their tits."
I nodded, dry-throated, trying not to think of how I'd spied on Thornton, telling myself that the thoughts that quickened my breath were not in the least impure. Quite the opposite: they were motivated by a quest for knowledge, and what could be purer than that?
My brother lurched through the door in the late afternoon, eyes glazed and reeking of drink. He collapsed into an armchair and winked drunkenly at Colette. He said nothing to me, so I pretended to carry on watching tv.
Mother came in from the kitchen. "Look at the state of you," she said to John. "You're a disgrace."
"Oh Mam," Colette said. "Can't you leave him be?"
"Lord knows," John said, his voice slurring, "it's a fucking crying shame a man can't have a drink without being lectured."
"Please, John," Mother said. "There's no call for that sort of language."
"What harm is it?" he said. He winked at Colette again, as if she were part of his drunken game. At that moment I felt torn between my mother and my brother, not wanting them to fight, not wanting to have to take sides.
"In all fairness," John continued, "no one ever died of cursing."
"I won't have it," Mother said. "Not in my house."
Colette said, "Why must you always be at him? He's not home a week and you're already trying to drive him out."
"This has nothing to do with you." Mother said. "No one asked your opinion."
"Well maybe you should."
"If your father heard the way you talk to me!"
"What would he do? Beat me? The way he did John, and Noel?"
"Shut up for fuck's sake, both of ye," John said. He stood up and stormed out into the yard.
"It isn't enough that ye drove him away the first time," Colette said, bitterly. "How much more do ye want him to suffer?"
I followed John out into the yard. "Where's the pre-pubescent off to?" I heard Colette call after me.
I found him up in the mill, staring out an open window, at a tractor become part of the field, grass growing out of the silent engine. John glanced at me. "Jesus," was all he said.
I waited for something more. He lit a cigarette and nodded to where the falling sun turned the tractor's rust to gold. "First one I ever drove," he said, then was silent again.
The quietness settled on us like a shroud. To break it, I said, "I'm glad you're home," though I was no longer sure that it was true.
"I won't be staying," he said. "I've me own life to lead now."
My heart was filled with a terrible sadness. I wanted to be brave, to ask his forgiveness, but I didn't know how. "I might go to London when I'm older," I said.
"T'wouldn't suit you. Ya gotta gave a head on you, know what you're about and mind that—not any other fella's business."
The implication being that I didn't know what I was about. The bitter truth was that he hadn't forgiven me, and would probably never do so. "I want to say something to you," I said, afraid to meet his gaze. The words came with difficulty to my lips, more difficult even than Confession, and in my head I prayed that he would understand and that things might be as they once had been. "After you went, I used to dream about you nearly every night. I couldn't bear it that you never said so long. I know I was the cause of it all, but honestly, I never meant to say anything."
John smiled, and for a moment my heart lifted, till I saw it was a smile of contempt. "Never mind what you meant, you did it anyway."
"I'm sorry John, I thought I could trust someone."
"Trust someone? Who?"
"It doesn't matter, it was my fault."
"Fucking Jesus, it matters to me, it matters that you broke your promise and gabbed to some bigmouth pal." The anger in John's voice was chilling. Bitterness burned in his eyes, and I saw no acceptance or forgiveness there. I tried to speak but the tongue felt glued to the roof of my mouth. I was scared, I realized, though not nearly so much as I was scared by the brother in my dream.
John stubbed his cigarette on the sill and said, "There's nothing between us now. There never will be again." Then he pushed past me and stormed out into the brooding fullness of the evening sky.
I thumbed a lift to Dunmellon and browsed for an hour in the town's second-hand bookshop before coming to a decision. I bought two books by Philip K. Dick. It was the titles that hooked me, and the weird, unsettling images they conjured up in my mind. They were Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said, and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, titles whose meaning were puzzles, the answers to which, I thought, could be revealed only in dreams.
I bought a Mars bar with the change, then walked out the Drumassan road to hitch a ride home. I sat on the ditch by the roadside and read "On Tuesday, October 11, 1988, the Jason Taverner Show ran thirty seconds short." I wondered where I'd be in 1988, and whether or not the world would make more sense. Last night I'd sat in a white room with John and tried to make him understand. But there had been some sort of invisible barrier between us which blocked my words. John seemed unaware of my presence. Tired and frustrated, I sat in a chair, isolated, cut off from the world. I dozed and when I woke, there were a crowd of people sitting on John's side of the room, including Colette, our parents, Noel and Thornton. They were staring and pointing at me, talking and laughing among themselves, but I could hear no words they spoke.
Recalling the dream, I tried to make sense of what my isolation might mean. Was I being punished for seeing things in a different way to Georgie, or Colette? If I was different, did that mean they were normal? Was John? And what about Thornton? Over the last few months, I'd become aware of patterns of behaviour into which I didn't seem to fit. Did that mean there was something wrong with me? Simply by virtue of difference? Surely the world could accommodate more types of people than were to be found in Drumassan?
A lorry from Drumassan Co-op hove into view. I slid down from the ditch and stuck out a thumb. The lorry slowed to a halt and the door swung open. I climbed up into the cab and grinned at the driver.
"Been in town, ha Laddie?" the driver said. I knew his face, vaguely, but not his name. I nodded and showed him my books.
"At the books? Ya can't beat a good read, so ya can't." The lorry groaned, shuddered, then moved on towards Drumassan. "You're Noel Collin's youngest boy, are ya?"
"That's right," I said, enjoying the view. High up in the driver's cab, it always felt more like flying to me than driving along a country road.
"I seen your brother the other night in Tallamount. A fine man. He's working now, across the water, yes?"
"Carpentering, I heard?"
"I think so." I didn't know what John did on London's building sites, but no way was I going to admit my ignorance.
"He's married now, is he?"
"No," I said. What did he mean, John married? Who told him that?
"Christ no, t'was yer one he put up the pole, I was thinking of." He turned and flashed me a yellow-toothed smile. "Would you like a smoke, Laddie? Reach up there and light a couple." He nodded towards the dash.
"I don't smoke."
"Sound, no problem. Just light the one for me." I did so and passed him the cigarette. He took it and held my hand for a second or two. "So he's with some other one now, eh? T'is a wonder he didn't bring her home?"
I pretended to yawn to disguise my confusion and unease.
"English, is she? Right fast, I'd say."
I guessed the drivers meaning but was puzzled by his interest. Was he an old friend of my brother's? If he wasn't, I daren't say anything about John. Speaking about him had already cost me his friendship. I said, "Sure, he tells me nothing."
"Nothing at all, eh?" the driver said, grinning. "I heard they're right fast altogether, the English ones. Do anything at all, they would, the whole business." He took a hand from the wheel and put it down in his trousers, fidgeting about there. When he placed it back on the wheel, he said, "Gives a man a stir just thinking about them."
"I wouldn't know," I said, my throat dry, my mind reeling.
As we came to the lake he pulled into a lay-by. He cut the engine and sighed. "Did you ever get your hole, young lad?"
I shook my head, and wondered if he could hear the heart booming in my chest. Was this what terror meant?
"But I'll bet you've thought of it, eh? Pulled your wire a few times, yes?" He leaned towards me, his stale breath wafting over my face. "By Jesus," he whispered. "I've a prick on me like a rod of steel. What could a man do for that?" I saw his prick standing up through his open fly and backed away across the seat. He grabbed my hand and forced it down to his crotch. His prick twitched in my fist. Fear sapped the strength from my bones and I felt a sense of absolute helplessness. These, I could understand, but not the curiosity that bubbled up in my mind. The driver moaned. "Pull it hard," he said, smiling stupidly at me, then reached over with his other hand and groped me through my jeans.
My mind screamed, and somehow I found the will to snatch my hand away from the driver and shout, "I have to go now. Me ma and da are expecting me home soon."
The driver grunted, "What?" as if startled from a dream. Then, contritely, red-faced, he withdrew his hand from my jeans and said, "Right, of course." He turned the key in the ignition, pulled out into the road and drove on. He was silent till he stopped outside my house, and then he said, "Be sure and tell your folks I was asking for them."
Read the rest of "Dancing with Creation"
I've been writing for about seven years and have had over thirty stories published, mostly in British science fiction and fantasy magazines, including Interzone, BBR, Third Alternative, Fear, Far Point and Works. I've also sold to the anthologies Darklands 2, The Sun Rises Red, Last Rites & Resurrections, and all four volumes of Cold Cuts. I've had stories in two American anthologies, both edited by Ellen Datlow, which are Off Limits and Lethal Kisses, and have just recently sold a story to Thomas Roche for Noirotica 3. 'Dancing with Creation' is my fourth American sale.
I admire writers like Jonathan Carroll and Lucius Shepard,and newer writers like Jeff Vandermeer and Martin Simpson, in that they all seem to transcend genre boundaries, which is something I hope stories like 'Dancing with Creation' succeed in doing. The story is one of a series of a dozen or so set in an imaginary village in the south-west of Ireland where I grew up. My memories of childhood are all tangled up with early dreams and nightmares, to such an extent that I find it hard to separate what was real and what I only imagined. Whatever, these confused memories are the source of these stories and of Drumassan itself, which is not to say they're real, only that they might have been. Maybe the strange childhood events depicted in these stories were only the result of my too vivid imagination, but if these stories can make them real in minds other than my own, then that's enough for me. Other Drumassan have been published, or are due in Lethal Kisses, Cold Cuts 4 and Defying Gravity.