Claudia had this triumphant posture as she held him by the hand. They were both stood in the doorway to the lounge. He, clinging to the frontier of the room, with his heel pressed down onto the steel edging that marked the border between corridor and lounge. Claudia was leaning forwards, her arm extended behind her clutching his hand and trying to drag him like a cat on a leash toward us, her family – and we could not have been more indifferent to her lover. His name was Dwayne and he was, by her accounts, a misunderstood rebel. He was, she claimed, “victimised by the institutions. He’s got the soul of a poet.” – for myself, I have my own misconceptions on how the poetic spirit manifests itself onto a corporeal entity, so I really don’t remark her impression of Dwayne with as much of a sneer as one might presume.
What was true about Claudia’s analysis was that Dwayne did have a bad reputation around town. There was a core of neighbours who were up in arms when my sister was first seen holding hands with him around town. They were stopping my mother in supermarket aisles and warning her of the fate of all the girls who’d dated Dwayne. He was viewed as some kind of gateway sex merchant. He was “only interested in one thing”, they’d say; seemingly because an overt interest in ‘one thing’ was supposedly more damaging than a dull, inertial interest in many things.
The warnings were littered with bewildering metaphors, awarding Dwayne the personality of some deranged ring-master who would take girls and “show them the ropes”, as if sexual congress was some kind of venomous loom.
In fact, I’d known all about Dwayne’s reputation before he’d been dragged into our living room that weekend. My sister was one of the many girls who wanted to be with Dwayne. I was six years younger than my sister, and there were girls in my year who were now showing an interest in me; clearly hoping that, by association, they could work their way into Dwayne’s presence. Likely also to observe my sister, study her clothes and her personality, so they could adopt whatever it was the Dwayne found appealing in her. The girl I’d been following around hopelessly for the past six months, Rhona McEwan (who had beautiful sumptuous auburn hair) had started laughing at my jokes – but it had gotten too weird, so desperate for Dwayne to notice her she dyed her hair blonde, to resemble my sister, started wearing striped shirts and Doc Martens, like Claudia, she even started stammering mid-sentence like Claudia. This was the level of hysteria that fell upon these girls. They’d imitate a speech impediment under the superstition that something like that made my sister appear an authentic person, and it was her veracity that appealed to Dwayne. Unaware that my sister’s great truth was that she was her most authentic when she was lying.
Some of these girls were downright appalled that Dwayne had started dating my sister.
Claudia, though she would disagree, didn’t go through a drastically fervent period of self-hatred in her teens. She didn’t have it easy but she had, and still has, a sociopathic ease with knowing what she wants and finding great satisfaction, devoid of all guilt, in getting what she wants. She wanted Dwayne because everyone else wanted him. The way she dragged him into the room I realized that he’d been more snared than seduced. She held onto him with pride, “Look at this”, her posture said, “He could have sex with anyone and I’ve let him think he could have sex with me!”
My dad was sitting with his great JVC headphones plugged into his CB radio. He popped one ear free of the buzzing chatter to mutter out, “What? Wayne? Nice. Nice name.” It aggravated my sister that my dad didn’t swell with patriarchal paranoia. She was unable to truly recognize that her own social selfishness was a gift from his genes, the sociopath genes strangling and knocking out the A’s, D’s, C’s of our mother’s code. In truth my father was keen, more than any father could be, for his daughter to get a boyfriend. “It’s really what she’s cut out for”, he told me ten years later. “She needs a lot of intimacy and friends don’t really cut it. She needs to control everything and it’s much easier for a woman to do that with a man. Someone who has no idea what they’re doing at all would be the best thing for her, and there’s lots of guys like that. She just needs to find the right one with the right deficits for her to …” (here I could see my father desperately looking for more gentle words) “…exploit and re-shape.” Upon seeing my appalled reaction, he shrugged at my faith in the independence of the human spirit, “People want this kind of thing, trust me. You’re just like your mother, that’s why I needed her.”
Our mother was courteous and she asked him, what she believed to be, vanilla questions. “Well, you’re very tall, aren’t you? What’s your diet? I love your hair, is it ‘styled’ to look like that, or is it just ‘is’?” She admirably tried to conceal her struggle to deal with the monosyllabic teenage responses she received from Dwayne; I was yet put her through this so it was new territory for her to be confronted with a boy who had adopted the persona of a neglected mule.
“We’re going to my room.” Claudia said, the information was loaded. “To, uh, listen to music.” She was trying to get a rise out of them, and they had both grown quiet. My father’s face turning red, yet he pretended to be tuning his CB, though I could see he was just turning the mid-filter back and forth. “It’s a… it’s an album I’ve wanted to listen to for a long time so.” Even Claudia was blushing now. “So don’t just come in okay? ‘Cause I don’t want this first chance to listen to it to be interrupted or broken, you know?” My head was darting back and forth like a dog watching a tennis match. Dwayne’s whole body was trying to draw away from the room, except for his hand – which remained clenched inside Claudia’s white-knuckles. For what seemed an age my mother stared at her magazine, her lips pressed together, when she finally looked up with red cheeks, “Okay sweetie, just not too loud.”
“It has to be loud.” Claudia responded with certainty. She stared at mother, whose eyes had gone straight back into the magazine. I was appalled at this point, was it not a parent’s responsibility to keep their daughter from having sex? “And Mom.” Claudia added slowly. “I’m really going to like this album.” In the corner of my eye I could see my dad moving, shaking. He held his headphones tight to his ears, but he was quivering all over. Claudia hadn’t noticed “So, if you hear me, like, making any loud noises.”
“What kind of noises honey?” My mother piped up quickly, before biting down on her lip hard. My father gasped suddenly and it drew Claudia’s attention to his hunched posture. The gasp was cut short. He stayed with his body and face curled up over his CB radio, he was quivering and trying to hide it. Claudia continued but with increasing uncertainty about what was happening. “Uh, noises like I’m enjoying the song. Like screaming ‘Yes. That’s good!’ or someth…” But she couldn’t get the rest out. The tide had burst and both my mother and father started laughing hysterically. Both hid their faces. He planted his face into the carpet and bellowed. She wrapped the magazine she’d been reading over her face – perfectly matching the headshot of Elizabeth Taylor from the front cover over hers (North and South was a new show that month, I believe).
It was the most sincere outrage my sister had, and would, ever express in my presence. I’d even go as far to say that this moment shaped her for the rest of her life. She simply screamed “NO!” in one very long, primal syllable, and it only made them laugh more. With her face contorted in rage she yanked Dwayne to her and tried kiss him, but her face so distraught she could not wrench her mouth muscles to move from from the rictus of shame. Dwayne recoiled from the tear drenched grimace, and Claudia grabbed his skull with both hands in attempt to force her tongue into his mouth. He flinched so hard that the back of his head his door frame with a thud, breaking him free and allowing him the opportunity to scramble for the door. Claudia screamed and then proceeded to run around the house breaking everything. The family picture frames were tossed from the wall. The flower vase in the kitchen was thrown through the back garden window. She attacked the refrigerator with a frying pan, leaving dents scratches that are still there to this day. The laughter of my parents had quietened down. They looked at one another, embarrassed of their behaviour. Claudia was still smashing everything in the kitchen. They looked at one another knowingly, waiting for the first wave of destruction to subside from exhaustion. It arrived when there was the crash and Claudia yelped in pain. She’d kicked the kitchen table, a solid pine that seated eight, and breaking three middle toes.
After a night with the toes on ice, they took her to see Dr. Helton. In a desperate attempt at revenge, Claudia had told Helton that her parents were physically abusing her. Fortunately for my parents, Helton had known Claudia since she was born – he’d remembered the time that she told him she’d been kidnapped by her parents, when she told him that her baby brother (me, clarity) was in fact her son, she was only six at the time) and only two months ago she had told him she was blind.
I’ve had my ups and downs with Claudia over the years. She’s incredible when you’re down and out, and not so much when you’re on a high. Last year, my children’s story about the birth of a tree won the award for Best Children’s Novel Featuring Environmental Concerns and Political Neutrality at the SIMMY’s and I didn’t go near my sister for a while. Not until I’d had a couple of rejections under my belt. My sails need to be sagging, if not collapsed, to see her. It’s hard for me to find a way to argue with her with regard to my career. To her a writer is someone sending out little packets of ideas to receive approval, and fundamentally I think she’s right.
Balder Thompson currently resides in Matlock, UK. His short story collections are exclusive to the Hall Associated Press. Titles such as “In The Long Run”, “Dr. Haddaway”, and the series “Hindsight Fuelled Memoirs” all available to purchase through HAP via the contact page. Please feel free to follow HAP WordPress site in order to see more from Mr. Thompson.