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The Game
prose [ ]
Short Story

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by [diana vlase ]

2012-04-16  |     | 

The Game

Dorothy came up the staircase with a cup of tea in her hand. Under her feet, the wood shrieked with age. She advanced along the dark hallway and turned left to where his room was. Peter was lying in bed; the dark curtains made it difficult for Dorothy to see that, though. But where else could he be? It wasn’t like he could go out, or move in-between the sheets... or even blink, for that matter. He was impassive, and not in a metaphorical sense.
Dorothy pulled the curtains open, light rushing into the room with a violence that made her cover her eyes. Peter laid there; face still, eyes wide open, hands over the blanket, just like she had put him to sleep, the night before. She combed his hair and smiled.
‘Good morning, Peter. How are you today?’ said Dorothy, eyebrows raised high. She stood there for a second, no hope, just hopeless courtesy, and then slowly lifted his arms and removed the blanket. Even if Peter was alive, his body had shrunk. The flesh had disappeared and the skin had moulded on his bones. He had been in bed for fourteen months now. The doctors didn’t know what it was, no one did, but Dorothy knew that her mother’s predictions had come true. The elders and their wisdom...
When he was just a baby, Miss Dorothy used to find Peter laughing by himself in his room, giggling with ecstasy, waving his hands and crawling around. As soon as he noticed her presence, he would hide his happiness, like it was something only he could have.
When he was a child, Peter never asked for any toys. He didn’t need anything, ever. He was never hungry or thirsty, curious or eager to play with anybody. He wanted to be alone to play his game. At first he thought everybody could play it, so he told his mother all about it. He had played it ever since he could remember, long before he could talk. He would close his eyes and sink into himself to that place in his chest where the coffin was. He would open the coffin and release his soul. A bright, multicoloured light came out and he followed it out of his body and watched it for a while. Then, when he got used to watching, observing it, he would stop analyzing and let his mind free too: the mind and the soul, playing together, outside his body, dancing, spinning, filling the room and wanting to expand more.
When that happened, his body was inert. At first, when Dorothy came into the room, Peter could snap back into his body in an instant. But gradually, it took him longer and longer and after a few years of playing the game, Dorothy had to shout at him to get him to back into his body.
During his second grade at School he would often come home with bruises lying to his mother saying he had fallen down. But on one particular day it was obvious that he had been in a fight. His clothes were torn apart, dirt covered his face and his nose was bleeding. Worst of all one of his front teeth had been broken. He refused to tell his mother what had happened so Mrs Dorothy went to his school the next day to take the matter up with the head teacher.
Mrs McCarty welcomed her with a worried face.
‘Take a seat, Miss Dorothy.’ said Mrs McCarty. Everybody in the West Side knew Miss Dorothy, her jams and puddings were children’s favourite choices for breakfast.
‘Thank you.’
‘Dorothy, we need to have a discussion about Peter and to act fast. I strongly advise that you visit a friend of mine called...’
‘Excuse me, Mrs McCarty, but I’m sure you have methods to punish children who act like that, within the boundaries of your school.’
‘Pardon me?’
‘Peter came home yesterday in the most dreadful state. He had been beaten up at school. Whoever’s responsible for it, I want that person to be punished.’ said Dorothy firmly.
‘I wasn’t aware of that. Measures will be taken and I will let you know our response as soon as we get to the bottom of this matter.’ The discussion took a more straightforward course and Mrs McCarty was happy about that. It would be easier for her that way.
‘Now, about Peter, I know that you are aware of the fact that he is not well.’
‘I am and I have been trying to discover what it is. None of the doctors – and believe me, Mrs McCarty, I have seen a few – know how to advise me. It’s hopeless...’
Dorothy’s voice started to soften.
‘Have you tried hypnosis?’
‘Yes’ said Dorothy in a discouraged tone.
‘Well, the thing is, Dorothy, I think that Peter should stop coming to school. More than half of the day he is not here anyway, he puts that happy face on and leaves. That’s when the boys start bullying him, poking him. I don’t want to make excuses for them, but they wanted to wake him up. No, not by beating him! But at first that was what they were trying to do. Now the situation is out of control and I see no reason in Peter coming to school anyway...’
‘So, are you...?’
‘No, Dorothy, I advise you to take him home, for his safety and yours.’
There was a moment when no one knew what to say. Dorothy gave a deep sigh.
‘So they beat him and broke his tooth and made his nose bleed and dragged him through the dirt and my poor baby didn’t wake up...’ she started to weep.
‘I’m sorry...’
A few years back, when Mrs Dorothy couldn’t mange Peter by herself, she asked Mrs Brook, her mother who was living on the East Side, to move in with them. She knew little about Peter’s condition and thought it to be some sort of divine power. She said God made him that way because something special was prepared for him. God works in mysterious ways, she used to say. But after living with him for a while she wasn’t so sure about it.
‘One day, your boy will go into one of his day-dreams and never return, Dorothy. You have to be ready for it.’
But she wasn’t. She wasn’t ready to let her son be taken away by his games even if Peter told her not to worry, there was no happiness greater than the one he was feeling.
One morning, Peter woke up, brushed his teeth and tidied his room. He put on clean, ironed clothes and went downstairs. He kissed his mother and asked her how she was. She started to cry, Peter had never asked her any such thing in his life. She had then hoped that her child would get better. They talked for some time. They planned a holiday to the Sacred Lands and Peter had agreed to return to school. But what Dorothy remembered most about those forty days when Peter didn’t leave at all, were the times they spent in the living room talking. She had told him about his father, about the day Peter was born and about his first word. She had been a happy mother at the time. He told her all about his game.
And then, the next day she found him in his game again. She shook his body, shouted at him and cried next to his bed. He didn’t even blink. He just stood there, eyes wide open, a peaceful smile on his face.
Miss Dorothy had never lost faith that Peter will one day wake up. Doctors have come to visit. He was in perfect health.
His face was still. He just... wasn’t in there anymore.
Spread all over the ceiling, Peter tried to get himself together, particle by particle, but he kept on dropping pieces of his soul.

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