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It's Not About You by Danny Gillan

© Danny Gillan

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It’s Not About You



I’m not in this story. It’s not about me, you see.

The only reason it’s being told from my point of view is that, well, it’s my point of view that I’m telling it from. I’m not really involved in events; I don’t play an active role in proceedings; I didn’t make any decisions or take any actions that affected anything that happened. How could I have? I’m only twelve.

I just watched it happen.

I think the best place to start would be Tuesday.


****


On Tuesday, my mum cut off my dad’s left earlobe with a pair of scissors.

She had been cutting his hair in the kitchen, something she did every third Tuesday morning. I was at the dining table eating Sugar Puffs and reading my Batman comic when I heard my dad’s yell.

“Aahh! Jesus Christ Almighty!”

I remember I smiled. It’s funny when grown-ups swear.

“Oh my God, oh my God!” I heard Mum shout. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry. Oh God, Jesus. Wait, I’ll get a towel.”

“A towel? Phone a bloody ambulance, you stupid cow!”

I kept reading my comic. I was late for school on Tuesday.


****


I have football training after school on Wednesdays, and don’t get home till six. I’m the goalie. This year, Mum said I was big enough to have my own key to the front-door.

The house was quiet when I got home, but the lights were all on. I went upstairs and dumped my bag in my room, then went to the toilet. The door was locked though, and I couldn’t get in. My pal Kevin’s house has got another toilet under the stairs, but we don’t.

I went back to my room and emptied my bag, putting the Spider-Man comic Kevin had loaned me on my bedside table to read later. It was the new issue, and had Venom in it. Venom is my favourite baddie.

“I hope you don’t need a pee. Your mother’s locked herself in the toilet. She’s been in there for an hour.” My dad was standing at the door to my room. He had a funny look on his face, and his eyes were red. He had a big plaster on his ear, which made him look strange. He sounded a bit weird, too, sort of sad.

I was disappointed. I had got really good marks in my English test, and wanted to tell Mum. Mrs Keane said that she thought I could write almost like an adult would. Mum would have liked that.

Dad made my dinner that night. He’s not a very good cook, and the chicken nuggets were all black. I had to sit with my legs crossed while I was eating because I really needed the loo. My dad didn’t have any dinner. He told me to go out and pee in the back garden, once it was dark enough for the neighbours not to notice.

I read the whole of Kevin’s Spider-Man comic in bed. Venom was being really nasty to Peter and M.J., pretending to be their friend and embarrassing them in front of their pals and stuff. At the end, Peter put on his Spidey costume and walloped Venom to buggery with a big metal pole. Even though Venom is usually stronger than Spidey, Peter got so angry about Venom messing about with M.J. that he was strong enough to beat him up.

I think Mum was still in the toilet when I put my light off.


****


On Thursday morning. This was yesterday morning, actually. It seems like longer than that. Anyway, Mum woke me up. Normally she wears her housecoat in the mornings, but she was dressed in proper clothes. Her hair was the same way she does it when she’s going to the doctors or the shops, all smooth and shiny, and she had her make-up on.

By the time I got washed and dressed and went downstairs for my breakfast, Mum had gone out somewhere. Dad was still in, but he was really quiet. He sat at the table and smoked three cigarettes while I had my Sugar Puffs.

Mum was back when I got home from school. She still had her make-up on; up-close I could see that it was more than she usually wears during the week. She smiled when I told her about my English test; she laughed when I said that Mrs Keane told me I was the only twelve year-old she had ever known who knew what a semi-colon was for. She made me my favourite tea - skinny-link sausages, proper chips and beans. My dad didn’t come in from work when he usually does, and it was just me and mum for dinner. Mum had an omelette, but she didn’t finish it. While we were eating, she said: “You’re the only thing that matters.” I didn’t understand what she meant, but it felt nice when she said it. Quite often I don’t really understand what Mum says. Mum’s eyes were running a bit and she kept sniffing. I think she was getting a cold.

I was watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer in the living room when Dad came home. He clattered along the hall, and I could smell beer and fags as he went into the back-room, where Mum was.

“So you came back then?” I heard him say.

“Of course I did. But only so we could sort this out,” my mum said.

I turned the sound up on the TV, but I could still hear them.

“How are we meant to do that, exactly?”

“Maybe you acting a bit more like a human being would be a start,” my mum shouted, drowning out Spike, my favourite Buffy character. The gang were on the verge of foiling The First’s plot to take over Sunnydale, and I’d heard at school that at least one of them wasn’t going to survive the fight. I hoped it wouldn’t be Spike. This was the last ever episode of Buffy, so whatever happened was going to be for keeps.

“And how am I supposed to do that? I don’t have a clue what you want from me anymore.” Dad was talking slowly, probably because of the beer. I thought he sounded sad.

“How about actually listening to me for once, is that too much to bloody ask?”

“Listen to what? All you ever do is bitch about stuff I don’t even know about. How am I supposed to listen to that?”

“By LISTENING, you moron. It’s not hard - just HEAR the words that come out of my mouth. Most of us learn how to do that when we’re about five.” I heard Mum take a big sniff. Her cold sounded like it was getting worse.

Willow did a spell that made all of the potentials as strong as Buffy, so instead of one slayer there were dozens. They kicked vampire butt! The First was well and truly screwed. Spike fought like a hero. A couple of potentials died, but we didn’t get to know them enough to care. Then Anya got killed, that was a shocker. Anya was funny, and I thought she didn’t get the ending she deserved - just a quick shot of her gasping as she was skewered by some demon.

“I do listen, I just don’t understand what the hell I’m hearing,” my dad said. He was talking more quickly, but his voice was all slurry.

“I just, Jesus, I just need a bit of help sometimes,” Mum said.

“I know you do,” I heard my dad say. “But sometimes you need to actually look for that, not just expect it to appear.”

“I did, I went to the doctor.”

“What did he say?”

“He gave me a prescription.”

“Good, that’s a good thing.”

Anya was dead, but Buffy, Faith and Spike were still battling the demon hoard. Buffy had her special red axe, the one that ripped the baddies apart, and Spike and Faith were tearing the vamps to shreds. They were winning, the tide was turning.

“I don’t know, I don’t feel comfortable taking pills. It’s so . . . “

“What? I’ve been taking them for three years, they help, for Christ’s sake.”

“I know, I know. I just don’t want to end up . . . “

“Like me? Oh thanks, thanks a lot.”

“No, that’s not what I meant.”

“So what the hell do you mean?”

“One of us needs to stay . . . aware.”

“Oh Jesus. They don’t turn you into a vegetable, for God’s sake. They just make life a bit easier to deal with. What’s wrong with that?”

“Nothing, nothing. I’m just worried about . . . “

“Oh Christ, he’ll be fine. He’ll be a hell of a lot better than he is now, if we’re both a bit calmer.”

“I don’t know. He worries me sometimes.” I think that’s what Mum said, she had gone quiet and I couldn’t make it out very clearly.

Spike was wearing the mysterious medallion, the one destined to be worn by a hero with a soul. They were all still fighting hard, but the sheer numbers of the enemy were overwhelming them. There were hundreds and thousands of proto-vampires surging up from the hell-mouth, intent on destroying their world.

“I don’t think he’s who we should be worrying about right now,” my dad said. His voice was quieter too, but I could still make out what he was saying.

“What does that mean?”

“I just mean this is something we need to sort out ourselves. This is about us.”

“Jesus, you really are an idiot, aren’t you? You think this is about us?”

“Don’t call me an idiot. I’m trying the best I can here.”

“And yet, despite your best efforts, you’re still screwing it all up. Well done!”

“Listen, stop it. We need to . . . “

“What? Band together? Join forces? Have a combined strategy? You don’t have any clue how far gone this is, do you?”

The medallion on Spike’s chest began to glow. He told Buffy and the others to get out of there. Something big was about to happen.

“D’you know what? I’m sick of arguing about this.” Dad was shouting now.

“Oh really? Well that’s okay then. That means it’s all over, does it? Just because you can’t be bothered talking about it anymore, it’s all sorted. Is that how this works?” Mum was shouting louder.

Faith and the potentials got the hell out of there, but Buffy stayed.

“No,” Dad said. “I’m just . . . sorry.” Now Dad sounded like he had a cold.

“I love you,” Buffy said to Spike.

“No you don’t,” Spike replied.

“No you’re not,” Mum said to Dad.

“But thanks for saying it,” Spike said. “Now bugger off.”

Buffy cried, then ran away. Spike struck a pose. Then the big light came out of his chest and killed all the bad vampires.

Then Spike burned-up and died.

And then the world exploded.

Then I went to my bed.


****


Was that right? Should I have left a space there because time had moved on a bit? I’m not sure. Mrs Keane said I could write really well, but I don’t know all the rules yet.

I’m still writing because that’s what Mr Jacobs told me to do. He’s a social worker.

I’m in a room with beige walls. It’s not very warm, I wish I’d put on my jacket before we left the house. I’m on my own at the moment, sitting at a desk like the ones at school. Mr Jacobs said he would be back in a while.

A policeman gave me a coke and a roll and bacon, so they can’t be that bad.

Mr Jacobs asked me to write down what had happened to me for the last few days, so that’s what I’m doing. I guess I’m coming to the end, seeing as how I’m writing about where I am now. Should I sign this? He didn’t say. I suppose I’ll just leave it here, then. After all, it’s not about me.


****


Graham Pollok took a sip of his almost cold coffee before opening the door to the interrogation room. Why did the nightmare cases have to happen in the middle of the night, he wondered, before realising how stupidly ironic this thought was.

An hour ago, he had been deep in happy slumber, with his arm draped over Debbie’s shoulder. They had both wangled the next morning off, and had spent a fair amount of time the previous evening planning how little they intended to do when they got up. That was that buggered, he thought, as he entered the spartan, beige room. He had always hated police stations.

David Collins was hunched over the cheap looking grey table. He had a biro in his right hand, and was holding it a few millimetres above some lined A4 paper, apparently checking over what was written there. Even half-hidden, it was clear to Graham that David was small, and thin, for his age. The boy was wearing a faded green sweat-shirt that was clearly too small for him, and his dark-brown hair made his head look like a deformed hedgehog, such was the severity of his ‘bed-head’. That was me twenty-five minutes ago, Graham thought as he sat opposite the boy.

“Hello David, my name’s Graham.”

“Hello.” When David looked up, Graham could see more than mere fatigue on his too-pale, too-drawn face.

“Are you okay, David?”

“Yes, I’m fine.”

“Is there anything I can get you? Some juice, or something to eat?”

“No thanks.”

Steve Jacobs, the on-call social worker, came into the room, nodding to Graham as he reclaimed his seat beside David, barely stifling a yawn. Graham’s jaw tightened. A ten-minute toilet - and, no-doubt, cigarette - break from the person who was supposed to be looking out for his interests was hardly likely to fill the boy with confidence, was it?

“I see you’ve been writing something, David,” Graham said.

“Yes, sir. Mr Jacobs asked me to before he left.”

Graham shot Jacobs a look. “Would you mind if I had a look?”

David pushed the three pages of A4 across the table.

Graham spent a couple of minutes reading them, then he looked up.

“You’re a very good writer, David.”

“Thank you.”

“David, I’m what’s called a Child Psychologist. Do you know what that means?”

“I think so,” David said.

“Tell me what you think it means then, David.”

“It means you’re someone who figures out why young people do what they do.”

Graham was impressed. “That’s a very good explanation, David. It’s clear you’re a very intelligent young man. Do you understand why you’re here?”

“I think so.”

“Would you be willing to tell me why you think you’re here?”

“Because I saw my mother stab my father with the big knife, the one she uses at Christmas for the turkey.”

Graham was stunned by the lack of emotion on David’s face, and in his voice, as he said this. The less pain shown the more damage done, where children were concerned. This boy was in serious trouble. Graham thought for a second, and decided to back away a little. They had time, and he didn’t want to force the boy to think about his last statement too closely. Yet.

“Do you have any hobbies, David?”

“I like drawing comics.”

“Can you remember when you started to enjoy doing that?”

David thought for a moment. “I think I’ve always done it,” he said.

“Do you draw stories or scenes, David?”

“Both, I think,” David said. “Mostly scenes, though.”

Graham nodded. “I need to leave the room for a few minutes, David, and I’m going to ask Mr Jacobs to join me for a second. Would you like to do some drawing while you wait?”

“Okay. Do you have any coloured pens?”

“I’m sure we can find you some.”

When they reached the corridor, Steve Jacobs said eagerly: “What is it, Graham? What do you need?”

“I don’t need anything, Steve. David needs some coloured pens. Once you’ve got them for him, I need you to bring me whatever he draws.” Jacobs’ face fell.

“And Steve.”

“Yes, Graham?”

“Try smiling at the kid. You never know, your face might get used to it.”


****


“Hello?”

“Debbie, it’s me.”

“Hey, doll. You okay?”

“I’m fine. I’m going to be here for a while, though. Sorry, but the whole ‘doing bugger-all and loving it’ might have to wait. This case is turning out to be a bit, strange.”

“Strange-funny, or strange-weird?”

“Strange scary. I’ll call you back later on.”

Graham pressed red and sat back with a sigh. He was in the Inspector’s office, at the Inspector’s desk and leaning back on the Inspector’s squeaky chair. Luckily, the Inspector wasn’t due in till eight, so he had another couple of hours in which to fail to relax.

The two drawings David Collins had made were on his lap. He didn’t know what worried him more - the drawings, or the three pages David had written before Graham arrived. More to the point, he wouldn’t know till he asked. That was the problem, he was going to have to ask.

Which part of the Masters Degree prepared him for this, exactly?


****


“Hello again, David.” Graham placed the drawings on the table as he sat down.

Steve Jacobs didn’t even look up, instead choosing to continue the no-doubt critical excavation of whatever lay behind the nails of his chubby fingers.

“Hello,” David replied flatly.

“I know you must be very tired, David, and I’m sorry to keep you here for so long.”

“That’s all right.”

“Are you feeling up to another chat?” Graham asked. David’s face remained politely emotionless.

“Okay.”

“I’ve been looking at the two scenes you drew, David. Would it be okay to talk a little bit about them?”

“If you want.”

Graham swivelled the first of the two sheets of paper around on the table till it was facing David.

“Can you tell me who the people in this one are?”

David stayed quiet for a second before speaking. “My mum and dad,” he said.

“I know this is difficult, David, but could you tell me what’s happening in this picture?”

“My mum is stabbing my dad with the big knife from the kitchen.”

“And this is something you witnessed, David?”

David stayed silent, but nodded.

“When did this happen, David?”

“On Thursday night.” David paused to think for a moment. “Last night.” The boy’s head dropped slightly.

“Can you remember what time it was when this happened, David?”

“Around nine o’clock, I think.”

“And can you tell me what happened before nine o’clock?” Graham hated having to do this, but it was necessary.

“I was watching Buffy in the living room. Spike and Buffy were fighting The First. It was the last episode ever. My dad came home late from work, and I think he was drunk from beer. I could hear my mum and dad arguing in the back-room. I thought they were just having a normal fight, but then I heard a noise.”

“What kind of noise, David?”

“It was like a sort of slap.”

Graham steeled himself. “What happened then?”

“I went into the back-room.”

“And what did you see, David?”

David looked up and held Graham’s gaze. “Like I’ve said. My mum stabbed my dad with the big knife.”

“Okay, David. Sorry to keep prying, but could you tell me what happened after that?”

“My mum told me to go to bed.”

“And did you?”

Yes. Then a policeman came to the house and brought me here.”

Graham had long ago learned the craft of impassivity, but couldn’t avoid shaking his head. How far gone was this kid? He moved the second of David’s drawings round to face the boy.

“Could you tell me what’s going on in this scene, David?”

“That’s from Buffy. It’s The First Evil killing Anya. I was sad when that happened. It wasn’t actually The First who killed her, just one of his minions, but it was The First’s fault.”

“You liked Anya?”

“Yes. She was rude, but she was funny.”

“What is The First Evil, David? Could you explain that to me?”

“The First was the worst baddie Buffy and Spike ever faced. It was the oldest, meanest thing in the world. It didn’t have a body of its own, but it could make itself look like anyone who had died. It had an army of proto-vampires, and it messed with everyone’s heads, making them see people they knew were dead.”

“So it was pretty powerful, then?” Graham asked.

“Oh yes. It was the most powerful thing in the world.”

“You sound like you admire The First a little, David.”

“Not really. It was a baddie, but it had cool powers.”

“Like Venom?” Graham asked, recalling what David had written earlier.

“Yes,” David said, sitting up in his chair, suddenly animated. “Do you like Venom too?”

Graham smiled. “I used to when I was a bit younger,” he said. Graham had been a comic-geek as a teenager, and Venom had, indeed, been a favourite.

David smiled for the first time. “I like his teeth, and his big demon tongue.”

“Yes, they are pretty impressive,” Graham agreed.

Graham was also, though he’d sworn Debbie to secrecy in front of their colleagues, a Buffy fan, and had all seven seasons on DVD.

“I see you’ve drawn Anya wearing the same coloured dress your mum had on in the other picture.” Graham said.

“Well, you only gave me a few pens, sir,” David said. “And I’m better at writing than drawing.”

“And The First looks like a man in this one. Any reason for that?”

“No sir, The First looks different every time you see it.”

“That’s right,” Graham said, nodding. “It can look like anyone who’s died.”

David nodded.

“Do you ever draw scenes that you’re in, David?”

“No.”

“Why not, do you think?”

“Because they’re not about me.” David’s eyebrows made a v-shape, forming an ‘are you stupid’ look.

“Okay David, thanks. That’s all for just now. I’m afraid you won’t be able to go home tonight, but Mr Jacobs is going to take you to a safe place where you can get some sleep, okay?”

“Okay.”

At the mention of his name, Steve Jacobs plastered a false smile to his face and got up, completely failing to hide his disinterest as he ushered David towards the door. Graham resolved to have a word with Jacobs’ supervisor on Monday.

David paused at the door and turned back towards Graham. “Excuse me, sir.”

“Yes, David?” Graham said.

“Can I see my mum now?”

Graham tried to smile. “Not just now I’m afraid, David. Sorry.”

The boy’s gaze fell and met the floor briefly. “Okay,” he said.

“Goodbye, David,” Graham said.

“Bye.”

Graham watched the door swing shut behind David. He checked his watch - 7:40am. The Inspector would be in soon, so there was no point in trying to re-commandeer his office. He might as well draft his report here.

He spent a moment looking at the two drawings. The first showed David’s mother, Moira, killing David’s father, Paul. The second, if Graham’s assessment was correct, showed the exact opposite.

He reached down beside his chair for his briefcase, bringing it up to the desk.

He snapped open the catches and brought out a blank legal pad, putting it on the table. He then removed the Collins file, at the front of which he had stored the three pages David had written earlier this morning, and placed it next to the pad before returning his case to the floor.

He slid David’s pages out of the manila folder and read the first paragraph again, the one where he said he was twelve-years-old and ‘it wasn’t about him’.

He opened the official file, the one that had been sitting in police storage for four years.


****


Moira Collins had been found dead in her home in June of 2002, he re-read. A single stab wound to the chest.

The only suspect had been her husband, but Paul Collins had come up with a convincing alibi, and there hadn’t been enough evidence to secure a conviction.

According to the police report, their twelve-year-old son David had possibly witnessed the murder, but had been too traumatised to be a credible witness. To the dismay of the investigating officers, the case had never gone to trial.

The file also noted that, before Moira’s murder, David Collins had twice been reported as a missing person – the first time when he was ten, and the second a year later. On the first occasion he had been found staying at a friend’s house, the day after the report was filed. On the second, he had been spotted walking along the southern bank of the River Clyde at 3am by a passing patrol car. Both instances had been put down to youthful impetuosity, and no follow-ups had been made.

Moira Collins’ murder happened at 9pm on a Thursday evening. Graham knew that Buffy had come to the end of its run around four years ago.

Graham rubbed the sleep from his eyes and moved on to the police report from this morning.

Officers had been directed to an anti-social disturbance at 132 Sunnyvale Avenue in Muirend, after a neighbour reported that the television had been playing at full volume well into the night.

The officers’ 4am knock was answered by a Caucasian teenager, approximately fourteen-to-seventeen years-old, who appeared to have just woken-up. Upon entering the house, they discovered the body of a Caucasian male, approximately early-forties, on the floor in the kitchen. They quickly ascertained the victim was deceased, noting that the hilt of what appeared to be a carving knife was protruding from the victim’s chest. The officers had then detained the teenage male until the support teams arrived. One of the PC’s noted that the young man seemed both ‘confused’ and ‘uninvolved’ with proceedings. When asked to supply his name, the boy had responded: “The first spike.”

Graham Pollok leaned back in the hard, plastic chair. He and Debbie had spent a quiet night in, the previous evening. There hadn’t been much worth watching on TV, so Graham had convinced Debbie to let him watch a re-run of the final Buffy episode on the Sci-fi channel. Debbie had even been humble enough to admit that she’d enjoyed it. Graham couldn’t remember what he was doing the first time he’d seen this episode - probably trying to figure out a way to ask that darlin’ Debbie from work out.

Graham shook his head again. The first time David Collins had watched that episode, he’d also watched the most horrific thing a child could ever see.

The second time he’d watched it - last night - he’d remembered the thing he had spent four years trying to forget. He’d remembered that he had witnessed his father butcher his mother.

And his sixteen-year-old brain became twelve again.

The First had killed Anya. But The First looked like his dad, and Anya looked like his mum.

And, last night, Graham now understood, four years got zipped-up and disappeared for David Collins.

This time round, David became the First. The First could take the form of anyone who had died; like his mum.

And, last night, David’s mum finally set things right. The First killed the demon.


****


Graham Pollok finished his report on David Collins.

He tried not to think about what would happen to the boy. A secure-unit in Leverndale was the best he could hope for. That was a shame.

After all, it wasn’t about him.

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