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“He’s a troubled boy, admit it.” I listened to my father intently as I sat crouched on the floor round the side of the door, twisting the sleeping cat’s whiskers around my fingers.
“He’s just adjusting,” my mother replied, “I read that it's normal for a little one to go into their shell for a while when there’s a new baby. What with him at that new school… I thought he was doing well, it’s a big change.” She was always defending me. No matter what I was accused of she could always seem to make up an excuse for it. Then again, I usually acted differently around my parents to how I was when I was alone, and part of me feared my father had learnt too much about my private activities.
It was Jennifer that had really triggered this in me. After the sudden death of my first sister Olivia in her sleep, I suppose my parents missed having a screaming ‘bundle of joy’ to care for, and so had decided to have another one.
I left the cat alone as it woke, and I got to my feet, slinking away to the lounge. There were baby things in bags on the floor: nappies, clothes, feeding bottles, toys, blankets. My father must have brought them home from his business trip. He often stayed out overnight, and even on typical weekdays he only came home after I had gone to bed. He rarely brought anything for me. I ignored the bags, and since the television was off and I had not yet fully worked out how to switch it on, I headed outside.
It was mid-June, so I spent most of my hours outside when I was not at school. I stood in my paddling pool, letting the cold water numb my bare feet, before kneeling down and pushing some little boats around. The water was full of bits of grass and dirt, but I didn’t mind. I quickly became bored of my playthings, instead searching for insects, crawling out of the pool on my hands and knees.
I found a few woodlice under a plant pot. I decided they would be suitable for my next game. Keeping them in my hand, I plucked a leaf from a nearby tree, and walked back to the pool. I set the leaf down carefully on the surface, and put the woodlice on it; little explorers on a raft. They seemed to scurry randomly about the leaf, not getting too close to the edge. I tried to imagine their confused thoughts, as if they really were tiny adventurers drifting on a strange ocean. I tried to imagine their panic as I tugged down on the edge of their raft, causing water to engulf it in a second.
The invertebrate explorers desperately tried to escape the depths before they were still, and I pushed them below the water with my fingers and held them there to be sure.
Afterwards I took them over to my fishpond and dropped them in, where gaping mouths came up and the woodlice were gone. I liked my fish; I would never hurt them, since they were mine. My father said that he would give them away and fill in the pond once Jennifer was old enough to walk.
I found a slug in the compost bin. I scraped it out with a twig and dissected it on the patio tiles. I found the slugs fascinating. The colours of their insides were brilliant: greens, yellows and purples far more vivid than any other creature I could think of. I hooked the carcass back on the twig and tossed it into the grass.
I wish there were more animals here. There was rarely anything larger than the slugs. Once the cat had brought back a dead mouse, and although saddened it was already mauled before I had the chance, I kept it in a sandwich bag in my drawer until the smell alerted my father. I imagined that when I was older I could go to the woods and find bigger animals, or maybe if I had money I could buy some traps.
I also daydreamed of catching birds; their songs irritated me and I often wondered how they would try to fly away after I took off their wings. I could use the feathers on a collage for my mother’s birthday. I doubted I would be able to catch one anytime soon, so for now I would have to make do the few insects I found in the back garden.
I was not a bad child. I did not have any friends at school, nor did I feel like I needed any. The other children didn’t like me because they thought I was strange. I didn’t attack the others or tease them, but I often found amusement in making up little games for myself. I would find money on the ground, or bring in sweets I didn’t like, to give to the older, more aggressive children so they could beat up anyone I had a specific dislike for on that day. I was the child that would block the sinks in the school bathroom, leave strange messages on walls in permanent marker, and set the bins on fire with my father’s matches. I didn’t do these things for attention, nor to upset or bother people. I did them because they made me happy.
There was something strangely beautiful in watching things suffer. Once I saw a little girl at the park, who had slipped from the main climbing frame, and was left dangling and crying from the edge. I sat on one of the adjacent swings, pushing myself back and forth with my feet as I watched in curiosity and anticipation. The girl fell and one of her ankles rolled over with a muffled crack, then she lay howling alone on the bark as I stood up from my swing and walked away.
Although I cared not for the other children, I respected the adults. I always behaved in class and I was never rude to my parents. I worked hard and was quiet, a diligent little angel in the eyes of the school staff. “Connor is a real delight to teach”, old Mrs Harlow had said on parents evening, “a lovely and bright little boy”.
The screaming of the baby from the upstairs bedroom disturbed me. I had been crouching in my sandpit, annoying a stray group of ants that had wandered into my territory. I rained sand on them, trying to bury them in a mock sandstorm. I could hear Jennifer wailing through the open window, and then hush as I assumed one of my parents went running to her. I could’ve tripped and knocked myself out, or had a fit and died out here, and they wouldn’t have noticed.
I ran over the ants with a toy car, mashing their tiny black bodies into the sand. My old cat stared at me from the bench. I could never hurt him, because he was mine. He was born long before me and he disliked babies too. Sometimes I would annoy him and chase him into Jennifer’s room, hoping he would jump into her crib and scratch her.
I wish my parents knew how I felt, but they ignored me. I dragged a tank back and forth through the sand. No one cared; I was just child. I didn’t matter. Out here though, I was alone and that is how I liked it. I could make up my own games, and there was no one around to tell me off or spoil my fun.
Later, my father called me inside for dinner. It was pizza, which pleased me, but my parents didn’t speak to me. My father watched me over the top of his glasses. He looked like me, with shiny, syrup coloured hair and washed out grey eyes. I imagined I would look like him when I was older. I hoped I wasn’t as uncaring as him though, and I knew that if I had a son I would play with him properly and buy him things so he wouldn’t turn out like me.
Not long after he sent me to bed, and I didn’t protest. My mother usually let me stay up and watch television with her, but instead she was asleep, tired out from looking after the baby all day. I took some toy planes from the table and disappeared to my bedroom.
There were no insects here, which left me a little bored, but I had taken a stuffed doll from one of the boxes of baby toys. It had belonged to Olivia and been stored away after she died. I snuck it into my room after brushing my teeth, and after changing into my Mickey Mouse pyjamas I sat on my rug with it in front of me. I cut its hair off with my blunt children’s scissors, shredding its dress before stabbing into its back and tugging it open, letting the stuffing drift into the air and fall onto the floor. Dolls were stupid. Girls were stupid for liking such silly things.
I gathered up the remains and shoved them into an old backpack under my bed. I crept out of my room again, it wasn’t too late but my father had already gone to bed, probably tired from work. I opened my bedroom door, easing it so it didn’t creak, and after surveying the house shrouded the darkness, I slunk out.
I tripped over a doll's house as I entered the baby’s room. I could feel the warm blood in my sock from a broken toenail. I pulled up a little plastic storage box and stood on it, peering into the cot. Jennifer was asleep. Her little podgy arms stretched above her head, she didn’t seem to have a care in the world. I was sick of the bright pink plastic rubbish which cluttered my house. I was sick of the screaming, of my mother always being tired, grumpy and preoccupied with the baby. I was sick of my broken solitude.
I took one of the larger teddy bears from the end of the cot, and I pressed it into Jennifer’s face. She didn’t wake or scream, but twitched and kicked a little. I held the toy there until she was still and put the teddy bear back exactly how it was. I moved the baby’s limp and lifeless body until she was lying almost face down, pulling the blankets up near her mouth. They would find her like that, the same way I had left Olivia. I crept back to my room as I wondered if my parents had realised by now that I didn’t want any siblings.
Written by Jet.98