The Man Within, Chapter 8 – a novella excerpt

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When I got into the house, I was confronted by clutter, lots of it. They had tacky, bulky furniture and trinkets all over the living room. I could tell they had tried to clean up the place, but the house was bursting at the seams. At first, I thought it was because the house was so small, but I learned that, funny enough, those with little money seem to love collecting useless stuff.

I had to share a room with Gershel, my sixteen year old cousin . . . and I had thought the living room was bad. When I entered Gershel’s room, I was struck by the smell—of dirty laundry and, especially, of dirty socks. Aunt Matilda must not have gotten to clean that part of the house. I didn’t know how good of an odour no smell was until then.

Whilst I’m dealing with my emancipation application, I have to stay with Uncle Godfrey. If my application is rejected, I’m looking at three years in a tacky matchbox, with two adults and three other teenage boys. My mother committed herself to a Psychiatric care facility. She felt guilty about attacking me and said she had no other choice.

The question of her being fit enough to take care of me was explicitly resolved. Her welfare will be taken care off by Aunt Tory. I don’t think my life could have taken a turn for the worst.

At least my cousins are ok. Gershel doesn’t talk much. He seems focused on his school. He is intent on getting a college scholarship. Gary and Cole, thirteen and twelve, split their free time between TV and video games, which is a foreign concept to me. When I was their age, mother made sure my time was occupied with constructive hobbies. When she told me to choose an instrument, I chose the violin, painting, I chose impressionist abstract, after school sport, I chose tennis. I was certain she wanted me to become, either, an artist or sports athlete.

Now I have Aunt Matilda, who talks to me like I’m a wounded puppy. The two video game warriors, at least, stay out of my way. But Aunt Matilda is a housewife, who’s always ready to comfort me when I’m at home. I feel smothered. The benefit of being an only child was being mostly alone—an idea that is lost on my new family.

I’m meeting with my lawyer today. Discussing the progress of my emancipation is the only thing making my current life bearable.

When I get to the Roving and Marks reception, I’m directed to Greg Roving’s office. I see him through the glass walls of his office. He is writing something in a file and doesn’t look up. After confirming with her boss, the secretary tells me to proceed. His door is open but I knock all the same.

“Come in,” he tells me.

“Please take a seat,” he motions to one of the chairs opposite his desk.

I make myself comfortable on the designer chair.

“So, how are you liking your current living arrangements?”

“They’re fine, I guess.”

“And how are you?”

He seems to be stalling before he has to deliver bad news.

“I’m ok.”

“Good.”

Then silence.

“I called you here for us discuss some things.”

He opens his file.

“I spoke to your social worker, Ms Parks. She had good things to say. When she came to your house, everything was in order. She also spoke to your school and found out you were still doing very well, maybe even better. Some of your grades were better than before.”

“Yeah, because of sympathy grading.”

He looks at me, his face stern.

“Are you sure it’s not because after your father’s death and your mother’s . . . detachment, you realised that taking care of the both of you also entailed working harder in school?”

Something tells me that’s not a question. He goes back to his file.

“Ms Parks,” he says with emphasis on Ms, “is forty-six and unmarried, an independent woman. She is of a more liberal persuasion. I think she’ll be a good witness in your case.”

He flips through the file.

“It’s also good that you kept the bills paid up after your father’s death.”

He looks up at me.

“It may not be enough to prove that you are independent and responsible. Questions about perfectly capable and available guardians may come up. We need to quash such points if they arise.”

“Your Aunt Tori—”

“Is easy to prove to be a nut case,” I interrupt him.

“Yes. But your uncle Godfrey?”

He leaves the question hanging in the air like cheap cologne.

“I’m only showing you this because you’re going to find out in court anyway. Before you see it, I would like you to understand that discretion is part of being an adult. You need not tell anyone else about it, outside of this office.”

He takes out two forms from his file and hands them to me. I look at them. They are bank statements.

“These bank statements show that a sum of $1,680 was withdrawn from your welfare account and the same amount was deposited into your Uncle Godfrey’s mortgage account on the same day. He was late on his payments by three months. The house would have been repossessed.”

Uncle Godfrey had been given access to some of my father’s money to help take care of me but it looks like he is taking care of himself.

“My investigator also found out that your uncle has a bit of a gambling problem—horses, if you can believe. I think that accounts for the second withdrawal of $500.”

The bastard. I guess mother was justified in hating him.

“Do I have your permission to use this?”

“Absolutely,” I tell him.

I don’t need convincing. What Uncle Godfrey did is unforgivable. In fact, the man should be arrested.

“Give this to the police for all I care. I don’t think he deserves any of our sympathies.”

“That is an option. The question of him being a viable guardian becomes moot if he’s in a jail cell. But I must also think of you. Your life will only become more unstable if he’s arrested. We could decide not to press criminal charges as long as he commits to paying back the money. But we would have already shown his true stripes in court.”

“Do whatever you think will work.”

I don’t care about the particulars as long as he pays.

“Don’t mention what we discussed in here to anyone,” he says in a serious tone.

“If you can, just proceed with life as normal. No need to make your life any more difficult. I’ll handle everything.”

I get up from my chair.

“Thank you for coming in.”

I quietly nod. I go over to the door but then I turn.

“I don’t really like my current living arrangements,” I tell him.

“Oh, why not?” he asks with a frown.

“Why not? Because I’m sharing a tiny house with a bunch of people I hardly know. Because of the clutter, because of the noise, because of the inorganic food and don’t get me started on the smell.”

Greg smiles.

“It will be over soon,” he says with a widening smile.

At least he has a sense of humour about the situation. I leave his office, happy to have told someone about how I really feel.

I don’t know if I can go on like nothing happened. Whenever I think back to the bank statements, a rage builds up inside me. I calm down by reminding myself that it will be over soon; that I will be back in control of my life. Uncle Godfrey may be a bastard, but a bastard that just shot himself in the foot and provided me with a better case.

When I get back to my uncle’s house, Gary and Cole are playing some violent video game in the living room.

“Hi William,” they say in unison.

They nudge each other and laugh, joysticks in hand. I’m caught up by how much fun they are having. I wonder about what it’s like to have a brother.

“William, you’re back.”

Aunt Matilda brings me back to the present

“How was your meeting with the lawyer,” she asks, beaming at me.

Besides discovering your husband’s thievery and dysfunctional behaviour?

“It was fine,” I say with a smile.

“Ok, good. Your lunch is in the kitchen.”

She brushes the hair on my face like mother used to.

“I know you want to live alone but if you ever change your mind, you’re always welcome here. What is another boy in a family with three already.”

She quietly smiles like she looks at her own boy.

“Go on and get your lunch before it really gets cold.”

As I go to the kitchen, something resembling guilt begins to rise inside me. I remind myself that I did nothing wrong, Uncle Godfrey did. But maybe I should discuss it with him first instead of just throwing him under the bus.

“It’s in the microwave,” Aunt Matilda shouts.

I open the microwave and there is beef lasagne in a glass plate. I warm it up and eat it. It’s tastier than I imagined—either that or I was particularly hungry.

When I get into Gershel’s room, he points what looks like a new camera in my direction.

“Hi William,” he almost screams at me.

“Can you believe Dad got me this camera for my birthday?”

So that’s where the weasel put my money.

“It’s your birthday today?”

“No, it’s in three weeks. Dad saw it on sale and he couldn’t let it go. He left the camera with mom to surprise me after school. I can’t believe it. I had been bugging dad for so long to get the camera. He always told me he didn’t have the money. This will get me closer to my dream.”

“That’s great,” I tell him with as much enthusiasm as I can muster.

I have no idea what he is talking about. I hope he just keeps on talking until I catch on. He, instead, twiddles something on his new camera.

“For the longest time, I’ve wanted to study film in college. You know nowadays some colleges expect video applications, what more film school. I’m certain this camera will bring me closer to a scholarship. I can practice on it and submit my work in my applications. I can’t believe it’s actually happening.”

He sits on his bed and cradles his camera like he is the proud father of a new-born.

“I know it isn’t much. You probably got way better stuff than I could even dream off.”

“Mmm, I don’t know,” I try to sound modest.

“C’mon, I remember the last time I went to your house with my dad. It was three years ago, I think. It felt like the door into your house was a time portal. Everything was white, clean and minimalist. That’s when I knew how, contrary to belief, money actually simplifies your life.”

He chuckles.

“I looked at your father and thought, I want to do what that man does. I looked at you and thought, it’s too late to be him.”

I smile. Who knew he had a sense of humour buried underneath the calm exterior.

But it’s all over. Who would envy me now?

“I looked up to your father since that day. I’m really sorry about how things ended.”

Me too.

We are both silent for a while. I have to change the subject so that I don’t have to think about his death.

“So, what will you be shooting first in your exciting life,” I tease him.

He lifts up his camera.

“Maybe I should start with my snarky and shady cousin.”

“Yeah, my handsome face will definitely get you noticed,” I say as I go to his study desk.

That’s when I notice the camera’s price tag. It stares at me in the conspicuous red of a sale—$499.

Oh god, what am I doing?

I rush out of the room without explanation. Uncle Godfrey may have his faults but his wife and children are blameless.

I call Greg Roving and tell him not to use the evidence against my uncle. He would have to find another way.

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