It was mid-October. Summer was long gone, and the poignant chill of winter seeped through the cracks of Graham’s bedroom window. He lay in his bed, desolate and unperturbed, awaiting the dread that always felt so imminent at this time of morning. It was 7:30 am, and Graham, who felt most at ease at the blackest juncture of night, became saddened that daybreak had arrived.
In an attempt to dispel this feeling of angst, he endeavored to prolong his slumbers; to no avail. He rustled and whirled for a while before succumbing to his fraught sensibilities and labored to bestir himself out of bed, to an upright stance.
Directly in front of him was an open door adjoining his en-suite bathroom, containing a seventy by fifty cm mirror above the sink. Standing in candid view; his simian-like frame, outstretched stomach, bloated face, and receding hairline glared right back at him. The most piteous of reflections, he thought, and it was true. Graham was borderline hideous; a fact that he had come to contend with for a while now.
His expression was fatigued and lifeless. His upper eyelid drooped down, casing the majority of his left eye, leaving just a glimpse of hoary white at its lower third. His T-shirt, quite like his eyelid, only ever covered two thirds of his gut, exposing an unsightly brim of fat at the bottom; accentuated by the fitted shorts that clasped onto his waist. His shoulders were rounded and protruding outwards. His spine, hunched and decrepit; and his chest sunken to the point where it formed a concave.
Despite this upsetting acquiescence of misfortune, Graham was afforded a life of relative luxury; albeit one he utilized to limited joy. His father, Richard Hugh-Whitmore, inherited his great wealth from old money in the seventies. Graham, being his only son, yet least favorite progeny, was nonetheless provided with an outwardly stunning three-bedroom apartment in Palace Court.
The apartment inside, however, was squalid and disheveled. There were boxes of memorabilia stockpiled all around. Heaps of battered records lay among deracinated inlays of flooring. Every room harbored its own unique malodor, and although individually different, each stench was equally as putrid. With the exception of his slight annoyance at the extravagant yet distinctly tasteless home décor that had come with the apartment, the state of his home had no real effect on Graham.
This was because Graham had no regard for his own existence. He would simply wake up each morning, get somewhat dressed, and would wander into the living room where he would sit on his raggedy couch and spend the majority of his day. Free of desire or ambition, no sense of responsibility or plight, just the stolid numbness of existence. And this morning was no different.
This was not to say that Graham was braindead, quite the contrary. Graham often pondered on many ideas, ranging from death and cowardice to righteousness and fulfillment. He sometimes attempted to read the works of Kierkegaard and Dostoevsky and of Nietzsche and Sartre. He considered these figures to be the most formidable thinkers in the western canon, thus their works the required readings of the balanced man.
But Graham rarely had the attention span or the will to readily endure such dense works and only kept editions to serve his own pomposity. Instead, Graham devoted the best of his hours recalling the memories of his youth and tried to pinpoint when exactly it all went wrong. How did he develop into such a futile dud? When did he become unyoung? How did the years fritter away so swiftly?
He would meditate on such notions day in and day out, often coming up with an array of derivations, but none of which seemed to satisfy his deep, psychical longing for absolution. There was one episode in particular that formed the mainstay of his never-ending sessions of melancholy. He would remember one clear summer’s day at Wandsworth Common in his youth; the sunshine resting gently on his skin, the joyous melodies of birdsong ferrying through the air, and how he would revel at the prospect of spending the whole day out in the park with his father.
He was nine years old, and at the peak of his innocence when he noticed a hooded woman walking nonchalantly in his direction through the common with a German Shepherd at her side. She perched herself on a bench about ten meters to the left from where Graham and his father were sitting and eating their lunch. Graham, initially alarmed by the size of the dog, immediately sought protection in the sanctuary of his father’s torso.
Maddened by his son’s trepidation, Richard struck him upside the head and exclaimed that he had never come across someone so shamelessly timid in all of his fifty-seven years. Saddened by the blow, Graham turned his gaze to the hooded woman in an attempt to conceal his weeping from his father. The woman and her dog looked out in unison over the gorgeous landscape of the park. Still, poised and exuding a peculiar tranquility; the most mellifluous tunes began to flow from the woman’s lips, creating the sweetest sounds that Graham had ever heard.
And he found great peace that had never accosted him before. The tunes lasted a while, but not as long as Graham had hoped, and with the tears still freshly streaming down his cheeks; the woman stopped abruptly, rested a beat; and removed the hood from her clandestine head, to a great and distressing reveal. Alas! An unspeakable sight waylaid Graham in his nascent serenity. ‘Twas the unveiling of a beast. How could one be so repulsive? Graham thought.
Her face was the essence of depravity incarnate. The evil was palpable in every iniquitous rumple on her skin. And Graham, at that moment, at the height of his blamelessness, became frenzied with horror. “Papa, Papa!” cried Graham “What happened to her face?” Richard, who up until that moment had been rapt in the latest issue of Country Life looked up and directed a contemptuous glare towards Graham before catching sight of the woman.
With squinted eyes, he gave her a stern, hard look and with his countenance unchanged replied “acid, most probably.” Graham, dispirited and confused by his father’s aloof reply, inquired as to if the woman was likely to have felt pain at the time of her misfortune. Richard, approaching the end of his tether, explained to Graham that she probably experienced the most unimaginable pain, and that the world is full of wicked people who are always ready and willing to inflict a great deal of suffering on others merely for their own gratification.
Immediately after hearing this, Graham became deeply troubled by the thought and began to weep irrepressibly.
“Oh, for God’s sake, Graham!” exclaimed Richard furiously. “When will you learn to get a grip! You must realize that this world isn’t a bed of soft petals and stuffed animals. It’s a world full of horror and malevolence. In this life, people you know will spite you, people you trust will betray you, and the ones you love will leave you. You must understand this, Graham. This is no life for the weak and timid. One must endure anguish. One must persevere through torment. It’s the only way. You’ll never survive going on the way you do! Sniveling and slavering at every upsetting sight you see. I should give you something real to sob about. How would you like that? I was sent to fight a bloody war when I was only seven years older than you are now. A war full of open guts and severed limbs. Still, you will never see me break down, not ever, not once! Have some self-respect for Pete’s sake, show some bloody restraint!”
Graham listened attentively, and although he found his father’s tirade somewhat enlightening, he was still unable to stop his incessant weeping, which only intensified Richard’s fury all the more.
“That’s it!” bellowed Richard. “Get up!”
Richard shot up from the bench from whence he sat, and with malice and vigor, grabbed Graham’s puny left wrist and violently heaved him up from his seat. Richard’s long, gargantuan frame towered over Graham with a pythonic majesty. His eyes were bloodshot and ablaze with wrath, as if they were the eyes of God.
“It’s time that you stop being such a goddamn wimp! Lest I beat it out of you, and believe me I will,” exclaimed Richard.
Graham peered over at his father’s hands. His palms were thick and devastating, and Graham trembled at the sight of them, imagining all the agonizing possibilities that one open-hand blow could render.
“I’ve never felt so embarrassed in all my life!” continued Richard. “You’re a sissy and a weakling. And don’t think for a second that I’m unaware of how you perform at school! Bottom of your class at pretty much everything. At least everything of use. Mrs. Davis says that your fine motor skills are still developing! Still developing?! At nine years old? You’re an ignominy! What did I do to deserve such a worthless pansy like you for a son?”
Richard’s rantings persisted, and although inescapably dampened by his father’s scornful remarks, Graham, solely out of his stringent fear of violent repercussions, did not protest and absorbed the verbal scourging that had very much become a custom now.
Graham, in the midst of this, stood as still as the unstirring air itself and dared not raise up his head, which was bowed and fixed firmly to the earth. For a moment, Richard’s diatribe ceased; and an unnerving silence overshadowed the breadth of the park. The woman and her dog remained poised, peaceful, and unflinching; and although in close proximity to the increasingly heated event that was occurring between the boy and his father, still appeared oblivious to the situation.
“I’m going to make a man out of you, even if it kills you!” continued Richard in a curt, yet sinister tone.
Graham didn’t know exactly what his father meant by this, but the imagery of death was sure enough to elicit heart palpitations.
“Here!” Richard assertively pulled Graham towards the direction of the woman and her dog, and Graham, at first unaware of what to expect, began to trudge hastily behind him. The walk was only a few seconds long but seemed lightyears, and Graham was sick to his stomach. He now knew, with every step, edging closer to his destination, what was about to unfurl.