FICTION: Is This Really Necessary? by Ryan Phillips

“Is this really necessary?”

Father was busy. He sat tenaciously in his armchair as me and Tommy bugged him to have a look at our ideas; we’d drawn them up on pieces of paper with crayons, and wanted him to give us his opinion.

Spread out over father’s lap and piled up on the chair’s armrests were heaps of files and documents, interweaved among them the odd highlighter, ball-point pen, yellow sticky note or one of his work tools, like the flower-patterned hole-puncher that Mother had bought him as an anniversary gift when they were still together. Or when she was still ‘normal’. Me and Tommy weren’t quite sure what happened first—the divorce, or Mother going crazy.

At the moment, though, Father was doing his work. At least, that’s what he told us he was doing in a slightly irritated way, after he glanced up from his markings to look at the sketches Tommy held up, standing on the tips of his toes so Father could see the elaborate designs.

“It is necessary, though,” I protested. I didn’t want to leave. “It’s a way we can feed Mother without having to go down with the glass and bowl!”

But my only answer from Father was the faint scratching of his pen. His face was pointed down, cemented into his work.

Tommy looked disappointed, even hurt, as he lowered his paper; I myself still had a bundle of drawn-up ideas on the floor next to me, and it was a real shame that probably not one would be seen by Father.

“It won’t work, Elsa,” Father suddenly said, very quietly, and with an admitting manner. He got to the end of a sentence and lowered his pen but didn’t set it down. “It’s a thoughtful concept, really it is—um, thank you,” he said, this time to Tommy, who had lifted two pages right in front of his face. “But I don’t know why you two would want to make something like that . . . A ‘Rube Goldberg self-feeding machine’? What’s wrong with doing it yourselves?”

He’d obviously spotted the name for our idea on one of my sheets placed at the top of the bundle, the words heavily coloured and decorated, illustrated to look big and visible. IT GETS THE JOB DONE!!!

I frowned. “But it’s scary down in the cellar. And it smells! Like, really bad. And Mother seems to get angry when I go down there with her food, because she snarls—” I held out my hands as claws, snarling as to mimic Mother’s behaviour, teeth bared “—and runs forward like this.” I let out another growl and dashed toward the sofa. Father would usually holler or order me off if I ever jumped on the sofa; but he seemed to be listening to what I was showing him. “Then her chain stops her.” I feigned falling off the sofa, sprawling my arms and legs over the floor, making soft choking sounds with my throat.

The exaggeration must have worked, because Father’s brow rose.

Tommy, however, giggled. “You look funny!”

I got up and said, “Yeah, well, you don’t find it funny when it’s your turn to feed her.”

“That’s because she’s always liked me—even before she turned looney—and stays still and quiet whenever I visit her. You’re just a scaredy cat!”

“At least I got away from her quick enough before her chain ends, and didn’t come out with a big scratch like you did!”

“That’s quite enough, you two,” Father snapped, and Tommy’s leering face fell into obedient sullenness.

I too stopped my arguing; now that Father had gotten annoyed, it had seemed like a hugely stupid thing to do. I felt slightly ashamed then, especially for having so uncivilly clambered over the sofa.

However, the sofa jumping and sibling quarrelling may not have been the only sources of his anger. He said, this time much calmer, “Both of you children, listen to me.’

We listened.

‘It will not actually work because the entire reason I put your mother down there is so she can hopefully get better. Recover.”

“Is that why there’s all those bottles and jars, and cabinets full of pills in the corner?” asked Tommy innocently.

Father thought for a moment. Then he began shuffling through his papers. “Do you two remember when we used to visit Granddad in his ‘special home’, and bring him things like boxes of chocolates because he was feeling ill?”

Granddad had been dead nearly two years, but we both nodded. We still remembered. There were still pictures of him framed up on the wall or spread unevenly along the mantelpiece. There was a very small one of him and Mother, both grinning over a huge cake, sharing the cutting knife. Before she went ‘crazy’.

“Well,” said Father, “you know that as an elderly man he had some problems with his bones, particularly in his fingers—not arthritis though, something else. Anyhow, he wasn’t really able to take care of himself. We were, say . . . his lantern in the vail of fog. Without us, he was lost. And besides,” he added, nodding deliberately in my direction, “it was nice to spend time with Granddad, wasn’t it? Bit of human interaction ever so often?”

We both nodded again.

“So you don’t think it would be fair on your mother if all she had to see each and every day was a—a—forklift?”

Me and Tommy didn’t bother nodding that time; we simply turned and gathered our papers, leaving the room for Father to continue his duty of marking his documents.

As we were leaving, I saw that Tommy had drawn up the most bizarre designs by far, and realised that Father hadn’t even seen mine—expect perhaps for that large name, but that was all just a ridiculous concept. No wonder he’d thought the ideas were too childlike.

“And remember,” I heard Father call, just before the door was shut to, “I’ll tell you—both of you—when you are older. You see, neither of you fully understand what’s happening right now. Understood?”

“Yes, Father,” I replied.

So that was it. We were too young. That sure was odd.

To this day I can’t wrap my head around the strangeness of Father’s words, especially concerning Mother’s behaviour; she was Granddad’s daughter, after all. Was it something that ran in the family? Did that mean me or Tommy would ‘go crazy’ as well when we were older?

But after briefly discussing it between us, the ideas were dismissed. Grandad had been old and frail whilst he’d been sick; Mother was still young and full of life. She was simply recovering.

However, some nights when I try to get to sleep in bed, I can hear crying. Sobbing. Coming from the belly of the house. Echoing.

It’s Mother—and she sounds upset.

But why would she feel upset? Sure, she’s poorly, and feeling poorly can be really horrible . . . but she still has us with her, right?

Right?

Ryan Phillips was born in Hampshire, England. He studied media and creative writing in secondary school and is an avid fan of Stephen King and Terry Pratchett. He moved house in March last year and is now attending college at Barton Peveril.

If you enjoyed Is This Really Necessary?, leave a comment and let Ryan know.

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