One of Nine – Part 1 of The Old Ones
When people meet my son they think he is beautiful. I sound delusional. Yes, Mrs Roberts, I’m sure he is very cute. Don’t all parents think their children are more beautiful, more special, than the next? Well, that’s not what I mean.
Matthew is of average height, and average weight, and his hair is a medium brown. But if he looks at you it will take your breath away. Inside his eyes are all the moons, stars, and galaxies of the entire universe. Something ancient and cosmic swirls behind those eyelashes, and you will either fall in love or run away, terrified.
He fought me. He did not want to come here today. My husband took his side, as always.
“There’s nothing wrong with him,” he said, ruffling that thick brown crop. “You don’t want to go and see some shrink, do you Matty?”
That word scared him. “I don’t want to shrink,” he said, solemn as ever, starry eyes fixed on mine. I looked away slightly, as I have learned to do.
“It’s not a shrink,” I said. “It’s a doctor. Dr Pleasance. She’s a lovely lady, and she’s going to see if she can help you.”
“I don’t need help,” Matthew said. “I’m fine.” His fingers twitched reflexively around Ninny, and my resolve strengthened.
“We’re going,” I grabbed Ninny and marched toward the car, and he followed as I knew he would.
Dr Pleasance is all lipstick and hairspray. I feel my hope start to fade. She knows why we’re here—I have already run her through the issues, and filled out the forms, like I have with every doctor. She’s my last resort.
“Matthew,” she crouches in front of him, and sees the universe in his eyes up close. She stands up quickly, but I am impressed that she does not pause. “Why don’t you tell me a bit about Ninny?”
Matthew is holding Ninny to his ear now, and smiling at something none of us can hear. Ninny smells of sour milk and dried Weetbix, but we can never wash him.
“Is Ninny saying something to you?” asks Dr Pleasance. Matthew eyes her suspiciously.
Dr Pleasance shrugs. “Whatever,” she says. “I don’t care. I just thought it might have been something interesting. It’s probably not.”
Matthew whispers something to Ninny. Ninny’s face is coming unstitched, but Matthew won’t let me near it.
“Ninny wants to tell you,” he says, his voice small. My heart hurts. He is so small. Dr Pleasance nods, like she doesn’t mind either way.
Matthew holds Ninny up, and now it’s Ninny’s voice we hear. It never fails to make the hairs on my arms stand up. Matthew’s eyes go black, as they always do when Ninny is talking, and he holds the little stuffed figure in front of his face.
“I am one of nine,” Matthew says, but it’s Ninny’s creaky voice coming from his mouth. I see Dr Pleasance’s face twitch, but she nods encouragingly. Ninny continues.
“When I was born I couldn’t see out of my left eye. Mother took me to the doctor, but there was nothing they could do. I still got good marks at school, but Father would beat me because I couldn’t help with the animals at home. One of my legs didn’t grow properly, and I got tired if I walked too much. Nurse said that they tried to smother me with a pillow but it didn’t work. She said they hated me. When I was fifteen I killed them with Father’s axe. Then the workers came in from the yard, and they shot me with a rifle. When I lay there dead on the floor they said it should have been done at birth.”
Matthew’s head hangs forward, his eyes closed. Ninny has finished. Dr Pleasance is processing things. I have heard this before. An imaginative child, they said. He must have heard this on TV, or read a book. Matthew is six.
“Thank you, Ninny,” the doctor says. She turns to Matthew. “Where did you get Ninny?” she asks. Matthew’s eyes open wide; two black holes drawing us all in.
“Ninny was born with me,” he says, glancing at me.
“He was given to me,” I say. “When Matthew and—when Matthew was born.” I hope Matthew didn’t hear my mistake.
The silence hangs for a time. Matthew laughs, holding Ninny by his ear. It’s getting cold.
“I think we need to talk some more,” Dr Pleasance says.
You can read Whispering Time – Part 2 of The Old Ones here.
You can read Babies in the Snow – Part 3 of The Old Ones here.