by Gilles Tibo
illustrated by Suana Verelst
I’m Mathieu. I’m not going to be part of this world for much longer. I don’t mean I’m going to take a rocket to another planet, or a flying saucer into another dimension. I’m going to leave the world by letting myself fall into a river.
One day I’ll be walking along the bridge and I’ll throw myself into the water. I’ll make a little splash, nothing more. The river will close over again above my head. It will carry me out from shore and that will be that. There’ll be nothing left of me anywhere at all.
Dad will think I’m at Mom’s.
Mom will think I went round to Dad’s without telling her.
At school, they’ll think I’m sick.
My friends will keep on watching TV.
After a few days, I’m sure, they’ll all have forgotten me.
As I wait around before disappearing into the river, all I do is pretend. I pretend to smile, to laugh. I pretend to study. I pretend to play, sending back the balls that come my way.
THE MAN WHO IS MY DAD
I live with my dad every other week. Half the time, he goes out with friends. He staggers back home. He stinks of liquor. He smells of cigarette smoke. He grumbles when he pays the babysitter, then goes to bed without taking off his clothes.
The other half the time, he’s sprawled on the sofa, remote control in hand.
My dad and the TV make the perfect couple. I don’t know anymore who is watching who.
I sit down next to him on the sofa. He moves over, eyes glued to the screen. I ask him a question. He mutters answers that don’t have verbs or complements or sometimes even subjects. I’d love it if he held me real tight in his arms and told me all about his life. But seeing him sprawled out like that makes it seem like he has no life, no real life, I mean.
I grab the remote control to turn off the TV. I try to talk to my dad. I try to tell him something he might find interesting. But I don’t find anything. Every time, it’s the same old story. He snatches the remote control out of my hands.
I’m not welcome on the sofa.
If Dad could zap me, I’m sure he would. I’d zap him, too.
I’d zap the house, the town, the country, the planet, too. I’d be alone, lost in space. Then I’d zap the whole universe and I’d zap myself. In the end, there’d be nothing left but a remote control in the empty sky.
THE WOMAN WHO IS MY MOM
The other half of the time, I live with my mom, but it’s like she’s not my mom anymore.
She’s another woman who loves someone else. You can see it in her eyes and on the mouth she covers in red lipstick. Even when she ruffles my hair or pecks me on the cheek, I know she’s not thinking of me. She’s thinking of the new guy she’s in love with.
I often hear them laughing and having fun together behind their bedroom door. Mom’s laugh is the most beautiful thing in the world, but she never laughs when she’s just with me. Her eyes are full of sadness. They look at me, asking me quietly, “What on earth am I going to do with you?”
It’s not hard, all the same. I want her to give me a big hug and say, “My love… My little darling… My little angel…”
It would be OK even if she didn’t say a word, if she just cuddled me, purring like a cat with her kittens. I’d take even a look from afar, with a little bit of love in her eyes.
But that never happens. Mom isn’t Mom anymore, even though I’m still her son.
Translation by Peter McCambridge
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