The outside of an apartment building. The twilight is cool, a sliver of burnt orange light snaking it’s way between the buildings of the city. From some way off, the sound of traffic can be heard, the odd horn and exhaust splutter bursting like a bubble atop the grumbling sea of sound. A gentle breeze catches the treetops surrounding the building, the branches swaying rhythmically, in tandem. To the right of our position the city expands into the distance, its buildings an indiscernible concrete mass with only the skyscrapers visible, clawing towards the darkening sky; to the left is a communal park, the dull green grass stretching as far as the eye can see and beyond.
Our view, like that from a news report helicopter, pans slowly around the building. The structure itself holds layer upon layer of contradiction; not old, yet dilapidated, not expensive yet surrounded by the most bourgeois and debonair of neighbourhoods, with wave after wave of gold-plated and marble sheen. It is an island adrift, cocooned by an invisible layer from the overly-emphatic wealth of the surroundings. However, this in itself is only another contradiction. Every second car in the parking garage is a top of the range model, gleaming like the day it arrived in the showroom. Our elevated perspective gives us a glimpse into the windows of the building, from which the same ostentatious lifestyle is visible; a flat-screen television here, a delicate ornamental piece there. If the tower possesses an air of deprivation, it is a purposeful one, not an air of resigned inevitability.
We sweep around the building at a leisurely pace, taking all of this in within a matter of minutes, before our attention is rapidly, violently directed towards one window in particular. It lies almost dead centre in the complex, some thirteen or fourteen floors up, perhaps 5 windows across. There is nothing particularly remarkable about this window, indeed nothing to distinguish it from any other window in the building, any other window in the world. So, after several minutes of reflection on the possible importance of this normal pane of glass we attempt to exert our own authority over the power that guides our eye, to move our focus to something else- and we find we cannot. More minutes slip by.
There is the smallest moment of darkness, a fraction of a second at most, the same sensation as blinking; then, like a movie cutting from one scene to the next, we are suddenly in a room. A bedroom. A wave of nausea laps over us, a curious sensation for a group with seemingly no body. We are not in possession of physical form, rather a small group of consciousness floating imperceptibly in the air. After the nausea, the second thing we notice is a partial regain of control over our vision. We can now complete a three hundred and sixty degree turn in the air, allowing us to take in our new location, but we are still unable to move up, down, backwards or forwards.
The room itself is small, but comfortably so. The only light is that of the dwindling sun, fast falling behind the horizon. The decor of the room is fairly bland; beige wallpaper, two generic paintings hanging on the wall, one of the woodland and the other a river. A bookshelf nestles beside the door, on which is a disparate collection of texts, a history of Jazz, a few textbooks on accountancy, a collection of crime thrillers and cookery books. A desk sits against the wall, beside the window, on which is scattered a few sheets of paper, some pens, another book on accounting and three “Get Well Soon” cards. Two generic, store bought cards and a hand-made card, covered in a hodgepodge of glitter and cardboard shapes. A cupboard, a mirror and a bedside table, all the same light yellow wooden colour. The bed itself, a single with deep red bedclothes, and between the sheets, a man.
Or, technically not a man. A boy, perhaps of seventeen or eighteen, on the cusp of maturity, that transient period of time between adulthood and teenage years. A cloud of matted black hair flops lazily onto the pillow around his head, unnaturally shiny. It might as well not have been washed in months. He is recently shaved, the multitude of minute red lines scratched across his chin telling of a person who has never shaved their face. His eyes are shut fast, but his demeanour is not one of a sleeper resting peacefully. Brow furrowed, mouth twisted in discomfort and pain. Absolutely no movement. We observe for what must be thirty minutes, and apart from the slight rise and fall of his chest there is not the slightest twitch. This boy may as well be in a coma. But there is something about him, or rather around him, an indefinable quality, a strange stray thought that passes through our minds, that tells us this is not the case. He is asleep then. A deep, dark, impenetrable slumber.
From somewhere far off there is the sound of footsteps. Not the clip-clop-clip-clop of a heel, but the soft thwump-thwump of a flat. It’s heavy, too. Probably a man. The seconds tick by.
The door clicks open a fraction and a man- a boy- of perhaps sixteen or seventeen slips in and closes the door quietly behind him. A well built teenage boy, blond foppish hair. Tight t-shirt and skinny jeans. He regards the boy sleeping for several seconds, a wary and pained expression passing over his face like a dark cloud. Hovering inches from the door, the boy seems uncertain what to do, his movement, or complete lack of, riddled with indecision. He looks as if nothing would give him greater relief than to turn and run for his life. Instead, he crosses the room and sits on the end of the bed, staring at the unconscious figure.
“Hello, bigger brother.”
It was barely audible, hardly even a whisper. He gives one long, piercing look over the sleeping boys face, and laughs nervously.
“Mum shaved you on her own then? I told her to wait for me. Told her! I knew you’d be so annoyed if you woke up and your face was torn to shreds. That perfect face of yours, eh?”
His nervous laughter quickly dies. He fumbles in his pocket for a second, then withdraws a small necklace. A cheap, ordinary bauble. When he speaks again, his gaze is fixed solely on the trinket as it runs through his fingers.
“Can you hear me?”
A bird caws in the distance.
“Yeah, I know. Dad says hello. The deal should be closed tomorrow, so he’s heading back soon. I bumped into Karl on the street yesterday, everyone from the college is asking for you. To be honest, I didn’t really know what to tell him. I just said you were getting better. That’s what mum tells everyone. A little more rest, a little more, and you’ll be right as rain.”
“It was Katie’s eighteenth the other day. We were all disappointed you couldn’t be there. It was the usual lavish affair, you know what her dad’s like, anything for his little princess. All of her friends were there, and about fifty people that I didn’t know. I doubt she knew them very well either. Katie was stunning. It was just a little black dress, but god, did she pull it off! I could barely keep my hands off her all night. I’m so lucky to be with her. She was the most beautiful girl there. Not that she gave much affection back.”