How to be invisible, p.14
Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font       Night Mode Off   Night Mode

       How To Be Invisible, p.14

           Tim Lott
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19

  The tone for my mother is Donald Duck.

  The sound of a cartoon duck quacking echoed around the interior of the church.

  Dr Ojebande’s head whipped around. His green eyes were wide and startled. He looked frightened – then angry.

  He held his Bible up in the air, closed his eyes and started to speak in loud, sonorous tones: “Per crucis hoc signum fugiat procul omne malignum; Et per idem signum salvetur quodque benignum…”

  I didn’t have a clue what he was talking about, and I wasn’t going to hang around to find out. I turned and ran as fast as I could.

  Was I still invisible? I wasn’t sure. Dr Ojebande knew something was amiss – but perhaps he did not know that I was invisible, and so maybe the magic was preserved. I would not know until I found a mirror.

  I ran all the way back to town, until I saw a sign for a public toilet. I rushed in, and on the wall was what was almost a mirror. It was, in fact, a piece of polished metal that was meant to be used as a mirror, but was unbreakable. It was scratched and warped, but I could see that I was not reflected in it. I breathed a sigh of relief. Dr Ojebande had not guessed where the ringing had come from. He did not know that I was invisible.

  I felt the urgent need to be visible again. Oddly enough, it felt safer. I checked the polished metal again. Did it qualify as a mirror? I wasn’t sure, but I was desperate enough to give it a go. I took my book, held it to my chest and ran full pelt at the sheet of steel.

  I whacked into it with a thud, bounced off and slammed to the ground. My head reeled, and my nose was bleeding. It felt like I had sprained my wrist.

  Clearly, the book did not consider the sheet of metal to be a proper mirror.

  I ran out of the toilets and made my way to a nearby pub. The toilets there had a real mirror, and a few seconds later I was visible again. My face was a mess – bruised and covered with blood.

  I cleaned myself up as best I could, then started limping towards home, my wrist aching, holding a tissue to my streaming nose. Then I decided to check my phone. My mother had left a message.

  She sounded very upset.

  “You need to come home, Strato. Something bad has happened. We need to talk.”

  It looked like my day wasn’t about to get any better.



  When I got home, Peaches was standing by the door, waiting for me. She looked stern and angry.

  “He’s gone, Strato.”

  “Who’s gone?”

  “Your father. He’s moved out.”

  So it had happened at last. I felt I was going to be sick, and I reeled away from her. She saw my face.

  “What happened to you? You look like you’ve been in a fight.”

  “It doesn’t matter what happened to me! Where is he?”

  I wiped the blood from my nose and fought back the tears from my eyes. My mother grabbed a tissue from the box on the telephone table and dabbed at my face ineffectually.

  “He’s in a hotel, just a mile away. But listen—”

  “Give me the address.”

  “Strato. Wait. Let’s talk. You and I.”

  “Give me the address. I want to see my father. I have something I need to ask him.”

  “Come and have some tea first. You look sick and starved, and it’s cold and dark out there. I’ll make you some hot chocolate with marshmallows. I’ll do some cheese on toast. Or there’s some jambalaya on the stove. And rice pudding for dessert.”

  Jambalaya was one of her specialities from the old country – basically spicy chicken, beans and rice. I liked it, but I wasn’t in the mood.

  “Peaches,” I said. “It’s all right. I’ll be back very soon. I’m OK. But I need to see Melchior. I have a right to see my father, don’t I?”

  She nodded and shrugged. “I suppose…”

  Her mouth was tight and fierce. It was as if the argument she had just had with Melchior was still taking place inside her head.

  “He’s done a bad thing, Strato. Some might say an unforgivable thing.”

  “Don’t say bad things about Melchior. Just give me the address, Mother. Please.”

  She stared at me, then grabbed a scrap of paper and a pencil and scribbled an address. She watched, dry-eyed, as I made my way off into the night.

  I wanted to see my father straight away. I wanted to work out how to put this all to rights. After all, what was the point of having a special power if I couldn’t use it to make things better?

  Susan Brown’s house was on the way, and I wondered briefly if I should stop in and talk to her about what my next step might be. But I wanted to see Melchior too urgently.

  I arrived at the address Peaches had given me. A sign outside said “Hedgecombe Travelodge”. It didn’t look like a hotel – it looked like a row of red-brick Barratt houses in an industrial suburb.

  Melchior was still unloading some of his things from the car. He was wearing a cardigan with a hole in one elbow. He smiled thinly when he saw me, then touched me on my nose exactly where I’d cut myself running into the mirror. I flinched.

  “How did you do that?” he asked.

  “I walked into a glass door,” I said. (It was almost true.)

  He nodded slightly and then, very unusually for him, he gave me a brief, but very tight, hug.

  He stared at me with an unreadable expression on his face. I suggested politely that we went inside and sat down, as if I was the adult and he was the child, and he followed my instructions.

  The room he was staying in was small, dark and sparsely furnished. I sat down on a plain wooden chair, and he sat on the bed. We remained there in silence for a while. A question was pressing at the edges of my mouth. I tried to keep it inside, but it was so strong that it burst out: “Why did you leave?”

  “It wasn’t me, Strato. I didn’t want to go. Your mother told me I should.”

  I thought back to what Peaches had said. She hadn’t explicitly claimed that Melchior had left of his own accord, but it had certainly been implied.

  “Why? Why would she do that?”

  This question left Melchior squirming uncomfortably on the bed.

  “Your mother found a letter. From … this lady who I…”

  “The lady you were having sex with.”

  Melchior looked startled, then stared down at the floor.

  “How did you know about her?”

  “Because I’m not blind and deaf.”

  “What do you know?” he said in a very quiet voice.

  “I know that you had a ‘fling’. I know that her name was Annabel. I know Peaches made you move down here to get away from her. I know she made you give up your job. I know you didn’t want to come, for my sake.”

  “What has Peaches been saying to you?” Melchior asked.

  “I overheard some of your conversations.”

  “You’ve been snooping!”

  “You’re not really in any position to judge me, are you, Father?” I said quietly.

  Melchior conceded the point. Then he sighed, and said, “Somehow she – Annabel – found out my address in Hedgecombe. She sent me a letter asking me to go back to London to see her. I didn’t answer it. I put the letter at the bottom of the dustbin. I should have burned it. Peaches – she has a suspicious mind. She checked the rubbish. Apparently she does this regularly. She found the letter. And now she thinks we’ve been ‘in touch’. But we haven’t. This … this lady in London. She means nothing to me. I was going through a bad time. I was flattered that she liked me. I just made a mistake. Anyone can make a mistake. But your mother thinks that I was in love with her. That I am still in love with her. So after she found the letter – she threw me out. And here I am.”

  Now he looked at me pleadingly, begging with his eyes for me to forgive him.

  “You don’t love this lady, then?” I asked. “This … Annabel?”

  “Of course not! She’s just a kid. A trainee. She was—”
  “I don’t want to know any more details.”

  “Oh. OK.”

  “I just want to ask you another question.”

  Melchior looked puzzled. “What’s that, then?”

  “It’s this – why should I believe a single bloody word you say?”


  “You’re a liar.”

  Melchior looked around the room as if he was searching for something. But whatever it was, it didn’t appear to be there.

  “I’m not a liar. Why are you saying that?” he said at last.

  “Can I ask you another question?”

  Melchior stood up and began to pace around the tiny room. Two of his suitcases were on the floor. There was a single chocolate on the pillow, wrapped in golden foil. Somehow the chocolate seemed particularly full of pathos.

  “Pathos”, incidentally, means “a quality that arouses pity”.

  “Anything, Strato. It’s important that you know the truth. You’re old enough. We need to be honest. Honesty is important.”

  “I agree. So … why did you pretend that you had a job down here working in a laboratory, when all you do is push paper in an office?”

  Melchior almost toppled backwards. No doubt he had been expecting a question about himself and my mother. This had taken him entirely by surprise.

  “What are you talking about?” he said. But his heart wasn’t in it.

  “Don’t make it worse,” I said.

  The muscles in his face seemed to tighten, then they relaxed into a forlorn expression.

  “But – how did you know? Did Peaches tell you?”

  “No, she didn’t. It doesn’t matter how I know. But I don’t understand how you could give up your job as a scientist in the laboratory in London to come here and work in a desk job. Nothing could be worth that. Could it?”

  Now Melchior looked even more despairing. He hesitated, then said, “No. I suppose not. Except that…”

  He seemed to be engaged in a titanic struggle with himself.

  “Tell me the truth, Melchior.”

  Melchior nodded. “OK. I’ll tell you the truth.”

  He picked up the foil-wrapped chocolate and began picking at it with his fingernails.

  He looked up at me. There were tears in his eyes. Water and salt and a few trace elements.

  “I wanted to inspire you, Strato. I wanted you to respect me. Because you are so clever, and I am so ordinary. That makes me feel bad. It makes me feel stupid. So I pretended that I was more special than I actually am. Yes, I gave up the job in London to come down here. Yes, it had something to do with Peaches. But they were going to get rid of me at the lab anyway. I wasn’t sharp enough any more. I couldn’t cut the mustard. They offered me redundancy and I took it. If I hadn’t, they would have sacked me.”

  I was having acute difficulty taking this on board. I felt myself blinking again and again, as if I had something stuck in my eye.

  Then my father put his hand over mine and looked me directly in the eyes.

  “I’m a foolish man, I know. But I’m not a bad man.”

  “You’re a bad cook.”

  He smiled weakly.

  “Yes, I’m a bad cook. But whatever I am, I love you, and I love your mother. All the way to the stars and back.”

  That was something he used to say when I was a small boy. He hadn’t used that phrase for a very long time.

  He picked the rest of the foil off the chocolate, leaving a trail of gold paper on the carpet.

  “Can you forgive me, Strato?”

  He put the chocolate untasted on the bedside table. It had the Travelodge logo imprinted on it.

  I thought for a second, then I picked up the chocolate and swallowed it. I looked straight back at Melchior.

  “What are you talking about, Father?”

  He looked at his feet. “I suppose it’s too much to expect.”

  I went and stood by Melchior. “I don’t care what you do for a living. I don’t care if you’re a clerk or a particle physicist. You’re my father. You don’t need to hide things from me. I don’t care. I love you, Dad. If you were a dustman, or an estate agent, or an unsuccessful rat catcher, I would love you the same.”

  Melchior didn’t move for a moment – and then he hugged me so hard I thought my bones would break. I wanted to cry, but I hardly ever cry, so I didn’t.

  After a while, we broke apart. Then Melchior made us both a cup of tea from the automatic tea-and-coffee-maker on the bedside table, and we sat and chatted for another hour.

  He told me everything – about the woman in London, how it had only been a brief fling, how he was terrible at lying so Peaches found out right away and insisted they move away to the country. And that now they were in Hedgecombe, nothing had got any better, and he had to move out of the house.

  “I keep thinking that if I could just say the right thing, Strato, she would take me back, and everything would be OK again. I still love her very much. And I believe that she still loves me too. I made a terrible mistake. But I don’t know what the right thing to do is. I just don’t know.”

  “Don’t worry, Dad. I’ll find out what the right thing to do is. Then everything will be OK again.”

  “How can you know that, Fender? You’re thirteen years old. There’s so much you don’t understand.”

  I don’t know why, but I really did believe that everything would be OK. I didn’t have any evidence, but I believed it, absolutely. Peaches would doubtless have called it faith. Faith is an entirely unscientific concept. But on this occasion it felt entirely tangible.

  When I got home, Peaches was nowhere to be seen. I assumed that she was in her study. She was very strict about her work hours. I suspected that even the trauma of the past few hours was insufficient to stop her in her tracks. The dinner that she’d made me was on the table, but it had gone cold. I put it in the microwave, and munched my way through it.

  As I was eating the last of my rice pudding, also reheated in the microwave, I looked at the wall calendar. There was an appointment, scrawled in Peaches’ handwriting. Tomorrow, Dorothea Beckwith-Hinds was coming to stay overnight. There was certainly only going to be one topic of conversation. My mother and her friends loved to talk about relationships, and they would certainly have plenty to talk about now.

  Peaches didn’t like to be disturbed when she was writing. But, given the circumstances, I felt I was justified in interrupting her. I opened her door without knocking. She continued to stare at her computer screen as I walked in.

  “Are you OK, dahlin’?”

  “Given that my father has just moved out of the house, I thought you might want to engage with me for a minute or two.”

  My mother sighed.

  “I do. Of course I do. I’m sorry, Strato. Sometimes I just get so – distracted. Writing the book, I mean.”

  She rose from her chair and put her arm around me.

  “Welcome to the Geek Farm, you mean?”

  Peaches took her arm away from my shoulders.

  “Did Melchior tell you? That rotten son of a…!”

  “No. I found out on my own. And don’t call him a rotten anything. He’s not.”

  She nodded, but it was pretty obvious that she didn’t agree with me.

  I ignored this.

  “I understand that the book concerns me,” I continued. “I’m the geek, right?”

  Now she had the decency to blush.

  “Well – not just you—”

  She broke off, apparently realizing that this wasn’t a very effective line of defence.

  “Look, Strato. I don’t expect you to understand. But I’ve got a publisher interested in this book. In fact, more than interested – they definitely want to publish it. It will be the start of a whole new career for me. We will be able to look after ourselves, Strato. Even if your father and I end up…”

  Her voice tailed off.

  “Splitting up for good?” I said.

  She nodded.

What about me?”

  “I know it’s hard for you, Strato. But lots of children have parents who—”

  This time I interrupted.

  “I’m not talking about you and Melchior. Do you think it’s OK to write a book about me without asking my permission?”

  Peaches looked shocked.

  “I was going to ask your permission, Strato. In due course. Of course I was.”

  “Of course. Well, why wait? Ask me now.”


  “Yes – now.”

  My mother took a sip of water from a glass on her desk and looked me up and down.

  “I’m not sure this is the right time and place.”

  “It is for me.”

  “But you don’t know what it’s about.”

  “It’s about me and you and the difficulties of bringing up a gifted and talented child.”

  “Well, yes … but until you read it…”

  “I don’t need to read it. Just ask me if it’s OK to write it.”

  I could tell that she couldn’t quite decide what to do. Then she gave a small nod, as if she had made a private decision, and turned to me.

  “Strato. My little genius gorgeous boy. Do I have your permission to write this book?”

  “What if I say no?”

  She paused again. “If you say no, then I won’t write it.”

  “Good. Then the answer is no.”

  I walked out of her room, leaving her with her mouth hanging open about two centimetres, with her tongue protruding slightly like a little animal trying to escape.



  The next day on the bus to school, I found Susan Brown saving a seat for me. I sat down, but I didn’t quite know what to say. I felt something special had happened that afternoon down by the river, but it embarrassed me to think about it. So I took refuge in a familiar subject – science.

  I told her I had a genius theory about gravity and light – that they are really the same thing. No other scientist in the world believed this, but I did, because I couldn’t see any other possible explanation.

  She nodded and looked genuinely interested, which only about one in a million girls of her age would do.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19
Turn Navi Off
Turn Navi On
Scroll Up
Add comment

Add comment