Dinner for One
When I enter the kitchen he is already seated. Defiant, he looks up at me, the smirk I’m sure I see gone from his face faster than physics permit—exactly what he wants. I know this because I used to be him. Not literally, not yet, but because I had once been the age I find him now. I feel cruel thinking this, a hypocrite, as it showed in him a side of me I hoped to never see again.
This is called empathizing.
All morning I had been thinking of ways to begin. Usually this helped—in regards to the young man in front of me, not so much; a storm unto himself, the boy’s outright refusal to learn or obey the things which brought us here today. Behind him, in through the sliding glass doors, slanting bars of light made themselves known. Invading, full of dust, each ended just short of the boy’s chair. I thought: how apropos.
This is called the truth.
“You going to start or just stare?”
“Billy,” I say, and realize in the span of seconds that there is no point, that the boy is lost to whatever I might have been able to give. I can see it in his eyes, that dark behind the shine. They are blue, yes, and pleasant, but beneath I see the heat. It is red and hungry, raw like meat.
“C’mon, old man. It’s not like I have all day.” Dark, he has hair like mine, and it was nice when he decided on this. A connection forged, it brought us closer, but only for a while. What defeats me is his heart—how original the hate.
“You’re killing again.” I state this point blank, and it’s here his smirk returns. Leaning back, his arms behind his head, he lifts his legs and then rests them across one another, each upon another chair. His boots are scuffed, dirty, and I suddenly realize they are mine.
“What if I am?” Arms down now, each one crossed tight against his chest. I cough, wipe my eyes, and secretly wish I’d been born a different man. This is not the first time I have wished for this, nor, I suppose, would it come to be the last. Billy was young, after all, wisdom to him but letters in a row.
This is also called the truth.
I look at him; stare, the boy’s gaze never dropping from mine. Grunting, he begins to say something else, but it is then I put forth my case. It ends today, I say, and that he will not be killing again. Laughter meets this, then more, and in those moments I realize that a forest has always been more than trees; the boy far sourer than I could have imagined, and that he had been like this for longer than I could guess. It is unfortunate I came to understand this as I did, but I could not afford regret, not then. I had always considered myself a better judge of character, yes, but when it comes to our children is there any of us who do not look at the things they do with a different set of eyes?
Struggling, I move forward, but he is up and out of his chair faster than I can blink.
“I suppose it was always going to come to this.” He says, and I stop, my hands outstretched and both palms up. He is bigger than me, and taller, and in my mind each are the things I hoped he was counting upon.
“Bill,” I reply, but begin to shake my head. “This isn’t what they deserve.”
“They are cattle, Dad; that and nothing more.”
“You’re wrong, son. I wish you could see that. Did nothing we teach you take?”
“Oh, I learned lots, Dad. More than you could know. This is just the way it works—you cannot blame me for following their rules. We are stronger than them, smarter. Their myths, their legend—this is who we are. We shouldn’t have to live the way we do.”
“Billy,” I say, and suddenly decide to try and reason with him one last time. Foolish? Yes, but a father can only envision the death of his child so many times. “You have to think about this differently than you have. We are lucky to be alive, the ones of us who survived. They gave us viable water, viable air. That has to count for something—if not to just leave them be.”
“And what? Get a day job? Pretend and hide behind the norm? I won’t do it, Dad. I won’t! And I’m not the only one.” He was right about that, the faction he’d joined now quite considerable in its size. This was us making our point—the entire reason for today; an example had to be made. Did it destroy me when I found myself offering Billy up? Of course it did. How could it not? But no matter what I told myself, no matter how many times, he was not my little boy anymore, and hadn’t been for god knows how long. He was a murderer now, and rapist of not only men. The eyes which once looked to me in wonder now filled with manic glee. If he would not learn, sadly, I could not teach.
Alongside compartmentalization, this is called letting go.
“But life, son—what you’re choosing to do…”
“Consider it,” he blurts, and his voice takes on a tone to which I am unfamiliar. I would like to call it dark. I would like to call it deep. It was both, but neither, and foreign all the same. “A kingdom built on murder and rape. Where the weak are where they should be, grovelling at our feet.”
“You are either with me or against me. The choice, old man, is yours.” Head lowered, he raises his right arm towards me. Slowly it turns round, flattens, and then becomes sharp. “Head or chest, Dad; you decide.”
“With all our power, this is what you choose?”
“I have more power than you think.”
“Right,” I say; this and nothing more.
“What? You don’t think I’ve been shown?”
“Doesn’t matter if I do or don’t at this point, does it? No, son, I don’t think it does. What I suggest is we sit down, maybe start this again?” Even though I had committed myself, I was not averse to finding a way. This is not as honest as it sounds, and I have to admit that, even if my reflection cannot. Love, it does do more than turn on a dime.
“What, so you can start with the responsibility shit again? No, Dad, I’m done. We either do this now or I’m gone. I don’t want to kill you, I don’t, but this here, what you’re doing, a man can only take so much.”
“A man,” I say, and for the second time in as many minutes I let the word hang there in the air.
“Yes, Dad! Eighteen next month—a man!”
“Yet you choose to come at me with a weapon as rudimentary as this?”
“It won’t work, Dad.”
“What’s to work? You know it all, right? Same as the boys you run with. What more could your Elders possibly teach you? We have tried, it hasn’t worked. That much is known. But what if each milestone, say turning eighteen being one, you were to be taught something you hadn’t known?”
“Bullshit, right—because it would be so much easier for us to teach you everything before you were ready and then let you loose upon the world. Sure, that sounds much more acceptable.”
“Show me, then. Prove it.” Death knocks soon, I thought. My poor sweet boy.
I did as he asked and showed him, stepping outside myself and creating a dupe—duplicate, really, with me being Prime. Separated, we watched the boy, both of us looking through the same set of eyes and both of us not. Billy’s mouth hung open as I thought it would, his own eyes large and wide.
“You have got to be shitting me! That is awesome!”
“There is more, Bill, believe me.” We talked simultaneously, my double and I, as Billy’s eyes darted from me and to my dupe more times than I cared to count. I had him, I realized, and then that it was time to end what I’d begun.
This is called the calm before the storm.
“Would you like to learn?”
“Would I?” For a second he becomes the boy I will always remember most. The moment passes, however, and then the minutes begin to stretch. “Is this a trick?”
“Yes, Bill,” I say, seeing no other recourse. My other stands there, looking from me and to our son. He says, “Why else would we have shown you? Not because we love you—that would just negate the entire fucking point.” In the end, I think it was the language which sold Billy; that my other, even though he came from me, proved to have a personality of his own. “You are on a dark and dangerous path, Bill, one which neither of us can follow. Come back to us, Bill, now, and we will teach you things your mind cannot yet dream.”
His mouth said yes, but his eyes could not. “Fine,” he spat, and with almost the right amount of contemptuousness. Sitting now, me across from Bill, my dupe now on my left, we explained how to unlock the process. Done, we encouraged him to try. He did, slowly, and on his third try an entire other him emerged from the right side of Billy’s frame. We struck as one and at once, each of us taking a son. Malleable, we reverted to our true forms, pouring into them through their mouths, the nose, and ears. Down to the lungs, we filled all space, waiting until their movements ceased. On the floor, each on their backs, we stayed another fifteen minutes just to be sure. What we hadn’t told the boy was how weak the process could make you, and that above all else, no matter how strong our species was, all things needed to breathe.
“You good?” Reforming, he says yes. Looking at the boys, he tells me he will make it look like a heart attack and that I can re-absorb him after the funeral sometime down the line. This left me to take on the boys, which was a lot of mass to ingest. Not the largest amount I had ever done, no, but each was still my son. Reconstituted, I take the face I help create. It would be different again, yes, but I had been a teenager twice before. This is what I tell myself when I wake and scream his name. I also repeat I had no choice; that once you realized what letting him live would mean it was the cleanest way to proceed. This was the council’s stance as well, once we met and the matter had been shared. For the greater good, I told them, this was the only way it could be.
This is called denial. What I now eat every day.