He felt the bright stinging first; harsh and beautiful and red, just as the warmth settled into his skin.
Alive. I’m still alive.
Desolate, the world came into view. His world; all that there ever will be. The teal curtains gently pulled away, the bare balcony and low ceiling…the dancing dust as he adjusted in the old worn sofa.
The sofa he’s had since Uni. That sofa.
He had his first kiss with Sophie here. He’d fallen in love on it too. His old worn sofa. His world.
The kitchen door swung open then, making him jump to sit up, his muscles protesting all the way; his back sore, his legs stiff-
“Uncle George! You’re awake!”
He could feel the silence cringe.
Stevie, a somewhat overweight twelve year old with a patch of grey hair right smack in the middle if his cranium, bounced into the sofa as well, so close that George got a nose full of Baby Care and stale bread.
“Uncle George, you’re finally awake.”
He groaned into his hands, rubbing his face till the skin felt hot. Stevie’s presence meant Angela and Robert’s presence. Angela, Robert and Stevie. In his flat.
“Of course I am. Why wouldn’t I be?”
The child fell silent, his head bowed.
“Last night, grandma didn’t think you’d wake up. I heard them talking. She said you took too much this time around.”
George felt the shame like a log lodged in his throat.
Everything became too quiet, as though time itself had paused to listen in.
“Look, Stevie, what you saw-” tears prickled the backs of his eyes “I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay,” the child quipped with a smile. “Grandpa said you’re going to be fine now.”
George leaned back into the sofa, his body a weight he didn’t wish to carry.
“Yeah. He said that the only thing people really need is a reason to get up in the morning.”
Stevie’s brow was knit into a deep furrow of thought, and in that moment, he looked just like Robert. Speaking Robert’s words.
Irritation suddenly scratched at George’s skull. “What if you don’t have a reason to get up in the morning?”
He was talking to his father. His patronizing father. And just like Robert, Stevie answered as flippantly; “Then you get one.”
George heard the words like a whip, snapping him out of his condensed childhood self, back into his flat. His ‘reasonably sized bachelor pad’, with the bare walls and barefoot child who never left the house without socks.
And the vacuum.
George was suddenly aware of the vacuum; the clang clang clang of nothing, that echoed the presence of only two.
“Stevie, where are your grandma and grandpa?”
Stevie, who had balled himself into a corner of the sofa as he flipped through his phone didn’t even bother to turn. “They left. Right before you woke up.” Flip flip flip. “There’s no bread, by the way.”