An Episode of Lies
I sit on the sofa and put my shoes down on the floor, making it look like I’ve just taken them off. My bag goes next to them, open, and I pull a few textbooks out, spreading them out on the sofa next to me. I look at the book on top; the one with the word ‘faggot’ written on it with a black felt-tip, and slip it back into my bag. My clothes have to look worn in too, so I crinkle up my shirt and ruffle my hair. I consider flicking water on my face to make it look like I’ve been sweating from the heat, but that may be a step too far. Besides, this is London, the weather’s never been great here.
Then it begins.
I glance at the front door once, then ease into the sofa as the first episode of The Walking Dead loads. It doesn’t matter that I’ve seen it a hundred times, it doesn’t matter that this is the third day in a row of doing this, and it doesn’t matter that I can practically feel my grades lowering. The show starts and I swear if I could, I’d melt into the sofa and stay there forever.
I love TV more than people – and that’s not in a cute teenager way, I mean I literally consume every character I watch, I dissect everything about them and wish they could be my friends. When you’re in the middle of a zombie apocalypse, you’re not concerned about who’s popular or who’s the freak. It’s life and death and loyalty.
Before I know it I’m on Season Two, Episode Four, with ice-cream smeared around my lips. I hear the key in the lock, and everything springs into action. Suddenly I’m whizzing around the room, making sure the remote goes back on the coffee table, next to the tissue box. I make sure to dust the biscuit crumbs under the sofa, turn off Netflix and flip open a textbook, looking deep in thought.
Mum walks in with her bag in her hand, stroking her black hair from her sweaty face. She has bags under her eyes but tries to keep her voice light and happy. “Hey, honey. You just get in?”
I nod mechanically. “Yeah.”
“Oh.” She pauses and stares over at the TV; I’d turned it to get a better view, but forgot to turn it back. She stares back at me and all my textbooks, then my shoes. I think I see a flicker of something in her eyes, but she just tightens her hands around her bag, keeping the same cool expression. “How was school?”
I have the answer already rehearsed: “It was good. We learnt about the French Revolution today, and in English we got to watch Romeo and Juliet, wish I knew what the hell they were banging on about, though.”
She pauses again, lowering her bag to the floor. “Oh. So how are your friends? Rick Grimes, I haven’t heard about him in a while – or Jesse, Jesse Pinkman?”
“Oh yeah…they’re fine.” I know I could have been more imaginative with the names, rather than just picking TV characters, but it’s not like she’d know anyway. I can’t tell her about my real friends – like Joey Smith, who is three years younger than me and devours everything I say. You can read a book in a week, that’s so cooool, Jack! You’re such a good artist, Jack, you’re so cooool. If it’s not the fact that he drags out the word ‘cool’ every time, it’s the way he stares at me with wide eyes, like I’m some kind of superhero that he idolises. Then there’s Susan, perhaps the only person more unpopular than me. She’s scarily thin – like she could snap at any minute, and every time she talks the words spill out into one long ramble. She refuses to wear short-sleeved shirts, which I find kind of weird. Even in the sweltering heat, and I have no idea why.
Anyway, I’d rather have a fictional Harry Potter as a mate, over a Joey Smith in reality.
Mum nods robotically when I talk, but her eyes seem glazed over and her clasp on her bag just seems to get tighter. She walks away slowly, with her shoulders hunched.
This continues for a few weeks. The days blend together and my legs go numb from sitting on the sofa for so long. My eyes even start to sting from staring at the TV. The more time that passes is the more I worry about getting caught – so I try to mix up the text books I display on the sofa. I get through seven different shows, I befriend over four hundred new characters; more and more of reality slips away from me. Each day Mum walks in, asking the same questions, with similar or identical responses. We’ve gotten into a routine now. We both know the exact moment to nod and smile, or make a noise of acknowledgement, but every day I can see her face getting tighter. She grips her bag as usual and stalks off to her room.
Then it changes one day. It’s one o’clock, and the door opens suddenly with no warning. I’m not prepared; my clothes look fresh, I haven’t taken out my textbooks yet, and the TV is still facing another way. Mum’s face is stern, she looks over at the TV, where Season Five, Episode Ten of Game of Thrones is loading. “Turn it off.”
I follow her order. She sits on the sofa and pulls scrunched up pieces of paper from her bag. Pieces of paper that had been in my bin. “I’m not stupid, Jack,” she flattens out the papers. One is a letter from school – with the ‘West London High school’ logo at the top – a warning letter about me being expelled. Another is a photo of me with ‘freak’ written at the top, and the third is my portrait of Piper from Orange is the New Black. I can already hear how “cooool” Joey would think it was. The routine is ruined. Mum talks to me about my future and not letting others deter me from my goals.
I consider how my fictional friends would deal with this, I can practically see them all sitting around me, chiming in exactly what I should do, but executing or eating my mother doesn’t seem like a good idea. In the end, all I can say is: “I’ll go to school Mum, I promise.”
She pauses again, and for a long time we just stare at each other. “Ok.” She stands, resting her bag on her shoulder. As she leaves the room she tries to keep her head held high.
I stare at the TV, willing myself to believe things will change. I know they won’t. We’ll be back to the old routine in no time, and we both know it.