Standing with her back towards her husband as he yelled angrily, 42-year-old Lynette McDonald stared out through the kitchen window to the back yard where the Maple tree’s autumn leaves fell gracefully to the fading grass around the pool.
As her husband Raymond continued to belittle the values of marriage she realized that the torment of living as his wife for the past 20 years had truly reached the point where nothing could change the numbness she felt as his wife.
“We discussed this two, three years ago!” He ranted, his face red beneath his dark hair, “We agreed it was safe to keep the money invested! I don’t need this bullshit Lynette!”
“Am I not allowed to be concerned?” she asked turning to him, her shoulder length hair hung in neatly cut layers of sun kissed blonde that flattered her naturally olive toned complexion that broke to her full red lips and blend of brown and green eyes.
The droning of his excuses fell almost deaf to her ears as she watched the light breaking through the tree in the back yard and she longed to erase the tall black haired man with murky green eyes from her history as he mumbled back and forth behind her with much irritation.
“I don’t see you doing anything to contribute to this house!” he snarled, “Thank god Joel’s tuition is paid, imagine we had that expense too!”
“No, thank Albert.” She turned to him, “Your father is the only reason Joel can…”
“Are you threatening me?”
“What? No I just…”
“Don’t you play that fucking game with me Lynette! I’ll fucking lose it I swear to god! Whenever you mention my fathers name it comes through like a threat and I swear…”
“It’s not a threat!” she exclaimed loudly, “Jesus Ray, I just meant that we have to eventually acknowledge everything he has done for our son.”
“Your son!” he screamed, his finger to her face and his face curdling blood red in anger. Her heart sunk and she looked back to the garden.
“Do not fuck with me Lynette, that’s all I’m saying.” He said heaving a sigh, trying in vain to control the urge to slam his fists into the refrigerator and let free the rage of his life that screamed at the facts he could not undo.
She continued stirring her lemon tea from the counter beside the sink, forgetting that she had even begun making it when he stormed down stairs.
He started up again, ranting and raving about everything driving him off the wall about her, Joel, the disaster at the mine, his father and everything else about his self indulgent life that made him so full of fury.
There was a part of her that owned up to her faults, her lies and deceptions. She knew it was her mistakes, her burden to carry throughout their marriage but there was a part of her that longed for the man she left the Netherlands with to return and make more effort to accept his choices. He too had his wrongs, many and the hardest part of his outbursts was trying to make sense of which side of their marriage scale tipped the most.
They had married after only two weeks of having met each other, and being pregnant with no other family; she had no choice but to accept his insensible proposal. It was never her choice to sneak into his life but the opportunity his family name could give her and her unborn child was something she could not overlook, despite not being ready to accept the rest of her life with him.
The proposal was neither something he or she wanted, it was enforced by his morally strict mother Evelyn and father Albert McDonald. Their name carried in it multi millions from the success of their logistics and shipping company and its numerous sub companies.
Lynette knew 20 years ago that it was the safest option to stay with Raymond as his wife but never saw everything unfolding the way it had. Their return from Den Hoek was the mark of the final stretch, the years trapped by her own deceit in a loveless marriage and fronting as a loyal wife to a husband who continued to have numerous affairs, were near over and the finish line was on the horizon. Joel stood to inherit millions in trust funds the moment he’d graduate from college and his grandfather Albert would keep true to his word and legally employ him at the company. Everything she had to endure in the twenty year marriage to Raymond McDonald would pay off and she would then be free to leave - knowing that her son was taken care of for the rest of his life. It was a long road to reach this future and they had agreed to part the moment Albert was six foot under. Raymond could languish in his millions and she and Joel could leave and live their own lives. The conditions of the agreement twelve years ago were simple: Joel must never know and Albert will never find out.
Each day as she opened her eyes to the life she was glued to, she reminded herself of that and since receiving word that Albert suffered a minor heart attack, she knew that as cruel as it was he would soon be gone and their lives could start.
“Are you even listening to me?” he snapped, his hand gripped her arm, “Are you fucking ignoring me?”
“I hear you.” She said adamantly, “Now get your hand off of me you are going to leave bruises again.”
He shook his head with a menacing grin across his lips, “You are the reason we are in this mess and you stand there ignoring me?”
“You heard me!” He screamed wiping the wetness from his mouth as his anger began to foam, “We had everything good in Hermanus – you fucked it all up!”
“Have you lost your mind?”
“You did! You opened your little cunt mouth and pushed me!”
The house moaned with their screams. The dark reason behind giving up their life in Cape Town, going to the Netherlands, moving inland to Secunda and everything else between was always something he would come back to. As they argued and screamed, she with her version and he with his, the truth was neither but it would never matter – their hate and distrust for each other was beyond any reasonable repair.
She knew he was battling to come to terms with the truth, more so than her affair. But when she suspected his infidelity, she had no idea what devastation she had created within him and the beast she saw only momentarily when the truth came out had been unleashed. The first beating took weeks to recover from emotionally, and although they were able to handle it quietly without Joel’s involvement it never corrected the cause. When his assistant filed sexual harassment, everything became a different game. The argument became uncontrollable, it dragged Joel into the middle of it and would eventually force his father Albert to dive into their lives and disrupt the conditions of their agreement.
When the truth about Raymond’s physical abuse reached Albert McDonald in his New Zealand offices he quickly became involved in their lives and it made their own personal game very difficult to manage with him scrutinizing their lives.
He immediately fired and cut his son off claiming that ‘Silver spoons do not enrich any person with the fundamental values of life and family.’
Lynette and Joel were whisked away from him and stayed at one of the family homes in Den Hoek, Western Netherlands. Raymond scurried about trying to regain his footing.
It was a hard lesson for them all, to lose everything within his father’s shadow and to start over again with the bare minimum.
“Support you?” she gasped, “Are you forgetting why we are here in the first place?”
“Is that what this is about?” he interrupted with a cold sneer, “You think I’m late because of another woman?”
She took a deep breath, frightened to set him off, “I just don’t want you to do anything more to…”
“What Lynette? What exactly? You are so pathetic! So insecure!” he huffed turning his back on her with his arms at his sides, “I was at the mine! In case you haven’t been paying attention, there’s a little bit of a problem down there with the damn walls that collapsed! And yes there were woman there but they were either cops or share holders and secretaries! I have paper work coming out of my asshole! That is where I was!”
She nod and stepped around him towards the stove, her broccoli near burning due to the lack of water in the pot.
“I used to work late all the time when I was still at my father’s company. Why now is it so hard to grasp the idea? I’m a busy man, not some common...”
Raymond paused, unsure of which noun to use when she spoke out. “Adulterer?”
The words barely left her lips and she felt her stomach sink.
He slammed his hand down on the nook, “Amazing!”
His fist was clenched tightly at his side, but she knew the look in his eyes. She knew where it was going, she had to create a diversion and bring him down before Joel arrived.
Having now the news of attempted sabotage at the shaft with the blasting agent ANFO, Raymond was close to losing control of his dark frustrations.
“I’m not trying to upset you, I’m your wife, have been for over twenty years Raymond.” She smiled carefully, “Please calm down, and forget I said anything at all.”
She spoke calmly to avoid his flip from switching to crazy.
“But you did say something Lynette, that’s the problem. You think you have some kind of place in this house, in my life and you should know by now that you fucking don’t really do you?”
She kept quiet, now adding water to the dinner pots.
“What is it you want?” he pressed, “A loving husband to walk through those doors and cherish you? A slut, a whore?”
“Don’t you dare…” she warned, her finger now to his face.
“Or what?” he laughed, “You’ll call my father?”
She dropped her hand, “Leave. Leave now before you regret it.”
“No see… that’s just it darling wife.” His voice was dark as he leaned closer to her face, “You are the one who will regret it. Because if you fuck with me I will tell him.”
A silence hung, their eyes staring and searching each others.
“No you wont.” She said finally taking a step back, “You wouldn’t risk it.”
He laughed and stepped backwards, brushing his hand through his hair. She took a deep breath and resumed her work on dinner when he threw the entire eggs basket down to the ground off the table, then turned to the microwave and ripped it from the counter top. As the power cord tore out a spark snapped but in seconds it flew across the room into the counter near the back door.
“Stop!” she urged, “Please Raymond!”
Like the strike from a black mamba his flat hand sprung forward and slapped her cheek, toppling her against the counter and then stumbling to the ground aside the stove.
“Don’t patronize me Lynette! Just don’t!” He said in coldness as his one hand gripped the back of her neck while the other maintained tight fist in front of her face. As with the previous blow outs, the reality of his father’s conditions stung and he sighed dropping his fist.
“That wasn’t fair.” He said with his voice rasp, “I realize how hard this must be for you too. I try and I try, I have been since we came back but…”
“It’s not worth it.” She said beneath her tears, “Is it. Not anymore. Not for a very long time.”
She looked down and he got up to his feet again.
“I don’t know.” He said coldly, “We are living a lie to gain benefits from a stubborn old man who just won’t die.”
She remained quiet as he spoke, moving towards the sink where she wet her hand with cold water from the faucet and dabbed it to her cheek.
“What have we been doing to each other all these years?”
“The funny thing is…” said Lynette turning to him with tears in her eyes, “I grew to love you because you were a great father.”
Raymond shook his head, unable to admit that he had too fallen in love with her, the child and the life they began to build before the drinking and affairs, before the explosive truth.
She looked down, her stomach knotting deep.
“Sometimes I actually find myself…”
“Don’t do that. I don’t want to hear it.” He interrupted, “We ended long before Den Hoek, and again two years ago. It’s over Lynette you know that.”
His eyes were ice and dark, she felt her legs trembling, fear gripping each part of her as she stared into her eyes.
“Without me you are nothing so know your place. You forget it’s only because of my family, my stupid, ignorant cunt of father’s generosity that is keeping up this charade we are playing.”
For months since returning from the Netherlands things were tranquil and almost good. But with the pressure mounting on Raymond’s investment in the reopening of the old mine near by they were back to the usual abuse, drink and infidelities. And although the relationship he had tried to build with Joel diminished, it fortuitously never returned to its previous bad place. Lynette knew better than to allow Joel knowledge of Raymond’s return to his former self and simply endured the disparaging daily duty of being stuck in her self designed hell. She knew it was all her fault, she allowed all of this to unfold by creating secrets and lies. The important thing was Joel and Raymond were able to co exist again since Den Hoek.
“So you never loved me?” she asked, “Or Joel?”
He pressed his fist against the side of her face, “I don’t fucking care about you! Or Joel, not really. You made me live a lie, you fucking…”
“You are a drunk.” She said braving another clout, “How could I tell you when you were never home, always drunk?”
He laughed shaking his head as he stepped back away from her, “We tried, we failed. I have my demons and you have yours. I don’t have anything to give you anymore.”
“I don’t expect it from you anymore Raymond.” She said giggling to spite him as she round to the other side of the table dividing them, “I am dead inside because you were the first to change, to break everything apart. But you are right, I kept my secrets and I lied to your face for ten years. But do you want to know something sweetheart? If you think for one second that when this is all over the money is going to bring you what you’re looking for you are very, very delusional.”
“Oh really?” he mocked back.
“You will die alone Raymond, because you can fuck your way through a hundred assistants and buy your way into a thousand more beds, but no one will ever be able to love you.”
He burst out laughing and clapping, “Wow, you must have practiced that because of all the bullshit between us in all these years that was by far the most convincing you’ve ever looked!”
She shook her head and a smile crossed her reddened face.
“Do you actually believe that?” he asked in amazement.
“I fell in love with you before you became a drunk, before you fell apart over your insecurities. I know who you really are beneath all this…this chaos. And my deceit may have crushed you and nudged you further down this disparaging road Raymond but you were already on this road. No one is ever going to see that part of you Raymond, all they will ever see is this shell of a man craving his mothers love and his fathers respect. A monster!”
His smile dropped and his face grew solemn to the truth he already knew deep down within his demons. A silence hung for a few moments between them, the smell from the blown electric point hanging in the air. His eyes looked down into the abyss of his heart where truth and lies, ambition and greed had fused into a monstrous being without a soul or path to anything more.
Everything he had done, everything he had become was from his own demons and he had always known it regardless of how many times he would put the blame on her. Her words were new to his ears and rang throughout reality he fought his entire life to face.
The sound of the front door closing sounded behind him and he hurried to his feet in alarm, rushing out of the kitchen.
“Dad?” frowned Joel as his two friends Rendani and Collin cautiously maneuvered into the house beside him.
“Hello boys!” he smirked hurriedly re-maneuvering his red fist beside him as he walked towards them.
Standing tall with a swimmer’s build, short spiked golden brown hair and his mother’s natural tan, Joel’s dark lime green eyes searched his father’s face as he strode towards them smiling with pretentious intention.
“What have you guys been up to? Is this your friend Bongani I’ve been hearing so much about?” asked Raymond offering the college swimmer a firm hand shake.
“Why are you home? Where’s mom?” Joel asked over his friend’s politeness, trying to look past him, his fighting spirit never truly yielding to the critic of his existence.
“Cleaning…” Raymond frowned grinning, “Why are you home since you don’t live here anymore?”
Joel shook his head, it was his grin that gave him away and Joel hurried past him towards the kitchen. Raymond turned to the college boys shrugging, “Crazy like his mother that one.”
“Mom what happened?” he asked hurrying to help her with the over turned chair while his father ushered the two boys outside in idle chit chat.
“Nothing, I’m fine.” Said Lynette softly, avoiding looking to her son as he entered the kitchen, “It’s alright it was just an accident.”
“Where’s Maria?” asked Joel worriedly as his father stepped up behind him to answer.
“Not that it’s any of your business Joel but she wanted the day off, and knowing your mother you can imagine how easy that was.”
“Mom!” said Joel loudly, causing Lynette to face him, the red print on her cheek glistening behind her blond locks. He turned to face his father shaking his head, the vile anger that had always tormented his soul boiling through his eyes as he stared up at his father. It had years since the last incident, he felt utterly confused and alarmed. Hurried Raymond turned and head back towards the front.
Joel shook his head as his mouth crimped in disgust, “It’s happening again…”
“I’m calling grand dad.”
“Don’t Joel, just go out there and let me deal with this ok?” she said trying to hide the shaking in her tone, “He’ll bath and go to bed. When he wakes up it’ll be fine. You know how he is when he’s tired.”
“Tired?” he gasped, “Mom he’s drunk! He hit you!”
“Keep your voice down!” she snarled, “You don’t understand, you weren’t here. Trust me, just let this one go!”
“If you don’t make the call I will.”
She grabbed him by the arms, “We have to learn to handle things ourselves Joel, your grandfather is too old and sick to deal with this right now. I can handle this.”
“You shouldn’t have to!” he said shoving her hand away.
“Joel you don’t understand! He’s….” she paused as Raymond walked across the passage and head up the stairs.
“Please just, not now. You have people here and…”
“Sure whatever!” he snapped turning away, “I don’t even care anyway, I don’t have to remember? I have my life thanks to grandpa so you both just do whatever you want.”
“Joel…!” she urged as he head to the front door.
“If he calls, I am not lying. I have no reason to.”
The door slammed shut.
He stormed past his new friends down the driveway to his Range Rover Evoque – a gift from his grandfather on his 19th birthday. He had known all along that nothing would truly bring peace to the turmoil in his home, his life and inside his heart. He wanted to stand up, step up and roar, let the world and everyone in it hear his voice and know that he was to be taken seriously, that he was more than just a guy with a big allowance. Every day of his life he was Joel McDonald heir to millions and money on legs, nothing more than a door mat for everyone to use and abuse to their leisure. And the worst part of it was that he allowed it, often even welcomed it because it kept him from being cast aside as always being the new kid everywhere. He had lost himself and couldn’t remember how to get back. He craved belonging and his natural self, he wanted to be Joel and liked as Joel, not simply because he carried the surname McDonald.
No one knew him, no one cared to – he had to survive and somehow became enveloped in this person he designed and it followed him directly to Seymore Academic College. He wanted to start the engine and speed away, leave behind the fake pretense of his life. But no matter how many mornings he woke up determined to stand up against the world, he found himself buckling and giving in to those who only enjoyed his company because he could afford to indulge them or for the girls, spoil them and be something beautiful on their arm. Inside he was burning with a hatred for his father, knowing that it was the fear he instilled in him that made him so easy to push over.
As he sat there watching from the corner of his eye as two fellow swimmers on the college team came walking towards the car, he wondered if he could ever be anybody that people were interested in despite the money, the looks, the swimming. He felt smothered, trapped in a circle that he did not know how to escape, a person who he fell into being since returning from the Netherlands. He did an inventory of the people he had encountered at the college.
Will anyone ever know me? He thought in a sigh. To the many guys circling him since they arrived in Secunda, it was about the car he drove and the money carried in his name, his swimming ability and the big parties he’d pay for. None knowing anything more about him because he had no reason to trust anyone, they were all as fake as the smile on his face. To the girls, he was just another attractive swimmer for the Delta Capital fraternity, a guy with a rippled body and the ultra benefit of being rich enough to accommodate their material whims.
As he sat there, burning with embarrassment in front of his new friends, both 2nd year students highly popular within the circle, he tried to paste a mask over his face.
“Dude, you ok?” asked Rendani hoping in beside him as Collin slumped into the back.
“Let’s hit the road Mac D! Maybe grab some beers on the way?”
Are you fucking shitting me?
Laughing, Rendani tapped Joel’s shoulder, “Not for the designated driver though!”
They laughed and Joel turned to face them, his face grim.
“Look guys I know we had plans, but right now I just don’t think I’m up for it.”
“No way dude, come on!” insisted Rendani, “Hook us up!”
“Yeah man, we have to go check out the stuff for trails tomorrow.” Rendani added with his own annoyance.
Fuck you! I said NO.
“F.P.P.” Rendani laughed shaking him from behind.
He wanted to scream and lash out, but there were only two characters to him - just as he had learnt and that reaction was still blocked by his terrible youth, his troubled and emotionless past.
“Fun! Pussy! Party!” Collin roared excitedly. Joel smiled shaking his head and turned the ignition, much to his passenger’s merriment. Character one had been activated and he was adamant to erase any concern or care, it was how he structured it. It was time to party and spend and ultimately be whatever he needed to be because he knew there was no point in wanting to be anything more, or have anything more. It was his fate, signed and sealed.
As the journey began from Secunda to Pretoria, the speakers boomed and Collin and Rendani enjoyed some beers while engaging in conversation, leaving Joel with nothing more to really distract him from the pain and confusion he had always felt. He wanted to talk to them, but suddenly he couldn’t. It was as though he had forgotten how to engage the persona he had created to ensure his survival.
Oh God why was I born to be so weak? Why? I’m really pitiful. Just stand up to them, why live this lie? Fuck you Joel! Weakling! The weight would only ever crawl back at nights when he was alone, or in the silent moments where self reflection occurred spontaneously. He had gotten so good at pretending to be the guy he wasn’t because it saved him, it surrounded him with people and protected him from the dangers of ever feeling as low as he had felt the day he could have punched Aldert Vos and simply roared…
At thirteen years old with hormones raging, starting high school was more overwhelming than he anticipated. No longer was he the king of the play ground as he had been in his last primary school. Now he was a bottom feeder, a face among many competitors to be the new ‘it’ kid. The grade 8 initiations were the first time he had ever been subjected to ridicule and humiliation outside of what Raymond would torment him with at home.
As a student of the elite Saint Vincent’s Primary in Cape Town, he integrated with everyone without even trying. Each student was of wealth and there were no special clicks meant for only selected few because each elite student was the select. From the crowd, Joel stood out because he carried his pride boldly and never felt the need to avoid anyone’s eye contact. There were standards at all times, everything had class and nothing was done to censure status.
Never before had anyone other than his father, bullied or picked on him nor taunt at him until his first year in high school. And while the initiation week endured at paint drying pace, Joel shrunk down from king of the playground to a shy and timid teenager so awkward in his own skin, suddenly so unsure of himself and what kind of person he aspired to be. With the tension growing at home, and his father’s wrath often directed to him more than before, he felt lost and unsure and by the end of the his first week in the exclusive Newton high school, he found himself utterly outside of himself.
The twelfth graders would humiliate them by having them stand in lines and throw them full of eggs and flour, or wear their clothes on backwards. They would get them to leopard crawl race in front of the entire school or during recess debase them by making them perform mundane and humiliating duties that were often utterly pointless.
The grade twelve head boy was Wickus De Kock, blond and blue eyed egotistical maniac who always on his back obviously enjoying every minute of his torture. In South Africa, the McDonald’s and De Kock’s had always been feuding families, but it never before touched Joel’s existence. At home he faced Raymond’s arrogance and at school there was Wickus acting out vengeance for the tender that his family lost to Albert decades before.
Throughout the time he attended the school – Wickus would bully him, humiliate him and downright torment him.
Each time Joel wanted to send his knuckles to his face, but could not find it in him – just like each time his father bulldozed his self-esteem. An out of place teenager, awkward within his own skin, Joel was constantly out of place, like a butterfly in a tackle box full of worms and everyone around him couldn’t wait for the fishing to begin. There were days when Wickus would cross lines and he felt that nothing could save him, or it was too late. Joel found himself filling with anger each day, an anger he couldn’t vent. There was no will to vent or exercise, laugh or cry. A numbness befell him, and it was frustrating because he knew that he was able to scream, to retaliate, and to stand up for himself. But inside there was a broken switch and he couldn’t figure out how to mend it and release himself from the cage of teen depression suddenly compounding the inner him.
As a result of Wickus and his actions, it became the norm throughout the school and everyday Joel found himself isolated and alone, often skipping classes to avoid further torture. He had no friends, no one who cared or dared to befriend him.
It followed him to Europe when he and his mother were obliged to live with Grandfather Albert. He had been so hopeful of change, to step into a different set of shoes, but being a foreigner he could barely find the laces.
The school was an elite private school catering only for the super-rich, hosting boys and girls in grand hostels from all over the globe. The only time Joel had ever stood firm since becoming a teenager was staying adamant to not live on the grounds.
The older teens kept to themselves on the east side of the campus, so there was never any risk of being bullied – in fact the school had a zero tolerance for it and in the first few months of attending Joel realized that students were more afraid of their elite parents than the school rules itself. Most taunts occurred outside the gates or in town, away from the school and never in the school uniform.
His life was simplified and although he had certain relationships with kids on campus, he chose to keep to himself because he had learnt that there was no point in befriending anyone or building a life there if he would be whisked away again at anyone’s whim. Drika Ahrens was the girl, the event in his life that would be the turning to point in the type of person he would be going forward. Before her smile and the way her accent rolled out English that brought his blood to boil, Joel had only ever had the usual uncontrolled horny thoughts about girls, but Drika was his first real crush since puberty. She knew he liked her and he knew she felt the same because her teasing flirts, scribbled notes in the text books and occasional physical contact were typically and blatantly obvious. With his self-esteem in turmoil, Joel could never muster the courage to make anything of the situation, but Drika had strung him on long enough and didn’t want to waste any more time on games.
“I don’t understand?” he said frowning in alarmed confusion. Joel hadn’t yet begun swimming and his thin, scrawny body now trembled timidly as the heat of their near kiss escaped his veins. She laughed, flipping back her hair as she replied in Danish.
The crowd of students gathered outside the school gate laughed.
“Dacht je echt dat ze kon houden van ‘n buitenlander?”
Joel turned to face him, Aldert Lochte, who had spotted the victim the minute he saw Joel eyeing out his close friend weeks before.
“It was a game.” Aldert said chuckling, “We fuck with you.”
Drika shook her head grinning, her eyes filled with pity and Joel felt the voice within him clearing its throat.
Aldert and his friend Schuyler had been behind them from the moment they left the doors, waiting for Drika to finally reveal their cruel prank.
“You bitch!” he said, his voice cold and hard.
Aldert stepped forward and pushed him, “Stuk strond! You don’t call her that.”
“Why would you do this to me?” he asked fighting back the tears of humiliation, “What have I ever done to you Drika?”
Heaving an icy sigh she grinned, “Easy target.”
There were no words to explain everything he wanted to say, there was chaos traveling through his thoughts.
“You think you are American hustler no?” Aldert poked at him, “You think you can come here and take our girls?”
Turning to him in bemused surprise, unable to control anything out of pure alarm and sickening to their game.
“I’m South African you stupid fucking tulip!”
Aldert’s bag hit the ground, he was ready to lay into Joel and while he rolled his sleeves Joel knew his fists would break every bone in his body.
“Vecht je varken!” Aldert snarled as he rolled his sleeves up the muscles of his arms.
“Aldert stop.” Said Drika stepping up to Joel her gaze as icy as her demented grin, “He is not worth being kicked out again.”
Joel’s teeth clenched, he had never before wanted to ram his fist into the face of a girl as badly as that moment.
“You don’t have to save me you… kwade teef.” Said Joel glaring back into her eyes, “You wasted your time on messing me around, because truth be told…”
Alderts fist struck so hard that the one punch was enough to cripple him face down into the dirt. As blood ran from his mouth he got to his feet, the students around them laughing and hissing personal insults and remarks about his birth country.
The disdain within him had erupted throughout his body, as aching as it was from hitting the ground he wanted to exact his fury on them all, Drika most of all for the hurt and squalor by leading him on. It was the lowest moment of life, he couldn’t fathom the lowness that engulfed him, swallowing his soul, his personality, everything he had been trying to hard to figure out.
He felt the dirt inside his mouth, and began swirling it with blood and thick spit and as though without a split second of thought – he spat it directly into her face.
Alderts scream was the last thing he heard before everything went black and pain dispensed. His consciousness regained to the smell and taste of urine in his mouth as Aldert stood over him –the students screaming and teachers surrounding them trying to regain control of the situation.
It was the last day Joel had existed in the same hemisphere as his soul and since had chosen to always be the heir rather than the loser and simply dream about being the real him in between.
Within hours of being expelled from the school, Albert McDonald had his helicopter ready to bring him back to the country side.
Albert McDonald did not believe in excuses, he believed in facts. As Joel explained his version of events, he held nothing back at all. He and his grandfather shared a special connection, they had an understanding of each other which Lynette could never understand because of the biological truth of the situation. And although Albert raised his voice and even smacked him aside the head a few times for his use of bad language, Joel explained how he couldn’t contain himself from degrading and upsetting Drika as much as she had him.
“Boy there are very few things in this world that make sense to me...” He said finally sitting down across from Joel, “And why that girl would do that is beyond me.”
“Doesn’t justify you spitting in her face!” Lynette snarled as she entered with the ice pack for Joel’s swollen cheek.
“No it doesn’t.” Albert said, “Lynette be a dear and give me and Joel a minute will you?”
“Sure.” She smiled, but her heart nervous to what Joel might divulge about their lives thinking that Albert might already aware of. “Joel, I realize that your life is very much…disrupted. And perhaps I am to blame.”
“You are?” he said through swollen lips.
“I dragged you out here to the Netherlands, put you in a school, pretending that everything would be alright.” Albert sighed as he lowered into the arm chair, “I suppose I was only thinking of myself and teaching my son, your father, a well deserved lesson. Truth be told my boy, I’m almost seventy five and life has thrown its fair share of curveballs at me, maybe a man can only take so many hits to the nuts before a big part of you dies and evolves into something else – often something you don’t even want or have control of.”
A silence hung between them and for the first time that he could remember, Albert McDonald the self-made millionaire seemed relaxed and comfortable in his own skin.
“Boy in my day the world was simple. Men were men, women were women and wars….” He paused as his eyes drifted, “Wars were fought for purpose not for money or greed. These days it’s acceptable to have men beating women, child murderers, teen suicides, drugs, rape, incest…. The world is falling apart and the only hope any one my age has is the lineage we leave behind - the tomorrow generation.”
“I’m sorry I’ve disappointed you grandpa.”
“Oh nonsense.” Albert said huffing, “If you ask me, the little tramp probably enjoyed it. The youth of nowadays are into some pretty diverse themes. I’m not disappointed in you my boy, I’m disappointed in myself for acting abruptly and bringing you all the way out here. I hope you can forgive me?”
Joel shook his head, “It won’t matter where I am...”
Although the cut on his lips had stopped bleeding, the taste of blood still filled his mouth and his body ached.
His grandfather chuckled as he got up from the chair, motioning across the study to a built in wooden liquor cabinet.
“I once thought the same thing.” Albert said pouring a brandy, “There was a girl I met once, she was everything I could ever imagine. The time we shared would’ve made each horrible day of this over populated, over polluted world worth surviving.”
He handed Joel the glass, “Here, just a sip for you.”
Joel managed a weak smile and carefully sipped from the glass.
“We are not cowards by nature, the blood inside of us is pure and strong. I know because I am strong, I made myself strong and I never quit, I refuse to let things get the better of me again.”
His passion mimicked raged as he spoke, pacing up and down along the wall of books.
“Your father is my only son, which means you are the last of my heritage, to carry on the family name.” Albert said looking at him, “I don’t condone any actions of a man who raises his hand to a woman, or spits on them for that matter…but I realized during your story that I need to reel in my hooks. You are not my son, your father is your father. I think it’s time you and your mother go back home.”
“He won’t change.” Said Joel abruptly, without thought and his heart sunk as Albert turned to face him. He knew not to betray his parents in this regard, but as he sat there with his heart raging inside his chest he wanted to tell the old man everything they’ve endured.
“Do you really believe that the man who has raised you, provided for you and cared for you is a monster because in a single moment of misjudgement acted out?” he asked, “If he could I would have him beaten to a pulp to learn his lesson but violence doesn’t end with violence. There are problems at work here Joel, maybe you are too young to understand it. Maybe you are too caught up in growing up to realize it.”
Joel sat back, placing the glass on the table – unsure whether or not to feel relief or frustration.
“The behaviour of others should never affect your peace Joel, the Dalai Lama said that.” Albert smiled, “Just like you I am angry at my son, I am furious and in shock. But the man we know, the father you know isn’t a monster is he?”
The room felt small, silent with only his increased heartbeat slamming inside his ears.
Louder and louder his heart slammed inside his chest, his swollen mouth dry and sore. He prayed his mother would walk through the door.
“Is your father a monster?” Albert asked again, lowering his head to meet his grandson’s eyes, “Or is he the man who puts food on your table, clothes on your back? Isn’t he the same man who would spend hours and hours playing blocks with you in the yard? He is Joel, you need to allow for a second chance don’t make my mistakes and rush headlong without thinking into any direction just because it seems to make more sense to you.”
A silence hung as the old man took his seat again, sipping on his apple brandy. “My point is Joel, for a long time I was lost in the world too. I know puberty can be rough, I understand how it feels to be the new kid in every school every few years or months. It hasn’t been very fair on you, I don’t think I realized that until today. Perhaps neither did your mother or father. I think we tend to allow our greed and ambition to get the better of us.”
The brandy stung all the way down and Joel coughed, his eyes fixed on every word his grandfather said.
“We need to remedy this and get you back on track.”
“I’ll be fine.”
“No. No you will not Joel.” He said adamantly, “You need to get yourself back together Joel. Since you arrived here I’ve seen the depression, the anger. I know it very well because I too have been in that shallow drowning pool. So, we have to have a game plan.”
He got up and head to the door, politely stopping the house servant and providing him with instructions.
He made his way back around Joel, taking the glass of unfinished brandy and adding it to his own, “Grandpa has a plan my boy. Now I suggest you get yourself cleaned up for dinner. There is much we have to discuss.”
The dining room smelt of fresh bread, eggs and bacon. Joel had sunk off to sleep after bathing the night before and the morning air was chilled beyond the great windows overlooking the pond. “Feeing any better?” asked his mother rounding behind him as they stepped towards the eight seat redwood table.
“Like I’ve been pissed on mostly.” He said with a weak smile as she put her arms around him as they made their way to the table,
“My ribs are bruised from Aldert’s size nine but overall I feel better than I did yesterday.”
“Some rest and now some healthy breakfast!” the chef smiled as he whisked at the yoghurt in the centre of the table.
“Is someone joining us?” he asked noticing an extra place setting.
Lynette looked to the chef, but before he could reply Albert McDonald’s voice rounded from within the corridor behind them.
“Good morning family! How is my young man this morning?” he smiled as he neared the table head, “I bet the brandy worked its trick?”
“Slept like a baby grandpa.” Joel managed another smile behind his split lips. “Bertie are you looking for a hiding?” Lynette asked shaking her head. Albert chuckled, he was comfortable again.
The voice from the door sent chills down her spine, she felt unable to turn around but with her eyes fixed on her sons face she already knew who he was looking at.
“How did you get here?” Joel asked in surprise.
“No hi dad, check out my face?” Raymond smiled as his head to the table.
“Hi dad.” He greeted softly keeping his head low, ashamed of letting his father see his failure.
“Hello Raymond.” Lynette said finally looking at him as he moved the table setting to her side.
“I’ve missed you so much!” he said kneeling by her, “Have you been well?”
“The man is concerned if you’ve been well but his son sits with a mangled face!” Albert coughed in judgemental giggle, “My boy you really are rather curious in nature!”
Raymond sighed in annoyance and turned to his father, “The woman is my first love, perhaps if you had yours you would understand where I’m coming from.”
“Keep it civil Raymond, you agreed.” Albert cautioned.
“That we did.” He nod sitting beside his wife, “I won’t ask because I’m afraid of the answer Joel...”
“Good, be bold. It’s the McDonald way.” Raymond smiled. It was a mock smile, embedded into his face for use around his father and anyone else he was aiming to deceive.
Lynette looked at his hand that he had placed atop of hers and she pulled away and she moved out her seat. The months away from him had been air to lungs long rusted and disabled, the mere sight of him there felt to upsetting to attempt hiding.
“Sit down Lynette.” Albert said, cautioning with the same adamant glare behind his eyes, “I took the jet out to fetch Raymond personally. I am slightly tired and would appreciate if everyone at this table can remain civil, we are after all family.”
Raymond’s dark eyes pierced hers, she knew his thoughts and could feel them screaming and scratching at her soul.
“Shall we eat?” Albert asked smiling, somewhat relishing in the discomfort at the table because he knew his son would hold any cards to keep a façade in front of him.
As the forks and knives tapped the plates and the buffet style English breakfast diminished, the awkward silences and tension filtered across the table. Small talk was Albert’s niche, having a compendium range of topics and themes to idly talk about and the breakfast chat was a double blade. On one hand it gave some distraction to the mounting tension and on the other it obstructed their real words to spatter between them.
Raymond had not looked at Joel once since taking his seat beside his wife but instead focused on taunting his father with rebutting most of the conversations. Lynette had difficulty eating, her stomach churning in anxious anticipation and Joel watched how his grandfather would flip-flop between being the wilful and stern businessman and the comfortable grandfather, realizing that he too could yo-yo between personalities depending on the situation. He knew that Drika had broken something inside of him and to fix it, or at the very least keep it from falling, he would adapt too being whatever was needed at the time and simply rotate back accordingly.
“Great!” Albert said with a broad grin, “Let’s head to the patio and have a chat shall we?”
Albert’s flat hand tearing across Raymond’s face stung and he staggered backwards in alarm. Joel and his mother froze in disbelief. The cool morning air circled the gazebo in the lawn and its chill added to the trembling within their guts.
“I think you misunderstand me Raymond.” Albert said composing his suit sleeve, “This is not a two way conversation, this is an ultimatum which I am giving you.”
He turned to face Joel and his mother, “I apologize for that, I really do but…”
“You still think I work as one of your manservants don’t you?” Raymond snarled, “Just who the hell do you think you are? You’re my father not my master!”
“I am exactly what you need me to be Raymond, always have been and always will be.” Albert turned to him again, “This is not up for discussion any longer. And if you ever disrespect your wife in such a manner again, I swear to you Raymond…”
“You don’t run our lives you senile old man!”
“Which is exactly why I am taking these steps Raymond, to step back from your lives and leave you to continue your own path. Lynette, you were trying to say before Raymond rudely interrupted you?”
She paused, still in shock from the slap, looking at her husband fearfully, expecting his eyes to scream at her but instead he turned away. “I don’t fully understand what it is you expect us to do?”
“I have no expectations of the outcome.” He said with a kindness as he motioned towards her, taking a seat beside her on the patio bench.
“In the last few months Raymond has successfully maintained an income, without any help from his funds at all.” He said smiling proudly, “I’ve carried him for long enough.”
“You didn’t carry me!” Raymond retaliated, “It’s my money!”
“No, in fact it is still my money. And you don’t need to be making withdrawals from it until the day I finally lay for the last time. Access to it has merely been a benefit, for all of you.” Albert stood up again, “But you my son have proven that you don’t need any access to it, that you can sail through and weather the storm without it.”
“You cut me off and fired me! What else was I supposed to do?”
“You put your wife in hospital, what else would you have preferred me to do?”
Joel reached for her hand, gently squeezing encouragement. Seeing this, Raymond rolled his eyes and stared out at the pond as his father continued.
“Silver spoons do not enrich any person with the fundamental values of life and family.” He urged, “You, me, Lynette…we have all overlooked one very important detail about all of this nonsense. Allowing ambition and greed, even your critical commitment to proving yourself better than me to distract us of what is important. And that is family. You are my family but I understand now that this is not about me, this is about your family Raymond.”
Raymond turned to face him, his jaw clenched tight in anger.
“Your mother and I have been preaching this to you forever, silver spoons do not enrich any person….”
“I get it father you can dispense with the drama.” Raymond groaned, “What is it you want me, or us to do this time?”
“This about Joel!”
“Joel?” Raymond gasped in surprise. Albert nod, “Ultimately, because in the past few years something has become broken in your home Raymond. One of your coaches lost a wheel and the tracks won’t hold it forever. Not if any of us continue to be zealous and ardent. You need to slow down your ambitious train and learn to focus on what is truly important.”
A frown crossed his sons face and Albert smiled, feeling that he had finally come to a paramount realization on how to finally put an end to the bedlam that had raised its head within his only living family.
“I want you to look at your son Raymond.”
“I saw him!” Raymond snarled, his gaze not faltering.
“No.” he sighed putting his hands on his sons head and turning him to face Joel, “See your son.”
Please! You stupid old fool!
“He is just a boy, a young man in a big world.”
Concealing his frustration, Raymond kept quiet. Redundant.
“He is your son, he needs your guidance.”
My son? You senile fuck, if you only knew…he is nothing of us!
“He needs stability. He needs to find himself the way we all did, with fair chance and without constant relocation.”
He needs an orphanage! Raymond scoffed to himself, staring at the cut lip, bruised eye and broken pain in his eyes.
“Do you even know your son?”
My son? MY SON?
“You don’t know him do you?”
Why bother? He is nothing of mine! If you only knew…
Trying hard to pretend that the attention was not on him, Joel eventually looked up at his father.
“That boy has been in your life for sixteen and a half years Raymond. You fed him, bathed him, took him to sport matches and through you and your wife taught him values.” Albert’s voice was soft and back to comfortable, “He is your son and right now, look at him.”
Lynette turned and looked at her son, Raymond’s eyes meeting his and for what felt like hours there was a silence.
In heart he wanted his father to embrace him, to be the man he knew growing up. He longed for his father before he began the abuse, before all the chaos and screaming. The look in his father’s eyes ached him and he felt his tears welling so he had to look away. Lynette looked down, her own regret writhing within her guts and she knew that everything was ultimately her own doing. Had she not opened up the door to her past and invited in the man who owned her heart, Raymond would never have known the deception of her lies.
“That boy is your boy.” Albert said looking Raymond in the eye, “You are going to make a home for your wife and your son. You are going to work on your problems and you are going to give it your very best because if you don’t Raymond, I swear with every ounce of compassion that I have – you will never see a dime.”
Raymond looked down, and for the first time in years he didn’t care about the money, or the life. He felt guilt.
“Joel.” He said turning to face him, his voice and face solemn.
Joel’s heart raced as Raymond smiled and motioned towards him.
“You are….” He wavered glancing at his wife, “…my son.”
Lynette gasped, her mouth dry and her eyes welling with tears. It was the words she had waited so long to hear him say and she put her hands to her face. A smile broke on Joel’s face, tears welling in his eyes as well.
“You can retain my access father.” He said looking back at Albert who stood grinning bashfully, “I’ve got good things coming my way, investing what little I had left into a mining project in South Africa. Lynette and I will…”
He turned to her and smiled, the smile that thawed her heart almost seventeen years ago.
“I am willing to move forward, if you are?”
She smiled looking at Joel whose teary eyes melted her, “Yes…”
“It’s going to be rough…” Raymond paused nervously, “Almost everything has been invested. But we can if we try.”
Lynette’s face glowed as she looked up at the man who had vanished at the truth seven years before.
“To eradicate further burden and to simply ensure that Joel gets the best tuition, I’ll have Wells and Yost create a fund.” Albert said rounding his son to face Joel, “You focus on what I told you and you get yourself on track. There will be no more nonsense.”
Raymond felt the cold slipping in again, fear that he would not be able to succeed in his investment endeavour at the reopening of the mine and that his father would again deem him incapable and again involve himself in their affairs. He head back into the house again with clenched fists at his side, longing for the day his father would be in the ground no longer capable to judge and scorn him, no longer a factor worth concealing the truth about Joel.
Sitting at the wheel of his Evoque with his pretentious friends, he couldn’t believe how quickly everything had changed since that day. How for a moment life felt good. But his father was a monster, and nothing and no one could cure the beast.
“Oh my bad.” Collin’s voice interrupted his train of thought, the beer fizzing on the carpet at his feet. Joel frowned but before he could speak Collin tapped his shoulder grinning.
“I’m really sorry man, I promise I’ll have that cleaned for you.”
Yes on my expense no doubt.
“Sure man, no problem.” He smiled. Rather be in than out…
He shook his head, returning to his thoughts as he tried to make sense of his choices. He had taken up swimming, changed his attitude and his wardrobe, his speech, his hair, and even the manners his mother had raised him on. It was safer to be in than out, be what they expected than be who he was. It was a lesson he chose to stop learning the hard way.
“I have the money.” He remembered saying in response to overhearing most of the guys discussing plans for the weekend, obtaining booze and where they’d get the money to throw a party somewhere other than at someone’s house. Those four words are what got it all started, and it rolled downhill since. By using his allowance to cover costs and be the financial backer for most of the plans, Joel became popular within seconds after enrolling in the Seymore College. Word spread through grade 8 to 12 that he was someone who had the means to make any party, any sporting event or any school project stand out. His name was known on every tongue, and he always had plans, people who wanted to spend time with him. Even though he knew most were pretentious, just going with the flow because he had the looks and the money, he kept up the facade that it was acceptable. When he would decline using his allowance, people changed towards him and he’d buckle. It continued through to grade 11 just before they had left to Secunda, when the talk of the school was not that he would be missed by many as a friend, but more so who would be the party payer and booze buyer after him.
He mostly felt empty, even with the genuine people who surrounded themselves with him because it was a façade. He was a person he didn’t want to be doing things he didn’t really want to do. But being this was far better than being the guy who enjoyed reading, hiking and doing simple things that didn’t require money or anything fancy. Days were good for Joel but he would always feel strain of keeping up the appearance of the person others wanted him to be. After he had stumbled into the middle of an affair between his mother and a long-time family friend Marco, everything changed. More and more things changed. His father grew darker, and became consumed by alcohol. His mother grew still and withdrew while he got caught in the middle, his being forced behind high walls where they stayed. But when he would feel the shadows crawling over him he would remind himself that he was born a multi millionaire’s heir and that would never give him the standing he needed to be someone ordinary that people could speak to without seeing someone on a pedestal. Seymore College garnered a quick reputation throughout the country and had students from all over on campus, he still hadn’t met one person who knew him and his story, one person who with enough guts to talk to him like a twenty four year old and not the grandson of one of the country’s most esteemed millionaires. He often found himself lost between who he felt like inside and what he portrayed in his smile for the world to see, forced to hide the truth of everything going on at home from everyone, especially his grandfather, through facades, masks and manipulated truths.
Joel felt constantly torn between being two people, keeping secrets, doing everything others wanted him to do and he felt it squeezing his lungs dry. Most days were easier to relish in the glory of being the richest twenty-something in the entire province, the popularity, the girls, the expensive toys and never being told off by anyone.
He was living in untruth with nothing inside waiting for someone to help him back to life.