Disclaimer: The song lyrics used in italics below belong to Death Cab for Cutie, in the song 'Brothers on a Hotel Bed'. I do not own them.
Both a Beginning and an End
The youthful boy below who turned your way and saw
Something he was not looking for: both a beginning and an end
But now he lives inside someone he does not recognise
When he catches his reflection on accident
Ben is living in the time where all he cared about was his friends and his (long dead) dog and in all the little moments. He's not living in the now and he doesn't care to. Not today - he can't live in the now, today. He's just not in that mood.
He's remembering how he tapped the beat on the back of her wrinkled hand and she'd smiled and sang along (badly). How in the back of that auditorium they'd stood and held hands and Ben really hadn't cared what anyone else thought. She was his grandma and she was awesome and he loved her and why would he be scared to admit it?
But then things got a whole later harder when high school kicked in. Suddenly there were snickers and laughs and he found himself alone, kicking up stones in the school car park. There was doubt and thinking, lots and lots of thinking, and worrying and changing and just stuff, as he'd grunt to his mother on his way up the stairs, stuff to think about.
He'd chew it over on the end of a cigarette in his grandmother's darkened living room, sitting at the wobbly piano stool as she'd smile and ramble and drink cups of tea. Her eyes would flash behind her glasses and at first he'd talk through playing random keys. They always fitted his feelings perfectly, especially the discordant ones. Then he'd really start talking, the sounds stumbling out of his mouth.
She'd never adopt that condescending tone his mother did, and best, she'd never tilt her head and get that look in her eyes - the look of concern - that made him look away, wincing, and stop talking and screw it all up in his head into a bottle and keep it there. He didn't want to be questioned. He just wanted someone to listen, and she did.
Fittingly, she's the first one that meets Luke. Ben's out one night with her, taking her to the store on the corner with his hood up and his shoulders tensed and a pain in his gut. He's sixteen now, not a boy anymore. He should have learnt to stand his ground but it always seemed to slip from underneath him and he didn't have a talented tongue or a mind for witty comebacks. He was fumbling and awkward and quiet. He remembers staring at magazines in an aisle and seeing her drop her purse at the till to pay, coins rolling away under counters and desks.
He remembers walking, quickly, across the aisle in one swift movement and ducking to help pick them up, passing them to her. He remembers straightening and that suspicious, narrowed look in the cashier's eye. His eyes dip to the name-tag. Luke.
"She's my grandma." he'd whispered, and it seems so stupid and absurd now. To whisper it, like a secret or a confession or something he was ashamed of. She had nodded, beamed, and started counting her coins again. Luke had smiled as he'd dipped his head to the till and for a moment Ben thinks he's laughing at him and is formulating something clever to say and coming up completely blank, as usual, when Luke says:
"That's cool of you. To come out with her like this. Most kids our age won't even acknowledge theirs."
That's the instant Ben knows Luke isn't a normal kid. He's one of the strong, the strange, the determined. He doesn't shy away or try to fit in. He is what he is and he'll say what he wants and there's not a damn thing you can do to get him to stop.
Their first meeting ends like most meetings with a stranger, with Ben muttering a goodbye, still analyzing whether Luke was lying or not (he didn't know him then), but then forgetting him a while later.
Suddenly, months after this meeting, Ben is sitting alone at the piano stool, with no croaking and cracked voice over his shoulder tell him he really shouldn't smoke those things. She's gone and it's strange and there's something happening to him that he doesn't really know about yet but it's scaring him silly and senseless. He doesn't know what to do, but he finds himself leaving the darkened house and standing outside the store on the corner with his hands in his pockets and a lily white face fitting for a funeral.
He has no idea why here's here, all he knows is that he can't go home, he can't call his mum, he can't deal with the sound of her sobbing over the phone. How do you handle the news when you're the one to find it out? How do you ever handle the news? You don't really. It's the news. You kind of sit back and watch unfold most of the time, either helpless, upset, angry or uncaring.
But Ben is saved, because although he doesn't know it yet, Ben has Luke.
The whole night is completely surreal and strange. Luke is leading him along the street, back to his grandma's house because this strange boy he saw once with his grandma is close to catatonic. Luke wonders if there was something else in that cigarette that was burning at the boy's feet when he found him, called out to him, and got no reply.
"Do you have a family I could ring?" Luke asks, as they're shivering in Ben's grandma's porch. Ben refuses, point blank, to go in. Ben shakes his head in answer. Luke dials the only thing he can think of. The ambulance. "I think he's in shock. He won't tell me what's happened and he won't let me go in. It's 6 Hawthorn Road." Luke knows because he used to deliver papers around the district. He always remembered Violet's house because of the pictures she had in her porch.
Half an hour later, though it feels like hours, they can hear the ambulance roaring just streets away. Ben blinks and leans heavily on the radiator, weighed down with the recognition that this is actually happening. Luke stands awkwardly opposite, the stranger in a strange house in a strange situation.
"It'll be ok," Luke reassures. He doesn't know it will, but it seems like the thing to say. They don't know it yet, but already the shadows are moving and pushing them together in a story he can't control. Hours after and already she's working her magic. Luke thinks he glimpses something move in the window out the corner of his eye. It's just a trick of the light, he tells himself. But are shadows tricks of the light?