Through the Cracks

It always surprised him how little people really cared about one another. Even in the small New England town where he went to school, nobody really knew who he was, aside from his name on the seating chart. He didn't attract attention, with his brown hair, brown eyes, olive skin and average size. He was a good student, a quiet student, who studied hard, and got good grades—excellent grades even. His classmates thought he was nice, his teachers thought he was polite, and no one really knew the riot of emotions boiling just below the surface of his genial smile.

He was simply Tom. Thomas Cooper, with the forgettable name, and the forgettable face. Tom who had once won a fifty yard dash in the eighth grade, but who didn't play sports. Tom, whose grades would later get him into an ivy league school, but who didn't do the scholar challenge. Tom, who put on a daily performance worthy of a shelf full of Oscars, Golden Globes, and Emmy Awards, but who never tried out for the school play.

No friends sat beside him on the bus ride home. Never, in all the years he attended school, did anyone ever come to his house to play video games, study with him, or throw the football around in the backyard. No one called to chat about the cute girl in second period, or asked to borrow his notes for American History.

Maybe it was because his parents were equally forgettable. His mother took on the obligatory PTA assignment, baked cookies for the bake sale, and went to all parent/teacher conferences. She smiled politely, and never offered up any information, aside from the general bio everyone used to pigeon-hole and dismiss her. She was forgettable: Stay-at-home mom, husband in accounting, house on the outskirts of town, not native, no college, only one child, no pets—unless you counted her only child. She would laugh when she said this, and people would think she was joking.

She wasn't joking. For as long as he could remember, Tom was a nobody. His days began with the door to his room being unlocked, and his mother picking out the clothes he would put on. By the time he started school, he knew the routine so well, he never caused her any trouble. He recalled the beatings with crystal clarity, and if he forgot, there were scars to remind him. She was his keeper—his caretaker—and he knew the penalty for disobedience, even when he was miles away from her. He knew the penalty for drawing attention to himself; his older sister had already paid it with her life.

He had a lot of time to wonder why she went along with this routine. He knew enough about the outside world, to know that most mothers loved their children. He had too much time to wonder what was wrong with him, that she didn't love him.

She didn't love him, but his father did. After so many years, his father had become the friendly, caring, nurturing one. As long as he was a good boy, and did exactly what he was told, his father loved him dearly. In fact, he outgrew the need to be told, and through their bond, he knew exactly what his father needed—and he gave. Nestled in his daddy's arms, he enjoyed the only measure of comfort he had in his life. Until he turned eighteen, and the outside world claimed him.

College was Hell. The classes were a joyful respite from the unfamiliar life in the dorms and about campus. He slept alone for the first time in his life, and he fought to maintain his anonymity. He had matured in a way that separated him from the only one who ever showed him love. He had grown tall and handsome, and no longer forgettable. His grades attracted attention, his quiet attracted attention, his perceived depth drew people who noticed him. And the riot beneath his smile became a full out maelstrom of chaos.

Shattered shards of his identity shredded him behind his enigmatic brown eyes. He learned a new role, and he played it well, disappearing into the creation like the best method actor. He became athletic. He became friendly. He became the boyfriend she could take home to mother. He graduated at the top of his class. He married the sweetheart, and even managed to bed her on their wedding night. He hid his reality behind the locked doors of his mind. He was the dream come true.

On a cold day in early November, millions turned out to pay homage to the dream. Thomas Cooper was the perfect candidate. With his hair, suit, and smile, he was exactly what they wanted, and he knew all the pretty words to put their fears to rest. There was nothing in his background to raise a red flag, and there were no dirty little secrets to threaten his chances. As the numbers were counted, it was clear that the dream had won.

He smiled, shook hands, and raised his arms in triumph. Behind the gleaming smile, and the intelligent eyes, a new role began to take shape. The locked doors opened, and the pieces danced and cavorted, as they spilled into his mind. The dream had been inadequate to bar the door, and the nightmares were loosed. It was the dawn of a new reality.

A/N: I wrote this as an entry in The Review Game. But I didn't enter, because I didn't want to have to review the winner when I lost. I do need more practice writing short stuff.

Prompt: "There is nothing like dream to create the future. Utopia to-day, flesh and blood tomorrow." -Victor Hugo.