Once a Year, Every Year
Fandom/Source Material: Being Human
Summary: I never imagined myself here… Living is full of sacrifices for Fleur in the wake of Bernie’s new life; lessons are hard learnt and the most terrible acts are those of survival. One-shot, creepy monologuish POV piece. 1500 words.
Spoilers: Up to 1.04
Notes: I have no idea where this came from. I wrote it ages ago and decided to let it sit for a while before posting it. And seeing as the new series is just around the corner, now seemed as good a time as any to get it posted.
Once a Year, Every Year
Oh, I don’t know. In some ways learning your child is a vampire is like… Back when I was eighteen, our mate Sherry had a baby girl with Spina Bifida, you know, the spine problem. One minute it’s just words you hear on the news or Holby; the next, it’s your life.
We all know a bit about vampires, we don’t believe in them – well most of us don’t –and until it’s your life, your child, it doesn’t matter. Whether I believed in vampires wasn’t the issue when Bernie turned. Learning they existed was nothing.
It’s a condition, like anything else. You got to live near a hospital, you got to keep an eye on temperature, mood, appetite; you can’t let them play out of doors or with other children unless certain conditions are met. You learn it from scratch and it becomes your life-study, your specialist subject – I’ll take Vampirism, thank you Magnus; you become the expert in a topic you’d never paid attention to before.
Within six months old Sherry knew more about Spina Bifida than the bloody specialists. She used to ring me and tell me about it, this therapy and that development, this bastard doctor and that bloody nurse. She got two O-Levels if that, but she could use words like ‘pathologic’ and ‘paralysis’ and list every bone in her kid’s back. You have to play the hand you’re dealt.
I shouldn’t envy the mother of a disabled child, but there’s something, when I remember that now – I’m a horrible person, but I can’t help it – I think at least you didn’t have to change your kid’s name, didn’t have to hide him from your family. Like Bernie’s dad. I never contact him, not even a card at Christmas. We shared something, made something, but that part of our life is gone. It’s worse than divorce. It’s probably worse than if Bernie really was dead. I’m actually almost glad my own mum and dad are gone and buried. I couldn’t stand to lie to them too.
Of course, my ex-husband isn’t really Bernie’s real dad any more. Not the true father to this new Bernie, this strong Bernie, this unliving Bernie.
Mitchell writes often. Well, actually, I write often and he quite often replies. He sends advice and good wishes but never tells us anything that’s going on his life. He knows everything that happens in ours. I feel like Sherry, actually, listing the days, the triumphs, the falls – the sacrifices I keep to myself.
In some ways, our lives haven’t changed as much as you’d think. We still go to the pictures or bowling, I still buy Bernie horrid plastic Japanese toys every birthday, he still loves a kickabout in the park, ready-salted crisps and pink wafers, still wants a puppy for Christmas (even if they bite him now). He still hates getting sand between his toes or having me check his hair for nits. And for a while, I even still sent him to swimming lessons, until what happened there.
Ten years, twenty years… Bernie doesn’t age. Neither physically nor mentally, I mean, not emotionally either. I do, I feel the lines creeping over my skin, and in my heart, and in my mind. People assume I’m a grandmother now, seeing me out and about with a twelve-year-old. I tell them I had a son what died. It’s true, after all.
Mitchell writes less often than he used to, at any rate. I think he’s happy. For a while, years ago now, there was some kind of confusion over where to send the letters – something had happened to the house was all I could gather – but it seemed to smooth itself out. He lives in London now, not far from us actually, but I can’t imagine seeing him again.
He did come, once – after the swimming baths thing. That was because I phoned him, from the police station, with my head fuzzy and blood under my fingernails. I had his number safe in my purse, written on the back of the picture of Bernie chewing on a candle at his fifth birthday party. I’ve never used it since, but it worked. Mitchell dropped everything. I remember I heard someone – a woman – protesting in the background on the phone (and we never learnt anything from those letters, and I always assumed he was gay, so who knows what that was about), but he came.
‘Stop panicking, Fleur.’ Oh, I still remember those first words he said when he saw me on the station steps, crying because my baby boy was behind bars with twenty witnesses ready to swear on a unprovoked attack. He hadn’t changed. Of course he hadn’t.
‘We have ways of dealing with this.’
Which is when all your knowledge, all that learning and specialist subject stuff, goes down the pan – and you realise that you’re in over your head. You know everything about the addiction and the nightmares, can field questions from strangers or understand your own child’s new digestive system, but you really don’t know squat. Nothing. Nil. Fuck-all.
We have ways of dealing with this. Who have, and what ways, and what sorts of ‘this’, and how often before, and oh lord, please tell me, who?
Some other mother’s son died in the swimming baths that day. And my son gazed at me with clear eyes, as we left the police station and his true, dead father behind, and told me that he’d like it to happen again. That he needed it to happen again.
He’s much happier now. No more nightmares.
I think parents put these things behind them. Move house, change names, and suppress the chill in your soul. It wasn’t Bernie’s fault that that kid slipped and cracked his head open. Was it Bernie’s fault that he died? Because then it’d be my fault; because I brought Bernie into this world, because I brought him back from the other one.
I wonder if Sherry ever has to think like this. I haven’t spoken to her in thirty years, but I wonder if she ever gazes into her daughter’s eyes and sees something in there that’s alien, other, unable to understand. Her little girl survived childhood with an operation every year, although I sometimes wanted to understand why, when the poor kid couldn’t string a sentence together. To go though so much anguish – every op was a risk – for a person who would always be so different from you.
It would be silly to say that I get it now, or something like that. But once a year I do what I need to keep my son alive in whatever unnatural state. It’s not the same thing as Sherry, not at all, but sacrifices are sacrifices. The how and the what vary but the for who is always going to be the same.
And apart from anything else, we’ve both sacrificed our lives. How did Sherry see her future panning out before she got pregnant? A bloody sight different from saw she saw it afterwards, but that was nothing compared to the life that would really announce itself nine months later.
I never saw myself at seventy with a child who can’t be seen in mirrors, still organising bath times and cooking smiley-faces with beans, finding a new home every year, unmarried with no friends… Just a pen-pal, on whom I rely less and less.
So, Bernie is turning forty-four, or thirteen, if you ask the three children we’ve invited to his party. They’re the next-door neighbour’s children, who think he is home-schooled. They are the only ones he plays with, and really only the gangly oldest boy is any kind of friend. They play all day on their shooting games on the internet, side by side as though they were the same species.
There’s cake – Bernie loves cake – and ice cream, and then they all sit and play video-games, all zombified by the sight of the screen (Which begs the question, zombies…?) while I tidy up like a ghost around them.
I can’t imagine who’ll care for him when I’m gone. It might be Mitchell, but I don’t think so. Whoever ‘we’ are, that can make a murder go away. Some vampire orphanage perhaps, some cult. And he’ll forget me or regret me, the woman who kept him indoors and told him that she loved him and never let him hunt. The last parts of Bernie will be erased and only vampire will be left.
I did write to Sherry, actually, on impulse. Well, I emailed her, after tracking her down on the net. She’s still alive. He daughter must be in her fifties by now, strapped into a motorised wheelchair I imagine. Who will care for her?
We all bear our burdens, some of us give more away than we should. Once a year, every year, that is the rule. Bernie knows it, Bernie understands it, and he looks forward to it as much as his silly robot toys.
I carefully leave the living room and lock the door behind me.
I climb the stairs and check our suitcases. We’ll leave in the morning. I’m getting too old for this.
I put in my headphones and let Spandau Ballet soothe me, drowning out the noises from below. I never saw myself here, not in a million years, but we take the hand we’re dealt. And I chose this hand.
I chose this.