Draw a chalk line between father and son and call it rift. But dig in the dirt, find the places you name in colours, in purple or grey or whatever you use to file away bleak days. Synaesthesia is not a condition so much as a need. Turn days into colours and put the bad ones back in the box. The cold ones, the sad one, the why ones, the let’s just get through this ones, Sundays. But then there are other days you can’t colour. The way forward is through and maybe there is something noble in enduring even if you’re a boy squeezed in by a two-car household and not a Faulknerian nigger. Because a day is really just hours of light and hours of dark and you’re never too young to overthink.
Dig in the dirt. Find the place where you lost your daydream of grown men. Where a new voice tells you that love is not conditional, something you’ve always assumed by never thinking about it. Who thinks of words with four syllables? A cliché runs silly through your head—about never knowing you had something until you lost it, even if that thing was an illusion. But nobody at six whines over big things. You whine because you always have to settle for the Batman comic; because your older brother gets first pick and he always picks Superman. Nobody wants a man dressed as a bat over a man dressed as SUPER, and who could fly. And Robin in a red jacket and green bikini, and really long, bare white legs like he’s there for some other reason. Your father had come home after months away studying, bringing toy trucks and comics. Batman it is, then. He doesn’t fly but he could leap off a building the way you leap off a fence with your dark blue towel as the cape.
At midnight the TV Station signs off and you sit in the dark, for longer than you can count. Monday nights always feel like Monday nights, less dreary than Sunday but still carrying that days’ dread. You’ve never been up this late. You’ve never seen a moon so big that at first you thought it was coming in close. What do big people do in dark hours? Your parents must have thought you’ve gone to bed. You’re at the age where they expect you to go by yourself, so maybe they never thought to check. How come they didn’t hear the TV going? This must be why people get bigger and grow older—to stay up late. Not for any reason really, just to stay up and watch big fat red moons. And what else? You hear mumbling in the room next to the living room. Your parents’ room.
So adults stay up late to mumble, worse to talk to each other. But every time you talk, kids make fun of your lisp so you just blink. Big people stay up late to talk? You thought they stayed up late to play games, or read books without pictures or show superpowers like that mind reading power Mummy shows every now and then. Your mom is a police who doesn’t wear uniform and this is for now the only reason you’re cool in school, because your mom does for real what Charlie’s Angels do on TV. You mother have gun? Of course she have gun, fool, you don’t see that detective on TV have gun? No woman detective on TV have a gun. Well she do. Mummy is the one mumbling and you wonder if that’s just another super power that adults have. That they can mumble and be understood by other adults. Maybe you should try it tomorrow instead of pig Latin, which had spread like flu through school. You’re the only one who doesn’t know it. Maybe at recess you should just start speaking mumbletalk and then everybody else will speak it and nobody would tease you for the day, except for those who can’t speak mumble-talk and who’ll know what they’re saying anyway. Also you’ll be wearing the Starsky and Hutch T-shirt with the red car blasting flames, so everybody will have to like you. Maybe you can hear what parents talk about when you sleep! Are they going to buy more comics? Maybe the remote controlled car on the back cover. Or boring big people things like who should buy detergent and if your older brother is old enough to mow the lawn.
—Is the second time I catch him wearing my stockings. No, not the second time, he didn’t see me the first time.
—So? The little boy love dress up.
—Well he get that from his father but why he wearing stockings? And two times? Two times that I know. The first time he was wearing them and a red brief and a towel.
—The second time him never wear no towel.
—No towel. Leslie said she come to work last Monday morning and find mud all over her heels that she leave behind on Friday.
—And you know, he much he love watching those cultural programmes on TV.
—What you saying?
—Well he loves that whole creative dancing thing.
—What wrong with dancing? Give him a pretty girl.
—Not that kind of dancing. Creative dancing. Not with girls, I mean sometimes with girls but not this. This is man dancing with other men. In tights. Like the stockings he keep wearing.
—Well him better…
You never heard the rest of the sentence. Little children learn new things all the time. In the house with the big moon waiting outside you hear tone, not knowing what he said but shaping your night on how he said it. A tone waiting to be described in words you do not know, so you pick colours. His voice was blue, then grey, then red, then black and stayed black. No, not black, dark. He stayed dark. He raised his voice—maybe he was getting angry with her, at you but all you could hear was a voice getting darker.
You stay away from your mother’s stockings. You do not dress like a superhero. Not that you ever dressed like a superhero. Nobody will know how fast you can run in high heels 10 sizes too big for you. These are not things that boys talk about, these are not things boys wear, these are not things boys do, and you’re the only boy who father says dark things about you in the night. So you figure out how to fix it. If you stay in bed long enough, not long for your mother to yell, but enough for his car to start, you miss him leaving. If you forget Charlie’s Angels and go to bed early like a good boy, you will fall asleep before he comes back. Read Little House In The Big Woods all Saturday, sit in the dry ditch behind church all Sunday, and before you knew it six months could pass before you see your father’s face. But you hear his voice. His night mumble. It crawls over the sheets, slips through your ears and builds a black space in your head 32 years wide.
Front page image by Sudhamshu Hebbar.