In a Realm of Memories
Tobin took hold of his mother’s hand and squeezed. She didn’t respond. Her fingers stayed limp and lifeless as if there were no muscles able to control her actions, when in truth, it was the brain cells that weren’t capable of controlling her muscles at that particular moment. It gave the impression that the contact meant little to her, which was probably true given her illness. She didn’t understand. She didn’t feel in the same way anymore. He thought her skin felt colder than it should, so he tucked her arm under the covers and straightened the sheet that reached to just beneath her neck. She looked at peace. That was something you usually said about the dead, when their face had relaxed and the strains of life had disappeared.
But Tobin’s mother was not dead. She had remained in that consciously-unknowing state the whole time he spoke, while he was telling her about his day — that being the trials and tribulations of the last few hours of his life as a full-time student, the day he got his exam results. They were okay, but not great. He wasn’t going on to university, but not because his marks weren’t high enough. He had no desire to further his mind in that way. It had experienced about as much as it could take of worthless facts he would never use. Anyway, he needed to go out and earn money. He was an adult now, with responsibilities. In a way, it was better that his mother didn’t respond. She would’ve had something to say about that. Something very vocal and opinionated. Back when she remembered who he was.
There were times when she was lucid, but they were becoming few and far between. Occasionally, rather than staring blankly at something in the air before her, she would go off into a dream world of conversation. At least, Tobin assumed that was what it was, because it couldn’t be real. She spoke of fantastical adventures, of ancient lore and dragons. She had never been a fan of fantasy novels, which made it even odder that she would fly off at such a tangent. But he liked the way her voice sounded when she spoke of these things. She was animated and awed. It almost sounded as if she were a young girl, experiencing life for the first time. A second childhood, perhaps.
There were times when he tried to make sense of the tales, as if they were representations of actual life, similes or metaphors, he’d never taken much notice in English. A bit like when dreams were supposed to be working out your life problems. But he’d been unable to come up with anything even close. Her life had been hard, having to bring him up for the last ten years on her own. There had been nothing frivolous about the way they lived. She’d never had time to think about herself, and now, when he could start to look after her, to give back what he had been given, she was incapable of comprehending who he was.
The nurse walked in and nodded at him. It was her silent signal that his mother was tired and he should make himself scarce. He thought it was just an excuse. A way to get rid of him when she had work to do. He didn’t complain. He’d finished what he wanted to say. He kissed his mother on the forehead and walked to the door. When he opened it, he came face-to-face with a man he didn’t recognise, his arms crossed over his chest, blocking his path.
“Excuse me,” said Tobin, taking a politer tone than he felt the situation warranted. Who did something like that? Rude. He wasn’t in the mood to have to deal with jokers.
Another man walked up behind the first. They moved, each to alternate sides of the doorway, but only enough to channel Tobin into the corridor between them. His anger began to rise.
“You’re coming with us,” said the first man.
Seriously? These people were going to play silly beggars? He didn’t have the time.
“I’m not,” said Tobin. The second man latched his grip around Tobin’s left bicep and squeezed. “Ow!” His right arm was similarly secured by the first man. He wished he’d been to the gym more often. Then, they wouldn’t have been able to do that. Instead, underdeveloped as he was, they frogmarched him toward the exit. In a nursing home. In broad daylight. With people behind every door he passed. “Hey. Help!”
Tobin’s feet barely touched the ground as they moved. He scrabbled for purchase, but even the rubber soles on his trainers couldn’t slow his movement. His heart began to thump in his chest. This was not normal, not in a nursing home, not anywhere, and no one was coming to see what the commotion was. Where was everyone? They weren’t all like his mother. There were nurses.
“Help me. I’m being kidnapped.”
His voice sounded strangled, a pathetic squeak, rather than forceful and commanding, something another person might actually take notice of.
And still no one came to see what was happening. Not even the nurse who had gone in to see to his mother. Panic began to cloud his senses. Horrific scenes of his body lying mutilated on a quiet country lane passed through his mind.
“You’re not being kidnapped,” said the first man, “You’re being escorted forcefully. I’m James. This is Ciaron.”
Well, that was the first time he’d heard of murderers introducing themselves. James gave Tobin a quick grin. He didn’t return it. “Let go of me.”
“Because if we tell you where we’re taking you, and why, you won’t believe us, and you have to go.”
Too right, he wouldn’t go. He managed to swing his right foot at an angle and kicked James heartily in the shin. The man didn’t even flinch. Okay, he’d never been into sports all that much, and certainly not bodybuilding, ergo the lack of meaty biceps, but surely the strength of his kick was worth a grunt.
Outside, he was bundled into the back seat of a 4x4, so new, or well-cared for, that it smelled of leather and plastic. The newness caught in Tobin’s throat and he coughed. James slammed the door after flipping the child lock on him. That was a low punch to his self-esteem.
Tobin yanked on his seatbelt, because he wasn’t going to let them kill him with their driving, and crossed his arms. He refused to make eye contact with James through the rear-view mirror, although the man tried more than once as the journey continued.
They drove all the way through town and out the other side, along a rural road that led to nowhere but farms and country houses for the rich. The sun was still high, throwing a freshness of light across the autumn landscape. It didn’t lighten his mood. It made it a good level more sour. He’d been going to meet up with Mia. She was going to be pissed, waiting at the War Memorial with expectations of a deep pan pizza and him not turning up.
But, he still had his phone.
He slid the mobile out of his pocket and held it low in his lap. He started to scroll through his contact list when a deft hand reached behind, grabbed the device and spirited it away.
“No phones,” said Ciaron
“My girlfriend needs to know I’m not turning up to meet her tonight.” And that I’m being kidnapped.
“What’s her name?”
“What are you going to do?”
“Tell her you’re not coming.”
“What are you going to say?”
“Something that a teenage boy might say to his girlfriend. Do you like sport?”
He raised his eyebrows. “No.”
“Okay, so you’re going round to a mate’s to see his vintage Betamax version of the original Star Wars film. That okay?”
He thought about saying no, but he knew full well that Mia would never want to go to that type of evening, and it was the kind of thing he did from time-to-time. Blew her off for something nerdy that involved aliens. He nodded. “Mia.” It was better than her standing there, waiting. Even if she could’ve saved him. He didn’t get his phone back.
Some minutes later they drew up to a large, well, it looked like a mansion to him. Six windows across the front, seven on the first floor. Rich kidnappers. Why did these people need the money? Not that he, or his family, had any.
“Where is this?”
“This is where your life changes,” said James.
Seriously, what kind of answer was that?