Trapdoor: a novel by Vixen Phillips
I’m looking down on the face of yet another dreaming angel…
I’ve been keeping a vigil by the bed, every so often running my fingers through his silky lilac hair. Five days. Doubt we’ve been apart so long since we met.
Absence makes the heart grow fonder.
“Pegasus.” I rub my face against his limp hand. Now I don’t need to be afraid of anyone overhearing my terrible secret, I feel kind of light-headed, almost champagne drunk. He must know. Why else would he be here? Why would he come so far to get to me, to bring me my son?
I guide his hands down to my lips—one kiss for each fingertip. Even in this deep sleep, weariness clings to him. I study the tear stains on his cheeks. Were you crying, for me? Did you miss me?
What if he doesn’t wake up?
Ma said I should call a doctor. But I’m too selfish to do any such thing. If I can’t have him in life, then at least, perhaps, in death—
Don’t be an idiot. I scratch at my arms, deep enough to sting the skin, but I can’t stay angry very long, not when he’s here. I let his hand drop to the bed and turn my attention to his lips, which I trace very carefully with my thumb. This isn’t the first time I’ve thought about kissing him. Would it be too late now?
I lean closer to his face. I could do it. Ma’s outside, busy with Damien, becoming acquainted in the most practical sense with the grandchild Wendy never let her meet. I’m torn between being here and out there. But I missed you both, Pegasus, and I want you both.
No chance of being caught—
Unless he wakes up—
Which is what I wanted anyhow. This twisted logic, coupled with five days of despair and other more animalistic urges, talks me into it easy enough. I lean in even closer, try and ignore how my body trembles. I’ve never kissed a boy before.
His breath smells so sweet. I lick my lips; my mouth’s gone dry in anticipation and desperation. Taking a deep breath, I prepare myself for the final moment—
And almost fall arse over teakettle off the bed as he opens his eyes and murmurs sleepily, “Raven, you’re here.”
Lucky for me, we’ve both got enough questions to distract us from what almost happened. For a while, Pegasus remains too disoriented to even realise where he is; as far as he can tell he’s still at home, and everything’s the same as it always was, before my secret got out. Wonder if he knows? I didn’t tell Monty exactly why I left, and I doubt he’d be here if Wendy said anything.
“You passed out on Ma’s doorstep.” I watch his expression very carefully as I recount what happened. Briefly, he frowns, then lets out a heartfelt sigh.
“I’m sorry,” he whispers. “I didn’t mean…” Biting his lip, he stares down at his hands. Least I got to kiss his fingers before he woke up. “I—I haven’t been taking very good care of myself lately.” He looks into my face, and his expression hardens. “You didn’t even call. I had no idea where you were, if you were okay, if you were ever coming back—”
I want to say, “Don’t give up on me so easy. I’ve been waiting out this moment for four years.”
Instead, I say, “I wanted to call, Peg. Every day. But, I just—”
“—forgot about it.”
No. That isn’t what I meant. I’ve never heard him use that spiteful tone, not on me. But before I can answer, he pushes me aside, and stands swaying above me. “I should leave.”
I grab hold of his hand and yank at his arm. “No!”
A stunned silence settles in. It’s hard to tell who’s more surprised by my outburst, him or me. “Well,” I add hastily, “how do you plan on getting home? Is Monty picking you up again?”
He nods. “Tomorrow morning.”
“Looks like you’re stuck here, then,” I say. For tonight, at least.
He breaks out of my grip. “No, Raven! I’ll only be in the way. You don’t want me here, not really. Probably, your mother thinks I’m a freak.” He laughs at himself. I recognise that self-derision only too well. “I brought you your son,” he says at last, defeated. “Isn’t that enough?”
“Do you want it to be enough?” I can’t look at him anymore. This isn’t how I wanted it to be.
“I already told you—” he starts to say. Yeah, I get how that one goes. It’s never been about what I want.
“Son of a bitch.” I get up and grab hold of him by the shoulders, then give him a good shake. Better this than a hug that gives away too much. “Have I been such an arsehole to you—always? I’m asking you what you want. Tell me, for Christ’s sake, don’t give me this…self-pitying shit.”
I turn my back on him altogether, but there’s nowhere to go short of leaving the room, which is the last thing I want, alongside this pointless argument. Self-pitying, huh? Pot, meet kettle. All other options exhausted, I sink down onto the bed again, my head in my hands. This is all your fault. You made me want to kiss you, my angel, my—
Eventually, I dare to glance up. He’s still standing over me, crying in silence. But when he realises I’ve noticed, he turns aside. “What do you want me to say?” he asks.
Everything. Tell me what you feel. Tell me the story of your soul. Tell me you want me. “Tell me you’ll stay,” I whisper. As his shoulders start to shake, I get to my feet and spin him around, drawing him into a hug, tight against my chest. Now there’s someone else I never want to let go of. “Stay. Please.”
Slowly, the tears and shivers subside. I feel him grow calmer, stronger beneath my touch. So, this is it. I truly fucked up. Not like it’s a first.
As our eyes meet, my heart does a kind of somersault into my mouth. Then, he nods. Just once, but it’s enough.
Not a minute after I get my reprieve, Damien zooms indoors. As if propelled by radar, he bounds up the stairs into the bedroom, screaming out, “Daddy!” and “Peggy-sis!” Now there are three people here to dote on him, all his Christmases have come at once.
Without hesitation, he grabs a sleeve each and drags us down into the dining room, where the aromas wafting in from the kitchen reveal that Ma’s going to use this whole thing as an excuse to turn on the full dinner-time banquet. Sure enough, not a moment later, she emerges through the French doors, apron around her stomach, face flushed, newly dressed and styled in a tongue-in-cheek homage to the 50s house-mum. I can’t help smiling. Stupid and childish, sure, but I actually missed her all these years.
“Well.” She flutters her lashes, glancing between Pegasus and me. “You can introduce me to your friend. Raven?”
Taking her cue, I bow in mock ceremony. “Mrs. Nadja de Winter… Pegasus Belmont.”
But he’s not paying any attention. I hope he’s not going to pass out again, but Ma follows his gaze across the hall to the grand piano taking centre-stage in the living room. “I used to play,” she explains, wistfully, “before my arthritis.” There’s a pause. “Raven tells me you play, too. He says you’re really very good.”
“Would you care to play something for us, before dinner?”
I watch in fascination as he turns even whiter, and quickly shakes his head. “Oh, no. I’m only a keyboard player. I’m not so good.”
Liar. He deliberately avoids my glare by faking a sudden interest in the drab aesthetics of the wallpaper. Sure I might be biased, but I know how good he is. And I’ve seen the way he stops whenever we get near a music store, transfixed by the mere sight of a grand piano. I know that’s his dream. What game are you playing, Peggy? It’s never been about what I want. Is that what you really believe?
Ma offers us a choice of coke, coffee, or juice. Damien opts for orange juice; I go with a coke. Been living on caffeine for four days straight, why break with tradition now? But Pegasus shows me up by asking if she needs a hand. She shoots me a look, dabbing at the corner of her mouth. “Well, aren’t you the perfect gentleman?” Oh, here we go. “I see your mama brought you up well.”
Halfway into my chair, I jerk upright again. “Would you like some help too, Ma?”
She winks at Pegasus. “Oh no, darling. We’ll take care of everything.” A glance at Damien. “Spend some time with your child. He’s precious.” And together they disappear into the kitchen.
Well, that was surreal. I blink, and help Damien into his chair. He’s already looking sleepy, all red cheeks, drooping eyelids, and a pouty lower lip. In an attempt to keep him awake, and to try and keep my mind off the old ghosts of our surroundings, I start reciting nursery rhymes, any old thing. I can’t remember more than a few lines from each one, so there’s something about blackbird pies and pretty maids and lost sheep and pea-green boats and moon-vaulting cows. He doesn’t seem to mind, and it keeps my past embedded in the faded walls: Dad and Ma and what happened right here not long enough ago. Deep below the surface, being in this room with my son disturbs me, like nowadays I notice the difference, the wrongness, and all the similarities between this house and Wendy’s.
I swear on my life, kittling, you deserve so much more. I’ll give you a better life than this. I just haven’t figured out how.
“I love you, Daddy.” His head rests on the table, and he’s smiling up at me. All that matters now is, I’ve got a reason.
And, Don’t you ever forget this. “I love you too, angel.”
Having survived the dinner table, I wander outside for a clove cigarette. It’s dark, and the cold waters of the Southern Ocean shine silver on the horizon. Sounds of the sea, and sounds of cars on the distant highway, and the sound of my breath exhaling smoke and mist: this is all there is. It always did feel like looking out over the end of the world from here.
Pegasus appears in the doorway, holding a contented but still sleepy Damien. I can’t do anything more than watch them from the corner of my right eye, these two exquisite, perfect creatures. I must be cheating someone, somewhere; I don’t deserve a chance to love them.
“What’s going on with you, Raven?” Peg asks at last.
Guess it had to come eventually. I shrug, forcing a laugh like I don’t care. “You want to know why I left.”
There’s another pause. Then, “No. I already know why you left.”
My heart jolts in my chest. I turn my back against the railing; I can’t face the lonely waves any longer. Too much. And for all this, I haven’t come out of cryostasis. None of it’s hit me, not yet. I’ve been dreading what happens when it does.
He inches forward, staring out at the sea. I know that look in his eyes, that longing. “I haven’t been to the beach in nine years,” he tells me.
I frown. “You live in St Kilda.”
He dismisses me with a ‘pfft’ and a toss of his hair. “I mean the ocean. Wild, free, like this. Were you born here?”
“More or less.” I shrug again. “Right about there, actually.” I point at the window in front of me, through to the general direction of Ma’s bedroom. “Or so they tell me. Ma reckons Dad was too wasted to get her to hospital.”
“Your father was an alcoholic too, huh?”
I sniff. “Yeah, it’s genetic, all right.” But when I glance down at Damien, it’s not self-derision I feel. God help me if I’ve passed my disease, my sickness, on to my son.
As though he’s read my mind, Pegasus adds lightly, “That’s okay. I heard somewhere that suicide’s genetic too, and I’m still here.”
I frown. This one’s got me stumped. Who in your family—? Not his old man, I know that from bitter experience. Not his mama, who comes off as being so highly medicated it’s doubtful she feels anything at all. Not Wendy either, and I’m not quite ashamed to admit I spend too much time wishing that were true. “I don’t—”
His face disappears into a meld of lilac and blond hair. Then he says, “That woman you met. She’s not my real mother, don’t you know? She’s nothing more than a shadow. Wendy calls her mother, but we never liked Wendy very much, not even when she was a little girl. I suppose I should have warned you.” He shakes his head, a wry smile on his lips when he looks at me. “My mother was beautiful. She was fairytale, she was music, she was real. They did everything they could to destroy her. But she won, in the end. She walked into the ocean. And she never came back.” His eyes drift back towards the sea, and he whispers tenderly, “Juliette”, with that ‘Zh’ like French people say it. “Just like me.” He smiles. “Your ‘ma’ seems nice. I’m glad I had the chance to meet her, even if it was against your will.”
She walked into the ocean…just like me. “Do you want to be with your mama? Have I driven you to that?” No point bothering to think before I speak anymore. These are the only words that will come.
“It’s going to rain.” He squeezes my hand, and returns inside with my son. Not a moment later, a drop of water splashes on my wrist, and now the sky’s breaking open, pelting down on the iron roof. I finish up my cigarette and follow him in.
Almost nine o’clock. Where the hell did all those hours go? Damien’s bath is well past due, and I’m not so selfish I’ll keep him up just to suit my wants and whims. So I take him into the bathroom, run the water, and help him undress. Only after we get through the layers of sweater and t-shirt and singlet, then pants and socks and Spiderman knickers, do I catch sight of the purple stain spread over the top of his left leg. Biggest bruise I’ve ever seen. Jesus fucking Christ. I reach out to turn off the tap, giving myself a chance to pull myself together.
“Day,” I say at last, forcing out the words so they don’t give too much away, “what’s with the bruise on your leg?”
In answer, he hugs himself tight and stares down at the floor. My pulse keeps building, a distant drum getting nearer and louder.
“How’d you get it?”
He licks his lips. “Mama said don’t tell.”
I want to put out a hand to him, but I’m shaking so bad I don’t dare. “Did Mama…make the bruise?”
“Mama’s friend. Jonnyfen.”
So who the hell is Jonathan? Maybe the suit at the bar, sliding all over her? That’ll do, at least, as a face for dreaming up violent retaliations. Tarantino meets Oliver Stone for good measure, I reckon.
No. Not here, not yet. I take a deep breath, then lower him quickly but gently into the tub. “When? When did this happen?”
He stares at the wall, his back to me. “When you ran away.”
When I ran away. Even my son knows I’m a coward. I start to wash him. Normally this sets off a dozen flights of fancy, but tonight he’s got no play in him, no stories. Once he’s dried, I put his t-shirt and knickers on, and pull him in close for a hug. At least he lets me. “This won’t happen again. I promise.”
I carry him into my old bedroom. Peg’s already brought in his bag and made the bed look inviting. Mr. Rabbit’s tucked in, and there’s the book of the moment, Where The Wild Things Are. I lay him down, but as I sit beside him and reach for the book he darts a glance at Pegasus. “Peggy-sis, read me story! Please.”
For a moment I’m upset, then delighted, then nervous. Wendy often got the same request, and refused every time. I glare at Pegasus, who sits up and hugs a spare pillow to his chest. “What? Me? Raven, I can’t read him this book.”
I shrug. “You know how to read, don’t you?”
He frowns. “Yes, but—”
“Peggy-sis, read story!” a little voice insists. Please don’t make him beg. Not like she does.
He puts out a hand and strokes Damien’s cheek. Then, biting his lip, he opens the book to the first page. And I can breathe again.
After Damien and Ma are both in bed, Pegasus and I wander through the living room and out into the courtyard. My son’s safe at last, and asleep. That and the buzzing in my head as the numbness wears off have settled it: now’s as good a time as any to smoke this joint I’ve been carrying around ever since I left the city.
The rain’s stopped. It’s been too easy to forget how alive the sky is out here, so full of stars, those I remember and those I’ve forgotten. Before Melbourne claimed me, I used to spend hours lying beneath them every single night. Maybe when I was my son’s age, maybe a bit older, I’d even dreamed of becoming an astronomer.
Now it’s Pegasus who looks up at the sky in amazement, as I fish a lighter out of my pocket and flick it at one end of the joint. “So, when are you leaving?”
He raises a brow. “I knew you were trying to get rid of me. Five, or something.”
“In the morning?”
He rolls his eyes as he nods; it’s an ungodly hour to both of us. “Needs must when the devil drives.”
I concede the point—it’s certainly apt—and take another drag. “You did a pretty good job, tonight. With his bedtime story.”
“Oh.” He looks away, as though even in the dark he doesn’t want me to know he’s blushing. I burst out laughing, then he does, too. I really shouldn’t have started this thing. Been so long since I smoked, it’s already getting to me.
When the laughter dies out, his gaze drifts down to the joint in my hand. “Do you want any?” I ask.
He darts another glance in my direction. “I—I don’t really smoke.”
Is he scared? Why? Still, far be it for me to force it on him. “Well,” I hear myself saying, “you wouldn’t need to smoke it yourself.”
He twitches. “What do you mean?”
I shoot him an evil grin, and suck as much of the acrid smoke into my lungs as I can bear. Holding my breath, I lean carefully towards him, raising my eyebrows suggestively. For a second he pulls back, then lets me expel the smoke into his mouth. I feel my kneecaps turn to liquid as our lips brush together. Then he bursts into a fit of coughing, broken only by fragments of apology.
“It’s okay,” I whisper, though I don’t feel as bad as I should while I stand here rubbing his back. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have.”
“It’s not your fault.” Choking out a final cough, he sinks onto the old sofa behind us. Once I finish off the joint, I’m left feeling so dizzy I’m more than ready to join him. Love nests. Isn’t that what these are called?
I lose track of time while we sit, side by side, as I get to telling him all the constellation names my brain spits at me, improvising when nothing comes. Rather than boredom or polite indulgence, he seems impressed with how I know all this. How long’s it been since I’ve felt so appreciated, by anyone other than my son?
I still can’t bring myself to ask him why he came, but maybe it doesn’t matter anymore.
Just before midnight, we go to bed. Separately.
Sometime during the middle of the night I jerk awake, having fallen out of bed and onto the floor. Damien. I jump to my feet, fast enough to cause a head-spin from the pot that’s still floating through my system. Sure enough, he lies sprawled sideways across the mattress, wrapped snugly in the doona, snoring softly. “Bed hog,” I mumble. Anyway, it’s a good opportunity to duck downstairs for a glass of water.
Halfway along the hall, I pass Pegasus’s door. It’s slightly ajar, but I resist the temptation to wander in. I’d probably only do something stupid. Like try and kiss him again. I grab hold of the railing, let it guide me down to the kitchen. My foot creaks on the second step, and a melody drifts up to meet me, something beautiful, like a memory from childhood…
Starting to shake, I creep towards the living room, searching for clues to help me distinguish between reality, ghost, and reverie. Seated at the grand piano, nothing but the moonlight streaming in upon him, is Pegasus. His hair hangs loose and floats all the way down his naked back, glowing silver. If that wasn’t enough, he’s playing some classical piece, dark, stormy, melancholy, yearning. I’ve heard it before, I think. My angel…
I watch his hands and fingers glide effortlessly over the keys. Rapt in concentration, he doesn’t notice my intrusion. If he makes any mistakes, I’m not good enough to pick them.
My shaking intensifies to a violent shiver. I thought I could deny what I felt for you, all this time—no, worse, I did deny it. But no more. It still matters why you came for me, cos I’m in love with you, Peg, and I’m going to tell you, even if it kills me.
My heart stops beating altogether, as the song draws to a close, and he sits, panting, poised above the keys.
My hearts starts pounding in my chest, as he raises his head, and turns to look at me.
Next Chapter: 06.PEGASUS: If I Should Die Before I Wake