I didn’t really want to die. Mum said that it’s not normal for a twelve year old boy to think about suicide. Doctor Hiller agreed. He said that it happens but that it’s not normal. He seemed more interested in me than Mum ever did, like I was an interesting mystery that he could maybe write a book about one day. Doctor Hiller looks like a movie star, like the guy that played Han Solo in the Star Wars movies. He played Indiana Jones too. Maybe my doctor is like that character. I reckon he likes adventures too much. Not like me. I just wanted to get away.
My grades were good, they said, so they couldn’t understand it. Is it only average kids who try to kill themselves? My English teacher tried to be nice to me when I finally went back to school, but I could see the disappointment in her eyes – like she had judged me wrong, like I wasn’t ‘brilliant’ after all. Everyone at school knew. It wasn’t something I could hide. They took away all my stories. They said they wanted to check if there were signs I had been unhappy.
Such a smart boy. So sad. So sad. I got tired of hearing them whisper it. I didn’t let them take away my books, not even the horror stuff. I would’ve screamed the whole school down. What makes me really sad is that I know they were only trying to protect me, and themselves. I guess it’s not nice when one of the kids you teach tries to hang himself with his own tie. Not a correct use of the school uniform. Such promise. Such a sweet, quiet lad. I don’t pretend to be a grown-up. I never have. But I do try to understand people, why they do the weird stuff they do. Why did Mum keep going back to Simon? Why did she keep putting herself in danger? I know she believed me when I told her about the gun. Simon was part of something called the ‘Armed-Response Unit’, but even I knew he wasn’t supposed to keep a gun at home. She never blamed Simon for anything really, because he never hit me. Maybe she wanted to convince herself that she wasn’t worth anything, didn’t deserve anyone except a guy like Simon. She never really cared about me, I think. Mum was very pretty, still is. She didn’t have to stay with Simon. He’s a good man, Paul, a good man. She knew it was a lie. Dad was a good man. He never raised his hand, he never pinned mum to the bed while she begged. I guess it’s me that is disappointed in her. It hurts, you know. Even today, two years later. Why was she so weak? Why was I so weak?
All my books and the stories I write, it’s all rubbish if I can’t even be brave. I tried to cut my wrists after mum put me into the Ensler psychiatric-unit, but when I saw the blood I got so scared I passed out. I didn’t cut deep enough to die. Doctor Hiller still wrote his notes, smiling at me with his movie-star face. They bandaged my wrist. The talking-circles didn’t really help. Mum moved to Cambridge with Simon. He works with a different police station now. Mum says he doesn’t use a gun anymore. I can still taste the barrel in my mouth – a ‘banging blow-job’. He never hit me but what he did was worse.
Simon loved to read though. He even loved a lot of the same stories that I did. I remember once he told me I would be a good writer some day. Don’t give up on your writing, Paulie. Dr Hiller doesn’t believe in evil. Monsters are created, he said. What happened to create a guy like Simon? There is still war and killing on the news every day. I tell them it doesn’t bother me anymore. It’s a lie, though. I still cry every night. Simon enjoyed the idea of war. I think he saw a kind of purity in it. I’m not like him. I refuse. I want to get better, I really do. But I don’t want to fade away. My name is Paul Kistri. I am fourteen years old. I have love inside me.
Commentary for ‘Paul’
With the work entitled ‘Paul’ I wanted to write a piece of flash-fiction that was engaging and substantial. This seemed like a huge task considering that I set myself a limited word count. I first tried to figure out how to marry narrative, character and voice into a work that was no more than 750 words, without the resultant story seeming either too lightweight or contrived. In order to do this I took the approach that a short story told in first person would be the most effective and subtle way to achieve a distinct voice and character immediately. I then tried to figure out what kind of character Paul would be and why he would be telling the reader this particular tale. I suppose the character is not too far removed from me at that age, and I wanted Paul to be a fictional mouthpiece to convey thoughts and feelings that were similar to what I was going through during the early years of my adolescence. I envisioned my protagonist as a very intelligent but melancholy teenager, with a kind of vulnerability that he almost didn’t want to hide. Paul is not ashamed of his sensitivity to the world around him, but he does feel that it makes him different to most people who tend to wear their hardiness and cynicism as a badge of honour.
The narrative I wanted to convey included Paul’s suicide attempt, the reactions to it from his peers and teachers at school, and to explicitly convey his meditation on some of the reasons for why he did what he did. I suppose there is a certain kind of ‘reveal’ in the story when the reader learns what took place with his mother’s boyfriend, Simon. However, I didn’t want this to seem like a cheap twist or a sleight-of-hand. I wanted to affect the reader with this moment but in a way that would be chilling because of its banality and its lack of clear motivation. The characters of Simon and Paul’s mother had to be implied in as few words as possible because I was attempting to make every word of the story count. I wanted to suggest the mother character was not a bad person, rather she was selfish and weak – a woman in desperate need of love and affection. The character of Simon was harder to sketch because I didn’t want him to appear as a cardboard plot-device. I tried to imply that Simon, a policeman, was obviously an intelligent, skilled and respected man in many areas of his life, but that there were perverse undercurrents to his character. It would be a side of him that none of his work colleagues would be aware of. This character and Paul’s reactions to him were intended to be uncomfortable or disturbing to the reader, but in an authentic non-sensationalist way. Whether I have managed to achieve this is down to the personal opinion of the reader. Also, I didn’t want to portray Paul as too mature for a fourteen year old boy because this might distract the reader from connecting with him – yet I did want to imply that Paul was perhaps wise beyond his years. This is a tricky thing to pull off and I hope I have come close to achieving it. In general though I am pleased with what I have created. I feel that I managed to be true to the character of Paul as I envisioned him, as well as conveying the overall mood of the piece. A lot of care went into crafting this piece of flash-fiction and I hope that it is evident in the text.