7th of december: jonathan

Short Stories / Sunday, February 12th, 2017

Last year I started to write a book I didn’t quite finish, but this one character Jonathan has been stuck in my head ever since.

There’s a heaviness inside of him which seems to stifle everything that he wants to say or think. Where his very own thoughts and joys used to be there’s just this thick, white fog tumbling in his head, making him feel weak and dizzy. He doesn’t know the difference between left and right, up and down. His body, just like his mind, is frozen and numb, because again, he’s walking outside with nothing but an old sweatshirt on. He had hoped that the coldness of these Swedish winter winds would sting him awake, would bite and tear at him until he would feel something, just anything that was not nothing. But no such luck. His body is now just equally as numb as his head feels. He hadn’t even noticed where his feet were carrying him, he just followed that surging urge to flee the house where everything felt stuffy and too narrow and too tight. When he looks up from the tarred road he is walking on, he sees where he’s been heading to all along.
The sea is stretching out in front of him like an endless expanse of navy blue steel, cool and calm. He can’t very well determine the ending of the sea nor the beginning of the sky. The sluggish grey horizon seems to be trying hard not to be seen, seems to blur the lines between sky and earth so that Jonathan can’t be sure to which one he belongs now and in which one he aspires to be. The pebbled beach is empty of people and empty of voices except for those of the seagulls and the ones in Jonathan’s head, telling him things he does not wish to hear. The white and grey pebbles crunch under his Chucks as he’s walking across the beach, nearing the water step by step without a hurry but in a continuous pace. The seagulls are drawing wide circles near the water surface, screeching with their inappropriately loud voices. He thinks of all the times he has spent here as a kid with his family, when everything was normal, even himself. He thinks of Sunday fikas here, the traditional noon treat with sandwiches and lemonade on a checkered picnic blanket, right next to the water. He thinks of children’s birthdays that were held here, his parents bringing down so much cake and chocolate milk that they could have lived off the leftovers for over a week if they would have wished to. He thinks of the times he spent here alone, pondering the universe, seeking calm in a world full of noise and disturbance. And now he finds himself here again.
If he weren’t so incredibly sad deep down, maybe the wrongness of the situation would tickle a laugh out of him. But as it is, now, here, today, he just stands there and stares at the seagulls. Maybe it would be easy. He can’t know for sure of course, but he is almost sure that it would be over very quickly. Maybe he wouldn’t even need to muster up a lot of courage. He could think of it as an adventure, as one of those things which do not necessarily need to be done but one has been thinking about doing for a long time. Almost like getting a tattoo or taking up running, the only difference being that none of these activities are fatal. He’s coming to a sudden halt right in front of the drowsy shoreline. Small waves lazily bring in pebbles from further out at sea as if made weak and slow by the sullen sunlight dancing upon it. He would have expected to feel victorious, elated, as if for once in his godforsaken life he’s able to take matters into his own hands, to decide what happens to his body and his mind and under which circumstances. But he feels ridiculous. Like an imposter, like someone not entitled to feel sad about his own imminent death. When he thinks of his parents he feels miserable, not because he is sorry for the hurt he is willing to inflict on them but because he hopes for their tears like a lost person dying of thirst. When he takes a step forward his breath catches in his throat. The water is so icy, it feels as though the cold is ringing inside his bones, running up and down his spine. But he doesn’t care, he seems to be disconnected from this shell of flesh that is surrounding his being and every aspect that comes with it. The sensation of the freezing ocean water is just something else he has to bear, another thing he needs to shut out of his mind and pretend it’s not here. Like he always does with the things that bother him the most. Like a puppet he walks on and on, his worn jeans already soaked with water up until his knees. With a jolt he remembers that he didn’t put on a fresh pair of underwear this morning, which worries him for a moment before he realizes what a stupid, stupid thing to worry about this is. By now the water is reaching up to his torso, wrapping his shirt closely around his goosebumped skin. He does not feel his legs anymore, the ground is getting steeper. Suddenly, out of the corner of his right eye, he sees something red dancing on the water surface a few meters away from him. He squints but can’t make out what it is exactly. Without thinking he navigates his numb feet, still inside of his All Stars, in the direction of the red thing and as he comes closer he realizes that it is in fact a deflated helium balloon. There’s a silver cord with a loop at the bottom end running from the little knot that once held the air inside of the balloon. Attached to the cord is an envelope, lying inside a waterproof and sealed plastic bag. Someone has scribbled on the envelope in an orderly handwriting:
“This letter is for you.”
By reading these five words something shifts in him. His whole soul goes rigid, his body stiffens, his mind is ringing with the severity of the situation he’s in. It feels as though suddenly the fog has been lifted from him and he is freed from the trance-like feeling that has been looming over him since he woke up this morning. He panics.
“Shit shit shit”, he repeats like a mantra in his head.
“Shit shit shit I need to get out of here”, is all he is able to think. The ocean water is burning him now with its ferocious coolness, with its great and terrible numbness. His body belongs to him again, he feels the pain he should have felt from the beginning with a surging and burning rage. He’s so afraid that his legs will give in before he can reach the shore again that little tears start to stream down his cheeks. Excruciatingly slow he drags himself back to the shoreline, every step worse than the last one. After what feels like an eternity, the water finally gets more shallow and releases him, spits him out like a foul piece of flesh no longer wanted. He lies there on the stones in his soaked clothes, breathing heavily, relishing the blood that pumps so vividly through his veins that he thinks they might burst. His head is as clear as it hasn’t been in a long time and he is so frightened of the boy he was just minutes before that he hardly dares to get up, as if he somehow doesn’t trust himself enough not to immediately turn back into that self-destructive person again. But he knows he has to get back home as soon as possible if he doesn’t wish to die of pneumonia. Still shaken from what just happened he slowly gets up, clutches the balloon with its letter firmly to his chest and walks back up the tarred road as fast as his beating hard allows. His beating heart. The heart he was willing to give up for painless nothingness, the heart he nearly bereaved of its purpose, of the warmth and air so desperately needed to function. The heart that had betrayed him and at the same time he had betrayed. He thinks of what a complicated machine the human body is and how fragile it suddenly seems.

When he finally returns home he can already feel the cold in his bones, can feel the sore in his throat. His plan to sneak upstairs to take a hot bath to revive his deadly cold body is thwarted by Robert coming down the wooden stairs just as he is tip-toeing upwards. When his father’s eyes fall upon his drenched son, he freezes mid step. Incredulous he looks from the soaking wet jeans, to the water-wrinkled feet leaving wet traces on the wood to the deflated red thing in his son’s hands and then something seems to click in his mind and he knows. Never has Jonathan ever seen such a peculiar mix of emotions in someone’s eyes, unspeakable love and anger at the same time. With a helpless cry his father rushes down the stairs to meet him halfway, wraps him into his arms like he is a lost cub seeking shelter and it warms him more than any hot bath ever could.
“My darling boy”, the gruff voice of his father whispers on and on, his stubbles scratching the sensitive skin of Jonathan’s cheeks as he rocks him to the mute sound of disbelieve, “oh my darling boy what have you done to yourself.”
Jonathan can’t make a sound although he wants so badly to apologize. He just stands there in the arms of his father and lets this outburst of love pour over him, soaks it up like the first rays of sunshine in April. After a while he’s being led upstairs where his father prepares a hot bath for him, wraps him in a thick blanket and makes him sit in the tub for almost an hour.
“We don’t need to talk about it now”, his father says when they sit together in Jonathan’s room later, Jonathan neatly folded into his blankets, his father sitting on the writing desk chair that he pulled next to Jonathan’s bed. His eyes are searching the dusky forest outside of the bedroom window as if he could find answers and solutions there between the lifeless branches of the trees.
“But we do need to talk about it. Soon. Never again will I let you wander that far away from me. Never, do you understand me, Jo?”
“I’m so sorry. That wasn’t me, that boy who walked so carelessly where he should never have gone.” His father gets up from the stool to kiss him on his cheek. “It was not me.”
“I know. I’m sorry, too”, Robert says with an odd twinge in his voice. Before he leaves the room, he turns on a little lamp on Jonathan’s desk, which gives off a cozy glowing light and chases the shadows from the quickly darkening walls.

I think it’s called hope.

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