Desperate to avoid aggravating his wounds by attempting to tidy up the debris, Arthur placed his puppets on the equally battered stool by his bed and left their remains to waste. He lay back, kicked off his shoes and wriggled out of his jacket. Above him the mood had changed; the alcohol had set in. His parents were laughing, dancing and singing along to Vo-Do-Do-De-O Blues. The music was distorted and skipped occasionally; the record had been played a few times too many. Once more, dust fell from the ceiling; it too danced across the room, and as if dropped by a fairy, it seemed to glitter in the light.
His eyes were dragged up towards the solitary caged light dangling in the middle of the room. The light appeared brighter than before, bearing down, consuming him. His empty gut was pulling in all the energy of his body. He became light-headed. His senses numbed and all bodily boundaries began to disappear. He felt enormous and expansive like he could reach the distant stars and digest their cosmic energy. He was the pulse of the water, the convulsions of the earth, the breath of the wind and the explosive heat of the fire.
Arthur pulled his puppet parents out of the wardrobe and dragged them across the room by their necks. Sitting down on the bed to rest his leg, he grabbed the two wooden control bars of the puppets and hoisted them onto their feet. His parents hung before him helplessly – his father in his left hand and his mother in his right. Arthur was finally in charge. The puppet show began.
Arthur stared intently, imagining an old stage, huge red curtains and a packed audience in which he had a front row seat. He mumbled a fanfare and as his hands twitched and bounced, the smiling puppets skipped to centre stage and burst into a slapstick fight. His father swung at his mother and managed to chip her painted smile. She swung back at him, knocking off a loosely fastened eye. Whimpering, he half-heartedly looked around for his eye while she laughed at him through the gritted teeth of her broken smile.
Arthur could hardly believe that he was grinning. His jaw jammed ajar as though his joints had rusted or some higher being had possessed him. Perhaps he too had only a painted smile. Regardless, the two helpless demons continued fighting, getting increasingly battered by the brawl. Each hit brought whimper and howl as the parents deconstructed one another and the audience cheered.
This continued for a while until, arms aching a little, Arthur did away with the stage, the curtains and the audience. He sat his parents down on his lap and tilting their heads, he made sure they were paying close attention.
‘How do you like it, huh?’
He forced his father to nod his head and a response fell out with near perfect timing.
Arthur suppressed a scream and quickly discarded his mother before he began repeatedly striking his father. Soon, his anger bettering him, he hit his father a little too hard. He grazed one hand, and lost his grip with the other; his father fell to the floor. Reaching down to regain control of him, he noticed the puppet’s other eye had broken off and was lying beside him. His mother was damaged too. All but a few red and white spots of her painted smile had worn off. So with one blind and one mute, his puppet parents would no longer torment him.
Read part 4
Arthur peered weakly through the rusting keyhole of his bedroom door. Among the dust and cobwebs of the old stairway, he could just about make out a glimmer of light coming from the kitchen above. A faint shadow entered his view, stealing the spotlight for a moment before a second, clearer shadow chased it out of sight.
The cold basement ceiling trembled under the force of a falling object in the room above him, displacing new dust and old plaster, which scattered about the room. His parents were home. A few anxious beads of sweat soaked into the outer bristles of his straw hair and he jerked back, away from the door, shaking. Clutching his torso, he lifted his shirt and counted the black and blue kisses from Mummy and Daddy. As he got up his hollow stomach writhed and resonated with the walls around him as more objects fell above him. A final thud rattled the room and the procession on top of his chest of drawers suffered the worst it; a series of old framed pictures of his grandparents scattered and shattered into every available cavity. Then fell a stillness in all but Arthur’s brain.
He stepped lightly across the room, delicately navigating the present silence. He began to collect the remains of his grandparents and stow them bit by bit into one of the now open drawers. The drawer was mottled with relics from a puppet theatre his grandparents used to own. For years they shared with him the magic of the marionette, and naturally, when his grandparents took their last bow, it was all handed down to him. Soon, he began making his own puppets and out of scraps of wood and old tin cans he crafted his best friends. He’d put on shows to vacant seats saved for his parents, yet as far as they were concerned, there were no strings attached.
For more, read part 2