Behind the Curtain
by Sam Morris
In a stuffy oak-panelled room, two men sit facing each other. One wears an expensive but aging brown suit. He is calm and medative. The other is pale, his skin lifeless and fleshy like sour cream. He rocks back and forth in his chair and for a time nobody speaks.
Then the pale man finally breaks the silence, with a sudden rush of words, as if the conversation were already in full flow. ‘He’s back Doctor. That’s the problem. You don’t get it do you?’
‘Who’s back, Michael. Who?’ asks the doctor, his face a mask of concern.
‘He is. I can see him right now, watching us.’ Michael looks with darting eyes towards a large veranda style window. Small beads of sweat catch in the light as they trickle down his forehead.
The doctor turns towards the window to follow his patient’s gaze. But there is no-one there. He notices an autumn wind tugging brown leaves from the trees and lulling them in spirals to the ground. The doctor watches a leaf as if falls. Then, as if coming out of a day-dream abruptly says, ‘Do you mean in this room here, with us right now?’
‘Yes! I haven’t seen him for years. And now he’s back.’
‘Please,’ says the doctor turning away from the window, ‘tell me a little about him.’
‘When I first noticed him, this time I mean, I felt... I felt... sick, with fear. As if he was coming back from my childhood to get me. As if, after all these years, he’d found me.’
‘So you first saw him when you were a child?’
‘Yes. We all had our childhood fantasies didn’t we? Things we imagined to be true, things we wanted to be true.”
‘Yes, a child’s imagination can be very vivid.’
There is a pause and Michael realises he has no choice but to continue. Or sit in silence again.
‘My sister swore she knew a man that lived under the stairs. I used to open the door that was underneath and call, “Come out... Come out and play with me,” in a nasty sing-song voice until she began to cry.’
‘Please tell me more,’ the doctor says in a soft, encouraging tone.
‘Then there was my best friend, Paul. He would pin me to the floor and start to hit me if I laughed when he told me about his secret brother who lived in his father’s attic. He made me stay up late one night so we could hear him scraping about upstairs above us.
‘And this was about the time when you started to see this person you mention?’
‘Well, yes and no...’
‘Please, go on.’
‘I was jealous you see. I wanted a secret friend of my own. So I invented him.’
‘So you knew he didn’t really exist?’
‘At first I suppose I didn’t. I wanted him to exist. And then one day he stepped out from behind the curtain and there he was.’
‘Were you at all surprised?’
‘Did he say anything?’
‘Yes. He told me to pour boiling water over my dog.’
‘And did you?’
‘Yes, I think I did.’
‘And is he asking you to do anything now?’
‘I see. Would you like to tell me about it?’
Michael hesitates for a moment. A pained expression appears on his face. Finally he reaches under the jacket on his lap to grip the handle of a knife. He produces it slowly from under the doctor’s desk. ‘I’m sorry,’ he says, ‘ it’s nothing personal. He doesn’t like you. He says you’re trying to destroy him. So I have to kill you.’
The doctor flinches in his seat for a second. Then, recovering a little of his professional composure, he asks, ‘So, you don’t feel you have a choice in this?’
As he speaks he watches Michael’s hand rise, the knife as imaginary as the man behind the curtain.
Copyright © 2006 by Sam Morris