• Rony Alfandary

The Coffin

"You're inside now", said the little boy as he climbed over the sleepy man, mounting him and getting a firm grip with his little legs around the lying figure.

"where am u?" the man groaned, still half asleep.

"Inside a coffin".

Next to them, she gasped. She didn't like the implicit message. Why should her son want to bury the man she loves?

The man was fully awake now. "what color is the coffin?"

"Black".

"what is it made of?"

"wood. Normal wood. But it's painted with black.”


The coffin was slowly taking its shape among the other shapes in the room as the morning light struggled to filter through the thick drawn curtains, outlining the scene, allowing them the security of the darkness for playing on.


At other times the boy stood out in the garden and watched the man hug and kiss his mother. Why was she never so soft to him? He never saw her melt with pleasure as in the arms of that man. Why? It wasn't fair. He secretly cursed and wished hard the man would go away. Now that he saw what hugs and kisses his mum was capable of, he wanted her to keep them for himself. Later, he got even more confused as she came towards him with that huge grin on her face, and he knew it wasn't him she was going to lift up in the air, although it was his body she was holding. Every touch was tainted from that one with the man's smell and that image from out in the garden when she and the man were holding each other so and he was left to be watching and be fed with the crumbs later.


The light was getting stronger. You could begin to see the pupils in her eyes. But inside the coffin it was still dark. They were negotiating the terms of the imprisonment now. It was cold.


"How long do I have to stay here?"

"Forever and ever. Always."

He knew that he had to keep all the why's which were racing through his mind to himself. This was no time for weakness.


"I see. And there is no way out, is there?"

"No."

"What about any possibilities of escape?"

"You can't escape"/

"How can you stop me?"

"I won't let you. I will stay here and look after you so you don't escape. Ever."


The little boy was frightened. He didn't think it would be so easy. All he had done was sit on top of the coffin-man and he was handed over the reins. He braced himself; he knew there would be a sudden, strong tug and he could loss his control. There must be a tug at some point.


"And what am I going to do about food?"

"Nothing".

"You mean that I won't have any?"

"Yes".

"But how will I survive?"

"You've got to give him something, don't you think? It'll only be fair. " Her voice was calmer.

"I promise I won't try to escape."

Silence.

"Do you really mean that?"

"Mean what?"

"You won't try to escape?"

'Only if you let me have something to eat?"

"Okay then. You can a little bit of my supper."

"What will you be having?"

"I'll be having a roast dinner. Everyday a roast dinner. It's my favorite food. We have a roast dinner at daddy's. I will give you a few chips, if you want."

"It's eight o'clock. We should be up by now. You need to get up and get dressed and go to school."

(Do you know what it is like to grow up in a house full of fear? To be lying in bed, it must be at least midnight, and then the parents come back from somewhere, the pub probably, and they are both reeling from the drink, and he wants to eat and she can't be bothered and everything is loud and sharp, like nervous wind that makes the curtain go all funny suddenly, and my heart goes boom boom boom, and I lie there hoping that this time it will be over quickly, that he won't do it, he won't begin to shout like that at her, and that she won't slam the door like that, that I can go back to sleep and not feel all trembly inside every time the light from under the door is shadowed by his or her figure. If they will only make it different tonight, just this once, then I know that it will be different in the morning, I will be up on time, and I will dress quickly and brush my teeth and do everything right, if only it would be different tonight.)


Other things he said: you have to keep quiet if you want to eat. He will have a roast dinner every day while the man can only a have a chip or two if he keeps quiet. If he keeps quiet for a long enough he can have a miso soup - the man's favorite breakfast. The coffin is big as bed and has 3 sockets in it. If you touch one of them you die. The others are less dangerous. You can never get out at first but then if you can bite the spider's feet you can come out. The man wants to go to work but the boy thinks it is not important. What's important is the man stays un the coffin and the boy on top of it.


"I want you to die" the boy to his sister.


She looks at him across the breakfast table with eyes that are beginning to loss their childhood innocence. She is forced by his reluctance to meet her eyes to take his words seriously. No, she has no reason to fear him, after all, he is still three years younger and she could overpower him easily, but the intention is there, the seeds of the hatred budding and threatening to bloom its hideous petals.


Later, as she passes him on the way to get her coat, she hits him lightly on his shoulder, as he is held by his mum who is doing up his jacket.


"Almost the whole family is here" the little boy"

"who is missing?"

"Daddy"

Then follows a convulsed embarrassed exchange between the adults, trying to justify that the daddy's absence was not such a big deal. Nevertheless, the boy, who was fast learning his role as a man, has expressed his needs, his demand, his resolution not to be happy in this incomplete family, where his daddy is forever missing, and no substitute will ever do. His dad will be there on the side line to remind him, twice a week at least, that he for his part would like to come back to his family and that it is the mother who is the obstacle.


1985




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