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Matteo, turned sixteen a few days ago, throws himself out of the window and kills himself. A tragic news like many, destined to go unnoticed, if Morris Bain didn't attend the boy's funeral. A rock legend, on the wave for twenty years, Morris has always lived a dissolute life, including women, alcohol and drugs. It's inevitable that his presence pushes journalists to make the most absurd assumptions, especially after the discovery that the boy was adopted. Chester, once Matteo's best friend, knows that Morris can not be his father, so he finds the courage to face the man. They are both looking for the same thing: a reason that can explain that suicide. Thus begins a long night, where they will try to recompose the puzzle, drawing on their memories. The story of Matteo comes to life: a boy, looking for his Roots. A guy who months ago disappeared for three days, returning completely changed. Three magical days that only Morris can fill, because he has lived them with him.
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Illusion Novel # 4
Original title: Radici
Translated by Wilo Guitarz
© 2018 Illusion
© 2017 Stefano Pastor
Graphics: Angela M.
All rights reserved
The heart palpitated wildly, submerging the audience in red light. An immense tide of heads that seemed to float in a purple lake. Only eighty thousand, Val had said, he considered it a defeat.
It was there, the pulsating heart, in the giant screen behind him. Morris Bain was into it, his voice imitating the beats, with words more and more syncopated, whispering. He seemed to swallow the microphone, so near he had put it to the lips.
He was entirely in that scarlet light, his black leather clothes reflected it like a mirror, and it seemed to nourish him. The raven black hair fell on his shoulders, like crow-wings, untamed. From a distance, he still looked like a boy. The illusion held as long as they did not see his face. Then it was his smallness to strike the eye and the extreme thinness. 45 kilos, he had lost two more but hadn’t told Val this. It would have pissed him off.
He loved to make him angry; it had once been his favorite pastime.
The painted eyes seemed to rise from a well. His face was the only part of his body with tattoos. He once liked to show it off, but now the youth was gone. And he also had too much to hide; a dissolute life that had consumed him.
He was still number one, the biggest.
43 years old, 22 of career, 19 records recorded. It was infinity of singles. An entire room to keep his prizes. A huge room. Nothing. Only a beating heart, nothing else.
He stepped forward. Alan, the drummer, hit the wrong note, but nobody noticed. He had understood. He got even closer to the edge as the song became softer, before the big finale.
The stage was always the same, for many years it had never changed. It had become a distinctive feature of the band. Long, oval-shaped, it ended with a protuberance to the audience. It jutted out so much it allowed him to go beyond the controlled perimeter and find himself above the fans. They had compared it to a skull jaw, but for Morris, it was much more. For him, it was the trampoline.
The heart stopped, with a last deafening beat. A few moments of absolute silence. Even the audience didn’t dare to breathe. Then the last verse. Four sentences screamed at the maximum power without any accompaniment.
The others understood, but couldn’t stop him. Rick unplugged the electric guitar; he was so pissed that he was about to blow it down to the ground to break it. Elden turned to look for Val behind the scenes.
Morris saw nothing, though it was easy to imagine what their reaction would be. He ran towards the nothingness, still shouting the last words of the song. He arrived at the edge, and when everyone was sure he’d throw himself, he stopped.
He turned to the stage, smiling at the band. He saw that Val had also come; it was unprecedented since he hated the cameras.
The heart was switched off; it was dead. The whole stage wrapped in an electric blue light that reflected in the black leather he was wearing. He stretched out his arms, crucified, and stepped back.
Everyone was holding their breath. When he let go, a boom broke out.
Three meters separated the stage from the audience. Morris had not looked; he never looked; whether there was someone ready to welcome him, whether it wasn’t a leap into nothingness. He fell on his back; his eyes fixed on the sky. There were no stars; he could not see them, too many lights had polluted the celestial vault.
It lasted two seconds. Two seconds during which he felt good, as he never did. Two seconds in which all his problems disappeared, and he found peace. Then there was the impact.
A solid mass, moving. Many hands were trying to support him. It wasn’t difficult, as light as he was. He disappeared into that mass, sucked, and immediately he was raised. His breath was gone, the silence was gone. The bones crumpled, some grabs were too strong. He abandoned himself, floating in that living sea.
The song went on, but this time they were the ones singing, his audience. The tide took him away.
Not to the stage, he was in the center of the stadium. They were passing him among themselves; he was sliding into that stormy sea. The inevitable happened: his shirt was torn off, he found himself half naked. Someone had not resisted the opportunity to take a trophy. He didn’t care; they could strip him naked.
He could die like that. He wanted to die like that. He didn’t feel anything anymore. His heart could stop at the moment, like the one on the screen, and it would make no difference. No one would notice it; they would carry a dead body. Or they would tear it apart, tearing off shreds of meat like they did with his clothes. And in the end, there would be nothing left of him. What epilogue would be more perfect?
He believed the time had come. The end of everything. He heard Val screaming; he was on the edge of the stage and shouted like a madman. “Bring him back here! Morris, you’ll pay for this!”
Instead, he was moving further away, navigating in deeper waters. Even the spotlights did not light him anymore; they had lost him, he was deep in the darkness. Only their hands remained, which supported him and touched him everywhere. There were hands of all kinds. Adoring, hungry, gentle. Angry, sturdy, brave. Anxious and desperate.
Made of meat, not ash. In those hands, he would melt until he became dust.
He closed her eyes and sank. The tide swallowed him.
It wasn’t death who welcomed him, but hugs. There were girls, many girls from all over, and they all wanted to hold him. Kiss him. So young they could be his daughters, but it made no difference. For them, it didn’t.
He let that pass, too, it could bleed him dry, deprive him of life. Turn him in a dried trunk. But it still wasn’t enough; nothing had changed.
The paramedics checked him. It had been useless to fight it, Val was inflexible.
He was right; there were new scratches and bruises on his body, a severe injury on his side, due to the fall.
But worse of all now his body was exposed.
He could see Val frowning. “Did you lose more weight?”
“I’m 47, as usual”, he lied.
In full light, the illusion ceased. His skin looked more like a tree bark that smoked boys had filled with graffiti. It was dry, dehydrated, and dead. Morris never sweated.
“Never do it again! Never again! I thought we had agreed on this!”
Now would come the usual telling-off. He could have avoided it, but it was Val’s job to take care of him, the golden eggs hen.
“You are not twenty anymore, don’t you know it? This bullshit is a thing of the past; you can’t afford it! Your body cannot do it! You’re a ruin; can you accept it once and for all?”
Val was aging worse. He was only five years older than him, but he already looked like sixty years old. Balding, with twenty kilos too many. The long Elvis sideburns, a constant smell of cigars that he could no longer hide.
“I’ll change that stage; it’s time to finish it!”
Did he realize he wasn’t listening to him? That he could hear nothing, not even the paramedics who were examining him? The guys from the band, who knew him well, had already put themselves aside. They knew they didn’t count for anything. Only Val was immune to everything; he was positive he had who knows what privilege. But if he could do it, it was because he let him.
“What do you have to tell me?”
One moment of hesitation, but he had betrayed himself. “What are you saying?”
“What do you have to tell me that you don’t want to say to me? What are you hiding from me?”
They knew each other too well. Val was terrible at poker; always exposed. “You’re changing the subject.”
Morris raised his voice. “I want to know why you’re all strange. What do you know I am not sure? What are you hiding from me?”
This time he frowned. “No, it’s just…”
“From before I went on stage. What’s wrong?”
He shook his head, on edge. “What makes you think we’re hiding something?”
It wasn’t like him to retreat so quickly; it had to be a serious matter.
“Have they canceled any concert? Do you think I care?”
“No, no, it’s all right. You are always very in demand.”
It wasn’t true. The turnover was no longer the same. But he was always on the ridge of the wave; he knew that.
“That’s why you behaved recklessly?”
“It’s not that; I always did”, Morris snorted.
“Twenty years ago! You could do it then! Times have changed, even if you try to hide it.”
He had found the strength, but he was evading the subject. “What happened?”
Val preferred to turn to the others. “Do you mind leaving us alone?”
Behind the scenes, they were too many people. It was just the back of the stage; they were in the open. They were still dismantling tools and scenarios. There were technicians, phonics, musicians, and many strangers. That request was absurd.
“Let’s get out of here”, Morris decided.
Val would have preferred not to face him alone. Indeed, he would have liked to be somewhere else; it was on his face.
Morris didn’t wait, he jumped off the stage, and simulating agility he hadn’t anymore, and headed to the trailer reserved for him. It was ten meters long, and it was also his changing room.
He didn’t wait for Val to reach him, he began to undress. There was no one helping him. No more, he had made several runs away. He avoided the mirrors, but there were too many. He didn’t want to see that face so rotten, devastated by age.
“Two chicks can't wait to meet you. High-quality goods. Lucky you.”
Pretending again was absurd. “I don’t care.”
“Because you haven’t seen them. They must be barely legal and adore you. They would do everything to know you.”
He being the procurer was inconceivable.
“I won’t get angry, I swear.”
He raised an eyebrow.
“Whatever the problem is, I won’t get angry. I don’t want to get angry anymore.”
The mask collapsed. “You say it now, but it’s not true.”
“What did you do?”
“I did nothing, but you’ll still be angry at me. That’s all you do.”
“Not this time.”
“That’s what you always say.”
“Is it so serious?”
Morris wondered what could have happened. Was one of his parents dead? For the last twenty years, he’d had no relationship with them; he couldn’t care any less. One of his wives, then. He’d already collected four of them, but he wouldn’t have shed a tear even if a shark had eaten them all. What in the world could still be capable of hurting him?
He started from afar. “I thought about not telling you, but then it would be worse. I just wanted the concert to end; I couldn’t get you agitated before. I would have told you anyway.”
He believed him. “Now it’s over talk.”
He passed a hand over his eyes. “I can’t; it’s too hard.”
Val was suffering, and that was impossible. If it wasn’t his parents or his wives, it must be somebody else. Somebody they both knew. That had worked with them since he was certain of it.
He had helped him out. Val shook his head again, and then said it all with a breath. “The boy. The boy died.”
Morris was sure that nothing could hit him anymore that his heart turned off forever. Instead, he felt it beat, stronger than ever. “It’s impossible”, he murmured.
“You don’t know how much I wish they were wrong, but it did happen. The boy is dead.”
How old was he? Fifteen? Sixteen from a few days? How could you die at that age? It was almost funny that it had happened to him. “When did it happen?”
He stiffened. “Two days ago. But don’t get angry, I just learned about it right now. They called me in the afternoon.”
Morris could not even get angry. The void came back, this time more absolute than ever. Dead and buried, even that moment of life had disappeared.
“He was okay; he wasn’t sick. How did he die? Was it an accident?”
Val paled, his double chin wobbled like every time he was about to lie.
Morris wanted to intimidate him, but unfortunately, Val was over twenty centimeters taller, he felt like David in front of Goliath. “Don’t lie to me”, he intimated.
He didn’t, even though he was sure that it would be a death sentence. “He killed himself.”
The smile was spontaneous; there was no way to hide it. “You are making a fun of me.”
“You don’t know how much I wish I hadn’t said it, but it would have been useless, sooner or later you would have found out the same, and it would have been worse.”
Nothing could be worse; Morris started screaming. “He can’t have killed himself; I don’t believe it!”
“He did it, I swear to you. He threw himself out of the window. He did it in front of his parents.”
Another shot from which it was impossible to recover. “He threw himself out of the window?”
“He flew down, four floors. There was nothing to do. On arrival at the hospital, he was already dead.”
His heart was also fading. It was rotting; even the worms refused it. Nothingness had ever been this horrible. “Flew through the window”, he repeated.
“That’s how it went. I checked I didn’t want to believe it either.”
“And you were right! He can’t have killed himself! Not that way!”
“Why? Why would he have done it?”
“He had me! Whatever problem he had I was here! He knew he could count on me!”
Val shook his head. “He’d changed. They said he’d changed.”
He felt pain, more than for that senseless death. “What do you mean changed?”
“I don’t know. His grade worsened; he was with strange people, he could no longer integrate. He had begun to do drugs, they say.”
“This is nonsense.”
“I think it’s true, though.”
Anger exploded. “Why wasn’t I informed then?”
He lowered his head. “It’s my fault. We underestimated the problem. They all did.”
He was resigned to the inevitable, and in fact, Morris crumbled. “It was me? It’s my fault?”
“No! What nonsense are you talking about!”
But it was just so, he was certain. He met his reflected face and was disgusted. Even that he had destroyed, the only thing that counted. He fell into a bottomless abyss.
“Cancel the other dates.”
That was the consequence he had foreseen. “Don’t you think you’re rushing too much? We can move the 15th concert if you like. Then we will decide.”
Could he not understand? He knew him well. “Find another singer.”
He wasn’t expecting. “What the fuck are you talking about?”
“You’ve heard me very well.”
“There is no other singer! You are the Xanadu! The others don’t count, you know it very well. We’ve changed hundreds of them in these years. They’re nothing.”
“That’s enough! If you do not want to find anyone, let’s finish it here.”
“You’re not thinking. At this time you can’t think.”
Morris grabbed him by the cuffs of his jacket. “You’re not thinking! If you think I can continue, you haven’t understood anything! It’s over, do you get it? Nothing left! If the boy killed himself, there’s nothing left to do!”
He’d understood it well, actually, but he refused to accept it. “There must be a solution.”
Which one it was he knew very well. He became even paler. “You can’t be serious.”
It wasn’t just the money, it wasn’t the power, for some strange reason Val was fond of him. “You have to react. Accept what happened.”
Accept that death? It was impossible. He shook his head without anger. “No! He can’t have done that! Not that way!”
Val clung to this, as there was nothing else left. “We could go to the funeral. Hear his friends. Understand why it happened.”
Morris had taken it for granted that it had already happened. “Have they not buried him yet?”
“Tomorrow morning. We still have time to take a plane.”
Go to his funeral? Wouldn’t it be worse? But what could be worse than nothing? The end was only one, why postpone it?
Val’s voice was almost pleading. “It could do you well to know his parents. Talk with them. Maybe it would help.”
Nobody could help. Not anymore.
“I can arrange everything.”
“You’re not coming.”
He jumped. “But I…”
“You’re not coming. Nobody’s coming. I’m going alone.”
He had assumed a greyish color. “It’s too dangerous.”
“What could they do, kill me?” cried, Morris. “Break me into pieces, bleed me out? Kidnap me?”
Val knew well that he had only one enemy, the one he was facing every time he saw himself in a mirror. “You cannot do it alone.”
“I cannot do it at all! If the boy killed himself, I could not do it.”
Here, he’d said it. A death sentence. His. He did more; he opened up as he had never done before. Not with Val. “He was the only life I had left. If I still live it’s just for him. And now he’s no more. What else should I be afraid of?”
Val realized he could no longer help. He’s known that for a long time. He was inadequate. Only the boy had given him hope, but now that had vanished too. It was a farewell; he would never see him again.
He did something new, never happened before. He hugged Morris. He was a twig, a dry trunk, making him feel even more like a pachyderm. Morris didn’t resist, but he didn’t hug back either.
Val broke off with embarrassment. “I’m going to book you the plane, then.”
The moment came, and Morris found himself alone. Completely alone. An absolute void. There were only those cursed mirrors to laugh at him. He spat at the image.
“You killed him, killed him!” he shouted. “You killed him!”
It was sunny. Light, but not enough. Dawn or a little after. Too soon.
“No!” he moaned, trying not to wake up completely. “There’s no school today, let me sleep.”
She had been waiting for that comment, so the mother didn’t lose heart. “There’s no school because it’s Matteo’s funeral. You have to go too.”
He squeezed his eyes. “He kicked the bucket, what’s the point?”
“Do I have to tell you?”
“Yes, try it. Convince me that am the right thing.”
She did. “You’re going because he was your best friend. Now you feel betrayed, I know. You can’t forgive what he’s done, but the day will come when you’ll regret not having been there. I don’t want it to happen.”
“It’s not enough.”
“Then go there because I say it. In this house you’re only a guest, I’m the one who supports you. When you can live alone, you’ll do what you want, but until then you have to obey.”
He raised an eyelid. “Huh?”
“Try to dress in a decent way, for once. It’s a funeral; after all, there’ll be the whole city.”
“There will be no one”, the boy muttered. “He made everyone hate him.”
“Blessed innocence!” sighed her mother. “Of course they’ll all be there. They even suspended the lessons. You know nothing at all of life; it’s useless that you pretend to be tough.”
Now he was awake; it was useless to pretend. He lifted the blankets and sat down. “Why do you care? What does it matter if I go or not?”
“I just told you.”
“And you’re wrong. That’s just a coffin. My presence is useless. There may be the whole city, and it won’t change anything.”
“I know, but you’re going.”
“To not make you ashamed?”
“I don’t want people accusing you of being an asshole. You are my son, after all.”
He faced her gaze. “Matteo was the asshole.”
She sighed, it was impossible to fool her, he never could. “You loved him so much? Is that what you’re afraid of now, of breaking down?”
He stiffened, not to cry. It shouldn’t have happened, for any reason. “Can you go? I have to dress.”
“Lena called; she’ll come and get you. At nine, I told her.”
There was plenty of time to shower, even to cry, water would wash every proof away anyway.
“What an asshole! I have to pretend for that asshole now.”
That wasn’t fun; the woman was upset. More, worried, even though she was trying to hide it. She was strangely looking at him, which he did not like at all.
“Stop it!” he ordered abruptly.
She melted a little, and the shadow of a smile appeared. “I didn’t say anything.”
“I’m not a jerk. I won’t jump out of a window, me!”
He had centered the problem. “I hope so.”
“So stop it, all of you, stop treating us like fragile goods. We won’t break.”
They’d thought that about Matteo too, but it had happened. She sighed. “Since you won’t break it, wash that shitty hair of yours. And don’t believe you can run away from the back, I want to do an inspection first. Doesn’t dress like a trump; I’m tired of being ashamed of you.”
He showered but didn’t get his hair wet. He’d almost finished the gel, and the tyrant refused to buy more of it. Whether she liked it or not, that crest was his pride. A crown.
He cried, too. He vented. Then he washed his face to hide it. He could do it, a couple of hours, and even that nightmare would end.
Matteo had thrown himself out of the window.
How could he not feel guilty? He’d not been there.
But it’d been Matteo to send him away, to not want him anymore. Was it so? Or his was just a cry for help he hadn’t been able to hear?
No. Matteo had acted like an asshole, and that was all. He had been missing when he’d needed him the most. There was no fault, not on his part.
It didn’t matter; it was over. It was no longer possible to recompose that fracture. It was over, and it had ended badly.
No, no more tears. He didn’t want to wash again.
Lena could not handle funerals. Lena was Lena, and that was all. She’d taken Matteo’s place, after all. He was inspired by her, clinging to her strength.
And she was powerful. She didn’t care about what others thought, she always went her way. And if someone dared criticize her, she knew how to retaliate.
He couldn’t do it yet, but perhaps continuing to go out with her would help him take that last step.
Round glasses and hair divided into braids. She’d had some fun coloring some of them. She always chose flashy colors like orange or apple green. Occasionally, when she was in a dark mood, even purple.
Chester couldn’t understand why his mother liked her; she wasn’t the prototype of the model student. But maybe that was not what she was looking for, but someone who could straighten him. Order him around if necessary. And in this Lena did well.
She arrived ten minutes late as usual and prevented any objections. “He won’t run away, don’t worry.”
They’d been ready for a while. “Are you coming too?” He was forced to ask his mother, even if he didn’t want to.
She was magnanimous. “Not with you. We’ll meet at the church. Try not to miss it, or you’ll get me angry.”
He didn’t intend to do so; even that was a form of atonement.
Two minutes later they found themselves in the street alone.
“How are you feeling?” Lena asked.
He didn’t need to lie to her. But there were things he couldn’t share. Only Matteo had that power. “I feel like shit. But it’s almost over.”
“I didn’t know him. That is, I cannot say I knew him. Yes, I saw him around; I must have spoken to him sometimes, too. But nothing more. It’s different with you.”
“It was”, Chester admitted. “I didn’t even know him anymore.”
“But you miss him.”
He took a long sigh. “How do you throw yourself out of a window?”
She took the question seriously. “It’s easy. Much easier than in any other way. You can cut your wrists, but those who do it don’t want to die. No, falling out of the window is definitive. Even if you survive, you develop a disability. It’s really about destroying oneself.”
“If you’re asking me why he did it, I just don’t know. But I can tell you it’s immediate. A decision taken at the moment, not studied. So whatever the reason, it may be that five minutes before, or five minutes later, it wouldn’t have happened. It was the time and the occasion. And courage. Because it takes courage, don’t listen to those idiots who consider them cowards. To own your destiny, to decide for your own life. Yes, great courage.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Are you sure you knew him so well?”
He was no longer sure of anything. Maybe it was Matteo who know him. He just leaned on him, and that was enough. He hadn’t been able to give him anything.
“You’re not thinking of emulating him, I hope!”
He shrugged. “I’m not reckless. I don’t have all that courage.”
“Me neither”, she admitted, and then looked for a lighter topic. “Are we going to Andy too later? They’ll all get together there.”
It was not a surprise that they’d arrive in time, in fact, the Mass had already begun. There was half the city, and the church wasn’t able to contain everyone. Hundreds of people were outside, waiting for the coffin to go out.
Chester couldn’t. “If she doesn’t see me, who’s gonna hear about it tonight?”
Lena was bright enough to make her way in; she used an effective but embarrassing method. “Sorry, we just have to go in. He’s his best friend. Sorry.”
She tore through the crowd like an ice-breaker and reached the entrance of the church. Chester had his cheeks burning but didn’t dare say anything.
They went inside, but there was no way to go further. All the seats had occupants, and at least two hundred other people were standing there.
They managed to overcome the rush just in time. His mother, from the first rows, turned to look for him. Their eyes crossed for a moment and she relaxed. He didn’t even nod and looked back at the altar.
Lena had noticed. “Tonight you won’t miss dinner.”
He hated being there; he just wanted to flee. The pastor was talking, praising Matteo, without even having known him. Wasn’t suicide a deadly sin? Not when it’s a kid that does it.
“Can we go?”
Lena jerked. “No! What’s the matter with you?”
“We’re here. It should be enough.”
“There are his parents, look. They’ll say something now.”
He shook his head. “They didn’t know him. He never confided in them.”
“Do you want to say something? They’ll let you do it if you ask.”
“Say what? That he was an asshole? That what he did is bullshit?”
“You can’t judge.”
“I want to judge! He’s gone, and I’m here!”
She grimaced. “Yes, it’s better if you don’t say anything.”
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