Martin Blackwood has memories from his youth.
There are things- young and gleaming echoes of screaming matches in the kitchen, an empty place at the dinner table, and the bellows of a woman scorned. He remembers so many doctor's visits and words thrown around- chronic and home care, persistent and terminal. His father's face is obscured from his mind but he knows, deep down, there is no expression.
It is only when he is seven is when the bottles begin to appear. Orange pill bottles and dark green wine bottles. They stayed empty for days and weeks on end- and Martin soon began the task of throwing the bottles of Pinot Noir out and refilling the bottles of Dexamethasone. It became a part of his routine, a part of his life- if nobody else was going to do it, he would.
His father walks out, two days after his 9th birthday-- and there has never been a silence louder than the one he left behind. He tries to speak, tries to fill that space left empty and vacant and howling with loneliness-
His mother only stares. Eyes like sea glass. Broken. Empty.
He's eleven when she trips. Break her arm in two places. She's put off from work for a few weeks- can't really type with a fractured arm, now can she? But it's what the doctors say- foreign nonsense about immunities and repeat occurrences.
Which means more medication.
Martin does what he can. Saves up money from recycled cans, skips out on lunch once, twice, thrice. To save, to make sure that she can be alright in the end. He wants to try- to care, to be there for her.
When his father wasn’t.
He learns how to cook for the both of them- when she comes home fatigued and weary, there’s a plate of food warm for her. At first, it tastes rancid- downright inedible and her screams proved his thoughts right. The chicken was raw, the pasta was mush, and her bottle grew empty by the end of the night.
He improves over the years. With each improving dish, however, the other end of the table stayed cold. The plates were untouched and yet the corkscrew lay on the counter every night. The pill bottles stayed half-empty, too.
He made his own birthday cake that year. Thirteen years old and nobody to celebrate with.
Fourteen comes and he doesn’t even bother with a cake. Just a small underbaked scone.
At fifteen and sixteen, he’s busy working to even remember the date.
On the eve of his seventeenth, she falls ill. She doesn’t even bother to leave her bed, only lying silently in the dark of her musty room- alone in the unkempt mess of her room. He tries everything- opening the windows, speaking to her, even trying to lure her out with food.
But there’s nothing.
Martin drops out of school a month later. He picks up working at his local grocer’s full-time, along with a night shift as a dishwasher. Keeping an eye on his savings and his mother’s condition.
She’s done it before, he remembers thinking, late one night as the blisters on his feet hum their painful melody. She can get better again soon.
His mother doesn’t recover.
It’s hard for her to get up. Harder for her to look him in the eye. So, he’s there for her. Feeds her, bathes her, makes sure the pills get washed down on time. All while his hands ache from scrubbing and stocking, scrubbing and stocking.
It’s all for her. He tells himself, even as she never once says his name. Doesn’t even bother glancing his way. Those sea glass eyes- always broken, always empty.
It’s all for her. No more corks, no more glasses- just orange bottles and silence. A house left dusty, the pictures face-down.
It’s all for her. Caring, when nobody else would. Caring, even when it felt worthless.
It’s all for her.
There’s a point when he’s twenty-two and nothing more than an empty shell of a man. All those years of working and laboring and caring- it all stopped the moment she spoke.
“What sick sort of pleasure do you get from this? Why won’t you leave me to die, Brandon?”
He- he stops. Halfway through stirring the pot of soup. Martin’s hands shake, wrapped around the spoon in a death grip. There is iron in his mouth and white-hot tears behind his eyes. His father’s name rings in his ears like a war siren and yet- and yet-
His mother stares at the back of his head as if there was no difference between the bastard who left and the boy before her.
It takes him some time- moments of quiet sobs and pamphlets and two weeks’ notices. The Magnus Institute in London calls him in for an interview and he just can’t quite say no-
The care home in Devon is pleasant enough, the workers more than sympathetic at his plight-
We understand, they crooned, Caring for them is hard enough.
She doesn’t look back when Martin leaves her there.
She never looked back. Not now. Not ever.
And yet, he still loves her. And that’s what matters.
London becomes his home for the next seven years. And he finds a place slotted in the cracks of the Library. There’s always a flowing crowd in and out of the Library but Martin stayed. Until that promotion to Archival Assistant came out of the blue. Just couldn’t really say no to that one, either.
He meets Tim, a light in his bleak life and the two get along like a house on fire. Then 2016 rolls around and Sasha joins the duo, making him the happiest he’s been in years and-
Jonathan Sims is a distant, cold, and otherwise harsh man. But something about him lures Martin in- perhaps it’s the glimpses of something more beneath his exterior or maybe it’s just his own idiocracy.
Loving Jonathan Sims is a fool’s errand. Especially when said Jonathan Sims hates him.
Someone has to care about him, though.
If nobody else was going to do it, he would.