a song of six and pence

Sing a song of sixpence
— of six and pence and pence and six —
sing a song my darling, that will do the trick
sing a song and line your pockets all full of rye
sing a song my darling, hush now, do not cry
fools are the only ones to die

He does not want to go to church on Sunday morning; his mother boxes his ears once and speaks to him sternly, but she takes pity on his pale face and shivering hands, and tucks him in with a kiss to the forehead before she goes. He can’t rest, though; he lies curled on his side and feels oddly restless. It’s like there is something inside of him that’s trying to crawl out, and his skin’s too small for it, his body’s too weak — there should be more of him, he thinks dimly, another-him for he excess to spill into.

When his mother returns home, he hides under his blankets and pretends to be asleep when she checks in on him. She touches his head with one cool hand and says a brief prayer. He feels guilty, because he knows she worries, he knows she cares — with his father two months in the grave and the creditors watching with hungry eyes for the first sign of weakness, he shouldn’t be adding to her burdens, but — ah, he’s sick, he’s tired, and there’s not enough of him for this.

Eventually he stops pretending and does sleep. Someone else’s hand is in his, fitting easily as a missing piece, and the restless twist in his stomach is finally relaxed. Fire blooms red and hot all around, but he’s unafraid because he’s no longer alone, he’s never alone; when he turns he can see a knifesharp grin and a shock of dark hair, and there’s another hand ruffling his hair to a mess. A giggle rises from his throat, sharper and higher than any sound he’s made in his life, heeheehee, and his other laughs too and he thinks it’s a beautiful sound, a perfect sound and

he wakes retching from pain; his head feels like it’s going to split in half. His mother comes running in, and she holds him close even though he’s already fifteen, already supposed to be a man, and he sobs because it hurts, it hurts, and his mother is singing lullabies to him and rocking him and it feels wrong. This is not the person he wants beside him, it’s not right and he reacts against it, shoving his arms out hard to knock the impostor away. She hits the floor with a cry and says his name, and that snaps him back to the waking world.

They stare at each other. Apologies bubble up in his throat and dash themselves to silence against his teeth. His mother picks herself up with dignity. We will talk about this later, she says, and he looks down. He can’t make himself look in her face, because even now, something is wrong about it.

Morning comes; morning goes. They don’t talk. He drifts through the days listlessly; it feels like his apathy could suffocate him. He skips dinner just to avoid his mother’s pinched face and skips straight to dreams. He’s so relieved at the hand in his that he cries again; the other laughs, and roughly dries his face with part of a sleeve. We’ll kill them all, let’s play, the other says, and he finds himself laughing as well, as the world freezes to ice and the only real thing is himself and the other, and their breath turning misty-white in the cold air.

He wakes crying again, but manages to keep it quiet; his mother does not come for him.

Two Sundays later, there is knocking at the door.

He goes to answer it, and the pastor is there, recoiling at the sight of him. He doesn’t know why; red is a good color, isn’t it? Even when it starts to fade to brown, it’s nice. It’s nice, it’s nice, but the pastor is screaming now, pointing and screaming and his voice is sharp and ugly and full of words like monster and abomination and God deliver her poor soul and he won’t. Shut. Up. It’s important that everything is quiet — he’s waiting, he’s trying to be patient; he has to be good, or else his other might not be able to find him. He took the woman’s needle and thread and tried to set an example to her — shh, shh, they must stay very quiet, seal the lips and everything but she still kept screaming and it’s drowning out all other noise. He can’t be found this way, and he’s tired of being alone, he’s so lonely it hurts, and that woman has been quiet for weeks now, so quiet, and that’s been good, that’s been right, but the pastor WON’T SHUT UP–

(sing a song of sixpence, of six and pence and pence and six)

“Shit,” says the other from behind him, and then there is weight on his shoulders and against his back. It feels like something sliding exactly into place; he straightens automatically and leans his own head back. “You really went all out. Wait for me next time, that’s no fucking fair.”

He moves his lips. They hurt a little; they’re stiff and they taste like dust and blood, and he has to remember how to make his voice work. “They were noisy, heee.”

“They’re no good,” his other says confidently. “You knew that already, but it’s true. Fuckers.” The hand in his hair lets go, and fingers wrap with his own, and unlike his dream, this is real. This is true. This is all that matters.

“Let’s go,” he says to himself, and the smile on his face stretches the skin till there is fresh blood on his tongue, but that doesn’t matter: he isn’t alone. He’ll never be alone, forevermore.

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