‘The bad son’ by Belinda Coleman
‘The bad son’ by student Belinda Coleman was developed in Short Form Fiction in 2022.
It takes a particularly bad son to lie to his mother. Every day. For half a year.
I was such a son.
It all started when we moved. New house, new city, new school.
The new house was okay. It didn’t bother me that my room was a funny shape, and I didn’t care about the orange feature wall or the pink bathroom.
I wasn’t lying when I said I didn’t mind moving cities. She still let me ride my bike on my own – a freedom I had just earned on my twelfth birthday, and I soon explored enough to know my corner of this new city. My city.
I loved that city.
And I did like my new school – mostly.
r’ d’ r
On the drive to school the first day, my mother handed me a silver-embossed box and told me to open it. Because I’d been ‘so helpful with the move’.
It was a gorgeous Rubik’s cube, far better than the one I’d been saving up for. This one had rounded corners, and pretty colours. It spun like skates over ice, and whispered softly to me like a friend.
I said ‘thank you so much mum’ and I wasn’t lying.
The first chance I got, I found the page where I’d written out the algorithm, then began to slide the rows randomly, destroying the perfect order.
Then I began to slide them back into order again.
u’ l’ u l u f u’ f’
Every day when she picked me up, mum asked, ‘How was school?’
My teachers were great. The history teacher, Mr ‘been around since the dinosaurs’ Gibbons had no idea how to use the ‘machine’ that was the classroom projector, but always had hilarious stories. The math teacher, Miss ‘just call me Sarah’ Goldfinch loved patterns and algorithms, and Mrs. Browning let us read whatever we wanted for the first fifteen minutes of English. So long as we were reading – not whispering to friends.
I never had a problem with Mrs Browning. You had to have friends to get in trouble for whispering to them.
‘Good,’ I said to mum, and that’s how the lying really started.
She nodded. ‘I’m sorry about the move. I…I wish things were different.’ But they weren’t. Dad was gone.
‘I’m fine, really.’
‘Oh Lucas, I want you to make friends here, to enjoy school.’
‘I do like school mum, and I’m sure I’ll make friends soon enough.’
In my head, though, I could see Derek’s sneer.
f u r u’ r’ f’
I might not have made a friend, but I had definitely made a not-so-friend. Derek took issue with my shoes the first day. They were black school shoes – the same as everyone else’s, but they were not up to his standard for reasons we’ve probably both forgotten by now.
The next day it was my handwriting. A week after that, my brains.
Now every time my mother picked me up from school she asked, ‘have you made any friends?’
Derek had friends.
It was a small school and no one wanted to be on the bad side of Derek and his friends, so no one tried to be my friend.
If I’m honest, I didn’t try too hard either. I didn’t know how. In kindergarten it had all been so simple, but by the time you reach Year 6 things are more complicated. I tried smiling at a couple of kids, but though they’d smile back it led to nothing, we never spoke outside of what was necessary for class.
r u r’ u r u u r’
Eventually, I told mum I had one friend.
I suppose at the time in my head I wasn’t strictly lying. She’d given me a friend. We sat together every day on the playground. I mastered his secrets, and in doing so, he soothed my anxieties.
He didn’t talk much, but then, I didn’t either.
The only problem was, at the end of recess he went into my bag, while I went to class.
r’ f r’ b b r f’ r’ b b r r u’
Mum was so pleased about my one friend, I told her I had six friends. After all, my friend had six distinct faces – Blue was always cold, red was always angry. Green had some strange vegetable obsession. Yellow was most happy when the sun was shining. And so on.
In a way, I did have six friends, and between them there was always one to match my mood.
In a way, I wasn’t lying. So why did I still feel like a bad son?
f f u l r’ f f—f f l l’ r u f f
A rough hand knocked me to the ground, sending my Rubik’s cube flying. Derek and I had reached a new stage of not-so-friendship.
I blinked back the tears as I got up and fished for my cube, his nasty laugh sounding as I walked away. How I wished my six friends had the same physical presence that Derek and his friends had.
I’d thought ignoring him would make him bored. Apparently, I’d made him try harder.
‘So, what did you and your friends get up to today?’
Telling my mum about putting my friends back in their box and back in my bag would only make her sad. So, I couldn’t tell her that. I found new stories to tell her, instead.
How we found a jigsaw puzzle in the library and were so quiet doing it, that the librarian forgot to kick us out when the library moved into study mode half way through lunch.
How the English teacher had been unsure which ones of us to separate for making assignment groups of six. I, of course, had volunteered to leave because I was a good, generous friend.
Then the stories grew more ridiculous.
We had found a hidden cave in the small clump of trees at the back of the oval. We had built a yurt out of papier mâché.
‘A big one?’
‘No mum, a huge one that all seven of us fit into.’
We had put the tadpoles back in the middle school pond, and every day we fed them breadcrumbs.
‘Yes mum, tadpoles eat breadcrumbs.’
I was leading the way in the science prac and almost burnt off an eyebrow but one of my friends—
‘Which one, what’s his name?’ she asked.
His name? Why hadn’t I thought of this? I needed a name. Any name.
Mum smiled but my stomach dropped through the car floor. Why, oh why had that been the name to come out of my mouth?
Determined not to make that mistake again, I wrote the stories down in my check book – sorry, sketch book.
I don’t know why I started calling it a check book, but when I was little, my mum and I covered a book in green contact and I was allowed to draw and write whatever I wanted in it. I must have misheard the name then, and it must have amused my mother, because she kept the joke going. When I was ten, I realised that a ‘check book’ was something entirely different and resolved to stop calling it that.
In that book, my six friends got their own names and characteristics and I assigned them to the different sides of the cube.
Red was Claude – Santa clause. Blue was Frank – I’d read the Hardy Boys recently, and Derek, he was white. Not white in the innocent kind of way, but white in the empty, bare kind of way. Because I couldn’t even stand that he’d landed up in my collection of imaginary friends.
But I’d built my castle of lies tall. And it wouldn’t fall on my watch.
I tried every corner of that school to get away from Derek but he always found me. In the trees, behind the kindergarten classrooms, near the frog pond, underneath the science classrooms – I’d had to come up with a creative story to explain the dirt all over my shirt that time.
The only place where he and his friends wouldn’t follow was right outside the staff room.
So, I sat there every day, with my six friends. We did silent battle with our enemies. And we won. My mother heard about this too – though not the enemy bit. I told her how we were knights in our castle. Our castle was always well defended. And we would run around, jousting and dragon slaying, rescuing damsels in distress and throwing evil tyrants in the dungeon.
Of course, my mother knew this was a lie. She knew we were only playing on the playground. She didn’t mind that lie.
What she didn’t know was that they only happened in my head as I solved and unsolved my cube.
r’ d’ r
‘You should have one of your friends over,’ mum said.
No. No. No. ‘Yeah maybe.’
Every week, the same question, and the same answer, ‘Yeah. I’ll ask them about it.’
And then she would look so sad, like I didn’t want her to meet my friends. But none of them were real – except Derek, and he would hardly do. And my friends did come home every day as I sat twirling the cube through different variations on ‘solved’.
But that truth would only hurt her more.
u’ l’ u l u f u’ f’
Derek shoved me down the slide. Derek hit me. Derek pushed me over. Derek laughed about it with his friends.
Then, one day, Derek did nothing – though I still sat outside the staff room, just in case. The staff room was the best place for gossip, father gambling problems. Derek’s family ‘owed money’ to Derek’s friend’s families.
The next day, Derek wasn’t at school.
f u r u’ r’ f’
Derek was back at school with bruises on his face. He wasn’t sitting with his friends and he didn’t come near me.
I saw him hiding under the science rooms, and behind trees. His friends were not with him. I wondered if I even needed to eat outside the staff room any more, but it was a habit, so I went anyway.
Derek rubbed his wrist like it hurt and sat a long way away from his friends.
I almost began to pity him. It wasn’t nice to be away from your friends and Derek didn’t look very happy – not the glare sort of unhappy that he’d always had towards me, the droopy sort of miserable that I understood.
A week later, Derek was with his friends again, standing in a huddle in the corner of the locker bay. I wondered if he’d be mean to me again now that his friends were talking to him. I snuck past them on my way to eat my lunch.
I caught a glimpse of Derek’s face. He looked – afraid. Fear didn’t look good on him. His friends stepped in closer around him. He shrank against the wall.
I called his name, ‘Derek!’
All eyes turned to me. What had I done? What would I say?
Derek made a break for it. I made a break for it.
‘Staff room,’ I gasped.
r u r’ u r u u r’
We sat awkwardly at the table together. I fidgeted with my cube while he finished off the last of my yogurt tub. They’d stolen his lunch, and for reasons unknown to me I felt compelled to share mine. Then a thought struck me – he owed me something, didn’t he?
‘Hey, you want to come to my house after school?’ I said.
Derek narrowed his eyes at me. The old Derek was back. ‘Why?’
I grimaced, he’d probably laugh at me and tell the rest of the grade.
His eyes narrowed further.
‘I…well…my mum thinks you’re my friend, and she wants to have you over.’
‘Your mum thinks I’m your friend?’
Sixty-seven questions flashed through his eyes. Why had I even asked?
But then he shrugged. ‘I guess I’ll come. It’ll make my mum happy too.’
r’ f r’ b b r f’ r’ b b r r u’
Mum was beaming. ‘It’s great to finally meet you Derek, I’ve heard so much about you.’
Derek was giving me sideways glances in the car. What could I possibly have told her about him? Truth was, she knew quite a lot. Just most of it wasn’t true.
We got home and my mum shooed us upstairs to play while she made snacks.
Derek and I sat on opposite sides of my bedroom, just staring at one another. This had been a terrible idea.
Instinctively, I pulled my cube from my bag and started swirling the dials, randomly at first, then as the order became less and less coherent I started solving it again. r’d’r …ffulr’ffl’ruff… Solved. I stared at it in my hand. Perfectly ordered. My friend.
‘That’s really cool how you do that?’
I started, suddenly shy. Derek was leaning forward, eyeing the finished cube with something that might have been awe on anyone else’s face, except that Derek didn’t ever feel that way.
‘I can show you how,’ I said.
I sat next to him, messing up the cube. Then I explained. Yellow daisy, White cross, r’d’r for the corners u’l’u’ufu’f’ for the middle layers…
‘How do you remember all of these?’
I laughed. ‘I didn’t at first. Hang on, I’ll get my check book.’
His eyes narrowed again. ‘Check book?’
I swallowed down the panic at my stupid mistake. ‘Here—’ I got up and pulled it from my bag, opening to those early pages where I’d written out the algorithms. ‘I used this.’
‘Looks like Morse code.’
He was smiling. I don’t think I’d ever seen him smile before. Leer and smirk, but never truly smile. But it faded.
‘I could never do that.’
‘Nonsense.’ I leaned forward and showed him the different letters, and drawings, explaining how they work.
He tried again.
‘Lucas,’ called mum, ‘come and get the drinks.’
I smiled and headed to the door. ‘I’ll be back soon.’
When I returned, Derek was staring at the sketch book, the unfinished cube motionless in his hands. I frowned. He’d turned the pages further, into my stories.
His voice had a strange crackle to it. ‘Is this really what you…what you see in me?’
Part of me was angry that he read it, but the other part wasn’t. Maybe that was what I thought of him, or wished he’d be. But somewhere behind the fiction was the real Derek. I hadn’t been lying entirely.
‘Yeah, I guess,’ I said.
He looked up, blinking more rapidly than usual. ‘I’m sorry,’ he said. ‘I was so mean.’
I nodded. ‘Lemonade?’
f f u l r’ f f l’ r u f f
My mother never did get to meet the other friends. I’ve never had the heart to enlighten her.
But to this day that cube sits on my desk.
Author bio: Belinda Coleman is an emerging Melbourne-based writer and editor who is currently completing her Associate Degree in Professional Writing and Editing and working on her first novel. She loves to read a good classic or fantasy, but her favourite reading is historical fiction.
Photo credit: Mart Production from Pexels (image description: Close-up photo of a child solving a Rubik’s Cube).