a misfit
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by Simon King




Charles stooped his face and winced, as his head was addled with an assortment of drugs and sedatives. He kept the drugs in a glass container, they resembled sweets. Indeed, if he pretended that this were the case, he could down the potent substances in a single swallow. This would make suicide all the merrier, but he could not complete this Herculean task. 

His room teemed with books, which he had read several years ago. He was re-reading them - ‘recycling them’ - as there was nothing else to do. The pages were encrusted with a yellow surface and the titles on the spines were illegible.

His favourite authors were from the Victorian era, as modern authors were superfluous and perfunctory. If anything, the modern world terrified him. He was afraid of cars, telephones, tall buildings and motorways. Reading about a quaint world populated with people who spoke in stiff and elevated ways comforted him. It comforted him to read about a quaint past where people lived in towns with local churches, libraries and schools. It comforted him to think about a time when culture was organic and took centuries to form. Culture was now artificial; it was created by corporations. It was created by marketing departments. Trends appeared and disappeared every second. Also, contemporary culture was highly atomised and fragmented. Charles longed for a time when one lived in a town and knew the vicar and the butcher. Of course, he was kidding himself – he would be equally afraid in such circumstances.

There were four books that he still had not read, however. These were sacred texts that he would be able to understand when he turned fifty – books by Kant and Hegel. The time would come in six years; only then might he be able to understand them. They were the most important artefacts in his room.

Charles had not showered in several weeks, he had worn the same tousled shirt for the last five years. His room was dingy and musty, the room smelt of cat urine. Several plates of cat food and water were strewn across the room. The windows were covered in sheets that protected Charles from the sun. His room was a protected hermitage, a place where he could ensconce himself away from a predatory and merciless world.

There were a couple of feeble attempts to integrate himself into this world. Charles took a job as a phone clerk, which he left after a year. He used to confront, hector and interrogate strangers in the streets. That was years ago, as he had not left the house in ten years. Merely glancing outside would be unthinkable, a terrifying excursion into the social domain.

What was the cause of all this? Was there some clichéd Freudian reason that neatly explain this wad of pathologies? Charles’ father beat his three sons on a regular basis. He was an overbearing tyrant who cast his nefarious shadow on the entire house.

He once broke Charles’ collar bone in an angered frenzy. He constantly fought with Charles’ mother, an amphetamine addict. She once scratched and bruised his face so much that he had to wear make-up at work. His father had been a marine in World War Two and he was a muscle-bound, law-abiding conservative. Although he was an atheist, he had sent his children to a Catholic school, as he wanted to discipline his children and instil them with Christian moral values. He wanted at least one of them to be a marine. As such, he was devastated when they all turned into terrified, acne-ridden, awkward nerds.

Charles stayed in the house until his father’s dying days. His father threatened that he would make his life a living hell if he did not find a job. Indeed he did. His father refused to speak to him, he was brooding presence.

However, they finally rekindled their relationship. Charles sat next to his father in his deathbed and comforted him. It was the only moment of tenderness in their entire relationship.

School was only more terrifying. The corridors were patrolled by heartless boys who would beat up anyone who did not conform to the ideal of a tall, blond-haired, sporty, Christian, leather-sporting hunk. One such hunk was Scutch, who beat Charles up in front of the entire school. This only endeared him to the schoolgirls, the wretched creatures. Charles never recovered from the incident and, despite his good looks, he never went on another date. He became a meek and inconspicuous shadow, who ambled across the corridors without courting much attention. He had the looks and intelligence to excel both socially and academically, but there was something wrong with his personality.

Charles kept reams of his juvenilia. He had been a prolific writer of comics, producing one thirty-six page comic every week. He and his brothers ran the ‘Animal Farm Comic Book Club’ and Charles was the principal author and illustrator. He would cajole his brothers into doing all of the work – indeed, this was the last time that he ever boasted a position of power. Poor old Maxon was merely the supply boy and the poor neglected creature had been relegated to the petty confines of loserdom ever since.

Charles only cared about comics as a child, reading and drawing them every single day. Nothing could stop his implacable obsession. His brothers had other interests, but nothing could deter Charles from realising his obsession. He became more and more accomplished, his panels laden with detailed cross-hatchings.

He later became interested in texts. He was primarily interested in the pictorial impression generated by the text rather than the meanings that it connoted. The drawings in the panels no longer mattered; the speech bubbles branched out onto all the dimensions.

This obsession intensified. Charles kept several diaries in which he would draw a tiny indiscernible splodge. Not even a magnifying glass would be able to discern its contents. They were symbolic of his increasing anxieties and neuroses. 

But the main obsession that dominated his comics was Treasure Island. He saw the Walt Disney adaptation when it came out. He would eagerly play pirate games in the streets and sport the bandage, the imaginary parrot, the hook and the wooden leg. The film became the main theme of his comics. More worryingly, he became infatuated with the film’s star, Bobby Driscoll. He would draw him again and again and again. He would lovingly recreate his face, his costumes and his startled posture.

Why him? Did Driscoll symbolise Charles’ lost innocence? Was Charles himself a perpetually scared infant? Did Charles never want to move on from the halcyon days of his childhood?

‘Charles! Charles!’ A piercing voice emanated from downstairs. It was his mother. Her overweight flesh sagged as she climbed the steps. She brought the telephone – a quaint relic from the 1950s – with her. ‘Charles,’ she growled in her gravelly voice. ‘It’s Robert… he wants to speak with you.’

Robert, of course, was his famous brother, who had gone on to unlikely success by drawing his dirty secrets, confessions, sexual fantasises and an assortment of depraved miscellanea. He caught the psychedelic zeitgeist of the 1960s and became part of the ‘underground comics’ scene. Their father ceased to talk to Robert when he encountered his comics, their unabashed smuttiness revolted his entrenched conservative principles.

Charles retrieved the handset. ‘Hey, how are ya doin’’ The familiar nasal voice emanated from the speaker. Robert, as usual, laughed nervously and uncontrollably as soon as he completed a casual sentence. ‘Hey, Charles,’ Robert continued, ‘can you still make it?’

He knew what Robert was referring to. The local cinema was screening the Walt Disney version of Treasure Island, the very film that captivated his youthful mind and which continued to permeate his imagination. Charles had not seen the film in decades. ‘Gee… Robert,’ Charles replied in his soft, drawled and slurred voice. ‘I’d love to… I… I’ll get a ticket.’

Robert laughed nervously. ‘Well, it would be great if you could see it, Charles. I mean, you’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time.’

‘I’ll...’ Charles hesitated, bowing his head. ‘I’ll do it, Robert. I’ll go see the movie.’ He hung the handset.

Charles handed the telephone to his mother. ‘It’s great that you’re doing this, honey. I’m proud of you, you’re a great kid,’ she blurted out in her husky voice.

‘Thanks, mother,’ Charles muttered, as he shuffled over to his room. His whole body trembled as he shunted his legs forward with difficulty. He closed the door and sighed with relief.

Charles stumbled over to the window and gazed at the rug that covered the sunlight. He knew that the local cinema was located a few miles from the house and that Robert’s wife would drive him there.

Charles retrieved the rug from the window and the sunlight shone full into his face. He shielded the sunlight with his hands and covered the window immediately. His heart was beating and he was sweating in a frenzy. He fell onto his bed, ensconcing himself into the sheets.

As he burrowed into his protective sheets, Charles reminisced about his childhood years, alongside Robert, Maxon and his two sisters. His childhood was fraught with difficulties, which he had never recovered from. Charles would always say ‘How goddamn delightful it all is to be sure’ whenever he encountered an obstacle. Those words always made him feel better. Those very words came back to him. Charles thought about all the pleasurable things in life. He thought about all the things that he loved and which made him want to stoically overcome these obstacles. He thought of Robert’s successful career, of his childhood comics, of Treasure Island, of Donald Duck, of his Victorian novels and of those sacred continental texts. Yes, all these things made him think how goddamn delightful it all really was.



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