I am Iron Man
Has he lost his mind?
Can he see or is he blind?
Can he walk at all
Or if he moves will he fall?
Is he alive or dead?
Has he thoughts within his head?
We’ll just pass him there
Why should we even care?
He was turned to steel
In the great magnetic field
Where he travelled time
For the future of mankind
Nobody wants him
He just stares at the world
Planning his vengeance
That he will soon unfold
Now the time is here
For iron man to spread fear
Vengeance from the grave
Iron Man Black Sabbath
I give in. My breathing slows, my head turns to feedback. Life slips from my body. Darkness becomes a feeling. Calm. The pain melts away. And I remember it all. I remember, that…
It started with a scream. It faded away. Maybe I’d imagined it. I should get up. I’ll get up, I assured myself. In a sec. I just need to…there it was again. A throaty, guttural cry. Go. I heaved my corpse off the bed, feeling every one of my 37 years. No time off for good behaviour. No good behaviour. I’d fallen asleep, and someone was screaming. There was another scream. A different scream. Someone else. I followed the noise until the intertwining wails became louder. I entered the room, and as I did, a third scream was lobbed over my shoulder. The scream was urgent, but further away. The shit was hitting the fan. As I tried to focus, all three screams harmonised in a surging moment of terror. It was too much to bear. I stood there in the dark, the lights flickered on, and orders were roared at me to snap into action. I was frozen. Stuck in a fragment of sleep that I just couldn’t shake.
She handed me a baby.
Cursed Earth. Mustard slick on the floor and the change table and smeared on the wall. Apparently, that was my fault. Didn’t put the nappy on properly. The way I saw it, if that were true, at least it proved that I had changed a nappy. For every shit explosion, instead of any passive aggressive accusations fired my way, perhaps there should be a moment’s silence for the man changing more nappies than any man ever had, albeit ineffectually.
Change their bums, get milk into them, burp them, then get them back to sleep. That was the way it was supposed to happen. It never happened like that. Throw in a wardrobe change for at least one of the twins pissing up to their shoulders or shitting up their neck somehow. Acrobatic shitters. Cirque De La Merde. I had given up on the idea of wardrobe changes for myself. I really should wash my bath robe at least once this week, I considered. The pungent aroma of parmesan cheese was slapping me in the face every time I turned in the direction of my burping shoulder. The babies went down, and I managed a glorious one and a half hours sleep.
The next call to consciousness came from Ellie, yelling out in singsong that she was awake; a howl amplified by the monitor speaker a few feet from my ear. Of course. Even though she had been rudely awoken several times in the night just as I had, the show went on. It was 5:30am in the morning, after all. Get with the program. The Wiggles weren’t going to watch themselves. I bet they did. Ellie’s morning entertainment ritual was only complete when she had a tall sippy cup of milk in hand and was snuggled up on the couch with her bunny, her dummy, and pink blanky. Toddler silver service. If I met these requirements quick enough, absently enough in my torpor, there was the possibility that I could creep back into bed and drift off to sleep for a sneaky seven and half minutes before either: A. The twins awoke in a desperate fury that would mean: more feeding, more bum changing and more burping, or B. Ellie would tire of the monotony of the morning’s children’s television programming and demand some actual, present, hands-on parenting. Neither of these outcomes were conducive to sleep. Maybe Ellie would sit quietly for an hour and watch her shows, and the twins would sleep in. I could always hope. I was so desperate for more sleep, I contemplated something terrible, something depraved. No. No YouTube.
I could leave her in front of someother kid opening Kinder Surprise’s for hours. The look in her eyes after one of those sessions though…it was chilling. The Children of the Damned didn’t come close
Ellie would have to settle for In The Night Garden and Teletubbies. I was more comfortable letting her watch programs that had obviously been modelled off someone’s deep introspective journey on an acid trip. Her interest would not be held for long.
I staggered down the stairs, splashed some milk all over the bench and into a cup, slapped a lid on it and heaved myself back up the stairs. Ellie extended a chubby arm without breaking her tethered gaze to the television, and I slung the cup into her open hand without breaking stride. I steamrolled the sea of plastic that littered the path to the bedroom. Something sharp dug into the bottom of my foot, but I staggered on. Judging by the contours and the furry texture of felt, I guessed it was a member of the Sylvanian family. It was still lodged in the folds of my foot when I crashed into bed.
My phone rang. I had been wrong. It was scenario C. It was my mother. I didn’t have to answer. The buzzing continued. The babies were waking up. If Jackie awoke to find that I was involved in this unfortunate turn of events, I would be banned from looking after the babies for a while so that I could think about the terrible thing that I’d done. It was tempting, but I took the call.
‘Matthew, it’s your mother.’ No shit, Mum. Old people really didn’t get the way technology negated the need for such explanation.
‘Mum. Hi. Sorry I’ve been a stranger. Been a bit mental here lately.’ The understatement of the century.
‘Yes of course Matty. I know, you poor thing. Is there anything that I can do to help?’
She thought that she wanted to help. She didn’t. This was the sort of offer that was extended, but never taken up. When people said ‘if you need anything’, they were basically saying, ‘I feel bad for you, and I like to think of myself as a good person, so I’m going to make broad sweeping claims that you will never take me up on just to fill the vacuous space that transcends shortly after the moment we both realise that you’re fucked’. It didn’t really roll off the tongue, I reflected.
And why should she have to? Her combat tour was over, and she would have done it tough. I doubted that they had mother’s group thirty-seven years ago.
‘You know what Mum? Get us some nappies. Newborn. Kids are shitting themselves L, R and C. Just a few packs, it would be a big help.’ I lied. I didn’t need them; we had a wall stack that threatened to topple over me every time I entered the nursery. Mum needed to feel like she was doing her bit though.
‘Where should I go? The chemist? Do they sell them at Woollies’? At Coles? What time do Coles open?’ Jesus. Getting old scared the shit out of me.
‘Look Mum, no rush. Yeh just swing by Coles. They open at 7am every day. Remember, newborn. OK?’
‘Yes, I’ve written it down. I will bring them round with your father later this week.’
Poor dad. She would be pulling him away from his war on the Bindi eye that had taken up residence in his back lawn. This was now his life work. Removing the Bindi eye. I pictured him with his nose to the grass, armed with tweezers and a monocle.
‘Are you eating OK? You keeping your vitamins up?’
‘Yes Mum. Cooking is the one thing that keeps me sane. Still looking after myself.’ Partially true. The cooking part I did find relaxing.
‘OK dear, see you soon.’
‘See you Mum, take care.’
I found myself in a room full of junk, not entirely sure of how I ended up there. It was something that I did, on the phone. I would always pace. Couldn’t keep still. The phone made me anxious and in turn propelled me around the house. Even talking to my own mother. I didn’t even know that we had a spare room. A veil of dust covered piles of junk, and the room had that absence of fresh air, a chalky residue of insect husks and earthy tomes that had been attacked by rot.
There was a leather-bound journal that was nestled in the corner of an old armoire. It was mostly Jackie’s stuff in the room, she was a tremendous hoarder, had been since well before we met. No one was perfect. Certainly not me. I picked it up, dusting it off with one hand to reveal the title that was written in gold filigree on deep red leather. It read Jacinta Hardigan. Jacinta? Not Jacqueline? I heard a high-pitched whine like when a mosquito flies too close to your ear. My name was being screamed with an edge that could only be disbelief. There was a situation unraveling upstairs. At least it was Monday.