The cold shower reanimates my eyes. Sore and swollen but forced open by the constant jolt. It’s refreshing pain. The chilling water runs off my helmet, off my chin. I love it most when it runs off my fingers, like I’m shooting water, super-powered or something. When I leave the shower, I feel as tired as every other morning, just colder. This depressing shower was the podcast’s idea to make me more successful, therefore content with life. I feel worse. The shivering is making my helmet rapidly pat my head. It’s a heavy thing, round and ridiculous.
At the breakfast table my chin starts to chafe against the straps as I chew. I raise my nails to scratch at it but Mother locks eyes with me, so I don’t even try. Rub, rub, rub.
“How’s the podcast, son?” says Mother, crinkling up her whole face to smile, her eyes compressing into slits.
I should tell her the truth. Tell her about my realisation that the host keeps forcing a deep voice to sound like more of an ‘alpha’. Tell her that his tips don’t work. Tell her he makes me feel like more of a failure. Tell her I feel suffocated and asphyxiated and strangled by life. At least Mr. Alpha has helped me to hate life productively.
“It’s great, Mother. Super helpful.”
She hasn’t stopped smiling. The desires of my neck start yapping to my brain again, wanting to stretch but can’t. The helmet wrestles with me and wins. I put my cheap earphones in, press play. I can handle twenty minutes before the shape of them cramps my hear-holes. That fabricated alpha voice speaks, and has a voice crack, which brings me joy.
“Cold showers will open your productivity. An early victory to shed the weight of life!”
The weight of life, huh. I’ve tried to take off my helmet a couple of times, but she always comes out of nowhere, intense, furious, terrifying. She doesn’t tell me anything, only that I am never allowed to take it off. It’s really not fair. If she thinks I’m old enough to spend my time listening to podcasts, surely I’m mature enough to hear reasons for stupid rules. Crappy parenting, I’d say.
I’m still numb from my shower. It’s been a long, grey and chilly week. The metal helmet is still ice cold on my scalp. Mother does the dishes and hums that sweet repetitive tune she always does, placing all the knives into the special draw after they’re dried. The key to this draw lives around her neck, on her lanyard of innumerable keys. She jingles them every now and then, to accompany her singing. I can only wonder what having that kind of power is like; to just open things, be in control.
Then I notice it.
She’s left it on the table, the serrated knife for the bread. No way. It’s within my reach. No way. I silently swoop it up and hold it behind my back. She hasn’t noticed me. No way.
I’m doing this.
“Just wait here a minute, Mother. I forgot something.”
I walk hurriedly but as naturally as I can down the hall and softly close my bedroom door behind me. My heart is rocking side to side. I drag my bookshelf as silently as I can in front of the door, but, halfway to the door, my cologne bottle falls off the corner and smashes on the ground.
“Son! What’s happened!”
Her running footsteps echo down the hall and I push as hard as I can. Just as the shelf blocks the door her palms slam against the other side. I can almost feel her heavy breathing through the wood. Here we go.
“Son… Son! Let me in!”
Time is running out. I wedge the knife between the strap and my chin. The straight side of the blade digs into my skin, and I clench my teeth. I feel a similar adrenaline to the shower, sharp and shivering.
“SON! OPEN THIS DOOR RIGHT NOW!”
I pull and push the knife as straight as I can. The podcast still chants in my ears, that forced deep voice telling me not to procrastinate my freedom. Those words could not be more perfectly timed. A split starts forming in the worn leather. Mother flails herself against the door, hard, letting out loose barbaric shrieks before storming off. Sprinting steps slap the hallway floor.
I’m almost there! I am so close!
Before I know it, her howling misery returns and the next strike against the door booms. She has returned with the fire extinguisher. The next few smashes dent the white door, dust pulsing through on my side. I cut and cut while she bashes.
She lets out a gurgling yell and throws all of her might into the next slam. A hole bursts through, about the size of her face. Her little brown eyes peer through and meet mine, afraid, trembling. Her mascara is pooling down to her jaw.
The strap finally breaks in half. No way. I’m free. I stare at Mother as I lift the heavy bowl off my head and drop it. It clangs something special.
I am warm, I am light, I am normal.
Mother pulls her hair on the sides of her head and chokes on her tears, desperately beckoning to me, pushing her face through the hole she’s made.
“Son… please, put the helmet back on. I beg you, my son, please… It’s not safe.”
Before I can yell at her, a blitzing headache sinks its teeth into my temples. My brain feels set ablaze, and my hair feels like it’s standing on end.
Mother panics and screams.
Podcast man cracks another high.
Violent claps are heard from outside.
I look out my window to see the grey sky dissolve into an inky black in mere seconds. Hundreds of purple lightning strikes begin to ravage from the sky.