the boy with a void for a heart

April 19, 2017
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On the twenty-seventh of May, Oliver broke the most major rule of his hostel- bringing alcohol into his room on the alcohol-free floor. He knew there were no security guards in the lobby in the afternoons and that there were never any people standing around the elevators at all, but the guilt still kept his hands cold and his back cramping with stress.


When he got to his room he pulled his suitcase out from under the bed, dug out the vodka from the bag of clothes and hid it in the corner of the suitcase. He briefly tucked it inside the lining where it was torn, but it bulged so horribly that Oliver took it out again.


Oliver found it hard to keep secrets or break rules, and conversations about the day's hap-penings were a nightmare. Dinner was always a long affair but today two of his friends decided to have an in-depth conversation about pop music while the other tried to interest Oliver in an overly snarky conversation; Oliver felt like beating his head against the table until it cracked like an egg. He picked at his food until a friend, who had been keenly watching him, asked if he was feeling alright; although Oliver's insides felt like they were being chewed on by wild animals, Oliver smiled and cleared his plate promptly.


When he thought no one was looking he would smile at the thought of the little bottle of strawberry-flavoured contraband, resting innocently in his room. Certainly, everyone drank, but none of them had projected self-destruction on their drink the way Oliver was doing. He knew the waiting list to see a counsellor was too long, he'd left it too late, and the pills took too long to kick in. There just wasn't enough time.


Upon the return to their floor, Oliver was dragged into playing games on the console another floormate had set up. By now Oliver's head was throbbing and he was shaking all over with overstretched nerves. He barely concentrated on the game. He felt like he had shaken his mind out of his body, like his hands were oversized gloves and the screen was metres away from him, but he put up an admirable front, managing to hijack cars, drive them into the river, and pass the controller on whenever the police inevitably showed up and shot him down.


He finally broke away at nine, but his friends followed after and sat in his room until eleven. Oliver's heart barely beat as he alternately stared at the locked cubby in his shelf and at the suitcase. He almost screamed when he got some biscuits out of the cubby and his friend looked in on the 'stash', and felt the blood rush to his relieved face when they only commented on the biscuits inside- they hadn't noticed the pill bottle- and shut the door again. He passed off the bright red colour as embarrassment and mild sheepishness when he again felt his friend staring at him.


Finally Oliver was alone. He came back from the bathroom, locked the door behind him, and dropped his toothbrush on the shelf. It bounced and rolled off onto the carpet but Oliver didn't move to pick it up, although he was rather finicky. For a long time he stood in the middle of his room. Now that he was alone and the floor was asleep, he could hear his blood rushing in his ears and his nerves slowly fraying and tearing. Oliver was at once driven mad by excitement with what he was about to do, and desperately grabbing at loose ends trying to think of another choice.


He knelt on the floor and retrieved his bottle of vodka. Smirnoff, probably not the best vodka on the market but cheap for a student and least likely to arouse suspicion. Strawberry flavoured because Oliver hated alcohol and couldn't drink it without mixing it with Coke, which he couldn't do now. He made sure his door was locked and checked again, putting his trembling fingers on the latch to ensure his eyes weren't playing tricks on him.


Oliver put the bottle on his desk and unlocked the cubby. From it he took out a small brown glass bottle with an oversized label stuck on it, and poured the contents onto a saucer with a cat's face painted on it. He used a teaspoon to count them by twos, and found he had twenty-four codeine pills left. He remembered he had taken two while he was still in some pain from cramps, but hadn't used them since. When he decided to use them for their current purpose Oliver had hidden them behind a box of muesli bars that he hated, and left them at the back of the cubby where no one would see them.


He cleared his desk and put down the saucer of pills, the bottle of vodka, and a pottle of yoghurt from the cubby. With each spoonful of yoghurt Oliver swallowed two pills. When the pills were gone Oliver briefly debated whether or not to eat the rest of the yoghurt, since food slowed alcohol absorption, but then he shrugged and gulped down the rest; it wouldn't be a bad last meal. Finished, Oliver poured out some vodka into a cup, shut his eyes, and took a sip.


If he concentrated on the overly sweet flavouring he could almost ignore the alcohol, which was like being clubbed behind the eyes with a heavy book. He made himself drink the con-tents of the glass and one more. Towards the end of the first cup Oliver had to take deep breaths and calm himself before drinking, and towards the middle of the second cup Oliver had to really force his hand to lift the cup to his mouth. Thoughts of giving up on the drink started to creep in, but Oliver dismissed them- he had heard that the euphoria of drunkenness set in after the initial disgust, and all one had to do was soldier on.


Oliver was by now feeling the effects of the pills, which were sudden feelings of dread, anxiety, and nausea, the former two being smoothed over by the vodka and the latter being promoted by it. He was trembling like a building in an earthquake, and when he stood to stumble to his bed he almost toppled over. His hand could barely close around the cup but he brought it to bed, setting it on the floor while he pulled the blankets to his chest. The cup toppled and split its contents on the carpet; Oliver only realised this when the acrid smell of cheap vodka and flavouring tickled his nose.


He reached over and righted the cup, noting sourly that there was only a mouthful of vodka left in the bottom. For a moment he considered crawling out of bed and sucking the vodka out of the carpet, but didn't feel like getting out from under the blankets. He tossed the rest down his throat, which by now had lost all taste and smell and only dried his throat as it went down. Oliver dropped the cup and lay for a while with his arm sticking out from the blanket.


The euphoria, Oliver thought bitterly, probably wasn't going to set in at all. His stomach was bloated from drinking off an entire bottle of vodka, his head was spinning and felt like it was too large and balanced precariously on a too-thin neck, his hands and joints felt disconnected from his body, and his eyes felt like they were going to burst out of his head. But he had lost all sense of anxiety; indeed, when he tried to think about how he would deal with a hangover tomorrow or even if he would raise his hand to switch off the light, the idea slipped out of his hands like water through a sieve. Thinking about things even a minute into the future was too much for Oliver's alcohol-soaked brain to handle. For a few seconds he managed to wonder if the codeine pills were enough or if he really did need some kind of Xanax-type pill, but even something so concerning and urgent as that dropped out of his head.


So he lay on his side, breathing weakly and staring at his pale sweating hand, simultaneously attached by ligaments, muscle, and sinew to his wrist and also snapped off, detached and floating a metre away from his equally broken body. For a brief moment Oliver thought, How did I end up here?, but the realistic meaning slipped off into the distance. If he weren't drunk he might have given a somewhat coherent and perhaps tearful answer, but he was too drunk to realise he was drunk.


Oliver withdrew into the blankets and turned away, weakly pulling the giant stuffed toy dog over his head. It had been a gift from the greatest source of his pain and greatest target of his love, idealistic and childish as it was. He pressed the fur pile surface against his dry eyes and watched the explosion of colour behind his eyelids, spiralling off and following trails and paths and bursting like fireworks. The constant surfaceless darkness behind his eyelids made Oliver remember a dream he'd had a year ago, while he was still working on his art board.


His art board had been concerned with void, both the void of a blank sheet of paper and the void of the night sky. Oliver didn't tell anyone how it was mostly inspired by his utter void of personality and emotions, but pretended that he was merely interested in space and negative space. Secretly he hoped he would be able to work out his own increasingly suicidal thoughts through the character he created to progress through the void. He pretended it was a character he'd made up for a story and simply reused out of laziness, and that the story was just a fantasy story.


Nonetheless, it was so close to his heart that one night his brain mixed the void together with his dreams. Oliver had walked into the kitchen that wasn't his kitchen, and parents that were and weren't his parents informed him of a new door that had appeared in the kitchen. They thought it was a broom closet but weren't too sure. Oliver walked across the room and opened the door. It was a tiny room about the size of a mattress, and the walls had the same wallpaper as the kitchen, but the floor seemed to have been cut out with a pair of scissors. An immense, twinkling and pitch black void gazed up at Oliver through the hole in the ground. It was like glittering black cloth with silver woven through it; it was like the darkness behind closed eyes; it was like thick ink poured into a black marble bowl; it was the emptiness of infinity.


The void set off bells in Oliver's head. Here somehow was the escape he had been seeking all along, the disappearance and complete absorption into a nothingness he craved. In the dream Oliver had stood on the edge of the hole, bid farewell to his parents, and fallen down through the hole and into the void. As he fell he saw the house, like a little model house with a little hole poked in the bottom, suspended in the void as if on a thread. In dreams falling normally sends a jolt through one's limbs and shakes them awake, but in Oliver's dream, he felt as if he were falling into a soft blanket or a billowing curtain or a deep sinuous sea. The void rushed up around him and fell down again, covering his body and somehow warming him with the weird sense of comfort it brought Oliver's distressed soul.


Comforted by the memory, Oliver lay still under the blanket, with the toy dog over his head. The void fell on him like a shimmering thin cloth, covering his face and body completely, while the room grew colder and colder.

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