Another Nick Mann short story. Babyface, it’s a weird one, don’t say you weren’t warned. Are you sitting comfortably?
With impatient fingers, Ryan ripped open the card. For all of his days, he had been awaiting this invitation. He had been preparing and readying everything for this day. What a day. Ryan was so excited that he did his trick; he looked close at the back of his cereal spoon at his face. He tweaked his hair and checked his teeth. Perfect, so handsome.
Within three hours Ryan was staring up at the ceiling of the clinic. He was dressed for surgery and waiting for Dr. Rabbit. Benevolent eyes looked upon him with smiles glowing with unbridled kindness. “How do you feel Ryan?”
“Excited, this is just the best thing ever. I am so happy I could pop and spray glitter and candy just all over the place.”
“Well, you relax dear, Dr. Rabbit is coming, and you’ll be sleeping soon.”
Ryan scrunched up his nose and let out a squeak, not unlike a Guinea Pig. He was 25 years old. The nurses and Dr. Rabbit were used to him, Ryan was as close to innocence in an adult as you could get. You could say that he had been bred for purity.
Dr.Rabbit arrived, he was wearing green scrubs, and Ryan recognised him only by his eyes. “Hey Rabbit,” he said.
“Good afternoon Ryan, today’s the day. We’re going to put you to sleep shortly, and we will then do the procedure. When you wake up, you’ll be bandaged and a bit sore. But in few weeks, you’ll be okay. When you’re strong enough and well again, we can give you your most favourite meal. So what’ll be sport?”
“Well, I want fresh beetroots and asparagus to start. Then for my main, I want some crisp greens with grilled fishies. And for dessert I want some of that scrummy sorbet you make.”
“OK, we’ll fix that for you. It’s time to sleep now. I’ll be here when you come around. I want to be sure that you’re ok.”
The anaesthetist warned Ryan that he was going to feel a scratch on the back of his hand. In true Ryan fashion, he just giggled and said it would be ok. As the milky liquid rushed through his veins they asked him to count backwards from ten. He started but didn’t get past eight before he was out.
Soaked through with a dreamy glow, Ryan drifted away. A movie played on the TV in his head. It was the film of his incredible life and how lucky he was to have Poppa and Dr. Rabbit.
From as far back as he could remember life had been nothing but idyllic for Ryan. His Poppa gave him a nursery with every soft toy a boy could want. Every week he had a different nurse. They never spoke to him except to sing him lullabies, sweet, hypnotic lullabies. His first memory is one of the Doctor visiting; he played with Ryan. They played cars and picnics. One day, the Doctor brought with him a huge stuffed bunny. This bunny would become Ryan’s first best friend and earn the Doctor his cute term of endearment.
Ryan had never experienced want. Everything that he needed was right there for him. Toys, friends, parties, games and endless fun, it was a glorious time. The friends always changed, never the same kids twice. He never got bored or squabbled. And there was no rivalry. It wasn’t until he was twelve years old that he even asked Poppa why he never saw the same kids. Why he never left the house. He just took all of his indoor activities and the endless stream of trinkets and gifts as normal.
Poppa would see him once a month without fail. They would talk about life and how to be kind. How as a person, who is destined to play a part in the World, selfishness is forbidden, and you must always be willing to make sacrifices for your friends and family. Ryan enthusiastically agreed, even though he had no friends and Poppa was his only family.
His soul was a generous one, and his heart was unspoilt by the real world. This being a place that he had yet to visit. Whenever he went out, Poppa left instructions for him to be covered, particularly his face. There was to be no sun, ever. Ryan could play all he wanted, but it had to be indoors.
Growing up, Ryan loved movies, and Poppa would make sure that all of the latest films were shown to him in their private cinema. Culture and art reflect life. Ryan was not educated traditionally. There were no lessons, no school, just play and a conveyor belt of new acquaintances, nannies, and chaperones. Some spoke his language, and some did not. Watching the films and seeing life how he saw it, Ryan began to ask questions about his mother. Poppa, told him very little, but Ryan overheard conversations between Poppa and Dr. Rabbit. By the time he was sixteen Ryan had it figured. In his mind, she was a princess, who was stolen away. She met Poppa and fell in love. They married and lived a happy life until her wicked father took her back to her homeland, where she was to be queen. The queen of the land called surrogate.
As well as play, Ryan’s other routines involved daily sessions with Dr. Rabbit. The Doctor would treat Ryan’s face with creams and ointments that smelt yummy. Ryan wanted to eat them. One day when the Doctor was not looking, Ryan, scooped up some cream with his index finger from a matt black jar. It smelt like peaches. As quick as he could, he jammed the whippy substance into his mouth. Ryan was surprised that it did not taste nearly as good as it smelt. With watering eyes and a stiff lesson learnt Ryan swallowed it down. He had to. He didn’t want to be caught by Dr. Rabbit.
Dr. Rabbit would always give him the best candy, celery, scallions, beetroots, and berries. The nicest things a boy could eat. And Ryan could eat as much candy as he wanted. Dr. Rabbit was fantastic.
Ryan did wonder though, why there were no mirrors in the house. He had no right to. What was a mirror anyway? One of the cooks, a pretty lady had one once. Before she left at night, she would put crayon on her lips and look into a small round glass case. She caught Ryan looking. “I have to bring this. There are no mirrors in this place.” She laughed and gave Ryan a look. He looked upon himself with wonder. Then he remembered seeing that face before on a photograph. But, the photo was not of him; it was Poppa when he was young. Ryan smiled, he loved Poppa, and he loved looking like him.
Life went on, Ryan was twenty now. His life consisted of more films, more books, no education, but now there were women. They were brought to him, and they did things to him, they made him feel nice. Again, each week it was a different girl. Some spoke, most didn’t. Ryan didn’t mind either way. He was thankful. He had watched a film about a man who hated people because they always wanted things from him, he was glad that the people he saw came and went. He didn’t know them, and they didn’t know him, so they wanted nothing. How can life be so perfect?
One day Ryan was looking through the glass in the doors. The blue sky took a turn and became angry with dark clouds. Seconds passed, and hard rain fell, and lightening lit up the darkness with loose electricity. Ryan was thrilled, he had seen it all before but today he heart leapt, and he gave his minder the slip and danced naked in the garden. Between the cracks of thunder and the apocalyptic flashes of storm light, Ryan heard something. It was less than a bleat or tweet. He crawled on his hands and knees and below one of the hedges in the garden he found a small bird. The wind and rain had thrown it from its nest. Ryan scooped it up and took it inside.
For days, he kept it warm in a box in his room. He fed it candy and called it Chuck. All the love in the world wouldn’t save that bird. Ryan gave everything he had. By the third day he found it in the box stiff, its beak open and a petrified tongue protruding sideways. Its eyes were lifeless and its legs splayed. Ryan cried for a long time. That was his first sad experience. He was twenty-two at the time, so by normal standards, he was doing ok.
His second sad experience was Gwenda. She was his new minder. She was not a horrible woman, but she tried to talk to him more than the others. She put on normal TV, not just the movies and programs that Dr. Rabbit brought by. Gwenda gave Ryan a newspaper. He’d had never seen one before. On the front page was Poppa, the paper said horrible things about him. It said he was a freak. They said that he was ruined and that the once handsome superstar now looked like a melting waxwork. Ryan tore it up. He loved Poppa. To him, Poppa was kind and beautiful. He enjoyed the visits, even though they were only once every twelve weeks now, they were his favourite times. Dr. Rabbit always came by and always looked after him.
Gwenda went, sooner than the others. Ryan forgot about the paper and life went on as it had before. Poppa came to see him. He explained that soon he would be invited to Dr. Rabbit’s office. It was a really special thing, a big deal he called it. It was something to be proud of. Ryan was overjoyed. His life was so good. He had so few cares in the world that this particular thing with Dr. Rabbit was bound to be amazing and he was overjoyed at being a part of it. He counted the days until the invite arrived.
Ryan came around. His head hurt. He could hardly open his eyes and he had severe pains all over his neck and cheeks. We wanted to cry. Dr. Rabbit was there. “Are you ok Ryan?” Ryan nodded, he couldn’t speak. Tears squeezed from the slight openings of his eyes and burned his cheeks below the bandages. Dr. Rabbit gave him an injection. He felt sleepy. He drifted away. He had bad dreams, the same dreams over and over. People crawled all over him, Chuck was bleating at him, and Poppa was nowhere to be seen. The dream played over and over on the television in his head. It was the same dream. It wouldn’t go away. He hated it. Ryan was bathed in sweat and tried to scream aloud, but his mouth would not move.
Ryan did not know how long it had been. It seemed that forever had passed since the procedure. He was only able to consume liquids and had not had his beloved candy or left his bed for ages. Dr. Rabbit was over. Ryan was still bandaged and was drowsy. He could hear Dr. Rabbit talking on the telephone. “We just need to make sure that it is a success on your end. Then I will draw a line under it. Ok, take care and stay indoors. I will come for you tomorrow. backward.” He pressed his phone shut and spun around to look at Ryan.
“Good morning Ryan. How are you today?” Ryan was groggy, he pulled himself up. “Ok, Dr. Rabbit, how are you?”
“I am fine. How are things? Has the soreness abated? Do you feel well?”
“Yes it has, and I feel fine, well, better. I’m hungry.”
“I expect that you are. I think that we may be able to take off your bandages tomorrow. So, after today no more liquid. Real food! How’s that?”
“That is just super Dr. Rabbit. I can’t wait. Can I see Poppa?”
“Yes, he’s going to come over tomorrow.”
Ryan gasped with excitement. He knew that he would have trouble sleeping that night.
Ryan was up early. The minder had gone, and a new gentleman had arrived. He was funny, he had shoulders bigger than boulders and wore sunglasses indoors. Ryan giggled to himself and was going to tell Poppa how funny it was when he arrived.
Dr. Rabbit and Poppa arrived about an hour after Ryan had got up. They had brought a cook with them. Poppa went straight upstairs, Dr. Rabbit explained that he was not feeling well, and would be with them soon. The cook began to make up Ryan’s special meal. It was all exactly as he requested, fresh beetroots and asparagus to start. Then crisp greens with grilled fish and for dessert Dr. Rabbit’s sorbet.
The food was served, and Ryan ate it with measured excitement. He was in pain but was managing to enjoy his favourite meal. The fish was flaky, but firm, cooked to perfection. Ryan had missed solid food, but not as much as he had missed Poppa. Pushing the main plate away Ryan picked up his spoon and began to eat Dr. Rabbit’s sorbet.
“Hello Ryan,” Poppa said. Ryan looked up. Poppa had entered the room and was standing by the door. He looked different. He didn’t look like Poppa. Ryan ate the last spoon of sorbet. His head felt strange. It was like bubbles were fizzing inside his skull. He looked at Poppa again, he didn’t recognise him at all. Ryan now spun into a drunken funk, he felt extremely unwell. His arms felt as though they belonged to someone else. He breathed in and held his breath. He tried to look at Poppa but he couldn’t. He touched his own face, soft to fingers but no feeling in his cheeks. He did his trick with the spoon. Poppa was there looking back at him. He looked at Poppa again as darkness pulled him away. All he could see was that photograph and ghost of whom he used to see in the back of his spoon.
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