Short fictional story. But could there be a grain of truth?
The little boy’s heart sank when he heard the front door slam shut. The sound of his father coming up the stairs, made him hold his breath. The heavy footsteps paused outside his bedroom, before moving on.
Muffled sounds became clearer as the inevitable argument ensued.
Phineas lay on his narrow bed and squeezed his eyes tight, placing his hands over his ears to drown out the shouting, banging and crashing, emanating from the bedroom at the end of the hall.
His mother’s screams penetrated his defences, and he knew that tomorrow there would be bruises she would try to explain away.
There were rumours Fred Billingsgate was a thug, her parents warned Mary Jane Brown not to marry him but she imagined she would be the one who would change him.
Mary had been just seventeen when she and Fred married, a naïve, pregnant, beautiful girl who loved to read, her head full of romantic notions.
‘Around the World in Eighty Days,’ was her favourite book, her hero, the dashing Phineas Phogg.
When their baby was born she determined to call him Phineas, although Fred was against it.
Marriage and parenthood didn’t suit Fred and before long he was having affairs, beating his wife and abusing his son.
A few years into the marriage, Mary decided she’d had enough and planned her escape. Taking her child with her, she made it as far as the bus stop, carrying what she could, when her husband caught her.
He grabbed the four-year-old from her arms. “You can leave, but you go without the kid,” he snarled, throwing his son on to the backseat of the car.
Phineas never saw his mother again after that day. His only protector deserting him, leaving him to face the daily wrath of his father who blamed him for everything.
The child, ill treated, often hungry, and teased mercilessly because of the name his mother had given him, thought life was unbearable. His saving grace were numbers, he counted everything, in numbers he found safety, security and reliability.
One day after a particularly bad day of bullying, which had resulted in him nursing a black eye, Phineas wondered what would be in store for him when he got home.
His father may even be pleased that for once he’d stuck up for himself against a bigger kid, he thought. But Phineas didn’t want to be like his father, whose answer to everything was violence.
He wondered how he could escape this life; at only ten years old he’d already
Kicking a stone down the dusty lane that led to his house, he promised himself that as soon as he was old enough; he would be out of there.
The sun shone fiercely upon his dirty blonde head, his broken glasses, held together by a bandaid given to him by his teacher, slipped down his snotty nose. He appeared a picture of abject misery.
“What’s up with you, is that a black eye?” Fred sneered..
Phineas nodded, wiping his filthy face with his fist.
“You’re bloody useless, can’t even defend yourself, you’re no Billingsgate you’re a wimp,” his father slapped him across the back of his head and left the room.
Phineas went to sit on the steps outside, staring into the distance wishing someone would come to save him.
The sun went behind the clouds as if unable to shine on such misery.
He gazed upwards thinking that even the sun was deserting him.
Grey clouds rolled in from the sea descending and covering him completely. A strange warmth enveloped him, as if entities from other spheres were travelling painlessly throughout his body. Suddenly unafraid, Phineas felt nurtured by a spiritual being, soothing, healing him.
He awoke, opening his eyes to a wonderful sunrise, feeling renewed but confused.
In his hand he held an object he’d never seen before, a beautiful, glowing, blue disc pulsating intermittently.
Slipping it into his pocket he went into the house, his drunken father was lying on the old leather sofa, his bare backside sticking out of a dirty blanket.
In that moment Phineas knew that this life wasn’t forever and as soon as he was old enough he would be able to leave.
Going into his room, he placed the still glowing blue disc into a drawer where he kept his only photograph of his mother.
“Where the hell have you been, I’m waiting for my dinner,” Fred screamed at his son, “You’re just like your lazy, worthless mother.”
“It’s Tuesday, you know I help at the old folks’ home on Tuesdays,” Phineas answered in a calm voice. He refused to enter into the fight his father was looking for.
“Your place is here, not helping others, I need you at home.”
Fred then picked up a dinner plate and hurled it at his son, who now at almost fifteen was as tall as his father.
Phineas tried to avoid the missile but it still hit him a direct blow on his nose, causing it to spurt with blood, his glasses to break in two.
“You bastard,” he screamed, holding his broken nose, “I’m leaving, you’ll never see me again,”
“Piss off then, good riddance, you’ve been a millstone round my neck all of your life,” Fred yelled, “and don’t come back!”
Phineas packed an old brown suitcase with his meagre belongings, taking the little money he had and his mother’s picture. He slipped the blue disc, which he regarded as his lucky charm, into his top pocket.
The bus station was miles away, but he set out to walk the long distance. Never had he felt so alone.
“Where to Son?” The ticket clerk asked.
“The end of the line,” he sniffed, his face swollen and cut.
Climbing aboard the Greyhound he tried to ignore the inquiring looks from the other passengers and made his way to the back of the bus..
The day was overcast; it had rained the whole time he’d been walking.
Sitting next to the window, he rubbed a circle in the steamed up glass. Cars sped past, horns blared, their headlights on even though it was not yet dark. He wondered what was to become of him.
“The end of the line, please take all your belongings.” The driver’s voice woke Phineas from a deep sleep, “the end of the line, everyone disembark.”
Peering out of the window on to a bright sunny day, he couldn’t believe he’d slept for fifteen hours.
Leaving the bus depot he struck out up a long avenue lined with trees, the sun shone and the whole world appeared washed clean.
Passing a shop window he glimpsed his reflection. Remembering his damaged face, he put his hand up to his nose, surprised to feel no pain.
He became aware of warmth and a throbbing sensation coming from his top pocket. He reached in and took out the blue disc; it pulsated and glowed.
A voice that sounded much like his mother’s, whispered in his ear. “Change your name, use the only thing your father, Fred Billingsgate ever gave to you.”
The man stepped from the limousine, his appearance that of someone ordinary, other than his beaming smile. Cameras flashed and clicked as he made his way to the school auditorium. He had been invited to give a graduation speech to hundreds of bright eyed graduates.
He had the audience in the palm of his hands as he spoke of the world they were about to enter.
“There are a few things to remember,” he said. “Number one being, that life isn’t fair, and number two, always be nice to nerds, you’ll probably end up working for one.”
A wave of laughter rippled through the audience.
“Does anyone have any questions,” the bespectacled man asked.
A chorus of voices all shouted out at once.
“Mr Gates!” “Mr Gates!”