Short Story: The Drummer Girl In Room…
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A tale of oppression
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Most stories begin at the beginning, but I don’t care about most stories. Why should a story have a beginning anyway? Kyle used to say it was the moment that counted. “Collect enough moments,” he’d say, “and you have a life.” I never really understood what he meant, but I’ve tried to live my life like that: collecting moments. So when Dr. Preston says that writing things down, like a story, will help me, I can’t say I believe him. There isn’t a story really, just moments. Kyle didn’t like doctors anyway; he said they were too clever, and just wanted everybody to know how clever they were. He was right about most things, so I suppose he could have been right about that too, but I don’t know. Dr. Preston doesn’t strike me as being especially clever; he talks all the time about Kyle not being real, except in my head, and then asks about the night he came…
Short Story: The Drummer Girl In Room Thirteen
Most stories begin at the beginning, but I don’t care about most stories. Why should a story have a beginning anyway? Kyle used to say it was the moment that counted. “Collect enough moments,” he’d say, “and you have a life.” I never really understood what he meant, but I’ve tried to live my life like that: collecting moments. So when Dr. Preston says that writing things down, like a story, will help me, I can’t say I believe him. There isn’t a story really, just moments. Kyle didn’t like doctors anyway; he said they were too clever, and just wanted everybody to know how clever they were. He was right about most things, so I suppose he could have been right about that too, but I don’t know. Dr. Preston doesn’t strike me as being especially clever; he talks all the time about Kyle not being real, except in my head, and then asks about the night he came for me. If he wasn’t real, how could he come for me? It’s funny really, when you think of it like that, but when I smile to myself he never sees the joke. But then Mum always said I was a funny girl.
I was going to tell you about some moments. Moments that happened to me a long time ago, back when Kyle and I used to talk regularly, so you’ll have to excuse me if my memory isn’t that good. That’s why I can’t start at the beginning; I have to think hard, and then the most vivid moment comes back to me. That would be the night Kyle came to fetch me, and I failed him. I can still see the pink flowery curtains billowing into my bedroom as the wind blew through the shattered window. They weren’t very pretty, those curtains; my mother had picked them and I never liked them. Kyle used to laugh and say, ‘Mother knows best’ in that mocking tone of his. A girl should always trust her mother, they say, but, I mean, how can you trust someone who puts up pink flowered curtains in your bedroom? Anyway, in that moment, the glass from the window shattered, and they blew into my room, swirling round. I remember the rain, too - it was a stormy night, and I can still see the raindrops spattered across my desk by the window. Most of all, though, I remember my father.
Dad was always kinder to me than Mum. I know I shouldn’t say things like that. I should love them both equally, honour them both. And I do, but at the same time I know that it was only Mum that got Dad worried about Kyle, and made him interfere between us; he never would otherwise. So in a way it was worse that it was Dad who burst into my room that night, that night they finally heard Kyle. I can see the look on his face still. That look will live in me forever - a total refusal to believe, even though he could see that the drum was not in the room.
The drum. If I’m going to get all this to make sense, even if it’s just a collection of moments, I’m going to have to write about the drum. Because it was through the drum that Kyle first spoke to me. I know theysay that little girls aren’t interested in drums, that they’re boys things, and all that, and it was my brother’s drum anyway, but I was eight years old then - what did I know? Anyway, I’ve heard all that so many times that if anyone else says it I’m sure I’ll scream. I wouldn’t care if they burst in here and took me out to put their needles in me again, I would just go right on screaming, because it’s not the truth, and they’re always on about the truth, how it’s so important. “We’ve got to get at the truth, Joanna,” they say, like it’s a splinter inside me that’s out of reach. Anyway, that’s the thing you need to know: I liked drumming. That’s why they call me the drummer girl - I know they do - even though they laugh, because, of course, I haven’t got a drum anymore.
It wasn’t my drum. Like I told you, it was my brother’s. I can’t tell you about him, because he’s dead. He died when I was little, and I don’t remember too much about him. Something terrible happened, I think, and then he was dead. I can’t say more; they never talked about him. But I sort of picked up his drum - it wasn’t even a proper one, just one of those kid’s things that you put round your neck, but I used to love it, and after he’d gone, after he’d died, I hung onto it. I just made a row at first, I’ll admit, and it’s funny, but they didn’t bother as much when I was just banging away then, later, I could play it a bit. Properly. Marching sounds. That was when all the trouble started, when Kyle taught me to play.
Kyle was a really good drummer. I’d hammer away on mine, then I’d stop, and listen, and I’d hear Kyle playing what I’d been trying to play, on his. It was like he was in my head. That’s what Dr. Preston says, that he was in my mind, and now he’s gone, but he knows nothing: Kyle would have laughed in his face.
It’s unusual for a little girl to play a drum; I soon found that out. At first it was kind of a joke; when people came round Dad would say “get your drum out, Joanna,” and I’d play a bit. When you’re seven or eight people don’t mind hearing you. Now they won’t let me near a drum. Anyway, I got to play this drum really well, and I was keen, and for a while it was great, I got better and better. This was because Kyle was teaching me, of course, but no-one knew that. It wasn’t that I kept it from Mum and Dad. I never thought much about it. I thought everyone learned that way. Mostly they ignored me, after a while, or told me to shut up, or go to my room and play it. So I usually did, and it was there that Kyle and I really got to know each other.
I never found out his full name. I’d ask, but he’d just laugh and say Kyle was all I needed to know. He was right, I suppose. Anyway, I got used to him pretty quickly. It was only when Mum came into my room one day that she got curious. I remember the day - it was a Monday, but I wasn’t at school, and the sun was streaming through the windows, those same windows that were to be shattered. I suppose she thought I should go out and play. But Kyle was talking to me when she came in, and I guess I must have ignored her.
“Joanna, what are you doing?” I remember those words. I’m not very good at remembering words or details of things usually; like, I couldn’t tell you what colour clothes people wore or stupid things like that, but I remember Mum saying that. It was like I’d done something really peculiar. It made me jump too. But I answered without really thinking. “Listening to Kyle,” I said. And that was the start of it.
Mum told my Dad, and he came and talked to me. He talked a lot about when he was a boy he had a friend called Bill who only he could see. I couldn’t understand why he went on about this Bill, when I told him I couldn’t see Kyle, not like I could seehim.
“But you can hear him?”
“I can hear him after I play my drum.”
“While you’re drumming?” He seemed very interested.
“Not while. Afterwards. I play and then he plays. Only better.”
That was about how the conversation went, and it was after that I started to hear Mum and Dad arguing, and they didn’t really argue before. My telling about Kyle caused a lot of trouble. They wanted to know all about him. Who was he? How did he speak to me? They didn’t like me playing my drum at all after this, especially Mum. She’d scream at me to put it away, but often Kyle and I were in such deep discussion that I didn’t hear her, and she’d storm over to wherever I was and snatch the drum from me. Then she’d accuse me of being childish, because I’d cry. But who wouldn’t cry? Kyle was becoming my whole life, my whole world. And I couldn’t hear him unless I had my drum.
How it worked was I’d drum and he’d answer. I’d hear him drumming, and it would help me learn, but that wasn’t all - there’d be words, words in my head, which were not mine. It sounds scary, but it wasn’t. They were his words, and he put them in my head. That’s what you have to know. What happened really had nothing to do with me.
He told me about the place where he lived, and how wonderful it was, because no-one ever tried to stop him drumming; they just let him go right on, as often as he wanted. That was how he’d got so good. If a person wanted to get really good at something, he said, they had to do that one thing over and over and not care about anything else. I tried that. I tried playing over and over, but it wasn’t any good; there were too many rows, especially with Mum. Kyle said not to worry, that they’d understand in the end, that he’d make them understand, but he never really managed it. They just stopped me talking about him. I think my Dad wanted to let me go on as I wanted; he said I’d grow out of it, as he put it, as though it was something really unimportant - which was almost as annoying, if you can understand that. But Mum couldn’t stand my being near the drum; she’d lock it away, and I’d scream and scream until she got it out again. Locking it away was crueller, to me, than selling it or giving it away. I tried playing only at certain times, but that didn’t work, because I had the feeling, time after time, that Kyle wanted to talk to me. And I’d always be right.
“Where’ve you been?” he’d ask, as soon as he could speak to me. Then I’d tell him, and he’d say that Mum and Dad were wrong in stopping me, which is a terrible thing to be told, even by someone as close as Kyle had become. But I believed he was right; he was right about most things, as I’ve already said. He must have been right about things he told me about my brother, because when I repeated them my Mum got hysterical. “Who told you that? Who told you that?” she’d scream, and shake me too. I can still hear her screaming. It’s funny that they talk about my ‘hysteria’, as they put it, for there was no-one as hysterical as my mother. It’s funny, if you think about it; one of those things that makes me smile...
I should tell you about what happened to my brother, according to Kyle, but I can’t. I know this won’t go down very well, that I’m supposed to reveal things in this piece, but, as Kyle said, you can’t spend your life pleasing other people and doing the things they want you to do, otherwise you disappear. He said that word, which is kind of eerie when you think of what happened to me. I started to get scared; I didn’t want to end up like my brother. I never doubted, though, that Kyle was telling me the truth; he never lied about anything. He was probably the only one who’d tell me right out that I looked a mess or that something I had played was no good. Things like that. Truths only people who really care about you tell you. And Kyle really cared. In the end, he told me I would be safe, because he was going to come for me and take me with him, and that he’d look after me forever. But I had to have trust and faith in him, that without trust and faith there was no hope. “Trust and faith,” he’d say, are what make life worth living. And you can’t argue with that, can you? But he said not to tell Mum and Dad. And I tried hard not to, but it just slipped out... “When Kyle comes and takes me with him,” I said one day, “you’ll be sorry, because you’ll never be able to be mean to me again!” I said this straight out without thinking, one day. Sometimes I just come out with feelings like that. But I was only small, so you mustn’t think me too stupid that I hadn’t learned to conceal them.
Anyway, after this they took the drum away from me altogether. I don’t know what they did with it, and I didn’t care, because I knew Kyle would come; he had made his promise, and he never lied, so I knew it didn’t matter. I just waited, and if they said anything, I’d just smile, the way I do now at people, fussing around me, pretending they know best. What’s best is that Kyle will come. That’s what he said. He came once, and he’ll come again.
That’s where they don’t believe the things I say. When I say he came they say I’m having a relapse. And my Dad could tell them. He could put them right and he won’t and it makes me so ANGRY!Maybe that’s why they’ve got me writing this whole thing; maybe somewhere in all my moments is this ANGER I have to bring out. Of course, it could be just another trick. They’re always tricking me with this and that, just as Kyle warned me. “Follow the drum,” he’d say, “follow the drum and you will never go wrong.” And that is what I have tried to do. But this is not the world to do it in.
I’m going to have to talk about the moment when Kyle came. I’ve mentioned it once, at the beginning. I said that wasn’t the beginning, didn’t I? It’s more like the end really. But of all my moments it’s the one that really matters. Sometimes it’s really hard to get a moment clear in your mind, especially when it happened a long time ago. But I’ll try.
I’ve already said it was a stormy night. I remember lying awake, not able to sleep, tossing and turning. It was nearly a month after they’d taken the drum away for good, but things were still terrible. I hadn’t drummed, or heard Kyle drum, in all that time, and though I never believed he had forsaken me I was beginning to think it would be years before he came. Until that night, when I heard him again.
It was the first time I had ever heard Kyle without drumming first. It was a soft patter at first, and I wondered if it was the rain against the window, but after a few moments I realised it was him. He was drumming, coming closer and closer, from who knew where? Louder and louder, the drumming increased. Louder and louder, yet I didn’t even cover my ears, but lay there, rejoicing in the knowledge that Kyle had returned, as I had always known he would, and that at any moment he would be there at my side, and not simply in my head. I envisaged introducing him to my father, and the thought of this, after all that had been said, made me laugh. I couldn’t stop laughing, in fact. Until I saw my father at the bedroom door.
I can still see him standing in the doorway, lit by the moon. He seemed frozen, rooted to the spot, and suddenly I knew why: he could hear Kyle too! That must be it, I thought, and laughed again. After all the time of denying his existence he was a witness to Kyle’s return. That was when the window smashed.
They keep telling me it was chance, the window smashing like that, at the most significant moment in my life, but they must think I’m insane if they expect me to believe that! I never will, not if I’m here in room thirteen until I die.
The next moments are not very clear. My mother’s horrible pink flowered curtains billowed in the wind. The glass scattered across the bedroom floor, and the rain beat furiously into the room. My father stood there, and I saw a look of horror on his face, his eyes wild. He strode across to the window, and grasped the curtains, struggling with them in the wind. I laughed on - did he imagine he was a match for Kyle’s power? For Kyle was there now, I saw him, resplendent in a deep purple cloak, his face pale, but eyes shining. Rain ran down his cheeks - or was it tears? I heard his voice at last: “Joanna...Joanna...Joanna...” out there in the world, a world that had suddenly been reduced to howling wind and stinging rain, but a world out there, the world of mothers, fathers, pink flowered curtains, a world drumming, thundering insistently into my father’s disbelieving head.
My father...he was there, standing by my window, struggling with the curtains, tangled in Kyle’s beautiful cloak. He called my name, hoarsely, barely audible above the wind, but I lay there in bed, eyes staring at a battle I felt could only have one winner, should only have one winner! Suddenly, though, the wind dropped, and I saw, and I will never forgive him for it, my father force Kyle out into the night. I heard his scream die away, and lay rigid in my bed, aware in that instant that my destiny with him was being thwarted. He was being pummelled away in the name of... what? Protection? Did my father really believe I was in danger from Kyle, my twin drummer, my twin soul, my destiny? He turned to me, repeating endlessly “it’s all right, it’s all right, it’s all right...”, a litany of self-deception. For it was not all right, and it may never be all right again. For as the wind died away, the curtains returned to cover the window like a malevolent coffin lid, as my father began to attend to the glass on the bedroom floor, the guilt swept over me in waves.
Guilt, did I say? After I had seen Kyle thrust from my room and my life by my misunderstanding father? Yes. For I had lain there, so certain that Kyle would triumph, and there was my undoing. Hadn’t he always said that I must drum, whatever happened, that I must do that one thing over and over, that I must struggle to reach him? And what did I do, but betray him, even as my father was betraying me.
There - I have said all the things they wanted me to say. But I do not feel better. In every life, Kyle used to say, there are only two or three really important moments, and in these moments the life path opens, the will becomes powerful, and the life course hangs in balance. I have only had one moment. And I lost. A possible path was closed to me. But I will not lose again. I must be patient, steady. When the next moment arrives I shall be ready, and I will be free to forge my destiny.
I have to be careful about using language like that. It will make them uncomfortable. “Keep your words simple” is something else Kyle used to say. I try to follow his advice, as I tried to follow him, and one day will succeed. One day, when the drum beat sounds again in my head, in my heart, and nothing - not the mothers, the fathers, the doctors, nor the flowery pink curtains will stand in my way!
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