By Paul Riches
The clutter of books and clothes and dvd cases, empty and non-empty, litter his bed, almost covering the blue comforter.
Usually he is so very neat, with little room for disorder, in his tiny haven of a bedroom. It is a trait he takes pride in, for years untold, and now with his sixteenth birthday just passed by, he is disregarding it wholesale to rebuild all the pieces of his life.
“Why the heckers am I doing this right now?” he gently exclaims as he kicks a box on the floor, than plops down in a chair.
“Because everything is changing tomorrow,” he answers, slowly lowering his head and letting his eyes close in relief. “Because tomorrow the new job starts,” he muffles out, “and I don’t know if I am ready.”
A sigh comes out again and he finishes by stretching his arms around at odd angles, all in the hope of jarring himself into action.
He blinks several times and spies one more box still living under his bed. Squinting quickly, he babbles, “oh, I forgot about you, my little friend.”
Dashing with new found energy, he pulls the box out and drops it onto the mess on the bed. Flipping the lid off, he gazes inside.
And stops. And breathes deeply.
Reaching down, he raises into the open air an outfit for a child, one with the pants and shirt sewn together in a very quick manner, making it into a uniform. The colourful bright red bottom clash wonderfully with the deep purple top but seem at home with the yellow cape, making it into a superhero costume. A red face mask, one that would neatly go around his eyes and tie quite nicely at the back of his head, makes it a secret identity.
“Hello Doctor Bedlam, we meet again…”
“Are you wearing that outfit again?” his mother asks in an aggravated tone.
“Only for one more day, for one more mission…” Doctor Bedlam replies, shifting one foot over the other. Not very superhero like, he thinks,
“That’s what you said yesterday, and the day before. Are you going to spend all your summer vacation dressed up like that?” His mother switches to a stern tone.
“I like being Doctor Bedlam, and saving the day, and, and it is fun.” Doctor Bedlam states, putting effort into now keeping his feet still. Superheroes don’t shuffle their feet.
“You are nine you know,” his mother’s voice raises, “And this Doctor Bedlam nonsense should have ended long ago.”
Doctor Bedlam gives his mother pleading eyes. But superheroes use their eyes, so it is okay.
“Fine,” she waves her hands dismissively, “Are Tracey and Sarah stopping by today? Again?”
“Yepper!” Doctor Bedlam shouts happily. “The Chaos Merchants are gonna help Doctor Bedlam defend the Earth from evil once again!”
“Fine, fine, fine, just be in by six for supper,” his mother snaps, then shakes her head. “And your friends can stay as well, and camp out if they wish. Again.” she sighs.
Doctor Bedlam races out the patio door and yells all the way along the deck and into the deep of the backyard, cape fluttering majestically behind him. All to save the Earth. Which in this case is a blue tent living near the trees.
A half-hour later Tracey and Sarah arrive and both are sporting backwards red baseball caps, the official uniforms of the Chaos Merchants. “Holla Doctor Bedlam!” they shout in unison, grinning.
“Ready to save the world?” Doctor Bedlam shouts back. Seconds later, the three are parading about in various missions, all in and around their version of the Earth. Two hours of crazed superheroics and daring adventures lead to the trio finally resting in the tent.
“Are ya gonna camp out here again tonight J?” Tracey asks while tossing her cap in the air.
Doctor Bedlam glances between the two. “Yes. I have too.”
“Parents still quietly arguing every night? Had a feeling, you seemed a bit off this morning.” Sarah states, staring right at Doctor Bedlam.
Now studying his feet, Doctor Bedlam replies. “They think I can’t hear them. They think I have no idea. They think…” Tears form in his eyes. “I know it is all because of me.” He can feel his mask getting wet.
Tracey slaps her cap on, backwards of course, and jumps over beside Doctor Bedlam just as Sarah takes up position on the hero’s other side.
“You did nothing wrong, and ya know it,” Tracey whispers to Doctor Bedlam as Sarah wipes away his tears. Whispering as well, Sarah smiles “She’s right. And we have to keep your mask dry so it does not slip off. Protect your secret identity and all.”
Doctor Bedlam smiles back weakly. “Thanks. You both have always been the most awesome. But… I do now know, for sure, that I am the problem.”
“Explain J,” Tracey commands.
“When I got up from camping out here again last night, I sneaked into the house.” He looks back and forth between his friends. “I now superheroes aren’t supposed to creep around, but I wanted to not do anything that would cause any more fights.”
“And not wake up Clara.” Tracey interrupts.
“Yeah, but she sleeps through earthquakes and thunderstorms and everything,” Doctor Bedlam states. “Little kid sisters, eh?” He and Tracey quickly share a fist bump.
“So I got back inside and they were already up and arguing and trying to still be hushed up for some reason,” he continues. “They… my father, my dad, wants to have another child, another son….”
Tears come easily now, flowing past his mask and running freely down his face. “He wants a new son because something is wrong with me. My dad said that. My dad said that I was wrong.”
Sarah and Tracey give him a hug that holds and rocks their friend. The tent is quiet for the next few minutes but for the sobbing of nine year Doctor Bedlam. His friends, the Chaos Merchants, do not break the silence. They are simply there for him.
A light wind gives the tent a shake, breaking up the group hug.
“Well,” Tracey says as she wipes her own tears, “Not to destroy you all over again, did you dad at least say what he thought was wrong with you?”
Doctor Bedlam keeps his mask on and carefully clears his tears away. “He said… my dad said something I just don’t understand.” He finishes with his eyes and readjusts the mask. “My dad said that he could tell I play for the other team.”
Sarah and Tracey stare at Doctor Bedlam.
“Okay,” Tracey blurts out, “What the what does that mean?”
“And they think,” Sarah says with an incredulous tone, “That another boy won’t play for the other team? How would they know that? Whatever that is?” She stares at him. “Me confused.”
“You never looked it up online?” Tracey asks. “If only my parents has gotten me a phone by now, I coulda looked it up for ya. Right here, right now.”
Doctor Bedlam shakes his head “I am not allowed online, you know that. But what it means doesn’t matter, because I know they are right.”
He sighs. “I am different.”
“So what?” Sarah snaps at Doctor Bedlam. “So what if you might be different? Or if your parents think you might be different? And maybe you are not different! Maybe you are just, just…”
“Doctor Bedlam, our friend, the world famous J.” Tracey finishes.
Sarah and Tracey hold up their hands to Doctor Bedlam and fist bumps are exchanged. Followed by another group hug. Because that is what superheroes do.
No wind interrupts this time, the friends stay in the moment as long is as needed, and for a tiny bit all seems peaceful.
As they break from the hug, he looks at Sarah and Tracey. “You two are awesome.”
“Of course,” Tracey states as she shrugs her shoulders, “tis our callings as Chaos Merchants.”
“And you are awesome as well J,” Sarah says with a smile, “and even more awesome as Doctor Bedlam.”
Tracey starts laughing, causing Sarah and Doctor Bedlam to stare at her.
“I never noticed till now, but Doctor Bedlam and the Chaos Merchants sounds like names of supervillains, not superheroes.” Tracey keeps giggling. “But ya got the costume and we got the caps, so it looks like we are stuck with who we are.”
Doctor Bedlam nods. “I never thought of that. I just kinda made up our secret identities. Thought it fit us all and everything.”
Sarah takes off her cap and starts twirling it about her finger. “I can’t believe I am saying this, but maybe my step mother is right about something.”
Tracey does a huge mock gasp. “Wait! Karen was right! And you said so! Shiver me timbers!” She does a fake faint, landing on her back with a thwack.
Doctor Bedlam laughs as Sarah rolls her eyes.
“Ha ha Trac,” Sarah replies, “I have given her compliments before. Just not that often.”
Tracey sits back up and also takes her cap off. She starts spinning it on her finger as well. “That looks like fun, fellow Chaos Merchant.”
Sarah rolls her eyes again and continues. “Karen is reading that book of poetry by that Noor lady, you know the one all the adults are talking about?” Her cap is now spinning around her finger rather quickly. Tracey speeds up her cap to match.
“Anyway, a lot of the poems,” Sarah says, “Are about acceptance. And Karen went on last night about how we have to live with ourselves. Where we came from, what we are now and who we will be.” Both caps are whipping about at a very high speed now. “Accepting our all, which I think Karen said was the main poem, really really went on about this. Being yourself.” Sarah gives a light punch to Doctor Bedlam’s shoulder, causing the cap zipping in her other hand to go flying majestically through the air. Tracey also flings her cap.
They watch as the caps lands softly on the ground, barely outside the tent.
“It’s in the real world now,” Tracey whispers, looking slightly horrified. “Sorry, I thought you did that on purpose Sarah.”
“That was a boo boo, leaving our superhero game.” Sarah whispers back.
“Maybe,” Doctor Bedlam states.
The girls look at him.
He stands up and stares ahead with heroic determination. “Maybe that is okay. To be us.”
Doctor Bedlam takes off his mask.
“Lets go inside now,” he declares, “As ourselves. And we can get some lunch. Hang out with Clara. See if your little sister Maddie wants to come over. Have some fun together as us.”
He tosses his red mask beside Sarah’s and Tracey’s caps.
As the three friends make their way towards the house, he turns to the former Chaos Merchants.
“Didn’t that lady write her poetry book back when she was sixteen? Only a few years older then us?”
“Yepper!” Sarah laughs.
“Wonder what we will be doing when we are sixteen?” he asks.
“Hi, I’m Joshua.”
He smiles as he shakes hands with the man in the next cubicle.
“Hello Joshua, I’m Nicholas. Excited for your first day?” Nicholas smiles back.
“Yepper! Feels like something I should have been doing for a long time,” Joshua says as he sits down and looks at the phone sitting before him.
“Alcoholism. Wrecked my life. Now rebuilding. Here’s one of my chips.” Nicholas rattles this off very casually while showing off a red disc in his hand.
“What…” Joshua glances up.
“Your reason for doing this.” Nicholas states.
Joshua smirks. “Came out of the closet at the end of grade five. Parents have another son. They eventually love and accept me again.” Joshua smiles widely. “And here is my Doctor Bedlam mask.” He holds up his hand and shows off a red makeshift wristband.
Nicholas tilts his head.
“Long story!” Joshua laughs.
“Okay, can’t wait to hear it Doctor Bedlam.” Nicholas laughs as well.
Joshua’s phone rings and his eyes dart to it. “My first call,” he states as he reaches to answer with his red mask adorned hand. Nicholas nods and goes back to his cubicle.
“Teen Crisis Centre Hotline. Joshua speaking. I am here for you.” He says with a soothing voice. Because this is what superheroes do.
“Hi Josh. My name is, is… Simon.” The young boy says unsteadily.
“What do you want to talk about Simon?” Joshua asks, hearing the pain over the phone.
“My dad left recently. And… I don’t know how I feel about it.” Simon’s voice sounds more reassured now.
Joshua continues talking to Simon, letting the boy know he is not alone, that he is accepted, and how he is who he is.
Twenty minutes later, Simon feels better and promises to call back.
“Thanks Joshua, you are awesome,” Simon exclaims.
“You are awesome as well Simon. Can’t wait to hear back from you.” Joshua replies happily.
They hang up.
Doctor Bedlam and the Chaos Merchants is Copyright 2015 to Paul Riches
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First published on Wednesday, June 24th, 2015