A Monster Calls (Page 19)

“It’s okay,” his father said.

Conor frowned. “It’s okay?”

“Don’t worry about it,” his father said, going back to his breakfast. “Worse things happen at sea.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means we’re going to pretend like it never happened,” his father said, firmly, “because other things are going on right now.”

“Other things like Mum?”

His father sighed. “Finish your breakfast.”

“You’re not even going to punish me?”

“What would be the point, Con?” his father said, shaking his head. “What could possibly be the point?”

– • –

Conor hadn’t heard a word of his lessons in school, but the teachers hadn’t told him off for his inattentiveness, skipping over him when they asked questions to the class. Mrs Marl didn’t even make him hand in his Life Writing homework, even though it was due that day. Conor hadn’t written a single sentence.

Not that it seemed to matter.

His classmates kept their distance from him, too, like he was giving off a bad smell. He tried to remember if he’d talked to any of them since he’d arrived this morning. He didn’t think he had. Which meant he hadn’t actually spoken to anyone since his father that morning.

How could something like that happen?

But, finally, here was Harry. And that, at least, felt normal.

“Conor O’Malley,” Harry said, stopping a pace away from him. Sully and Anton hung back, sniggering.

Conor stood up from the wall, dropping his hands to his sides, preparing himself for wherever the punch might fall.

Except it didn’t.

Harry just stood there. Sully and Anton stood there, too, their smiles slowly shrinking.

“What are you waiting for?” Conor asked.

“Yeah,” Sully said to Harry, “what are you waiting for?”

“Hit him,” Anton said.

Harry didn’t move, his eyes still firmly locked on Conor. Conor could only look back until it felt like there was nothing in the world except him and Harry. His palms were sweating. His heart was racing.

Just do it, he thought and then realized he was saying it out loud. “Just do it!”

“Do what?” Harry said, calmly. “What on earth could you possibly want me to do, O’Malley?”

“He wants you to beat him into the ground,” Sully said.

“He wants you to kick his arse,” Anton said.

“Is that right?” Harry asked, seeming genuinely curious. “Is that really what you want?”

Conor said nothing, just stood there, fists clenched.

Waiting.

And then the bell went, ringing loudly, and Miss Kwan began to cross the yard at that moment, too, talking to another teacher, but eyeing the pupils around her, keeping a close watch in particular on Conor and Harry.

“I guess we’ll never find out,” Harry said, “what it is O’Malley wants.”

Anton and Sully laughed, though it was clear they didn’t get the joke, and all three started to make their way back inside.

But Harry watched Conor as they left, never looking away from him.

As he left Conor standing there alone.

Like he was completely invisible to the rest of the world.

YEW TREES

“Hey there, darling,” his mum said, pushing herself up a bit in her bed as Conor came through the door.

He could see how much she struggled to do it.

“I’ll just be out here,” his grandma said, getting up from her seat and walking past without looking at him.

“I’m going to grab something from the vending machine, sport,” his father said from the doorway. “Do you want anything?”

“I want you to stop calling me sport,” Conor said, not taking his eyes off his mother.

Who laughed.

“Back in a bit,” his father said, and left him alone with her.

“Come here,” she said, patting the bed beside her. He went over and sat down next to her, taking care not to disturb either the tube they had stuck in her arm or the tube sending air down her nostrils or the tube he knew occasionally got taped to her chest, when the bright orange chemicals were pumped into her at her treatments.

“How’s my Conor then?” she asked, reaching up a thin hand to brush his hair. He could see a yellow stain on her arm around where the tube went in and little purple bruises all the way along the inside of her elbow.

But she was smiling. It was tired, it was exhausted, but it was a smile.

“I know I must look a fright,” she said.

“No, you don’t,” Conor said.

She brushed his hair again with her fingers. “I think I can forgive a kind lie.”

“Are you okay?” Conor asked, and even though the question was in one sense completely ridiculous, she knew what he meant.

“Well, sweetheart,” she said, “a couple of different things they’ve tried haven’t worked like they wanted them to. And they’ve not worked a lot sooner than they were hoping they wouldn’t. If that makes any sense.”

Conor shook his head.

“No, not to me either, really,” she said. He saw her smile get tighter, harder for her to hold. She took in a deep breath, and it ratcheted slightly as it went in, like there was something heavy in her chest.

“Things are going a little faster than I’d hoped, sweetheart,” she said, and her voice was thick, thick in a way that made Conor’s stomach twist even harder. He was suddenly glad he hadn’t eaten since breakfast.

“But,” his mum said, voice still thick but smiling again. “There’s one more thing they’re going to try, a medicine that’s had some good results.”

“Why didn’t they try it before?” Conor asked.

“Remember all my treatments?” she said. “Losing my hair and all that throwing up?”

“Of course.”

“Well, this is something you take when that hasn’t worked how they wanted it to,” she said. “It was always a possibility, but they were hoping not to have to use it at all.” She looked down. “And they were hoping not to have to use it this soon.”

“Does that mean it’s too late?” Conor asked, setting the words free before he even knew what he was saying.

“No, Conor,” she answered him, quickly. “Don’t think that. It’s not too late. It’s never too late.”

“Are you sure?”