Updated: Nov 13, 2020
Susan Fuss has written about a young man tipping over the edge as a result of his PTSD and spiralling out of control, in her debut novel I AM THE SAND.
In his reality, he is not even here. Not in this dark, fetid place. The girl cringing in front of him doesn’t exist. His eyes are glazed.
St. Joseph’s. He crouches on the freezing stone step at the back of the orphanage. Grey, cold. The sour smell of urine and carbolic soap. He looks up at the plain wooden cross on top of the portico. He is seven years old.
He hears the swish and rustle of the long black skirt that’s been stalking him. Holds his breath, hugs the rusty railings, clinging white-knuckled, pressing himself up hard against them. Desperate to tether himself. To disappear into nothingness. The heavy brogues, dusty, loosely tied, halt inches away. One is right up against his knees. The hem of the heavy cotton robe hisses back and forth across the skin of his thighs. He cannot look. He pushes his little face into the space between two railings. Clutches on for dear life. Terror roars and thunders around him. The shoes under the skirt, wait. Black as the soul of the man who wears them. Then, the dreaded voice comes from way above his head. He does not turn but squashes his puny body even closer against the cold rails, shuffles as far away from the shoe as he can.
‘Come with me, young Henry.’ The shoe closest to him prods his leg. ‘You’re my special lad again today. Lucky boy, aren’t you … Now, come along: you’ll be grand.’ A large, beringed hand cups the back of his head and urges him forward, compelling him to accompany the black skirt along the flag-stoned path. The small boy swipes the tears that slide down his cheeks with the back of a dirty hand. His breathing is shallow, rapid. His neck is clammy. He stumbles along, gets into the car beside the priest. Weak. He’s weak as the dishwater soup he will be brought back to for dinner. Afterwards. After the pain.
Now, the grown man roughly shakes his head, trying to banish the flashbacks that crowd his head and demand his attention, away to the fringes of his consciousness. Momentarily. So weak. Piss weak. Well, not anymore. He is no longer weak. Virginia is going to make him feel powerful. Allay his shame. She is going to serve that one purpose. He can’t do it on his own. She will pay the price. It’s why he took her. He can smell her fear. His feeling of mastery grows. Unbuckling his belt, he rips it out from the waistband loops folding it in half, stretching and snapping it between both hands. His breath comes deep and harsh. He doesn’t want to touch her. He needs to subjugate her. Make her feel like he had felt. He hears the screech of the leather as it arcs and whips through the air onto her naked body. He shuts out the terrified teenager’s screams. But he tastes the power, and like an addict, he hungers for more …