Dark knew there was something different about that day. His eyes hadn't yet adjusted to the glare of the morning light streaming in through his window, but he rubbed them anyway to give them another chance. No, it was still no easier. How much he would have loved to lie there and fully wake before jumping out of his midi sleeper, or doing the convoluted climb down to the floor. Or, even better, how he would love to simply drop back to sleep.
But no, he'd seen the clock now. 7:14. He had woken at the wrong time, and that meant that rituals had to be followed. He had to keep one eye open on the clock till precisely ten minutes had passed. If he missed that, he'd have to wait another ten. And during the entire ten minutes he must have to lie still and straight, with eyes on the clock. For the first minute he'd stretch his toes, pointing them rhythmically up at the ceiling, then pointing towards the bottom of the bed. As soon as the first minute ended, he had to squeeze his bottom so his body rose and fell in the bed. Shoulders, hands, neck... the routine was unchanging. If he didn’t successfully complete the ritual, he would have to wait till 7:24 then start right at the beginning again.
Oh, the arguments he and his mum had about this. She'd say, ‘Gabriel,’ (for that was his real name, not his preferred name, Dark), ‘What if your own clock is incorrect? Would that make a difference?’. His disparaging look told her that the clock was NOT wrong - it was somehow linked to satellite time. And of course he would simply had to start over every time. It was what he did. It wasn't wrong. It was just Dark's way.
Mornings were fraught as a result. The cajoling, the encouragement, the bribery, the tickling, nothing made a difference to Dark's behaviour. He could not get out of bed without the stretches and eye rubs and ten minute wait.
His mum, Flora, accustomed to receiving abuse for her name as a child (‘hey buttery, don't you spread easily’) had been determined to name her third and much wanted child in a charitable way. She was determined to give him a nice name and a biblical name, and preferably a name that he would not be bullied for, insulted for, or ridiculed for. Flora had considered changing her own name but had made the decision not to. It suited her as an older woman a little better than it had a small child. Besides, she had more important things to do and think about.
First, Emily, Gabriel's oldest sister, was having trouble at school. Aged 14, the boys were coming calling, both in school and without, and rebellion was starting. Second, Gabriel's younger sister Bernice, was struggling to make friends and keep friends. The poor kid was so lonely.
Third, was Gabriel. Well, he was a case study all to himself. He was usually positive and upbeat about his slight oddness, and he knew the advantages of having good concentration and a mind that could retain and recall fact brilliantly. But there were times when he got upset because his idiosyncrasies prevented him from doing what his heart wanted to.
That was my family. That was my life. And, as I shouted Gabriel down for the fourteenth time that morning, I realised. We are all creatures of habit. I cajole and encourage, occasionally brimming over into irritated insults. Emily preened and pouted. Bernice was her own worst enemy who remained silent and unknowable, no matter how deep her feelings flowed. We did the same thing every school morning. We acted the same way. We said the same things. We even ate the same breakfasts.
The rest of us were creatures of habit. It was no wonder that Gabriel was too. His habits may have been a little more firmly entrenched, and a little more restrictive, but we were the same – he was just further along the spectrum.
I called up. He shouted down. ‘Twenty five seconds,’ he said. I picked up the car keys and made my way to the garage.