The Paper

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  • Published: 6 Sep 2015
  • Updated: 6 Sep 2015
  • Status: Complete
What if everything you knew about your past was a lie?

Follow Jonny as he discovers a secret which will change his life forever...


Cover art: Shadow Art, by Kumi Yamashita

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1. The Paper

Jonny realised that his life wasn't rooted in any kind of fact at all. He left the office at quarter past three with it in his hand. 'It' being a piece of paper taken out of its envelope - a solitary side of typed A4, curling slightly at the edges where Jonny had clutched it too tightly. He held it out in front of him; straight in front, as he negotiated his way down the stairs, out of the building, into the sunlight, back to the crowds of people lazily going about their business. But he couldn't re-join them. Not now, not yet, maybe not ever. Still the paper was close to him, held up, parallel to his unblinking face. Forget the risk of tripping over now – this eclipsed all physical dangers. This sheet induced a completely different kind of fear.

Suddenly, he was home, and the paper had to fall momentarily from his eye line so he could open the door. Once done, the paper was right back where it belonged, in pride of place in front of its owners questioning gaze. His mother was in the kitchen. Maternally resplendent in apron and rolled up sleeves, she appeared temporarily snakish; for she had played some part in all this. Her hands were gripping a bowl and a wooden spoon – she was making a cake.

"Jonny?"

She smiled. It wavered when it wasn't reciprocated.

"Mum."

He turned the piece of paper around and laid it on the worktop, in front of her bowl. She put down her spoon and read it. Words escaped her, she who always had something to say. Jonny silently unfolded his arms and retracted it from her personal space.

"It's not been easy, Jonny."

"No?"

"I was always going to tell you at some point."

"I doubt that. You knew what it would mean."

Jonny never cried, but he wanted to now. He was out of practice though, so he ripped the plaster off the day-old football injury on his left arm, folded it back on itself so it was stuck in half, and threw it in the bin. She, mother, watched it fall.

"I just never knew where to start. I guess it wouldn't have hurt if things had stayed the way they were...why now, Jonny?"

Her face was pained. Her weight shifted from foot to foot as she reached back and untied her apron strings, unceremoniously dumping the garment onto a chair. Her gaze didn't once leave her son.

"Because...because. Because of that new kid at school. The way everyone treats him, and I wondered if I...was the same. Because there's always a blank space on some form. Because I can't grow up with half my life missing."

And he left the kitchen; quickly, and without thought. Dinner would be ruined now.

The next stop for the paper was grandma's. Hand shaking, Jonny pressed the bell, and waited. Eventually, he was granted entry, and he blazed up the concrete stairs. The door was already open for him.

"Look! Look at this! Look what at what she hid from me!"

It was safe for him to let out his emotions here. He thrust the sheet at her. She accepted it, and appeared fearful as her eyes trailed over it.

"I had always suspected..."

She faltered and shook her head. It made Jonny feel better that she had never known; never been sure. It was not her fault. Now, she reached out to her grandson and held his face in her hands, stroking his hair and staring, not just at him, but into his past.

"No one would ever have known, Jonny. You didn't need to dig it up."

He shook himself free.

"Yes I did. Yes I did."

He snatched the paper up and felt its newly acquired imperfections pressing against his hands – wrinkled, damp and torn. Grandma opened a cupboard and drew out a cake tin. But when she turned around to offer Jonny some kind of condolence, some kind of caring gesture, he had already gone; he had already left the building.

Overcome by a sudden sense of duty, he had decided to visit his college; they probably had procedure foe situations like this. He expected to be vilified, and then expelled. He hurried – the caretaker would be shutting up soon. As soon as he stepped inside, he felt a sense of loss, as he realised the extent of what he would have to relinquish in order that he might acknowledge what he had found. His breathing shallow, he knocked on the principle's door.

"Come in."

The disembodied voice of pedagogy. Jonny immediately turned the handle and stepped inside.

As he sat opposite the principle's stony face, he felt as impotent as the desk fan. It was so small and insignificant against the perpetual stuffiness of the static, bureaucratic office environment, replete with faceless files and joyless, utilitarian objects. He wished a window was open; why was the teacher taking so long? Eventually, the principle finished his perusal of the evidence.

"Well Jonny, first of all I'd like to say and both saddened and disappointed. It'll be a shame to lose such a good student..."

He said it unapologetically. It was already final. "We would never have known otherwise, so...thank you...for informing us."

Jonny could see something in the principles eyes that he had never seen before. Disgust? Fear? "I'd like you to fill out these forms..." He slid them across his desk, avoiding any physical contact. "...And come back tomorrow morning to hand them in and clean out your locker."

"Ok."

When Jonny got up, for once the principle didn't rise too. He just sat there, clearly pitying the new trajectory of Jonny's existence.

His next thought was Amelia. She was unexpectedly part of this now – this would affect her too. He felt so sad for her, but also for himself – she would have to make a choice, and maybe that would leave him out of the picture. It was late now. The Windows of her bedroom were dark indigo squares, steamy with condensation, the gloom only slightly penetrated by a faint half-moon, and a dim, pointless lamp on a desk. Amelia spoke first, both hands still resting flat on Jonny's paper revelation.

"I don't want things to change because of this."

"But they have to."

He ran a hand caringly over her soft blonde hair. "Everything I thought I was, I'm not. Everything I believed in, hated, compared myself to..."

He stopped. She went to kiss him, but he moved. "Look at me, Amelia. Do you see it?"

She screwed up her face.

"No, I don't. I don't care. Whatever people say, I want to stay with you. It doesn't matter to me."

"But I don't want to drag you into this. My past...it wouldn't look good for you. You know how society treats people like me..."

Amelia held her hand up, tears welling.

"Don't say 'people like me'."

The tears fell. "Please, Jonny."

She buried her face in his shoulder, and he didn't resist. "You could hide it, Jonny. No one would ever know, people would treat you the same way they always have. I love you."

Jonny held her a little tighter.

"It's been hidden for so long. I have to accept it. I have to own up to who I am."

"Own up...you make it sound like something terrible."

"It's not...but you know that here, in this country, in these times...I won't be accepted. My father obviously wasn't and that's why he's not around anymore."

He wiped a mascara-blackened tear from under Amelia's wispy lower lashes. The act lessened his building sadness slightly. He rose from his chair, his newly discovered (and now accepted) identity colouring his thoughts, his stance, his strained stare.

"Jonny, don't walk out that door. We're not done."

He just looked...was it through her? She wasn't sure. But she was certain that in finding the missing half of himself, part of him had died, and she wept that society at large had driven him to feel this way. She would never let go of him.

The next day was signing-off day. Clocking off for good. He was leaving education, his mates, his opportunity for betterment and a fulfilled life. His heart was heavy. He watched the principle separate out his forms, and put them away. As he waited for the teacher to type some details into a computer, his hand rested against something in his pocket – that piece of paper; folded up and warm. It was the only comfort he could find. Eventually, the principle was finished.

"You may leave now."

As Jonny trudged along the corridor, heading for the playground, he was stopped by the receptionist, who had always been a great friend to him; she wrapped him in a huge hug, then stood back and nodded sadly at him, before going on her way. Jonny kept walking, and as he flung open the doors to the college's back yard he was hit by a blast of fresh spring air, and the incessant wall of chatter generated by hundreds of rowdy students, each trying to assert themselves over the others. News, however, had travelled fast, and Jonny had never doubted it would. Suddenly, all became quiet, as if Jonny was the only one there. The crowds of people moved away as one, revealing his few true friends, who separated from the masses and approached him, their pale faces reddening in the hot sun.

"Mate..."

His best friend, Wesley, threw out his arms helplessly, disbelief plastered across his face.

"Is it true?" another asked.

One girl came close to him and studied his face. She examined his blue eyes, his curly hair; his lips.

"But you can't tell..." she said, desperately. "You're so pale!"

"You know we don't care. It shouldn't change a thing. But...it's the government. It's just how it is. I wish things were different, mate."

Jonny nodded. He understood. He was glad of what little support they could offer, but he could already feel the bonds between himself and them severing, becoming withered under the weight of what this meant. Jimmy took the folded paper from his trousers and passed it around, opening up his DNA for scrutiny. Jaws fell. Heads shook. Tears were blinked back.

"I just never would have guessed that you were black ..." said Wesley, running his hands through spiky brunette hair.

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