By David Wardrop
Key Themes: fiction, mental health, suicidal thoughts, family
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AFTER by David Wardop is a story about mental anguish and suicide told in two parts. Keith Campbell is a quiet and shy boy who loves comic books and science fiction until he begins to contemplate suicide. The first part of the story, which is told in reverse order, describes the world of tragedy that is left after Keith dies with his family struggling to understand why he kills himself. The second half of the story, on the other hand, describes the world that Keith lives in because he did not commit suicide. This is a reflective and revealing account of one person's mental struggle with suicide and the effect that it has on his health and those who care about him.
What sets this novel apart is the fact that Keith takes his own life right and the novel opens after his death attempting to illustrate Keith's rationale for his suicide. The novel is, at first, depressing, sombre and dark, yet it progressively gets more blithe and hopeful. The novel's conclusion is ironic and thought-provoking, and the reader has to remind himself/herself that although the novel ends on a positive note, because of the manner in which the narrative has been presented, this is not necessarily the case.
About the Author
David Keith Wardrop is 23 years old and lives in Bearsden in Glasgow. Currently, David is a full-time gardener at Ruchill Park in Glasgow and has written two other full-length novels entitled "Sexanto" and "The Gardens of Zarma", along with various short stories for magazines. His main literary influence is Philip K. Dick and his futuristic stories such as "Minority Report" and "Counter-Clock World". Other works that have inspired him include Margaret Atwood's "The Handmaid's Tale" and Brain K. Vaughn and his comics "Ex Machina". David aspires to be a prolific sci-fi writer, and the thought of being published helps him to cope with his depression and envision a brighter future for himself.
Mary woke up a few minutes before lunch. She lay in bed, staring at the white ceiling, listening to the bird song outside the window. She thought how peaceful the house must look from the outside, the walls and roof so still, giving no indication of the devastation that had happened. Those birds' songs seemed so magical weeks ago; now they were another function of nature, noises in the trees indicating another morning. On her way to the kitchen she paused and looked down the hallway that led to Keith’s room. Was she strong enough to go in there? She had not been in this morning, though that was by accident. The last time she had entered Keith’s room was on his funeral two days ago. She nearly went crazy; it seemed so vast without Keith sitting in the middle of the room, playing his computer games.
Mary was halfway through cleaning the dishes when the urge to venture into her son’s room arose. She did not know why. She knew it would hurt her, but she went anyway, pulled down the hall by an overwhelming unseen tide. She flicked on the light switch; the curtains had still remained closed, as they had been on the day Keith had left the house for the last time. Mary tiptoed across the room as she had done many times. It wasn’t that the room was messy; on the contrary, Keith’s things were always carefully stacked. It was just that there was so much stuff that one wrong step could send all the books, magazines and comics into a domino that really would make the bedroom messy.
Mary opened the curtains as she had done on countless other mornings. Keith always kept his curtains closed. Why did he always do that? He wasn’t one of those Goth types that were into the dark stuff, and he didn’t have a physical reaction to light or have photosensitive epilepsy. Did he close his curtains to hide from the outside world? Scared of something perhaps? He did not seem like the type of person to have paranoid tendencies, nor did he seem like the type of person who was being bullied. He showed no signs, but a lot can be hidden in the silent functions of daily life, and a lot of things can be hidden if there is nobody searching. Your average teenager; that is how a lot of people summed up Keith. To Mary he was so much more, but it was an apt description. The average teenager; that didn’t necessarily mean happiness, but it certainly did not imply suicide. Mary and Jack had both read in the papers that the highest amount of suicides were in young men; never did they think that their son would be a part of that statistic.
Mary went back to the doorway and turned off the light, again a force of habit. She always did this on weekdays whenever Keith left the curtains closed - he did not always have them closed. After she flicked the switch Mary turned round to see Keith’s room in the full light of the late morning sun. All of the mist had now burned away, leaving things bright and fresh looking. Mary surveyed the room with calm dry eyes. Each object gave her a warm memory. Mary’s eyes fell upon the floor, drawn to the brightly coloured cover of a comic book. She walked over and picked it up; The Sub-Mariner, one of Keith’s first comic books. She sometimes wondered, was it these that drove Keith to suicide? They seemed harmless enough, with the exception of that violent Judge Dredd comic.
She had only glanced at them, not really sat down and read them from front to back. She opened the old American comic to find a detailed mishmash of adverts of a whole array of fantastic treasures. Venus fly trap seeds, or an insect devouring plant as the advert heralded it. On the opposite page was a pastel coloured scene of a pointy-eared muscle bound man with flattop black hair. The character appeared to be swimming; this was evident from the bubbles and the pose of the character or superhero as they are called, with fingers tightly pressed together stretched out in front of him. Namor, the prince of Atlantis, this character was called. It brought a tiny flicker of a smile to Mary’s lips. Back in her day Mary was always lost in the imagination of Lewis Carol and Enid Blyton. She reached for another comic. It was Keith’s favourite superhero, The Amazing Spider-Man. On the cover was a picture of Spider-Man or Spidey as he was also known, swinging from the high buildings of New York.
Mary recalled the time they, with the exception of Miles because he was too young, went to see the first Spider-Man movie. When they stepped out of the cinema Keith announced, “I want to be a comic book writer.” A dream unlived. Keith did not jump from the bridge because he was emulating Spider-Man. Mary knew that for sure. Her son was far too intelligent and sensible to be doing something like that. The next thing Mary’s eye drifted to was Keith’s computer game console. It was the only thing in Keith’s room that Mary disapproved of. The strangest thing was that most of Keith’s games were sports games, Pro Evolution Soccer and a whole host of games with Tony Hawk and skateboarding in the title. What was strange about these games was the fact that Keith could have been playing them in real life. Well, maybe he wouldn’t actually be playing against the Brazilian national football team or performing a three sixty firebird or whatever those skateboarding moves were called, but there were football clubs and basketball clubs and no doubt some skateboarding places that he could have gone to. The society of today also fails to comprehend the dire implications of their actions. Why do so many young people choose to fight and take risks? Is it a natural part of youth? Don’t they understand how precious life is? Mary hurled the box to the floor.
She clasped her hands tightly to her face to try and stop the tears from coming. That familiar pain in her heart started clawing her down into the deep chasms of despair. She ran out of the room to escape it. Outside in the hall she propped herself up with a shaky arm leaning against the wall, such was the intensity of her grief. She shouldn’t have gone in there, and she didn’t look back as she walked down the hall away from Keith’s room, though she knew that the door was still ajar. Mary went into the kitchen, because it was the first area you see when you exit the hall and because she was not going back to bed. In the fridge she saw an old bottle of wine.
Jack arrived at his office in time. The frustration at the school had all been for nothing. The moment he stepped into the building he could feel the change in his employees, the eyes quickly darting, unsure of where to focus, the sharp intake of breath. The first to approach Jack was Arnold, the most experienced of Jack’s gardening staff with over a decade of training in both parks and forestry, and able to use almost every garden tool known to man. Arnold was also a father; he had three children, two girls and one boy. One of the girls, Stella, was the same age as Keith. The other girl, Kate, was twenty-five and married with a child of her own, and his boy Paul was five. Arnold approached Jack with his head bowed low, with eyes looking at Jack, then quickly falling to the floor. When standing in front of Jack Arnold became his usual composed self.
“Jack, me and everyone here.” This caused Jack to really look at his staff this morning. The last time he saw them was at the funeral. They all looked so different then, wearing black suits. The vision he was used to was casual in every sense of the word, but with faces that held a strong honest benevolence. You can’t judge people by the clothes they wore, he realised at that instant.
“Once again we would like to say how sorry we are at the death of your son, and if there is anything we can do for you we're here for you.”
“Actually, there is something you could do for me” Jack said, concealing a smile; it was the perfect set up for a joke, and he had their undivided attention. “Work without pay” he chuckled softly, and slapped Arnold on the shoulder, who laughed when Jack did this. Arnold had a gleam of admiration in his eye; he like the other four gardeners respected strength, and Jack was displaying a lot of that by telling a joke and giving a smile.
“Thank you all” Jack said, in a more serious tone. “It has been a tough couple of days. The support you have given me is fantastic, and I want to thank you all once again for coming to the funeral. It won’t be easy, but I have to get on with life. I don’t....” - Jack took a big gulp - “think I will ever fully recover from Keith’s death. I still have another wonderful son and an incredible wife, and some truly wonderful friends in this room. I do live a good life, even if a big part of it is missing, and you may not believe this” - Jack suddenly pepped up feeling a dismal mood descending on his crowd of employees - “but I am happy to be at work.” The interestingly diverse crowd before Jack laughed, some of them even clapped. “Okay, okay that’s enough” he said, putting down his briefcase, signifying the start of the working day. “Do you think I’m going to give you a bonus?” Jack smiled at those who had clapped. One of the youngest of his gardening crew was teary eyed. Jack couldn’t believe it.
This product was added to our catalog on Wednesday 12 November, 2008.