Chapter 14

In this chapter we learn about the death of Christopher's mother, which happened two years ago.

I came home from school one day and no one answered the door, so I went and found the secret key that we keep in a flowerpot behind the kitchen door. I let myself into the house and carried on making the Airfix Sherman model I was building.

I doubt that's connected to a coherent interest.

His father gets home from work an hour and a half later, and we learn what he does for a living: "He runs a business and he does heating maintenance and boiler repair with a man called Rhodri who is his employee." I assume Rhodri is Welsh.

He knocked on the door of my room and asked whether I had seen Mother.

I said that I hadn't seen her and he went downstairs and started making some phone calls. I did not hear what he said.

Why is his room soundproof?

Then he came up to my room and said he had to go out for a while and he wasn't sure how long he would be. He said that if I needed anything I should call him on his mobile phone.

He was away for 2½ hours. When he came back I went downstairs. He was sitting in the kitchen staring out of the back window down the garden to the pond and the corrugated iron fence and the top of the tower of the church on Manstead Street which looks like a castle because it is Norman.

Their yard must be pretty fancy if it's got a pond in it. What's the church got to do with anything?

His father, who still doesn't have a name, says "I'm afraid you won't be seeing your mother for a while", and he keeps looking through the window, which Christopher comments on.

Usually people look at you when they're talking to you. I know that they're working out what I'm thinking, but I can't tell what they're thinking.

I never "knew" any such thing. He makes it sound like people are trying to read his mind. That's a very inexact way to describe trying to determine the intent and emotional context of the other speaker's words. Nobody can reliably tell what anyone else is thinking except in fiction. Christopher does not sound special. Maybe he thinks he lives in a society of Harry Potter-style mind readers.

It is like being in a room with a one-way mirror in a spy film.

Huh? It is?

But this was nice, having Father speak to me but not look at me.

I don't mind being looked at. I had to be taught to make eye contact, but I never had any particular aversion to it. I don't think my experience is universal, however.

I said, "Why not?"
He waited for a very long time, then he said, "Your mother has had to go into hospital."

How long is "a very long time"? He's thrown so many other exact times at us that this vague amount seems out of place.

"Can we visit her?" I asked, because I like hospitals. I like the uniforms and the machines.

He doesn't want to visit her because he cares about her, like a normal person would. No, he just wants to see the hospital, which he likes for weird reasons. Is she really unpleasant or what?

His father says no, and he asks why not. His father says "She needs rest. She needs to be on her own." Christopher asks if it's a psychiatric hospital, and his father says it isn't. "It's an ordinary hospital. She has a problem... a problem with her heart." Christopher says they'll need to bring her food, since he knows that hospital food isn't very good because "David from school" had an operation to lengthen his calf muscle and his mother took meals in for him every day because he hated the food there.

Father waited for a long time again and said, "I'll take some in to her during the day when you're at school and I'll give it to the doctors and they can give it to your mum, OK?"
I said, "But you can't cook."
Father put his hands over his face and said, "Christopher. Look. I'll buy some ready-made stuff from Marks and Spencer's and take those in. She likes those."

Why is "stuff" connected to "those"?

His father seems to be a little eager to brush him off. I think there's some subtext here that I'm supposed to automatically pick up on.

I said I would make her a Get Well card, because that is what you do for people when they are in hospital.

Father said he would take it in the next day.

He's not making her a get-well card because he hopes she'll get well. He's only doing it because "that is what you do". He sounds like a sociopath blindly following social norms with no real comprehension of them. He doesn't show any sign of caring that his mother is in the hospital with a heart problem beyond the comments about food. Maybe the seriousness of it didn't register at the time, but he's writing this after she's dead and he still doesn't care.

My mother died when I was fifteen. I was devastated. I'd taken her for granted, and suddenly she was gone. I don't feel now what I felt then, but I still wish she'd come back. I still dream about it, still think of the things I'd tell her if she were here. I can still be upset or even brought to tears by something that dredges up the right memories. I would never, ever write something like Chapter 14 about her. It is so utterly, inexcusably devoid of feeling. It paints a picture of someone who was completely undisturbed by his mother's death and only went through the motions of caring for her when she was alive.

This is not Asperger syndrome, Haddon. How dare you accuse us of being incapable of loving and grieving for our own mothers.

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This page was last modified on 16/08/2017 (dmy).