I wrote a post the other day about how my daughter had stolen my wallet, and hidden it (https://23thorns.wordpress.com/2012/07/10/every-story-needs-an-antagonist/). Don’t worry, my daughter isn’t a crack addict. At least not that I know of. She’s three. I did sit her down to find out why she had done such a naughty thing, and she came up with a perfectly rational explanation. It was because she wanted to.
I jokingly threatened to use her as the antagonist in the book I am trying to write. But I can’t do that. She’s just a sweet, bouncy little three-year-old, happy and vivacious and full of life.
But then she did it again. As I explained in my post on the previous incident, I used to be hugely disorganised. I would come home every day and throw down my wallet and keys on any open surface, usually separately. But I am a changed man. I’ve been good, I swear. Every day when I get home from work, I carefully hang my keys on the special key hook, and carefully put my wallet in the same place on the mantel.
My wife may tell you different. She, however, is definitely addicted to crack, and is a notorious liar to boot. I suspect that what happened was that my wife took my wallet off the mantel and, after stealing my small change, left it within reach of tiny hands and rushed off to meet her dealer. There is simply no other explanation.
And then the villain of the piece must have quietly snuck out of her room, rubbing her hands together and laughing. This time she kept it for a week. I had nothing. No money. No bank cards. No driver’s licence. Not even any loose change( My wife took it all. For her dealer). I was a man without identity, adrift in a cold, hard world.
My daughter was, of course, my main suspect from the start. With my approach to personal organisation, though, I couldn’t be sure. I sat her down for a serious chat/interrogation. Like a seasoned politician, she denied everything. She didn’t even seem offended by the questions. It wasn’t her, and that was that. Could she go now?
I had no choice but to go and cancel all my cards. This was easier said than done. I had no form of identification (I seem to have misplaced my ID book (I think my wife took it. For crack.)). My bank was, however, very accommodating. Although I was a complete stranger to them, they cheerfully gave me all of my personal details. They gave me my account number, and the number off the back of my bank card. They were even kind enough to tell me my own ID number. I’ve never bothered to learn it since I always have it with me. In my wallet.
They sat me down at a phone where I could call through to cancel my credit card. Fifteen minutes later, after hearing for the fifth time that an operator would be with me shortly, I decided to try my daughter one more time (actually what I decided was “bugger this!”) and left the bank, secure in the knowledge that my secrets were all safe with them.
As the gods would have it, my eight-year-old son phoned half an hour later, breathless with excitement. He had found my wallet. In his sister’s doll’s house. I was so happy I forgot to ask him why he was playing with his sister’s doll’s house. I sat my daughter down again that evening and asked, for the second time in three weeks, why she had taken daddy’s wallet. It was actually rather simple. She had taken it, she told me (without a hint of remorse), because she needed it to go shopping.
She’s back in there as my chief antagonist. Or rather parts of her are. You see, at that moment, she was a manifestation of pure evil. Pure evil is dull. And very rare. There are the Jeffry Dahmers out there, but unless you are writing a crime novel, those sorts of characters are too one dimensional. They come across like the bad guys from Hannah Barberra cartoons, rubbing their hands together with an evil cackle while they lay their malicious plans. Why? What do they hope to gain? Do they all just want to go shopping?
Far more interesting to me are the ordinary people who do bad things. There is an awful lot of desperation, self-interest, rationalisation, prejudice, and simple carelessness around, and I think the consequences of these can be very unpleasant indeed. I’d much rather read about the loving husband and father who robs a bank because he lost his job and thinks he is going to lose his family than the bad guy who does bad things because he is bad.
Once I had calmed down, I realised that my daughter was not a manifestation of pure evil. She’s just a good little girl driven to crime by desperation. To go shopping. If she steals my car though, I swear I will kick her ass! Just saying.
I started to look around for more inspiration. If I base my antagonist purely on my daughter she will have issues when she grows up, and therapy is expensive. My eyes settled on my son. Ah.
He is a sensitive and sweet young boy, kind hearted and angelic looking. He is alarmingly thin and wiry, with blond hair and large, fiercely intelligent blue eyes. Sadly, at the heart of this charming little picture, there lurks an ancient Norse god of chaos. A Cthulu. A frost giant. A Titan, formed before the earth was made whole, howling wordlessly in the trackless dark, thriving only on mayhem and disorder. It’s a little disconcerting.
We sent him off to school the other day, on one of the coldest days of the year, in one of his mother’s vests and a school t-shirt (in South Africa, kids wear uniforms to school). This was not some cruel punishment or anything. It was just that in the days prior to this, he had lost two school jerseys, a bomber jacket, two pairs of socks, and his shoes. This is not at all unusual. His record so far for a single day was to lose his lunchbox, leave his homework in the class, forget his shoes in after-care and misplace two jerseys (no mean feat, since we only sent him to school with one!)
Since it is no longer fashionable to beat your children, we hit upon a perfect solution. We sent him off to school with a laminated checklist of all the things he needed to remember. This worked like a charm for three days. Then he lost the checklist. It’s not all his fault, either. Twice in the last fortnight, other children have taken his shoes home, and the other day, a little girl took his bomber jacket home. The girls don’t even wear bomber jackets.
At the end of my tether, I turned to my mother for advice. She is a dignified and respectable woman, and would never use the phrase “payback is a bitch!”, but she did a remarkably effective job of conveying the idea through the art of mime. Even the great Marcel Marceau never incorporated shooting cappuccino out of his nose into his act. I need to have a word with my father. I think she may be on crack too.
So there you have it. The cold, calculating master criminal and the innocent lord of chaos. Blended together, they might just make a half-decent antagonist. But I’m not done yet. There’s also Charley. Charley the dog. Or, as he’s known around here, the goddam dog.
We used to have proper dogs. Boerboels. For those of you who are not South African, a Boerboel is a king amongst dogs. They are magnificent.
Morgan, our female, was about 60kg of pure muscle, packed into a body that looked like it was drawn from the continent itself. A miniature lion. Her head was twice the size of mine, and I couldn’t close my outstretched hands around her neck. Merlin, the male, was smaller. But terrifying. He had pale yellow eyes that were somehow not quite right. He confirmed this by putting our neighbour in hospital when he came too close to my wife (Good boy!). They were unnerving animals, and now that we have kids I would never get another one, but damn, did I feel like the man when I walked them down the street.
Then they died, as dogs do. To replace them, my wife set off to get us a new dog as a companion for our son. I suggested a Labrador. I forgot she was on crack. She managed to find a dog called a Chinese Crested Powderpuff instead. Now I’m not a hugely macho kind of guy, but please! This is the land of Shaka, king of the Zulus, one of the most terrifying military leaders the world has ever seen. This is the land of the Boers, a ragtag nation of subsistence farmers who bloodied the nose of the British Empire. I’m not walking down the road with a dog called a Powderpuff.
It turns out, though, that Charley makes Morgan and Merlin look like puppies (apart from that trying to kill the neighbour thing). He is the most intelligent dog I have ever come across. In other hands, he could be a legend. With proper training, he could wow the crowds in a circus by doing differential calculus. He could save thousands by disarming bombs in international airports. He could cure cancer, translate ancient Mayan hieroglyphs. But he won’t. Because he’s our dog. Because he’s our dog, he occupies all his free time devising ways to steal our children’s cereal.
We don’t live in Alcatraz, but even the humblest of South African homes give some concession to security. All our windows have burglar bars. They close. Properly. From the inside. This is no impediment to Charley. Whenever we go out, we put the dogs outside. We lock all the doors and close the security gates. When we come home, Charley will be sitting inside, looking kilograms heavier, surrounded by torn up cereal boxes. We have no idea how he’s doing it.
We can’t go for a walk with the kids because, without fail, we will be joined by the goddam dog within one block. The walls are six feet high. We don’t know how he’s doing it. I made special doors to keep the dogs in the kitchen at night, but when there’s thunder, Charley will appear in our room. We don’t know how he’s doing it. What we do know is that at night he’s coming into our room and watching us sleep, plotting. Always plotting.
The cupboards in our kitchen are all above my head height. I’m nearly six feet tall. We’ve had to put locks on them to keep the one-foot dog out of them. We don’t know how he’s doing it!
So there you have it. Without having to step outside, I have an antagonist who can steal anything, without a hint of remorse, who brings chaos wherever he goes. It’s all a bit worrying, now that I think about it, and it’s all happening right here in my home.
I do, however, at last have an explanation for it all. I came home the other day to find my children sitting in my son’s room in their underwear. It’s the dead of winter. The temperature was about 5 degrees centigrade. I asked my daughter what the hell they were doing. “We,” she said, with a look that one would reserve for a particularly slow child, “are maniacs!”
I despair. I would give up and go and buy myself some crack, but I can’t seem to find my wallet.