"And breathe out."
Little whooshes of air escaped all around the room. Dominic sighed his breath out, keeping his eyes closed and his mind clear. He was entirely at ease: only when he was being told what to do could he truly relax. Free will lead him to thought, which lead him to worry. A true soldier, with no war to fight. A true follower, with nobody to follow.
"Now, you're going to step through the green door. Feel yourself reach out, feel the handle turn under your touch, and breathe."
The handle was made of cool iron, and it left rust on Dominic's hand as he took it away. His soft step echoed around the white walls of his mind.
"As you step inside, take a look around. It's your childhood bedroom, the room in which you grew up."
Instantly, a bookshelf materialised in front of Dominic's tightly closed eyes. His toys were junked in a blue plastic tub, with a few strewn on his tiny, unmade bed. The room was awash with a pale green light coming from behind green gauzy curtains.
"Look at your memories."
Stepping in front of the full-length mirror on the wall, Dominic saw his 9-year-old self: floppy dark hair dangling over his eyebrows and covering his ears; icy green eyes peeking out from underneath, taking in the small mouth, small nose and pale, freckly skin. The neckline of his shirt hugged the base of his throat, and a bony arms reached up to let bony fingers tug it away.
"Look at your memories."
Dominic's cold eyes watched his father open the bedroom door and amble up behind him. Dressed in a dark grey suit, the tie done up right to the top button, glasses perched on his knife-sharp nose. His hair was thinning at the top, but the salt-and-pepper flecks allowed for this. Dominic felt a familiar something at the sight of him. It wasn't love, Lord no, and it certainly wasn't happiness. If he had to name it, Dominic would have called it fearful contempt.
Dominic's father put his hand on his shoulder, staring into the cold eyes reflected at him.
"Feel your memories; let them feel you."
The hand turned into a claw, the familiar bony fingers grasping too tightly at the tender flesh. Dominic's cold eyes never left his father's, nor did they show any sign of pain. His father stared back, his face expressionless, his upper lip twitching softly every so often.
"Remember how your childhood felt. Become submerged in your memories."
With a sharp squeeze, Dominic's father let go of his son's shoulder. He turned around, located the only chair in the room, and sat down, looking at the back of Dominic's head. Dominic set his jaw, refusing to turn around. He'd been in this situation many times before: his father silently daring him to do something, trying to break his resolve. Dominic had succumbed, and he had resisted. But whatever he did, his father became angrier and angrier. Every time, his father growled and his face turned red.
"Now remember the moment in your life when you became an adult."
Dominic's father stood up suddenly, a familiar rage burning in his wide eyes. Dominic felt a throb of fear flash through him, stopping at his knees and making them wobble. He held himself up, however, determined to win this time.
His father stormed back across the room and grabbed Dominic's shoulder again, this time spinning him around. It happened in a matter of seconds, but for Dominic, who had seen this play itself out many times over the years, it took place in slow motion.
He saw so clearly his father's face contort with rage. The snarl became more distinct, the nostrils flared, the eyebrows knitted together. His hand found the armrest of the chair, pushed him up. His legs worked immediately, striding across the beige carpet, feet flat and stomping. The hand came up and clamped down on Dominic's shoulder, the fingers tightened, the elbow bent and brought Dominic around to face his father.
The arm came up, palm as flat as his feet. It moved even more slowly, the fingers splayed, the heel of the palm leading the rest of the hand. Dominic braced himself, knowing how it would feel. His fingers gripped the side of the mirror in anticipation. He was still looking directly into his father's eyes, taking in the pure anger that seemed to radiate from those eyes straight into his own. His knees no longer wobbled: he had drawn himself up to his full height, and he braced his shoulders to take the hit. It was inevitable: he had learned years ago that evasion was impossible.
"Now breathe in, and breathe out. Say goodbye to your childhood."
The hand, which had been coming full-force towards Dominic, slowed and stopped. His father's eyes suddenly weren't so wide. In fact, they were closing. His arm dropped to his side, his head fell to his chest. His knees trembled and then buckled, bringing him slowly to the carpeted ground.
Dominic watched his father kneel, feeling his anxiety ebb away. As the rest of the room dissolved back into the corners of his mind, Dominic kept his father in focus. Watching him cower on the ground, his head down, his arms limp at his side, Dominic felt victorious. He had beaten him, he knew it. Finally, he had put a stop to the endless abuse. In his head, he smiled. Goodbye, old man, he heard in his head. Then the vision faded, and his eyelids rose, and he was back.
"Great work today, everybody. I hope you feel better, and I hope you come back soon!"
Everyone clapped, except for Dominic. He was already packing his yoga mat into his backpack, and was out the door before anyone else stood up.
Once on the street, Dominic stuck his hand out for the bus and swung himself on, briefly flashing his pass to the driver. He was silent for the entire trip, his mind whirling with every turn or bump that the bus encountered. Very soon, he was at his destination: the town graveyard.
He jumped off the bus, too focused on his goal to even acknowledge the driver. The grass was soft and new, and he had to walk carefully to avoid slipping on the slight hill. Dominic had his head down, but he knew where he was going. He'd been there so many times before, and every visit had been the same. Not today, though. His lips curled into a half smile, and he felt something lift in his heart.
Stepping carefully around a small grave stone, Dominic lifted his head and there it was:
Thomas Radcliffe Knight
1947 – 1998
Dominic gazed down on the simple grave stone, tears sliding along his eyes. His voice was soft, and the word he uttered caught in his throat.
Whatever had lifted from his heart before had settled again, but it was different this time. Where before he had harboured a certain hatred, he now felt loss. Real loss.
"Dad, I'm so sorry."
His resolve broke, and suddenly he was crying – truly crying. It felt good. It felt natural. For once in his life, he was letting himself feel, and it was great. It was real.
"I love you, Dad. I love you. Please … I love you."