Life as a student is good for Flynn. As one of the top pianists at the Royal College of Music, he is put forward for a big concert, the opportunity of a lifetime. But beneath the surface, things are changing. On a good day he feels full of energy and life, but on a bad day being alive is worse than being dead. Sometimes he wants to compose and practise all night, at other times he can't even get out of bed. His flatmate Harry tries to understand but is increasingly confused by Flynn's erratic mood swings. His friend Jennah tries to help, but Flynn finds it difficult to be around her; she evokes in him feelings that he can't accept. With the pressure of the forthcoming concert and the growing concern of his family and friends, emotions come to a head. Sometimes things have to get worse before they can get better.
A Note of Madness is much more than a book about depression:
it's about brilliance, fear, love and living. That is its achievement, and what makes it a hearteningly good read.' The Guardian
Friday evening arrived, clear and bright. Rami came by at six. He was lowering the back seats as Flynn emerged, rucksack on shoulder and keyboard under arm. Rami pulled a long-suffering face as he helped Flynn manoeuvre it across the flattened back seats.
‘Hey, you.’ He slammed the boot, slinging an arm round Flynn’s shoulders.
‘Can I drive?’ Flynn asked him.
‘No, you look tired.’
‘You’re on anti-depressants. Your reactions may have slowed down. You shouldn’t - ’
‘Oh, stop being such a pain!’ Flynn snatched the keys from his brother’s hand.Rami hesitated, as if wondering whether it was worth having an argument about. Flynn jumped into the driver’s seat and started the engine. With a small sigh of resignation, Rami got inside.
Flynn felt himself beginning to relax as they finally left the worst of the London traffic behind them and accelerated down the motorway. He had been feeling on edge all afternoon, whether from the prospect of returning home for the weekend or just from lack of sleep, he couldn’t tell, but he was grateful to Rami for letting him drive. The concentration took some of the tingling out of his muscles, some of the edginess out of his limbs. Nonetheless, Rami remarked on his finger tapping as Flynn found himself drumming out the melody of the Rach Three against the steering wheel whenever they slowed. The bright evening sunshine bounced off the bonnet and warmed his face with its soft rays, and Puccini played at full volume on the stereo.
‘Dario says you’re always welcome to go back and see him, if ever you change your mind,’ Rami began after a while, reaching forward to turn down the volume.
Flynn pretended to be concentrating on the road ahead.
‘It’s completely up to you,’ Rami went on lightly. ‘If you’re OK now then that’s great.’
‘I am OK,’ Flynn said.
‘Good.’ There was a silence. ‘You look pretty shattered, though,’ he added.
‘I’ve been busy.’
‘So I gathered. I hear that practice now takes up a large portion of the night.’
Flynn let out a long-suffering sigh. Meddling Harry again.
‘Are you still taking the tablets?’
‘Do you need me to write you out another prescription?’
‘Let me know when you do.’
The M25 traffic dropped to below forty yet again. Irritated, Flynn swerved into the inside lane.
‘You want to check your mirror before you pull across like that,’ Rami said instantly.
‘Don’t tell me how to drive.’
‘You’re way too close to the car in front.’
‘That’s because he’s too bloody slow!’ Flynn snapped.
‘He’s in a queue of traffic,’ Rami retorted.
Flynn slammed on the brakes.
‘See!’ Rami exclaimed triumphantly. ‘You nearly went into the back of him.’
‘I did not!’
‘Let’s not argue. You’re getting tired. Why don’t we swap places?’
‘I’m not tired,’ Flynn muttered, searching for a gap in the middle lane, which was now moving more swiftly than the right-hand one. He spotted an opening and dived into it. Several cars honked irritably.
‘Pull over and swap places with me.’ Rami was trying to keep his voice light.
Flynn set his jaw and pulled out again as the pace began to pick up. He floored the accelerator as they came out of the speed-restriction zone.
‘You’re going to get us pulled over,’ Rami said after a few moments.
Flynn kept his foot down.
‘This car doesn’t like doing over ninety.’ Rami sounded tense.
Flynn didn’t let up.
‘Pull over, Flynn.’
He didn’t reply.
‘Flynn, pull over!’ Rami shouted suddenly. ‘You’re driving like a bloody maniac!’ There was an edge of fear to his voice that gave Flynn a jolt. Rami was normally the calm one, the cool one. Rami didn’t panic. Flynn cut across two lanes and braked roughly on the hard shoulder.
‘Get back in the car – you’re going to get yourself killed.’ Rami’s grip on his arm was firm, trying to force him round.
Flynn climbed over the crash barrier and headed up the grass verge. Rami followed him, still gripping him. Flynn tore with his teeth at his fingernail, struggling to hold back tears.
‘Come on,’ Rami urged him, his voice rising. ‘Get back in the car!’
Flynn wanted to punch him. ‘I’m not going.’ Finger in his mouth, he tasted blood.
Rami’s voice left little room for argument. ‘Yes, you are. You certainly can’t stay here.
’Numbly, Flynn got into the passenger seat, vision blurring with unfallen tears as Rami started the engine, waiting an age before pulling back out. He said nothing for a while. Only a small muscle twitching in his cheek betrayed his apparent calm.
Flynn felt himself begin to shake. He had wanted to flatten all the stupid, slow cars ahead of him, had wanted to hurl the car off the road and smash his own stupid self through the windscreen. He could have killed them both. And yet the restless unease was still there. He hadn’t got rid of it through driving, couldn’t get rid of it whatever he did. It clung to him, an invisible cloak of agitation and self-destruction that sent acid fury shooting through his veins. He wanted to shake himself like a wet dog, run for miles until he couldn’t go a step further, find an escape from this horrifyingly persistent agitation that rendered impossible even the most basic of tasks. There was fire burning through him, creating an overpowering urge to scream, kick, yell. He looked over at Rami and thought how satisfying it would be to punch his stupid, calm face. Rami, his brother. Rami, who was just trying to drive them both back home without getting them killed. Flynn clamped a hand over his eyes, breathing hard.
‘Flynn, just talk to me. Tell me what’s going on.’ Rami’s voice cut through the motorway’s drone.
He couldn’t talk without wanting to shout. Couldn’t move without lashing out.
‘Is this about going home? Do you want me to head back?’ Rami’s voice again, softly desperate.
Flynn fought to keep his voice steady. ‘I can’t sit still any longer.’
‘You need a breather – we both do. I’ll pull over at the next service station.’
Rami bought a packet of cigarettes when they got out. Flynn was shocked. He had not seen his brother smoke for over three years. Rami lit up, giving Flynn a little grin. ‘Don’t tell Sophie.’
He inhaled deeply a few times and then handed the cigarette to Flynn, who took it gratefully. They sat at a picnic table under the darkening sky, passing the cigarette between each other like a pair of teenage delinquents.
‘Medicinal purposes.’ Rami gave a wry grin and then caught sight of Flynn’s bloodied finger. His smile faded.
Flynn dragged heavily on the cigarette, wishing his hands would stop shaking.
‘Do you want me to give you some Valium?’
Flynn shook his head, stubbed out the cigarette and reached for another. Rami did not attempt to stop him.
They got back into the car a little while later. Rami did not ask him any more questions.
‘If you need me to pull over again, let me know,’ was all he said.
© Tabitha Suzuma