PIKLE FICTION CONTACT
FOR EVERY REASON
Astonishingly, there is a moment I can identify, some 40 years ago or more, when my life moved, the way the earth moves when an earthquake rips asunder a new canyon, or the way water moves when it finally breaks through a weakened dam. There was no physical manifestation as with the earth or water flow, but an internal tide so full, so sudden that there was to be no repair or rewind of the psyche, no making good the damage - until now perhaps.
You were there, of course, when were you not? And he was there, pretending - pretending to love me, while in reality he was basking in a reflection he thought was his own. Well, I suppose it was, only the reflection was a reverse image: where he was domineering, I was subservient; where he was loud, I was silent.
A barge chugs by on the water beyond the two willows that I planted and which are now as tall as houses. Two girls lie, half naked on the flat top, and I wave hopefully, but they do not see me. I am too far away, too old, too withered to be noticed. Suddenly, I am tired of reading and let the newspaper fall from my lap.
The scent of a rose, sweet and of cloves - which one is it? - reminds me of my mother. An unfortunate memory of her sitting in a chair, here in the garden, waiting to die. Her unfaded hair tied firmly in a bun, her fine skin, usually pale, but then as grey as ash. Her clothes clean, tidy, no bright colours that I can remember.
He tells me to kneel quietly and still by her side, and to hold her hand, not too firmly, not too loosely. I must not move or speak. One knee begins to ache, where a stone is piercing through my skin. Is she asleep now? Dare I move to relieve the pain? No, for his wrath is waiting, lurking in every nook and cranny of the world. Then a breeze catches the sweet fragrance of a rose and carries it over to us.
Did I know it was a rose? Did I know it was the one she brought back from a French garden on her last journey before the cancer took hold? Did I learn these things from you as time passed by?
I risk pressing her hand, lightly. But it is cold.
He is shouting. I have done something wrong, again. He pushes me aside and feels her pulse.
"She's dead, you fool. Why didn't you call me?" I cannot speak. My mother is dead and he is shouting. I am standing alone on the grass, crying. An ambulance arrives and some people take her away. He shouts at me some more. He is shouting now because I will not speak. The louder he shouts, the more I want him to carry on. I want him to shout louder and louder, and louder, to bring the world down, to stop it, to end it for ever. Then he turns to you.
You were there even then, preferring our large garden to your cramped home, and staying long after your child-sitting duties had ended for the day.
He orders you - you who are red-faced, embarrassed, desperate to slip away from the scene of death - to stay and look after me until he returns. His leaving is like a terrible coldness and being rescued from a fire all at the same time. I cannot stand the pain of him not shouting, not caring, not being there by me, and yet his going soothes the burning everywhere inside. I run to follow him, but you take hold of my hand, restraining me.
He returns. We are down by the canal's edge. You are waving one hand through the warm water, and I am watching the tiny eddies and rivulets created by your movement. He orders us to return to the house, and tells you to go. Once inside, he shouts at me, six-year old me. I am crying, not for my mother, but for him. He slams and locks his bedroom door - for hours, for days. I sleep here and there. I hardly eat. I watch TV. The telephone rings all the time. No-one answers it. Then, he comes out, picks me up, kisses me, and hugs me tight. He tells me she is in a better place. I believe him and love him with the unshakeable, unstoppable force of gravity.
The sun has rolled over to the west and left me in shadow. I get up and hobble, for my knees are crippled with early arthritis, into the house and write a question on one of the notepads lying around: "Have you planted any new roses?". Like builders who live in half-finished houses, and mechanics who drive rusty cars in clouds of smoke, I have never bothered to attend properly to this garden, despite my horticulture skills. And now, in premature retirement, I am content to sit and watch the canal and time passing, and leave the flowers to you.
You take my hand and lead me out, behind one bed of flourishing perennials, to another. There, there are two rugosa rose plants, with purple-pink blooms opening out their colour and their perfume. I have not noticed them before. I pull out a pad and short pencil from my pocket.
"Why this rose?" I ask. You smile lightly, curiously, and return to the house.
Two launches motor by together, their helmsmen chatting about something I cannot hear. I drag my chair slowly to a sunnier area half way down towards the willows. Here, the dense familiar stench of the canal, not stagnant exactly, but not quite fresh either, drifts up to drown out the nostalgic rose fragrance, and my memory is freed again to switch back to that other far more momentous instance, nine years later, which so designed and cast the shape of my future life.
I am entering the front door of my home. It is Wednesday, and it is only 1pm. I have left school early pleading a headache, in the hope of enticing you to visit, knowing you have no lectures on this day. But why is there a trace of you in the air? Can you be here already, waiting for me? Can you truly have anticipated my call? I am walking through the hall now, towards the lounge. I can hear voices, your voice, his voice . . .
There is a muddle of questions, innocent questions and possible answers, forming and evaporating, as I open the door; and then the picture, as in so many movies, of the naked bodies; and then the pain . . .
All of which is so easy to find and replay. Not as intense as then - nothing has ever been that intense again - but an echo of it, forever reverberating in its own custom-built chamber, straddling my conscious and unconscious self, waiting for its regular audience - that is me, all of me.
To deflect and attenuate the discomfort of the memory for a second or two, I look again at the newspaper which I have kept with me by the chair. His face, from an old and flattering photo, stares out from the obituary page. His death is recorded in a short article by a one-time friend. I am mentioned in the last line ". . . survived by an only son. . .". That is all, but even those few words would have sent him into a rage - if he were here to read them. The newspaper drops again to the grass.
You were an angel.
You screech out my name in horror, grab your clothes and run upstairs to the bathroom. I hear you whisper "sorry, sorry" as you pass me. My eyes are fixed on him. He is shouting but I am not hearing. He is not an angel. He is a devil. I cannot hear him, and I cannot speak. He moves over towards me, a towering bear, all hair and claws and horns, takes hold of my shoulders and demands to know why I am not at school. I stare out and will not speak. He clips me round the head - it does not hurt - then pushes me away. I walk out of the room and upstairs to my bedroom. On the landing, I meet you again. You take me in your arms, like a mother, and still you are whispering "sorry, sorry", and "I never wanted to, you must believe that". I leave the comfort of your arms for the protection of my room.
After that, I never spoke again. Words came back to my head, but I would not speak them.
For three years, I remember, he tried everything he could think of. He took away my pocket money, he confined me to my room for days, he made me do every chore around the house, and he beat me. He tried being nice, which he was good at for short periods, taking me out to shows, and showering me with clothes and gifts - and then there were the psychologists, psychotherapists and psychiatrists. But I would not speak.
At the age of 18, I was unexpectedly released from his hold by my long-dead mother. Before her death she had inherited this house from an uncle, and she had left it entirely to me, to take effect when I reached 18. He left the day before, saying he never wanted to see me again unless I was prepared to speak to him. He was so final, so definite.
You were an angel, an angel of solace, during those years.
On the day of my 18th birthday, with your help, I planted the willow trees, in the place where my mother had always said they would look pretty.
I am remembering all this when you arrive at my side and hand me a small tray with a mug of tea and figroll biscuits. I turn my face to mouth my thanks, but you are already moving away as silently as you came.
"Thank you," I speak, exactly as I have wanted to do so many
times before, in every place, in every season, and for every reason.
Paul K. Lyons
PIKLE FICTION CONTACT
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