My eldest, Melissa, longest to sit without a name other than The Baby, has crept into my mind because I’ve passed her room putting away wet bathtowels that are not fully clean but should dry out themselves in the hotpress, and I’ve noticed that her worktop is covered in cotton wool and paints and paper and cardboard. There’s no sign of a completed work, only the scraps and unseen tendrils that fall away from artifice during the process of creation. I smile to myself that she might be creative but I have to stop myself from thinking of my own penchant for the arts as a young girl, in the fear I will misattribute her qualities as those of my own somehow passed down to her, through blood or umbilical cord, through family insisting that these things carry and if they didn’t that they can skip a generation, like sure wasn’t my father an almighty man for the drawing, he was very creative, wasn’t he granny? and my granny’s nodding that he once drew a picture of her and it was like looking into a mirror, but no I won’t do that to Melissa and I quietly congratulate her for not only being good at something but doing it through her own means, her own ability, derived from some reservoir within herself and distinctly lacking my input.
I feel like a content warning might be appropriate.
I took care of Melissa for the first two years of her life and in those two years I believe I set her upon the path she is going now. She has always been a very good and kind child, a child of the arts, not that I’d know much about that, but there is something romantically appealing about it. I picture her in dark cafés holding the attention of many figures crouched forward to try and catch her words because she speaks so softly you have to strain, in galleries talking this and that about one artist or another, or lounging with a tome of a book on her lap and eagerly eating all its words and letting them settle in her stomach as new thoughts and ideas on what to do with this world, what to do to give it life and meaning.
There’s no sign of that as since she slumps on chairs and watches television and talks over you as you try to speak, and if you tried to show her a beautiful painting I’m sure she would roll those eyeballs like shipwrecks and stumble away in search of some game to play or a conversation to listen in on, already addicted, like the rest of them, to gossip.
But I had her for two years and I believe whatever she absorbed from me then, still remains in her somewhere. I remember the day my father called me into the sitting room and I found him standing over her crib with both his grandfather clock hands wrapped around its white plastic railing, and saying without looking, that Claire had run away and they needed me to take the baby that was called The Baby, for Claire gave it no other name, instead she chose to hike her skirt to her knees and run back to her lover, the be all and end all.
And that’s not all, he said, and dragged me to the cot with a drag of his eyes, and I walked over and looked in to see The Baby’s arms and legs are marked dark blue and orange and yellow, like the dying sun being eaten inside out by the twilighting sky. Claire’s been hurting her.
Oh god. Jesus.
I’ll find Claire. he said, and we’ll talk, but I don’t think I could live with myself if I gave this helpless wee thing back to her, and he looks at me and tells me he needs me to step up and I nod gravely and say I will, and I reach into the cot, into the soft mulch of bed clothes and frills and bibs and wrap my mechanical claws around The Baby and heave her, head-hanging a little before I secure it with a solid finger, and fold her gently into my chest, her sleeping face buried into my neck, and I coo and sshhh and rock back and forth and smile at my father who tells me she suits me and my heart tumbles in its completion.
The faceless Dribdrab shuffle flatfooted through the streets and back alleys and the quiet country roads on the outskirts of town, the ones that go up hills and through gaps in walls, past churches blessing themselves and tuk shops to estates for ceilis and talktalktalk and back down again and around corners for the eggs and the bread and milk, something to be done, a thing to mark the day off the calendar and maybe something to vomit about over dinner, where did you get that chicken? O’Brien’s? Jesus I never think of going there, I will next time, and what about the peas, they are delicious, before the real talk of who’s had better days and how that young Claire Andrews has never gotten over what happened to Samantha Heinz, and wasn’t that a terrible thing and God forgive me for saying but she was a bit touched the poor girl and sure what do you expect coming from a protestant family? Oh JesusMaryandJoseph you can’t say that, and there’s a little giggle because they all believe it to be true and, go on I’ll take another cup but then I have to get on and get the dinner on for himself, he’ll be raring against the walls with the hunger come half five and that’s if he doesn’t go for a sup beforehand, it’s Friday after all, oh you better believe it.
The kettle boils to a clickfinish and reminds me that I had started dinner and the cabbage is sitting peeled back of its plastic wrappings on the countertop and the bag of potatoes is leaning drunk against the press where Eddie has drawn a stick man in blue and yellow crayon, green where the colours overlap, and I’m steelping my fingers and tapping them against each other and my breath is being drawn into my lungs through my nose and exhaled past my teeth to whistle the little the song of my uneasiness, my despair over who I am and what I’m doing. I don’t feel like myself, not that I’m sure there is a self to be sure of, but it’s happening and has happened before where I’ll take a thirty second long stock of my life, add up all the factors on the right hand side of the page and come up with something that I cannot relate to. I must be adding up someone else’s experiences or somehow I forgot to carry the one, and I wonder is this actually what I sum up to, is this the path I’ve woken up to day after day and willingly stepped onto, one foot after the other? – Surely there there’s a trick here, some skewing of what I can see on the horizon, some tampering with the maths, some cruel God knowingly allowing me misplace my feet.
Semi-snapping out of it I zombiewalk to the cutlery drawer and shuffle through it to find a sharp knife, a brown-handled one I remember buying and I remember being happy with the purchase and making plans of being cheflike, and I take it out, heft it and stab it into the top of the potato sack and drag it slicing along the heavy paper making a clean cut and cutting the smell of earth into the kitchen and I’m thrown back to being a child and washing potatoes in the sink with my father as he chopped and peeled them and I’d ask him to leave the skin on a few for me because I liked to take them off afterwards and eat them salted and buttered with tea for tea and he would nudge my elbow with his, making me drop them and splashing dirty water in my face and I would sit in mouthagape shock but still smiling and I’d chase him around the kitchen, him pretending to be frightened and then hurt when I caught him, owowow noooo Claire, noooo, don’t kill me, and I’d wrap my tiny damp hands around his neck, or almost his neck because his chin would be on his chest preventing me from getting anywhere near but I didn’t know that, and he’d choke and flutter his eyelids and gurgle and bubble spit out of the corner of his mouth before letting his head drop to the linoleum floor and I’d spend the next few minutes trying to wake him before he’d suddenly wake, ahhhhh, and grab my arms and scared now I’d almost cry and he’d pull me to his chest that heavehoed the biggest heaveho on earth and we’d almost fall asleep lying there until hissing bubbled water psst us to get up and get on with it, and I do the same now and start placing potatoes in the sink with the water running and the kettle switched back on.
I wasn’t a good girl, I was wild, and so my belly got pumped with jism and it called me motherohmammyohpleasecanIhavethisplease and I felt like something important had been torn from me like a flower plucked with a pop from the earth and then dropped, but I did what I thought I was supposed to do. I took pictures of her; dribbling onto a bib that said ‘Born Cool’, with her daddy who was young enough to be wearing the same t-shirt and without irony, or with her grandparents (my parents early turned grand), doting on her as if she was their wild girl come back again like a second chance, a do-over, an echo that would diminish into passivity and be good, unlike me, or pictured with my sister with her frowning smile and a fuzzy-faced Declan, bored out of his mind, or with bricks and blocks and ragdolls and teddys and something small to take from her lest she choke.
Everyone said I was doing good, you’re doing so good Claire, you’re a natural mother so you are and look at those little cheeks, she’s the spit of you, you must’ve spit her right out of your mouth, oh she’s a dote, but late at night when my precious little darling baby was screaming and screaming through the bars of her cot I would consider running away or smothering the thing. Natural mother my arse, I was fifteen and full of resentment, and plumped like some creature with my once tight skin now sagging loosely between my legs when I sat down to piss (another dull strain), and my tits that were not tits beforehand returned to that nubbed stage where they poked from my chest like a set of eyes seeking the awkward adolescent male hands that had been promised would pet them, during a game of Nervous where I could open my legs and go limp and blind, or on a couch in some house with my bra pushed up to my neck.
At the time I didn’t feel compelled to soothe that wailing beast or even attempt to build some semblance of a shell around that lump of jelly with its elephant lungs, the only desire I felt was to protect myself and my own jelly centre from those piercing howls and from the shit and the burps and ooohs and ahhhs of neighbours and granny and granda with the babygrows and the handmedowns and all the help in the world, just gives us a call we’re always there, and the dangling head that always seemed like it was on the verge of snapping off.
There had been talk of the ferry to England.
There had been talk of cheaper ways; of clothes-hangers and jumping off tables, rumours that say that my fanny should be infiltrated by cayenne pepper or a leech, talk of throwing myself down the stairs or into snow to sleep for a night to cool this creation, freeze it and smash it later with a meat tenderizer, talk of consuming oil and a fungus which I forget the name of, and gunpower without the bang.
There had been talk.
But talk was all it was and soon my belly gumballed and in a greenwalled ward with the smell of blood and sanitizer in my nose and sweat matting my hair to my head and my face a constant scrunch, I chewed and blew and huffed and puffed and popped that gum and got those screams and confused blue eyes that could not hold mine for longer than a second, and I tried to summon something for this rubber and my family mistook my tears of exhausted frustration for those of unbridled happiness.
My mother died by her own hand: the same hand that planted delicate roses and hydrangeas and turned and watered their soil, that wrapped my ankle in bandages and pat my head and held my hand and struck my brother to the ground. It was about a week ago when she closed the curtains of her room against the noon sun and climbed into bed, still in her bathrobe. She had taken to wearing that constantly and would shriek at my father if he suggested getting dressed. Its pale pink fluff was smudged and dotted with potting soil after she had spent all day and often into the dull evening darkness out in her garden, tending to flowers that need not be tended so much. She must have gotten some comfort from that, more than she was getting from my father or me or anything else.
After Patrick left for the last time (I was around eleven) she had been almost deliriously happy; a happiness that frightened me with its intensity. She would take me everywhere with her, always exclaiming how wonderful a thing was, such as a new house being built up the road, or a bird alighting on a distant tree, and laughing giddily at almost nothing at all and running around and twirling and trying to dance with me. She seemed to be in love with everything but even then I knew it was not pure, there was an edge to it and what I’d call now madness and the longer it went on the more the madness showed and slowly she turned back in on herself.
I think it might have had to do with my growing up. I started to shy aware from her company as I got taller and my instincts for exploration really began to kick in. Not only geographical exploration but mindful. I desired (inspired by Uncle Waldo) to meet new people and hear about new things and it was around then that I began hanging out with Sally and I can say now that it was right from the off that I was in love with her and I find it hard to say I am not still. My mother didn’t necessarily disapprove of this friendship, in fact she and Sally had gotten on very well, but I did get the scent of jealousy wafting off her more often than not. By that time, my mother was 100% confined (willingly) to the house (and garden), so she could not do much but sigh and wave goodbye when Sally and I went out.
That’s the way it was for so long that I pretty much forgot about her. Maybe forgot is the wrong word but I rarely thought on her other than a daily visit to her garden to say hello and ask how she was and she would look up, her eyes glazed by medication, and that hint of recognition would light her up long enough to smile at me and reach out weakly for my hand. I would give it to her and speak as though she were the child and I the adult always wanting away. She would ask me what I was doing and whether I had done my homework or not and I’d place my hand gently on that pale pink fluffy shoulder and tell her the work was done and I’d be back soon and she’d nod and sway back to her flowers; they looking up to her like adoring subjects and she beaming down on them like a glassy-eyed, surrogate Mary the Mother.
About a week ago she, pinked slightly from bathrobe and sun, said goodbye to her botanical children (but not her human), shut the curtains and climbed into bed and that hand of hers popped pill after pill into her mouth and with the aid of a glass of water (that she didn’t finish, half empty I suppose) swallowed. I imagine it was tough going but in the end, for her, it must’ve been worth it as she found herself drifting away, disappearing into nothing. I wonder how much she was really aware of who she was and all she had done (good and terrible) as she dissolved. I wonder how much any of us are aware of that and whether it really matters.
I thought again about when my mother brought me to the beach as a kid. I don’t recall much about her presence or the details of what we did. I know that we got ice-cream at one point and that I, fearing the water, sat on the beach, far up where it breaks back to soil and grass, and watched the waves roll towards me, crash, bow and retreat (repeat). There was so much mystery in those glimmer flats. Knowing they were not solid, that one would sink, sent my mind chasing itself trying to picture the entirety of its depths. I would focus on one imagining of a fish and follow it as it flicked its body forwards through that gradient of darkness, from the foot of clarity before its eyes to the increasing oblivion on all sides. It would not be long before I lost all idea of the fish and the vastness would break my concentration.
It was enough to make me cling to the earth beneath me, to the grass (rough as a cat’s tongue) and the sand and soil, to tell myself I was out in the open. I would breathe in the fresh salty air and watch the wind blow gently around the human figures on the beach in front of me, causing mild inconvenience as it knocked hats off heads or dug sun-umbrellas out of the ground.
My mother sat down beside me, her knees up under her chin and an inquisitive tilt to her head. She said we didn’t talk like we used to and asked me what I was thinking.
“Nothing, really,” I said, pulling on the young grass.
She pressed me, nudging me with her elbow and giggling. “Come on, tell.”
“I was just thinking I wonder how big the sea is. Where does it go?”
“It’s big. Very, very big. It goes to England and there’s a sea on the other side of Ireland that goes to America. I’ll bring you to look at that sea some time. Just me and you.”
“How deep is it?”
“I’m not sure exactly. No one has ever been to its deepest point. The weight of all that water on top of you would squish you into jelly.”
I laughed at the odd thought of turning to jelly but once the laughter died I was left thinking about that dark bottom and being trapped there. I think my mother saw my mood change because she pulled me close to her and half draped her crochet blanket over me. She told that I should fear the sea if I was in it, but if we’re just looking at it couldn’t hurt us.
“The sea never changes, Donnie,” she said. “It may look like it does because it’s always moving but if you watch for long enough you’ll see that it’s always there, always coming in and out. The waves always peak and crash and go back and peak and crash and go back and they’ll keep doing that after we’re long gone.”
The words ‘long gone’ chilled me. Everything else she said soothed.
She asked me if I would follow her wherever she went and I nodded, a little distracted, crumbling the grass between thumb and forefinger, and she rubbed the back of my head and spoke under her breath; words I assumed were for herself, an adult thing that I too would someday do.
the reason I post these novel excerpts is not because I desire irregular Facebook likes or claps on the back. It is because I need to be ready in the event that my novel is not picked up by a traditional publisher. If that happens I will have to go the route of self-publishing and with that I will have to become more active on social media to promote my own work and to try and sell it. So the point of these is not only the wonderful feedback but it is practice for quasi-narcissistic world of self-promotion. So please enjoy another excerpt from my novel and let’s add more fuel for the hype train. Choo! Choo!
Ps. Apologies for the lack of context for the story and proper indentation on the paragraphs.
I thought no one was up and was surprised to find my father sitting at the kitchen table in his robe. There was a cup of tea beside him but it looked to have gone cold a long time ago. He didn’t look up as I entered, so I walked to the counter, filled the kettle and put it on the boil and then back to sit beside him. He looked up and blinked at me; for a second he had the same non-recognition in his eyes that Allison had, soljurning in some other place.
“Donnie, you’re home,” he said, his voice still a whisper.
I nodded. “What are you doing still up?”
He rubbed his face and grunted as he woke up a little and exhaling loudly he told me he was having trouble sleeping. “I’ve slept in that bed with your mother for nearly twenty years and now I’m not sure I can do it without her.”
“You can’t just not sleep, though.”
The noise of the kettle as it rose to its peak was like rolling thunder in the quietude of the early morning. My father didn’t answer me, but instead looked out the patio doors at my mother’s garden. Her flowers were coming up now. I couldn’t name many besides the roses or tulips. More things, like myself, that she had created and left behind to grow without her. Just then, Rodge, another of those things, came as far as the doorway to the kitchen but no further, and leaning against the door frame with his hands in his back pockets he said hello to my father.
“Ah, hello Patrick,” my father replied, not caring, or just plain forgetting, that Rodge had changed his name. Rodge didn’t seem to mind either way. The kettle clicked to a finish and I stood up to remake the tea. As I emptied the cold cup that was on the table and rinsed it, I asked Rodge did he want some.
“Nah, thanks, Donnie. I’ll get to bed now. Am I staying in your room?”
“Em, yeah I think so. I’ve no bed made up though.”
My dad piped up then and said he’d sort it out and beckoned Rodge to follow him. I told Rodge I’d be up in a minute and stayed behind to finish making my dad’s tea.
I hate the way I used to love
the way you used to flex your feet
after you came
Back when I loved the way you’d bathe
in that lonesome bathtub
out in the open
Its golden legs
the only thing in this world
worthy of holding your strain
Through the crack in the door
I could see you creaking
in hot steaming jungles,
that would reduce me slowly
with no diminishing returns;
a reduction to point nought nought
nought nought one per cent
of one of your soaking wet hairs
The day you figured it all out
and drown the neighbour’s cat
in that lonesome bath
I fled upstairs and away from the door
to float from cat gurgle screams
to distraction-clean quiet corridors
Skirting board grooves holding grime
and of your crime
about point nought nought
nought nought one per cent
The girl sitting to my left at the window keeps jiggling her phone so the sunlight splashes off it to slightly wet my face.
I can’t do much about it because there are others (viewers) and I am too far away from her.
I could clear my throat or speak or scream, but I won’t. I could walk, but without a straight trajectory to her table there’d be no avoiding my leanings; out of my seat and over chairs, or my overhang as I stand before her, all hot air, and demand she put it away.
One of the viewers in a white shirt thinks people don’t think art is for them.
“Sustainability,” another murmurs into a pen, tasting the word to see if it has any hidden flavours; some spice to get a conversation going; some catalyst like Proust’s madeleine to begin again a life already lived, a conversation already had. The splash of light is on my cheeks again and I look up, indignant rage at the ready, but she is not looking. With pursed lips she tilts her head and there’s a shutter and she violently taps on the sunlit mirror, repositions, re-purses, re-tilts and there’s another shutter and happy with it her features fall back into a relaxed state, hanging off her face.
I drag my eyes back to the words in my book;
It’s War and Peace and I hate it but they don’t know that. To them it is just an elegant box that speaks more about who I am than I can.
I am a personification of all that it is.
“A universal experience,” is whispered in a shameful hush, as if having notions of a collective is unworthy of sound. A man in the corner orders only water and the waitress’ eyes roll back; they cannot bear this world any longer. Collecting saucers ringed brown her eyes drop (bing bong) back into their positions to peer over the shoulder of the white shirt; to gaze into the glaze of his computer screen and I wonder does she see herself there? Or does she see the mind of the white shirt as he types his thoughts?
Or maybe some sort of universality where all of us are fused together (an amorphous blob);
to share and love the same things; to roll around laughing at the same jokes as we make them; to hum along to the same songs, a dark wail, a croon; to cry at the same sad moment that we all are feeling and seeing at the same time, subject/object vibrating to blurs, so much so that nothing said is surprising and the man ordering water is water for us all.
Downstairs I hear girls laughing about some old man who had stopped to talk to them on the street.
“He was so weird.” I try to imagine what he could have said as the shutter goes again and the man drinks his water with a slurp that tells me he’s messy and probably cums into a sock. I run the flat of my thumb along the edge of my identity box and I feel not only invisible but soundless and alone; I clear my throat and there’s not an eyelash that flutters; I could speak but they wouldn’t even blink, assuming I was a strange boy who talks to himself. Their vision would lock, not to turn an inch in my direction in case I may clear my throat, or speak, or scream.