Dusty Attics and Sandy Beaches
by Xander Duffy
Not For Sale
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Dusty Attics and Sandy Beaches
Seeds that Grow in Empty Pools
In Loving Memory
of our Son
Why are you cast down, O my soul?
and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God: for I shall yet praise Him,
who is the health of my countenance, and my God.
The blue material from her summer dress rippled in the light breeze that was coming in from the south. She stood gazing out at the depths of the sea in front of her.
“Blue, so very very blue” – it was as if the sky, sea and she had merged into one object: a light jostling of clouds and waves and her summer dress, blended and conforming to the dance of the blue expanse before her.
It was a warm day, but not oppressively warm. The breeze circulating in the air effortlessly and playfully tousled her hair about in large exaggerated arcs and waves. She pulled the locks of long rusty coloured hair from her face and sat down on the grassy banking. Straightening out her attire; she made herself comfortable.
A seagull called out from high overhead, floating on the winds in no particular hurry to go anywhere.
The augmented and diminished tones of the waves were a fermata; effortlessly slurring into a symphony of ebbs and flows as the surf pulled back in a continual diminuendo, then pushing forward to reach its crescendo on the brilliant white sands.
Coming down to Sarah’s Well always made her feel apart of something bigger, something significant. Almost like the rich benevolent blue before her was Gods own garden. If nothing else, the sea breeze and salty air helped clear her mind; for she always found comfort in this solitude when she needed it most.
The tiny beach was as secluded as anyone could hope to have. It was miles from anywhere; Hannah’s-town being the nearest human habitat; some 7 miles inland from where she sat. She had cycled here on the bicycle James had bought for her 25th birthday two years ago.
The bicycle was a refurbished, vintage Dawes Kingpin. It had an oversized, letterbox red frame, complete with a bicycle bell and front basket.
On the day James gave it to her, he had the basket filled with the most beautiful display of flowers she had ever seen – Africa lilies, Globe thistles, Canterbury bells, Blue lotuses; and an array of other exotic foliage. Upon seeing the gift, she fell right into his arms. “This is absolutely perfect James. How did you know?
He always knew exactly what to get her, without her ever having to tell him.
She smiled at the reverie and lay back in the soft grasses. The sky with its empty eyes looked right back into hers.
The sense of its vastness in comparison to her own existence, made her feel so small and insignificant. If only her mind could convey this to her heart, perhaps she would not feel the way she did now.
She doubted it.
She wiped a little tear from the corner of her eye; sighed and sat up. Pulling her knees up to her chest, she allowed the warm light to touch her face.
Down by the shore was a woman with a little child. The child could be no more then five years old, and the pair of them were running and laughing and playing together in blissful ignorance to anything outside their little bubble of joy.
She continued to look with a languished longingly at the mother and child making beautiful memories of bonding and love. Her eyes began to sting and were soon spilling their contents down the sides of her checks. She covered her face as her body began to heave in uncontrollable waves. She allowed the tears to fall in an adagio of torrents; and all the while blinking involuntarily. She kept looking up at the woman on the beach, torturing herself.
“Stop this” she scolded herself. The breeze began gently peeling the tears from her face, carrying them away.
After staring into the blue for a time, she wiped her face with the back of her hand and reached into her bag to retrieve a hanky.
Upon composing herself, an idea came to her and she pulled out her journal and pen.
Opening the book, she found the next free empty page and then just sat there, allowed the wind to caress her hair as she listened to the majestic orchestra of sound before her.
As I sit here and watch the ocean move about me, it reminds of when I was a little girl at Riverfall’s cottage. Mum and I would sneak down to the woods, like that little girl and her mum on the beach. I cherish those memories now, and perhaps that little girl will look back and cherish hers too. I hope so!
Mum, do you remember how dramatic I was? Me in my new dress and shoes, in the middle of nowhere, dancing amidst the trees without a care in the world. I loved stepping into the river and watching my dress move about in the current. So carefree and young, I always imagined I was a mermaid or a princess…
I wish I were a mermaid now. I would run right down to the waters edge and throw myself into the water; Id lose myself in God’s garden, and just swim out to where the sea meets the sky and fly away; away from all this useless disappointment, the heartache and mostly his face. His beautiful face…
How can he bare to look at me? I used to be so full of life and vivacity, and now I’m like an empty shell, bluer than indigo and weighed down like an anchor at the bottom of the ocean. What makes it worst is that I’m pulling him down with me as I sink and there is nothing I can do about it. It clings to me like water to my clothes and I’m suffocating under its enormous pressure.
Its funny how pain has such an intoxicating effect. It’s like we can’t seem to get enough of it. Were addicted to it – we cause it when being born, we spend most of our lives inflicting it to others intentionally or otherwise, and in death we mostly die in it. Were even entertain by it, and I just cant escape it. It just resounds in me like a clashing symbol or a sounding brass. I never slept again last night; the dreams are becoming so vivid that I can see his little face before me, but just out of reach.
No matter where I go, even here, it is right there in front of me, and I’ve lost all locus of control.
She closed the journal and her lips began to tremble. She took hold of herself and looked down at the beach. The woman and child had left and it was completely empty. She looked up at the empty sky and then out at the barren sea-line before. She felt hungry and put her hand on her tummy.
It was empty too…
“James will be getting back from his mums soon to an empty house,” she thought to herself; and with that, she jumped up, stuffing her journal back into her bag.
The wind had picked up a little and the light gust was slowly egging a fairy-like dandelion seed along the path. She watched it as it slowly descended, landing perfectly into the middle of an empty pool.
She considered the metaphor for a time.
“Many people get many things,” she mused and the thought of James cheered her as her insecurity began to subside like the tide.
She took one last look at the endless blue of God’s garden before her.
“If I shall not complain when you give me great things, I will not complain when you allow the difficult.”
After stealing another glance at the dandelion seed effortlessly floating in the pool she hopped onto her bicycle, giving the bell a little ring. Then she pulled off down the track towards the main road, to Hannah’s-town.
Superpowers in Shoe-boxes
He reached the top of the stair and looked up at the ceiling. The attic door looked right back down at him. It was a familiar showdown as they stared each other out.
His first instinct was to put one foot onto the banister and the other onto the dado rail on the opposite wall. He would then lift his foot up to the top of the door and pull himself up to grab the attic door, pulling it down in submission to his purpose. He had won this battle countless times, “easy” he thought to himself.
He had however also lost out on numerous occasions to this one time formidable foe and still had a reminder of the its victory etched into his lower abdomen as a scar.
“It’s all fine and well falling as a 6 stone 8 year old. It’s quite another falling as a 6’ 3” 29 year old.” He shook his head for sounding like an old fart, and then vainly smiled.
He looked around the hallway of his mother house. It had just been newly decorated. The walls were a pale duck egg blue, with a rich mahogany dado rail running along its middle. The doors of each of the rooms and cupboards were all stained mahogany, and the carpet was of thick chocolate brown wool.
His mother had always loved mahogany for as far back as he could remember. Mahogany dressers and tables, bed frames and lamp stands, window frames and doors; giving the whole house a densely wooded appearance. He remembered his mother saying it was because she always felt like Deirdre of the sorrows; hiding in the alders with her beloved Naoise. He considered the metaphor, and wondered what demons she and dad might be hiding from behind all this mahogany.
“We all seem to be hiding from something, these days” he murmured to himself.
Looking at the dado rail, he could still see old foot marks engraved into its surface from the countless attacks he and his six brothers had made on their lofty adversary to gain entrance to its top branches.
He looked up at the attic again, and then hung over the banister to holler down to his mother in the kitchen. “MUM… where is that pole thing for your new loft ladder?
He opened the cupboard door and looked inside. It was filled with towels, sheets, a bucket, mop and “ah – there it was.”
He reached in and grabbed a long metal pole with a hook on the end of it. Closing the door, he reached the pole up to take hold of the attic door.
He had to give it a good tug to free the lid, but it soon surrender to him.
“Not so tough now, are you punk? He mused at the door as the ladder fixed to its top side slid down. “This new loft ladder is a handy wee thing” he though to himself as he proceeded slowly to ascend to his old den.
He had not been up here in years and the old attic looked exactly how he remembered it. The light wood floorboards still gave off a musty odour. There were wooden shelves running along every wall, lined with books, and boxes of old toys; bags of clothing, old trophies, ornaments and a plethora of other sentimental junk his parents couldn’t bring themselves to part with.
In the corner opposite the dormer window, a model display of the whole solar system still hung from the rafters. He walked over to it, moving his head in between Saturn and Jupiter. “Well, well, well, what do we have here? If it’s not the God of the harvest himself and his mighty son, the king of the deep blue sky” He took both planets into each hand and gave them a flick so they would spin. “Thanks for making my harvest so plentiful this season.” He bowed in mock worship to Saturn, and then turned to Jupiter. “And what should I thank you for? Perhaps the ever glowing rays of sun, from the vastness of your bountiful, benevolent blue beyond? Well it has done nothing but rained a hurricane on us for who knows how long”
He looked past them and found Earth. It hung there in perfect silence, dwarfed by the Sun and muted in dust. He grasped it, wiped off the dust and gave it a spin.
The earth he knew when his dad had put this up had turned out to be drastically different from the one he knew now. “No one ever warned me about that” he said as he abruptly gave the Earth a crack with his back hand and wandered over to the dormer window sill to sit down.
It was a brilliant blue day outside and he thought of Esther sitting down by the beach at Sarah’s Well. His eyes began to sting as he thought of all she had been through. It was as if a part of both of them had been cut away, and he had done nothing to stop it.
He could see several of his nieces and nephews playing in the garden. Molly was chasing the dog. Three of his brothers and their wives were sitting at the summer seats chatting; it was a typical day at mums: parents with their children, with their children, all discussing their children.
He sighed and leaned his elbows onto his knees. The shock of what had happened was only beginning to subside, making way for a barrage of what ifs, what might have been’s and if only’s. Guilt was beginning to bore it way through him like woodworm through a house. It had somehow managed to open wounds long closed over and nearly forgotten. He idly fingered the scar on his stomach. He had always been a closed individual when it came to his emotions, but this was something new; he had never felt this kind of pain before and didn’t know how to handle it. Everyone seemed to be walking on eggshells around both him and Esther, and it only seemed to magnify the sense of loss and separation they already felt. It was as if his and Esther’s tragedy, had inconvenienced the rest of the families comfortable lives, and he just didn’t know how to adjust to what had happened.
On the shelves opposite him he spied an old star wars toy and walked over to it and sat down. Then something came to him as he picked the old toy up.
“Surely not” he exclaimed to himself as he got to his knees and began sliding out a big box from the middle shelf.
“Oh man, I hope there’s one here” he said to himself.
The back of the shelf was made of plywood, which you could slide to the side to reveal the bare stone. When he was a teenager he made the greatest discovery that one of the bricks had actually come loose and behind it was a little space, big enough to keep a secret magazine or video, perhaps some money, but mostly his cigarettes.
He had stopped smoking for years now, but under the circumstance, he could really use one.
He reached his hand in and felt around. “Bingo” – there in the corner was the jackpot. He pulled out a hand rolled smoke that must have lain there for a good 12 years and gave it a sniff. “That’ll do me” he said to himself and reached in again to feel for a lighter. As he did, his sleeve got caught of a nail. He immediately began to try and free his it, but soon became impatient and gave his arm a good jerk. As he pulled the material ripped, and a small shoe box got knocked out from the back of the shelf.
He sat looking at the old shoe box, hardly believing his eyes. It was a red Nike box, with the big white tick emblazoned on the side. The red of the box had worn so badly that it had become a peachy tone. However, it was what had been written on the top of the shoe-box that stood out to him – NEVER GIVE UP!
He pulled the lid of the old box and pulled out a plastic bag. Reaching in, he took hold of its content and pulled it free. He couldn’t stifle his laughter at what he was holding.
In his hand, folded up was a slate colour t-shirt. He couldn’t believe his eyes.
He unfolded the garment and opened it out in front of himself.
On it was a line drawing of two men running. There was an indistinguishable, faded red background and a faded text along the bottom that read; the 40,000 metre cross-country challenge: 19th – 28th of May 1986. There was also a smaller subtext reading; 40km’s of cosmic sweat and intergalactic pain. But it was the text along the top that really stood out. Never Give Up! He imagined it was as clear as the day it was printed on the t-shirt
He studied the t-shirt in amazement. “It’s just like mum to keep something like this” he said as he began peeling off his jumper and pulling the ancient t-shirt over his head. It smelled a bit old but fitted him perfectly. He then walked over to a large gold framed mirror their Gran had given to them years before. He turned his body from side to side inspecting the reflection, before settling upon his own face. He stared at the pools of icy blue staring back, like Narcissus at the lake. Then found himself falling into a lake of forgotten memories.
Camperdown Park was a buzz with activ-
ity. There were big, small and everything
in between by ways of carnival rides.
There were candy floss kiosks, burger vans
and a huge range of other activi-
ties and eateries grabbing for his a-
ttention. He was six years old and the whole
family had come out to see Uncle
James run the big cross country race. Every
one was beginning to congregate by
the finishing line as the big names in
running began to cross the finish line
first. Screams and hoots and congratulations
could be heard everywhere, but even at
that small age, all he could remember was
the look of painful concentration on
the faces of the contestants as each
runner crossed the line. He found this very
curious. Over the next couple of
hours, runners began pouring across the
finish line. Most dressed in the slate coloured
t-shirt, promoting the race. Others dressed
in fancy-dress; as policemen, wearing
the old Victorian style hats, or as
scientists, with white lab coats and sporting
Einstein wigs. Yet others as big clown’s, with
multi coloured hair. Their face paints a smear-
ing mess across their faces through the po-
wer of sweat. Their once, big smiley painted
lips; now a small, pinched and gritted pout of
concentration as they fumbled their way
towards the finish line. As the last of
the stragglers trickled in at the end to
the final whoops and half hearted cheers from
the spectators, the afternoon buzz be-
gan to subside. The race was over and
people were beginning to move on, cha-
ttering excitedly with one another.
It was then that his big cousin Billy
started jumping up and down and screaming
“Here he comes! Here he comes, Here comes Uncle
James – look”. Everyone in the family
turned to look down the track. Far down the park,
the last of the track spectators began
to cheer, but the family could see no-
thing. Folks who had wandered off began con-
gregating back to the track lines to see
what all the commotion was. The cheering
then began to take momentum as more
and more folks filed back to the side-lines. Stand-
ing at the finish line, the whole fami-
ly stood waiting; hearts were pounding, nerves were
churning stomachs, and adrenalin was
coursing through the blood stream as dilated
eyes were glued to race track. His mother
clung to his dad, looking anxious. Her five
sisters and five of her brothers with their
families stood by either silently
praying or holding their breath. By most folks
standards they were an unusual fa-
mily. Not one of his mothers sisters
or brothers had anything less than 6
children each. His Uncle David actu-
ally had 13. The grand total was
23 adults and 89 chil-
dren between them and there was not a sound
coming from any of them. Suddenly,
from the far end of the track, the figure
of a man came hobbling around the cor-
ner. The whole place erupted. The boys mum
burst into a fit of tears, burying her
head into her husband’s chest. Whilst the rest
of them went wild, screaming him on, chanting
his name, over and over again at
the top of their voices. Air horns were be-
ing blown; streamers and confetti thrown a-
bout and banners waving about every-
where. The indistinguishable sound of
the commentator’s voice on the tannoy,
blended into the background of this great
cloud of witnesses. A miracle was
being performed in the presence of all
who were there, and everyone knew it
and just cheered and cheered and cheered. Don’t Give up!
Don’t Give Up! Don’t Give Up! The boy remem-
bered looking at the frail looking figure
hobbling up the park to the finish line.
He had that same strained but focused expres-
sion on his face, but appeared to be cry-
ing. He was dripping with sweat and his body
looked etched in pain. As he crossed the finish
line, the whole family enveloped him
into its bosom as his brothers lift-
ed him into their shoulders like the pal-
anquin carrying the Nabab from the
Voyage aux Index orientales. His
wife and children clutched for him in pride, kiss-
ing him hands, as his brothers sang a child-
hood ode to the triumph in his honour.
About a month after that race, his uncle James died of Leukaemia. He could still remember some of the last words his uncle James had ever said.
“Everyone kept saying, I shouldn’t, wouldn’t and couldn’t, but you know what? I went ahead and did it anyway. I knew this was my final race and I had to make the choice to push right on passed all the negative and pessimistic naysayers. Then, once I got passed that obstacle, I had to contend with an even bigger one – myself! My own flesh did nothing but groan and complain for the whole race; pleading with me with every excuse under the sun. I was too unwell, everyone would understand, I wasn’t quite prepared for it. It tempted me with its promises, swearing to fulfil them if I just quit. But I never did! I beat it for all it was worth into submission to my mind, and I made it across that finish line. And do you know, the one thing that kept me going throughout the whole race was that I knew the prize I would get at crossing that finish line. The laughing and the cheering and the willing me on; the expectant faces of those who believed in me – those were the only opinions to me worth paying attention to – and I never gave up.”
The memory began to fade into the fabric of the wooden rafters, but he half imagined he could still here the cheering emanating from the t-shirt on his back. “Don’t give up, don’t give up, don’t give up,” it was urging as it clung to him like a second skin.
He got up from his place at the window sill and swallowed back the lump that had formed in his throat. He looked down at the t-shirt and inflated his chest in resolution. He suddenly felt like a superhero; a superhero with super shoe-box powers.
“Don’t give up” he heard himself say as he threw the old cigarette in a waste bin. He climbed down from the canopy of the attic into the thicket of his parent’s alder woods. Where upon sending out a fare thee well, he loped of down the lush green trail to await his Esther’s return.
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