Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: DRIZZLE (03/05/20)
TITLE: A Journey Home
By Marilyn Borga
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Mary-berry. I sniffed at the use of the pet name from those bygone days when we’d picked strawberries for our mother; only Sean had ever dared to call me that. As for spending my money, he needn’t know that his own daughter had paid my airfare and expenses. I had jumped at the chance of a free holiday.
“Come sit,” he insisted, grinning and patting the armchair beside him. I didn’t hesitate to sink into the soft cushions; I’d been fighting jetlag all morning.
“You’re looking well,” he continued as he clasped my hand. “Retirement must agree with you.”
I shrugged. “I walk dogs for people now, just for something to do.”
“Yes, and you always were fond of animals,” he recalled. “Ever since old Shep. He was a grand old dog, he was.”
I blinked, surprised at the tears that threatened at the mention of Shep, one bright spot in my childhood. I shook away the memory and focused instead on my only living sibling. Nearly five decades ago I had left Ireland and had returned only a handful of times. These days, emails and Facebook posts kept us in touch. Sean had aged considerably since my last visit ten years ago, as had I. Still, he didn’t look as ill as I’d expected, considering my niece’s sense of urgency. His legs had weakened; he was confined to a wheelchair, yet he seemed vigorous enough.
We chatted a while about his children and grandkids. Eventually, the conversation lulled and he wheeled himself over to the window. I rose to join him and we gazed on the gentle hills that surrounded Killgallon Care Centre. It had been drizzling all morning; dark, heavy clouds cast gloom on the scene and my mood, but Sean smiled as he turned his face to me.
“Ah, Mary, I think of our childhood so often. They were splendid times, weren’t they?”
I scoffed. Splendid indeed! “We were dirt poor,” I retorted.
“Yet we always had plenty to fill our bellies--and a sound roof over our heads!”
“If you don’t mind tatties and cabbage every day and a damp, crowded cottage---”
“We were surrounded by family that loved us---”
“Except that Da sometimes loved his bottle more,” I countered, hating the shrillness in my voice. I’d vowed this visit would be pleasant so I shut my mouth.
Sean’s voice was gentle, his expression thoughtful. “Ah, well, yes. I will concede to that. Da spent more time at the Prancing Horse than he ought, yet he was never cruel, Mary. There’s naught a soul without some weakness.”
I squirmed inside. I had waged my own battle with alcohol for thirty years but had been sober now for twenty. Sean wasn’t pointing fingers; no, it wasn’t his way. He only stated the obvious. I might blame Da for my hereditary propensity to alcoholism, but no one had forced me to take the first drink that led to the downward spiral. I had made my own choices from the time I fled home after high school. I struggled for years to free myself from the chains of my addiction. Eventually, I had given up my pride and asked God for help; only then had I succeeded.
Sean suddenly backed his chair from the window and turned lickety-split toward the door, calling over his shoulder for me to follow as he wheeled toward the exit.
“It’s still raining-- you’ll catch your death,” I protested.
“Ach, it’s warm and barely drizzling; we won’t melt! Hurry!”
So we watched as grey clouds lifted and golden sunlight rolled over the hillsides, transforming them from dull green to vibrant emerald. Soon a rainbow stretched wide across an azure sky. And with that flood of glorious color came a rush of lovely memories.
My brother lifted his arms, acknowledging God’s goodness. We’d shared the same family, the same experiences, yet we had always looked at life so differently; he was salt, I was pepper. He the sweet and I, the bitter.
I’d assumed my niece had planned this trip for Sean’s sake alone. But perhaps Shannon sensed---and God knew--- that I had needed this trip home, this last chance to cast aside old resentments once and for all, and like Sean, know gratitude.
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