Tuesday, August 28, 2012
A Journey of Discovery
I woke as usual to the sound of the baby screaming and Jenny and Jimmy the 18 month old twins rattling the bars of their cots. Nana was banging around in the kitchen, cursing under her breath no doubt. “Bella, you up yet!” For the last 4 months she has shouted the exact same words, the exact same way, loud, annoying. I dragged myself out of bed with a familiar almost unbearable sorrow grabbing at my chest. “Get up Bella and change those kids!.” This morning I decided I hated Nana. One day I would run away. Finally I‘d “get out of her hair” and “leave her in peace.” Jenny climbed over the side of her cot and came to stand at the side of my bed. She tugged at the blankets and gestured wanting me to pick her up; her nappy was wet and dragging in the rear, she smelt awful. Jimmy, less adventurous sat in his cot watching. He probably smelt too but I couldn‘t tell, the stench coming from Jenny was overpowering. I could feel puck rising up in my throat and fought to push it down, to swallow it down. Quickly to stop myself screaming I carried the little girl through to the bathroom and set her down on the cold floor, she whimpered as I returned to the bedroom for her twin. They were beautiful children. I smoothed the curly fair hair and kissed the delicate pixie faces, so cute when asleep, so mischievous when awake, so like our mother. I hugged them and sang childish lullabies as the water ran hot and cold into the ancient bath tub. Repeating the same bath-time games mother and I used to play and hearing the children’s happy laughter partially dispelled the heaviness of my mood. For a short moment I almost believed I might be happy. I almost believed Mother was in the kitchen preparing breakfast but no, it was Nana who sat at the table, smoking as usual. Daddy raised his sad face briefly when I set the twins down then without commenting returned to his newspaper. I crossed to look at the baby. He had a bottle shoved in his mouth supported by a rolled up towel. He suckled fretfully. He was teething. “Leave him and sit down girl.“ Nana was a battleaxe. I cast hateful looks at her from under my eyebrows but as usual she didn’t notice. “After breakfast you can clean the tub and hang out the washing.“ She glanced at me suddenly witnessing a black look and reaching out slapped my wrist. Daddy looked up but didn’t speak. I wanted to shout, “why don’t you say something,” but I couldn’t, his sad eyes made my stomach churn. Suddenly I couldn‘t bear it any longer. “I hate you, you old witch,” I screamed, and leapt from the table. I heard her call as I raced out of the house but I didn’t, couldn’t stop. Mentally I was already over the fields and far away. Away from everything, the pain of daddies’ sad eyes and indifference; away from looking after the young ones while Nana tipsy from that ‘only one’ tot of gin took her usual afternoon nap and especially far away from being “a big girl now”. As I scrambled over stile and gate I sobbed for my mother, for my lost childhood, and especially for my father. Through damp clinging grass I scampered uncaring of the path. Past sweetly scented hedgerow scaring sheep and birds I ran trying to dull the ache inside. Once I would have run to daddy but off course being a ‘big girl now’ I couldn’t disturb daddy with “such childish nonsense,” Nana would find out and frown and screw up her lips. When I came to the place in the woods that kids at school whispered about I knelt in the damp grass and prayed hard. Angry tears came when nothing happened but I didn’t care. Out here with only sheep to see me I howled long and loud for my mother and willed her to come back and make everything the way it was. I didn’t want to be a ‘big girl‘ any more. I just wanted my mum back. I didn’t see him at first, not until he looked up from the horse he was brushing and spoke. Are you all right? “Course I am,” I sniffed. Your face is all red, he said, you’ve been crying. “No I haven’t, I’ve been running.” I replied From what? He stopped brushing the horse and stood waiting expectantly. “Nothing,” I mumbled and stood up flicking imaginary things off my clothes. He laughed and continued brushing the horse as I attempted to clean up my face. Feel better now? I nodded realising with a jolt that I did. We sat under a tree me and the old gypsy and talked. I told him everything. Mother’s death and the sadness drowning us. I told him about my silent withdrawn daddy and of the babies and especially of Nana. The old man was silent for quite a while after I stopped talking then he turned and said, “Go home Bella,” and I knew I would. When I arrived back at the house black smoke billowed from a downstairs window. I could hear the children screaming from inside and suddenly Nana was there. She dashed into the house and returned with Jenny. I screamed for her to stop but she threw the little girl onto the grass and ran back inside. I raced to follow her but was immediately met by a blinding wall of smoke and Nana was there holding me back. She shook her head as she pushed Jimmy out the door and disappeared back into the choking smoke. I thought she had gone for good but almost immediately she returned with the baby and stood before me. As she smiled and stroked my cheek a love I hadn’t felt from her before flowed between us. “I know these last months have been hard on you Bella,” she said, “But now you’ve got to be extra brave for your daddy and the little ones.“ She shoved the baby into my arms and without a backward glance faded into the smoke and I was left alone choking on deadly fumes. “We’re going to die” I thought and as I looked down at my baby brother asleep finally gentle arms enclosed and held us in a familiar embrace. Her sweet scent I remembered so well and in my smoke-fuddled mind I thought I heard a gypsy violin. I awoke gasping for breath outside with the baby safe in my arms and the twins crying on the ground beside me. When daddy arrived he raced down towards the house when they told him nana was still inside. He would have gone in but men had him before he could and I had to gulp down my own tears as he gripped my hand hard repeating over and over, “my babies, thank God, thank God.” I saw her once more as the house cracked and roared. She stood calmly amidst the flames with an arm around Nana's waist. They both smiled sweetly at me before turning back into the roaring inferno and in my heart I sent out a sincere thankyou to Nana. And as the house collapsed and cinders and ash erupted into the clear blue sky I felt their love surround me.