WIP – Closing the door on home

This could be chapter 01 of my new novel, The Assumption.

Keep up with the works in progress – including the cock-ups and deadends, and the things that keep me going – right here.

My name is Lesleigh Oakes and this is the story of how I said goodbye. For those of you who are short on patience or lack magical imaginations: this is the story of how I went from my home to outer space after visiting several friends, enemies and family members to clear a few matters up.

My journey began one Wednesday morning in October a few years ago, after we fought the sickness off, and just around the time that most people go to work in the morning. I stood looking at what had been my home for the previous decade or so. What a building it was! It was taller than it was wide, and longer than it was tall. It stood between very similar buildings all put up at the same time by the same people. They all looked the same, but looks like memories and recollections are deceiving of course, no matter when they’re made or by whom.

Behind the houses ran a beautifully clear tributary stream with a chalk bed and vegetal hair waving in its gentle flow like Ophelia’s.

The stream was in fact a manmade navigation that looked as natural as tadpoles and minnows but was in fact as natural as bricks and terrorism.

I loved that stream even though it was hidden from my view in the house by a tall wall so I never got to see it.

Sometimes I thought heard it though the thick walls of my personal room as it moved and changed at night. At least that’s what I imagined, and that was good enough. I imagined its chalk bed and the long, vegetal hair waving like Ophelia’s, its reeds, and swans, its ducklings being lead to safety by both parents. I imagined the small, sleek platinum fish that acted as one as they jittered and jetted about joyfully just under the surface. There was no one who was going to take the time to prove me wrong about any of this.

I stood looking at the big, thick, studded dark blue door of my old house, I mean the house that had been my home and where I’d learnt a lot of tips and tricks to help me through life. Love crimes and death crimes had all played out inside those walls, and a little, cowardly piece of me wanted to go back in and settle down with something good to read, something racy and exciting. That was no longer an option, it was time for forge ahead.

That was life in those days as you’ll recall.

Everything I was wearing was out of date, just the way I like it. I was wearing my long, camel hair overcoat, my stoutest and also most highly polished shoes (I’d learn to shine that way during my time in the navy). I wore my grey-framed spectacles both for clear vision and also because of the distinguished air they leant my slightly elongated face. I was ready to make my way right away, right then, all the way back then. I was as excited as a youngster growing up in the mountains, looking up at the eagles, yet I was also scared. I wiped my right cheek dry. I made sure my hat was clean and at a sensible angle with respect to the horizon. I made certain that my long overcoat was buttoned up against the October wind that would assault me as soon as I turned the corner at the top of the avenue and began to walk west-east.

“I refuse to retreat again”, I told myself again.

The weather was crisp and clean, and the sky a crackling blue, and I could feel the warmth of the sun on me as I looked at my crazed reflection in the paint of the door. I made a decision that even now, looking out of this porthole as I prepare to be thrown through space, I remain proud of. I decided not to look back. I smiled, turned on my heels balletically, and off I went into the day and the days to come. I was going to whistle a happy tune as per the instructions in the old song but the avenue was quiet; just foot traffic, just an old gentleman and his dog with a stick in its mouth and its tail up. Over years in the grand house, I had learned to love and respect the quiet. Ruining it was tantamount to sacrilege or the murder of a white tiger with a gun so I stifled my tune. The old man and his dog were not so protective of the silence.

“Buster! Put that down! Buster!” yelled the old man at the old dog. He, the old man, bent down, removed the stick, threw it away and put the dog on a lead.

“Good morning sir, your dog seems full of the joys”, I said with as much jollity as my cancerous body could muster.

“Fuck off and mind your business, he’s a twat”, he yelled at me and walked away in the manner of a military policeman with his prisoner. The dog looked back at me and I swear it shrugged as if to say, “Such is life my friend, such is life”.

As I think I mentioned, I was going to make a final round of visits to friends and family. All in all there were seven people whose contact details remained in my black notebook. Their details nestled near various financial details, important national and international dates, and my own doodles – which I called ‘sketches’ even though I knew that they would never amount to any greater work.

As the old man and the dog disappeared up the road, I breathed in deeply and started towards the small railway station and from there, rather circuitously I admit, to Outer Space. I’d paid for my ticket before I entered the house some decades before. I’d also tucked a few nest-eggs and interest bearing savings here and there in preparation for a long and exciting excursion or two. So, I was all set and ready.

First on my list of absolutely necessary visits was to my super-Catholic and self-denying lesbian Aunt Bernadette in the west of Ireland. She lived near a small memorial to some IRA lads who had blown themselves up in 1918 looked out to sea. She visited it on her daily walk so she could laugh out loud at it. The IRA was one of the things in the world that she hated.

In the long, long time I’d known her I had been able to build a list of the things that Aunty Bernie abhorred, detested and despised:

Me

Atheists

Heathens (anybody who not born Roman Catholic)

The IRA

Poor people

Black people

Indian people (this also covered people from Pakistan and Kashmir)

Vegetarians

Non-smokers

Aunt Bernadette disliked me for many reasons not the least of which being that she hated that entire side of her family; her sister’s side. She hated receiving cards from the brothers and sisters-in-law, the nephews and nieces, nephews and nieces-in-law who had scattered to their various successes and disappearances, deaths and marriages in the United States, Australia, England, Southern Africa and beyond. She hated the postcards, birthday cards, Christmas cards, the entire pantheon of bloody cards. Cards. Physical objects that could dangerously have smelled of their senders and the postal mechanics of ‘abroad’ and ‘overseas’.

Aunt Bernie – she, yes you guessed it, she hated being called that, we learnt this as children – was a huge figure of a woman with tightly curled red hair and a voice that judged in low tones everyone except for her long-time companion Julianna, who she’d been living with for thirty years. Julianna was ageing, elegant and French. I thought she was as beautiful as the first moment I’d been introduced to her.

“This is Julianna, she has come to stay briefly”, Bernadette told me when I was young. I fell in love immediately. Julianna stayed forever. Julianna was wonderful. She was the humanity in Auntie B’s inhumane nature. Everbody adored Julianna.

I was never been sure if Julianna and Bernadette loved or have loved each other or if they just shared a mutual misery. They stick out life together. I imagine they must have contented each other in one way or another. I hoped so, not that it was any of my business.

Aunty Bernadette, Aunt Bernie, Bernadette Theresa, named to be a nun by her father who wanted her out of the way as fast as possible so he could concentrate on running his pub. Aunty Bernie, who had the Catholic Marys, martyrs, Popes and God on her side. Bernadette Therese who never married because the only person ever to ask her was given such short shrift that word soon spread. Bernadette Therese who never let a moment go without reminding me that God still loved me even if I had abandoned him. Aunty B’ was English so she moved to Ireland soon after retiring from her work in the civil service. She moved to Ireland where my Grandmother Grace had been born and had been hated by her own family for marrying out of the faith and the blood. Aunty Bernie had moved to Ireland so that she could hate the place with fresh focus everyday until she died.

As I set out to visit her and Julianna, Aunt Bernadette Theresa was ill. Not her usual, “Don’t worry about me, I’ll be fine all on my own, just leave me here”, kind of ill. She was terminally ill. Julianna had let me know me during our regular monthly phone call. She was resigned rather than upset about it.

“Breast cancer. She’s quite ok about it”, said Julianna over the terrible line. I could smell the cigarette smoke wreathing her. Even though I’d stopped smoking years before, anything in the word in proximity to her was beautiful to me. The loss of her voice as the phone called died in the air left me empty for hours after as I sat in my room trying to read. Listen to me, what is this awful, teenage nonsense!

“She says that’s all well and good and soon she will be with God and Holy Mother Mary, so there it is. She will be out of this damp country cask-aged resentments, and this is a fine thing too”, Julianna told me.

So, aunt Bernadette Theresa’s breasts were the reason I was going to visit Ireland before anywhere else. Otherwise I would have headed to Australia.


And don’t forget to read the free chapters from my debut novel, The Water Meadow Man – a novel about hope.