WIP – Closing the door on home

This could be chapter 01. 

My name is Lesleigh Oakes and this is the story of how I said goodbye.

One Wednesday morning in early October a few years ago before the sickness and just after the time when everybody else on the street had left for work, I was standing looking back at what had been my home for the previous decade or so.

The house was taller than it was wide, longer than it was tall. It stood between two other very similar homes all built at the same time by the same people. They all looked the same but looks are deceiving of course. As are memories and recollections no matter when they’re built or by whom.

It was a very white, straight, white building weathered by hundreds of years. It probably still is. I’ve not seen it in some time. The house had four storeys that could tell plenty of tales. It went back a long way to an austere turfed garden that ran down to the bank of a shallow chalk stream clear as hindsight with vegetal hair waving with the flow.

The stream was in fact a manmade navigation that looked as natural as tadpoles and the Great Diving beetle but was as natural as bricks and terrorism.

I loved that garden.

I was standing at the top of the six steps that lead from the door to the pavement, and looking at the big, thick, shiny dark blue door. Love crimes and death crimes had all played out between those tall, beautifully constructed walls. My heart was breaking with excitement for the journey ahead.

Anyway, I thought, at least the October weather is crisp and clean, and the sky is a cracking blue.

I could feel the warmth of the sun on the back of my neck as I looked at my crazed reflection in the paint of the door.

I’d like to smash the big, brass door knocker into the big, brass door knocker’s saddle hard, so, so hard, I thought.

Instead of slamming the door knocker I posted my keys into the house through the slot where the bills usually went. I looked up at the house and tried to listen for the people who were not longer there. I smiled, turned on my heels balletically and efficiently, and stepped down to the pavement. The avenue was quieter now; just foot traffic, just neighbours and an old gentleman with his dog with a stick in its mouth and its tail up.

I was wearing my long, camel hair overcoat, my stoutest and also most highly polished shoes (I’d learn to shine that way in the navy). I wore my grey-framed spectacles both for clear vision and also because of the distinguished air they leant my slightly rounded face. I was ready to make my way right away, right then, all the way back then. I am as excited as I could have been a youngster growing up in the mountains, looking up at the eagles, I told myself with forced confidence. I wiped my cheeks dry.

I was going to make a final round of visits to friends and family. This was going to take me some time because my friends are scattered far and wide. All in all there were seven people whose contact details remained in the black notebook that I carried at all times. They nestled near financial details, important national and international dates, and the odd doodle – which I called ‘sketches’ even though I knew that they would never amount to any greater work.

At the foot of the steps I made a decision that even now, looking out of this porthole as I prepare to hurtle through space, I remain proud of. I decided not to look back.

Instead I made sure my hat was clean and at a sensible angle in 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.

I breathed in deeply and I started towards the small railway station and to Outer Space.

First on my list of necessary visits was to my super-Catholic self-denying lesbian Aunty Bernadette in the west of Ireland near where a small memorial to some IRA lads who had blown themselves up in 1918 looked out to sea. What a dread, I thought. But, my mind was made up. There was no going back.

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 with all of its brothers and sisters-in-law, 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 would be forever receiving cards from the ones who hadn’t the good grace to disappear: postcards, birthday cards, Christmas cards, the entire pantheon of bloody cards. Cards. Physical objects that smelled of their senders and the postal mechanics of the United States, Australia, England, Southern Africa and Ireland.

Aunt Bernie, was a huge figure of a woman with tightly curled red hair and a voice that judged in low turns 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”, said Bernadette and I feel in love immediately.

I’ve never been sure if Julianna and Bernadette love 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 over the years. I hope 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 fast. Aunty Bernie had the Roman Catholic Marys, martyrs, the Pope and God for company. Aunt Bernie Therese never let a moment go by without reminding me that no matter how hard I tried I hadn’t lost the Father, the Son, the Holy Ghost and most of all not the Virgin mother Mary. Aunty Bernadette was English, and she hated the Irish because her mother, my Grandmother Grace, had been Irish and hated by her own family for marrying out of the faith and the blood. A

Aunt Bernie had lived in England for fifty of her eighty years before upping sticks from suburban Surrey and moving to the west of Ireland. My guess, as I turned the corner from leafy avenue to shop-lined road, was so that she could be right in the thick of it so her hatred could be fresh and focused.

Aunt Bernadette Theresa or Therese depending on her mood 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 broke the news to 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. I could smell the cigarette smoke wreathing her beautiful face.

“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 breathed in crackles.

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 my cousin Tracey.