Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Lonely Years

The Lonely Years
Molecat Jumaway

There is no way at all to describe it. It is beyond words, everything pales in comparison, everything else dissolves and all that is left is the grief. A woman who has lost her child cannot be categorised and the pure sense of loss never dissipates.
Carol knew this; it bumbled around in her head like a blow-fly trying to escape a jar. Sometimes it would feel like a swarm of blow-flies in her head and she could not be consoled. She knew she could never be consoled. There was nothing to be done; from the moment she heard the screeching tires and the soft thump. From the moment she rushed to the window in pure fear she knew that this was the beginning of the lonely years.
Philip, little Phil, her little Phil, her son, her cherished and wonderful little boy....
She would whisper his name just like that, all the things she used to call him; she would whisper them over and over and over. This was the beginning of the lonely years.
She did not blame her husband, Grant. She knew that if it was her out there she would have kept a better eye on him but she did not say that ever.
Her wonderful little boy...
He took it hard; harder for the fact that Carol became inconsolable. Her pain was different and she did not let him know that, but their pain was different. He could put his pain into words, he could see someone about it, he could continue living on but Carol could not do any of that. Grant had lost his son, unbearable, the most soul wrenching thing that had ever happened to him.
Carol had lost everything, Carol had lost herself.
A void grew between the pair. It was no one’s fault; Grant’s pain was consolidated by his isolation from his wife’s grief. He tried all ways to share, to become a part of her life again but failed in every aspect. They were no longer husband and wife but two people living in a silent, painful world. Carol was aware of her state, she was aware of the detrimental effect that it had on her marriage. She tried many ways to make her life more sustainable, more of a life and less like the death that it had become. She tried therapy but could not convey her sense of loss to the doctor. It just wasn’t understood, something that cannot be put into words cannot be dealt with. She tried a support group but found many, many women with exactly the same problem, all sitting in a silent pain and no solution. Even though they shared the same basic characteristics of grief all that was conveyed in the silence was that grief. She tried a facade of emotion but this made matters worse. She’d wake up screaming, running away from Grant’s arms with the same chant on her lips.
Philip, little Phil, her little Phil, her son, her cherished and wonderful little boy....
Grant went away.
Carol was complete in her silent grief.

It took a year of living in the house before she realised that she needed to move. It was the boy’s room most of all. They had not moved a thing out of it and she would stand in the doorway and imagine him playing.
Her little boy, Little Phil, her little Phil....
She would stand in the doorway for hours on end; whole days would flick by with her just stationary, staring into a room of memories. She did not want to leave, she felt she couldn’t leave. She wanted to stand in that doorway forever. She had to leave.
She could not sell the house, she just left.
She could not even bring herself to dismantle the room, she just packed her clothes and left everything else and went away.

She bought a little two bedroom apartment and thought to herself that her life was going to begin again. It didn’t, it just didn’t. One room remained empty, another consisted only of her bed, the lounge had a single chair that she never sat in and the kitchen had a table and a single chair. She was going to fill the flat full of new delights that would give the ambiance of a woman regaining her life but she never did. It all seemed like an empty gesture.
She sat at the kitchen table staring into nothingness. She grew thin, she grew weak. She tried desperately to fight what was happening to her but it was happening, whether she liked it or not.
She tried to go back to church. She sat in the seat and listened to the priest. Nothing touched her; nothing came down to her and said everything is going to be alright. She stared at the statue of Jesus on the cross and it stared back in silence and that’s all they shared, the silence. Towards the end all got up to take the Eucharist, Carol sat there and watched in silence and then left.
She knew that it was all God’s work and that’s why she did not belong here. Not because she did not believe but because she did believe.
She hated him for it.
She got home and stopped by the string of letterboxes. There was a letter sticking out of hers.
She only got bills, no letters and it was Sunday, no post.
She thought at first it was junk mail, but it looked like a letter. She drew it out and looked at it. It had no stamp, no address, just her name on the front, scrawled there awkwardly. She opened it up and took out the paper inside.
A single sheet of paper with only a place scribbled there in the middle.
‘St Luke’s Parish.’
She stared at it and stared at it. She took it in and stared at it again.
She tried to dismiss it but could not. She tried to throw it away but could not.
She sat at her kitchen table and stared and stared at the note.
She got up and started walking.
Two hours later she was standing in the entrance of St Luke’s Parish. They were shutting up shop for the day. Candles were being extinguished and altar boys were being picked up at the front. Carol stood there in the doorway with no idea why she was here. She looked down at her feet and found she was not wearing any shoes. She had just got up and started walking, and walked for two hours.
Now she was standing in the doorway and it felt to her as though nothing was here for her.
Just a bitterness and longing for it all to be over.
The priest, in his best Sunday Frock was walking down the aisle towards the front doors where she stood. He got up to where she stood, shaking in silence and he stopped.
“Oh dear.” He said as he looked into her eyes.
“You better come have a coffee.” He said to her. “I sure as hell need one myself.”
She followed him to the house next door and into the kitchen. She sat down silently and he pottered around making coffee. They sat there, opposite each other sipping at the coffee in silence. He did not ask her any questions and he did not suggest anything until they had finished.
“I’m going to give you an address of a lady.” He said putting his empty cup down. He sat there silent for a minute and then got up, took her cup and his and put them in the sink. “Now I don’t want you to tell anyone where you got this from. In fact, probably best not to talk about it at all.” He smiled for a split second, remembering that he had not heard a word from her yet. He retrieved a pad and pen out of a draw and started to scribble. “Just go there.” He handed her the address. Carol opened her mouth to say something but Carol had not spoken a word for a very long time.
“No,” The priest said and put a finger on her mouth. “Don’t complain, you cannot afford to do anything but go to that woman.” Carol took the piece of paper and got up and left, she had a long, tiring walk back.

The next day she stood in front of the shop address that the priest had written down. She was aghast. It was a spiritual shop, not some Christian shop but some new age, voodoo, hippy combination, with books. She stood there, two metres from the door with her mouth agape. She was about to turn and leave when suddenly it was as if she was unceremoniously kicked inside. She turned to see who had shoved her but the street outside was empty.
“You’ve lost someone.” Said a voice, startling her. She turned to find a woman standing there. “You’ve lost someone. Now you’re lost as well.” Said the lady.
Carol could not stand it anymore and she broke down crying.
“It’s okay.” Said the woman. No it’s not, thought Carol.
“It’s okay.” Repeated the woman,
Shut up, Shut up, Shut up!
The woman’s hand went out to touch Carol and Carol turned away.
“It’s okay.” Repeated the woman again. Suddenly Carol was shoved from behind by something into the woman’s hand. Carol felt a heat as the hand pressed up against her temple. Suddenly Carol was quite terrified of what was going on around her. This woman’s hand pressed up to her temple was the least of her worries. There was something else in here. She did not like what she felt around her, she felt weird and there was something else here; someone else here.

She was back at home, sitting at her kitchen table. She looked around and could not remember how she got there. She got up and silently walked into her bedroom and went to bed.
Sometimes Carol would dream of her life before. Early on she would always dream about her life before the lonely years. Sitting in her son’s room; her wonderful boy. Watching him play, watching him grow. Lying in bed with Grant, his fingers touching her skin. Making breakfast for the family, all she could manage was toast but it was the routine that counted. She would wake up every time crying, sometimes wailing, holding her pillow close to her chest. So now, as if in retaliation she dreamt that she was nothing.
Nothing curled up in nothingness, a void inside a void. Something touched her cheek and she brushed it away. Something touched her cheek again and she brushed it away. Something touched her cheek and she woke up.
Quit It!
She looked around her, sitting up in shock, she was still alone.

She sat at the kitchen table, staring at nothing. Her head was itchy, just a little at first but it soon became really irritating. She needed to wash her hair she guessed; she headed off to have a shower.
She stepped out of the shower and looked into the mirror which was fogged over by the steam. Something was off in her head, she felt strange. She opened the medicine cabinet and took out some Pain killers. She closed the cabinet and suddenly the mirrored surface wasn’t fogged over anymore. She got a small startle but thought that there would be explanation.
She retreated back to the kitchen table and sat there, thinking about what had happened the previous day. There was a tingle in her scalp again. She tried to ignore it; if it was lice then the lice could have her.
That night she lay in bed staring up at the ceiling, she needed to sleep, she felt weird, too weird. Maybe she was coming down with the flu or something. Her body was tingling all over, the hair on her arms and on the back of her neck stood up with Goosebumps
She woke up as though she’d woken herself up. Was she talking in her sleep? There was a noise, a scraping; it was the sound of something moving across the floor boards, slowly.
Oh god.
What was happening? Maybe she was dreaming? Maybe it was a sound from upstairs? That was it! It had to be that, people upstairs were moving furniture. This did not stop her from hiding her head under the covers. She lay there, listening to the sound which lasted for half an hour and got closer and closer until it stopped. She lay there for an hour more, trembling until she fell asleep.
She woke up with the morning sun on her bed. She must have forgotten to close the blind. She sat up and looked around and screamed in shock. The kitchen chair was in her bedroom facing her.
That was it, she was going crazy. Finally she had simply dropped off the edge.
Something tugged at her hair and she yelped again in shock. She jumped out of bed and looked around. She then searched the whole flat, looking for intruders, checking all the empty corners. She checked if the front door was locked and it was, she then checked if the windows were locked, which they were. She moved the chair back to the kitchen and sat down there.
That night she took a sleeping pill, something was wrong with her but she did not know what it was.
Of course you know what it is. Just look at what your life has become!
She took the sleeping pill and put the lid back on the bottle. She stood there for an unknown length of time just staring at the bottle. Suddenly the bottle left her hand and hit the wall. She went over and slowly bent down to pick it up; not even thinking it was strange. She was already growing tired. She put the bottle back in the medicine cabinet and wandered into her bedroom. By the time she dropped onto the bed she was already asleep.

She woke to find the chair back in its place facing her, the empty seat staring at where her head rested. She was too drowsy to care; she noticed that the blinds were up again. This time she remembered lowering the blinds the day before. She got out of bed and dragging the chair behind her made her way to the kitchen. After a few metres she stopped, something was gnawing at her. She moved on again and stopped and stared at the chair hanging out of her hand. She took another few steps, letting the chair drag behind her. That was the noise she heard two nights ago, it was the chair dragging across the floor towards her bedroom. She put the chair back in its proper place and sat down.
Two hours later the sleeping pill that she’d had the night before had wore off completely and she was suddenly terrified. The chair, the blinds, the bottle of pills, she was losing her mind. She got her clothes on and left the apartment but found herself walking around aimlessly. Around the block, around the next block, her hand dragging itself along the fences as she went. She used to do it as a child, drag her hand across each fence as it went by. Picket fences, brick fences, when she was little it was almost a compulsion. As though she was touching a little of each house as she went by. Now she was doing it again; walking aimlessly through the streets with her hand dragging across each fence. She was barely aware of it until her hand started to flutter back and forth uncontrollably as though a motor was inserted between her wrist and her hand. She looked down at her hand and withdrew it from the fence and it stopped. She looked at the house, old and forgotten; no one had lived there for years.
What the hell was she doing? Wandering the streets; moving furniture; standing outside an abandoned house. She turned around and headed back towards her apartment. There was that itchiness in her scalp, as though she was receiving electricity through her body making her hair stand up on end. She ignored it and kept moving.
She gave a little shriek as a clump of hair was pulled. She tried to ignore it and moved on, it happened again and then again. She moved the way her hair was being pulled a little and it stopped. She stood there, the sun was now setting and the air was getting colder. She turned back towards home and the hair pulling started again. She stopped and moved back from whence she came and found herself standing outside the abandoned house once more.
The hair pulling had stopped.
She was crazy; that was it.
She opened the gate and moved up the path towards the front door.
She felt a little scared; her hair was standing up on its ends. On her head, on her arms, on the back of her neck.
She opened the front door, the handle just turned, no locks, no nothing. Suddenly a banging started from inside. It must be the wind. It wasn’t though, the air was still.
She was terrified but she continued to wander into the house. She did not know why she was doing this. The banging was coming from the back. She passed room after room but did not look into any of them. She followed the sound and moved towards the back of the house. She came to a door and as soon as she touched the handle the banging ceased.
She opened the door, it was strangely dark and she stood in the doorway trying to let her eyes adjust to the light.
There was a shadow in the far corner and she could not draw her eyes away from it. It was a small shadow, hunched over; there was a sound coming from it. It started off as though distant, it sounded like a wind’s low whistling, a long way away. It then got closer and closer, louder and louder. Carol stood and stared at the little hunched over shadow, she was sure she could see eyes, glaring at her. Dark fingers protruded from the shadow’s form and suddenly an arm was extending itself with menace.
The wailing grew loud and she could not take it anymore, she ran.

She was back at home, in bed, shaking. She was petrified and it wasn’t her vision that scared her the most, she was losing her mind. She got up and went into the bathroom, opened the medicine cabinet, the sleeping pills were not there. She growled and emptied the cabinet and then put everything back again. She looked around the floor but could not find them. She went back to bed distressed, angry and scared.
She dreamt she was in that house, she was in that room. She was in front of the shadow, the eyes glaring at her, the arms extending out to her, the ear piercing wail. It was her son, feral and broken. Like death had sucked him into a land where the wild things were and he had become one of them, a shrieking shadow.
Something was touching her cheek and her arm came up to brush it away. There was nothing there but she woke up with tears in her eyes. She remembered the dream and it forced her out of bed quickly. She could not stay here; she could not sit at her kitchen table staring into nothing. She needed to go back; she needed to go back as quickly as possible.
She raced out of the house, dressing as she moved. She tried to retrace her steps but did not know where she was going. She found herself, blocks away from her home with no idea where she was last night. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes. She held out a hand one way, holding it out in front of her as though she was feeling the air, she felt nothing but air. She held out her hand another way and she thought she felt something, a tingling that moved up her arm, shoulder and then down her spine. She moved that way; she dragged her hand along the fences as she went.
There was a tingle here and a tingle there, she followed and soon her hand was fluttering away madly on the fence of the abandoned house.
She stood on the footpath, staring at the house. Even in the dawning light it seemed menacing. Maybe that was because she still had in her memory what she saw, or what she thought she saw last night. She opened the gate and moved up the path. She took a deep breath and opened the door. The banging started.
She moved through the house, how long had it been left alone? It looked like forty years or more.
She came to the doorway, something seemed a little wrong. She put her hand on the door handle, the banging did not stop. She opened the door.
In the far corner was the small shadow.
Forty years or more?
The wailing had started, the banging was continuing. Carol looked over and there was a cabinet moving up and down.
Bang, Bang, Bang!
What are you doing here? She thought to herself as the shadow glared at her, its eyes pale, yellow and full of menace.
Forty Years, what are you doing here?
She took a step forward. And the wailing became so tremendous it was hurting her ears.
Forty Years ago means this isn’t your son, just because you had a dream, doesn’t make it your own son.
She knew this but took another step forward anyway. It was someone’s son, this was someone’s son.
She took another step forward, the arm of the shadow reached out for her. The cabinet lifted off the ground and moved a metre both up and towards her, coming down heavily. The cabinet shattered and a piece of wood struck her in the temple as splinters scattered in every direction.
She grabbed the shadow’s arm and pulled at it, there was a sharp growl. She thought her hand would go right through but it didn’t. It was cold, very cold. She pulled the arm towards her, dragging the little thing into her arms.
All the sound stopped.
She was kneeling, hugging the cold little thing in her arms and then everything dissipated and she found she was hugging nothing. She stood up and looked around. The room was suddenly not as dark anymore, in front of her was a little boy. She stared down at him and realised that he must have died forty or fifty years ago.
These were his lonely years.
She extended her hand to him but there was nothing to him anymore, just a whisper of him was left. She turned and left the room and he followed, she opened the front door and watched him leave.

She sat on the doorstep of the abandoned house for nearly the whole day. She could not get over what had happened, what was happening to her. There was something else to it all though and she did not know what it was. The sun started to go down and she stood up and turned towards her apartment.
The chair scraped against the floor again that night, she did not hide under the blankets. She woke up with the blinds up even though she’d put them down and she did not get a fright. She looked at the chair in front of her and did not drag it back to the kitchen where it belonged.
She spent each day walking along the roads, this ways and that, her hand dragging itself along the fences. She soon found herself in familiar territory and she kept walking from house to house. There was a tingling which grew and grew. She passed her old house and expected to find her hand waggling frantically but it did not. She stood outside and stared at the old abandoned place.
People don’t like sadness; ghosts of our own or someone else’s past, people leave, pack up and just leave. Soon the house gets an ambience and remains untouched. She stood there remembering painting the walls with her husband. She had gotten paint on her nose and it would not come off for weeks. He teased her about it every moment it stayed there.
There was a tingling here but her son wasn’t here.
She reluctantly kept moving, a tear moving down her cheek.
She moved from house to house and then started on the other side. If she looked around she would have noticed the abandoned house right opposite to hers. It was a poor neighbourhood though and so many of the places looked neglected anyway.
She stood at the fence, her hand flapping away as though someone was trying to tell her that this was the right place. She opened the gate and walked in. At the door she could hear a distant crying; she opened the door and walked in.
She followed the sound but knew where it was heading. All the houses in the street were built the same and her son’s room in her old house was in the same position in this house.
Philip, little Phil, her little Phil, her son, her cherished and wonderful little boy stood alone in the corner lost and weeping. A little menacing shadow stuck in the wrong house on the wrong side of the road.
“Little Phil.” She said and stepped into the room.
“Mummy!” And the little shadow raced towards her, she bent down with her arms outstretched and picked him up.
He was cold but she did not care, this was the moment she had envisaged for years. She was holding her son, her little Phil, her cherished and wonderful little boy in her arms.
Then he was nothing but a wisp. She walked out of the room and he followed, wearing his favourite little red top. She walked across the street and he stopped on the edge, afraid of the road.
She looked back at him. “It’s okay little Phil. Nothing can hurt you now.”
“Mummy?” He pleaded with an outstretched hand. Carol came back and held her hand out. Philip went to hold it but his hand went right through. He tried again and again but was nothing more than a whisper now.
“It’s okay, just pretend.”
“Okay Mummy.” And the two of them crossed, hand in hand. They climbed the steps and went into their own dusty little house and moved over to Philip’s room. There was that tingling again as Philip ran into his room to play with his stuff. She stood at the doorway watching him knowing that someone was beside her.
Her scalp tingled and she knew he was stroking her hair, her cheek tingled and she knew he was wiping away her tears.
Their lonely years were over.
They were home again, all three of them.

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