Ella lit the burner beneath the red kettle which sat poised on the stove top, ready for the after dinner tea that she always made her mother and herself. The oven was only a short stretch from the sink which was filling up and Ella was able to reach and push the arm of the tap down without too much effort. She gently placed the plates with their faded floral pattern and silver cutlery stained with food and age into the sink. It had been a long day, and she was looking forward to putting her mother to bed shortly and getting on to marking the assignments of her grade 9 students. Lost in these thoughts, Ella noticed a stray lettuce leaf that she mustn’t have scraped off one of the plates. The limp green leaf lay still and lifeless, buoyant in the sink of suds. Ella felt the blood drain from her face and a film of sweat coating her. The leaf, dead, still, floating took on the form of Billy. Still but for her right hand reaching into the pocket of her apron, Ella stared at the lettuce leaf and felt for her rosary, chanting the familiar prayers, hoping to push away the thoughts of Billy, her little brother. The kettle let out a desperate scream making Ella jump from the piercing sound reminiscent of an ambulance approaching.
With the cups of tea shaking on the tray she held, Ella entered the living room where her mother sat, staring vacantly at the television that was in front of her but switched off. Ella sighed, recognising that look, those clouds obscuring her mother’s thoughts and leaving their indelible mark on her mind, taking away a little bit each time they pass. “Mother, I’ve brought your cup of tea” Ella didn’t get any more response from Valerie than she would have from the blank TV screen. With the lifeless form of Billy floating through her mind, Ella didn’t want to engage in conversation. I need to be on my own, she thought, but the levy had broken and the flood of thoughts were washing through. The striped blue and white t-shirt he wore that day, his black hair that was in need of a hair cut, fanned out on the surface of the water like the feathers of a duck. Leaving the two cups of tea on the coffee table, ready to make her exit, Ella was stopped by her mother’s words, echoing a past that was ever so real for both of them in this moment “Tell Billy to come in for dinner.”
Grasping her rosaries in the pocket of her apron and summoning the father, son and the holy ghost, Ella took a deep breath and decided for the truth this time rather than pander to the obscured reality of her mothers senile mind. “Mother, Billy has passed away. He died many years ago.” Her voice was quavering as she said this. She felt Valerie’s eyes looking right through her, perhaps only seeing her child likeness.
“Don’t be silly, tell Billy his dinner is going to get cold”
“Billy is DEAD…Look at me mother, he is DEAD”
“It was you- it was all your fault. All I asked is that you mind him for the day while I went into town” Valerie’s fragile, raspy voice raised to a shrill.
Ella was shaking, feeling her chest tighten and her breathing quicken. She shrunk to her 10 year old self, running by the lake, chasing after an elusive butterfly. She’d turned her back to Billy only briefly. It was just enough time for 5 year old Billy to get into the lake. “It was YOU, YOU YOU!” Her mother was now hysterical, spit frothing at her lips and a look of terror obscuring her opaque eyes. Ella was struggling between breaths, feeling that her next breath would not arrive soon enough “It wasn’t my fault, mother!” her voice was getting louder, competing with the silent scream of her mothers eyes. “You’ve always blamed me”. And then softly, with a forced intake of breath breaking up each word, keeping the tears at bay “I-was-just-a-child” Her mother was once more staring at the blank TV screen. Ella noted the clouds break across her mother’s eyes, letting in the light of a lucid moment and a return to the present “Thanks for the tea, dear.”
Kneeling on the hardwood floor of her bedroom, Ella fingered the beads and was passing them faster and faster between her two hands, stumbling over the familiar incantations that didn’t seem to still her troubled mind. Applying too much force, she felt the string break and the tortoiseshelled beads fell off one by one, bouncing across the floor like the memories emerging from the recesses of her mind.
This is a post which I originally published on my now mothballed blogger blog (www.infinitepermutations.com). It still exists, mainly as I like the domain name and have hung on to it, but I have archived all the posts (maybe I will customise my WP url one of these days and make this infinitepermutations…).
The blurb I had with the original post made me laugh, realising some things haven’t changed: In Session 2, the focus of the story structure was a “ghost” which haunts the main character- a memory of an experience or person which the main character is confronted with. I have found that the more elements of structure that I need to apply to a story, the more difficult and chore like the process becomes. I guess this is the point where it is easy to chuck it all into the “too hard” basket and find something else more gratifying to do, but I persevered, and here is one of two “ghost” stories. I guess the balance will be between the “work” of building and working within the structure and the “play” of just letting the pen flow and capturing those first thoughts that come from a place that is all about feeling and not thinking. Thinking is hard work! http://www.infinitepermutations.com 30.03.2011
Postscript 03/12/15: Hot off the press: Chrysalis: The Inbetween, a related piece.