Saturday, December 17, 2011
Richard and I had just returned from the funeral of Mr. Memory. He was in his chair and I was in the kitchen, steeping a cup of tea. I could hear the clink of ice cubes against the glass as Richard drank his whiskey, and the brush of paper as he read the newspaper.
I didn't look up when the phone rang, knowing that Richard would fold the newspaper, place his glass on the table and answer it. So when he said, "Pamela, dear, it's for you," it took a moment for the tea bag to leave my grasp and for me to go to the phone.
My mother didn't bother with the smalltalk, as I knew she wouldn't. "That man, Mr. Memory, who died at the London Palladium. He was your father."
I coughed on some saliva that had gathered in my throat. "Mother, you can't be serious. Daddy left years ago and no one heard from him after that. You can't possibly know -"
"You were so young when he left, you wouldn't remember exactly what he looked like. I saw the picture of him in the newspaper. It was him."
Richard had his hand on my back, but my voice was just as emotionless as my mothers.
"I'm sorry, Mother."
"I just wanted to tell you."
And then she hung up. It was the most we had spoken since my father had left. Richard held me in his arms, insisting that I needed comfort, but I didn't miss my father. My mother was right, I was so young when he left that I didn't really remember him. And his death had brought my mother back to me; caused her to have a conversation with me.
I silently thanked Mr. Memory.
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
About a week after the wedding, I had an experience that I have never told everyone.
I had been painting all day and I was going to take a little nap before Richard came home. The painting I had been working on was of my first view of the McGarrigle Hotel and the Scotland landscape. It was going to be a gift to Richard for our first anniversary. I had just finished the basic painting and I was going to rest before I filled in all of the details. I laid down on the couch in my studio and was quickly asleep.
I could see myself in the landscape of Scotland. Naturally, I assumed I was dreaming. But I could see the McGarrigle hotel. Mr. Willie McGarrigle was playing is bagpipes just inside the front doors - the music echoing in the otherwise silent air. I walked slowly toward the hotel and I could see two figures approaching from the other side, trudging through the muddy grass. One was leading slightly, but they were unnaturally close together. As we got closer, I could see the glint of the handcuffs clasped onto their wrists, connecting them. I realized that I was seeing myself and Richard. I was not surprised; I had dreamed of this memory before.
But as I approached the Hotel before them, slipping in unseen, Mr. McGarrigle put down his pipes and Mrs. McGarrigle came around the desk. "Hello! Hello!" I stepped back against the door - the McGarrigles had never approached me in my dreams. I could hear that myself and Richard were almost to the door.
"Do you need a room?" Mrs. McGarrigle asked.
"No!" I searched for an excuse for why I was in the Hotel. I heard Richard call out his first "hello," his voice being carried by the wind. "I just need to use your bathroom."
"Of course!" Mrs. McGarrigle put her arm around my shoulders and led me down a hallway. Mr. McGarrigle picked up his bagpipes and continued playing, just as Richard shouted a second "hello" and burst through the door. As I hid in the bathroom, Mrs. McGarrigle entered the lobby through the hallway, commenting on the dampness of the "poor dears" as myself and Richard stood too close for comfort next to each to hide our handcuffs. I stayed in the bathroom until we had been led down another hallway to our room. I silently walked back to the front door and slipped out unnoticed. I wandered in the direction of which I'd come.
As I walked, I felt lightheaded and as I approached the spot that I'd started in, the field began to dissolve and the ground beneath me was nothing more than my own carpet in my home. I opened my eyes to find my painting as I'd left it, except for a slight shadow on the fields not too far from the Hotel.
I gently thumbed the page of my book, rereading a sentence that I hadn’t quite absorbed. There was a smell of sweet baked goods that was travelling through the train, and excited chatter as we stopped in Edinburgh. I crossed my legs and sat up straight, determined to concentrate on my book. I started the chapter over again and focused; I read up to the next chapter before the train began to move again. The shriek of the train whistle startled me, and I watched out the window as people and other trains blurred past. There were shouts outside of my door and I rubbed my temple gently to try to block it out. The voices were pacing back and forth, mumbling to themselves and one another. Every now and then a door would open and slam violently; flashlights were slapped against policemen's hands. And then the sound of the train’s whistle echoed once again in the train car and I dropped my book onto my lap in surprise. I took that as a sign, and closed it for the moment.
Thursday, December 1, 2011
I remember my mother sitting up in bed after my father left us. She had an empty bottle in her hands of his finest whiskey, her eyes closed and her lips parted as she breathed deeply. For a moment, my brother and I debated whether or not she had drunk the contents of the bottle, or if it had been emptied before my father packed up. She stayed in bed for weeks: she ate alone in her bedroom, slept during the day and paced the room at night. I remember how her tanned Italian-American skin grew pale day by day, until she was as light as our Irish father. She kept the curtains closed at all times, and the only light in her room was dimming and she refused to replace the bulb. I remember the first day she left her bedroom – it had been almost a month. My brother and I were downstairs; he was reading the newspaper and I was doing homework. She looked so fragile in her over sized clothing as she descended the stairs. She was like a ghost and she seemed to look right through us. Even when I sarcastically welcomed her back into reality, she ignored our existence – my mother hated sarcasm. I remember her silence more than anything else. When my father was around, she yelled more than she talked, but she was still a pretty quiet person. Her words meant more that way. But after he left, she barely even yelled. She just drifted from home to work to home, always in silence. My brother and I would compete to see who could make her talk the most, at least until he went and joined the Army. After that, I started to have conversations with my mother’s silence. I would ask a question and pretend that she had answered, before continuing on a conversation. If my father had come home during that time, he would have thought I had started drinking with how crazy I sounded during dinner time when I’d ask, “How was your day, Mom?” and I’d wait a moment before saying, “I’m sorry that it wasn’t enjoyable. I know that Suzanne drives you up the wall at work. But didn’t you say that she was taking some vacation time soon?” Another pause before continuing, “Maybe California will calm her nerves and she’ll come back a new woman.” My mother didn’t react at all to my conversations; she could have been deaf. I remember the day I left, I gave her a hug – a last attempt at a mother-daughter relationship, and she was limp in my arms. I pulled away, got into a taxi to take me to the train station, and she had turned her back to go back into the house before I even started the engine.