by Adrian Hoad-Reddick
Eileen was determined to turn her back on it all. Before
leaving, she needed to take a last look around the house. She
would not have the power to look back when she walked out the
where his workings -- minute and intricate
coils, springs, cogs, screws and wheels that make up the
mechanism of his clocks -- had been swept aside to make way
for a car battery charger and a ghetto blaster. Those parts
that hadn't been lost to the workshop floor now filled a
variety of containers on shelves. Hmph, she thought, just how
How her beloved
Vincent had loved to work with those tiny
parts! It astonished her. She could barely see them, let
alone manipulate them, work with them, fix them, or assemble
them. Vincent knew the workings of clocks as well as he knew
the colours of the oils he fashioned into likenesses of John
Fitzgerald Kennedy or the familiar bridges of County Down. He
would make a fireplace draw just so. A third grade education,
and he knew more poetry than the lot -- even the university
graduates. He could recite "The Cremation of Sam McGee"
memory or croon the lyrics of all of the songs from Home.
What hands! Small, versatile hands. Hands well suited
to the delicate tasks of getting his clocks to keep time and
strike right. The house would ring for minutes every hour, as
each of his unsynchronized antique clocks struck the hours,
punctuating their daily activities. The last pleasure in his
long days was to go around the small two-storey home and wind
the television room, with its adjoining
sun room, a profuse jungle of green. She rested her stiff
hands on the dark leather headrest of the easy chair, where
the grip of Vincent's third heart attack had taken his life.
After a stiffening paroxysm of pain, he'd fixed fading eyes on
the terrorized look of his youngest son, Sean. "I'm all
right. It's all right," he'd said.
She'd seen enough.
Eileen walked into the dining room,
looking for her cigarettes. Eileen had started up smoking
again, after seven years of having quit the habit. Not that
it bloody well mattered now, she'd said to herself. Her
arthritic index finger of her right hand, her smoking hand,
had set in an extended position. It made it damned awkward to
hold the cigarette and flick the ash.
to wait at the dining room table. Through
curls of blue cigarette smoke she gazed out on the frigid
December morning. She would wait for the mailman to appear
around the corner of Bales Street and come south past the
Mills', Smythes' and Killey's to 180 Main Street. She could
no longer say her house.
was diverted to the kitchen where she
could see the bright orange coil on the range top and the
steam beginning to spurt from the kettle. She couldn't
remember having put the kettle on. The bubbly squeal gave way
to wailing. Accustomed to being the one who always prepared
the tea (he liked it strong - put the teabags in the pot and
leave it on the burner to boil a few extra minutes), she rose
out of her chair.
her introspection, stabbing through the
raucous drone of rock music.
door opened ahead of her and the music
swelled. A young girl, seventeen, maybe eighteen, strode into
the kitchen, wearing only a large bright beach towel. It
slipped, exposing pale white breasts and the beginnings of a
beer belly. There was more laughter, as the girl rewrapped
herself, knotting the towel below her chin. Eileen recognised
the towel as one she'd received from a granddaughter a few
the desire to reminisce. She would require
all of her resolve to follow through on her decision before
Joe came down expecting his lunch at 12:30.
take in your tea, Sean?" The young girl
shouted back downstairs.
and sugar. Where'd you put the smokes, Lisa?"
They had stopped
talking to her months ago. It used to
be that Sean's friends would give her the time of day, even
enjoy her company. They would sit on the edge of her chair or
on the ottoman and ask her how her Habs were doing. They
would add wood to her fire or bring her a drink before setting
off into the night. If she were still up, they would share a
joke with her before staggering to the basement. "Good
morning, Mrs. Donnelly ," they would say as they helped
themselves to her cupboards or the fridge the next morning. A
few of the faces became familiar. Some even said goodbye
before they left.
with Sean changed all of that. The
conflicts with her son had all concluded in the same way, with
her refusal to eject him from her home and therefore defeat.
Somehow she felt responsible for it all: for his living
there, for his stubborn ignorance, for not being his father,
for not being the one who had died. Her resignation had been
seen as a tacit blessing, for they had the run of the place
now and niceties didn't seem to matter. Resigned, she no
longer had the energy to complain.
They were right.
She didn't belong. The house certainly
didn't feel like hers any more. Lord knows, she was finding
it harder to keep up the place, with Vincent gone. Four sons
working in the trades and still she had to endure six months
with her bathroom and hallway in a mess, the renovations
abandoned. She wasn't bitter. She knew that they were
struggling through a recession.
Her living space
was dwindling. She was too mortified to
go do the laundry in her basement, now dominated by a waterbed
and oversized stereo, where Vincent used to paint by the light
of the slanting afternoon sun. Vincent's garage workshop had
now been taken over by an eviscerated 1978 Mustang. The
engine sat on blocks in the driveway. The only rooms in the
house that were distinctly her own were her bedroom and this
dining room. Increasingly, these had become the repositories
of the antiques and the memorabilia. The dry dusty cabinets
seemed to keep the younger folk away somehow.
to the basement, sloshing tea over the rims
of the large mugs as she struggled to keep herself covered.
Again music surged from below through the opened doorway.
Nowhere in the house was safe from the music from below. At
best, it was a steady pounding drone. At its worst, Eileen
couldn't even make out the sound from the television. Until
a year ago, she would waken each day to the sound of Vincent's
singing from within the house or from the backyard.
beauty on a wide tree-lined avenue in
rural Ontario, just sixty minutes from Toronto, had been the
house of a lifetime. How much of her lifetime had been spent
in its procurement! How much time had been devoted to making
it feel just right, in renovating it, and in maintaining it.
Now, it was
alien to her. Sure, satisfying memories chimed in
from unanticipated quarters. Yet, her home had become merely
a box housing a lifetime of things radiating nostalgia. What
would become of these things? Time and disuse had stripped
them of their meaning. They were mere reminders of what was.
Why worry about them? Eileen smiled, remembering the days
when she would be very upset when one of the young children
chipped a cup or broke a plate. Today, she'd limited herself
to three small suitcases and only one photograph.
that she hadn't taken down the old
black and white photograph of her young family. She stood to
get it, and was accosted by the collection of family
photographs, mostly children, looking out from smiling
portraits. School pictures, graduation portraits, wedding
pictures - photographs of a past: a virtual family now
scattered and diminishing with each fight, argument, divorce,
injury and death. Diminished by every outsider brought
through the doors. "Granny, I'd like you to meet my new
wife." Without fail, she'd liked the old wife better.
down the photograph, set it into her purse
and lit another cigarette from the first. The floor shook from
the noise downstairs. Several ornaments and crystal glasses
rattled in the china cabinet. Upstairs, downstairs, she
thought. Irreconcilable layers of living. Still sleeping
upstairs was Joe, Vincent's elder brother, a bachelor who
quietly went about his life in his room that he occupied with
his cigarettes, mystery novels and small television. He has
been a part of the household since they had emigrated from
Ireland in 1956.
Lord knows what went on downstairs? It
sickened her to think that a granddaughter was exposed to all
forms of shameless indulgence. And now Sean was talking of
having his ex-wife move back in with him and his daughter. A
senseless ruse to convince her to give him the house. It was
all too much to take.
The main floor
of the house provided some kind of buffer,
except when Sean's friends crashed on the couches and floors.
Eileen always dreaded coming downstairs to a livingroom full
of half-clad, snoring men and their female friends. The house
was rendered useless these mornings.
children had offered some alternatives.
Lord knows that they had tried. But how could Margaret talk
sense into her brother from P.E.I.? How could Eileen take
Philip at his word and expect him to open his home to her.
Besides, there was no mistaking the tone and content of his
wife's mutterings in the background while he had politely
implored her to move in. And of course, much as she loved her
daughter, she just couldn't accept Siobhan's open invitation
with that husband of hers.
They had tried,
each in their own limited ways and means.
It got to the point, a week ago, where she had taken matters
into her own hands. It was a question of impeding the
memories and their vested interests long enough to act. They
would discover soon enough that she had sold the house and its
contents. Joe would be taken care of by nearby relatives.
her youngest, the baby, would get his eviction
notice from the county bailiff.
out her cigarette, choked back tears and rose
to meet the morning mail. A taxicab was waiting for her
outside the town's coffee shop. She was returning to the only
other place that had ever felt like home. She was going to
spend the remainder of her life with her sister in Donaghadee,
on the shores of the Irish Sea, where each day she would comb
the sands for spiralling filigree shells, keeping time by the
workings of the striking waves.