Tag Archives: Family

Thresholds – Winning by Michelle Bailat-Jones

 

 

A bright morning in the third week of May. Here is our Lia in the garage below the small condominium where she and Evan now live. She is yelling, her hand in the box she has dragged to the foot of the stairs and opened, certain that although he is pretending not to, Evan can hear her.

“Where is it?” she yells one last time. Silence from the upstairs.

Lia is not to be outdone by a Christmas ornament.

To understand her, we must go back to breakfast and a small dispute. A detail needing clarification.

“It was like those awful hair angels you used to put on the Christmas tree.” Evan was talking about a doll one of their grandchildren had selected at the store on a recent trip. “Why would any child want something so ugly? And let’s not discuss that it’s Ben who wanted the doll.”

“Hair angels?”

Evan dismissed her outrage with a flick of his spoon. “Yes, the ones you bought from that hippie store. Made of human hair. The girls were little. They loved them.”

“You’re insane, Evan. We’ve been living different lives. I’ve never purchased hair angels.”

He returned to reading his newspaper and Lia descended immediately to the storage shelves in the garage below. She has kept every single Christmas ornament ever acquired.

She rifles through the box at her feet. “Unless you threw it…” She begins but she gulps the sentence, not willing to give him a way out of their disagreement. She has kept her ornaments safe from every single one of Evan’s “spring-cleanings”.

At seventy-six and seventy-three, Lia and Evan are now like the two moons of Mars. They have found their orbit around the planet called their Life and they stick closely to it. Surveying it, watching it. Discussing its topography from a perfect height as they circle gently above.

There is a thump on the ceiling above Lia’s head. She smiles and shakes her fist. “Don’t stamp your feet, dear one, you can’t rattle me. I’m going to prove you wrong.”

Of course he does not answer. This is an established game. One of many the moons have discovered, useful ways to keep a careful watch on Life. Because Life has a way of shifting suddenly, turning into the darkness for a moment of obscurity. Blurred details.

Fifteen minutes later, maybe more, she emerges from the garage, a cobweb on her sleeve, dusty fingers clasped triumphantly around a delicate angel. It is not made of hair, but gold silk cords. She admits it has a certain 1970s handicraft look to it, but it is not gaudy. Or kitsch. Well, it’s certainly kitsch, Lia knows this; but Christmas cannot be otherwise.

“See,” she says, “I win. I always win. When will you…”

But Evan is no longer in his chair at the breakfast table. He is on the floor. His piece of toast has fallen with him and there is jam on his collar and in his thick white hair. Raspberry jam that looks like blood.

There is no blood. This has been the most peaceful of deaths. For Evan.

For Lia this is chaos. At first she does not understand the scene before her. She is sharp for someone of her age, but the impossibility of Evan joking with her a moment ago and now lying still on the kitchen floor creates a disconnect too broad for Lia to cross in a few easy seconds. This is an ordinary morning. Nothing extraordinary must happen on an otherwise ordinary day.

“This isn’t funny, dear.” But she knows this is not a joke. His stillness is the kind of stillness they have been warned about for the last few years. They are nearly elderly, many people—doctors, friends, their daughters especially—tell them this. So what has happened is not extraordinary at all.

Lia does not touch him right away. How can she? This is no longer Evan, and although her mind does not yet accept this, her body already understands.

But she needs to be sure. She takes his hand. There is something too taut about the muscles in the palm of his hand. She presses on them, bullying them, raging at them. She passes a gentle hand across his forehead. Evan.

No longer Evan.

How long was she in the basement? Why does she always have to win?

Back down the stairs she must go, slowly now, slowly, hold the hand rail. You have suffered a shock, Lia, take it carefully. Find the garage door opener, open the garage. Greet the angry sunlight, cross the untidy garden, find a neighbor.

Lia has left a medical alert device back inside the house, in the kitchen drawer, between a roll of masking tape and an expired coupon for hot chocolate, but she did not think to push it. This is not a medical emergency. This is her Life. There is no button.

Halfway across the street, she realizes she has left Evan alone. On the floor. She remembers her oldest daughter insisting on the medical alert. How she did not want to ‘impose’ on her parents, but she wanted them to be safe. Just in case, she said.

In case I win, Lia thinks.

She swivels to return to Evan and trips, twisting her ankle. Several minutes later, Mr. Dougherty comes out of his house because there is so much noise in the street. He wonders how this old woman still has such a voice. Lia is sitting on the curb, holding her ankle.

“He’s inside!” she says when she sees him.

“What’s that?” Mr. Dougherty is deaf.

“Evan!” she yells, and this time Mr. Dougherty understands. He has been orbiting his Life alone for some time now.

An ambulance arrives. Lia insists someone help her back inside her house. People in uniforms with careful voices and steady gazes take charge of the situation. A man walks into her home and comes out again much too quickly.

“Are you even trying? He needs your help!”

But the rush and panic are for her. She is injured. They want to take her to the hospital.

“You’ll need x-rays, ma’am.”

She fights them. She wants to stay with her husband. She tries to walk back inside the house but they hold her in the front yard, they make her sit down again, run their thick fingers along her swollen ankle and wrap it tightly. All these minutes, fussing over her, while Evan lies alone in the kitchen. When she cries, finally, one of the men, the younger one, takes pity on her and helps her back to Evan.

They’ve put him on some kind of a board, strapped his body for easy carrying. She kneels beside him and fumbles for a hand. What have they done with his hands? Someone is helping her to her feet again. Someone hands her a cell phone and gently tells her to call a family member.

But she cannot dial a single number, because which of her twin daughters should hear the news first? The kitchen stills, waiting for her. She presses buttons at random on the phone. She pictures her daughters—one at work in the city, the other in a university office—she closes the phone and returns it to the first outstretched hand. Someone will do this for her, someone who doesn’t know Evan, someone who feels nothing at the extraordinary event of this morning in May. But not Lia. Our Lia’s Life has cracked this morning and she does not have enough love for either of her daughters at this moment to give them the news.

 

‘Winning’ is an excerpt from Michelle Bailat-Jones’ novella-in-progress, Hush. Michelle is a reviews editor for Necessary Fiction and can also be found engaging with books at Pieces.

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Share Your Spaces 2

I feel like going on a bumper blog posting spree with these images. Thanks to you all again, and stay tuned over the next day or so. Next up:

This space belongs to: Scott (AKA photographer/blogger Seekraz) –

The attached photo is “my” desk at home.  It is where I assemble most of my posts and have the photos on my computer.  If I’m feeling the need to write with pen on paper, I might sit on the couch that can be seen in the photo, or its mate that is directly across from the fireplace.  I also write at my desk in my work place, occasionally, when the writing-spirit is moving me and I fear that I cannot ignore it…and sometimes, too, in my truck, while parked under the rain-dripping trees at my favorite park, or beneath the shady trees on a bench in the same park.

This space belongs to: Linda, author of Animals Behaving Badly –

I came to your post via my internet-friend the Rejectionist’s tweet
and when saw your hedgehog I was inspired to chime in.
This is my workspace, which is not complete without two sleeping pugs.
There’s also a bit of stuffed Panamanian golden frog hanky-panky in
the background there, which all makes sense given what I write about.

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Filed under 2012, art, The Now

And since we’ve no place to go…

Festive weather, via tohellwiththisshit.tumblr.com

Doesn’t this gif make you feel as if you are standing in a living room, staring out the window, being warmed by a crackling fire in the grate? And that someone is just coming in to bring you a hot toddy or hot chocolate, and the two of you are debating whether or not to build a snowman, but perhaps that can wait until the snow has stopped…

…I’d just like to say, it’s been lovely and very encouraging to see an uptick in the number of both visitors and subscribers over the last few months.  Thank you so much for stopping by here, and continuing to return. It’s wonderful to read all your supportive and thought provoking comments, and to see that people are enjoying what I’ve written. I am very touched that some of you have liked this blog enough to link to it on your blogs, and feel so glad to be able to participate in a community of like-minded people from all over the world.

What ever you are doing for the holidays, whatever you celebrate (or even if you don’t) I wish you peace, happiness, and the company of your loved ones.

(and now for the obligatory Christmas pud: Let it snow!)

 

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Filed under The Now

A Tour around Traquair

In the grounds of the big house: grey-green lichens on a tree by a pond.

Yesterday my parents drove D and I down to Traquair (pronounced trackwayer), a large country house, claiming to be the oldest continuously inhabited residence in Scotland – there is evidence that it was the site of a hunting lodge in the 11th century, though the existing buildings can’t be dated to earlier than around the 15th.   So today, I’m going to take you on a wee tour, if you’d like to come along. Mind your feet, it is rather muddy.

The house from the front garden; that yurt was set up as part of the Christmas fair. Inside it you could learn to make lanterns out of paper and wicker.

While I’ve never been keen on the idea of the nobility or of the overblown magnificence of old country estates, I have a special fondness for Traquair. It is a charming place, built on a human scale despite the number of rooms – there are narrow, uneven corridors, little wooden doors installed for the height of people of the sixteen hundreds, even the dinner hall feels intimate with a fire going in the grate (warm yourself a moment) and while we were there, hot mulled wine being sold to jollify visitors still further. Oh, and did I mention there’s a brewery in one wing?

Part of the brewery that was re-established by the current Laird's Father

The family who live there, the Stewarts, now the Maxwell-Stewarts, were and are rather unusual for nobility – they remained Catholic after the reformation. This was at the risk of the lives (for hiding their priest in a secret room that could be escaped at a moment’s notice down a set of hidden spiral stairs), and later, to the detriment of their ability to do business – as Catholics they were forbidden from going to University, had to be home educated and in fact were mostly confined to their estate. Thus in Victorian times they were rather too poor (for landowners any way) to make any of the large scale changes (mock gothic crimpings, electricity, indoor plumbing) that were de rigueur for country houses, although after the Catholic Relief Act of 1829 they did build themselves a wee chapel out in the open at last. Priorities were a bit different – the building didn’t get electricity until the fifties, though for some time it was used as mostly a summer home, so perhaps that was seen as rather a luxury. Now the family live there full time — we saw the children of the current Laird (a woman) playing a kickabout with a football in the back of the house while the visitors streamed into the hedge maze. They live in an area of the house visitors don’t get to see, though in my mind it is far from opulent – just an updated version of the cosiness of the public-access area.

Visitors (like me) were also keen on the mini-farm round the back. There you can see one bemused goat, but can't see the friendly, hungry hairy pig who I fed on handfuls of grass, avoiding his tusks

Another draw are the eclectic objects stored in the museum in the upper floors — the smallest religious books I’ve ever seen (missals I think), the size of matchboxes, with delicate stitching on the bindings. Mary Queen of Scots ornate rosary. Wooden carvings of the stations of the cross from the sixteen hundreds. The original wall murals from when the house was first converted into a home — featuring my favourite rendition of a Batrian Camel running. There is also a slightly baffling mathematical device for calculating additions, known as ‘Napier’s Bones‘, neolithic arrowheads collected in the area – including one of Jadeite, which was discovered so long ago that no one knows how long it has been in the family collection. At one point in the 18th century a little case was made to contain it, and the arrowhead (about the length and size of my hand) was polished up to show off the green colour and the sharpness it might have had on the day it was made. None of these I got a picture of as they were stored in the room with the mural, and flash photography was forbidden. I am sure your imaginations are up to the task, although I did get a chance to take some shots in the chapel:

This was a modern rendition of the camel of the mural, stitched into a kneeler. Very comfortable.

 

And this kneeler shows a version of what looks like a fertility goddess - from a wall carving I think

Also found at the far end of the estate are the Bear Gates, last opened to let the Bonnie Prince Charlie through them on horseback, closed until a Catholic monarch ascends the throne. Yep, as Catholics, they were Jacobites, wanting to get rid of the Protestant line. Now they sell an ale named the Jacobite, which is warmly spiced and Christmassy, according to D, who had a bottle with lunch. We didn’t get a picture of the gates as it was cold, and there was a hog roasting outside, and a tearoom to get the shivers out.

Visual Aide: a bear(?) on another gate (leading to cupid's garden and the children's adventure playground)

Thus ends the rather haphazard tour.

Now I am left to wonder at how it must be to grow up in such a lovely sprawling house so visibly surrounded by the possessions, writings, follies and hopes of your deceased relatives, not to mention seeing the public coming and going out of your front door.  A different scale to the family narratives. When I write this, I see that what I am saying is rooted in class.  My family name, McClory, has little baggage with it. Supposedly Anglicised Irish, but from where, we don’t know. They have been in the borders, not that far from Traquair, for a long time. Before that the highlands. There are no objects we possess that date back older than the 4th (a pocket watch from my Great-grandfather, a watchmaker and jeweler). On my mother’s side, just as lightly a treading of the boards of history: Factory workers, miners, labourers. The unrecorded class.

The landed are, in once sense the grounded – in the historical, the traceable.  See Orlando for the flights of imagination that can come from this.

But despite the romantic notions I have of the country house and hard-to-do nobles, the intrigue of Political and Religious strife, the lure of well made objects passed down along the generations, I am interested in the narratives of families who have no definite ways of confirming their stories as true. Who have a forgetfulness which might hide some great loss, or secret, that can be intimated at, but mostly lingers ever unsaid. How what is lost leaves for some time the ghost of its loss, like the print of a leaf in snow. How we are fashioned out of elements that can never fully be identified. A great deal of the obsession with loss has come through in Kilea.

I wonder what your family stories are? Your accounts of possession or loss. And whether you think as I do, that the wee brew house pictured above would really be quite the best writing shed ever?

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Filed under Scotland, The Now