Authors: Freya North
Tags: #Fiction, #General
In loving memory of Hannah Berry 1983-2013
Beautiful, funny and brave. We miss you.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
When I was born there were already other children at Windward. None was beyond toddling age and, as such, we were grouped together pretty much like the clumps of perennials in the garden, or the globs of paint on a palette in one of the studios, or the music which drifted from the top rooms – discordant notes that, as a whole, wove together into a quirky harmony of sorts. We were who we were, the children of Windward – a little ragtaggle tribe further defining the ethos and eccentricity of the place.
I wasn’t born in a hospital. I was born at Windward but I wasn’t born in my home. I was born in Lilac and George’s apartment with Jette assisting my mother, ably helped by all the other females there at the time, whether permanent or itinerant, mothers or girls, lesbians, lapsed nuns and even an aged virgin. I know all about a woman called Damisi who was visiting at the time though, it seems, no one really knew where her connection lay. She was a doula, apparently, and I know the story off by heart – how she had all the women breathing and bellowing to support and inspire my mother to relax. It worked – I know I was as easy a birth as it’s possible to have, slipping out into the Windward world to a backing track that was practically a bovine opera. Some of the other children heard – how could they not – and often, they mooed at me. I didn’t mind – it seemed my own special herald. However, when I first heard a similar sound emitted by a cow it scared me senseless.
When I was five, Louis, who was always very old but never seemed to age, hosted my birthday party in his apartment. We didn’t know he knew magic. He took pennies from behind all our ears – it was probably the first time any of us had coins of our own. He gave me a piggy bank to keep mine in – to start saving the pennies, he explained. I thought I had to save the coins from some fate that would otherwise befall them.
When I was ten, my birthday party was a disaster. I’d been at the local school for three years, been to the parties of my classmates – pink and proper, simultaneously joyous and lively and yet fastidiously organized. That’s all I wanted – a party like that. A neat cake with the right number of candles. My parents got it wrong. There were only nine candles. Someone – probably my mother – had put a tenth one in, but had decided that it was incorrect. Ten? That’s wrong. That small dent in the beige icing of my lopsided, inedible cake was to me a sinkhole of indifference. It struck me then that perhaps not everyone loved everyone.
When I was fifteen –
When I was fifteen something terrible happened.
To Oriana, it seemed so small. So ridiculously and unnervingly small that she felt compelled to rub her eyes. It had to be an illusion – the truer, more sensible, more realistic proportions would surely be reinstated after a good blink. But there it was still, nestled in a fold of land which looked soft enough to be made of fabric. Like biscuit crumbs in a scrunched napkin, there was the small town outside which she’d grown up. She pulled the hire car in to the verge. She didn’t want to get out, she wanted to avoid familiar smells that might make it seem real. She didn’t want to hear anything that might say well! welcome back, duck. She wanted to believe that she had no history with this mini place and no need of it. It looked silly, being so small. Not worth a detour. Certainly not worth a visit. Not worthy, even, of a drive right through. This wasn’t Lilliput. This wasn’t romantic. This was Nowhere. Nowhere, also known as Blenthrop, Derbyshire. The worst thing about this bastard place striking Oriana as being so small was that it made the rest of the world feel so vast. And suddenly she felt isolated, acutely alone and terrifyingly far away from the place she’d called home for so many years, the place she’d left only the previous day. God Bless America, she said under her breath though she knew she’d never go back.
Driving to her mother’s house was easier because she’d never lived there. There was little to recognize, nothing to flinch at; she was unknown and that was preferable to intrusive welcomes and waves, however warm and well meaning Blenthrop folk might be. The further she drove from her childhood home, the longer the space she could finally create between her ears and her shoulders. As she relaxed a little, the car seat felt more comfortable and her headache lifted. Really, jet lag had nothing to do with the tension and now that the anxiety had dissipated, Oriana let the genuine tiredness billow over her the way her mother used to waft her duvet when she was a little girl, giggling in bed waiting for it to land. They call it a comforter in the United States, she thought. My mum’s gone all sheets and blankets because she says it makes the bed look ‘properly made’. My mom – the all-American girl who’s now as small-town English as they come.
The tiredness, the tiredness. Should she pull over? Half an hour left to Hathersage. Open the window. Turn the radio up another notch. Drink Coke. Pinch yourself awake. Pinch yourself that you really are here again, eighteen years on. Kick yourself, wondering if it’s a stupid idea, really.
* * *
Oriana’s mother didn’t know what to do. Her daughter was sleeping and though she’d told her mother not to let her, under any circumstances, what was Rachel to do? Her daughter, wan and sunken-eyed, too thin. Rachel looked in at the front room. Oriana was curled embryonically into a corner of the sofa, her hands tucked tightly between her thighs, the tips of her socks hanging limply a little way off her toes; the heel of her right sock was twisted to her ankle, as if her shoe had wanted to cling onto her feet. Her hair looked lank and flat and her lips were chapped. She wasn’t wearing earrings. She’d spilled something on her top. This wasn’t jet lag, Rachel sensed. This was exhaustion.
Rachel had done that trip back to America often enough since she herself emigrated from there aged nineteen. She knew well that, though jet lag made you feel discombobulated, it didn’t make you look like
– how Oriana had looked on arriving an hour ago. When Rachel had opened the door to her daughter, she read in half a glance all the unrevealed secrets and sadness that had slipped unnoticed between the lines of her sporadic emails. On her doorstep, Rachel saw how the crux of it all was suddenly writ large over Oriana’s face, her general scrawniness. The details, however, remained concealed. She was shocked. How could she have known nothing? She was ashamed that, once again, a mother’s instinct had failed her.
‘I’ll give her another ten minutes,’ Rachel said, unsure.
‘That’ll make it forty winks,’ Bernard said. ‘I’ll be popping out now. Just round the block.’ And he kissed his wife who, just then, really did love his habit of explaining life with sayings and clichés. Bernard Safely. Had ever a person had a more appropriate surname?
‘Two shakes,’ Bernard told her though they both knew that his walk around the block would take far longer than two shakes of a lamb’s tail. She watched him through the bubbled-glass panel of the front door as he walked away. The distortion made him appear to have no bones, amorphous as jelly. Her ex-husband, Oriana’s father, referred to Bernard as spineless. Through the warped glass, he did indeed look so. Rachel felt disloyal. She rarely thought about Robin these days. She supposed she’d have to, now Oriana was back, even if she didn’t want to. She’d see him in her daughter’s crooked smile, her high cheekbones, the way her gaze darted away while she talked but focused fixedly on whoever spoke to her. Father and daughter both had the ability, without realizing it, to make one feel simultaneously inconsequential and significant.
‘Oriana Taylor,’ Rachel said quietly and then, in a whisper, ‘Oriana Safely.’
It didn’t flow. It didn’t work. It would never have worked. She’d always be Oriana Taylor, daughter of Robin.
Robin Taylor. Would they mention him? She and her daughter had managed for eighteen years to skirt issues as if they were dog mess on the pavement.
* * *
An ex-girlfriend had described it as
. Malachy hadn’t a clue what she meant. That dream you have, she’d said, you might not have it often but it’ll always recur – like
, with similar cataclysmic fallout. It makes you introverted and horrid to be around.
He’d ended the relationship soon after. She was a bit too cosmic for Malachy and she talked too much anyway. If he had the dream, the last thing he needed was a load of astrobabble bullshit. A warm body cuddling next to him, soothing him, taking his mind off it – that’s what he required. Saturn Returns. She never knew that a prog-rock band of that very name had formed in his childhood home, exploded onto the music scene for a couple of years in the late 1970s and then finally imploded back at the house in 1981. He never told her, even though the band had jammed in the very place where Malachy currently lived.
Last night, the dream had once again hijacked his sleep, apropos of nothing. In the woods, with his brother Jed, their teenage bodies of twenty years ago encasing their current souls. They were out at summer dusk, shooting rabbits. A large buck running away, stopping, turning and facing him. Delicate eyes and soft silver pelt conflicting with the anomalous fuck-you gesture of lope-long ears rigid like two-fingered abuse. Malachy pulled the trigger and smelt the saltpetre and heard the harsh crack and felt the kick and experienced the extreme pain as half his world went dark.
He’d often wondered whether the rabbit was some kind of metaphor. He’d tried to analyse why in the dream he didn’t shout for help; why his brother was there only at the start. And he never knew whether he killed the rabbit, the little fucker. The pain cut the dream short, always. And he always woke up thinking, but it didn’t happen like that,
it didn’t happen like that
. And he’d be cranky and introverted for a good while after because he knew that he’d much rather it
happened like in the dream.
Stupid dream. Malachy left his bed and showered. Dressed, he snatched breakfast, yesterday’s post in one hand, toast in the other. What he really wanted to do today was write his novel, not go to work. Business was slack this time of year – early March, thick frost, too cold for tourists, too close to Easter for more hardy holidaymakers; too close to Christmas and Valentine’s and Mother’s Day for locals to fritter any more of their money. The irony was Malachy could very well
open the gallery because, after all, he owned it – but the fact that he owned it compelled him to keep it open, never take time off, never get sick. Tuesday to Friday, 10 till 6. Saturday 10 till 5. Summer Sundays 11 till 2. Closed Mondays. If the gallery was as quiet as he anticipated, he’d work on his novel from there today. He left the apartment, glancing guiltily at the house. He ought to do the rounds, really. He hadn’t done so for a couple of days.