Steven’s Preparing To Leave” (Had to cut this into 2 parts) Part 1
Why beat around the bush, when you can go right through it? Of course if you go around it, there would be less damage to it, and if you go through it you get to the other side quicker. My father Jem, had a habit of taking a long time to get to the point, especially if the point was unpleasant. He was a strong physical presence, tall with broad shoulders, never violent, but when someone picked his pocket at a hurling match in Dublin he just turned around and decked him with one punch. So it wasn’t cowardice that made him beat around the bush, it was more like civility, lack of verbal confidence and the desire to make his point without doing too much damage to someone else’s.
My Mother put our three-story house on the quay to every commercial use she could muster. If there was a major event in town – like a hurling match up in the park – that drew a rash of visitors, she would fill the ground floor shop with long forms and tables, put a big sign outside “Tea and Sandwiches served all day” borrow some massive tea pots, bribe my Sisters and brothers to become waiters with the promise of pocket money. We were the crew, it was instilled in us that we should be capable of taking part in assisting with any task, I don’t remember ever minding, we were integrated and excited. That evening we would all marvel at the money lying on the kitchen table as we separated the coins from the notes. Inevitably she would reward the house with something afterwards, pebble dashing the front e or fitting new weatherproof windows facing the windy river Slaney. I often crossed that river for a walk if the day was pleasant, taking in the lunchtime music from the BBC on my tiny transistor Radio. Our house was the first home in view when crossing the bridge back into Town; it surprised me to find pride at the sight of scaffolding erected in the front for renovations, it hadn’t dawned on me that it was necessary or registered that I cared. But it was another lesson in the power of action. Life around my Mother was exciting.
Because the house had five bedrooms she managed to make two of them available for paying guests. One room had three single beds and the other a double. When we had full time residence like the three girls from the telephone exchange, payment was never an issue. But when we had one nighters for bed and Breakfast: the business was lacking an orderly system of imbursement. If someone did stay, had slept in the bed and consumed their breakfast, but still managed to avoid the subject of payment, the responsibility fell to my Father at the eleventh hour to exact the twenty-one shillings from them before they were gone, with neither hide nor tail of them to be seen again. There was no such as thing an ID card at the time, and even in hotels you were not required to give proof of identification. I always wondered where these people came from and where they were going. How did they happen upon our little B&B sign swinging and creaking on the windy Quay?
One dispensable Friday night I reclined in the cozy Kitchen , hands dug deep into my pockets like I was searching for something, when the doorbell buzzed. My Mother looked up from under glasses at the clock and wondered out loud who that could be at twenty minutes to ten?
“Pierce, you might go answer that will ye”
She was in the middle of crocheting a large Swan, which she had planned on hardening with sugar water to make it stand up, turning it into a fruit bowl. The idea fascinated me and I pondered the craziness of it as I ran up the dark hallway, flicking the light before answering the door to the silhouette of a rain soaked stranger. He shielded his face from the wind as he held on to his hat, straining to be heard over the howling wind off the River.
“Pardon me for calling at such a late hour, I just happened to be passing when I noticed the sign overhead”
With the other hand holding a small leather suitcase he nodded in the direction of our overhead B&B sign.
“Are there any vacancies in the house tonight? He grimaced through a pleading smile.
He was wearing a green oil coat that had an extra flap on the back covering his shoulders, the kind that you could only buy in select Men’s Boutiques frequented by the upper class, separating them by garment from the rest of us. He removed his leather hat to reveal an orderly quiff pushed back in the way of a man who was secure with his own fashion. And although he was wet from the rain, he appeared like he had not been subjected to it.
“ Oh come in and I’ll ask for you, horrible night isn’t it?”
‘Oh gosh it’s fierce” He stamped his feet on the mat and shook his hands as if to rid them of excess rain.
I ran down to the kitchen, remembering to dip by the coalhole where the ceiling lowered. My Mother sat up more alert and ready for action. I spoke in a low voice, but loud enough for him to hear me.
“Mammy, there’s a man out there and he wants to know, do we have a room for the night”
I believe she could sense from the way I said it that I was imparting a tacit signal that he was no scallywag. She put down the Swan and smarted out to the hall like a woman on a mission, there was no need for her to dip at the coalhole. Once she got a look at him, her tone of voice altered to suit his upper class appearance.
“Oh heloooo, she smiled reservedly through pursed lips, God that’s a dreadful night isn’t it, can I help you?” Her expression negated any real doubt, she knew what he wanted and he was going to be welcome.
“Good evening Madam, a thousand apologies for arriving at your door so late on this horrid evening, I wondered if you had any accommodation available at all”
“Well we hadn’t planned on any one arriving tonight, and there are no reservations, but we couldn’t possibly turn you away in this weather, sure come inside for a cup of tea while we arrange the room”
He followed her down the hall as she effortlessly cruised under the coalhole dip, I could hear his head ram into the ceiling from the kitchen where I was putting the kettle on, a loud dull thud, I awaited the reaction, he may have been too aggrieved to speak? I knew how painful it was, having experienced it upon reaching that altitude myself initially. Because the floor came up at that point while the ceiling sloped down, collision had the effect of pushing your head back and down all at once, creating skeletal damage to accompany the lump at the crest of the head, as well as humiliation, even without a witness! He had all of the aforementioned and the later to deal with in front of my Mother maybe you could add anger to that too – for not being warned him until afterwards.
“Oh that BLOODY ceiling, I always forget to warn people, are you alight?”
“Oh gosh Mam if I was to get a shilling for every time I hit my head in a Georgian Household”
I was very impressed that he gave our old house the dignity of a period in architecture. Granted the most comfortable armchair in the warmth of the Kitchen, he sat there unconsciously rubbing his head and neck. After laying the table, I made him a sandwich with Wexford Cheddar and Kelly’s white loaf to go along with the tea, the Irish always have to have something with the Tea, unlike our Brothers and Sisters across the Sea. He talked about the heat that our Jubilee cooker produced and waxed lyrically on the crocheted Swan, he bent over and looked at it on the chair almost afraid to touch, in case he might stain the pure white yarn.
“Gosh it’s remarkable, the work of a true artist, there is no doubt about it”
I had been listening to The White Album by the Beatles on the turntable, telling him that I was in a Band and had a gig the next night, he jumped to the conclusion that Paul McCartney was me singing “Martha My Dear” it was a while before he gave me the conversational space to disappoint him, and myself.
After the sandwich had been washed down by strong black tea my Mother – having made up his room – invited him to the sitting room on the second floor where the fire was lighting and the T.V available if he liked. This was the fanciest and largest room in the house; generally we kept our guests to this room. His eyes lit up when he saw the upright piano sitting there open and ready to play.
“Oh gosh you have a Piano too Mrs Turner” We had learned each others names now, he insisted that we call him Tom.
“Oh God yes, the house is full of musicuans, and my Son Pierce never leaves it alone, breaking strings too, mind you” She threw me pretended annoyance.
“ Are you musical your self?”
“Oh I live for music Mrs Turner, it’s one of life’s great pleasures, would you mind terribly if I played something?”
“Oh Lord no, we would be delighted”
He put his strong weathered hands on the keys and played a beautiful familiar melody, a semi classical piece with all the required Tchaikovskian flourishes, he had a gentle romantic touch and we found ourselves glued to the seats enchanted by the pleasure of hearing a stranger caress our old Piano.
My Mother, held her hand on her breast.and pined breathlessly.
“Soo deep is the Night, uh, I declare to God… NOW I !(pause)… Have ALL-ways loved that melody, HOW on Gods earth do THEY do it? “
When she spoke, it was highly expressive and impassioned almost like she was singing, emphasizing a point by raising the volume on certain words or letters, with a fluid musical cadence, rising up and down from chest to falsetto. For a moment she almost seemed disappointed with herself as she let the beauty of it sink in. It was so ingrained in me that she was a Mother – being the youngest of her seven children – It surprised me to see her lapse into a romantic daydream like a young girl in love. She had always said that there was nothing like a mans touch on the Piano “so gentle and strong”
We moved over to the blazing fire to watch the Late Late Show, my Mother sat in her armchair leaving him the sofa.. He asked a lot of questions, and my Mother being not the slightest bit secretive, replied with disarming honesty, an endearing quality she may have employed unconsciously to encourage rapport. He was happy to take in all the family truths and was quick to remember names and descriptions; this allowed him to refer to freshly produced names like a long held friend. My Mother insisted that we have another cup of tea, with cream crackers this time (a Friday night treat) and as I was descending the stairs to make it, I overheard her leaping to the Piano to sing her newest composition “When hawthorn Blooms” When I returned with the tea and the crackers, he had progressed to a new level of comfort, his arms spread across the sofa, legs outstretched with feet crossed, goading my Mother about her enormous talents and humility. Her lips were even more pursed now than before and she was flushed with delight at this wondrous turn out to an ordinary evening. She relished nothing more than company of good manners and conversation; in fact it’s all she really asked for. She didn’t drink alcohol and didn’t smoke. Taking away those two vices left her with a lot of room for crafts, composing, conversation and her newest hobby, landscape painting, which she did from magazine photos, using a frayed matchstick instead of a brush. If she didn’t know how to do something, she would teach herself from a tutorial book, if she wanted to do anything she just did it. Tom – a compelling mystery – could see this in her and knew her like only a well-travelled man could. She was trapped in a small Town marriage and possibly that was the only thing that separated her from being a celebrated woman of the world? He knew the correct questions to pose in order to release her hidden ambitions. She even surprised me with the plans that she harboured. I never knew she was planning on booking the Cinema Palace for a concert of her songs to be performed by a Welsh Choir? Tom wasn’t even remotely surprised, and if it was only a plan in its infancy when she brought it up, his encouragement had brought it a great deal closer to the planning stage. Knowing my Mother she could be at the writing pad finalising the arrangements the next day. For someone like her a little encouragement was never wasted. She thrived on his charm and encouragement. If he was around her for a year she would be running the country. They continued to chat until the TV played the National Anthem behind footage of our glorious land; they even discussed those hackneyed images with enthusiasm. I loved to see my Mother like this, and was content to just observe it all with an amused eye. But I wondered about Tom, where was he from? What did he do, why was he here on a Friday night, was he married, if he was, where were his never mentioned family? I found myself staring at him, studying him. He sat upright in the sofa from his slouched comfort, planting his hands on his knees with a conclusive gesture.
“Well now I must thank you for a wonderful evening Mrs Turner”
“Oh NOT AT ALL Tom, thank YOU”
He stood up and took a glance out the tall windows past the lace curtains.
“Gosh the river is looking angry tonight”
My Mother stood behind him on her toes, peaking out absent-mindedly.
“That’s the Spring tide, sometimes it blows the woodenworks up and comes RIGHT across the ROAD, very RAREly now, but just the same it CAN happen” The silver tipped waves of the Slaney slammed angrily against the Bridge. The moon managed to reach them between the passage of bleak clouds
“Isuppose it depends on the wind Missus Turner, does it?”
“Oh God yes, sometimes it’s as calm as a pond out there. Would you believe, in all the time we’ve lived here, it ONLY came in the front door ONCE! And I NEver want to see it again I can tell you, but there are people who live MUCH further away from the River that get flooded ALL the time, it goes RIGHt up to their mantelpiece! RIGHT UP!”
‘Flooding does fierce damage, you need very good insurance Mrs Turner”
“INSURANCE! A lot use that’ll do Tom I needn’t tell you, it doesn’t matter what we apply for in this house, our insurance man finds SOME REASON why we’re not covered” Now she pursed her lips in annoyance at the thought.
Talking the round faced alarm clock off the mantelpiece she began winding it up.
“Do you need a shout in the morning Tom?”
She called across the room.
“ Ah nine o‘clock will be grand Missus Turner” he reached for the door handle and took one more admiring glance around the room.
“Once again, thank you for a very entertaining evening. God bless”
“Good night now and God bless”
After he closed the door, she took her rosary beads out of her handbag and knelt down at the armchair, I said goodnight and went up to my unheated bedroom at the top of the house wasting no time getting beneath the blankets to begin the process of warming the bed with my own shiver.
I am never sure if it’s better to talk to myself or to go blank when in pursuit of sleep. Well if the truth is said, I know now that silence is best, but the debate is always there with the great temptation of some entertaining recollections, a very pleasant way to drift off, if you can. That night I was young and had no issues with sleep, so there was no debate at all, I had to look back over the evening in detail, I had to scrutinize Tom, imagine his story.
“He appears to suggest some kind of opulence, but even before the suggestion gets a chance to give birth, it’s a non starter. If he had money he would be staying at one of the Hotels surely. And how could he not know that young fellas like me living in the back of beyond, could NEVER make a recording like the Beatles White Album.
Where has he been, where is he from? He’s not that old, maybe thirty, yet he seems me Mammy’s age. Why wasn’t he in the Pub tonight? This is Friday night, ALL the men are in the pubs!”
As if on cue, I could hear my Father coming in from the Pub himself. He would never miss Friday and Saturday night in the pub with his friend’s playing cards. My Mother didn’t join him, seldom did any of the wives. He would go into the Kitchen now have a cup of Bovril with two slices of home made brown bread, his usual nightcap. He was a cheerful drinker but during the nightcap stage he could get melancholic and try to relay the horror he experienced losing his Mother to the Spanish Flu when he was only seven.
“Wonder what me Da’ll think of Tom? He wasn’t backwards in coming forward, he didn’t mind asking for a hot water bottle. Jesus that was beautiful Piano playing. There musta been a Piano in his house. Is he going on the Boat?”
We were right next to the North Rail Station where he could get the Train to Rosslare Harbour a mere 12 miles away. – And from there the Boat to Fishguard Wales,
“He’s one of them Rugby player looking fellas, a suggestion of a broken nose, and the schooling that comes with it. Like the fellas in Town here that hang out with the Doctors Solicitors and teachers, beating the up scale Women offa them.
Where are those women from? I don’t know any of them, well I Know Wendy McCourt from around the corner, the Chemists, but she’s the only ONE. That other one she hangs out with, the one with the short black hair is gorgeous too, I wouldn’t even know how to speak to her, Wendy tries to encourage me but I’m paralyzed in her presence. I bet Tom would know how to speak to them! He would charm the knickers offa them. Jasus it’s cold out there tonight, listen to that howling wind? Just imagine there are fishing boats out there, with men resting in the galley after a hard days work, having tea and brown bread by the stove, maybe playing cards while the black waves bash the bow, and low foreboding clouds mask the faint moon”
I imagined looking through their little port hole lights to see them in their cosy nest so close to the elements. They would be family men with a Home on shore, and on a night off they’d go for a pint just like me Da. But now there out on the dark Sea alone, working on a different schedule, living from a different harvest, flirting with danger, capable if need be, to sail off to Spain or Scandinavia with their mates,beds, pots and pans. On a calm night- from this window – you can see their tiny lights out on the black horizon.
“Tom seems at sea, like he is not fixed anywhere, I can’t nail him down, he’s very pleasant company. Of course after tonight I will probably never see him again, wonder who’s Piano he’ll play tomorrow?”
STEVENS PREPARING TO LEAVE from the CD “Angelic Language”
Steven’s preparing to leave
He has to go to the sea
He’s been so mesmerized
By glistening port hole lights
Along the horizon line
Imagining the life inside
Steven believes in he blue
Nothing but water and the roof
Just like a burial ground
Where the mourners are gone
And there’s nothing around
But the silence and the corpse best friend
The weathered stone
And the massive wild deep sky
He has to leave while he can
Otherwise he could lose his chance
He knows he’s blessed with this
A curious need to leave the nest
Before the heart inside his chest
Becomes too old to experiment
He wants to conquer his fears
Counting the mounting years
He wants to face the place
Where nothing is but thoughtlessness
A bed of sea
And a roof of stars
There to be until he feels
At peace with the dark
I know you are my friend
And in the end
I’ll be with you alone
I knew you every night
And I knew you in the womb
You wait beyond the light
Inside my tomb
And I know I have to kiss you
Before our wedding day
And I know I have to kiss you
And I know I have to love you
Before I let you go
Then I’ll laugh at grey dark clouds
Then I’ll see the setting sun with you
And know darkness
© Pierce Turner, from the album Angelic Language. (part 2 next week from NY)