the invisible storm

In the calm came the invisible storm, sweeping through the inner world causing disarray, uprooting and creating chaos, devastating emotions and leaving her clinging to strands of memory. Words had seemed to fall out of the air, marking a merciless intrusion upon her quietude. Each sound spoken inflicting the most immediate and obvious pain.
Though the circumstance seemed wholly inappropriate death did not favour convenience. What was, for the moment relatively unexpected, would have been inevitable.
But the voice, a loved one, had spoken with such distance as if the event were no more than matter of fact making the event even more bewildering.
Polly stood back from the phone and noted all the familiar and gathered objects in her surroundings. Observing that they were all in place. Surely the tremors could not have been so great as to have moved any of them. They were unshakeable. She was not. But maybe it wasn’t something physical that had manifested itself that morning.
She sat staring at the carpet with tear filled eyes. Removing herself. Receding into her bank of memories containing the dead one. A shudder of hysterical laughter followed by further tears.
Oh! but she had loved the dead one, though often as not, she never really knew how much the dead one had loved her. Truly loved her. It had always been a concern to her.
Two little girls. Sisters. One afraid of the world and the other, apparently devoid of caring.
Polly wished all those thoughts; that she would evaporate, if only it had been her, was she in some way to blame.
Time enveloped her in sheets and shrouds. Though time the healer was still, as yet, a very distant figure.
The voice on the telephone whispered across the room. Made gentle the news as if talking about something altogether different. In unexpectedly soothing tones not associated with that voice.
Her father had never really been a bird who had his feathers ruffled. He always appeared so calm. So in control. Control, a key.
But obviously the dead one had not been so in control otherwise she would still be around. It’s obvious, isn’t it. Why go and do such a stupid thing. It doesn’t make sense to go and ruin a good life and cause others misery. Polly harboured resentment and self pity.
Even when her sister died he had held everyone together as if he had an understanding, an experience of death that allowed him to do so. Control is the key. He must have grieved privately. Secreting shredding those deeply hidden emotions.
She had wanted to confront him on his lack of emotion then but that was cancelled out by her admiration for his strength and determining the family from falling into depression. Playing the clown she knew what a sad figure he was behind the mask and the superficial antics.
Upon reflection Polly wanted to be told to her face not down a telephone line, not as impersonal as it had been. Living hundreds of miles apart could be quite convenient at times. Displacement had been both advantages and disadvantages.
Nervously she wrote down the details as he spoken them. In her mind she wanted to be numb. In replay she wanted it all to sink in and resurface slowly. Not with the abruptness of the sudden jolt occurring only moments ago. Somehow she wanted to avoid making a melodrama of this most important and significant death. More than hearing his voice she wanted to see his face, touch his hand and feel the strength of his grasp, to look into the pools of colour of his eyes. To know in the depths of all this sudden despair and anxiety that he had truly felt something for her mother. To know that their life together had not been a series of disguises and subterfuges, that they had not been living out a sham. She cursed herself for even thinking such a thing but the doubt was there. It had been for quite a number years. Again she cursed for believing that they had abandoned themselves to a void.
“What’s left?” he asked one evening. Too drunk to further articulate what he had begun. The glass never leaving his grasp; one hand held the glass and the other was free to raise and pour, consuming and replˇenishing. Moments later he rebooted himself in with, “We’ve hidden all our worries. Jesus, now we’re riddled with cancer. Is that fair? Nothing is ever fucking fair.” He laughed. Content within his state of inebriation.
Had it really been his voice on the telephone. She hadn’t wanted it to be. Something terrible had happened. For several seconds it was someone else, a stranger. They had dialled the wrong number. It gave her the choice of waiting to assimilate the information and continue or hang up on them. Simply cut them off. Dead. No, not that.
But the caller had known her name. And she had responded though not really recognising it to be her father’s voice.
When she did Polly felt an overwhelming grip which would not release itself. Nausea talking hold. Pain inflicted but not registering. The numbness was there. She had wanted that detachment to stop any more pain from getting through. She couldn’t explain why to herself.
The cat padded across the room, circled her legs, offering deep affectionate purrs but Polly was a cold white alabaster figure in a flowerless garden who not possibly reciprocate.
Oblivious to human dilemma the cat jumped up and sat on Polly’s lap and began preening herself.
The voice on the telephone continued as it would well into her sleep. Permeating and making foul her dreams. Polly swallowed.
Pain was not then pain as it should have been but some disguised form. Everything was being delayed. She couldn’t think quickly enough. If at all she now had the ability to think. Long silences stretching out consuming time. Holes appearing, digesting.
It wasn’t a conversation. The initial words began to sink in. Reflecting upon them whilst trying to concentrate on what was now being said.
The voice low, without feeling. She struggled to contain the emotional outburst that was gathering within her and seeking an exit. She would not surrender to it. She would not free it. Though nor could she cancel out the effect that was taking place within. If Ralph had been there she would have been able to deflect some of it, hand him the receiver and walk away or sink to the carpet, suck down some respite. But she alone was having to deal with it, having to cope, having to accept this to be the truth and absolute.
Strange, there felt a suspension of time and belief. Odd, so much disbelief.
It was almost as if she could step outside of herself. And be gone. Not have to face it. Confront it like an adult. Human being.
Grown up. Maybe she hadn’t grown up. Running away. She was avoiding what was inevitable but she didn’t believe or trust in it. Beauty need not end in ugliness. Not fade away. But if she did but then maybe it would be possible to do it gracefully.
Age takes it toll. Age brought wisdom to some but what was the point when no one really wants to listen anymore? You deal with yourself. Or try to.
Polly looked at the clock on the shelves. How long did it take to say what he needed to say before the voice began repeating itself. Maybe he was drunk. Or he, might have been overcome. She was dead. Plain and simple. The repetition was further wounding. It wouldn’t bring her mother back or make the news any less shocking.
Attempting to get back into the conversation Polly asked the voice if he remembered when Jamie, her older sister, had died. He cleared his throat. Pause. A crack had appeared in the intonation of his voice. She had got to him. But then she knew she could. It was a practised tactic from childhood.
Polly had been backpacking in India. Often out of contact. On her return her parents were at the airport to meet her. But it was a less than happy reception. Their bodies rigid as she eagerly hugged them. The tone was sombre and hardly the welcome home she had anticipated after three months away from the fold.
On first sight intuitively she knew them to be harbingers. The lack of direct conversation about family matters and the frozen smiles. Why were they avoiding any mention of family concerns apart from they now got the groceries delivered.
Driving back home she wanted to tell them about a weird dream she had about Jamie dying but their barrage of questions of where she had been and how wonderful it must have been ensured that it never became vibrations in the ether. It never became a statement.
Everything seemed in contrast to her departure for India. They had all argued because she was going half way around the world unaccompanied.
“The world is no longer an oyster but an unpredictable and dangerous place.”
Safe is better. Safe is dull.
Supposing she had been able to tell them about the dream. Might it not have been quickly dismissed. You’ve been living in a land of too much mysticism. Their sour sceptical disapproving tones. Our lives are so different here.
Being back home was odd. The atmosphere of the house had changed.
She recognised this as she walked through the door but tried to dismiss it as being merely a readjustment to environment.
But something had changed and she couldn’t say what.
After lunch her mother and younger sister, Laura, made a rather awkward exit from the living room. He father asked her to sit on the sofa with him. He looked straight ahead as if trying to remember something. Opened his mouth to speak but whatever it was didn’t come out. Not a single utterance. Taking her hand in his he seemed to be preparing himself but in so doÅing was making Polly ready to. Slowly he issued the message of death.
Polly had been back for two days before he told her. In the car coming back from the airport she had asked on the welfare of her sisters and they had lied to her.
When she screamed at her father he tried to wrap his arms around her and contain her but she managed to evade him. Her mother re-entered the room as if she had been waiting in the wings on her cue.
They sat. They were silent. They looked into space. Never at each other. The truth had now been established. It wasn’t a dream. It wasn’t a chillum of grass. It was cold reality. It was vacuous.
A freak accident. Jamie and her husband. Travelling across the Nevada desert in a rented car. The car had blown up. They had miraculously escaped from the inferno of wreckage but not from the flames burning their clothes and skins. Their charred remains were found over Åa mile away from whatever was left of the car; they were heading into the desert just a hundred yards short of a river.
“On the same day we received the telephone call telling us about the accident we got an air mail letter saying Jamie was pregnant. Apparently it happened on your birthday. Such a strange coincidence. We didn’t know how to broach the subject with you.”
The dream wasn’t so fantastic. It now made the bond between the living and the dead stronger. The moment for telling them about it had now conclusively passed. She excused herself. Holding back the torrent of tears until she reached the sanctuary of her bedroom.
Thereafter, it seemed her birthday celebration, as far as her mother was concerned, became established as a day of mourning. She would take Polly’s hands and say, “We still have you, we have each other.”
Would her mother have willingly sacrificed her for Jamie? Does a mother love one child more than another?
Silence followed. In Polly’s family it wasn’t so much about the words spoken in conversation as the silences. Pauses punctuating, extending the conversation. Sometimes beyond what was necessary or acceptable.
Even when friends visited they still managed to embarrass by breaking up the flow of conversation with silences.
The effect of Jamie’s death and the silences created an emptiness that overtook Polly. Often rendering her mute in social circumstances.
Maybe she physically lived with Ralph but too often she considered she lived alone. He talked to friends and involved himself where Polly held back.
It always annoyed Polly that neither of her parents ever remembered Jamie as a woman. They spoke of her as someone quite different to the one who had finished university and secured a job in America with a solid and established corporation. They spoke of her as a girl. She was constantly misrepresented in the after life. So many embellishments. Or was it that Polly simply knew other facets of who Jamie had been.
Even in death Dwight, Jamie’s lover and friend, was resented for being the man who took their little girl from them (body and soul). The possibility of them having loved each other and sharing a happiness together seemed remote. Something to be denied. He just wasn’t suitable material for their daughter.
But in death as in life Jamie had been lost to Dwight. Now she was buried with him thousands of miles away where she would not practically be visited. Lost again.
Polly scribbled an approximation of the time of the phone call and roughly the contents of the conversation on the back of a used envelope. Building a story to relay. And that is what she couldn’t understand. Her father expected her to make the telephone calls to relatives and friends with the announcement of loss. Of her mother’s death. Of a suicide. The taking of one’s own life.
“She gave up her life. It seemed inconceivable. Improbable.” He began to repeat himself over and over again. The repetition of disbelief metamorphosing into one of comprehension, knowing and belief.
With a glass of water Polly swallowed two aspirin and sat down at the kitchen table. Breakfast dishes undone. Lunch never considered. Delaying the announcement to her sister, Laura. Stalling for respite. She wanted to call her father back and ask for an explanation. Why should she be the one with such a responsibility? But she couldn’t bear to speak to him again today. She wasn’t close to her sister anymore. Hadn’t been for some years. He knew it. He seemed to be playing games. Brokering some kind of peace through bereavement. It was disgusting. It would merely be a makeshift peace.
Her father had always been close to Laura. She was his favoured child. Does a father love another more than others? The question repeats.
The cat jumped onto the table knocking over the glass of water and spilling what remained of the contents. The glass rolled towards the table’s edge, stopped momentarily, rolled back slightly and made it’s way over the edge. The cat vanished as the glass shattered.
Polly watched the spillage extend itself on the table’s surface. Meandering, soaking into the scrap envelope. Making the words into a series of inky blurs.
“When did she die? I mean around what time, day or night.”
“You haven’t phoned Laura yet?” he said back to her.
“I need to know more. She’ll want details. A fuller explanation than the one you offered me.”
“She’s dead Polly. She died yesterday. I can’t tell you exactly when. I wasn’t with her. They found her yesterday. But she might have died during the night.”
“I need more than that.”
“For Christ’s sake the woman’s dead. She was your mother.”
Her mother. The dead one. All the details mattered. Maybe not to him but to Polly.
“I need to know more. I need to know how she died.”
“In the river. Drowned. No traces of a struggle. She wasn’t murdered. Is that enough?”
Polly returned to the kitchen. Boiled herself an egg. Buttered a couple of slices of toast and sat down to contemplate; the phone call to her sister, Ralph’s return in the evening and objects in the room and their placement.
Stared at the clock on the cooker for a moment; two hours had elapsed since the first phone call, she needed more time.
Polly felt glued to the chair. Heavy boned, flabby. She had moved herself to make a cup of coffee which remained as placed. Thereafter she she sunk into the gloom of the atmosphere, into the cold evening.
She despaired. Needed Ralph, the post on which to hitch herself.
The central heating turned itself on. Slightly startled. Rubbed her hands over her neck and shoulders and felt the cold flesh and hardened muscle tissue. The water circulated through the pipes. She listened. Imagined the blood in her arteries and veins.
Then realised Ralph had gone out somewhere straight from work and realistic expectation told her he would be home late. Drunk. In no mood for serious conversation.
And drunk being anywhere between mildly humorous to loud and obnoxious. Constantly denying any intoxication of his being.
Likely as not he would come home, turn on the television and fall asleep on the sofa in front of it.
More recently Ralph had begun to lie. Small lies. Who he was with and or where had he had been and more importantly how could she rely on someone not there for comfort.
“How did do it?” Laura’s cold and rational tones.
Somehow Polly wasn’t surprised by the question only the suddenness. At this point in time wasn’t it enough that they had lost their mother.
Laura continued, apathetically, “Dad must feel awful. He’s all alone now.”
Immediate sympathy for her father. Polly imagined a flurry of activity; her sister hurriedly packing a bag and bundling up her child to rush off to comfort the living one. The survivor. She resented their relationship, their closeness, their humour, thÅeir shared interests, their spoiling attention to one and other, their secrets. What secrets?
Yet there was no more attention between them and Polly and her father. Or Polly and her mother.
Right now Polly needed Ralph. It should have been Ralph she called first. He was the one she loved. After her mother. The call would have taken no more than five or ten minutes. The call to her sister took no time at all.
But she knew he wouldn’t abandon his post to be with her. He was no good in emotional situations. She had seen him first hand when his father died. He was too uptight to contend with other people’s problems. Other people’s traumas. Probably this was as a result of his own. He was too self absorbed. He hated the bigger world and it’s inhabitants; most of them spoiled life. He closed his eyes to imperfection. Shunned it. Pouring scorn from his crucible of intolerance. How many time.s had he made grand gestures when his wallet was empty and used Polly’s purse?
Polly laughed. Maybe he would expect her mother to have left something to him.
Darkness came undetected. The telephone had rung several times but Polly had turned on the answering machine and the volume down. She sat looking at the adjacent block of flats; lights coming on and curtains, blinds being drawn, sealing out the night.
She wanted pitch black. Hoping that when day came around again everything might have changed back to what it was.
Ralph left a message saying he wouldn’t be home until quite late. It went unnoticed. She had draped a scarf over the small box obscuring the red flashing light.
Intermittently she cried but it never seemed as if it was for the loss of her mother. Her weeping was, of loneliness.
Noises came from the flat above. Footfalls moving from one room to another followed by softer sounds. A baby or a domestic animal. She closed her eyes. Close of day.


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