This is, quite simply, a story with a twist. I hope you enjoy it!
“Your outlook on life is either that it’s half-full or half-empty Jeremy. Which is it?” My mother has a way of getting to the point of things, even when all you ask is whether she wants another glass of wine.
“It’s your attitude in asking. If you look like you’re sucking on a lemon, god’s gonna give you lemons. Or in your case a vat of ugly juice.”
These are phrases she regurgitates, often and with zeal. A nod never does the trick, nor a response with any hint of exasperation. She can tell the whisper of a sigh a postcode away. Instead you need to agree in a way that is so believable, you actually believe it yourself.
“You know you’re so right there. I never thought of it like that.”
She looks me up and down, her eyes a truth barometer. I don’t twitch or sweat or move in a way that appears shifty (as she puts it), but instead plaster on a smile and take a sip of wine, just the way she likes, just the way she taught me.
Unsurprisingly, most of my childhood was spent being called ‘mammy’s boy’. At rugby matches she screamed my name, even if I was on the subs bench and had no chance of playing. For parent teacher meetings she bought cupcakes and decorated them with the teacher’s name in icing, a small dagger hidden somewhere in the letters. After any school activity she’d sit with the light on in the car, an eerie glow above her head staring ahead in wait for my appearance. Thankfully I was a big boy who turned into an even bigger man, a blessing of biology that meant ‘mammy’s boy’ was said at a distance and with some care.
As I got older I tried to find reasons for my mother’s behaviour. Apart from being a stickler for detail and ridiculously mean, she had spent most of her life losing things; her parents, two brothers, my father, four children. Once after a few too many glasses of sparkling rose she told me what happened to them all, her smorgasbord of tragedies.
“Accidents Jeremy. My life is littered with unbelievable accidents. My mother went first, struck down in the back garden while trying to get the clothes in. It was a storm, the biggest in 50 years and lightning struck the clothes horse and that was that. I still remember how black her fingers were.”
She laughed at the memory and sipped.
“Now my father, never the cleverest of men managed to somehow fall into a knee high silage pit. It was only after one of the neighbour’s kids saw a hand poking out that we found out what had happened to him.”
I topped up her glass and leaned in closer.
“Your uncle Sam loved to travel, got excited by strange tribes in strange places that took many methods of transport to get to. Somewhere on his way to Borneo his boat sprung a leak that meant they needed to go onto land. Only the land was a jungle, and there were a lot of big cats with very little to eat. Uncle Dan on the other hand was a quiet type who rarely left his house, never mind come across a jungle cat, but while he slept a boiler broke and the carbon dioxide ate him up.”
With each story her voice got higher, the definite hint of glee. “As for the children, well they just weren’t fit for this world. The one that got born before you had six toes for God’s sake. Ugh. It was only the vodka that kept me going through it all.”
I envied my nearly brothers and sisters then, and fought the urge to walk away. But I needed to hear the most important admission, the question I’d been asking all my life.
“Your father on the other hand, well he is an accident, but unfortunately not a dead one.”
I felt a gush of relief followed by anger. I waited while she sipped slowly and with care as if she needed a key to wind her up. The seconds dragged by.
“Well, where is he then?”
She hesitated, the cogs in her head whirring at the implications of imparting this knowledge. This nugget of information was a carrot she had dangled in front of me for years. “Your father liked a drink, whiskey was his tipple. And one night he made a bet that he could drink a bottle of Johnnie Walker in one sitting. He won the bet, but somewhere between the pub and our house he wrapped the car around a tree and split his brain open.”
She stopped to sip.
“And nothing. He split his brain open Jeremy. What do you think?”
“So where is he?”
“In St. Audeens. They look after him well there. As much as anyone can look after a turnip that drools and screams.”
St. Audeen’s hospice was five minutes from our house, the place we had lived all our lives. She watched me for a reaction, in her beady eyed way, but instead of showing the explosion going on inside of me, I said “Oh right.”
“What the hell are you daydreaming about?”
I snap back to the present to see her hand outstretched, a tiny yellow puddle in the glass.
“Actually I have a surprise.”
She cocked her eyebrow. “For me?”
“For you.” I go to the cupboard, pull out a bottle and turn the label for her to see.
She hums and slurps the puddle in her glass. I unwrap the foil, twist off the metal and pull the cork till it pops. Her glass refilled, she takes a large gulp. I wait for her to swallow and hold out my glass.
With reluctance she clinks back and takes another greedy slurp.
“Actually, what about another toast?”
I hold my glass out again. “What about… to Michael?”
She freezes, the only movement the flex of her throat to let the champagne down. “What would be toasting to him for?”
“I’m glad you asked mother. You see old pops is better. Not totally better of course, but able to talk and get around with a cane. He says you haven’t visited him in a while. In fact he says you never visited him at all.”
Her breaths come out as hisses.
“Not only that, but he says that he had fallen in love with someone else. A girl from the bakery he says. And the night he went out it was to celebrate telling you he was moving out. But the brakes didn’t work that night, although on the way to the pub they were perfect. Funny that isn’t it?”
She starts to wheeze and lets her glass fall. It shatters into hundreds of little pieces.
“So I’ve decided that he’s moving back in here. And that unfortunately means you need to leave. But don’t worry I’ll give you a good burial, one fit for the life you led.”
She falls to the floor, her body curled into a foetus.
“It does seem that accidents run in your family doesn’t it? It’s a shame to add poisoning to the list, but what can you do? It does seem the glass is half-full after all.”