Surrounded by the carnage of the Irish troubles, and faced with personal tragedy, a young Down's syndrome woman tries to find meaning through the guidance of a new found friend.
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Her dying father calls her unique, doctors have diagnosed that her "brain is wired wrong," most say she's "plain simple," but Eve Hayes, a young Down's syndrome woman, feels only that she's different. Then, on 21 July 1972 - Belfast's Bloody Friday - Eve encounters the captivating Esther, who ferries Eve on a sequence of illuminating, metaphysical journeys.
In order to make sense of the slaughter that surrounds her, Eve must first learn the truth of her perceived difference, and therein unravel the timeless purpose of the silver mist.
THE SILVER MIST
Copyright © 2011 by Martin Treanor
Publisher: Better Karma Publishing www.BetterKarmaPublishing.com
Cover by EOSGrafx www.eosgrafx.com
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without written permission of the author.
Esther showed up the day Dad died; she had wild, red hair and grass green eyes, and my life changed forever but, for the most part, stayed the same. I stood by the gatepost, watching sunshine blaze across the meadow and, although the day felt hot as hellfire, I wore a cardigan, a light blue one. Mam insisted on it. Mam always insisted on cardigans. Cardigans are as important as good shoes, or maybe even a woolly hat in the winter. When Esther arrived, she came fresh as air, walking up the meadow towards me. I traced her footprints as far as the oak tree but then no farther. She wore a frock, the double of the one I had on, only white, with no tartan pattern, her legs bare from ankle to knee. She also wore a cardigan, as white and gleaming as her frock, but, where my buttons were blue and plastic, hers shone silver. They sparkled in the sunshine. Esther’s whole body sparkled in the sunshine and, although my heart felt hollow, I sensed that something wonderful was about to begin.
Esther’s face was dappled with freckles, dozens of them, some as big as fingernails and all of them as bright as her hair. Her smile glowed bright as birthdays, and her eyes as headlamps cresting over a dark hill, making me want to never look away.
Esther looked to be about the same age as me and, when I asked her name, she only said, ‘Do you read scripture?’
I told her, ‘I do, on Sundays, at chapel, and sometimes not at chapel, and maybe not on Sundays at all.’
She said, ‘Then I’ll be Esther.’
I told her my name, and that, maybe by some miracle, I was twenty-three years old.
Esther said nothing to that.
Before Esther arrived, I’d been alone for most of the day. Rose Moore, one of our neighbours, who’d come across to hold eye on me, was back in the house. Rose Moore is old, with grey hair and thick glasses, and her clothes reek with the stink of tobacco. Rose Moore asked me if I wanted to come in for tea, but I preferred to stay outside, by the meadow gatepost, alone and sorrowful for Dad.
I told Esther that Dad had left to die, and that I felt grieved.
Esther said that it’s okay to feel that way, and that, there might be grief, but that there is no such thing as bad.
‘Is this not bad?’ I asked her.
‘There only is what is,’ she replied.
I didn’t understand, but Esther’s words made me feel better anyway.
Earlier that day, before the ambulance came to take Dad away, the newspaper had dropped through the letterbox, as it always does, but, by lunchtime, still sat unopened on the hall table. Dad said that newspapers are important.
‘The world is a fierce angry place,’ Dad said. ‘With bombs and shootings up in Belfast, and neighbours killing other, it’s enough to scare the devil himself. If a man be wise, he’d be safer knowing nothing about it at all. But, you see Eve, we must …’
That’s my name. Eve . Eve Hayes. Dad said they gave me the name Eve because I’d been the first girl in the family to be born different. ‘Unique’ is what he said, but ‘boasting is the first step in the short walk to sin,’ Mam says, and, about such things, she’s never wrong.
‘… We must learn the dangers, Eve,’ Dad said, ‘so we stay aware. This angry world throws things up at us as quick as a wink, and if we’re not aware, then they’ll sneak up on us, bringing misery, and sadness, and maybe even death. That’s what those poor unfortunates are finding out up in Belfast. This madness that has descended on our country has made us all nervous, and suspicious, and maybe that’s not a bad thing either. There’s often the look of an angel to the devil … but neither the devil nor death can reach us, if we keep ourselves aware.’
Dad had been wrong about that. Death came for him that day. It crept across him with its dark shadow, and plucked him out of my world and away to somewhere I couldn’t follow. The cover of the newspaper said, ‘Friday, 21 st July, 1972’, and - even if there is no such thing as ‘bad’ - I had a feeling something bad was about to happen. Even though Dad had gone, I sensed the dark shadow still lingered, waiting. A black fog, unseen, lurking behind my awareness, unaffected by the strength of my will, and steeped with the ability to cause me sadness. I felt scared, I wanted Martha and Mam to come back home. They had left with Dad in the back of the ambulance, up to the hospital in Belfast to watch him die.
Martha is my sister. In addition to Dad and Mam, there are four of us. Martha is thirty-five. She stays at home with Mam to look after me, and also Dad, after he got sickly. She has curly, red hair. We all have curly, red hair, the same as Dad’s, afore his went white as clouds. Mam’s hair had been red too, so I’m told. It’s grey now. I have to keep mine cut short, ‘for convenience’, and we all have freckles, only not as glowing as Esther’s. Martha is small in height, but I don’t know what in feet and inches, and she has way too much belly fat, or so she says. She says that she’s the type of person who ‘must make do’, ‘under the circumstances’, always busy, and often snappy and irritable. She gets on as if she’s the same as Mam, but she’s not, she’s more crabbed. At one time, Martha worked as a nurse, in a hospital for sickly children, but quit, because Mam got older, not as limber, and needed help with the housework, as well as holding eye on me. Then Dad got sickly, and Martha says that everything went to Hell in a hand-basket after that.
Older than Martha, and the oldest, is Lydia, thirty-seven; she lives with her husband, Norman, and her wee boy, Robert, over in England, somewhere called Kent. Lid - that’s what we call her, except for Mam, she always calls her Lydia - went there to get a job, and then got married, and she had a baby, her wee boy, Robert. Lid has red hair and freckles too. She designed buildings before she had her baby and, by all accounts, is an important woman over there in Kent.
In the years that followed Martha’s birth, I’m told that Mam got pregnant many times, and that the babies came miscarried or stillborn, besides one, she died in her cot. Anna, only three weeks old, and no one knows how it happened. When Mam was forty-four, and ‘way too old for such things’, the youngest, Rebecca - Becky - was born and, because of ‘way too old for such things’, they feared that Becky might also come stillborn, or maybe even spastic. Becky turned out fine though, physically anyway, and she is the only one of us who has never needed to wear glasses, Mam and Dad included. She turned twenty-one the week before Dad died. We didn’t have a party. Becky left four years before, to live with some ‘hairy hippy wasters’ up in Belfast, the place where they’re killing other. Becky has long hair, and a tattoo, and takes drugs, and makes Mam cry ‘to think about the sinfulness and shame of it all’. Becky doesn’t care that Mam cries, and Dad said that we ought to be grateful that drugs was all that Becky had managed to get roped into.
‘What with how things are an’ all, it could be a whole lot worse, Noreen,’ Dad said. Noreen is Mam’s proper name. ‘If the wrong people said the right things in that daft girl’s ears, then we might be spending our Sundays paying visits to her in prison, or maybe even mumbling prayers at a slab of gravestone.’
Dad used to say that often. If he meant to make Mam feel better, it never worked. She might spend a whole half-hour crying up in the bedroom. Dad looked lost when Mam cried, and sometimes he joked about it to lighten the mood.
‘How much must a man have sinned?’ he’d say, ‘to be afflicted with a house saturated with women. I’ve been a good man, and I’ve encouraged no ill-will that’s fersure.’ Dad always said ‘ fersure ’ to make a point. ‘At the Lord’s behest, I’ve always made my chapel of a Sunday. So, tell me this … how is it, that a man, sinless as a saint, can be doomed to suffer such a dreadful penance?’
Then he’d laugh, and give Mam a hug. He may have been the only man in a house ‘saturated’ with women, but I don’t think he minded. He loved Mam. I never heard him say so out loud, but I saw it in his eyes, especially when he wanted to save her from sadness.
So, that’s my family, and I know you’re asking, where do I come in?
I’ve told you about my mother, about my assorted sisters, and about my father who died that day, but I hear you thinking, ‘What about you?’
Well, I’m the sister who came before Becky, two years before to be exact, and also a long time after Mam got ‘way too old for such things’. Unlike Becky, who turned out fine, because of Mam and ‘way too old for such things’, I was what they call ‘a difficult pregnancy’, born different … ‘unique’. So unique, the doctors reckoned I might not see out my first year.
I did though, and many more.
Dad called me ‘a refined specimen’, but I can see how I am different, mostly when I look in the mirror. In sock-soles, I stand only four feet eleven, and my head has a different shape to most other people. My eyes slant at the sides. I have a small mouth, for a mouth, and my bottom lip sticks out, as does my tongue. I quite often slur my words, and I tend to slobber a wee bit too.
Dad used to say, ‘What odds. We all slobber a bit, if truth be told.’
For that reason I try to talk as little as possible and, because I don’t talk so much, people say that I’m ‘plain simple’, that I have a ‘mental dysfunction’, and that I don’t have the same thoughts as other people because my brain is wired wrong. I don’t feel as though my brain is wired wrong, just that I don’t see the point of all the fussing that normal people do. At the end of it all, we’re all breathing, aren’t we?
Anyway, ‘bush and beating’, as my Dad used to say, I don’t talk much. I think a lot though.
‘Too much sometimes,’ Mam might say.
I think about grass, and the sky, and why our house came to be here. I think about my skin, my feet, birds, rocks and stones, trees, why cardigans are so important, and why Dad had to die. I think about my hands. I have fat hands, with stumpy fingers, and I’m unable do the intricate things that other people find quite easy. I think about most of things that I encounter in the day, but I don’t see any reason to talk about matters that are not important. I’m sure that’s why some people speak to me the way they do, in slow, short sentences, and a raised, squeaky, pitch in their voices. It sounds the same as when they talk to a wee child, or a baby. I don’t mind that they do this. I just think it’s unnecessary.
For a long time that day, I’d been thinking about the ambulance that had come to take Dad away. Martha said that I couldn’t to go with her and Mam up to the hospital in Belfast. She said it might be too much for someone such as me. I presumed she meant that it might be too much for me to watch Dad die. I don’t know about that though. Sure, I felt sad, but at least he wouldn’t hurt anymore, and, the one thing I wanted more than anything, was for Dad not to hurt anymore.
Dad used to be fine, and never got sickly. He was old, had white hair and wrinkly skin, but he also had big, broad shoulders, and he lifted heavy things without shedding even the smallest bead of sweat. He used to drape me over his shoulder, and dash around the yard behind the house, me laughing, him jiggling me around. Then Dad got sickly. At first overtired, then he started to lose weight, the sickness corroding him from the inside out, and he changed, from big and broad, to skinny and weak, his skin going from rugged to paper-thin, and wan as the skim of the butter-milk. He started to get dizzy, and he fell over a lot, and got big welts and bruises on his arms and legs. Then he didn’t want the lights on because of the headaches, and blood started running out his nose, and even at the corners of his eyes, as if tears. The doctors gave Dad pills and ‘jabs’, that Martha, being a nurse and all, ‘administered’ to him. They also wanted to give him something called ‘chemo’. They said it might cure him, or maybe not. Either way, much to Mam and Martha’s distraction, Dad flat refused, saying:
‘My hair might be white but, if I am to die, I’ll do it with a full head. I am not shaking hands with my god and maker a bald man.’
Dad took to his bed less than two months ago, always in pain. I felt grieved to see him that way. It stabbed my heart, and didn’t stop twisting.
The doctors said that Dad had ‘acute myelogenous leukaemia’, and that it had gone ‘everywhere’. Dad tried to smile, and give me hugs, but smiling and hugging hurt him too. Then, a few days ago, he stopped talking. For most of the time he slept. When awake, he stayed still, his eyes peering around the room, glazed and bloodshot, as though not his own. He woke for only a few minutes at a time, and sometimes managed a smile, even if it hurt. Dad used to smile often, and laugh; big, deep, booming bellows, that made me think of some big, ould bull out in the field, his chest pumping in and out in rhythm to his roars. Sometimes, when he got a good one going, I thought the glass in the windows might burst straight through. Dad loved to laugh … that’s fersure . I think he needed to, what with Becky always breaking his heart.
Then, the shadow began to encroach upon him, and the laughs were gone forever. Dad’s breathing became fainter, hoarser, the rattle in his lungs less tuneful. He winced when he gasped for air, bucked in the bed as the pain of doing so shot through his nerves. The hospital people took him away, in an ambulance. They wheeled him out the door on a trolley, and Dad left me.
A short time later, he came to say goodbye. Dad didn’t look sickly anymore, and he walked. Dad hadn’t walked for months, and he smiled, a smile that didn’t seem to hurt. He said hello to Esther, as though he already knew her, and that made my heart fill to overflowing. Dad told me not to worry. That no matter what happens, there only is what is .
Then Dad faded, and I never saw him again.
Esther stayed with me, through the early afternoon, out at the meadow gatepost, while I waited for Martha and Mam to come home. The sun shone, a fiery, red ball, as scarlet as a shock of Esther’s hair, exploding in the cloudless sky, to warm my face, and make my pulse beat faster in my chest.
Esther said that I would grieve a long time over Dad being dead.
Dad said so too, but that I’ve always been a strong girl.
‘You have will and spirit more steadfast than all the normal girls put together,’ he said, before he faded.
Although a hole had opened in my soul, and I ached to wither into nothingness, as my sorrow swelled enough to burst my heart, I - the girl whose brain is wired wrong - had good mind and keen sense to believe them both.