Today I noticed the goose. I picked it up, examined it and put it down. I’ve had that porcelain Mother Goose with pink glass eyes since I was about twelve. My goose of a mother gave strange presents. This particular one is for storing cotton wool. You pull it out of the goose’s bottom. Thirty years on and one or other of my own honking goslings has broken the head off. I have learned not to be precious about things.
I don’t know why I still have it. Maybe I have it just because it wasn’t broken. I might put it in the ‘Broken Press’ along with all the other items waiting to be glued or maybe I will throw it out. I probably won’t throw it out. I don’t throw out. I have a lot of stuff, some broken, some not. Some of it I have because no one else wanted it. They gave me their stuff. They are always giving me their stuff. I carry everyone’s stuff. I am bent over with the weight of other people’s stuff.
When I felt myself getting melancholy again, reminiscing on the Mother Goose, I forced myself out of the house into the garden to smell the roses. You must find what helps you and use it. I know this. My roses help. If not, a walk through the meadow feeling the grass slipping through my fingers usually lifts my mood.
I’m not easy to live with. Who is really? Even the laughing, smiling, blue-eyed toddler has her moments when you could throttle her. But, I’m particularly difficult to live with. I can see that because I watch myself quietly from above. I watch myself taking the crap, doing everyone’s bidding, keeping the peace. Then I watch myself explode all over my gaggle, hissing and honking and biting at them. For some reason they never see it coming.
I wandered out the back door to the garden and inhaled the ancient smell of my enormous pink rose bush. I drew the perfume in through my nostrils and breathed it in. It calmed my torment briefly. Thinking stops while I am smelling my roses. The bees were buzzing around my head, not too happy that I was interested in their patch.
“It was my patch first” I told them.
It was sunny today. That helped too. I wandered through our meadow feeling the long wiry strands of gold swish around my legs. I watched the seeds float off on the air as I made my way down to the end of the garden to sit on the rocks away from everyone for a little. Yet, I was not alone. I am never alone.
The cat had followed me. She rubbed against my legs and purred, wrapping her tail around my knee as she attempted to trip me up. She is a beautiful cat. Mostly white with the odd bit of black and orange. The jealous dog came to chase her away, bounding through the grass. Bounding is the wrong word as it conjures up a massive labrador type dog when really she is a runt of a terrier. A lovely little hairy, brown and black terrier that bounds. Jealousy is a trait of her breed. She is jealous of everyone, especially the playful, beautiful, blond, curly-haired toddler. She doesn’t like the way the child ranks above her in our plump pack. After all, she was here first. The child, of course is completely unaware. The world revolves around her as it should.
I sat down on the rocks. I like hiding in the back of the garden. I feel free for a bit. I breathed in the summer breeze and watched and listened for a while as I did when I was little. I spent a lot of time alone as a child and I liked it. Now I am never alone. I knew it wouldn’t be long before she followed me out despite that fact that I had told the others to mind her and let me be a while, so I breathed in the air and closed my eyes letting the sun warm my face, noticing the contrast to the cold stone on the back of my legs and I waited.
She came, laughing, with a great welcome for herself, enjoying the feeling of the long grass rubbing against her face, tickling her under her chin. She had nothing on her tiny body except for her knickers and vest. She is going through the stripping off phase so the sparse clothing was a relief to see.
“Mammy, I here!” she called as if I had been looking for her.
Bless her, she is a ray of sunshine in our lives. I ran to her, picked her up and spun. She laughed, I laughed as we collapsed in a heap in the grass. Happy again I wandered back in with her, holding her hand, ready to make dinner for the team. I checked the calendar for what was on this evening, noting with some anticipation and yet more fear that a ‘my time’ slot was lightly penciled in. I joined the chaos that is life once more and started to peel potatoes while my little Gracie pulled at my legs to get up on the counter. I lifted her up, kissed her forehead and carried on.
The incessant voices never stop even when my hands are busy, maybe more so than when they are idle. I wondered about my earlier solitary life. Maybe I didn’t enjoy it. Memories have a way of fading out the bad bits. I must have been lonely at times. Is that why I created this madness around me, created this world in which I am never alone. The irony of it all is when they all have left me I will have lots of alone time but then I will be used to the chaos and noise and that is what I will miss. Life is a sick joke. My eldest sister says we are in purgatory. Perhaps she is right. It’s certainly not heaven, but it’s not hell either. Gracie smiled at me, helping me with the dinner as best she could. She is always trying to help, softly honking her encouragement.
I stopped peeling for a bit as my back ached. I stretched and picked up my phone. Two missed calls. I rang him and he answered with a smile in his voice. I smiled.
“No, nothing needed. Dinner nearly ready.”
That little lie didn’t really matter as I knew it would be ready and eaten by everyone else before he made it home. The gander is under constant pressure at work, more so now that I don’t work and it is all on his shoulders. We made the choice. Others didn’t have it, it was thrust upon them. We chose to live with less. Although I don’t think we actually had a choice. I might not be here otherwise. It has been difficult, financially and therefore emotionally. He has tried to put a brave face on, shield me from the worries but I see his agony and feel my guilt. He said he was on his way.
“Love you, bye. Yeah she is here beside me, as always, helping. Bye!”
I heard the click, click of the keyboard as my teenage son played yet another killing game on the computer and I wondered if I should pull him away but it is easier not to. He keeps to himself, in his own world, away from my madness and I let him be. I honked at the younger gosling in the sitting room.
“Turn down that noise. I’m on the phone.”
I returned the call to my father, missed call number two. Every day without fail.
“Yes I am here. No, just making the dinner. See you soon.”
“I’m always here” I hiss to myself after hanging up.
Gracie looked at me from her counter perch and stopped swinging her little legs. I smiled at her. She gave a small uncertain smile and returned to swinging her legs again, more fervently.
“Grandad is on his way to see you” I said as I nuzzled into her golden wisps. My mind wandered again as I soaked up her sweet smell.
Gracie arrived when I was at my lowest. I didn’t want to leave the bed those days. I still find it hard but she is so lovely I just have to move my heavy bones and get up. She lights up my world. She lights up everyone’s world because she lights up mine. While I was low the house was too. I’m not sure which came first. My sadness or theirs, the gosling or the egg. Ha, the golden egg came first in Gracie’s case. I cried when I found out. They were all at the stage when I could do something for myself and boom. I knew it immediately. I tasted the tinfoil taste in my mouth before I had the queasiness. When the queasiness came it just confirmed it. I cried and then I shouted at him as if I had nothing to do with it.
I went through the motions with friends cooing and awing, being so happy for us and others not able to hide their smugness at the idea that we were back behind them again on the ladder of life.
“It’ll be a great distraction. It couldn’t have happened at a better time.” said my eldest sister Jane.
She was delighted, having none of her own and adoring mine because of that.
“A distraction for everyone else, sleepless nights and work for me” I muttered. I had to say it low enough that she wouldn’t hear.
I was frightened. I didn’t know how I would manage without my mother’s help. She was there for all the rest. I missed her so much. We all missed her but I think I missed her more. I think I always missed her more. I felt alone without her. I was finding it difficult to lead the formation.
But I was used to being alone, I liked it that way.
“You were always a loner” my mother said.
A loner in our full house. I was the youngest, a bigger gap between me and the other two. They were a team. I flew solo most of the time.
“Mammy’s little angel, her only consolation” they used to tease me.
They were jealous of the attention I received. I don’t remember much of the attention though just that they spoke of it. I only remember being alone, sitting on the fence, climbing the big tree, reading and writing, drawing, being happy in my own company.
I used to visit her in her room more than they did. I used to crawl into her bed and wrap her arms around me and she snuggled me, smelling my hair, sighing, singing in my ear.
“Hush little baby, don’t say a word.”
I am sure she must have done that for them too when they were little. Maybe not. Maybe that is what they meant. Dad used to come in and pet me on the head, smiling down at me.
“Want some tea love?” He would say.
“Yes dear, thank you dear, I am ok now, Lucy’s hugs are a mighty cure. I will move”
“No hurry, everyone is sorted. Take your time.” He would gently kiss her on the cheek and me on my head. “Good girl. Mammy’s little angel.”
“My only consolation, my goosey Lucy.”
I held her arms tight around me for as long as I could and only left when the tea arrived. Then I would go back to my books, my other worlds, climbing a tree to worlds in the sky or wandering into a wardrobe that opened in a woods. Most of my happy memories are fairy tales.
She went away a lot. I missed her. I missed our cuddles, her singing, her smell. I know I missed her more than the others did. I never was told where she was gone. I never knew until I was older. She was always happier and full of life when she returned. She would dance with me and sing while she cooked. Dad and she laughed more. I do remember once catching him watch her spin with me in the kitchen. He looked so sad. Jane and Kate were never too impressed with all the fun and frolics.
“How long will this last?” I overheard Kate say one day. I didn’t understand until much later.
I understood it now more than any of them ever did.
Kate hasn’t been home in years. She came home for the funeral and left again without hardly a word. She stayed by Dad’s side the whole way through it all and then she left. Jane and I went with her to the airport and watched her flight take off. Kate wasn’t the first wild goose to leave Limerick behind and not look back.
“She broke Mam’s heart” I said tracing a smiley face on the window.
“She has missed out on so much. Do you think she regrets it? Any of it?”
“It’s her own fault. She should have come back. She didn’t see mam the way we did the last few years. A different woman.” Jane replied. She never forgave Kate for leaving us to pick up the pieces behind her. I did. Kate needed to go. I just wished she would come back because I missed her, I missed her normality in the madness.
All those years of watching mam, afraid of what she would do, never knowing if she would still be there when we got in from school, would she be gone away or worse. Kate gave it to her the day she left. She let it all out, her bitterness at a lost childhood, the reality of living with fear of loss, never sure of our manic mother. Kate was on a roll that day, she didn’t take a breath or let anyone interrupt for once. Kate, quiet Kate who just got on with life.
“It is like having a adult-sized toddler for a mother! Living with the girl with the curl in the middle of her forehead. When you’re good you’re very very good but mostly you are HORRID.”
Jane and I gasped but said nothing as she looked ready for a vicious attack.
“We had no mother, except for Jane. Jane has been our mother. Jane is your mother. And you put Dad through hell. All these years tiptoeing around you. A nervous wreck he is because of you. You are a selfish excuse of a person. The whole world revolves around your feelings and feck the rest of us. When you’re high we are expected to be high and when you’re low, well God help us! What sort of a life was that for us do you think, growing up? Sure you don’t care. It’s all about you anyway. Well I am getting out of this hell, and that’s what it is, hell with you. You will never, ever, see me again. You have made my life a misery for far too long.”
True to her word, Kate left and Mam never saw her again. Kate leaving put her right over the edge.
Jane, always Jane, was the one to find her. Empty pill box, peaceful calm face. Jane said she had briefly thought of letting her be. She didn’t though. She got her help. Mam was gone a long time that time and came back less manic, more relaxed, tame. Dad continued to devote himself to mending her soul, this gander mated for life. She never mentioned Kate. I always thought Kate’s outburst was her catalyst for change, though I never said it. Poor Kate. The guilt she feels can be felt through the screen. Skype doesn’t hide it.
I drifted back to Jane as she stared at me doodling on the window. She knew I was dwelling on the days before. None of us had said it but we all had thought how ironic it was that Mam had died so peacefully in her sleep when she never had much peace before. The gaggle of sympathisers didn’t refrain from commenting.
“Ah, she’s at rest now.”
“Finally at peace”
“You can rest easy now Tom knowing you did all you could.”
“ You have been a loyal husband, you did her proud.”
“You’re great girls the way you minded your mammy.”
They only remembered the crazy dangerous times when she could attack you as quick as look at you. She hadn’t been like that in years and even when she was those episodes were not as many as the loving, smiling, mothering days. They were just more dramatic, more memorable to the audience. I prefer to remember the quiet days.
“Mam just wanted more space and got it as we grew” I thought out loud.
“Nothing to do with her happy pills so?” said Jane. “Maybe Kate is making sure she has lots of it.”
“Lot’s of what? Happy pills?”
“It must be lonely all the same.”
“You can be lonely in a crowded room.”
Jane put her arms around my shoulders as I sobbed. I saw the tears flow silently down her face from the corner of my eye as Jane, always Jane, comforted me. We walked to the slowly moving staircase knowing it would be a while before we saw our Kate again.
She didn’t come for the birth of Gracie. She didn’t come for any of the rest, why would she come for hers? I suppose I thought it was so soon after, that she would want to come, but her broken image and faltering voice was all we got from her safe distance. Births don’t bring her home. Just death.
The melancholy returned with my reminiscing. Gracie had gone quiet. She sat there waiting for me to release her and when I did she gently said.
“I get down. I watch Lilo.”
I lifted her down and hugged her and she ran giggling into the sitting room where I honked at Patrick to put on her DVD and hissed at him when he groaned.
“I have to get the dinner. Put it on.”
It is done and I hear a mumble. “Mammy’s little angel.”
I don’t remember what I cooked. I did it automatically, without thinking, staring into space recalling all the times I retreated into books as she now retreats into her movies. Dad wandered in the back door whistling as he walked. He stopped and stared. I looked up at him and saw that look. He didn’t move so I went to him and hugged him tightly. We remained like that a while. His shoulders were sagging lower this evening than I’ve noticed in a while.
“I’m fine. We’re fine. Gracie is inside tormenting Pat again with Lilo. Head on in to her and save him from the third viewing of the day.”
“Ok, you’re sure?”
I pointed at the calendar, my time circled for him to see. He looked and smiled gently. I took a breath, wiped my onion crying eyes as he left the kitchen to soak up the energy of youth from the sitting room. I finished cooking and plated up, leaving one for my faithful gander in the oven, turned down low.
“Set the table, dinner’s ready”
“About time”, Pat, the comedian of the family piped up as he brushed gently past me smiling.
Gracie tells them all how we cooked their dinner and to eat it all up as she hardly touches her own. The little goose, my golden girl, she always makes me smile. I notice we have formed a V shape at the table with Gracie at the top. She took my seat today. I moved into my new spot and gently encouraged her to eat.
The banter of the dinner table made it all seem so normal, and so it was and is and will be. I am normal and so is this. This is life, nothing to be precious about. I am here with you this evening to save my Gracie from our family’s long, worn, repetitive flightpath and so I will. In her own quiet downy way I think Gracie is saving me.
I open my eyes and lift my head from the couch to look over at you. The gentle woman who listens to my meandering tales and doesn’t judge, just what the doctor ordered. You smile at me.
“Lucy, you’re doing great. Perhaps you should mend your Mother Goose. We can all learn a lot from geese. They are wonderful, loyal, caring creatures who sometimes make a lot of noise and that’s ok. Same time next week and call me if you wish.”
I sit up and stretch, less manic, more relaxed, tame and I head off to face the world again, no longer flying alone but lifted and ready to join my formation waiting for me at home.
2 thoughts on “Saving Grace”
Loved it. A very moving story.
Thank you Eileen. Appreciate that very much.