Short Story - Leaving

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Human interest; Rural; Tragic

Submitted: April 06, 2012

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Submitted: April 06, 2012

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Leaving

by

Declan J Connaughton

 

 

 

The clock, relentlessly ticking over the kitchen door, was Thomas’s only companion, as he sat at the table, shaded in the spiritless hue of yielding darkness which still clung to the earth at this time of morning, not wanting to surrender its supremacy.

His hard old hand enfolded the cup, letting its warmth seep its way through into palm and fingers, bringing temporary comfort to the knuckles, which were under constant attack from arthritis – the old enemy.  His ears strained for sound of movement.  It was now quarter past five and made him wish he could hold back the time; just place a finger against the hands of the clock. Just cancel this day out altogether.

The years spent on this farm, the routine act of Mother Nature, rising herself from slumber again into a new day had always brought him joy in its unending declaration of newness; it would be a long day before the night closed the world down again. 

There had been the days after Annie had passed away, when this daily rebirth had been set aside, almost out of respect, and in deference to his deepest mourning, and had taken almost two years for its perennial shoots to grow again.  His faith had comforted him, once the blackness had drifted away, and he spoke to her daily and visited her where she rested eternally.

And now Sean was going.

There was a thud, then another footfall, the floorboards creaking in protest under the weight of his son moving about.  His old eyes darted towards the clock again – ten to six, now; time working faster, to deliberately spite him.

Weak sunlight grew impatiently across the floor, ushering the shadows to be gone.  Thomas rose from the chair, pulling his thread worn cardigan around his shoulders.  The old man could hear the shower going as he snapped the kettle, letting it boil up again.  It had occurred to him to do a breakfast, but hadn’t wanted the act to stir the many happy memories they had spent around this table – besides, there wouldn’t be time.

The emotion rose from the pit of his stomach like bile, winding its way through him and threatening to crush the very breath out of him, tightening his throat in its unmerciful grip.  He held it in check, for now, but it festered away; a raw wound ready to ignite in pain.  Shuffling out into the hall, the movement of his body seemed to ease the turmoil he felt, keep it in its place for the moment, and hold it down through the very act of walking.

The full brightness of day was now in command, and cascaded through the semicircle of glass which adorned the front door of the house.  His white hair dazzled as the light touched it.  The birds were up and singing, but their symphonies brought no pleasure as he turned his gaze from the front doorway and up the staircase.

Thomas could hear voices; laughing, animated, the ghosts of the past, years ago, like the sacred decades Annie counted off with her Rosary beads, as they lay together while Sean was a child in his infant’s bed.  Those decades had been counted off through life and living, never to come again.  As he turned his head away from the stairs he could see his face in the mirror on the wall, and it wasn’t the one he remembered.  The deep creases were etched so markedly that he thought they might bleed.

The bathroom door opened and Sean ran towards his bedroom.

 “You’ve plenty of time”.  There was no conviction in his words, the minutes passing away, already making a liar out of him.

“Not that long”, Sean’s voice came back.

His father didn’t reply, turning back into the kitchen, towards the sink, peering through the window over it, which surveyed the driveway to the farm.  He was lost in thought for some time and Sean was suddenly standing behind him, in grave silence.

“You all right, Dad”?

“Sean.  God you gave me a start”.

Thomas tried to smile, but it held all the truth of a fraud; a conviction that wasn’t there anymore.

“Want some tea”? Sean said, making for the kettle.

“Let me do it, Sean”.

Both Father and son clasped its handle at the same moment.

“You should have let me drive you”, was all Thomas could manage, pulling Sean’s hand away and the kettle with it, before filling two cups.  Their eyes locked and the old man knew something needed to be said – to mark the moment.

“No point bringing you all the way to the station”, Sean said, moving to the table.

“No bother to me”, Thomas replied, defensively, adding milk and bringing their cups to the table.

“Sorry we hadn’t time to have some breakfast, Sean”.

Sean sipped at his cup.

 “Don’t think I could have managed one of your spreads today”.  It was his son’s turn to attempt a smile, which fell apart like a broken mirror.

There was silence between them for a time.

Thomas stirred the sugar in his tea, again his eyes watching the clock like a swinging death pendulum.

“You know I wouldn’t be going if I didn’t have to”.

“No need to explain.  It’s not as if there’s anything much to do around here anymore”, Thomas replied.

“Just ‘till things pick up”, Sean said for the hundredth time, but both of them knew it was just a cliché, a remark to make them feel better, and failing in it’s objective.

“Your Mother and I were very lucky with this place.  In good times or ill, we always managed to keep on the straight and narrow.  We lived through times when there was very little money around, always made a go of it.  Selling off the stock last month was a big blow”.

Sean could think of nothing to say.

“I want you to remember two things”, his father went on. 

“The first is that this is a great country, when all is said and done.  Her people have always been great, surviving far more disasters then this: pestilence, persecution and war, and your mother always loved this land.  In a devout way, like her religion.  Would never hear a word said against Ireland”.

“The second thing is, what greed and corruption gets you; grief and misery, but not only for yourself, but for others as well.  I suppose that’s what selfishness is.  Never be greedy, Sean, as it will be your undoing.  And, if you have to be corrupt at something to make it pay or be successful at it, well, then, it’s not worth doing; will just leave you empty and alone, in the end”.

The irony of his remark wasn’t lost on him as his inner voice reminded Thomas he hadn’t a corrupt bone in his body and never coveted wealth.  Happy enough to get along, and was now faced with ending up alone, for all that.

Sean’s eyes welled up with tears as the sound of the taxi crunched its way up the gravel drive.

“I’ll get my case”.

As Thomas listened to his son climb the staircase one last time, his own eyes glistened, before flooding with tears.  He let them have their own way this time, and watched them hit the table like specks of rain.  An image of Sean as a toddler came clearly into his mind, attempting those wooden old steps, much to his pride and under his mother’s watchful gaze.

He sniffed, standing up, grabbing a damp cloth from the sink and rubbing his face before coughing, trying to get himself under control to say goodbye to Sean.

They met at the foot of the staircase, Sean with case in hand.

  “Well.  You take care of yourself, Sean”.

  “Have no fear on that score, Dad”.

The bell rang and Thomas didn’t want to open it.  This side of the door was still private, and if he embraced his boy, no one would witness it.  There would be no embarrassment, just a genuine display of sorrow, but he felt he might never let go.  Thomas undid the latch and the taxi driver was standing there greeting them, and then taking the case.

“I’ll be back before you know it”.

“Course you will”.

Thomas stuck out his hand, both of them shook, and Sean was in the back of the taxi, going back the way it had come.

He was alone, now, and didn’t even try to hold back the oppression which struck into his core like a remorseless fist.  Thomas swayed against the doorway, leaning on it for

support, closing his eyes tightly.  It felt like forever before the turmoil began to lift, and only to let his body carry out its function of going indoors again. 

He cleared the cups away, turning on the radio, listening briefly before switching if off.  His hand touched the letter which he had pushed brutally, without remark or reading, into his pocket several days before. 

After putting the things away back into the cupboard, glancing briefly at the pieces of crockery which Annie had bought with care over their years together; Thomas pulled on his boots which rested by the range.  Putting on his coat and cap he strode out the front door, veering to the side of the house, passing two sheds which had once been home to his cows- now noticeably silent- and wandered into the upper field.

A small steam ran though it, and Thomas had always loved the sound of its music gurgling, this early in the morning. He lit up a cigarette, letting the fragrance swirl up into the air and vanish into nothingness.  He then withdrew the crumpled envelope, noting the official return address in the corner.  Ripping it open with one quick flick of his thumb, his eyes ran over its threatening script.  He hadn’t told Sean about it; the boy had enough to worry about and this was something Thomas had to bare alone.  He could see no sense in telling his son that not only were the cattle gone, but the farm itself.  Not as yet, but next month or maybe six months from now.

  He was just a non paying Tenant these days.  It didn’t belong to him anymore, and that wasn’t a good enough reason to keep his son here.

Thomas would now have to make plans, but, standing here; it was difficult to think of any; a matter of taking each day as it came, until he woke up in some bed-sit or hostel or other, with all he had owned and all he had been just a forgotten footnote in history.

The old man shook his head, taking a long drag from the cigarette, before grinding it underfoot.  He wondered who actually composed letters such as this, what went through their minds when they told people that the bank was about to take their homes off them. 

  It was all about money; they didn’t care about the land, or love it or nurture it; see it grow with the seasons or behold its beauty when it was baked by the sun or watered by the rain.  Or indeed wonder at its magical composition when snow lay freshly across it.

He was learning that people of good will, weren’t really that at all, and hands held out in friendship could turn to that of the traitor, when money was involved.

Thomas smiled bitterly, thinking it had taken him a life time to realise that, and too late in the day.

  “They don’t even know a thistle from a bramble bush”, he muttered.

He stood alone in his field, and hung his head…..and wept.

 

End


© Copyright 2020 Declan J Connaughton. All rights reserved.

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