I travel from place to place. I settle for a while. I am settled, for the moment. I think about travelling to new places and also places I have been. A few places have felt like home. I belonged there. I keep memories of these homes like souvenirs, and every now and then I unpack them and look at them and feel the tightening of a slack rope. I remember belonging, and keep that feeling too like a souvenir, in some ways more precious than my actual memories of people and places and things that I did. Belonging. I treasure it. I search for more of it. I travel from place to place. I settle for a while. I am settled, for the moment. I think about... belonging.
Tag: flash fiction
Our house sits a few miles south-east of the mountain, Keshcorran. Viewed from this direction the mountain is a lopsided mass, like an over-ripe pear or a scoop of ice-cream melting in the sun. The famous caves of Keash run along the western face, and naturally when the local community erected a cross on top of the mountain they positioned it to look over the caves, its arms splayed out to catch the Atlantic winds. The mountain features in many Irish myths. Ceis Corran, “the harp of Corran”, where a she-wolf raised Cormac Mc Airt, who became the greatest High King of Ireland. The King’s mountain. Seen from the Ballymote-to-Boyle road, which runs under the row of caves, the mountain certainly has a regal sweep to it, stern-faced and broad-shouldered. But from our porch, where we sit on summer evenings, the mountain is a berry, a polyp, a mighty blister, and a reassuring presence, like the cratered moon hanging in the night sky, or the sound of winds blowing through the eaves of your home.
When I drive past the mountain I always steal a glance up at the caves. They are a remarkable sight, and after more than twenty years I still enjoy looking at them. But at home we have a different view of the mountain. It is just this permanent mass looming in the background. It's so familiar that I hardly notice it anymore, and it feels somehow seperate from the "real" mountain, as if we have our own, slightly smaller and less grand mountain. ( July, 2016)
I enjoy hearing stories of Irish saints and heroes. St. Brigit throwing her cloak over acres of Leinster land. Cú Chulainn smashing a sliotar down the throat of the king’s wolfhound. Their adventures grip me as much as the adventures of Harry Potter and Frodo Baggins. Our school has a set of slim, glossy books, numbered one through twenty four, that tell tales from Irish mythology in big letters and with vivid drawings. I race through my sums to make time for reading. At home, I play in the fields. Squating on the horizon is the mountain, Keshcorran, with its row of yawning caves, where it is said the lovers, Diarmuid and Gráinne, settled after fleeing from Fionn Mac Cumhaill. Wrapped in these legends, I twirl and hack through the grass, smashing a tennis ball at imaginary wolfhounds.
The bus shudders and shivers. I walk down the aisle. I watch my step. I steady myself on the handholds. This always feels like a long walk. The other kids natter and guffaw, a ceaseless noise. The driver eyes me patiently in the rear-view mirror. He is a kind man called Cyril. I am nearing the doors, and around me the shape of the sound changes as open air beckons. The voices recede. I hop off the bus into a bright and dizzying emptiness. The bus pulls away. I am left at the entrance to the lane that leads to my house, blinking in the sunlight. Somewhere an electric fence ticks like a clock.
Coming home from school always felt like waking up from a foggy dream. The long walk down the bus aisle and standing at the entrance to the lane that led to our house felt like a transition from one world to the another.
These streets are familiar, the cobblestone patterns and manicured roundabouts, and the people zipping past on bikes, chatting and quarreling like birds. I walk through the city, self-conscious but happy, vaguely aware of the direction I’m headed. Down through the park with the musical sculpture. Over a footbridge that crosses the tracks. Somewhere in a drawer at home I have photos of me as a boy running around that sculpture and standing on tip-toe to look down at the tracks. I enter a district of small boutique shops with neat window displays tucked under their awnings. These were here last time. These I remember. Landmarks of a place that was never quite home.
When I visit the Dutch city where I was born, I always have a mixed feeling of being both a tourist and a native. I recognise some streets and buildings and places. Walking or cycling by these personal landmarks almost makes me feel like I'm home.
You move less. You hover by the wire fence. The other children maul and romp. You watch the ground, scuff gravel, step a little dance between the pieces of flattened gum. Your mouth shapes words. You shrug and nod. Your fingers never leave the wire mesh, anchored at arm's length. You remind me of myself.
I was working on a mural for a primary school when I noticed one boy standing apart from the other kids. He stayed close to the wire fence that ringed the playground.
Our neighbour lives in a beige two-storey house ringed with sheds at the far side of an L-shaped field. Our garden sits in the crook of the field, a square patch of neatness amid the ungrazed grass and budding ragwort. As winter fades to a memory we spend more time outdoors after school, kicking a ball around or turning lazy somersaults on the trampoline. Sometimes the ball sails past my outstretched hands and lands in the field. ‘Not getting it,’ we both quickly say, and then ‘jynx, double jynx.’ In the end, though, my brother always fetches the ball. It’s a hop up onto the trampoline, a couple of steadying bounces, then a flying leap over the fence. ‘Space jam!’ he shouts mid-air. Mum knocks on the kitchen window. ‘Is your brother in the field again?’ I wave her down. For now the field is an extension of our garden, our games include it; we play rounders, hacking at a tennis ball with a thick branch, waiting for the one-in-a-hundred shot that will launch the ball almost as far as our neighbour’s house. High five. As spring approaches, though, we’ll relinquish the field to its new tenants, cross-eyed ewes with their wobbly lambs, and later in the summer a gang of baudy young bulls. After that, with winter on the rise, the evenings will shut down and the field will be just a dark haze seen through steamy windows. For now, though, the field is open, empty and ours. My brother reaches the ball and punts it back towards me. The game resumes again.