The Pear Tree
I sit in the garden on that tacky green bench that you found at the dump. I have stolen that photo of you, the one that sat proudly upon your coffin: black and white with a sideways smile. I wonder if you were young and silly and putting on a face, but I didn’t know you then, so it’s hard to tell. I can just see the face that will become of this face, the serious face, the face when I smoke too much, or drive off while you are still talking; the face when I am inconsiderate and selfish and don’t give a fuck for anyone else apart from myself and I wasn’t raised to be like that. The sun is out but it is not warm and I look across the garden to where the trampoline used to be, with the little shed, but now there is that huge warehouse looking garage with boxes and boxes full of hoarding inside. I think of venturing in and unearthing some secrets but it will take too long and I’m already tired from just being home, being back where everyone knows my name. I do not know how to smile for real anymore.
I take a short, stubby pencil from my pocket; the lead is all used up and I scratch on the back of the photo, lightly, I carve letters into the photo, and they are not really visible but I will be able to read them. There are too many people in the house and I am not in the mood for talking and smiling and all the rest of it. But I am too visible here, on this bench, if anyone looks out the window or goes outside for a cigarette they will see me and think I’m sad and will come and put an arm around my shoulder and tell me everything will be fine, and I will show them the photo and ask if they can see the writing and they will say no and I will smile and walk away.
I walk over to the garage and pass the pear tree on the way, small and flimsy. You planted it when we first moved in, a pear tree for me, the youngest; an apple tree for Richard, the third of four. His grew; mine didn’t. I pick a leaf off as I pass and it is crispy, old and reminds me for some strange reason of Uncle Tom with his large, rough hands, putting too much salt on everything, and how he framed a jigsaw puzzle I had completed in less than thirty seconds. Of course the jigsaw just framed other things; covered up grease spots and marks on the wall. That was before everything else happened.
The garage door slides up and I push it hard and it makes a loud clatter and I look behind me. I expect one of the dogs to be there. I always forget they are dead and buried in the garden. I am never home long enough to remember that they don’t exist. I feel a heaviness then, thinking of them and how Skippy used to sit with his paws crossed like royalty. He would lick his paws and deviate from them to the couch thinking that it was part of him. There was always a wet patch on the arm of the couch.
The garage is packed full of boxes and suitcases and books, and old tennis bags, and pictures that became too dated to hang on our walls. There is an old vacuum cleaner, a broken table and a stereo with no wires. I wonder why you kept all these things; you never liked throwing things away, a trait I inherited. I find old coins, coins that are no longer our currency and I pocket them to piss you off. I take out the photo and read the words and this makes me feel better. I don’t want to go through the boxes but I don’t want to go back inside either. Aunty Marie is there and I know she will talk to me, her mouth full of fibs and she will eye the men looking for a new husband by the size of the bulges in their pockets. I sit on a box and look around. I can imagine you in here, with your radio playing classic FM and you whistling along out of tune, wearing those ridiculous red all-in-ones. Pottering away. Zipping up suitcases and stacking them away, thinking of the clothes you used to wear, the life you used to live.
There is a giant happy 50th card in the corner. I open it up and there are scribbles of all types and sizes. I find mine, what age was I, seven? My writing still hasn’t changed that much, scrawls, some joint writing and some that stands alone. Happy birthday to the best dad ever. So original, even at seven. I find Richard’s and William’s but I can’t find Sarah’s, she must have been away but I can remember her being there, maybe that was something else. I can remember being in the dining room with her.
‘Go and say sorry Jas, it’s not worth it.’
‘No! I hate him, I hate everything about him, I wish he was dead!’
‘You don’t Jas, don’t say that.’
I ran from the room and there were people everywhere and I was looking up and barging through the legs of people. I ran out to the garden and Skippy and Sammy were out there lying on the grass and I sat next to them. There were knots in my throat and I felt sick with my own words. I scratched the inside of Sammy’s ear and his head tilted and he made a low grumbling sound. Skippy edged over and I rubbed the top of his back and his left leg scratched his side involuntarily.
I close the garage door and it clatters. I take out the photo and rub my fingers over the words and I think of piercing a hole in it and putting twine through and hanging it in my room somewhere. Moving it along the room to different corners as if you are walking and I will laugh at the words that only I can see. Your serious face will look at a closed door or empty bunk beds and the words will know me better than you. And I will come in to my room sometimes and forget you are facing me and I will scream, ‘I’ll clean my fucking room whenever I want’ and I will storm past you and lie flat on the bed and you will stare at the closed door.
I walk around the side of the house so nobody will see me and I light a Lucky Strike that I nabbed from your oldest friend’s suit jacket. I stopped smoking Marlborough Lights, not because of you, but because supposedly they kill the sperm count more than any other cigarette. I smoke heavy with one hand and hold the photo at arm’s length with the other, and you face me and I laugh, blowing smoke into your face. I smoke it quickly and I think of what I should do next and how to avoid everyone.
‘This is all your fault’ I say, and I throw the cigarette to the gravel and stand on it and rub my foot hard into the stones. I go through the front door and I don’t meet anybody but can hear them all in the sitting room, I can hear crying and go upstairs quickly. I lie on your bed and turn on the TV and American Idol is on and I leave it on to annoy you.
How on earth do you watch this rubbish? So American!
I turn the volume up and leave you lying on the pillow next to me and I sing along and say how amazing Simon Cowell is and from the corner of my eye your face is so serious that I can’t help laughing.
Don’t you laugh at me! Not under my roof.
‘It’s my house now,’ I say, and I laugh again and turn you over, your face smushed into the pillow. The words cannot be read but I know what they say and you know what they say.
I open your bedside table and see medication and books and your old radio. There is a watch, too, I pick it up and put it on my right wrist and it is too big. It hangs off me like the weight of remembering. I add it to the coins and it clinks as it lands in my pocket. I smile.
The door opens and I grab the photo quickly and it is that woman who owns the flower shop in the village.
‘Sorry, someone’s in the toilet downstairs, your mother told me to use the bathroom in here. She’s looking for you by the way.’
‘Can you read this?’ I ask.
‘Not really, well, sort of.’
I look at the words and this is what I see: A m n on e t ld t e tr h an w s for v r fr e. Stolen letters that I toss around my memory. Just like Uncle Tom used to juggle tennis balls. Each hand could hold 3.
She moves past me to the bathroom and I rub my hand over the words and cannot feel a thing. I run to my bedroom and I open drawers and try to find scissors but I can’t. I take matches out and flick one quickly and it lights up and I push it through the photo and burn a hole and blow it hard. It is bigger than it should be, and it has burnt into your head but the words are unhurt. I have no twine. I search my tennis bag and find repair string. I unravel it. I put the string through the hole of your disfigured face and tie it to the post of the bunk beds, and to the top of the wardrobe and to the handle of the skylight. You are moving all over my room and I am telling you to get out.
‘Just get out will you! I’ll be down when I’m ready, just get the fuck out!’
I can hear you sigh and I want to scream more but I’m too tired and I lie on my bed and I look at my bookcase. I can see all the books you gave me over the years, the ones I read and the ones I didn’t.
You should read The Republic, you might learn something.
I don’t answer; I hope the silence will get rid of you. I lift Plato from the shelf and open the cover.
Some words to help you with your own,
Love always, Dad.
I put the book down with the words you knew I wouldn’t understand. I look towards the door and you are gone and I cannot see the words but I know they are hanging there, between the wardrobe and the bunk beds. I take out my notepad to write. I think for too long:
I will never read that book and the words will never be forgiven.
I think that makes sense. I think you would understand it, and then I think of your answer and this takes much longer than I thought it would. I cannot find your words but I know they are there, like a dream I know I remembered when I first woke up but now I have no idea of what it could have been. I imagine your face and the way your lips used to sneer before you said something nasty or something that you knew would hurt and then my hand is writing again, your voice has been found and you write your response through me:
They were not my words but your own,
Love always, Man.
That will do for now, so I take out Heaney and read and re-read. About taking his father to confession, and about the wells and the war. Then I rip up the paper with our writing and throw it in the air and letters fall over my bed: hand, give, ill. I take your photo down and spit on your face. I am holding it when I walk downstairs and through the sitting room and Aunty Marie is sitting on a high stool with her legs crossed. As I walk past the kitchen counter I swipe your favourite mug. Make sure you use my mug, you’d say as the kettle boiled against the window.
I walk back outside and sit on the grass between the pear tree and the apple tree and I think I am sitting on Skippy, or Sammy, or both. Elmo, Alfo and Twiggy are also buried in the garden but I can’t remember where. I am looking at your face, it is wet and your face is smudged and burned and it makes you look like you are sneering. I wipe the spit off with my sleeve and there you are again, young and maybe being silly with mum, or maybe it was even before her, maybe with another girlfriend with all this future still unknown. I look at the words and wonder how they got to be there, the meaning of them, solid and scratched like working hands that appear out of nowhere, taking what is not theirs to take, stealing things that do not fit them. Robbing what can never be given back.
The grass is dry and I walk towards the garage and take the shovel that leans against the wall. I move back towards the pear tree and dig underneath it, lifting weeds and shrubs. I am frantic and starting to sweat and I think I look like you when you come in for a cup of tea after gardening, except I’m wearing a brand new black suit instead of a red all-in-one. I pull at the pear tree and I feel like I am unearthing something. There are words in the earth. I am discovering your voice.
I didn’t know. You never told me.
I dig and pull and your voice is getting younger. The photo is heavy in my pocket and the coins weigh me down and you talk over the words.
I was a boy trying to be a man. I couldn’t do anything.
Your voice matches the picture and I pull the pear tree from the earth and there is a hole left with maggots and worms and they try to call downwards. I wonder if you cried like me, thought like me, stole like me, if you felt this balloon inside of you filling and falling at will, if you forgave. I look up and clutch at the sky like Heaney. Then I slowly take the photo from my pocket and lay it down. I take your mug and push it into the earth, and I scatter the coins like ashes, and I put the watch face down in the gravel. I can hear your words mingled with my own and I cannot figure out which ones are which, and I cannot figure out if it matters anymore.
Patrick Holloway’s fiction and poetry have been published by a wide host of literary journals and anthologies, including Poetry Ireland Review, The Incubator, Overland Literary Journal, and Write Bloody Publishing. He was the runner-up for the Irish Times Travel Writing Award and for the Penguin/ RTE Short Story Prize. His poem, ”A Little Like Life” was the winner of the Caring for Carers Poetry Competition. He was shortlisted for the Cork Literary Review Manuscript two years running. He has also been shortlisted for the Bridport Prize, the Manchester Fiction Prize and the Bath Flash Fiction Prize. His bilingual book of poetry When Now Era Antes will be published in October 2016.