Thursday, 29 October 2015

Being of Sound Mind


Christine wondered if there was some kind of physic link between parent and child when she turned her ringing phone over and saw the word, ‘Mom.’ She'd just been thinking about her when the phone went off. It was creepy

"Hi, Mom, is everything alright?" 

"That's lovely, can't a mother ring her favourite daughter without something being wrong?" huffed Barbara, who sounded like she was in the next room not half way across the country.

"Of course you can but it's so early there - and since when have I been the favourite?" she asked, relaxing a bit. 

"I was awake so I thought I'd catch you before you left for work." 

Christine looked down at the jacket and handbag in the crook of her arm and wondered again about that physic connection. "Good timing, I was on the way out the door. Are you sure everything is alright? You sound a bit...sad, “she said, leaning against the inside of her own front door. Down the line she heard her Mom take a deep breath.

"I'm fine, well, alright. I guess I miss your Dad. This place is so empty without him." Christine heard a slight snuffle and imagined her Mom brushing away a half shed tear and shaking herself before melancholy got a hold of her. "Would you listen to me," she laughed but Christine heard the sorrow in her chuckle. 

"I’ll come to visit soon, Mom, I promise," she said, feeling guilty at the thought of her Mother being all alone but she checked her watch and knew she was going be late for work. She would be stuck in bumper to bumper traffic as it was. That was when she missed the wide open spaces of Montana the most. 

"I am glad you said that, because I’ve booked a plane ticket for you, on the 25th," said Barbara, her voice alive with devilment.

"Mom! I can't drop everything and go running off on a whim," she said, imagining the huge mound of paper sitting on her desk.

"Of course you can, Darling, you work far too hard anyway. Look, tell them I'm sick or dead or something."

"MOM!"

"You're so dry, just tell them you need a break," 

"I’ll see what I can do. I got to go. I'll call you tonight," she said yanking open the door and rattling her handbag to find her car keys.

"Okay, Darling. But I need you to come on the 25th, its important."

"What's going on Mom?" she asked, the tiny hairs on the back of her neck prickled. She was keeping something secret, Christine knew it.

"All in good time. Enjoy work, Honey."

"But Mom..." the phone went dead in Christine's hand. She looked at it and considered calling back but then she saw the time.

"Shit!" she said and ran toward the car, her keys jangling as she went, and her blood-pressure spiking. Perhaps a break would do her good.

***

Early on the morning of the 25th, Christine looked down on Montana as the plane made its final approach. The land was a patchwork of forest and neatly trimmed farmland, scattered at the feet of mighty mountain peaks. It real was big sky country.

Getting through the airport and baggage reclaim went smoothly. She was headed toward an Avis desk when she spotted her brother Jonathan.

"What are you doing here?" she said, embracing her little brother warmly.

"I was summoned, just like you. Mom sent me to pick you up. Everyone else has arrived already," he said, flashing her a dazzling smile that helped make him a TV star.

"Everyone?" she asked with a worried frown.

"Everyone, the whole family."

"Tina?"

"Yes, even Tina. Did Mom not tell you?" he asked, taking her suitcase as they walked toward the exit.

"No, not a word. What's going on, Jonathan? This is very weird," she said and those hairs on her neck were tingling again.

"She wont tell us anything until you get there. Some spiritual thing I bet. I think she’s been watching too much Oprah," said Jonathan. Christine clung to his arm and searched his face for changes. He was so hansom, possibly too hansom, but the laughter lines around his eyes softened his features. She picked out speckles of grey in the hair above his ears and thought it suited him. It so unfair how years on a man could make him more attractive. 

"And, how’s Tony?" she asked. 

"I'm afraid, I’d be the last to know," he said, the note of hurt in his voice was unmistakable.

"You guys broke up?" she gasped, holding a hand to her mouth so she wouldn't put her second foot in it.

"Well, if you call being caught with his pants around his ankles, breaking up, yea."

"That's terrible, I can't believe he would do such a thing."

"Well, he did."

"Then he never deserved you in the first place," she said planting a kiss on his cheek and hugging him tightly. 

"Thanks Sis, you say all the right things," he said, kissing the top of her head. "Enough about me, what's cooking with you? Has Mister Right appeared yet?" 

"Nothing steady," she said, but the look he gave her said he wasn't buying much of what she was selling. Jonathan always said she was married to her work and she would live to regret it.


During the ride out to the ranch, they caught up on five years of gossip. Christine hadn’t realised so much time had passed since they'd last seen each other. Where had the years gone? Soon, the buildings  vanished and spectacular views exploded in front of their windscreen. 

"I nearly forgot how breath-taking it is here," he said, gazing out the window.

"New York is fairly spectacular, in its own way," said Jonathan.

"I know, but not like this," she said and rested her chin on her palm. She remembered feeling such wonder when she first moved to the big apple; the lights, the height, the crowds. But, time had robbed her eyes of wonder. She thought of her Dad, and the way he would look at the mountains and the lakes. He was one of God's special creations, an eternal fountain of wonder, whose eyes saw the world anew every day the sun rose in the sky. She missed him so very much, it was like a hole in her soul.

After an hour the road became hauntingly familiar; the same fences, the sames signs, the same gates. Jonathan turned down a rutted track and the car rattled as it went. She felt butterflies in her tummy because they were nearly there. They crested a hump in the road, and there it was, the place that had welcomed her into the world over forty years ago. Over time the house had grown with them and now it was an impressive ten bedroom dwelling. Jonathan pulled around the back and parked near the stables. Before the engine had even stopped Barbara came rushing across the yard to greet them.

"Chrissie, your home!" she cried, yanking open the passenger door and hauling her out of the car for a hug.

"Mom," she said as she was engulfed by Barbara's blond hair and was surprised to feel emotion catch in her throat.

"It's so good to have you all together at last," said her Mother into her ear.

"It's good to be home, Mom." she said, untangling herself from the hairdo. 

"Come on, everyone is waiting," said Barbara taking her by the arm and leading her inside. In the dining room the table was groaning under a tonne of food. Every seat was full and the room hummed with happy clamour. Her sisters Susan and Tina sat side by side, their families spread higgidlypiggidly around the table. Danny, her youngest brother was messing with the older kids while John, her oldest brother, sat stonily in Dad's chair. It didn't suit him. Johnathan got her a seat and they joined the feast, letting the tidal wave of joy wash over her.

Lunch lasted well over an hour and soon the kids were hunted outside to play. When they were gone Barbara said, "I guess you want to know whats going on." The room went silent as she gathered herself and smiled. "There'll come a time when I won't be here." Around the table everyone started objecting to the notion but Barbara shushed them with a raised hand.

"Like it or not, it’s going to happen. I’d feel better knowing what's going to happen to this place, and all of you." They were stunned into silence, nobody knew what to say.

Barbara laughed and said, "If I’d known it was this easy to shut you up, I’d have started years ago. I know this isn’t easy for anyone, least of all me but it's important." 

Brothers, sisters, wives and husbands shared uncomfortable looks, none willing to speak first. Barbara had to stir the pot one more time, "Should we sell it or keep it?" That got the ball rolling good and proper. Everyone objected to the idea of selling off their family home. Barbara smiled at the deafening howl of unity.

"That's decided then, we're keeping the place," she said, clapping her hands in delight. "The big question is who is going to run it?" Silence fell once more and guilty faces searched their coffee cups. "What about you, Danny? Would you like to run it?" asked Barbara, looking at her youngest and wildest child. He was the only one not settled down. He was a bit of a hobo, always moving on, normally seconds before an angry husband caught up with him.

"I guess, I could, when the time comes that is," said Danny, not exactly jumping up and down at the prospect of being saddled with a ranch, even one worth a small fortune. 

"And what do the rest of you think about Danny taking over?" asked Barbara. It was Tina who jumped into the breach.

"What do we think of Danny running the ranch, or what do we think of the ranch being left to Danny entirely." she asked. There was a general intake of breath around the table. "What?" she asked wide eyed. "You know you were all thinking it," she said, accusingly. 

"Tina's right. It has to be discussed," said Barbara.

Tina continued, emboldened by Barbara's support. "I’ve no objection to Danny running this place, and getting a wage, but I don't see why it should be left entirely to him." Christina knew her sisters tenacity well and she was never afraid to attack a problem head-on, no matter who's feelings she might hurt in the process.

"Hold up there, Tina. You can't expect me to drop my whole life just like that!" said Danny, seeming to forget this was all imaginary.

"Not for nothing, you’d get your share, and a reasonable wage," said Tina, seeing only logic in her words.

"Hang on," said Christine not liking the way her sister was railroading her brother. "It's hardly fair to ask Danny to spend his life working on something that can never be his. Dad would never have asked him to do that. If Danny makes the ranch work, it should be his ranch."

"Exactly," said Danny, feeling vindicated.

"So everyone else gives up their birthright just because Danny needs something to hold him in one place? And what if he doesn't make a go of it?" said Tina, turning on Christine. The sisters glared across the table at one another but it was Danny that spoke.

"I never said I wanted the ranch in the first place, don't make this about me," he sulked.

John decided it was time for him to have a say. "Danny's right, would anybody else like to run the ranch?" But it was Danny who spoke again.

"I never said I wasn't interest, honest Mom." He looked at Barbara as if he had let her down.

"What about you Susan?" asked John ignoring Danny's efforts to keep everyone happy.

Susan looked at Dave before saying, "It would be a great place to bring up the boys. But what about their school, or their friends, or Dave's job. No, it would be too much, well not right now, but this is all what if, right?"

"So if I am seeing this right - you all want a share of the ranch but not the responsibility of working it? You cant have it both ways guys,” said John, acting as mediator.  “I happen to agree with Tina - and Christine. Whoever takes this place on deserves to have their name over the door. But like Tina said, we all have a right to it," said John.

"Oh, come on, John," said Jonathan. "This is nonsense. Mom, I really don't like talking about this."

"This is hard for me too, Jonathan, but I think Mom is right. Do you think it would be right to leave it all up to her to sort out?" John couldn't bring himself to say, 'When Mom's dead.' 

Christine didn't like this conversation, not one bit and felt tears start to gather.

"And what about the kids?" asked Susan.

"What kids?" asked Jonathan.

"The grand kids. Should they not be considered? After all, it’s their inheritance to," said Susan, making big cow eyes across the table. Christine saw Dave lay a reassuring hand on his wife's arm, telling her she'd said the right thing. Now that got Christine's blood boiling.

"Are you saying, you should get a bigger slice because you have kids and I don't?" she demanded, not believing how sly her sweet little sister was being.

"It’s not like that, but I don't think they should be forgotten. Tina's or John’s either," said Susan, looking wounded at being thought of as greedy. Christine didn't miss the look that passed between Tina and Susan, it seemed alliances were being forged. Christine looked at Barbara and saw hurt in her eyes.

"I'm with Jonathan,” said Christine. “I don't think we should be talking like this. It’s upsetting Mom, even if she isn't saying so," she said pushing back from the table and standing. She gathered the dirty dishes from the table and stomped away toward the kitchen. A moment later Barbara appeared at her shoulder.

"That was harder than I’d imagined," her Mom said, taking the dishes from Christine's shaking hands.

"There’s no need to ask anyone what to do, Mom. Just do what you want with the place, we’ll all be happy with whatever you decide," she said, taking Barbara in her arms.

***
The next few days passed in forced normality. It was as if the discussion had planted a toxic seed in each of their minds. One evening, Christine found Jonathan sitting on a fence admiring the setting sun.

"Penny for your thoughts," she said and sat up beside him.

"I'm not sure they are worth a penny," he said, sadly.

"Is it about the ranch, and what Mom said?" she asked.

"Yea. I don't really care about the ranch or the money. It's that I can't imagine this place without her being here," he said.

"Or Dad," she added. Jonathan didn't say anything, his head dipped. She knew what he was saying, home is in the heart, not in bricks and mortar.

"Would you let Danny have the whole place if he wanted to run it?" she asked.

"Honestly no, and not because I want it myself. I’d worry that he’d lose the whole lot running after some get rich quick scheme. You know what his record is like," he said.  

"It could be what he needs, to settle him down," she said.

"I don't think Tina would be so generous. If I’m to be honest I don't fancy just handing over that much money myself but I would rather do that than fall out with anyone," said Jonathan.

"I was amazed at Susan, did you see that passive aggressive move she made, with the kids, trying to carve out a bigger slice for herself," said Christine, who was still annoyed with her sister.

"Dave had a lot to do with that. I heard them talking late last night and I get the impression that things might not be as rosy in their garden as they are letting on. All I could hear was, money, money, money," he said sadly.

"I just don't think it’s doing Mom any good, watching her kids pick over the bones of her life like vultures," she said which is exactly what she felt like.

"Your right, that's a pleasure reserved for the undertaker, or the lawyers," chuckled Jonathan. His humour could be so dark sometimes.

"You're terrible," she said, play-punching him in the arm.

"I can't wait for Monday. I know its horrible, but I can’t stand looking at them anymore," said Jonathan, turning serous again. "All I see now is greed, not my brothers and sisters. I wish Mom had never brought it up."

"It's Pandora's box, once opened, it can never be closed again," she said, wishing for Monday herself. 

***

It wasn’t long before the trip to the ranch was buried under a mountain of everyday concerns. It was a complete suprise when Barbara rang and said she was in in New York. They arranged to meet in a lovely restaurant in the Village. When her Mom got out of the taxi she was positively glowing. The meal was magic, the wine was better and they laughed so much people would have thought they were sisters not mother and daughter. Towards the end of the meal, Christine felt she had to apologise for the way they had all acted during the visit to the ranch.

"Don't pay it any-mind sweetie, I sure didn't. If anything, it helped me get up off my tushie and grab life by the throat," she said with a grin. "Speaking of which, what about another bottle?" she asked, wiggling her near empty wine glass.

"I don't know, Mom. I've got work tomorrow," she said, checking the time on her phone.

"If you can't play hooky with your Mom, what's the world coming to?"

"Oh, go on. Just one more glass for me, then I have to be going," said Christine, raising her hand to the waiter who was loitering close by. The problem with opening a bottle is you just got to finish it. 

By the time they were hailing a cab, Christine's head was swimming and she knew she’d pay dearly in the morning. "Where to?" asked the cabbie over his shoulder.

"Manhattan Cruse Terminal, please," said Barbara.

"Why are we going there?"  she asked.

"That's where my ship is parked, darling."

"Ship? What Ship?"

"Didn’t I say? I’ve been cruising! Some of the things I've seen. I saw some polar bears near the Arctic Circle. They’re huge! Cuddly looking, but huge."

"You never said you were taking a holiday," she said, shocked that her mother had taken such a huge step without telling her.

"Trip of a lifetime honey. You can come if you like, plenty of room in my cabin," she said, slightly slurring her words.

"Ha! The boss would love that!"

"Don't tell him, just come. Life's too short to worry about the boss the whole time," she said, as the first of the city size ships came into view. When Barbara got out of the cab she did a little speed wobble in her high heels.

"Blasted things," she said, kicking them off and picking them up by the straps. "Night Baby," she said as they hugged.

"Night, Mom," she said, the wine was making her teary.

"And promise me you’ll see the world one day, before it’s all messed up," Barbara said with a wink.

"I will, Mom. I promise." Christine watched her pad away on bare feet, like a teenager coming home from  prom; her heals thrown over her shoulder and not a care in the world.

***

If Christine had known that was the last time she’d have ever seen her mother, she would have got on the boat without a second thought. But she didn't. Four weeks later, anchored off the coast of Brazil, a housekeeper found Barbara in bed. She'd passed away peacefully during the night. It came as an shock to the whole family but particularly Christine. She was the last one to see her alive.

It took a few weeks for the authorities to release her body, and John flew to Rio de Janeiro to bring her home. They were all at the ranch when the long black hearse pulled into the yard. In the back, an aluminium coffin lay still and silent. It was impossible for Christine to picture her mother inside such a thing. It was horrific. Friends and neighbours gathered in their hundreds and the house was filled to bursting. That night, they sat around and celebrated their mothers life with stories and more than a few glasses of wine.

The following day Barbara made her final journey to the local chapel. Mass was said and before night fell she was lying the arms of a man that would love her for eternity.   


The days after the funeral passed in a blur of well-wishers and tears. John and Tina were discussing returning home when a tall stranger appeared at the kitchen door and knocked. Christine was the one to answer it.

"My deepest apologies for intruding on your time of grief. My name is Simon Philips, your mothers attorney. I wonder if I may have a few moments," he said.

"Of course, come in," she said.

The tall young man nodded to everyone in the room, and said, "I'm very sorry to come unannounced but your mother was very specific how her will was to be delivered."

"We have her will, it was in the sideboard over there," said John. 

"She recently made a new one and I must say its one of the most unusual wills I've ever been party to," said Mr Philips.

"Can you all be here tomorrow for a reading?" the man asked.

"Yes, we can," said John but he was looking at the man with scepticism. Look, sorry if this sounds rude but we've never even seen you before. You could be anyone. How can we be sure that is my mothers will?" 

The man handed over his business card and his drivers licence for inspection and when John handed them back the man smiled. "You are quiet right to be cautious but believe me the authenticity of this document is beyond doubt. Shall we say mid-day?"

"I'm sure that will be fine," said John looking around at the rest of the family but nobody objected.

"I’ll come a little early to make preparations. Is there a room I can use?" asked the man.

"The parlour would be best," said Tina.

"Would you be so good as to show it to me?" asked the man. Tina led the attorney into the parlour, where the rest of the family could hear him say, "Splendid, this will be perfect."

***

The next day Mr Philips turned up with two helpers. He asked the gathered family to wait in the kitchen, while he ensured everything was in working order for a seamless presentation of the will. It all seemed like a lot of hot air, surely all the man had to do was read out a few paragraphs, possibly get a few signatures. 

On the dot of twelve, Mr Philips appeared at the kitchen door and called everyone inside. The furniture had been arranged in a semi-circle, allowing enough seating for everyone. At the centre of this, was a very large TV on a stand, which Mr Philips helpers must have erected. Once everyone was seated, Mr Philips smiled and gestured toward the screen, where Barbara appeared. She was smiling and very nearly life-size. It made them all jump. Christine burst into tears and Mr Philips paused the recording while Susan came to comfort her. When the shock had worn off, Christine said, "Sorry, I'm ready now, sorry."

Mr Philips activated the recording.

"Hello, my darlings," said Barbara, smiling down on them all. "If you're watching this I guess I have finally gone to be with your Dad. I can’t tell you how much I have missed him. I know for sure he has been waiting for me to start our next great adventure. Our whole life as been an adventure and one made richer by sharing it with you," she said and gave a dazzling smile. 

"Please don't be sad for me, even though I know you have been, it will pass. It’s the way of the world. I’m sure John has been keeping everything working like clockwork. You were always my rock, John. Always taking so much on your shoulders, so others wouldn't have to. 

Tina, my little fire cracker. I know you all think she's so tough but let me tell you I've listened to her cry when she thought nobody could hear and that wasn't so long ago. You can be so demanding of people, and yourself. Guys you got to cut her some slack and remember she loves you just as much as she drives you crazy," said Barbara, choosing that moment to move her head and pick out the exact seat Tina had selected. It made them all chuckle, all except Tina who had burst into tears and Jonathan put his arm around her. 

"Jonathan. What about you, my lovely boy. My shining star. You love with all your heart and that is such a brave thing to do in such a hard world. Don't let the bumps in the road put you off, there is something amazing waiting for you, I know it.

Susan, you are just like me in so many ways we are like the same person. Every time I looked into your eyes, I saw my own joys and fears looking right back at me. For me, the greatest gift life ever gave me was children and I know you feel the same. They are so lucky to have you, sweetheart."

On screen, Barbara adjusted herself in the chair and took a breath before continuing. Christine got a shock when she looked directly into her eyes and said her name. "Chrissie; so driven, so kind, so amazing, you are the only one who can’t see how special you are. I wish and pray that one day you get everything you long for, I’ve a feeling it might be closer than you imagine." Christine felt as if she had just been electrocuted. Not only by the spookyness of what had just happened but also because her  mother had read her life as if it was an open book. 


"Which leaves my baby boy, Danny. What a scamp you are, breaking hearts and rules all your life, running from one great adventure to another. A mother worries you know, but the girl in me just wants to run right along by your side." On the screen Barbara wiped away a single tear and smiled at them lovingly. Not a sound came from her children seated around her.

"Well, enough of that. Down to the matter at hand. I've some good news, and I've some bad news. The good news is you are all still in the will," which caused a ripple of emotional laughter to run through the room, even Mr Philips smiled.

"The bad news is that I was making a damn good fist of spending a lot of your inheritance before this," she said seeming to point at the screen. Her comic timing was perfect and they all laughed. Christine never knew her mother was so funny. 

"That weekend I called you all to the ranch, I knew there was a good chance this day was coming, soon." Barbara tapped the side of her head, "A week spot on an artery, deep inside here. That weekend I realised that the ranch, the house, none of it mattered. What mattered was you, your connection to each other, our family. That was why I sold the whole bloody thing, lock, stock and barrel."

A shocked murmur ran around the room, while Barbara sat smiling at them from the screen. The room was just beginning to grow silent when Barbara spoke again, "You've all met Mr Philips. He arranged the whole thing and got me a hansom price. I'm sorry to say, but you all have to be out by the end of the week," she said with a wicked smile. 

In the corner John said, "Typical Barb, always having the last laugh," which made everyone else laugh while they cried.

On the screen Barbara continued, "So what are you all going to get? Straight off the bat, Mr Philips has a cheque for one hundred thousand Dollars, for each of you, to do with as you like, and no Susan, the Grand-kids don't get cheques." This time, it was Danny that laughed, "Ha! She got you good, Sis."

"There's more. Mr Philips, please," said Barbara. Mr Philips smiled and sent one of his aids outside.

"In no particular order, I have a few small gifts for you. To start with, Danny, my lovely wild boy. I saw how pained you were that day when your brothers and sisters tried to tie you to the ranch. You are like one of those wild horses, galloping across the plain. It would be cruel to tie you to one particular place. My gift to you is this," said Barbara smiling, and Mr Philips walked forward and dropped something small into Danny's hand. It was key, outside a heavy engine roared to life and everyone craned to see what was making all the noise. In the yard, a shining vintage convertible mustang with wire spoke wheels roared up and stopped outside the window.

"Go where ever the hood is pointed my boy and I'll be riding right along with you," said Barbara. "Now for you, Mr Serous," said Barbara pulling a face on the screen. Mr Philips produced a box tied in a ribbon. He handed it to John while Barbara sat patiently on the screen. Inside the box was the most heinous Hawaiian shirt you ever did see.

"Put it on, and let me see if it fits," said Barbara. John took off his jacket and tie, slipping the shirt on over the one he was wearing. The gathered family couldn’t help it, the room erupted in laughter, as John stood dumbfounded in the middle of the floor.

"I think it’s a hit," said Barbara. "Life is serious, but only if you let it be, John. Take some time to laugh at the world, at yourself, and you just might start to enjoy life again. You can be a good man and still have some fun. Check the pocket," she said and John withdrew a folded piece of paper.

"It’s two weeks in Hawaii, for you, Mary and the kids. Mr Philips called her earlier, and made the arrangements. Being my last request, she could hardly refuse, but mark my words, John. Sweep that woman off her feet and you will never regret it." John started to sob and Christine couldn't remember him doing that...ever. He walked up to the screen and kissed his mother’s face, then he walked out of the room. Everyone was so stunned they hardly heard Barbara continue with her bequests. Mr Philips walked over to Tina and Susan, handing each an envelope.

"To my darling girls, I give you the gift of wisdom. Susan, I’m sending you back to college to finish off what you started all those years ago, interior design, I believe. Your tuition is paid in full, so no excuses. Tina, I'm not sure you’ll like this, but it’s for your own good. I’ve signed you up to a two week, all inclusive trip to a monastery, for meditation and mindfulness training. Let’s be honest, it was either that or anger management classes. Sweetheart, sometimes the fight just isn't worth it."

Mr Philips walked up to Jonathan and handed him an envelope. On the screen Barbara smiled, "To the king of hearts, I give the city of love. I fear our country is far too young to ever truly satisfy a soul as old as yours, Jonathan. When I asked myself, what place in the world could ever come close to matching you for sophistication, class and passion? Only one came to mind. Paris, my dear, Paris. It’s yours, with all my love. Now, I’m sure that Tina and Susan have been busy totting up a running total of my spending and have realised it is nowhere near the value of the ranch. So it is about time I revealed my main bequest.

I want to give you all the gift of family, too that end, I have formed a trust with one specific function. This trust is to be used to pay for a Thanksgiving Holiday for all of you, and your families, every year here in your homeland, Montana. You are all the family you have left, don't ever let petty squabbles or differences stand between you. Fight, but make up, disagree, but understand, love, and never let go, that is my gift to you all. I want to give you each other."

On the screen, Barbara sat back and scratched her head, "I'm sure we’re forgetting something, Mr Philips. Can you check your bag and see if there is anything left in it?" Mr Philips lifted a large green rucksack and turned it upside down but nothing fell out. All eyes in the room turned to Christine, surely her mother hadn’t forgotten her, out of all of them. 

On the screen, Barbara smiled that half wicked, half cherub, smile of hers, "Of course I’ve not forgotten you, Chrissie. This is for you." Mr Philips handed her the empty rucksack. Christine looked inside, and it was indeed empty.

"That's right sweetie, it’s empty. I want you to go fill it up. Fill it with memories and experiences to last a life time. I want you to see the world before it’s too late. Money is not what you need, nor things. You need life, in your life, and the only place you’ll find it is out there. Don't be afraid, you can always come home." Christine felt her eyes fill with tears. All along, her mother was the one that knew her best, even better than she knew herself.

On the screen, Barbara sat back in her chair, "I think my job is done here. I love you all so much, when you meet on your yearly holiday, I want you to set two chairs at the table, one for me and one for your Dad because as long as someone holds you in their heart you are never truly gone. See you in the fall, Love you," and with an kiss and a wave, she stood up and walked out of the shot. 




The screen goes dark.    



Monday, 19 October 2015

Moll's and Gangsters




Chapter 4

Darren drove in silence, letting his mind pry at the latest crazy stunt John and Tony had gotten him dragged into. In truth, Darren knew his brothers were feral, and would get him killed one day, but that didn’t mean he had another route to take. Like it or not, he was a Griffin from skin to bone, nothing would ever change that. He knew he could see the world differently than his brothers, that didn’t mean he could change the path that had been laid out for him. He might see the doorways to a peaceful existence passing him by, but just as surely, he knew they would be slammed in his face, if he ever had the audacity to try and take one of them. Not only that, but it would also mean cutting himself off from the world he knew, the world which accepted him, as he was. Such vision was just as much as curse, as it was a blessing. John never worried about such things, he like the life he was living, and would never seek out any other.

By the time Darren dropped John outside his house, he had made peace with the war they'd started today. What mattered now was to win at all costs. John opened the door of the car but paused before getting out. 

“Are you alright?” he asked Darren.

“This isn’t the way I would chosen things to be, John, but it’s the way things are,” Darren said. John smiled and got out of the car without saying a word. Darren drove away, feeling neither fear nor excitement, anticipation nor dread. He merely accepted what would be, would be. He abandoned the car with the keys in the ignition, and the door open. Darren knew it would be wrecked, or torched, before he even reached his flat. Darren strode along the street, streets which were more his home than any house, trying to figure out where this would all end up. He glanced over his shoulder, now and again, more out of habit than fear, but its better to be safe than dead, he hated being on edge all the time.

He checked behind him once more when he reached the cast iron gate that guarded the entrance to his apartment block, nobody was following. He pressed a code into the keypad, and the electromagnet released the gate. Darren climbed the stairs until he reached the top floor, his floor. It might be a flat in a north Dublin suburb, but it rivalled any other flat in Dublin in its finish. The door was four inch thick, solid mahogany, with a mirror finish. Inside, the flat was a vast open plan space, bedecked with stylish furniture and d├ęcor.  Clare was standing behind the ironing board, a sizeable stack of folded clothes were already done and waiting to be put away, while a hamper, half full, still lay at her feet. She rested the steaming iron in its holder, when the solid door closed behind Darren.

“You were gone a long time, I thought you were only going to meet John?” she said, concerned but not nagging.

“I did, earlier, but he had something he needed doing,” Darren said, sliding behind her to give her a hug and a kiss on the neck. She tilted her head away exposing that little place behind her ear that she to have touched, by finger or lip. He felt her melt back in his arms and he could feel the tiny fluttering of her heart under his encircling arms. A faint hint of perfume lay sweetly on her skin, complementing the most wonderful smell on the planet, her smell. Darren inhaled deeply, rubbing his nose along the line of her neck, where it vanished into the thick forest of blond hair that cascaded down her back. He drew her wonderful aroma deep inside his lungs and held it there, holding her essence deep inside his body, knowing that nothing else would ever make him feel as alive as the sensation of having part of her within him. When he exhaled, he imagined a sliver of her soul passing over his lips, and out into the universe. It reminded him that in the end, we all only borrow time and happiness, it can never be owned. He rested his head on her shoulder and let worry cloud his mind once more.

She rested a hand on his arm, and stroked the lean muscle that twitched beneath his pale skin, “Are you alright, Darren?” she asked, her voice sweet and serene. He didn't answer straight away, causing her to turn in his embrace.

“What is it, Honey?” she said, stroking his head as it rested against hers.

“John wants to expand the business into O’Connell Street,” he said, without lifting his head.

“O’ Connell Street belongs to Kingston,” she said, drawing away from him a little, her face creased with concern.

“I know,” said Darren, straightening up and running his hand through his hair.

“I hope you put him right?” she said.

“It’s too late, he already made the first move.”

“Without telling you, without asking what you thought.”

“He knew what I’d say, I guess that was why he didn’t ask,” Darren sighed.

“There must be something you can do to stop John, it’s too dangerous to try and take over a patch like that. Jimmy Kingston will never let O’Connell Street go. It’s too valuable.”

“John isn’t asking, he’s taking. Tony knocked over Kingston’s man in Zoe’s a few nights ago, and today we hijacked his main supply drop. Like I said, it’s too late.”

“Oh God, what's he done?” Clare said, walking away, holding her face in her hands and sitting on the couch, the forgotten iron, spitting clouds of steam into the air at regular intervals. Darren didn’t say anything, but he moved over to sit beside Clare, resting a comforting hand on her back, as she searched for answers that weren't to be found.  She turned to look at him, her face was ashen now,

“Don’t get involved with this, Darren. It’s John’s mess, let him deal with it.”

“I can’t do that, and you know it,” Darren said, removing his hand from her back.

“Why? Why must it be you?”

“It’s who I am. It’s who we are. I, we, are the Griffins. They need me, and I need them just as much, can’t you see that. If we don’t stand together, we have no chance at all. You knew who I was when you decided to be with me, nothing has changed,” he said, a little steel creeping into his voice.

“Yes it has, everything has changed, Darren. Can’t you see that? I love you, Martin loves you. What kind of a life will it be, if every time you walk out that door, it might be the last? It'd be like having my heart ripped out every day, again and again, until it happened for real. Please, Darren, Please don’t do this to me,” she said, throwing her arms around his neck, and he felt her body shudder, as the tears came.

“Come on, Clare. It’s not that bad,” cooed Darren, taking her in his arms and squeezing her tightly.

“Look, the last thing anybody wants is a running battle on the streets. There might be a way to reach some kind of compromise, and I promise you, if I can, I will get the boys to look for a way out of this. But I have to stand with my brothers, Baby. I can’t desert them, just like I could never desert you. Nobody is going to take me from you, I give you my word,” he said, lifting her head and kissing her quivering lips hungrily. 

She pulled away from him after a while, her mascara running in dark rivers down her face.

“Promise?” she said.

“I promise,” he said, and was rewarded with a weary smile.

Inside, Darren knew it was a promise that was going to be nearly impossible to keep. Clare was right, Jimmy Kingston would never give up O’Connell Street, and John would never back down, once he had put his mind to something. Darren could only hope that some of them would be left standing by the time it was all over. For a second, he considered taking Clare and Martin, and running away from the whole thing, but that feeling passed as quick as it had come. His destiny was not written in the stars, it was written in the grime and filth of the streets he had been born on, the ones he still called home.  His tribe needed him, his time to be counted had come, and Darren would not falter in the face of the enemy, no matter what.

***
Across the city, Pete sat alone in his Jaguar, listening to the radio, while he watched children fight over the highest position on the climbing frame in the playground at the center of the park. Jimmy’s car glided up beside Pete's passenger door, and stopped. Pete was about to get out, but Jimmy’s door opened and he got out looking around, checking the few cars parked in the tiny gravel area for occupants. Pete knew they were empty because he had done exactly the same thing fifteen minutes ago. Once Jimmy was happy he opened Pete's passenger door, and ducked his head inside.

“Fancy taking a walk?” he said. It wasn’t a question that needed an answer. Pete got out of the car, clicking the button on the key, remotely locking all the doors. He followed Jimmy’s as he slowly strolled through the gate and into the park.

“Did you get it all stored away, boss?” asked Pete when he was level with Jimmy’s shoulder.

“Yea, it was all there and safe as houses. I sent out a new delivery, to replace what we lost this morning.”

“How much did they get?” asked Pete, pulling up the zipper on his jacket a little more to keep the cutting breeze out.

“Eighty thousand, street value.”

“Scum,” snarled Pete, his noes wrinkling up.

“You know what I can’t figure out, how they knew were the drop was going to happen,” said Jimmy. Pete knew better than to offer anything. He just walked along, shoulder to shoulder while Jimmy let his mind worry at the problem at hand.

“I think we have a snitch, Pete,” he said at last.

“But who'd do that?”

“There were only a few people that knew where that drop was going to happen. Me, you, Kenny, Niall and Fergal.”

"Any chance someone could have told someone else?” said Pete, and he quickly added, “I know I didn’t.”

“Could have, I guess, but its more than likely someone who knew for sure, and I sure as hell know it wasn’t me,” said Jimmy, giving Pete a chilling look.

“You don’t think it was me?”

“Don’t be stupid, of course I don’t. But we better keep an eye on Niall and Fergal.”

“Niall's still in the hospital with a crushed leg, and they nearly beat Fergal to death when they took down the score, they'd hardly do that to someone that was feeding them info.”

“They might have been trying to cover their tracks.”

“Hell of a way to do that, nearly killing them both.”

“Just keep an eye on them after they come out of the hospital. See if they do anything out of the ordinary.”

“I will, do you want me to pay the lad’s a visit in the hospital?”

“Na, just keep an eye on things. Don’t go tipping our hand. If we knew who it was feeding the Griffins info, we could use it to our advantage,” said Jimmy, walking on like he had nothing better to do than taking a stroll in last hours of sunshine. Across the park, the excited squeals of the playing children, filled the air with unbridled joy. Jimmy looked at them and smiled in the direction of the playground.

 “Can you ever remember being that young, Pete?” Jimmy said, nodding toward the playground.

Pete looked across the park and frowned.   “Do I remember being a Kid, you mean?”

“Yea,” said Jimmy, still smiling.

“I guess I do,” said Pete, not understanding what Jimmy was on about. Sometimes Jimmy had a habit of talking in riddles. Pete didn’t always understand him straight away but Jimmy always got to the point, at one stage or another. Pete knew he just had to wait and all would be revealed, that was why Jimmy was the boss.

“Everything seemed so simple where we were kids. Look at them, pushing and shoving each other down the rungs of the frame, always trying to be king of the castle,” said Jimmy, stopping and giving the playground his full attention. “It seems nothing's changed, after all, we're still trying to get to the top of the climbing frame, and when we're there we will do anything to stay there, Pete. These Griffin’s want to knock me off the top of my castle, and this time, there'll be more than a few scraped knees to show for it.”

“I guess so, boss,” said Pete, still not getting what the Griffins had to do with a playground full of kids.

“How do you stop people trying to knock you off the top of the climbing frame Pete?” asked Jimmy, turning to face Pete.

“Push them back down?” asked Pete, feeling sure he was right.

“No, Pete, not them, him. You get the first little runt that has the balls to try and climb to your level, you get that first dozy bastard, and you throw him all the way to the bottom, as hard as you can. That’s what you do, and let everyone else in the playground see it happening, that is how you stay King of the Castle,” said Jimmy, his eyes alive with cold fury.

Pete understood what Jimmy was saying, and nodded. Jimmy patted him on the shoulder before striding away toward the car, leaving Pete alone in the middle of a kid’s park, thinking dark thoughts of blood and death.




Thursday, 15 October 2015

The Devil's Bridge

The Devil's Bridge

In the depths of a German national park, stands a structure so beautiful, it never fails to stun a viewer into silence. Your first glimpse of the Devils Bridge, and its mirror reflection, is something that will stay in your memory forever.

One fine day, a group of backpackers were staring, awestruck, at the impressive sight, while an elderly grounds man pruned some nearby bushes. The grounds man had seen the bridge a thousand times but never tired of its beauty, nor the affect it had on people.

“It’s wonderful,” said one girl, turning her head, this way and that, to take in the view from all angles.
“Amazing,” said another of the college kids.
“I love the way the reflection completes the structure,” said a small spotty faced guy, in a way that left the statement hanging, begging someone to question it. Foolishly, someone did.
“How do you mean, completes the structure?” asked one of the other boys. He was tall and handsome, but his eyes lacked the sharpness of wit.
“It’s obvious, the entire meaning of the structure, is the reflection,” said Mr Spotty with derision. “Just look at it, the combination of rock and water, combined with the perfect circle, half in reality, half in reflection, is a comment on the yin and yang of life. It’s a classically Japanese interpretation of being, capturing the ever changing pull of the universe.” 

The tall youth pointed to a sign nearby, and said, “It says there, that the bridge was built as a bet with the Devil, which he lost, sending him back to hell.”

“Complete codswallop,” said Mr Small and Spotty.
“You can’t just discount religion in this, Barry, after all, religion is the foundation of many fantastic construction projects,” added another student, clearly warming to the growing debate.

“Yes,” said another, “and, I disagree with your reasoning behind the intent of the structure. Surely he built it to display the possibility of multiple universes, existing side by side, with the one we inhabit.”
“I just think he wanted to get to the other side,” said a girl with a giggle.

“I still think it’s representing Heaven,” said the tall man. “Perhaps he intended it to be like the gateway into Heaven?”
“A gate, that’s it. It has to be a portal, built by aliens, to transport people across space,” said a guy wearing a Starwar’s tee-shirt.

“Cop on Gavin,” said Mr Spotty. “This is real life, not a movie.”

“It’s just as probable as what you said,” whinged Gavin, his feelings clearly hurt.

“What I said is a proven facet of world art history, not some pesents fairy-tale, not a depiction of a greater power, and most certainly not a magical portal built by little green men,” said Mr Spotty, resting his hands on his hips, dominating the rest of the group. 

As the grounds man listened to the unfolding discussion, he decided that the small guy was nothing short of a bully, and needed putting in his place.  He slowly got to his feet arching his aching back. Up to that point, the group seemed to be oblivious to his existence. “I can tell you the real reason the bridge was built, if you like,” said the old man.

“Please, do,” said Mr Small, with a wave of his hand, fully expecting to be proven right.

“As it happens, it was my great grandfather that designed and built that bridge. He brought me here to see it, when I was little more than a child. I remember asking him why he had built it,” the old man said, before bending to gather his pruning tools.

“And? What did he say?” asked Mr Spotty, impatiently.

The old grounds man turned him and smiled, “He said, he built it, because he could.”

At the back of the group, a small impish girl, who had not spoken once during the heated argument, smiled a dazzling smile. The grounds man smiled back at her before walking away. He was happy that at least one of them could see that sometimes, the simplest explanation, is the hardest to understand. 

Monday, 5 October 2015

A Spectre Appeared

It begins with me, being a complete asshole as always. Why she ever agreed to marry me, is beyond my understanding. Thinking about it now, all the reasons I fell in love with her, were exactly the same reasons I started taking her for granted. She was just too nice, you know what I mean? There was no challenge in her: in my marriage, in my life, and I blamed her for it all.

It wasn’t long before I hated the way she ate; the way she slept, the way she looked at me when I was being a complete arse, and the way she never stood up to me. It was all her fault, it had to be. Who could blame me for spending my nights getting drunk in the scum-filled bars of town, hoping to get a knee-trembler from some gin soaked skank at the end of the night, before stumbling back to my miserable life, and I did, you know, more than once.

That’s when it happened. I did what I always did, I opened my big bloody mouth when I should have stayed dumb. He looked normal, nice even. He listened to me whinging most to of the night, while our glasses went from full to empty, to full again. I’m not sure when he asked me the question, but I sure remember the answer, “God damn right, I wish she was gone.” He looked so normal.

He left me there, drinking, talking shit, and trying to get lucky. I was so drunk by the time I got home, I didn’t even notice if she were in the bed, or not, I just passed out. When I woke, strong mid-day sun was streaming through the window. I looked over and the bed was empty, I tried to rub the pain from my head and the dust from my mouth, but that was a permanent fixture of my life of late. Instead, I slept. When I woke again, the light was weaker, and the house was silent.

I didn’t worry at first, I just enjoyed the silence. When night fell and the front door was open, I began to worry. Her car was in the drive and all her clothes were in the wardrobe. Inside me, something was struggling to raise its head from the drunken swamp that was my life. By the next day, I had to call the police. Her phone was on the bedside table, her wallet was in the kitchen, that was when I remembered him, the normal guy.

The questions came in the thousands, the answers were all the same, “I don’t know.” Days went by, weeks, TV cameras gathered, and I stayed hidden. I wondered how he had done it; I wondered if it had been quick, or if he had taken his share before it was time. Most of all, I wondered if they would blame me for it all. That was when it happened.

She appeared before me like a spectre, her face white with rage, the normal guy standing by her shoulder.

“You’re alive!” I yelled standing with my arms outstretched to hold her. The steel flashed through he air like a spark, I nearly didn’t feel the sting of it, bite into my wrist. My hand fell to the table with a wet thud, blood spat into the air from the stump I still held aloft. She looked at me with nothing but hatred, the samurai sword trembling in her grip, her lip quivering with emotion.

“You bastard,” she said, lifting my lifeless hand from the table, feeding my blood soaked finger into her mouth, before sucking greedily. She yanked my dead flesh from her mouth, and dropped it on the table before me. She spat a ring of gold into her palm, and said, “This is mine.”


They ran hand in hand from the house, giggling like high teenagers. She ran into the night, clutching something shiny, damn her to hell.