51 year old Mary Parker struggles with her inner most emotions after discovering her husbands affair, should she have revealed her secret-would that have changed things?
How do you know if you are afraid of Giants?
A short story by Will Neill
I’m fifty one today, and I’m not sure how I got here, I don’t mean I was in a coma or anything. It’s just that my life seems to have jumped from being a child to a teenager to forty something to now- me, looking in my bathroom mirror and seeing my Mother staring back. And she isn’t amused.
Its 6am, a little bird is a solitary virtuoso on my apple tree just outside my bedroom window, his singing makes my Mothers refection smile faintly, briefly, no one responds to his mating call. I watch him for a moment through the curtains as he waits cocking his head from side to side, and then he flies away.
The smile fades in the mirror’s cool white glow; no one will be up for ages yet, Daniel never came home last night, again, and Dianne never surfaces before midday on a Saturday. It’s been difficult for them since their father left two months ago. ‘He was never any good’ the reflection sneers. ‘I told you so Mary, but did you listen!’
‘But he’—I try to protest.
‘But he nothing! Mary Parker, left you for a younger woman, slunk off in the night with her he did with neither a bye nor leave’
‘Maybe it was me? Did I do something to make him go? ‘I protest.
‘You got older, that’s all’-the refection slights me.
‘I have to go Mother – I’ve got to’-I shut my eyes and hum loudly
‘That’s right, don’t listen, you’ve always run away Mary, that’s how you’ve always been, ever since you were little’ the voice mocks me again, pausing only to heighten the hurt it enjoys inflicting. ‘But you can’t run away this time’ it echoes in a whisper.
Two months ago things were quite different, back then we, or so I thought, were a happy household, a typical suburban family, Tom had just been made a partner in the law firm he had worked since we had met in 1975 and I was thinking of cutting my hours as a dental assistant. Old tooth puller Clarke had just retired and his son James had taken over the surgery, no one liked him, and everyone hated the new rota’s he’d worked out. Rosie the receptionist quit that same week after an argument and he’s been using temp’s ever since. So the prospect of a getting away early two days a week was something to look forward to. It wasn’t to be as you will find out, and did I mention that my mother has been dead for four years.
I stop humming, there’s no point, and it’s my own refection but her voice that’s inside my head. The ironic thing is she’s right; I could never face things, problems, or conflict. I always blocked them out or ran away or let someone else deal with them. But I can’t this time, this time there is no one else to make it right – its up to me, and I am scared. Suddenly I feel cold, like someone has just walked over my grave. It brought back the memory, the chill of fear and the thought of my own mortality. I had it before-not long ago.
‘You got older, that’s all’—‘-leave me alone Mother’ I whisper.
Small things occur you never really notice, an extra hour at work, a text instead of a phone call, a kiss on the cheek instead of the lips. Oh my god how did I not see it, I read all the magazines, I laughed at all the stupid women whose husbands were having affairs and they didn’t see the obvious signs. And here I am, should I laugh at myself.
‘You got older, that’s all Mary’
‘No Mother, that wasn’t it’ I sigh ‘There was more’ I murmur and sense my shoulders dropping, goose bumps begin rise. I wait for a reaction but the voice offers none. Briefly, I feel myself drifting off into a senior moment, thinking ‘Why didn’t I just tell him, maybe he would have stayed’ its then I see it, I tried so hard, yet it still happened.
Above me the mirror light flickers briefly then goes out, only the morning light blushes into the bed room from behind through the white linen curtains leaving me here. Silhouetted like a shadow. Sums it up quite well I think, that’s how I feel bodiless, – faceless, numb like my light has gone out.
For the past two weeks I’ve been rummaging in my bedside drawers, everyone has them, that place where memories are stored. The place of old albums and loose snapshots, of vacations and smiling poses the ones around the table with raised glasses, or at the wedding no one can remember of who and when. Each a moment trapped in time. Images that catalogue the changes if only I had took notice. But then who does.
On one occasion, last week I think it was, yes I remember it was raining hard outside and I had just poured a very large glass of French merlot. Its sweet aroma filled the room as I organised about 30 or so on the bed, it was my intention of destroying them all with as much violence you could bestow upon a photograph with scissors. Call it therapy, call it what you like. But as I picked each one up in turn I felt myself transported back to that moment. And the longer I looked the more I could remember the emotions, the ache of new love, the smells, the voices in the background, the adolescence of newlyweds and first born anticipation.
That afternoon swirled by amidst brackish sobbing awash with wine and I found myself not destroying them as I had intended, but arranging each in order by my own emotive memories. Some I held tightly to me as they evoked feelings of past contentment or heartache, each easily welcomed, each an island in my life. My tears flowed effortlessly with my laughter congealing into uncontrollable sighs. I felt the tingle of nervous sensual recollections that electrified my whole body and I desired a return to those wonderful days.
The evening melted into night. I slept on the floor amongst all; my knees drew up into my arms like a baby.
I knew they were gone forever.
It was about 8am the next morning before I woke from my drunken self pity. Thankfully none of the children had returned, and found me, how could I have lived with that, the thought of it made me nauseous. Overcome with uncertainty, I slipped into bed still wearing my previous day’s clothes and hoped this pain would ease, it did not.
Days blended, and weeks merged, soon the routine became mundane I desired normality so we carried on. Even if it was pretend. Daniel refuses to believe his father has left for good; we sit and talk but never seem to broach the subject. Our conversations are mainly about past vacations or his childish memories of happier times, mostly on the days when he is here. But like I said he doesn’t come home much anymore. I think when I see him sitting quietly that maybe he is having second thoughts about his autumn planned marriage to Crissy. I’m sure he blames me for all this; all I can hope for is that someday he will understand.
Dianne is much stronger than I gave her credit for; she is older than her 16 years and I thank god for that. In the first days after Tom left she took control. And while I wallowed in self doubt and insecurity she became the glue that held us all together. But even though we talked a lot I couldn’t bring myself to reveal all. Not yet.
‘Why didn’t you just tell him?’ I hear my Mothers voice return.
‘Do you remember when I was a little girl Mother’ I begin ‘When you used to read me stories about Princes and enchanted places, of goblins swan Princesses, Giants and magic beans, do you remember once I asked you –How do you know if you are afraid of Giants?’
The light flickers back on, it startles me, once again her face is here and for a moment I swear I can smell her.
‘Do you recall what you told me Mother’ I whisper.
‘You said, fairies and monsters aren’t real Mary, and handsome Princes don’t whisk you away on their white horse, the real giants are the things that we have to deal with- the problems that test us in life. One day you’ll understand-when you are older.’
Suddenly her expression changes and for once I see a kinder more understanding person manifest, softly she begins to cry. ‘Why didn’t you just tell him they discovered breast cancer 3months ago Mary Parker-things would have been different.’
I feel my shoulders drop and I breathe a heavy sigh, below my stomach remembers the familiar nausea of that brackish afternoon not so long ago. There within my mind I see an image, one single photograph that stood above all the others that lay strewn upon my bed. A picture of a happy youthful couple eager and in love, with the belief that it would conquer all and last forever, we relished in our future and in our ambitions.
‘I didn’t want his pity Mother’ I hear myself whisper ‘And I’m not afraid of my Giants’
The Lights still on, and the little bird is back singing on the branch outside my bedroom—only this time he’s not alone.
For Dianne: Always and Forever.