The Days of Jael by Paul Kestell
I wanted to leave home loads of times.
I think the first time I was about seven years old; we were living with grandad then and I woke to hear his soft music fill the house. I slide down the stairs and pushed the door of the sitting room open using my shoulder. He was siting with his back to me his hands delicate his long fingers catching the notes. Some were trying to escape from him, but he’d catch them and pull them back. He had a little fire going it was orange but there was no flame. It caught me and I went to stand by it to keep warm. Grandad played on oblivious to me turning his music sheets intermittently and playing with considerable ease. I was glad to be wearing pyjamas so cold away in the corners of the room—but by the fire their porousness allowed the heat in and my skin was burning underneath—it began to itch. Grandad started to sing, and I could see the first light through the tiny window. The soft clouds were covered in dazzle and rain fell in thick drops, not sure if it were sleet or just rain, the wind scooped the out of season rose bush it hit the windowpane in sharp repetitive thuds.
Grandad eventually acknowledged my presence he stopped playing with his right hand and allowed a space for me to go close to him. He cradled me under his wing and then releasing his hand he rubbed my curls and took the itch from my scalp. He then gave his right hand back to the piano and started to sing, but I was fascinated by this face. He had the makings of a beard and it stained his chin, but it was like something that would scrub away with a cloth. His nose was steady but his mouth opened so wide and his strong voice didn’t suit his frame or his face—-his whole face exploded when he hit the high notes and suddenly bang -bang—the neighbours were knocking on the walls a signal that they’d had enough and whatever about the piano his singing was too much. But undeterred he kept going and his glasses started to shake like somehow his neighbours displeasure made him nervous.
-That’s the price you pay for a council house Jaelyn, a man cant fart, but those daft folk are moanin’ should be up and on their way out at this stage—but their probably lyin in their beds thinkin’ how to complain—believe me little one complain they will, as complainin’ is what they do and what they are good at.
I went back to stand by the fire I didn’t take to his tone, grandad was usually quiet and peaceful, I didn’t like this grandad so much—the fire was nearly out just the last glow of diseased coal it still threw out traces of heat but suddenly I was sorry for my porous pyjamas again—maybe I would quit and go back upstairs and wake Marie, but she was tired and grumpy earlier and lashed out when I first tried to wake her.
Grandad had stopped playing and the banging on the wall stopped too, there was a series of shouts and one last bang and that was it. He sat with his fingers addressing the keys like he was about to start but he didn’t he just sat there at his piano stool rigid like he wanted to play but had forgotten the notes. I wondered had he fallen asleep he was so quiet but no, he was just staring at the keys like he was trying to figure out what they were. I saw that the big blobs of rain had turned to snow and the little flakes set on the rose bush like a box of Lux was upturned in the sky. God shook it the tiny flakes fell, and it was no worse than that.
Isobel Matthews might be out there forging that’s all she did was forage, like someone told her that being a kid meant being a forager. In summer she would collet bees in a jar and sell them two euro for a Teddy-back—three for a big black bumbler. In winter she scraped the bottom of the hedgerows with a stick if it was snowing, she removed tons of snow—if there was no snow she assembled a load of pebbles and small rocks. She was always busy forever foraging she was never still—-wrapped in mittens and a heavy winter coat. In summer she wore shorts and a girlie top—-but even then I knew what she wanted and what she was destined for and I knew what I was destined for but maybe I was not prepared for it.
Michael Byrne followed Isobel Matthews about wherever she was he was. He might stand near her or behind her or the opposite side of the wire fence—but he was always near her and he smiled all the time like someone actually beat him on the back as the clock striked midnight. Michael was harmless meaningless and empty the smile was with him from birth. He used to play with his curls and stick out his tongue in amusement and this was what Isobel loved about him that and the fact that his father walked up the path at the same time every day. He would always stop to inspect the roof that was well built but sported a huge television aerial—huge for the size of the houses that is. Isobel loved uniformity she loved the same thing every day it was the prize for being alive —-doing the same thing every day and collecting rocks and collecting snow—-if she could sell them on it would make a stack of sense.
Grandad started to cry he turned to face me his glasses had slipped to the edge of his nose. Tears flooded his face the folds of his skin turned to gullies. I was stuck rigid and fascinated by the deep ravines in his face. His eyes were endless they were made of layers of glass and his head shook like he was some kind a maniac. He held his hands out beckoning me, but rigidness turned to flight and left him and the fire and ran out to the cold hall. Up the stairs I bounced and went to see if Marie was awake. She was the worse for wear—her skin yellow and her eyes kept opening and closing like the conversation was exhausting her.
‘There is something funny with Grandad—he’s wailing down there.’
Marie acted like she didn’t understand she pulled the covers up over her head.
‘He’s playin’ his piano—leave him be.’
‘He’s not Marie, that’s what I’m sayin’ he’s cryin’ his eyes out and he looks really sad.’