It was after the death of my Grandfather in the early evenings of May that I was led on to question my fundamentals of the world I lived in. He had passed as quietly as the gentle gusty winds that prowled the overgrown blades of grass in the meadows waving in delight at the warm rays of the sun that smothered them with light and beauty. It was nice to see him so quiet. To be honest I shouldn’t be so hard on the man for it was a few months after my Father’s disappearance that I moved in with him and he was more than happy to have me stay with him. At first I was reluctant to stay so far away from home, the sense of unease was high and I wondered what my new life would entail, for what path was set in motion by fate. It would be hard to make a new life with new routines and friendships. If I could make any that is. I have always been a bit of an odd child, my infamous history began in nursery where my daily drawings raised concerns with my family with my, my daring artwork of fish heads was easily explained away by my time on Fathers ship. I remember very vividly my teacher’s disgust and healthy repulsion and the empty eyeless sockets that I vigorously retraced my pencils over giving it an unknowing sense of eeriness and distasteful expression. My record continued with various meetings about my inherent disposition for the corpses of the seagulls that would drop by from their flight inland. Or my fascination with the ant hills. While this was usual enough for a young child to be mesmerised by the neat and uniform order of the marching masses that coagulated into the form of one unified body. Like a snake that quietly moved undisturbed by the relentless commotion of barriers and water poured over its shiny surface that twinkled in the sun like the glass that rained down intense and burning light. Instead I took a rather deific approach to the ant problem. I would carefully build small houses and roads for the ants to wonder in and become accustomed to. I would place food and stones in an effort to get the simple creatures to carry them to their holes. Only when all was calm and all was right did I smite down the floods of burning rain that drowned them with little effort. I was since banned from playing with the ants. It never dawned upon me as a child as to why as I always said how they kept coming back to play again. Like the followers of a god that they wished to please. I am unsure as to whether or not such stories were passed down from generation to generation of ants or if I was revered as a force of nature an omen of the flood and the terror that can strip away anything that they had worked for.
I laughed at the memories of talking to my brother late at night. We were close for a while but as people do we drifted of course and landed in different docks. Each night we would speak of what we wished to dream about, I spoke about sailing the seas with Father and finding new islands and adventures. My brother was more reserved and he wished to dream about football and playing with his friends. He was rather popular like that. He was well tanned unlike me who still sported a pale complexion. I was told to go outside but there was nothing for me to see or do. The town we lived in was small and memories of my antics from being a small child carried its repercussions on to the future. I did not do any better as I integrated more in to social groups with my hobby to read and wonder about the world many found my interest about the vastness of space and the depths of the ocean a head sore and so I learned to stay quiet and talk of more trivial things like the football and playing with friends.
I arrived in Port Salerno in the early hours of an autumn morning where the brown crisp leaves slowly drifted to the warm earth where they would lie undisturbed in death.
The house we lived in wasn’t anything fancy but it would do. The roof had the occasional leak and having to tiptoe around buckets became an innate skill of mine. The area that we lived in was small and rather spare despite the large migration to the area after the second world war, that was why Grandfather was there, having moved in after his service. However no one in the family knew what he did during the war and he would share no stories of what he experienced apart from a distant stare into the distance that seemed to travel infinitely into the void of his mind, lost amongst the memories of riding a bike and brushing his teeth in the morning. The streets were lined with waterfront restaurants with fresh catch bought in by over 200 fishermen who worked on the sea. Unlike where I had lived before they had a shark industry that blossomed in the 1930s and was prevalent in commercial fishing leading to a strong presence in the area. On the land there were pineapple farms that sourced just as much of the wealth as fishing did, with tall obelisks emerging out of the soil and stretching high into the radiant sun that cast a watchful eye on the residents. Large fruit hung precariously from the tree unwilling to resist the pull of the Earth, there texture was golden and ripe, and to gaze upon then made my mouth salivate. During the summer I enjoyed the treat of cutting up and devouring a taste of the tropics.
I still remember my first view of Grandfather’s house with its damaged white walls that had started to flake from the heat of the sun like the skin of a tourist who had forgotten to wear enough sunscreen. This state of decay lined the perimeter of the box. Windows sealed into the structure surrounded by dirt and windblown leaves. The house offered me no comfort of mind and only made my unease of moving house more apparent, for my thoughts dwelled on the reality that this would be my new home trapped within the confines of this town. I had wanted to run away as far as I could and never look back but the steady steely hand of the social worked held me in his vice like grip. His only attempt at comfort was a cold look to his side and an expressionless nod as it to indicate to me that all would be okay. We took our first steps towards the front door crossing over the garden which lay overgrown with dying yellow grass that reached up high hoping for the loving embrace of the sunlight.
I stared at the door. Not knowing whether to knock or stand dumbfounded at the entrance for I was still reluctant to stay here and I figured that I could show enough contempt to be moved somewhere else.
Grandfather greeted me at the door that swung open sluggishly long bony fingers curling over the door frame jittering in suspense. My ears were painted by the grating creek at its rusted hinges turned and twisted to allow for any movement of the entrance that needed to be replaced or repaired. In fact most of the building needed to be repaired though I was sure that he did not have the funds for it as he stood half hidden behind the door and his eyes were old and tired of life. His smile was kind enough but his eyes told a different story, darting from side to side watching waiting for whatever stood around the corner out of sight. After studying my face for what felt like an awkward eternity he spoke, “You do have your father’s eyes”.
In his old age grandfather was very frail of the mind. When he was young he worked in the rising shipping industry and so did my father, before he left. I presumed that grandfather’s senile behaviour was due to the rough years spent on the sea having to carry out long hours of manual labour to haul in the next catch. It was that or the war. His involvement was kept to himself, however I did manage to learn some things about his time in the submarines patrolling the pacific. His attitude towards the experience filled me with sorrow and intrigue. For his evasiveness to stay quite left me on edge as though he was hiding something from us. Something we were not meant to know. My persistent questioning lead me to be scalded by the elderly ladies in the town, especially the baker’s wife who I visited frequently on my duties to retrieve our supply of bread. I was often told not to stick my nose into ant hills as my childish curiosity would lead to some big trouble one day. As I grew older I relied on the belief that human inquisitiveness was the forefront of our development. Although it did trouble me to discover the fate Grandfather’s friend James.
As he grew in age and declined in wisdom it was my duty to look after him. In his age he grew ever more willing to talk about his younger days. This usually involved his tales of the sea, hours and hours or relentless waves of words that washed away any inch of concentration you had mustered before had. He enjoyed tales about his travels in the pacific of his younger days when he had the strength to walk. It was hard to believe that the washed up old man was once a strong fisherman who went travelling along the coast a bronze tan that tattooed his skin. Instead I had the pleasure of dealing with the musty and grey suit that sagged and hung around his arms, his purple veins fades and thin as though a river had dried up inside of him, it was horrific at times to see the withered ghastly image of death as he stumbled slowly along the corridors. Knocking into his ornate collections and leaving dirt amongst the walls where his long bony fingers had rested almost glued to the wall.
It was an early grim reminder of the human condition. Despite our best efforts and perseverance it was already predetermined that we shall meet our fate at the cold unfeeling hands of death. The eternal abyss to which there was no escape. Only fleeting acceptance that one day everything I feel and see with fade away alongside me. I wondered if Grandfather was content with his life, with what he had done.
When I wasn’t listening to him I was cleaning up after him, as his food dribbled down his chin in a colourful spill of half chewed organic matter that slides gently along the wrinkled groves of his childish smile at the simple glee that such a lukewarm fluid was trailing down the crooked line of his chin. Many tissues were used to clear up the stains left upon the old baggy clothes that hung loosely from his shoulders. Each meal was in itself a challenge a constant struggle to keep Grandfather clean and presentable as he did everything in his best interest to exact amusement from causing as much havoc as he could. Like a meaningless challenge a goal that cannot be fulfilled, for leaving him dirtied would only reflect badly on the household and the fear that outsiders would see my treatment of Grandfather as unreflective of the seemingly positive outlook that I contributed to in the town. While such notions seemed to be absurd as it was not me making the man dirty but it was his inability to properly care for himself and even function correctly. My fear of criticism from the public was only made worse by the cleanliness of the house, with objects moving along the shelves and glasses moving from room to room. However he managed to pull of this stunt without seeming to have the will to lift his body from the chair he rooted down on. There were times where windows went from shut to open and then back to shut within the time to leave a room, such phenomena did formulate a sense of the paranormal that was passed around in the old tales in the playground of imaginative students and bored men. I did my best to leave the house clean and stable as it was clear that he had seen a lot in his time with various shells and photographs dotting the window sills and cabinets. They added much needed colour to the greyed out wallpapered walls that carried on shapeless down the corridors and I felt as though It was important to keep his memory in his surroundings and in the view of any visitors. No matter how hard I tried his tables still had old work files and accountancies that had not been dealt with for some years, but lay there collecting dust. Much like everything else in the house. Many days were spent sweeping off the dust that irritated his lungs and eyes for his old body had become sensitive and weak. His gentle, fierce coughing was an alarming reminder that it was time to clean. I find it hard to believe even now that he was once strong and able, as he lies down with little movement like a calm lake in a postcard. The only disturbance was the rising and falling of his chest as he slowly and thoughtfully breathed in and out keeping his tired frame alive for another day.
However, he offered no rest in the light of the pale moon that watched over us in the cool crisp winter air. There were many nights were I was awoken by the shrill cries of the scared man, for he had seen something in the dark that had naught’d him so deeply as to invoke a perilous beating of the heart. Its chaotic whimpering moved his body in sicken convulsions. His tired weary eyes would be wide with primal instinct, pupils dilated surrounded by a bundling mass of red string that throbs and twisted like a snake against the milky oceans. It was enough to question my own safety. As I held his bony featherweight body he would chant a mantra over and over until his tongue lost all control leaving me in possession of a broken man who slurred and spat like a drunken fool. The echoes of his callings could be heard down the corridor and some nights it was as though he was conversing with another entity. It is completely irrational to assume that there was something there with him, after all Grandfather was one to delude himself in his tales and stories. Although I would be lying if I said that the sharp bites of the breeze did not make me curl my legs under the covers in fear that the whispers of the monsters under my bed would drag me under with them. In a valiant attempt fight back I made sure to close the windows that had remained open since the warmer weather a few months before. Hopefully that would shut out the ocean wind that slithered in through the cracks and openings under doors and through the walls.
Despite this each morning his room would smell of sweat and the familiar salt of the sea.
When I could not sleep I would watch the scene outside of my window. I saw the waves churn and swerve in that dark deep ocean, my stomach mimicking the same hypnotic motion from the safety of my room. That sickness carried itself in my dreams. Every sleepless night was accompanied by this sense of dread this sinking feeling as though I was slowly walking tied down to the unwavering depths of the sea. Squirming, slithering, crawling my way to shore. Held back by some colossal weight, an anchor is chain wrapped tightly to me weak frail leg. Some nights I would be accompanied by strange droning noises, I remember them being that of a call of a whale. Its echoing voice that penetrated the ears and spread across each cubic metre of that vast lonely ocean. Each molecule of water vibrating carrying on that sound like a memory of the past, a baton passed down hoping to be heard and returned. However I had no such luxury. After all my lungs would fill up and drown me before I could even scream for help. After that a limp lifeless body would trickle gently to the floor and I would awake in my bed. I suppose I felt as though my life was no longer in my hands I was a passenger being carried off to places unknown. The finally words called out to me chilled me and perplexed me at once and at the same time “I know what you did.”
Father’s disappearance had left a bitter taste in my throat, it showed me how easily life can be changed due to the actions of another. Maybe if he was still around I would no longer have such a fear of the emptiness of it all. In that regard I was akin to Grandfather. Both of us hated the silence of the dark but we filled it very differently.
When he finally passed away I had inherited the old house and the boat he had kept from his glory days and as he had little funds to pass on I found myself carrying on the family legacy out at sea. I was left with very little besides the crushing mountain of responsibility in a world without the watchful eyes of a parent to keep me on track. I was left envious of the suffering of others who could alleviate their misfortune with the wealth that was thrust upon them and the time to mourn over it.
I was left with one other possession that was handed over in a grubby envelope, left stained with the familiar black patches of dirt that now seemed to even grow white cultures in the decayed yellowed surface it was a reminiscent reminded of his poor hygiene something I was glad is now gone from my life. Grandfather had left me a note as his final goodbye to me. I held it in my right hand and read:
“I feel great regret in keeping things away from you especially after you have done so much for me. So I have left you with the boat from my time when I still had strength in me. I hope everything left in there will leave you satisfied.”
His passing was painful as for the first time in a long time I was left alone, only with my thoughts and memories to keep me company.