Gordon Ferris – The Changeling

Gordon Ferris is a sixty-two-year-old Dublin writer living in Donegal for the past thirty-six years. He is a member of the Dublin Writers Forum and has had poetry and short stories published in A New Ulster and The Galway Review and poetry in Hidden Channel.


The Changeling

By Gordon Ferris

After getting off the bus at the second last stop on Cappagh Road I turned on to the road for home. Approaching the house I could see the curtains move as Mrs.Dillon looked through the edge of her living room window to see whose footsteps were approaching. Morning, noon, or night she seemed to be there, sometimes, depending on the light, you could see her outline. I’d love to have the nerve to do something outrageous like dropping my trousers, but I know I’d be hammered with the wooden spoon by me Ma or worse again lectured by my Da, far more painful. I went on in closing the door after me, resisting the temptation to delight or shock Mrs Dillon, hard to tell with her multi-lined expressionless face what her reaction would be.

Entering the hallway I threw my jacket on the post at the end of the stairs. I could hear activity from upstairs where two identical doors lay side by side, like sentry’s standing guard, someone coming out of the loo on the landing at the top of the stairs, and into the bathroom next door, hurried feet stomping, doors noisily opening and closing, all this happening in less than a second. 

Someone’s in a hurry, I thought, as I  entered the living room through the kitchen at the end of the hall, opposite the front door. Ma was in the kitchen pouring tea for herself from the old wet grass-green Delph teapot that was in the house as long as I could remember. 

“There’s tea in the pot if you want some.” Ma said.

“Stay where you are, I’ll get it myself, I don’t mind.” 

I poured myself a cup of the stewed tea, probably the same pot of tea being replenished from early morning. Ma is a great tea lover. An excuse to have a fag, she would say, saying she was addicted to neither.

The layout of the downstairs used to be, enter the front door, and you’re met by stairs to the right and just two doors, one to your left into what was called the parlour. This was the room where so-called special people were ushered into, people like the parish priest doing his rounds, or the insurance man-money lender my Ma used to borrow from to buy essential things, like communion clothes or Christmas clothes and toys. He used to call every Friday to collect the insurance money and a few bob of the loans. Charley Brown was his name and he was a fixture in the house for many years until I eventually left home. The other door led into the kitchen-living room, which was originally one room, my dad built a small extension to the kitchen out into the yard, and a partition and door separating the kitchen and living room. My Mom asked me how I got on at the exams on Friday. I told her.

“I managed to get all the work done, but I’m not sure how I  got on”

“As long as you gave it your best shot, sure that’s all that matters, you can concentrate on getting a job now”

 “What if I want to stay on in school, what if I do well in my exams”  

She dismissed this with 

“Wait till September and see how you do” 

A bit dismayed at this I took my tea and went into the living room,  leaving my mother to her ironing, she loved ironing, ironed everything in sight, all the clothes we wore, all the bedclothes we slept between, even the curtains were taken down every now and then and cleaned and ironed. It’s no wonder she was always exhausted and stressed out, but still, she never complained, she kept a smile on her face, except when she thought no one was looking.

The living room for once was empty, I put the TV on to get the football results, I wasn’t much of a football fan, actually preferred to play than watch, I  was a Spurs supporter, liked Glen Hoddle tried to copy him. My thoughts now turned to the night ahead, I usually went to a dance in St Michel’s in Glasnevin for teenage students, they always had good bands playing, this night was a special night, it is the last one before the summer break with one of the most popular bands around called, Reform, all the way from the county of Limerick. 

I was to meet my girlfriend there, who travelled all the way from Drimagh on the far side of the city. She went there every Saturday night and it’s there that we met, after I eventually got the nerve to ask her to dance. I was always shy with girls, always found it hard to know what to say, almost had to plan a conversation in advance when in female company, but it seemed easy talking to her. I thought she was the most beautiful creature I had ever seen, mesmerised the moment she smiled at me, amazed she gazed in my direction when there was better looking and better built than me, yet, she looked in my direction. 

As I walked towards her going to ask her to dance, I was caught in her gaze,  we looked at each other for what seemed like an age but was in fact only a second. I was just four feet from her when she stepped in my direction accepting my invitation to dance before i asked her, I put my hand on her shoulder to let her go past me to the dance floor, her purple perfumed scent catching me as she glided past, it’s a scent that sticks with me to this day, I don’t know the name of the scent, I just call it my purple scent. It seemed like a mix of lavender and patchouli oil. We danced and we seemed to fit, what we talked about I have no idea, probably all trivial stuff, but my shyness seemed to have vanished, I could talk to this girl.

At the end of this night, I left her down to the corner where the mini-bus taking her home was, we arranged to meet the following week. We then kissed passionately for several minutes, holding our bodies tightly together, and on her way, she went, the beginning of my first real romance.

Back down to earth now in my living room, I could hear our neighbour Mr Fagan next door arriving home, calling,

“Where’s that beautiful wife of mine, “

I could hear Nancy shushing him, telling him loudly to, 

“keep it down will you, we don’t want, the whole road hearing you going on, now do we?” 

” I don’t care who hears me, I want the world to know how  much I love my wife.” 

After which he started to serenade her at the top of his voice with the aria from some Italian opera. To hear them you conjure up the picture of a gent in evening dress on bended knee and his lady in all her finery, but the mental image would have been way off the mark, Mr Fagan, Joe that is, was, in fact, a truck driver who worked morning noon and night, a devoted father and husband, who happened to enjoy the odd pint or ten on an occasion. He went to the pub on the way home every evening until eight, and then at night over the weekend, and occasionally, if there was a heavy session on Saturday,  Sunday morning, for the cure.

I wonder if he realized, the female lead in those operas he was so fond of, take their own lives in the end.

Mrs Fagan was a housewife who went to bingo on Friday and to the pub with Joe every Saturday and the occasional Sunday night, never on Sunday during the day, “who’d get the dinner”, she would say.

My Mother came in now laughing

 “Do ye hear that racket next door.” 

“What’s on the telly?” she said picking up the paper and looking at the TV page. 

“There’s a good film on the other side there, I Want to Live,  Susan Hayward’s in it, true story.” 

She did this sort of thing all the time, trying to get us to watch what she likes. If she liked it,  then, in her mind, everyone else should. She just came in now to put this film on, for me to watch.  She was going to go back out again. She means well.

I got up and changed over to where she wanted,

 “never heard of her” 

“She’s way before your time” 

“ have to start getting ready soon”

“far better looking than some of those egits you get parading their bits on the telly nowadays”.

I thought she was ignoring what I was saying, but then

”Dinner will be ready soon,”  meaning, don’t go out anywhere until you eat. What’s with this obsession with eating I said to her in passing? 

“Ye know what they say, an empty sack never stands up” telling me not to be answering back, that I wasn’t too big to get a slap on the ear.

Just then my Dad came in. He had been out in the back garden doing his bits and pieces, he had built a makeshift greenhouse with sheets of plastic he had acquired from god knows where.

“That was some performance in there, they’re gone all quiet in there now, that’s her up the spout having more babies in nine-month time now.” 

He said sitting down with a thud like a dropped bag of coal. Ma gave him a quick, corner of the eye dirty look, disapproving of anybody mentioning anything of a sexual nature in public, and in front of the kids, shocking. Still only a kid I thought to myself. Dad changed the subject now, 

“Ah that’s a great film, that’s Susan Haywards a cross looking bitch, fine-looking woman, though, that’s a true story he finished with.” My mom praised the film again on her way out, remarking, she wasn’t that good looking”.

 

There was silence for a brief period after my mother left the room to go back into the kitchen. 

“Well, how did ya get on.” He paused for a second, then added. 

“In school yesterday” I sensed a nervousness in his chat, but maybe it was my imagination. Perhaps this was his way of talking to adults, maybe he thinks of me as an adult now, not a child to be told what to do and to learn from the elders in the family. This is what was in my head, maybe it was just my low self-esteem showing its ugly head, or the uncertainty of an unknown future. 

What had I got ahead of me? Where do I go from here? 

I hadn’t given any of these things much thought really. I had been sure before this year that there was to be no further education for me, couldn’t wait to get out, I wasn’t academically inclined and that was that. Now, there was an inkling of doubt creeping in. Certain teachers this past year had instilled a love of books and dare I say it, learning. Again, I stress, this was just something that was buried in the deepest recesses of my mind. Although I had gotten through all the questions in the exams,  in my mind there was still little chance of me getting good results. Or this is what was drilled into me.

I told him the same thing I told my mother, that I did better than I expected, managed to get through all the work, must wait now until August to know for sure. 

“That’s grand then, so do you plan on looking for work now or what? “

He said, looking over his specs, which he used for reading. I replied that I intended going out on Monday, hoping to get work, then when I get the results of the inter cert I can see what I will do then, stay on or get a permanent job. He put the paper down, removed his glasses, rubbed his bald head like he was brushing his imaginary hair and said. 

“I’ll tell you what, I know Paddy and Mick Kavanagh well, tell ya what we can do, I can have a word in their ear about your serving your time as an apprentice barman for them in town, you can say nothing to them about the school situation and if you want to go back in August, just leave and back to school you go, no harm done, and if not, you have a well-paid job. How does that sound?”

I thought for a second and agreed it was a good idea, for now, it made sense. 

“That’s grand then, I’ll see them on Monday and let you know Monday night when I get home, ok. That’s grand than”.

He said, putting the glasses on and going back into his paper.

At this, I got up and went out to see if the dinner was ready yet. Get your priorities’ right, I thought. Getting ready for the night, and that’s not going to happen if I don’t get food into me, Ma’s feeding obsession had to be overcome before I go anywhere. In the kitchen Ma was knitting now, when I came in she was ironing, always seems to be doing something, sometimes several things at a time. In fact, she was cooking the dinner as she knitted during the spare minutes between stages. She said it relaxed her, but I don’t imagine it could possibly, maybe at the end of the day when your wired up and need to unwind, but when you’re up to your eyes, in the middle of the day, multitasking with all the demands of family domesticity, especially when you’re getting my dinner, knitting seems unusual, and out of place.

” Did ya have a chat with your Father” 

She said, looking me straight in the eye, turning her head when our gaze met, starting a new line in the jumper she was knitting. I told her we had a little chat, she nodded knowingly.

I’ll say one thing, we never went cold in winter or experienced hunger. Always plenty of woollen clothing to keep the demons of Dublin’s frosty winds and snowing winters out. Always home-baked bread. My Mother after al,l was a countrywoman, reared on a small farm on the borders of Carlow-Kilkenny. 

I remember one time as a child we used to get a fresh chicken delivered by post from my grandparents in the country every other week. During this period of time, there happened to be a postal strike and there was no chicken for ages. We all put it to the back of our minds; Mom just went to the local butcher for Sunday sustenance. Eventually, when the strike was over, the unfortunate postman could be seen coming up the path, one hand outstretched with parcel between thumb and forefinger, the other hand,  fingers pinching the nose to keep out the fowl decaying stench. He handed the parcel to my mother, scowled, and went on his way saying he would have to be disinfected from head to foot after that. 

Now I forced myself to eat the dinner, wishing I had a dog so I could slyly feed the food too, not having a pet I had to persevere and get it into me, strange how long it takes to eat when you’re in a hurry, it’s like being force-fed.

That was the serious stuff sorted, now down to the important business of trying to get into the bathroom before anyone else decides they want to use it, because, apparently, I’m way down the list of priority concerning grooming activities. Luckily, I was in the clear, for a change, no one was about. Into the shower, which in fact was just a rubber attachment for rinsing hair my brother got from a Peter Marks shop attached to the taps. How he got it God knows, probably robbed it, why, I don’t know, not exactly worth anything. Not that any of us would do anything illegal like that. Shower over, with the sisters Timotei shampoo retrieved from its hiding place, preferable than that Lozene that our Mother bought, a scent like the hospital I thought. Out now looking for my sister’s blow-dryer, thank goodness, she’s not here, There Would be a war over my using it. We argued over far less.

 

 

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