Sunday, 12 October 2014

Uncle John

One side of the flacking, blue painted, panelled wood door stands slightly ajar on rusty hinges on this bright Spring day. I peep round, squeezing in daringly. No one is there. High above my head level on the walls of the cavernous, hillside excavated, potting shed, the garden tools hang from nails hammered into granite walls – spades, trowels, forks, suspended still in the safety of their lair. The great oak, old hall, table sits squarely mid-way in. It holds the soft compost I like to play with, but its crumbling textures lie out of reach today. As does the light switch, so I dare not venture further into the far black rear of the shed fearing it hosts the “ghaists and houlets” of my father’s stories, like the terrifying giant spiders which creep and crawl along the pipes and walls of the outside toilet. This is the underworld beneath our home, a place I have never seen my mum enter. This is his realm, very different to her warm kitchen with its smells of scones baking, jam making and Fairy laundry soap. Only a 2 year old ventures underground, embolden by the innocence of love.

A creak signals the sun’s rays streaming in as the heavy door is opened gently, and I see him as a shadow against their glow. As our eyes adjust, I see, what years later I would know, the locked in face, seeing but not seeing the world, feeling but not feeling life, that intensity of aloneness, the missing years, the lost youth, the shell shock. The man before me stands tall, his pure white curly hair escapes beneath his cap, his roma nose angular and pointed like his tight jaw line. Then he sees me, and the face softens, the eyes sparkle and the hugest of smiles brightens all my world. My Uncle John scoops me up and sits me atop the table and begins to show me how to plant up dahlias.

© Sheila Ash, 2014

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