Searching In The Dark

Andre liked to roam. His favorite time was the gloaming when everything was turning grey and obscure and becoming a world of shadows and movement. During those hours he was sure he would see his mother again. The idea thrilled and scared him. He remembered how years ago, he’d believed she was a selkie with her long dark hair and her accent that was so different from everyone else’s. Of course he’d known she was from Spain. He’d been to the town with narrow streets surrounded by a yellow desert, but that was quickly forgotten once he’d come back to Irish greens and greys. He knew now that she wasn’t a selkie and had never been. She didn’t belong to the sea. She was in the air and the trees. In the evening he could feel her in the breeze that touched his cheek and in the cold of his fingers.

In his father’s house, the thought of her had been oppressive. She had lain quiet in the living room and Andre had been brought to see her by his father. His grip had been painful before he let go and Andre had to step up to the coffin himself. It wasn’t her, that’s what he wanted everyone to know. The figure before them with the pale face and straight mouth wasn’t his mother and that knowledge sat deep inside him.

In the kitchen, he’d stopped breathless from his need to get away. There were people standing by the sink, dark suits and coats. His aunt was by the door in a black pants and blouse. Her eyes were red from crying. There were sandwiches and cakes on the tables. Chairs pulled out, feet coming from under them.

“You need to open the door to let her out,” an elderly neighbor said. She was sitting at the table, wearing a black hat and coat. She held a cup in her hands. Her face was wrinkled and her blue eyes bright. “To let who out?” Andre asked and she smiled and shook her head.

To his aunt, the old lady said, “She needs to be freed,” and Andre thought of his real mother, not the woman in the coffin, but the woman who was light on her feet and whose skin shone. It was easy to imagine her flying away and he wanted that woman to stay with them. He cried out when his aunt went for the back door, but it was too late. The cold drifted in and a part of him drifted out into the night sky with the stars and his Mammy who must have been happier now when she was not tied to the rooms and that unknown face in the living room.

Andre was struck with the idea that his mother had abandoned his father’s house. She’d taken flight the first chance she got. But the estate was different. There was so much possibility. His aunt’s house was a narrow attached house held behind a stone garden. From her front door, identical grey houses spanned left and right and there was another row on the opposite side of the green. To drive into town, it was necessary to go around the green towards the Main Road. To walk, it was possible to go through the field at the back of his aunt’s house. Not everyone liked to walk this way, especially at night when there were few streetlights to guide the way. The path was muddy and went past two large warehouses that had once been used for storing flour and corn. They’d been vacant for many years and had broken windows and large cavernous dark rooms littered with wood and empty cans and cigarette butts. Fires had been lit there in the past and the furthest building from the estate had the corner blackened out. At night, lights from the town spread upwards to give the area a semblance of clarity. The traffic was audible during the day, but at night the irregular sounds of cars barely dipped into the quiet.

The muddy lane led past the warehouses and into town. Coming back towards home, Andre would be greeted by back gardens behind wooden fences, clothes hanging on lines, the curtains closed on lit bedroom windows and he liked moving freely behind everyone. He liked the open field in front of the warehouse with the overgrown grass and the trees that looked like old gnarled giants spreading their arms over the grass.

Andre tried to go there alone as often as he could, skipping out of the house before Ronan would appear. Ronan lived across the green from his aunt’s house with a little sister and mother. He had dark hair and bright green eyes. He could hardly sit still. In class his legs would be going constantly and he was always berated for tapping his pencil on his desk. He talked non-stop. The first time he and Andre wandered to the back of the estate, it was straight after school. They were still wearing their school uniforms. Ronan’s laces were untied and Andre noticed without saying anything, though the carelessness annoyed him. Ronan was talking about the kite that he’d built with his father. They had spent weeks working on the kite, only for it to stay on the ground. They had had no idea why, and had messed with the bridle and sideslip but nothing worked. “Da ended up getting pissed off,” Ronan said. For a moment there was silence. Andre breathed it in, but it didn’t last long. Ronan started talking about the kite he intended to build by himself. Andre hardly heard what he was saying, but he felt every word as if it were spit in the face. They were near the warehouses and the building made him think of the shed at home and the vision of his mother smiling while gathering wood. He was sure she was in there, maybe watching them from the large window, or maybe running around the place, and the discomfort of Ronan’s incessant talking was wearing on him. It felt wrong, as if this place, the field and the warehouse and the backs of the houses and the sky above, was one big church that needed silence.

“Shut up,” Andre finally said and for a moment Ronan looked at him with an open shocked mouth, then the surprise passed and he shoved Andre. After the accident, there’d been school yard fights with boys Andre had a sudden loathing for. Those boys had hardly said a word before they’d gotten thumped or kicked and a scuffle would start. But Andre had gone past such high feelings of hate and anger once he’d been sent to his aunt. He merely kept walking. “What are we doing here anyway?” Ronan said.

Andre didn’t answer and felt Ronan’s glance every now and again. The warehouse gaped in the sunlight. Opposite the front door someone had made a makeshift bench with upside-down buckets and a plank of wood. Empty cans of beer were tossed on the ground beside it. The silver of tops peeked out from the overgrown grass. Inside the building, there was a musty smell. Ronan walked behind Andre and pretended to vomit when he pointed out a used condom. The floors were littered with debris, but Andre kept his gaze upwards. At one point Ronan asked, “What are you looking for?” Andre didn’t answer.

Lorna Brown’s stories have appeared in several magazines such as Litro, The Capra Review, Congruent Spaces, The Missing Slate, The Manila Envelope and others. She grew up in Ireland, but lives in Massachusetts with her husband and three daughters and their dog. This story is an extract from her novel with the same title.

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