Monday, August 14, 2017

The Key (short story)

"Funeral Services for Miss M. F. O. O'Byrne, 28 Arnfordstreet, Cloonaconelly, who died Tuesday, will be held Monday at 4,30 PM at the Shepherd's Mortuary.
Miss Margaret Fianoula Oonagh O'Byrne was born in Kircknacarry on May 18 - 1922 and lived in Cloonaconnelly since 1945. No occupation. Relatives of Miss O'Byrne unknown.
To whom it may concern, please contact below if you have any information about relatives of Miss O'Byrne.

Campbell Clarke and Maguire, Solicitors 
Cloonaconelly, March 23, 1962"

    The small piece of yellowed paper, cut from a newspaper, swirled down from the drawer where I looked for the archive of my ancestors. I did not know where it came from and to which file it belonged. And I would not have paid any attention to it if the name O'Byrne hadn't caused a strange stir in my stomach. A feeling I could not explain.
   I read the announcement over and over again and tried to remember where I heard the name before. Although not an uncommon surname, I never met an O'Byrne and I had never heard of the town or village Cloonaconelly. I turned to the computer next to me and Googled the town which turned out to be an old village in Northern Ireland, 300 miles from where I lived. I logged on to the telephone directory and found the solicitors, still listed with all three names. I did however, not find 'O'Byrne' which wasn't a great surprise given the fact that according the announcement, relatives were unknown.

  It was very quiet in the archive of the Genealogical Foundation, there were no other people. What I did next was against my character and the rules of the Foundation; I hid the piece of paper in my wallet, closed the drawer with the files and left for home where I spent much time studying the family tree that partly covered the wall of my study, to look for any clues. I was determined to find the cause of that strange stir and it was only logical to search within my family. But nothing at all indicated I was in some way related to Miss Margaret as I called her. Still......

   During a week of studying, thinking, reading and bad sleeping, I had a dream, a very strange dream in which a voice mentioned I was not a legitimate Kavanagh. The voice told me to go back to the archive and the look for my birth certificate.
So I did, I spent hours and hours going through files in drawers and on the Internet but my birth was no where mentioned. Oh yes, I did have a birth certificate but how odd that it was never registered!!
The voice never returned but had seeded serious doubts about my origin. Were the people that I called Mum and Dad my real parents? Was my marriage that tragically ended with the sudden death of my beloved wife, legal? What was my real name? Who was I? I copied my original birth certificate and asked a friend specialised in old documents, to take a look at it.
The outcome although not unexpected, turned my whole life upside down: it was an excellent falsification.
I decided to travel to Cloonaconnelly, contacted Campbell, Clark and Maguire for an appointment with Maguire Junior who recommended the Lion Inn and booked a train.

    My visit to the solicitors was shocking. Maguire Junior, concerned about my well being, asked his secretary for sandwiches and a pot of strong tea. He also asked her to cancel his next appointments. He too understood that my history was totally rewritten by the find of the announcement.
A local newspaper from 1946, attached to the will of Miss O'Byrne told a story I had not found on the Internet. The story of the young mother that moved to a small village in Northern Ireland, in the last month of her pregnancy. She was well mannered and obviously wealthy but there was no husband. He died not long ago; he never recovered from the injuries from the Second World War, so she said. People called her Miss instead of Mrs and she never corrected them. She was a loner and became a hermit after the enormous tragedy 3 months after she gave birth to her child, a lovely boy with blond hair and blue eyes.

   When Miss O'Byrne was in the garden with doors and windows open due to the lovely warm weather, her son was stolen from his cradle. She was devastated, cried, blamed herself, searched day and night.So did the police but her child seemed to have vanished in thin air. Evil tongues spoke against her: she killed her own son and buried him in the garden. Though after she passed away in 1962, no remains were found.
She lost contact with the villagers and turned out to be dead for several days when she was found. Post mortem revealed that she died of natural courses. "A broken heart"said the kind villagers. "Of guilt" said the gossipers. The police found a letter to the solicitors who put the announcement in the newspaper but no one ever turned up.

   After numerous cups of tea and two sandwiches, Maguire Junior showed me an old photograph, a sepia portrait of a young woman. I looked at it and was shocked to see a very young and female edition of my own face and than I knew what the solicitor already understood: I was that little boy that suddenly disappeared.
We parted with an appointment for the next day, I walked to the hotel where I spent hours and hours to come to terms with my past but I failed. It was too much to take in.

   The next morning I was given an envelope with a handwritten letter and 2 keys and the address of my mother's villa. I was told to expect a derelict house after decades of neglect and to be careful stepping on wooden floors and climbing stairs.
The large key was of the front door with the rusty hinges that made a ghostly creaking sound when I firmly pushed. My feet hit a large pile of old papers that released a musty smell of decay. I carefully walked through the house, still furnished as she left it when she died. Everything was covered in thick layers of dust that danced in the light peeping through the holes of the fading curtains.
Wallpaper, once with bright roses, curled down the walls like forgotten flowers. Carpets muffled the sound of my feet. I stood still in the middle of the room and listened to noises from the past. Did she sing for me? Could I still hear her voice to which I had no memory at all? Did she walk up and down the room with me if I cried? So many questions but the only answers were silence, total deep silence.

   I looked for a door for the second key but did not find it until I was upstairs where only one door was locked. To my astonishment, nor the key or hinges made a noise, the door swung open if it hadn't been locked for so long. I wasn't prepared for what I saw and I only noticed I was crying when I tasted my salt tears. In front of me stood a cradle.
A beautiful cradle made from the finest willow branches, now touched by time, and partly covered by beautiful expensive lace, too delicate to touch. The lace that she touched with her hands, the lace that protected the baby...... me. Did she smile when she looked through the lace at my face? Did her hands carefully fold it away before she lifted me in her arms? I imagined I heard her voice, a soft whisper. Or was it the wind?

   I do not know how long I stood there till I finally noticed the news papers scattered on the floor. The newspapers that mentioned the tragedy of the lost baby. The mingled ink and letters witnesses of her many tears. Her grief.
Photo: Darren Nisbett Fine Art Photography
Did she return to this room after she knew I would not come back? And if she did was she still, did she cry or call for me? Did she rock the empty cradle and sing?

   I finally read the letter my mother wrote to me, as if she knew one day I was going to find my true roots.
And finally I could hear her cry, loud and grieving, full of sorrow and pain.

Or was it the house that groaned under the weight of 70 lost years?


Word of thanks: the photo of @darrennisbett (Instagram) inspired me to write this story and I was given permission to use the photo as an illustration for which I am very grateful. Thank you Darren!

Link: the beautiful website Darren Nisbett Fine Art Photography

Note: the story is pure fiction! A figment of my imagination!

Helen

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Little Doors (short story)

"Are you like me? Orderly, introvert, tidy, easy going, laid back?
Oh, and not to forget handsome, rich, well dressed, wealthy! Idyllically the perfect son in law!

You might think I am exaggerating; thinking too much of myself. You will say: "Nobody is all that...."
But my dear, I am all that! I really am....
Your next question will be: "Than you are already taken....". No sweetheart, I am not.
Yes, I know, you are astonished aren't you? No one can be all that and still not taken.
Well, I am your living example, it is possible. I have to admit that it is not my free choice, I met many women I wanted to share my life with but although I have so much and beyond to offer, they never wanted to share their lives with me. Strange isn't it?

As soon as I invited them home, the relationship changed. Yes, I have a home, quite big really. I am not telling you secrets if I say it is a very, very big Estate with woodlands, fields and a long drive way with a gate guarded by big statues of lions. And of course a gate keeper as I prefer to keep the gates locked as often as possible. Maybe this scares my female visitors off? Being locked up? Why would they if they have all my money to spend, an Estate, the most handsome man on earth and many servants?
Indeed, if you and I will get along and marry, you will have servants; people who keep the Estate in good order, who look after you. I even have doctors and nurses, a bookkeeper, gardeners.
You look surprised.... this is not what you expected, isn't it?And they are all yours.

Of course I am wealthy enough to pay all the staff, I just told you that. And do you know that I know them all by name? Each one of them. And they appreciate that, they respect me, you can tell by the way they talk to me, with low voices, kind and patient. They know that they should not upset me, not to make me angry. Am I a violent person you ask me? No, I am not. I am always kind and calm.
No no, this is not true. I agree I can be upset if I the bookkeeping is not in good order, I hate disorderly paperwork. Oh yes, this can annoy me so very much!!! But please keep this as a secret.

I think I am going to tell you another secret, are you ready for it? And will you promise me not to leave me?
Promise!!! Yes... good girl!

All the staff I just mentioned; there are not as many as I want you to believe. Somehow they don't stay here for long. I replace them for others but sometimes, when I stayed in my room for too long, again staff members left. And lately I can't find new members as easily as I used to. And the new ones are often not as polite as the ones of who I thought were loyal to me.
Do you think they are jealous? Jealous of my status, my money, my good looks?

Another secret is that I do not trust my new staff any more. I think they are betraying me.
In what way, you ask me? I suspect them to add pills to my food. Not that I need pills of course, but I am almost certain they try to poison me! Yes, that frightens you too, doesn't it? Poisoning, mind you!!!
And they avoid me as well, I see less and less people walking around. They don't talk to me as they did before, they avoid me. Now I come to think of it, yes, they avoid me!! How dare they!! I pay them very good wages and want to be obeyed!!

Oooohhh.... now I am getting angry, very angry!!
Are you listening to me? Where are you? You walked away from me, come back!! Come back I tell you!!
Where is everybody? Where are you? Where is the other staff? Why am I on my own? Nobody told me that they were going to leave the Estate, to leave me....
Photo: @glory.of.dispair
Did you leave a note? Whatever note? Are your notes in the cupboard? The large cupboard down the hall?
The one with all the little doors, doors that thrive me sick....... little doors that remind me of all the little doors in my head. Doors with hidden thoughts that disappear every time I open one.
I want to know what is behind those doors, I want to understand but all I see is paper, sheets, files, prescriptions, names of other people..... I am angry, I do not want papers, I want my thoughts back....!!"


        The lamp dangling from the ceiling didn't shed a light any more at the enormous chaos, found by a visitor of a long forgotten Estate.
The man looked around, his hand protecting his nose against the damp smell. His eyes watched the chaos of passed times and he tried to get his head around the memories of hundreds of spirits that never followed their troubled owners who left the Estate for good.


Word of thanks: the photo of @glory.of.disrepair (Instagram) inspired me to write this story and I was given permission to use the photo as an illustration for which I am very grateful. Thank you Mathias!

Link: please visit the beautiful Instagram account of @glory.of.disrepair

Note: the story is pure fiction! A figment of my imagination!

Helen

Friday, August 04, 2017

The Sitter (short story)

Winter. The flames of the fire in the large hearth worked magical shadows on the furs in front of it and on the rich Goblin's that covered the old walls of my room in the castle. Their vibrant colours came to life but I did not notice it that evening. I looked at the portrait of the man in front of me, my paint brush in my hand. The only thing I had to do was signing but I felt reluctant to do so, as if I felt the sitter with the mysterious eyes, not wearing his cuirass today, would disappear to never return.

All of a sudden the man spoke.....
   "My ancestors were Vikings. No farmers or warriors but of high birth. They owned land, forests and large houses, ship yards and boats. Their harbours lay in the shelter of the large Fjords.
Like many generations before them, they sailed to Éire but not before the 12th century. They arrived here in1145 which is almost at the end of the Viking period as you will know."

Here he paused, he did not look at me. His mind was elsewhere, the sound of his deep voice, brown like his hair and  warm peat on a Summer's day, slowly faded in silence. Just as I thought he was not going to speak further, he said:
   "Unnulf, son of Gilss and Unnulf's son Grimolf, were amongst the Vikings that sailed the river Camlin to Longphort in the county Anghaile where they joined an existing settlement. But the hostility they met, even amongst their own people, was not what they expected. They tried to build their own settlement but were not successful; after 10 years they sailed home again. Grimolf how ever had fallen in love with the beautiful Aodhamair who did honour to the meaning of her name: 'fire'. As well her character as her red hair: she stood up against her parents to follow Grimolf to the North where they settled at the estate of Grimolf's ancestors near Oseberg.
It could not have been easy for Aodhamair, she missed the green rolling hills of Éire but learned to love the dark Northern forests and their inhabitants like Giants, Troll's, the Small People that lived underground, the laughing Witches, the screaming Human Birds that all of a sudden appear to scare you with their loud unpleasant raw voices. She loved to tell fairy tales to her children and later in life, her grand children. The Éire's are wonderful storytellers and her blood passed this skill on to further generations.
My mother Freydis, a descendant of Aodhamair, told me in good tradition all the old stories and fairy tales. But not only the Norwegian, also the Celtic. About Unicorns and Elves.
I remember the evenings during long and cold Winters where I rested my head in her lap in front of a roaring fire. Her beautiful voice almost sang the tales; I hardly dared to breath. Her hand laid on top of my head. I was wanted and loved."

The man paused again, his eyes  with the colour of melting glaciers, softened and shone like he had to hold back his tears. This touched my heart which had already opened to him during the long sittings that lay behind us. Then he suddenly looked me straight in my eyes:
   "I felt torn between both fantasy worlds. Or were they real? I could not tell but I longed to return to the roots of Aodhamair. Ten years ago I left my mother and father and sailed to an Éire that was still fighting Cromwell. An Éire that fought to keep it's own identity. As they did during the occupation of my Viking ancestors.

My high birth opened doors and it did not take long before I settled. I listened to and read about the fierce history of Éire, about fairy tales but soon found out, although my Irish blood from centuries ago, I am still a Viking. I miss the Fjords, the forests, the long dark winters."

He rose from his chair, his eyes fixed on me: "Your eyes as green as the rolling hills, your hair like flames."
I only noticed I was still holding my paint brush when he took it from my hand. He pulled the strings of my linen hat to free my hair. He unbuttoned my apron, lifted me in his arms and walked to the hearth.
"Will you follow me? As my Aodhamair?"
My fingers like the wings of the elves, touched his face. And when he finally kissed me I could hear the sound of the waterfall of the glacier, it made my body tremble. His hair mingled with mine, our bodies melted together, reuniting Viking with Celtic......

Autumn. The wind hauls  through the broken windows of the ruined castle covered in bushes and tall trees with flaming red leaves. The crows took over long ago and their harsh voices echo against the crumbling walls. What is left of the tower fights bravely against time, contrasting with the sky that colours like melting ice.


Word of thanks: the portrait of the man is from the collection of Roy and Nadine Precious and inspired me to write this story. Thank you Nadine and Roy for allowing me to use the photo!

Links: the Instagram accounts of Roy and Nadine.
Please visit their website where you will find many other portraits and beautiful antiques.

Note: the story is pure fiction! A figment of my imagination!

Helen

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Bundle 'De Zon' (The Sun) availale in eBook format

On July 15 I wrote on my Dutch Blog 'Helen Varras' about the writing contest of Leessst Publishers.

https://www.bruna.nl/ebook/de-zon-9789491863097All stories - including my 'Brandende Getuige' (Burning Witness) and 'Gemiste Warmte' (Missed Warmth) - are now available in eBook format at Bruna.nl.
And not just my stories of course but also beautiful stories and poems of many other authors. I can only advise you to buy De Zon (note: only available in Dutch!).

Another good reason to buy the eBook (3,95 Euro) is that part of the poceed will go to KWF Cancer Fund.

Even if you manage some of the Dutch language you will not regret you bought it.
The above Bruna Link and clicking the photo will direct you immediately to the purchase website.

I wish you good reading!

Helen