Grief

A Calm Beneath Castles

By Gregg Savage

Treasure Chest buried in the sand. Shutterstock Images

“Digging! Let’s goooo digging!”

This was an adventure Claire knew she could do without. The dense, leathery aroma had all but vanished from the sofa, which had become her sanctuary over the past three months, yet she had come to associate what little smell there was, with almost meditative states of peace and warmth.

On the sixty-fourth day of cradling her writer’s-block, Claire completed the arduous task of shifting the three-seater chesterfield, so that the view of Winston Beach could be more easily ignored.

With the intimidating vista replaced by three abstract pieces of art portraying wavy,
white lines on red backgrounds, she had managed to create a space to curl up and let the dreams unfurl; where the only two things she had to struggle to control, were her thoughts or the muscles behind her eyes, as she engrossed herself into the world of her favourite dramatic novels, scratching for inspiration.

Today, however, her five-and-a-half-year-old son, Tommy, was demanding control. Claire gave in with a long, reluctant sigh.

“Why do you want to go digging, Honey?”

“Pirates have hidden the treasure and we got to find it!” He announced.

“Oh, have they now? Well, we can’t allow that treasure to go undiscovered, now can we?”

“Nuh uhhhh”, he conceded.

As she peeled the upper part of her body away from the sofa, she couldn’t help but draw a loving smile on her face, while watching him try to manoeuvre his body, despite the baggy board shorts, in an attempt to dig up piles of imaginary sand.

Tommy’s matted, black hair contrasted that of his father’s, showing all the signs of a boy who was not yet old enough to be fussing over his looks every day. If Tommy remained convinced of his illusion for long enough, maybe the two of them could stay here for as long she wanted.

He sang a song while he dug:

We’re going on a treasure hunt, X marks the spot, three lines down with a dot, dot, dot.

After repeating several verses, Tommy stopped singing but kept his arms swaying. He looked up at her with his hazelnut eyes and communicated without a word that he knew this was make- believe. They locked eyes just as they had always done and sat in silent conversation. Her legs like weights, Claire released the rest of her body from the grip of the couch and just out of reach of its comforting scent.

It was time to go.

The two of them stood contemplatively at the rear entrance to their modern home, surveying the building layer of clouds diminishing what chance they had of an enjoyable afternoon. Claire’s only swimsuit, exposed more of her skin than she felt comfortable with and as she unfolded her arms, to drape the hair blowing against her face behind her ear, she looked down at Tommy whose enthusiasm had altered into a more solemn reluctance.

This time taking after his father, he pressed his lips together, unsatisfied with the one option Claire presented him with and she followed him with her eyes, as he defiantly marched with his bucket and spade down the sandy track.

It had not escaped Claire that Tommy’s reluctance, was due to their beach trips never being able to live up to those he had experienced with his father. She also knew that conveying this understanding to Tommy, in his own language, was futile. Explaining to him that his father was never coming back was an impossibility.

The situation reminded Claire of the baby herring which had naively trapped itself in their house last summer. Unable to see the link between their actions and its freedom, the bird ferociously resisted the loving help persistently offered from its would-be saviours. In the same way, Claire thought, Tommy was unable to connect-the-dots between lowering that box in the ground and Daddy never taking him out in the dinghy again.

As far as she was concerned, Tommy might only show slightly more excitement than usual were his father to unexpectedly arrive home after-dark tonight, Chinese food in one hand, bottle of wine in the other, nothing short of love for his small family.

It was when the two of them went on their weekend father-son fishing trips that Claire got most of her writing done. It provided the perfect opportunity to sit at her desk and write her novels uninterrupted. And, when it pleased her, she could look out of the study window and watch the two of them fish, taking comfort in imagining them smiling and relaxing together.

Somehow, they always managed to make at least one impressive catch and it was unavoidable, that Tommy would eventually run dripping-wet through the house, ripping Claire out of her make-believe world by triumphantly proclaiming that he had caught their dinner.

On the afternoon of her most recent birthday, Claire was on a roll (or, ‘in the zone’ as she described it) and had immersed herself so thoroughly in her writing; had become so absorbed by the characters unfolding before her, that she inevitably lost track of time. It was a noiseless lightning strike sharply filling the night sky that eventually alerted her to the dreadful realisation that there had been no distractions. No interrupting, triumphant proclamations of dinner being caught that night.

We’re going on a treasure hunt, X marks the spot, three lines down with a dot, dot, dot.

Claire lethargically carried herself around the remainder of the golden sand dunes, bordering the man-made track and finally exposed herself to the beach. The threatening clouds pervading the sky and the exposed mud-flats clogging the horizon, possessed their private section on Winston Beach with an unpleasant air of desolation. Tommy had ventured far enough, away for it to take a moment to decipher which way he was facing but there was no urgent need to summon him back; she could watch him well enough from the path’s end.

Claire hesitated to set herself up on the beach and instead stood silently watching her son. What caught her attention wasn’t so much what Tommy was doing, but rather what he wasn’t doing. She squinted enough to notice his dense hair was unable to get into full sway in the wind and confirmed that instead of digging like he ought to be, Tommy was looking back at her.

They watched each other long enough, for Claire’s lungs to begin begging for their denied breath and at once, she simultaneously gasped and began battling both wind and sand to make her way over to him, nearly collapsing when she discovered tears freely flowing from behind his eyes.

“My little baby what happened?” she asked in panic, kneeling to place her hands on his tiny shoulders for comfort.

“This storm’s going to bring rain, Mummy, and that means I have to go.”

“Well, where are you going precious?”, Claire forced down the familiar lump in her throat and stroked Tommy’s hair, “You’re scaring Mummy, Baby”.

“Got to find the pirate’s treasure – don’t want to, but got to.”

“What if we just head back inside, Honey? Would you like to play our pirate game in the
house?”

Tommy forced a chuckle through his tears as if to tell her she was being silly, “Treasure’s not in the house, Mummy. It’s buried in the dark.”

Sensing the imminence of the growing storm, Claire’s temperature and concern rose
considerably.

She pleaded with him as she wiped his face with her towel, “I know this isn’t the way you and Daddy used to play Sweetie, but I’m trying, Baby.”

Tommy suddenly dropped his bucket and spade and threw his arms around her. Shocked by the impulsive action, Claire delayed hugging him back. Eventually snatching him into her arms, she scrunched his small, blue shirt in her fists and let her own heartache free. The sounds of their grief gradually succumbed to the increasingly violent waves breaking in the distance.

Tommy spoke first.

“We caught you dinner, Mummy. It’s buried in the dark”.

Claire’s face immediately, lost all emotion and she slowly pushed herself out of their embrace, to examine him as if for the first time. Distant thunder tumbled towards them as Tommy used his hands to wipe his eyes. Claire saw him give an affectionate smile before bending down to pick up his bucket and spade.

Knowing that Tommy was now in control, she began following him along the shore, towards the Eastern cliffs of Winston Beach. Cool, light rain began to fall as they walked, the contrasting feeling on Claire’s skin causing her to close her eyes and breathe in deeply.

They reached the entrance to a small cave, where the overwhelming scent of salt-water mixed with seaweed and rotting fish forced Claire to swallow heavily. She protected herself from the foul intrusion with her towel and followed Tommy inside. Enough dull light crept into the cave, letting the layers of history forming its walls gradually become known to her.

Tommy set the bucket down beside himself and presented the spade to her in his outstretched palms. Outside, the rain drummed against the sand and rocks, forcing a bracing chill into the cave and Claire wrapped the towel around her thin frame, in a vain attempt to get warm.

Tommy failed to shiver.

The two of them looked into each other’s eyes and a dreadful emptiness replaced the eternity that had forever accompanied these moments. As the sadness travelled up her throat and into her eyes, she grudgingly picked up the spade from her son’s hands.

Claire sobbed through her tears, “I’m going on a treasure hunt”.

She dropped to her knees, drew the little, red spade back, drove it into the moist sand and struck something solid.

 

Gregg Savage is a Children Stories’ Writer and trained Teacher from Townsville, Australia. He currently posts a new tale everyday on his WordPress Website http://www.greggsavage.net. To read his full bio among those of other Writers, who have previously submitted their works to the blog, click on the “WRITERS FEATURED” page at the top.

 

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15.

African American Art Print Poster by Artist Sarah Jenkins

There is no doubt that religion has always puzzled me.

In the village, it was only Priscilla and I who used to attend service. Neither of our parents went to church. But we went all the same because we assumed it was the right thing to do. It also gave us a valid reason to avoid house chores for a few hours on Sunday mornings.

And if we did not feel like doing any in the afternoon, we could always lie that a church member had sent us on an errand after service. In truth, we would be lazing about by the stream, catching up with some of our other friends who might have also told the same lie, who knows.

Soon after father’s death, I once gathered enough courage to ask mother why she never went to church and her answer was curt.

“What will church help me with?! ” She had posed in response.

I knew mother was still grieving. Even if she never said it, I could see it in her eyes when she sat next to the fire most evenings after our meal, staring into nothing. No tears. Just stony eyes which ironically, spoke volumes. Our only response was to lay down our mats and go to sleep. We never knew just how long she sat there by the fire alone. In the mornings, she was always bright and early, a complete opposite from her previous solemn self.

Mother never forbade us from going to church though. On rare occasions, my siblings would also join me and Priscilla for service. Priscilla is the last born in her family so it was mostly her.

The village pastor was as dramatic as they come. He spoke of hell fire in such a threatening manner, we were left convinced that we would not escape it, as long as we did not repent and accept Jesus. He would bob around the makeshift pulpit condemning witchcraft, fornication, polygamy and all those ills associated with the devil. It was like this every Sunday. Sermons on just how real, hell fire was.

Some villagers attributed the pastor’s demeanor to the fact that, he still held it against his congregants, for failing to raise enough money to build a better church. Others thought he was truly called by God judging by a particular story about him making the rounds.The rest who avoided his church altogether, were simply not willing to give up their traditions at the prompting of a strange, short man or they saw no need to change, what they considered the norm in their lives. I believe our parents fell into this latter category.

The story that congregants of the church loved to narrate as proof of the pastor’s calling, was of one family which had been having trouble sleeping at night for a lengthy period. Every time they retired to bed, strange noises would be heard coming from the roof. As a last resort, they called the village pastor who held a powerful prayer session in the home. That would be the last of the bizarre occurrence.

If he could pray successfully against evil forces, then he was truly after God’s own heart, so they concluded.  I like to think of me and Priscilla as spectators and not very much interested in proving the credibility or none, of the pastor’s.

Here in the city, church is very different. There is a large parking lot where people park all types of cars. The church is built of stone, very spacious and aerated with overhead screens and an assortment of musical instruments for the choir and praise and worship team.

The pastors are always impeccably dressed. Their wives well put together. I’m sure if our village pastor came here, he would instantly feel out of place with his disheveled appearance and simple bicycle. The pastors here are all driving such wonderful cars. The sermons equally vary. It is not always the same thing being preached.

On Sundays, Mama Ken in her beautiful African inspired outfits will sit on the pew, next to her husband, nodding at everything the pastor says. Ken will be fidgety and would go out before service ends. Angie would have that bored look on her face. She will also eventually find an excuse to go out.

Here, it is seemingly allowed to wear trousers to church. In the village, wearing trousers as a female is highly frowned upon. The gossipy village women would not hesitate in calling you out on it. Your peers will alienate you for being openly brazen in your dressing. Your father would probably beat the living daylights out of you for bringing shame to the family.

Being the help, I’m expected to sit through the whole service. Many times, I do not really understand what is being preached. The pastor speaks in that twang’ that is very similar to Angie’s. I would rather be home sleeping after working for 6 days straight. But I know that is just but a pipe dream. Not in Mama Ken’s house. I have to be in church with them every Sunday whether I’m up to it or not.

At the end of the service, she would then gladly introduce me to her church friends as her help. She will act like she is so grateful to have me, although I suspect the real reason behind her introductions and her insistence that I attend service with them, is just to prove how Godly she is to her friends. Her church friends will in turn smile in awe, their carefully applied lipsticks glinting in the sun.

They will question why she never showed up at the cell group meeting last Sunday for her residential area, to which she will openly lie that she had to work in the afternoon. I will be there, standing in the shadows, trying to look invisible for I know that Sunday afternoons are reserved for outings in Mama Ken’s house. The ones I’m hardly included in. Never for boring church cell group meetings.