Facing the Music

Issue sevenIssue Seven Fiction

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by Moya Roddy.

 

Similimum, similimum. Like with like. Homeopathy works by releasing the body’s innate power to heal, a power immanent in each of us, waiting to be tapped. The past is there too, locked away in cells, tissue, muscle.

I’m not thinking any of this the night I burst into tears. I don’t even know why I’m crying! One minute I’m a perfectly sane human being, the next I’m bawling my eyes out like I could cry forever.

‘Mummy! Mummy!’ My six–year old’s voice breaks the spell.

Wiping away tears, I hurry to the bedroom.

‘There, there, Mummy’s here,’ I soothe, trying to make myself sound normal.

‘It’s too hot,’ Daisy protests. ‘I can’t sleep.’

‘Ssshh, we don’t want to wake Ronan.’ I stroke her hair and she reaches up, touches my face.

‘You’re crying, Mummy. Your face is all wet.’

‘It’s nothing. Grown–ups cry sometimes.’

‘I don’t. Not even when I cut myself. Will I kiss it better?’

‘Oh yes, darling.’

She leans up and plants a big sloppy kiss on my cheek and I pull her to me.

‘That’s too tight, Mummy,’ she complains.

 

As soon as Daisy drifts off I retreat to the sitting–room. I turn off the light and sit on the floor, back against the sofa. I blow my nose and the sobbing starts again: undulating, rhythmic. I go with it, rocking back and forth, rudderless, hands clasping my knees for safety. Outside, streetlights blur. Sometime later, I’m not sure when I hear Declan come in trying not to make any noise. He probably thinks I’m in bed. I don’t move and he almost trips over me.

‘Jes–!? Joanie, what are you doing sitting in the dark?

He backtracks, switches on the light. I blink, feeling like a convict. He glances from my bloated eyes to the pile of tissues on the carpet.

‘What’s up? Where are the kids–’ He stops.

‘Declan!’

‘C’mon Joanie, I didn’t say–’

‘It’s written all over your face.’

Our eyes lock.

He doesn’t fool me: two years, two hundred years. It will always be there, the same as if it happened yesterday.

 

‘Mummy, Mummy!’ Daisy calls, waddling towards the washing line. 

‘What darling?’ I ask through a mouthful of pegs, my eyes feasting on her curly hair. 

Holding out a leg, she giggles. ‘Pee pee.’ A stain I hadn’t noticed darkens her pants.

The sun dazzles for a brief moment then seems to recede, leaching light from the sky.

‘Filthy girl,’ I scream, ‘filthy, dirty girl.’ My hand flies out.

‘Stop, Mummy, stop!’ Ronan pleads, tugging at my skirt. ‘You’re hurting her.’

 

Declan crouches beside me. ‘I was only– Look, that’s all in the past. Doctor Whelan said it was–’

I feel another wave approach, this one with an ugly slick of anger in tow. “Fuck off,” I scream in my head, see myself lunge at Declan, fists flying. Other words reverberate: bastard, fucker, prick. I put my hands to my ears.

Declan hesitates, and I sense him trying to decide whether to put an arm round me. I want him to vanish. I want everything to vanish.

‘Joanie, it’s me. Look at me.’

I look, realise it’s my husband talking, the man I love. Breathing deeply, I fall into his arms. ‘Oh, Declan, what’s happening?’

‘It’s ok, it’s ok.’ He pats my back. ‘A good night’s rest, that’s what you need.’

 

I don’t sleep. Instead I wade through the evening looking for a clue, anything to explain the avalanche of tears. There’s only the everyday stuff, dinner with Daisy and Ronan, a game, homework, the usual squabble before going to bed. I snuggle into Declan’s back, wonder if the homeopathy course I’m taking is stirring things up? It’s been such a godsend, I even love the mountains of homework.

My heart leaps. I was working on this week’s assignment when– when I noticed the radio was on, I could hear static … I’d told Ronan to stop messing with it earlier but he must have left it on. I was trying to retune it, skating past stations, past fragments of conversations in foreign languages, snatches of–

‘Dec, Declan, wake up. I think I remember–’

‘Wha–?’

‘It was a piece of opera. On the radio. Hold me, please, I’m shaking.’

Fighting sleep, Declan turns and opening his arms, pulls me close. ‘Better?’

‘No!’ I cry, breaking away, arms flailing, struggling to get free.

‘Joanie, stop! Stop!’

I sit up, mesmerised by an image… a handle, a door. It’s dark, too dark, I can’t see. No, I can, there’s a child, a girl, standing by the door. The green dress she’s wearing has embroidery on the bodice, fairies and a toadstool. I had a dress like that– I feel a tickling in my ear, my tummy. A hand– I don’t want to see that hand…

 

The following day, Kerrie, a woman I’ve gotten friendly with on the course, waylays me as I hurry out of college.

‘Where do you think you’re sneaking to?’ she demands in her squashed Australian accent.

I shrug, avoid her eyes.

‘Like that, is it? C’mon, let’s have a cuppa.’

Obediently, I follow her into the canteen; I envy her broad shoulders, the substantial body she’s always complaining about.

‘My treat. Grab a table.’

Moments later she’s back with two steaming cups.

‘What is it about this place? I’m no sooner in the door than I’m gasping for a coffee.’

I watch her fish out a tea bag, plonk it on a saucer. A deep red liquid seeps out, forms a little pool.

‘Hey, if I’m intruding, tell me to back off.’

‘It’s all right.’ I examine my hands; wish I was anyone else but me.

She leans across. ‘Cry if you want to. It goes with the territory.’

I nod. ‘That’s all I’ve been doing. I– I don’t know what’s going on. I think a piece of music– opera – triggered something…’ I swallow. ‘I keep seeing– it sounds stupid, a door handle, a little girl. Me, I think… there’s other stuff but I can’t bear…’

‘Can you remember which piece of music it was?’

‘Opera of some kind – a man’s voice. I know when I was little my father used to play all the greats. I’d stand outside his study and listen.’ I bite my lip. ‘That must be the door.’

I stab at the teabag. ‘Another thing, I got so angry, furious, I wanted to punch Declan. Kill him.’

‘Similia, similibus, curentur,’ Kerrie intones.

Now I feel like killing her. Can’t she think of anything only homeopathy!

‘Not a remedy, idiot,’ she grins, reading my thoughts, ‘although it might do some good. Go buy some opera.’

I don’t have to. My father’s collection has been stored in the attic since he died eleven years ago. His record player is sitting on a small table in front of me. I run a hand over the polished surface and an image of him, his face sallow against the white linen of the hospital bed, flashes into my mind. ‘I love you, Daddy.’ Those were the last words I said to him and I can still remember the faint smile that appeared on his lips as I whispered them.

Summoning up all the courage I have I walk out to the hall, lower the fold–up stairs. I’m terrified of going up those steps, terrified of bringing down the records. A voice inside my head warns me to leave well enough alone: it’s all in the past, forget it.

Another part of me knows if I don’t do it today I’ll have to face it tomorrow.

 

I put the record on the turntable, surprised at how heavy old 78s are. When I crank the machine it’s stiff and I’m worried if I wind too hard it will break. I lift the arm from its rest, hear a click when I place it at the edge of the vinyl. The needle hums, jumps, the disc wobbling underneath. It seems to take ages and I notice my throat is tight, my nails jabbing my palms.

Eventually, the needle settles into a groove and there’s a hiss, then a pause as if something’s going backwards. The pause fills the room, like the sound of time delayed – time standing still. My body trembles. No, I hear myself scream, no! no!! as a voice shatters the silence.

 

‘Sit on my knee,’ her father says and Joanie stops dancing. She doesn’t really want to stop but she wants to please her daddy, then he might let her come in again. Usually when her mother goes out, she stands outside the sitting-room, her ear pressed to the door until the music begins. She loves the music, the way it swells up inside her, fills her fingertips, her toes, explodes in her head. She clambers up, sits into the space made by his legs. They feel warm and tight around her.

‘Stop squirming and listen,’ he orders. ‘You know who that is? That’s the greatest singer that ever lived.’

The music starts, a man’s voice, but high almost like a woman’s.

Joanie steals a glance at her daddy, sees his eyes are closed and his face has a dreamy look. She can feel his breath vibrate through her body. His hands tighten round her waist. She wishes he wouldn’t grip her like that, it’s too tight. She wishes she could wriggle, make more space but he’s warned her not to. Something is moving though, she can feel it. Her father’s breathing is changing too, getting jerky, snagging the way the singer’s voice snags as it soars higher and higher. Joanie’s scared, she looks at her father but he seems to have forgotten her. She wants to tell him something hard is digging into her.

The man sings. On and on. Joanie wishes he’d stop. Stop, she screams, but no sound comes out. Stop, stop, she cries again but her voice is stuck in her throat. She wishes her Mammy would come home but thinks it might be bad if she did. What’s happening to her father’s breathing? Why is his body pushing against her? She feels him shudder, gasp; call her name in a squeaky voice. He’s dying. Bleeding. It’s all over her dress, her legs.

Suddenly, he stands up, throwing her to the ground as he does. Joanie touches the wet but it isn’t blood, it’s sticky and has no colour. She wants to look at her father but is afraid to.

‘Daddy,’ she whispers. She’s crying.

He glances down at her, his faces contorted, angry, then it softens.

‘Daddy loves you,’ he says.

She nods, wondering if she should tell him about her dress.

‘Look at you! You’ve wet yourself. At your age!’

Daddy, I didn’t, she opens her mouth to say, but he smiles at her. She’s never seen him look so sad. He takes her hand. ‘What will Mammy say?’ he asks.

Joanie knows she didn’t wet herself and she wants to tell her mammy but her father has warned her to say nothing, has promised he’ll explain why she’s in her pyjamas. But when her mammy comes in, he says nothing, just fiddles with the fire as if it’s the most important thing in the world. Joanie waits hopping from leg to leg, she needs to go to the toilet but is afraid to move. A look passes between her daddy and mammy and then her mother is pulling her out of the room, pulling her up the stairs. She drags her into the bathroom. All the time the bath is filling she calls her names.

‘Dirty little girl,’ she screams. ‘Dirty little witch.’

Joanie cries and hopes her daddy will do what he promised but he stays downstairs.

‘What have you done?’ her mother wails, over and over. As Joanie sits in the bath, pee trickles down her leg.

It’s all your fault, Joanie tells the dancing girl inside her. Your fault. You did this. And you know what happens to dirty girls? Dirty girls have to be punished.

 

 

 

 

 

 

C MoyaRoddy 2019