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Dreamscapes Two
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The International Writers Magazine: Dreamscapes

Chris Castle
My pa came home on the last day of summer, without fanfare, without so much as a banner ganging over our house. It made sense, I guess, seeing how he left without so much as a word; fair and level almost.


But when I saw him come up to our gate, which I had painted that very morning, well my heart near on exploded all the same, I can tell you that much.

See, my pa had a habit of disappearing, even before this long spell. My first memory was of him packing that salesman suitcase of his, putting in each item, careful as you like, setting each thing-later he would softly tell me each ‘thing’ was, in fact, an ‘item’-down as carefully as bone china. When I was a lot younger, I had visions of him packing himself into that case, last of all, and being sent on his way to whatever far off place was next on his itinerary. When I told my ma this, she laughed and I guess some kids would have been embarrassed or hurt some, but not me. My ma’s laughter was like fine water splashing against the rocks; the finest noise I have ever heard.

So my pa was always heading out, one way or the other; each time I would watch him walk down our path to the gate and try not to cry as I felt my ma’s hand tighten in mine. I knew she was trying not to do the same, crying, I mean, and I never turned round to see her with tears in her eyes. Instead, we both just stared hard at that path, watching the man we loved disappear on some new adventure and then we would gaze at his dusty footprints until our eyes dried and our voices had found strength enough to speak. I suppose, in some ways, it was like a life lesson, something valuable for me to learn for when my later, real-life, began, but all in all it just felt like pain and sorrow more than anything else.

What was it he sold? Everything and nothing. Sometimes I would peer into that case just to see what was making his face glow and half expect to see gold dabloons in there. More often than not, it was some new gimmick, some cream or spray or foolishness; ‘tired dreams to sell to sad eyed people,’ he would say in a quiet voice and I would think how his eyes looked the saddest, the most stricken, at having to sell all that junk. My pa lived and died by that battered case; when he had fine items to sell, he would walk around the house like he was carrying the king’s own ransom between those clasps; when it was foolishness, he would wander listless-still upbeat, still a fighter and make no mistake-but with everything, every reaction, every response, just a little off, punch-drunk, as if somebody had whispered a secret in his ear and the truth had come up short of his own expectations.

He never took me out on the road with him; as much as I pleaded and begged, another side of me was almost glad when he shook his head and smiled, then ruffled my own hair. I had already built his adventures up to be grander than my comic books, better than the features they played down in the picture house in town. I was relieved to not have to be given the chance to glimpse the truth of what when on. Instead, he would bring me back small mementos of each trip; a postcard, a stolen menu from a diner and these things-these treasures-were better; they let me build more stories around what he might or might not have done on the road.
We were not a rich family but we were not poor, the way a lot of people in our town were; hell, the way most of the country was at that time. Our house was my pa’s labour of love, right after my ma and me, and he spent his free time trying to make it bigger and better. At first, I thought he worked so hard on it so it would be impossible for him to leave; that it would be such a thing of beauty, so…majestic, that he would throw his hat down and kick the case to the weeds and stop living his travelling life.

But then, later, I thought maybe it was something else, something like me not wanting to go on the road and be happy to have postcards and trinkets instead of the truth. I think, maybe, my pa sweated so much into the beams and the rafters because he wanted to see a palace when he came home off the road and not just a house, a shack; and like me, he built stories in his head rather than see the grey-tinged truth of what he saw when he set his suitcase down on our path.
Why would he be sad? I think because he was a dreamer. He always said how lucky he was having a family, a job and he meant it too. But he was one of those people who was born dreaming and could never quite shake it off, even when he was given real life to look at. My pa was the sort of man who dreamt his way through school and still had skills, almost by accident. He was one of those few people who woke up early and hated sleep because he could dream with his eyes open.

A hundred times in a month he would tell me and my ma his plans, his ideas, and to hear him speak, was like hearing the president on the radio. The way he commanded my eyes and ears just with a glance, by the way he shaped each letter of every word, made my head spin. Once, he said he’d thought about politics, but loved one woman too much to try it. When he said that I looked round to my ma and she blushed so deep and hard it looked as if she had been lit from inside. How she still managed to smile at him amongst all that heat was a mystery to me then and I had the idea it would have been a mystery to a lot of other people; grown-ups and other married couples, too: especially other married couples, in fact.
They loved each other and make no mistake. I guess my pa would come across as the leading light and whenever we had company at the house, he sure did burn bright, but there was more to it than that. My ma anchored him, kept him on the earth and of this world, when all his dreams didn’t quite take; when real life weighed heavy and pressed down on my pa’s throat, making him unable to speak. And she was a beauty, too; her stillness amongst my pa’s buzzing movements, his fly-swatter hand gesture and bullet speeches, gave her something like grace, to my mind. ‘Poise’ would be the word, if I had to run a finger through each page of my beaten-up dictionary. My pa told me once, when we sat on the porch one evening, watching the fireflies move in the grass around us, that she was the dream he did manage to reach and hold onto and then said nothing else. It was the longest time he ever went without speaking, but it spoke volumes to me, all the same.

I never saw him drinking in a way that made me think twice about it. Coming back from his travels, he would pour a glass, sure, the way other people might’ve made coffee, but the times he kept and the hours he worked, meant his body lived by a different clock; once I saw him quite happily eat six eggs over easy at four in the morning. When he poured more booze, he always offered my ma up the same, though she never took it and when we had company he did the same and those folks always did.

So, he drank and he talked and I never heard them argue, the same way I never heard him raise his voice. And the matter of violence; of bruises on my arm or my ma wearing long sleeves in the summer? Never. My pa said he would rather kill his own self than raise his hand to a loved one. Once, late, he told me how his own father used to beat him; he didn’t tell me with anger in his voice, only sorrow. ‘My bones broke  and knit themselves back but his heart never did,’ he said, and I think he meant his own as much as his old man’s.

But, be that as it may, one day he was gone and I was so used to it by then, I clear on tripped over the suitcase and smacked my head something fierce. I looked at the battered old box, confused in my mind, as much as sore in my head. I turned round and saw my ma standing in the doorway, her arms folded, as much to stop herself breaking apart as anything and I listened as she explained a few things. Her voice was brittle and she never said where he’d gone or why, but just that he was off to get better. All the while, my ma never talked about problems, the same way she only said ‘mended’ over any technical words.

She said all that, but she needn’t of, not really; just the fact the suitcase was sitting there, all of a sudden looking like a terribly sad and lonely little thing, told me all I needed to know. Suddenly, I felt a wave of sadness roll over me as I looked at that box; I knew I was getting bigger, I understood that, but it was so small and weak looking; all my pa’s dreams, all tired and used up and able to fit in such a small place. I kicked it then, fiercely, thinking the box was a hateful, spiteful thing; a trap that had sucker-punched my pa into some dirty grey walled clinic some place. I blinked away a few tears and then felt my ma clasp my shoulders, my body. Before long, both of us were shaking and I thought how terrible it was that with my pa gone, the only movement we could manage was to shiver and rock on the balls of our feet and in the centre of our hearts. We shook and then we settled, until we were still. A stillness, I thought, that came from not having our pa’s dreams to fuel us into living.

The suitcase was moved into a cupboard and the radio stayed on constantly to fill the quiet. My ma moved the drinks away from the cabinets without a word, the same way I carried on with the house repairs without being asked. I worked until my bones ached and the sweat had run me through. I didn’t feel good, not quite, but I was glad to have used up so much energy. For a second, I closed my eyes and imagined I was him, trying to burn away all my ideas, all my dreams, by working and hammering and shaving beams. It was a strange feeling and it made me feel light headed; when I opened my eyes everything seemed to bright for a moment and I wondered if that was how he saw things sometimes, unfiltered, before I took his hand or my ma spoke to him.

 The summer passed that way; I had friends I saw, but I was different from most of them. The boys I knew needed to escape their homes, the way every kid wants to skip school in those last few moments before they walk through the gate. But I wasn’t like them; I wanted to come home; I needed to. My ma wasn’t the enemy, just the same way my maths teacher wasn’t a monster, just cruel. The days passed in that way and the night’s stretched as far as they could and then began to draw in; the stars were clear in the sky and I watched them for hours, sometimes until morning, knowing, close-by, my ma was watching them too.

I painted the gate, giving it two layers and then sat back in the shade, reading a comic book and waiting for it to dry. My ma called me in for lunch and by the time we ate and washed the dishes, the heat had gone out of the day. I heard the gate latch flip and I rushed away from the suds and the last few dishes, to warn whoever it was, our lazy-assed postman, most probably, about the paint: My pa stood on the path, looking down at the gate, noticing the fresh lick of paint and then checking his hands. He looked up and over to me and smiled; he held up his hand to show there was no speckles of blue on his fingertips. I heard my ma draw breath behind me, and then I started running.

Those first hours were not strange, not exactly, but they were different, I understood that. My ma brewed coffee instead of breaking ice and my pa let a long, rueful smile run over his mouth that made him look as handsome as it did sad. I watched him, without trying to watch him; I summoned up my best glimpses and fleeting looks and he caught every one of them. First of all, he had a beard, which made him look like another version of himself, perhaps a brother, if he’d ever had one. Then there was his eyes; no longer lit but still fierce, as if he’d read something that confirmed what he already knew to be the truth. He moved slower than I remembered; not careful, but as if he was thinking before he reached out for something. All the while, he saw me watching but made no effort to check himself, or go back to the way he was. Instead, he would look back to me, making no effort to disguise it as he did and searched for the changes in me, knowing he would find them.

We sat and ate as the sun drew in; he had taken his bath and changed before coming downstairs to find us. I was disappointed to see he’d kept the beard and noticed the clothes, his clothes, seemed at angles on him. My ma went to him and tugged at a sleeve, coming as close to fussing over him as she ever would and he linked his hand through hers and smiled. She smiled back but there was a second before she did and all three of us noticed. The stillness of the house was still there, even with him back and I put my hand down on the back of the closest chair to stop from falling. Without the radio on, which my ma had so proudly turned off an hour before, the hum of silence was almost unbearable; I almost reached for the dial to snap it back on, if only to give us a thread of sound, to remind us how to talk to each other. The three of us looked to each other in the quiet, three strangers on a summer’s night not knowing what to say next.

From out of nowhere, an explosion came from outside, making us all jump. I bolted to the window, sweat on my forehead, searching for the commotion. The smouldering embers were still in the sky; sure enough, a second rocket launched into the air and popped green into the night. I went out into the back garden and looked out; in the distance, I saw a group of people by the old abandoned factory; I couldn’t tell if it was a family celebration or a gang of kids; it seemed too happy to be family, but too joyous to be a pack of kids like me. Another flare went up and the buzz of cheering went on until it crackled into life.

I was still watching when I felt my pa’s hand on my shoulder. For the first time in a long time, I yelled out. It should have been funny, the noise I made, but neither of us laughed. I looked round and saw him looking out to the fireworks, too; his eyes were so alert to the stars and the plumes of smoke, he looked as if he was seeing all this for the first time. Behind him, my ma came out, clutching something in her hand. Carefully, she handed sparklers out to each of us, holding one back for herself. I smiled and almost said something, something smart about the kid’s fireworks we were holding now, the ones you gave to little kids who waved them like lit wands, but then I saw her face. I saw how much she was concentrating on this all not falling to pieces, and I closed my mouth.

She reached into her pocket and pulled out the lighter. Instinctively, the two of us held out the sticks to be lit. Behind us, another firework, a bottle rocket, whirled into life, but none of us looked round. The light touched mine first and then his and we drew back. I saw how my pa’s hand shook as he brought it back, but he didn’t try to hide it and I think that made me love him more, if that was possible. My ma flared hers into life and the three of us held those sparkling sticks in the air, slowly making shapes that trailed and lingered in the air before fading away. We wrote out names and drew hearts and my ma laughed first and then it was me and finally, my pa. Behind us a bigger thing was still carrying on, but that didn’t matter to us anymore. There was only the three of us, in our small garden, making shapes that would only last for seconds, looking from the fountain of sparks to each other’s faces and not looking away, not for a moment. We were quiet and then my pa spoke, his voice low, lower than I had ever heard it, but still enough to carry over the explosions in the distance; still enough to make us both want to listen to what he had to say.  
© Chris Castle July 2011

What waits back home
Chris Castle

“Do they know where he is?” Marty asked. He looked around and saw Marie looking far off into the hills.

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