I smile broadly all the way home from school.
There is a skip in my step and a song in my heart, and it feels as if my life is on track, everything is perfect, and nothing could ever change how I feel—nothing at all.
I have always secretly liked Jason, and although he went out with Carol for almost two years, I still have a serious crush on him. He is, after all, the most popular, most handsome boy in school, and now it appears, he is eventually aware of my existence.
This afternoon I saw him standing on the steps leading away from school, waiting for someone, and I was going to walk past, as always. I usually pretend I do not notice him, and then at the last moment, I will look up and say, “Hi, Jason,” casually, in my over-practiced voice.
Just as I opened my mouth to deliver my line, I heard him say, “Hi, Elizabeth,” in that deep, husky voice of his.
Abruptly my mind went void of all thoughts and intentions, and although my gut feeling urged me to walk away, the butterflies in my stomach tumbling and dropping, my feet stopped moving anyway.
I turned to face him and said, “Hi, Jason,” a bit awkwardly, but making sure to let his name almost whisper over my lips–once again over practised, and my feeble attempt at being sexy.
My mind filled rapidly with screaming and shouting, so loudly, it was difficult to hear myself think and besides, I did not want him to realize he had just made my day, in fact, made my life.
I made a quick exit, before I started babbling, making a fool of myself. My feet started to walk me away, and I smiled sweetly over my shoulder, catching his gaze following me.
I cannot believe he knows my name!
I replay this very short conversation with him in my mind over and over again, the entire way home. I cannot wait to share my news with someone, anyone.
What I did not realize, is that my future is not in my hands, and change is not a choice.
As soon as I walk through my front door, I know something is wrong.
My mum and Sean approach me, and if not for Sean’s happy smile, I would be thinking someone died. My mum looks cheerful, but nervous, as she comes to stand next to me, putting her arm across my shoulders reassuringly.
Then the radiant, happy smile fades from my face, as my world crashes to my feet.
Sean announces with great excitement, “We are moving.”
I look at him shocked. “Where?” I feel my mum’s hand on my shoulder tighten encouragingly.
“To Ireland,” he beams.
“When did this happen?” I ask in disbelief. This cannot be happening to me. Not now. Not today.
“Your mum and I have been discussing it for a while, and we made the decision last week. I have made a few phone calls, and everything just fell into place as if it was all meant to be.”
I feel fear push up in my chest, from the immense despondency suddenly filling me like a flash flood, permeating every cell in my body. I move away from my mum, mumbling, “I am going to my room. Homework.”
Moving away from my mum, I feel her hand drop from my shoulders. I sense she wants to say something. Something to encourage me, to motivate me, but I do not want to hear what she has to say.
I need to be alone.
As I climb the stairs to my room, thoughts rush through my mind: we are moving not just house or city, but country.
Sean has Irish ancestors and his great, extremely great grandfather was a lord of some importance about a million years ago. Unfortunately, being the only son, he inherited an apparent manor in the west of Ireland from his dad last year. A house that has been in his family since the time of this great grandfather and this is where we will be moving to now.
In the weeks that follow, I start having the strangest dreams. My friend, Rebecca, says it is my subconscious trying to prepare me for the future.
Although I try to hold onto these dreams, to try and make sense of them, they escape my mind as fast as water down a blocked drain. They linger for a few days at the back of my mind, and then they melt away, forgotten.
In my first dream, I am dressed in a funny medieval kind of dress and my hair is tied up in twisting braids on top of my head. I am crying despondently. The sobs shudder through my body until I become aware of someone watching me. I look up, but I do not recognise the boy looking down at me. He has dark curly hair, intense blue eyes, and his lips match his rosy cheeks perfectly. He has the face of an angel. Looking up at him, I feel a sense of peace settle over me.
I sob, “Who are you?”
“Devlin.” He says casually as if I should know who he is.
“What do you want?”
He does not reply, but he sits down onto the fallen tree trunk beside me, while looking at me sympathetically.
I continue crying, dropping my face into my upturned palms, while he sits next to me in silence.
After a while I look up at him, with red-rimmed eyes, and say, “It’s just not fair, you know.”
He looks back at me solemnly.
“I am my da’s only daughter and he always told me to be independent in a world where women are second-rated, so I cannot understand why he is doing this.” I glance at him, wondering how much I can say, but then I decide I just do not care who he tells. The whole world needs to know the injustice of what is being done to me. “He only wants to further his own aspirations of being more important than what he actually is.”
His voice is soft when he speaks, “What is it that your da wants you to do?”
“He wants me to marry Gerard, the neighbour’s son. I do not even know him.”
“Maybe it would not be so bad if you married him.”
I look at him appalled.
“I have seen him. He looks well brought up and he would not treat you ill.”
“That’s not the point. I do not want to marry him.”
I feel the damp of the night air settle on my shoulders and I shudder as a cold shiver squeeze through me.
For a couple of nights, I dream of Devlin. We are always sitting on a tree trunk surrounded by trees and shafts of sunlight.
I get to the point where I want to escape into my dreams, away from the truth of moving.
In my reality everything becomes a haze and I remain in shock and disbelief as my mum and Sean continue past me and through me, as if I am invisible, not taking any notice of me in their busy schedule to make the move happen without any problems.
Then one night, without any warning, I do not dream of Devlin. I am in a small, dank room. The roof slopes down on both sides of the room. The corners are dark and dusty. A single, metal bed stands beside a small circular window. There is hardly any space for anything else.
Even in my dream, I feel a deep sense of loss.
I see myself stand in front of the circular window. Then I am looking out, down to the ground far below. I recognise a man below. He is wearing a strange jacket and pants, and he looks like a picture from one of my history books. The man looks up at me silhouetted in the small window, as I glare down at him with a loathing I cannot understand.
A girl appears behind me with a tray in her hands. There is a teapot, teacup, sugar pot, small milk jug and a plate of biscuits on the tray. She looks around, and then shrugging her shoulders faintly, she places the tray on the wobbly bedside table.
“Where am I?”
She looks at me unsure. “The attic?”
“Remember? The master found you with that servant boy who was taking advantage of you in the forest.”
“No. I leaned in and kissed him. He never ever tried anything. It was all me.”
“It is too late now, child, Devlin is gone.”
“Where did he go? You must help me to get out of here.”
“Oh no child, your da is very, very angry with you. You best stay here until he calms down. Besides Devlin is long gone to Dublin by now.”
“Yes, child. Devlin. He left the day your da locked you in here.”
I sit down on the bed. My legs are unable to carry my weight any longer. I say softly, “Devlin and I never even had a chance to say goodbye. It feels as if he died, it is so final.”
She puckers her face and nods her head a little. “Probably died. I think you might be right, child.”
I look up at her shocked.
She wrings her hands in the white apron tied around her waist. “There is a great sickness on the streets of Dublin. They say people are growing big black lumps on their skin, and their tongues are turning black. They say it is called the Black Plague and people are just falling down dead in the streets. Dreadful business.”
I am unable to pull a breath of air into my lungs.
Waking up, I am gasping for breath.
The next night I dream of an elderly lady who opens the door to the dark room I am in.
The woman says, “You may leave the room now.”
Sitting on the bed, I look at the door. I have a feeling of dread and I do not want to walk out of the room. It feels as if I have been trapped in the attic for a long time.
Filling my lungs with air, I get up and walk out of the room. In the hallway, sunlight bounces throughout the space. It has been a long time since I have felt the warmth of the sun.
I follow my feet down the stairs to a room where the sun is shining in brightly through the large windows. The woman, who opened the door for me, is sitting in a rocking chair facing one of the large windows.
She shocks me when she says, “Your father is dead.”
I sit down on a chair beside her. Words refuse to form on my tongue.
“You caused a lot of problems for your father.” She says it as if she is blaming me, as if it is my fault. I feel a deep sense of guilt. She continues, “Surely you understand. Your father went through persecution since that scandal you brought over this family.”
“How could it be regarded as a scandal?” I ask incredulous.
“You were in an inappropriate relationship with a servant. How can you be so naive?”
This dream merges into another.
I am on a horse, and I do not even know how to ride a horse. I have never even seen an actual horse in real life.
Nudging the horse, it lurches forward, starting to gallop. My long, dark hair lifts in the air behind me, as the wind sweeps in under it. It feels as if a weight is lifted from my shoulders as my cares and worries, my disgruntlements, are stripped away from me. I approach a boundary wall, a stone wall, built by peasants years ago. Turning my horse, I let it walk along the boundary wall until I see another rider, ahead of me, on the other side of the boundary wall.
He looks very imposing on his black stallion and as I get nearer to him, he turns in his saddle to look at me. Immediately I like him. The way his smouldering green eyes look at me, the way his dark hair hangs over his eyebrows. He smiles at me and my heart jumps fiercely in my chest. I ride past him without stopping and I can hear him following me.
He calls after me, “Are you not Eilish?”
I pull at the leather straps in my hands and stop. Turning in my saddle, I wait for him to catch up to me. When he reaches me, I ask, “How do you know my name?”
He smiles down at me. “I have seen you around. Where are you going?”
“Circling our land. And you?” I ask politely.
“Same. Just making sure everything is as it should be.”
“So, you know my name, should I not know your name?”
“I am Gerard.”
I wake up with a start. My room is still midnight dark, and I do not want to reach for my phone on my bedside table to see what the time is, so I close my eyes and soon I am fast asleep again.
Gerard is sitting on the wall, beside his horse. It is as if he is waiting for me. I smile happily, but reluctant to let him see the joy on my face, I look down at him arrogantly and nod my head in acknowledgement, while I continue walking my horse past him.
“Morning Eilish,” he calls after me, but I ignore him, keeping my back stiff and straight, sitting as ladylike as I possibly can.
I feel his eyes burning into my back and I chastise myself for not stopping to talk to him.
It is as if my mind is set to repeat and this happens again and again, until he gets up and grabs onto my horse, just as I am passing him.
He looks up at me. “So, how long is this going to carry on?”
“I have no idea what you are talking about.” I look down at him pompously.
He laughs loudly. “Yes, you do.”
I answer insulted, “No, I don’t.”
“Stop awhile, if you don’t mind, and talk with me.”
He reaches his arms up toward me, and with my heart in my stomach, I lean down to him. He helps me down from the horse and then I sit down next to him on the wall. We sit there silently, looking out over the fields, the grass gently swaying in the breeze. The silence feels comfortable and I feel at ease in his company.
The sun starts to set over the horizon, painting the rolling hills in a cascade of pastel colours and still neither one of us say a word.
I get up to go and he holds me back by taking my hand. The sensation, which runs through my veins at this simple gesture, the touch of his skin to mine, makes my heart race.
“Will you meet me here again tomorrow?”
“Maybe,” I reply coyly.
I pull my hand from his gently and walk away, as he calls after me, “I hope so.” My unbelievable attraction to him is intense. It is scary and daunting.
The memory of this dream remains with me longer than the others. In my everyday life, my parents continue making plans, packing boxes, shipping favourite pieces of furniture, seemingly oblivious, as always, of how I feel. My mum starts to pack the things in my room. Slowly my cosy, comfortable haven starts to resemble an empty shell with four walls and a bed. All my memories are slowly stripped from the walls and my surroundings. With trepidation I feel the inevitable future rush toward me.
Sometimes my mum creeps into my room late at night. She often asks me softly if I am sleeping, and when I say no, she sits down on my bed next to me. She takes my hand into hers, smiling encouragingly, and then she tries to convince me how great it will be to make new friends, to widen my horizons and how I will do well anywhere in the world, because I am such a clever girl.
Once she leaves my room, thinking she has convinced me enough, I turn myself to the wall and I cry myself to sleep.
On other nights, when my mum is too busy disrupting my life to be worried about me, I lose myself in a fantasy wherein I meet Gerard at the stone wall. I imagine us sitting there, and sometimes we will just sit there next to each other, but other times I’ll make up long intricate conversations where I tell him how unhappy I am to be moving across the globe, to another hemisphere, until I tumble into unconscious sleep.
Standing up from the wall to go, he pulls me into his arms gently and holding me close, he fleetingly brushes his lips over mine. The feelings it rouses in me can never be forgotten. His hands are around my waist, drawing me into him. He presses his lips against mine. It is simultaneously magical, frightening, irresistible and sensual.
As the days became shorter and the frost remains thick on the ground, we meet discreetly in the stables each afternoon. I can feel the way his hands caress my skin, the way goose bumps erupt over my entire body at his mere touch, and his soft murmurings as my body is cradled close to his.
The day of leaving flies at me with unexpected speed and I am sad to say goodbye to my room, my house, my street and most of all my friends.
I cry discreetly in the taxi, all the way to the airport. At the airport, I walk a few steps behind my family, letting them lead me away from everything that makes me who I am.
The tears continue running down my cheeks silently on the airplane, no matter how hard I try to swallow away the sadness that has become my every moment.
My mum sits next to me, and while I stare out of the little window to my side, trying not to sniff too loudly, she leans closer to me. She whispers softly, “Stop crying, Elizabeth. Change makes you a more independent and emotionally stronger person.”
I ignore her and I cannot understand why she does not leave me to wallow in self-pity by myself, because I honestly just want to be alone.
I now dislike my mum for her ignorance and I really despise Sean for his selfishness. I wish my mum had never met him, ever.
My mum met Sean when I was only five years old, after my dad died a year earlier in a car accident on his way home from work. I helped my mum during that year. I was my mum’s shoulder to cry on, making sure she got up in the mornings, letting her lean on me emotionally. I was so sure my mum would never get over my dad.
Therefore, imagine my shock, when one day, soon after my sixth birthday, I found Sean sitting in our living room, on my dad’s chair. He was laughing so loudly, he reminded me of an evil villain from one of my cartoon shows.
Ignoring him did not help either, because after that day he seemed to be a permanent fixture and they got married a year later.
My mum looked so content again and although initially I felt jealous at having to share her, Sean’s quick smile and reassuring presence made him nice to have around.
Arriving in Ireland to pressing grey skies does not help to cheer me either.
We drive most of the day. We landed in Dublin and now must cross a country from its east coast to its west. At home it would have taken only two to three hours to drive the same distance, but the roads here are meandering lazily through the countryside and past little villages.
My eyes continue to stare unseeing through the rain-stained window at the passing scenery, yet I smile interested when my mum or Sean point out something they find beautiful or exciting. Even though it feels as if my entire being is still on the other side of the planet, I do not want to be the one to dampen the happy atmosphere in the car.
We eventually turn off the main road into a neglected lane overgrown with trees and shrubs. The car bounces and jumps over the muddy ruts, which I suppose used to be a driveway somewhere before the First World War. As the driveway curves around and with one final massive bone shuddering pothole, we emerge from the foliage.
I struggle to breathe as I look at the ‘manor’ in horror and I have a feeling of déjà-vu. According to Rebecca, who believes in karma and all those far-out things, when you get that kind of feeling, it means you are in the right place. I never really believed her mumbo-jumbo, and I know I am most certainly not in the right place.
The mammoth grey block looks more like a fixer-upper lump-a-cement than the fairy-tale picture Sean projected into our minds over the last couple of months. Months of convincing us how great a change would be for all of us. The only impressive thing to me is the miles and miles of unkempt lawn surrounding the house, and off to the side there is a gathering of inviting green trees.
Sean stops the car in front of the dilapidated building, if I can call it a building, and even my mum climbs out of the car with apprehension clearly edged on her face.
Sean rushes around the car to her side and then wraps his arms around her waist, as he laughs exuberantly. “We’ll fix it, and it will be lovely. Don’t worry.”
I cannot help smirking. It will never be lovely.
Sean unlocks the front door and then with a smile plastered on his face and a look of adventure in his eyes, he lifts the waterfall of green wild ivy hanging in front of the faded red door.
My mum leads the way into the house, ducking under the ivy.
I glance at Sean reproachfully as I squeeze past him into the dark, dusty entrance hall.
The interior does not look as bad as the outside, but it looks old and covered with grime. A wide staircase is to the right of the door and there are a couple of doors leading off from the large entrance hall.
Esther, my ten-year-old half-sister, grabs onto my hand, and excitedly she pulls me toward the stairs. I follow her apprehensively.
At first, I step onto the stairs cautiously, but they feel sturdy and well built under my feet, so I let Esther rush me up to the second-floor landing.
In my new room, I see Sean had arranged for people to deliver the basic furniture. There is a new bed and a dresser, but the room is otherwise bare looking. The faint faded rose-covered wallpaper on the walls are peeling away in the corners, the wooden floorboards are pale and splinter looking. I try to avoid walking on the most distorted slats as I cross the room to the bed, still wrapped in plastic.
I sit down on the edge of the bed and my eyes fix on a spot on the wall, as my mind goes blank.
With surprise, Sean’s voice pulls me back from the empty void of nothingness, when he says, “Cheer up, girl. It’s not as bad as it looks.”
Hurriedly I stand up from the bed and manage to smile half-heartedly.
He heaves my suitcase onto the bed. “There you go,” he says cheerfully.
I mumble sarcastically, “Thanks.”
As he leaves my new room, he starts to whistle the tune the seven dwarfs whistle on their way to work: Hi-ho, hi-ho, it’s off to work we go.
I unpack my suitcase quickly, packing my clothes in the dresser drawers, placing my photos on the bedside table, looking at the happy faces of my friends longingly. My room is draughty and on the second level and does not even come close to resembling the snug, cosy room that was my haven not so long ago. The only plus now is that I have my own bathroom and I did not have to share with Esther anymore, although I will give up this luxury in the blink of an eye, if I could be back in my old room.
Looking pessimistically around the room once more, I slide the suitcase in under my bed, and decide to go and explore the small forest to the side of the house I saw earlier. I want to find a quiet spot, where I can yell, cry and scream without having Sean or my mum rushing to my side, trying to make me feel better with silly motivational blubber.
I have had enough of pretending to smile, pretending that everything is as it should be, because, I feel lifeless inside, as if I am carrying the whole world on my shoulders. I did not want new friends, I had just lost my gawkiness, Jason started noticing me, I was popular, and I was doing well academically—all my hard work wasted.
My mum and Sean are forever saying a person should set goals and work toward them, and I wonder sarcastically if they ever consider that having aspirations and goals only work when you actually see them through to the end.
Since the day of the cataclysmic announcement, I have prayed daily, sometimes up to once every hour, pleading that everything must please go back to the way it is supposed to be, but here I am anyway—so much for that.
As I walk out of the front door, my mum calls from the library, which sounds more impressive than it looks, not to stray too far away from the house.
“Okay, Mum,” I call back, pulling my face sourly.
I walk through the waist high grass, the sun glimmering off the yellow tips, to the edge of the trees and into the shadows. There is no path. I stumble through the undergrowth and I can see through the clump of trees on all sides. I was never in any danger of getting lost, even if I tried very hard.
Almost in the middle of the cluster of trees, I discover a fallen tree trunk, covered with a thick layer of moist moss, blending into its surroundings. If I did not almost fall over it, I would never have noticed it. A shiver runs down my spine, it all looks so familiar. I sit down on the tree trunk and I allow the tears to flow freely down my cheeks, letting the sobs shudder through my body.
Later, when the light starts to fade and my mum’s calls begin to sound anxious, I get up and walk home.Copyright © Lynette Ferreira (published by Fiction for the Soul). All rights reserved.