A special Prumess’ story
I pay a visit to my invaluable aunt Arleen, whom I have always been very fond of. We sip a good cup of tea and eat some luscious biscuits she still bakes, and whose recipe she reminds by heart, no matter the winters relentlessly passing by, are becoming many in the scoreboard of her life. One may think that sixty-five years are not so many these days, but Aunt Arleen has spent a hard life, time has never spared worries and grief from her.
I remind her of the story she and my mother told me, which happened when I was a kid about four, and I have witnessed her happiness and again her tragedy growing up over the years. Her troubled love with Uncle Doran, who was an Irishmen who served almost two years in jail before being acquitted for allegedly relationships with the IRA, but whose mark or scab remained impressed in his blood and on his flesh.
She had studied humanities at St. Martin’s College in Carlisle, where she had become close friends with Muireann, a girl of Irish descent, whose cousin Doran studied business at the same college. Arleen and Doran met at a party, and it was love at first sight.
Shortly thereafter Aunt Arleen graduated, Doran’s brother was arrested for being related to the IRA, and a couple of days later Doran himself had the displeasure to know the attentive cures of Her Majesty’s police and detention centres. My grandparents thought Aunt Arleen would have been better to stay in London for a while, and so they sent her to reach my mother who then was teaching at the Metropolis and lived with her husband and their first child, me.
It was a rainy evening like many others in Cumbria, in North West England, when Aunt Arleen left. She felt a freeze grasping and wrapping around her heart. It was not so easy to leave; yet she had to. A friend of the family in a private car picked her up near Carlisle, to then slip out into the dusk. The day after she was in London, but bad times weren’t over yet.
More than three months had passed, and she remembered that that morning the clouds in the sky looked like stripes of foam, a light breeze blew but it was quite cold to make her shiver despite the season, it was the end of June. The resonance of an aircraft taking off made her think of better times, nearly a promise of a life that’s about to change, a serene tomorrow where she and her lover could have raised a family and grown old together. My mother had handed her a list of things to buy, and she went about on errands. That morning, as every weekday, I was in kindergarten, while my father was off on business travel.
That day my mother was enjoying a public holiday, so she had arranged to meet with her old college friend Pansy. The doorbell rang. She thought it might be Mrs. Tanner to ask her for some favour, as she was quite old and had nobody to take care of her. She went to the door and opened it. Three menacing guys were standing there.
«Mabel Carroll? We have a search warrant», said the one who was a tall man, wearing a dark coat and a broad-brimmed hat. He looked to be from another time.
«A search warrant? » My mother said with questioning eyes.
«Your sister Arleen lives here, doesn’t she? » Asked the man.
«She does, and? » She replied.
«Your sister is in a relationship with Doran Brogan, who is under arrest for being a member of the IRA, so we need to ask her some questions and, very sorry, also check her room», retorted the shortest of them with a sarcastic smile, a chubby guy who looked even more ugly than his comrades.
«IRA? » My mother uttered; the word sounded like broken glass in her mouth.
«I am very sorry to inform you that your sister could end her days in jail, Madam, if she fails to give us information. Nonetheless, we know you and your family are decent people. No worries, you will have no ramifications, we are not the mob, we are servants of the law, and this is a free and a respectful country, with one of the most advanced system of rights and legality, and just to maintain your safety and liberty we take into custody terrorists. » Pompously posed the man with the hat.
My mother felt her limbs as if they were being pulled from her body, she took a step back. The way she was moving made her look like a rag doll, the door opened widely, and they came in.
The one who remained silent was a muscular guy, the back of his deep blue jacket read SA, in bright yellow block letters, which she thought they were the initials to his name, and which she said she could never forget. Now and then he cast an eye at the young pretty looking woman, whose reddish hair framed a face too beautiful for such a rough man, so I think!
They rummaged and looked all around, not only the guest room occupied by Aunt Arleen. When they finished, the whole house had been turned upside down. They did not find anything to link Aunt Arleen to the IRA. She then turned up, with a couple of bags with groceries in her hands, and a perfect look of surprise. They invited her to follow them, as my mother’s eyes filled with tears and bitterness. She was released late that night, and for over ten days she was so upset she couldn’t manage to speak a word. My mother had always said that Aunt Arleen’s eyes were always marked, her lips were swollen and her hands too cold.
Grandfather Edward, and Grandmother Bevin started seriously fearing for their younger daughter’s health. Granddad Edward was a physicist who had gotten his degree working as a metalworker. He said that we, the earth, and all the creatures in it, are stardust, born out of an explosion and destined to vanish in the dark and the cold. He was a fighter and believed in his socialist battles for a better tomorrow to all ends. But then he realized that all the Labour Parties in Europe had bartered the dream to free people from the slavery of salaried labour for a safer system of welfare state and secured salaried labour, which he considered the antithesis of the liberation war from slavery and power he had always fought against, and so he decided to put up the shutters between politics and him. Grandpa maintained an incessant nature to denounce the abuse of power, and the state of destitution in which many people were left. His ideas in favour of freedom and abolition of social classes profusely spread in his thinking and writings were enough to consider him an opponent of both the left and the right wing.
Almost six months later, Aunt Arleen managed to be employed as a teacher, and moved to St. Albans, longing for the day Doran would leave the prison and knock on her door. He had written her a letter from the house of detention, «Whether guilty or not, I am stuck in this hell. You had better forget me and realize your dreams. »
She comprehended, but she was not willing to put him out of her mind, nor would she put him out of her life. She would have been patient, she would have respected his decisions, yet, she would have waited for him, no matter how long, because she knew that their love was sincere, and couldn’t end.
Then the story joined with Uncle Doran’s account, he remembered that before he had met her again, he would have to be sure to never hurt her in any way. It took him almost three years after his release, to win over his fears to cause her more trouble and walk in her life again. He had lost his position as a bank officer, and he found it difficult getting a new one, until he got a job as warehouseman down at the docklands. Despite having been exculpated, everybody thought that an Irish guy with a terrorist brother in jail, should have better gone back and stuck with the likes of him. Years went by, but not a single day had ever gone by since the day of his arrest, in which he had failed to think about her girlfriend, and their broken love. He came to know where Aunt Arleen lived, and at each anniversary, he went to St. Albans, reached out to the cathedral, and stood there, in front of the stately church, as stiff as a statue feeling himself like some tin god. He waited until darkness fell, then headed toward Aunt Arleen’s house, and spotted the light twinkling from the upper floor. His heart seemed to pump blood right up into his throat, like a churning lava flow invading his mouth, splintering it with hot ash.
Although Aunt Arleen looked to be happy, devoting her life to her pupils at school, that day in the year was always so painful. Until on one of those baleful anniversaries, that bluest blue that wrapped her in those circumstances, seemed to vanish. She sensed her soul thrilling, as if a new time would soon begin to finally put those long years out of her mind and behind her at last.
Doran took the plunge and sent her a letter. She understood his reasons and his fears, she had always been there waiting for him, after all. She had never felt neglected, but instead found herself happy and joyful that she could start afresh. Such an awkward past brought back heritage prejudice, fear, suspicion, and a dark foreboding veil that would keep people away and burn an entire life. But she didn’t let herself get carried away by apprehension, she took his distance as an act of love, and they married just a few weeks later. Uncle Doran never managed to regain his position at the bank, and he even lost his job at the dock warehouse. He pulled his boots up as a handyman until he died in a labour accident at a building yard on their tenth anniversary. They had never had the pleasure of having kids, doctors said that her womb had withered away by the grief she had suffered, so she remained alone, with her memories, her missed youth, so much to give but no one close enough to give anything to.
And when I am with her, I can’t help but think again of her whole life, of the man who appeared in her younger years and then swallowed down by life, to appear again and then vanish forever, yet always present in her days. Hers is a story without time. Aunt Arleen and Uncle Doran are for me two unaccomplished existences, both had run one after another, twisted around each other, and then split apart without ever having the time to live.
Then Aunt Arleen opens a box of chocolates with soft centres; I can’t say no to chocolate, it’s one of my passions since my childhood. I love to see them placed in the bottom of the box, with their coloured wrapping paper, and I take one without caring to know what’s inside. I like to be surprised by chocolates. I can taste the rum burning into my mouth as the cocoa shell breaks. Its aroma goes up my nostrils, and this reminds me of pleasant spots, chiringuitos on the beach, the smoke smelling of fish that arises from the grills, tables and chairs by intense and bright hues, nice people, the buzzing from the chit chat all around, and the sharp voice of Ritchie Valens singing La Bamba, and inside that Rock and Roll I see myself leisurely passing a great time along with joyful people.
I should feel somewhat ungrateful and even profane for wasting my mind daydreaming in front of Aunt Arleen, but she has always been sympathetic to me, and allowed me to, say, get away.
I know she will always be there for me, until her time to pass, and when it will run out, mine as well will have lost an important part of itself.
Before I leave, she hands me a book. She tells me it is interesting to read. Her glance echoes her profoundness, she has always been like an elder sister to me, and now even a mother, since mine has gone. She discerns something is digging at me; I don’t need to tell her about my uncertainties and reflections.
Then, talking about the book she gave me, she says, «There are those who think that men must be ruled even when they will reach the highest peaks of knowledge and science. They consider themselves those who withhold evil. That day, power will have no more limits. It will accomplish its process; it will own all of society. »
What can I say Aunt Arleen; you’re always so punctual and insightful. You have never put on any false airs, nor have you ever bent before the evidence shown off by the coryphaeus lovers of sensible thinking, which always coincides with what makes sense with their reactionary logic.
The universal liberation of individuals won’t be stopped by their stale lucubration, by their transversal frenzies, by their invectives against the Great American Satan while they flatter repellent tyrants. By the meanness of their views, and by their out-of-date wisdom, one recognises all their scarcity when speaking of freedom, they throw insults at their enemies, but they end up soiling their mouths with the same stools produced by their brains.
As I say good-by to her, I hug and kiss her, I wish some of her time and that energy of which we are made, could stay with me all the way through the rest of my life, because you can lose the touch of the ones you love, but you cannot lose their presence.
«So long, Aunt Arleen. I am going to spend some time abroad. I am leaving for Spain, there are some places and friends I want to see again. »
«Take care of yourself, Meryl. Fear only for yourself, pretty girl. »
I love you Aunt Arleen.
And I love you Meryl. I love you for giving me this amazing experience and proof of love.
I met you in a library, in an immense room of books and people who, looking for something they did not know, were looking for themselves. I caught your eye hovering over the wide vault of this huge and bright room. Here everything seems so immense and even infinite.
I saw something in that look, like an experience that I was missing and in which I should have immersed myself. This dark force in me has guided me towards you.
A stone’s throw from you, you looked at me as if we had always known each other.
As if a fluid started to go back and forth between us. I have not even touched you, yet I have seen your life. I took part in it and dived myself into your world.
Of all your experiences you have given me the most secret and painful.
I realise now that it was only for a few seconds but when I enter other people’s lives time doesn’t make sense anymore, I’m in another dimension.
I am here in front of you, dazed and yet I have gained a new point of view.
You ask me if you can do something for me. I reply, «Thanks, you already did! »
You crack a smile, maybe you think I’m crazy, but that’s okay. I leave you to your life. I make for the way out. Thanks Meryl!
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