Topic: Home is somewhere far away by Peter Farrell

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Home is somewhere far away is a 2012 Memoir and Local History Competition entry by Peter Farrell

Archived version here.

The phone box stinks of stale urine and tobacco. My breath smokes against the glass in the cold, morning air. I stamp the pitted concrete floor. Shivering, I dial the familiar number, my umbilical cord to that bright, summer world where I belong.

“How’s it going?”

There are no preliminaries. Sue is expecting the call.

“I’m at High Wycombe station, waiting to get on the train toLondon. It’s started.”

Sue once said that the previous three months were like living with someone having an affair. The strange handwriting on letters and whispered phone calls in the middle of the night.

The line crackles and I have to bend into the corner of the booth to catch her words through the static.

“I wish I was there with you but this is something that you’re going to have to do by yourself. Just remember, whatever happens, I’ll be here for you.”

She will be sitting on the stool by the phone. I picture the evening summer sun flooding into the sitting room of our Hataitai house perched on theWellingtonhills.

“It’s still bloody dark and it’s eight o’clock in the morning. I’d forgotten what winter does to everybody here.”

I look out at the commuters struggling miserably for their particular spot on the platform. “ It’s difficult to describe how I’m feeling right now but it’s one of those times when all I can do is withdraw and watch myself performing upon some remote stage. It’s very weird.”

Sue has lived with me long enough to understand my way of coping with pressure.

“When do you meet them?” she asks “I want to be sure I’m awake for that.”

“I’m meeting them at Marylebone at midday.” I look at my watch.  “Another four hours.”

There is something else I need to say.

“Just remember, it’s taken me nearly sixty years to get to this. And I wouldn’t be here at this moment if it wasn’t for the certain knowledge that you’d be around to catch me if it all turns to shit.”

Another check of my watch. 

“It’s time I was on my way. I just want to get on with it. I’ll ring you when I can.”

The doors of the train hiss open and I am carried inside on a tide of bodies. I find myself pushed to a window seat, my legs threaded between the legs of the woman opposite. Her eyes waver and then fix neutrally on a spot just above my head.

I examine my reflection in the darkened window of the train. My father’s eyes stare back at me. I am still startled at how Jewish I look these days. The crinkling around the eyes and the doggedness in the tilt of the chin come through my mother.

It was Mum who told me that my father had been killed in the Blitz. She said he had been ushering children into an air raid shelter when the bomb hit. That heroic myth crumbled in the face of a simple, implacable, bureaucratic question. Father’s Details were required for a passport application.

I was seventeen and too self-centred to understand the cost to this strong, stoic woman of telling me the truth. She and Morris were not married and he had left before I was born. When she died, I decided against looking for Morris. He had rejected me once; I was not going to take the risk of him doing it again. Going toNew Zealandwas, I thought, a final step away from him.

Six months ago my father was still alive and it could be him that I am meeting for the first time. Instead, it is his daughter and other son, my half brother and sister, who will be at Marylebone.

Morris had entrusted his secret with one person. His wife Mary knew about me. They also knew I had left forNew Zealandin the 1960s. So the postmark and exotic stamp on my carefully composed letter addressed to Morris were not a complete surprise to her.

I have to tell you that he died on 15 July 1994 of a heart attack. How sad your letter came only a few months too late she had written in reply to my letter I have a daughter and a son. I hope you will not mind if I ask that you do not seek them out. Morris never told them about you and I know it was his wish they should not know. Her need to protect her husband’s reputation was understandable but she soon realised that the secret was out and that I would find them anyway.

As the train draws into Marylebone, my reflection disappears into the flickering grey dawn. I shrink back into my seat. I am in no hurry. I have another pang of anxiety as I move down the empty carriage towards the door and on to the platform. I hope Mum would understand what I am about to do. And that she would forgive me.

It is 11.45. Time for yet another pee and a final personal appearance check. It would hardly do for them to discover their brand new brother fromNew Zealandlounging about at Marylebone Station with his flies undone. I select a bench with a clear view of the station entrance. And wait. Suppose they are late?

Suppose I’ve got the station venue wrong? Suppose they’ve changed their mind? Morris’s secret has been tightly held for nearly sixty years. Are they having second thoughts?

There is some movement at the top of the escalator. They have seen me first and are waving, although we are only a few yards from one another. I move towards them. Rehearsed words are left unsaid as we simply hold one another with the clumsiness of strangers, giggling in disbelief at the enormity of what we are doing. I resist the urge to touch their faces, to trace the genetic imprints of our father. At that moment I need to feel their physical presence. We whisper stilted endearments, like lovers. We pull away, slightly embarrassed, examining one another carefully.

The examination continues in the taxi on the way to lunch. As I talk to one of them, I am aware of the other’s eyes upon me.

“God, I can’t believe how like him you are.”

David smiles and I return his unabashed stare. He is slightly taller but otherwise it’s like looking in the mirror.

“When I saw you at the station just now, it could have been him sitting there.” he says.

I notice David’s thinning hair; a father’s gift to both his sons.

Morris continues to dominate our conversation. I realise that they are reconciling my presence with what they know of him as an exemplary parent, grandparent, scholar and, ironically, a leader in the field of institutional child welfare. For me, he is beginning to take a human form. First a war hero, then a pariah and, now, possibly, just a man who made a mistake.

We continue to examine one another like exhibits at a waxworks. I watch Gill as she fiddles absently with her with her cutlery. With her, it is the structure of the hands that carries Morris’ imprint. We would have a perfect match if we placed palms together. She catches me looking and smiles, shaking her head in bemusement.

“I think it’s going to be OK.”

I am on the phone to Sue from the hall in Gill’s house. I feel like a reporter filing a story from a war zone.

“We are all going to see Mary tomorrow.”

“What are they like?” Sue asks.

“I like them both and I think they like me. We’ve laughed and we’ve cried together. So that’s a start. We’ve also speculated what Morris and Mum would have made of to-day’s meeting. We came to the conclusion that they would’ve been glad not to have been here.” I hesitate.”

“I still think that somehow I am being disloyal …”

Mary is waiting for us in the hall of the house at Shenfield. She is a tiny, brittle, woman. We hug briefly. She whispers to me, “What took you so long?”

She doesn’t want an answer and I can’t give her one. There is a vagueness about her which I think hides an inner toughness and a sharp mind. I am very aware that my father was recently living in this house, used the toilet, brushed his teeth, wrote his thesis.

Everything.

David catches me running my fingers over the chair in the study, feeling for the indentations in the leather. In the bathroom I hold the battered hairbrush, touching the grey hair lodged in the bristles.

Gill, David and I weep for our own separate reasons. Mary looks on and smiles her vague, secret smile.

It is good to be here at last. But this place is not Home. These days, Home is somewhere far away from here. 

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This page archived at Perma CC in October of 2016: https://perma.cc/5XEM-Y9C4

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Home is somewhere far away by Peter Farrell


Year:2012
Note:About the Author: Peter Farrell has just published his memoir The Lie That Settles. This is an extract from an earlier draft of the book. Go to www.theliethatsettles.com. He has an advanced diploma in applied arts from Whitireia Community Polytechnic. He is also a graduate of the Massey University Life Writing Course. He has contributed to a number of short story anthologies and journals, including The Magpie Stole My Heart, and has had work accepted by Radio NewZealand. He lives with his wife Sue in Petone near Wellington.
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 New Zealand License
Home is somewhere far away by Peter Farrell by Tauranga City Libraries Staff - HC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 New Zealand License