We Have Always Lived In The Aviary

They had decided to move. For several years it had been discussed between the two of them, albeit briefly and as something that, although inevitable, was far, far away in the future. After living in their home for twenty-one years, it was time to change, or, as they put it, to ‘downsize.’ I was the last of the three sons to find out, and I did not care at first but as the week wore on, so did the thoughts inside my mind until Friday afternoon when I caught myself in tears.

In the year two-thousand, there was a plum tree, an apple tree, and a pear tree in the back garden. The apple tree died that summer and was taken out by the roots; the pear tree died two years later; the plum tree remains but has not fruited since I went to college. There was a chickenwire aviary, mounded within by dry scratched-up soil, scattered seeds, many dark corners and, somehow, an untraceable odour that would not shift through gaps in the enclosure. A blind pigeon used to live in the aviary. God only knows where the previous resident had found the blind pigeon but she mothered it carefully after her disabled son had died, old tobacco’d fingers caressing it into her fingers and stroking its trembling skull. She took the blind pigeon with her when she left. There were no fish in the pond, only black water and blacker weeds.

My mother said that the house was getting too much for her; she must keep everything spick-and-span. My father said the bills were getting too expensive; the house is a spaghetti junction of draughts. They both said they needed to think about where they were retiring to. A nearby small seaside town had many conveniences within walking distance; they liked it there. When they told me, I was on the edge of the room, playing chess, drinking coffee, not thinking much of it, but remembering the train station in that nearby small seaside town that I had never visited. It is a single track and level crossing, bordered on both sides by red brick and white picket fence, a colour image of WWII evacuees and postcard serenity.

A photograph of my dead grandfather (Granddad) stares back at me, smiling a smile that only goes in one direction, outward, unable to be reciprocated, his expression hangs there waiting to be recognised and returned. He was younger then than my father is now. He looks ten years older than my father. He lived only eighteen months more.

The newlyweds moved into their first house on the day they became husband-and-wife, carried across the threshold in a measure of romance that is forever entangled in my hopes, fears and haunts. They were twenty-four. I was born when they were twenty-six. I grew to be best friends with their dog. I am the happiest I have ever seen when I am photographed next to the dog (Morton), either curled up beside him is his basket or placing a party-hat on his still head.
The next house was three months after the second son was born one evening in May. There the memories blossom into consciousness: great storms, thick snow, playschool’s fingerpaints, cheese crackers, yellow grass on football fields, the smell of stinging-nettles, stained knees with scabs, the bus in cold September blue, relentless bullying, returning home, 9:05 Power Rangers, summers that lasted as long as burnt noses, the way our football slowly disappeared into the night sky. O, how I loved that place, encased as it grew into the tomb of adolescent trauma, the spirit of loneliness; the valley that rolled into the river, every inch of street, turf and tree memorised.

And then there was here; the plums, apples and pears.

Each move was a family, like journeys on a wagon from one plain to the next. This latest is a contraction. The separate parts are now not quite rejected but they are expelled. Until now there was a way to retrace my steps. Although my bedroom has gone, I know where it was. There will not be a part of me at the new house. It will belong only to my parents, and I might alight at the red bricks and white picket fence to find that the building is without history.

Things are different now. My middle brother has his own family and that is where his heart lies. My youngest brother is in love, so it will not be long. It is only I, the eldest, who remains alone. My presence among the couples is underlined. I know that I have not had much luck in that respect. I hold my hands up. And so it goes, as Vonnegut would say. It might not be so bad to disembark from the train along the straight platform between red bricks and white picket fence. It is only time that pulls me from the lovers who made me.

And it strikes my softness that they will die there; first my father, then my mother. I anticipate that my father will die from a heart attack or automobile accident (he has survived three), leaving me to care for my mother. I am very similar to my mother, so it is only natural that I care for her, although by then she would probably prefer that I were a daughter and not a son.

And that was when I wept. Time has passed me by. Now I am catching up with it and the brute force it exerts upon those I love. I stare into the white of its eyes. I stare into the white of time’s eyes. Estate agents visit the house and walk around. They sit on the sofa and my father makes them cups of tea and they talk about the housing market and so on. I tune in, tune out. I stare into the garden, at the spot where the aviary once was and now is not.