Many years ago, Ryan's father locked his feelings in a box and threw away the key. This is the story of how Ryan found that key one New Year’s Eve, lost in the undergrowth of his father’s immaculately pruned garden, and returned it.
At some point in the evening, Ryan ventured outside. When, exactly, he couldn’t say, as time at that point was all gloopy and warped and purple-tinged. The clatter and thump of the front door closing was like the ripping of space-time itself, and through a man-sized slit he stepped into another world entirely: one of exquisite silence, in which every ice-encrusted pebble, bush and tree was beholden to the silken light of the moon.
A story of father-son reconciliation: the thawing of long-frozen pain. And a healing place to cry; under the light of mother moon.
It was icy cold outside. The moon had risen above the wooded hill-line and spread her milky light upon the gently rippling waters of a high tide. The stars, mostly hidden, waited in the wings as a gentle luminescence took centre-stage. His father’s boat floated in the inky pool of firmament’s faint reflection, the Milky Way Ferris-wheeling about its mast. Tethered to a mooring, it watched the moon sail the night sky, lusting for oceans of its own to cross.
It was still plenty dark, and with one face forever veiled, the moon knew darkness well. From the heavens she crept into Earth’s darkest corners, imbuing shadows with an otherworldly radiance. Purple-tinged blackness took form, as boundaries between worlds dissolved.
In my own labyrinthine depths, will she find me also? he had wondered several hours earlier, peering out at the estuary from the warmth of the lounge, hands and forehead resting on cool glass. Just before he turned to survey his modest preparations: the fire and candles lit; a lone joss stick infusing the room with exotic promise; his laptop connected to the HiFi, colouring the space with trippy, tribal sounds. Before his parents left to some neighbour’s New Year’s Eve party that no, he was sure he didn’t want to attend. Before the dancing—alone but not lonely. Before the singing, sat by the fire. The laughter. The impressions: other characters filling the room, so quirky, realistic, and fun! Before a globule of forbidden fruit descended the oesophageal road of no return. Before time and space became purple-tinged and gloopy. Before inhibition fled. Before his parents returned, drunk and merry. Before he sat with his father and, for the first time, heard him share; open and lucid.
The clatter and thump of the front door closing was like the ripping of space-time itself. Through the man-sized slit, he stepped into another world entirely. One of unutterable silence—penetrating, piercing, almost deafening. A silence alive. With the inaudible singing of every thing—every plant, pebble, and tree—as it bathed in Mother Moon’s opalescent aura.
“Go see the moon,” his parents had said with peculiar insistence. Fire safe, and himself wrapped up warm, he could now enjoy this other world. A world that had been brewing, awaiting his arrival—he knew it.
What a wonderful new year, he thought, pulling his scarf a little tighter and making his way up the garden path. You waited patiently, and here I am. He felt aware—and calmer than he’d felt in a long time. He passed under a natural arch of some creeper or shrub his father had trained about a now-invisible frame and paused, looking up at its thin twigs and stems: winter bare, densely knotted, a spiralling matrix that resembled the weave of a giant bird’s nest. He felt the garden, the world itself, to be a nest in some magical crystal kingdom, himself nestled at its base under the incubating lunar glow. He felt safe. And warm despite the hour and season. But for his dissipating breath, all was frozen still.
His father’s frosted car was parked past the gate leading to the pavement. Standing beside it, he slowly surveyed the crystal web of moonlight cast upon the Earth. Her light was held in every frozen drop and flake of water—little crystalline receivers to a song transmitted from her distant, heavenly perch.
“They didn’t want to know me,” he sombrely repeated to himself. His father’s words. Words that rasped on the crisp air and made it only colder. In one crystal-shattering instant, everything was accepted, forgiven. He understood the defences—his father’s and his own. That ogre of a man, always swinging erratically between morose silence and frightful anger, now a person and someone who deserved his love.
“Who doesn’t deserve my love?” he asked himself now.
Looking at the frost-encrusted car, he ran a fingernail down the nearest window. It left a narrow line revealing a dark space within and filled his finger with a pleasant, numbing coolness.
As he withdrew his hand, something further cracked within. Tears filled his eyes, and somehow his legs gave way. He dropped to the pavement as if gravity, usually so steadfast and serene, had thrown a tantrum and stuck him down. There, lying curled up by a tyre-arch, looking up at the sky, a domed ribcage of wispy cloud, he felt—and with that, understood—his father’s pain.
I never felt wanted, he thought, then whispered over and over. It’s doubtful his father could ever have imagined he’d pass that very energy on to his son. But so often growing up he had felt a sense of abandonment and exclusion. A lack of worth. And for no good reason. But that’s what happens, isn’t it? For generations, if needs be. When a feeling is locked within, unexamined, and we think we’ve controlled or tamed it but really only maim ourselves or those we love.
“What you look at disappears; what you resist persists.” A quote he’d read someplace, now whispered within.
On the hard gravel under the loving moon, he wanted to look. And so he cried, determined to feel. To feel it all. To be done with it.
The moon didn’t stray from her graceful passage through the heavens. She already touched the world, and him in it, holding both in her pearly presence. For that, he was grateful. There, beneath her, felt the most healing place to cry, and she let him. She’d seen it all before. Even from the darkness of her other side. Especially there.
He shifted a little on the pavement, closer now to a holly bush beside the gate. “I never felt wanted,” he said, this time speaking aloud those acrid but oddly cathartic words. The breath that carried them was warm, of course, and he noticed how the words melted a little of the frost on the leaves closest to him, freeing the moon’s trapped light and, at once, her song. He heard it; he really did.
Back on his feet now, looking at the thorny, defensive leaves, he pushed himself into them, clasping whatever part his reaching hands touched first. They bit his flesh. But it was good. It fitted somehow.
Squatting, bringing a handful of leaves with him, he felt them resist, then surrender, a branch whipping back and away. Knees to chest, vision blurred, he looked at his hand and the several captured leaves protruding there. He brought one to his mouth and bit. He winced at the bitterness. Thorns on soft, chilled lips. No more shutting down and closing off, he thought. No more handbrakes on in my life.
“What isn’t felt is only trapped”—another quote he’d read, another whisper.
He knew he was crying for his father as much as for himself. Crying away the pain.
He looked through the open gate. At the lanceolate foliage flanking the path to home’s front door. Then, at the rest of the garden. His father’s garden. It was beautiful. He remembered how green-fingered his father was and wondered how much of his creating and tending was fuelled by pain. How much poison he’d turned to buddleia and cherry blossom. Not just gardening but in the wooden models he sometimes made, his drawings, or the sailing he loved to do. Creating to fill a void? Covering the sense of rejection? Mortar to the walls of some castle keep.
It was almost done; he knew it. He was coughing, dribbling, like a down-and-out tramp. Jeez, if someone could see me. Coughing up the last hairballs—psychological trauma; denied aspects, once swallowed, long suppressed. Chew on the gravel, he thought, feeling the ground sting his palms and knees. Maybe that will do it. He didn’t, of course.
He stopped crying. Just a few snivels now. His attention was griped by the image of an ex-girlfriend that had come to mind like a phantom coalescing from his vaporous breath. And, with it, he was glimpsing something she’d tried to show him—how she’d only been in his life to love him and help him blossom. And how he’d not allowed her to do so. Memories, once just colourful sand always slipping between fingers, now solidified into something he could mould.
He was seeing the reason people came together: to help each other heal. He thought of his parents: two wounded characters he’d so raged at as a teenager when he’d never felt listened to. Two people carrying each other home. The idea filled his being with lightness and hope. Then irrational fear: Would he ever allow it for himself?
The fear passed, and he felt a kind of delayed love for his ex-girlfriend—a love he’d been too blind to notice or express at the time. He missed her and now mourned her loss. Tears. Gratitude. Too late. Just a fantasy of love, perhaps.
What an amazing woman my mother must be, he thought. To have chosen my father to support. To help him heal his pain. To make him feel…wanted.
He wiped away the last of his tears and picked himself up. It was done. Time to go inside. Time to stop hiding. Running. Searching. Or whatever it was he always did. Time to unlock the castle gatehouse, or dismantle its walls. But right now, time for sleep.
His shoes and many layers relinquished, he walked up the stairs to his room opposite his parents'. Reaching the penultimate step, he heard the slightly panicked voice of his mother saying something unintelligible, then, raising her voice, “We’re asleep.” Twice she said it, in rapid succession. In that classic caught-in-the-act, only-making-it-more-obvious type way. He had to laugh as he turned about, too happy to be embarrassed. He’d sleep in the lounge. By fire’s rutilant glow.
It was a surprise, but it seemed appropriate somehow—or at least, a fitting contrast: his writhing on aculeate asphalt and biting at thorns, their… making love? He’d never caught them in the venereal act before, thankfully. Though, as he thought about it now, it might have done him good. Or at least if they’d talked about sex. Yes, a much better option. Less stigma, less fear that way. He’d been a skittish, afeared young man in that regard. The one sex education class at school hadn’t helped much—and the internet had still been in its infancy.
He smiled, recalling the time as a 14 years old he’d bought a Kama Sutra: Improve your sex life VHS for couples from some bric-a-brac market stall. How he’d only dared watch a few minutes of it, even when no one was in the house. Then proceeded to take a spade and bury it at the bottom of the garden. Why he hadn’t just put it in the neighbours' dustbin if he wanted to get rid of it, he didn’t know. Or throw it away somewhere else. Perhaps it was symbolic of some odd repression. He wondered now if his father had ever found it, what with all the landscaping he used to do. What a peculiar find that must have been.
Snuggling down to sleep was put on hold when he remembered the Chinese lantern he’d brought with him from London. Lighting it will cap the night off nicely, he thought, getting to his feet.
Outside, he held it for several minutes as the air warmed within the tissue-paper shell, flickering with caramel light. He soon felt it tugging, wanting to rise. When he thought it would make it past the roof, he let it go, but not before imaging he’d psychically attached the last of his and his father’s pain to it.
Into the still, cold night it soared. To the haunting cry of some unknown bird, or spirit, in the distant woodland. And to someone shouting. A happy cry. “Yes!”, perhaps. It sure sounded like his father, but how could he have seen the lantern? Perhaps some part of him had, and was relieved to see old baggage rise away like that. Or perhaps it had been his mother all those years ago who’d found that Karma Sutra tape and… he swiftly nipped that thought in the blushing bud.
Up, up the lantern flew. A new star amongst a multitude. Old light, marking the way for new, brighter journeys ahead.
For the full five-chapter version, please get in touch