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Silent Curtains

by Bee 

Posted: 26 April 2004
Word Count: 1010

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Famous Blue Raincoat by Leonard Cohen plays in my mind, and in the background of my life all hell is breaking loose. The curtains have fallen down, at last – we are now open to peering eyes. My father has admitted his sexuality. I always knew, or I had an inkling at least, ‘isn’t it obvious’ I ask my best friend who I am secretly in love with. ‘No’ he answers. But then, I suppose he doesn’t think of a married man with three children being gay. I shrug, does it matter?

The biggest shock is for my mother; my Catholic mother who lives a life beset by rules and regulations and seemingly blind as to what goes on in her own home; her husband ridden with the guilt of his religion, right there, before her, sipping tea. Except of course, our house is flooded with silent whispers. I heard her mutter, possibly not aware she was thinking aloud, but I heard her say, strangulated, ‘I thought he loved me.’ I cackled out a laugh, spitting out tepid tea. ‘It doesn’t mean he doesn’t love you!’ she looked up, startled at my presence, at my voice, at my laughter. Her eyes red rimmed, dead. Nothing had changed, they had always been dead.

My father is having a nervous breakdown and all I can do is watch from the wings, watch as he sits and cries, ocean tears. As he pulls at his hair, as he drinks more and more tea. As he looks at his daughters with grave sadness, as he watches his wife move further into her self and flirt with delusion and continue as though it’s all okay or at least it will be. All I can do is watch. I want to lean out and embrace and whisper comforts, it will be okay – I want to be the parent. To show what I have learnt from movies, nothing of course from home life. I have learnt stillness at home.

I am in love with my best friend. In a moment of grief I see more of him. I play at it. I am tortured, and we all love a wounded soul. Tears fall, contrived.

My mother hides at Church. Every day, she goes and prays. I ask her what she prays for and she keeps quiet, she mashes potatoes. Her hearing is withering it seems. I repeat, louder. Mash, mash, mash is the answer. I sneer at her, I spit at her, vitriol ‘For his sins? You think he has sinned?’ I think of her silence as an answer, I think of it as an affirmative. I know she hates him; she probably hates me, for I am a part of him. My mother is dying, I know it. But it’s my father I care for, as I watch him sitting and tearing his hair and sipping his tea and just staring ahead.

‘It doesn’t matter daddy.’ I say to him, surprised at the affection in my voice, surprised at ‘daddy’. ‘You’re the same man, I love you.’ But he shakes his head, he doesn’t understand, he agrees with her – my mother. He hates himself for he thinks its wrong – another mindset.

My sisters continue with their lives, young and carefree, drinking neat vodka in the toilets.

At last my aunts, his sisters, rally around. The curtains are down and torn and to my relief they are on the phone, at the house, speaking and listening and my father is looking slightly better – words are like oil.
My mother is nowhere to be seen. I can breathe, I can smile, I can dream of my own love.

My father and his sisters spend all day talking, hunched over in chairs, heads together, low voices and sipping tea. And then my father is gone. My mother mumbles that he is getting help. He is in a mental institution she says. No goodbyes, the chair is empty. I slowly feel hatred stab at my heart.
I am shocked at the idea that quiet can be quieter. But it is. And so I call my best friend and I escape and this time the salt tears are genuine.

I miss my father. My sisters are too young, too close, they have their conversations. I miss my father.

He is gone for six months. When I see him he is ashen, quiet, he doesn’t want to look me in the eyes. He wears guilt, I tell him over and over again, ‘I love you daddy. I love you daddy.’ But it slides off his skin. The only people he speaks to freely are his sisters. And to capture my father, to get to know him, I spend more time with them, my aunts; I smoke their cigarettes and listen to their conversations.

My mother is a shadow in the house. It seems like months when at last I speak to her, when I ask her –bravely, a bit drunk – I ask what’s going to happen, are they going to divorce. I think I must have slapped her in the face for she looks up in horror, ‘No.’ she says, her voice hoarse. It strikes me that this is the first word in ages directed at me. I can’t help but feel happy.

At last he’s back. I am giddy with happiness; I forget myself and throw my arms around him, the dysfunctional family together again. He actually smiles, a limp grin, and whispers hello. I think he calls me sweetheart. I am dizzy, I am euphoric.

I watch him closely, his every move. He is better, I can see. He spends time in the garden, hours and hours, watering, pruning sometimes just staring for hours at a particular flower, he loves hydrangeas. He visits his sisters, and I tag along, watching him laugh, genuine laughter, and I join along, for the hell of it. He makes his famous curries, and he sips his tea. It’s as though nothing had happened. The curtains are once again drawn.

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Comments by other Members

scottwil at 12:50 on 27 April 2004  Report this post
Very powerful piece Bee. You give no clues as to your intentions for it - is it a short story or part of a memoir? That claustrophobic, stifling atmosphere reminds me of some of the best Irish autobiographies.

bjlangley at 14:46 on 27 April 2004  Report this post
Bee I thoroughly enjoyed this piece. The atmoshere, stifling as Sion says, is so effective. I thought the metaphor with the curtains worked well too.

I have to say though, that this line was the best part for me:

I ask her what she prays for and she keeps quiet, she mashes potatoes.

It sums up so much about the character, about the situation.

All the best,


Bee at 15:21 on 27 April 2004  Report this post
Sion, Ben - thanks very much. It's not quite a memoir. A bit of the truth and a bit of the mind. Glad you enjoyed.


Nell at 07:46 on 03 May 2004  Report this post
Bee, you have a talent for intense realism, it's in the small observations, the feelings of the narrator, and I was drawn in to read compulsively to the end
which arrived all too soon. There are such telling touches here: ...
as he watches his wife move further into herself and flirt with delusion...
...it will be okay – I want to be the parent. To show what I have learnt from movies, nothing of course from home life. I have learnt stillness at home.
and I am in love with my best friend. In a moment of grief I see more of him. I play at it. I am tortured, and we all love a wounded soul. Tears fall, contrived... and more, much more. I wondered at the narrator's seeming lack of feeling/sympathy for her mother. She must also have been suffering. This piece comes across so powerfully that I can see it as glimspe into other lives, part perhaps of a novel made up from short pieces written as separate to stand alone, yet together making up a complete picture. It's a story begging to be told.

Best, Nell.

Mooncat at 16:49 on 03 May 2004  Report this post
Hi Bee

This is a very powerful piece. You are able to draw the reader in from the start and your narrator inspires empathy.


Bee at 12:19 on 04 May 2004  Report this post
Nell, thanks so, that’s a great compliment about talent for intense realism.

I suppose she is sympathetic, or will become sympathetic but in the meantime is defending her father by being bitter and showing rancour to her mother, all she wants is for her dad to say something, defend himself, scream and as he doesn’t do this she has to stand in his place.

Thanks once again for your comments.


Bee at 12:21 on 04 May 2004  Report this post
Mooncat - thanks, I'm 'over the moon' that you enjoyed. (sorry, I'm tired)...and I think it's great you had empathy for the narrator as it is a worry that she can only be disliked by selfishness.



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