I opened my eyes and saw the inclined ceiling room. It was painted white and it had some wooden cross beams in which my father carefully poured linseed oil once every two or three years (he was very careful with these things). There were always one or two spider webs that reminded me at bedtime of the black legend of how many spiders we ingested during our lifetime.
I looked to my right and saw my brother sitting on his bed. He often sat there like that, staring at an imaginary television, sorting out his thoughts, as if he were subjecting his puzzled brain to a serious meditation fine tuning before confronting the costly functions that awaited him throughout the day.
That summer we had arrived in Graiport before than any other year. The doctors had recommended my parents to take my brother Eric out of the hospital and try to get him back into everyday life. He has never been a boy with too many lights, but when I saw him after the accident I could only think, “He is gone completely dumb”. This is what happens in the head of a 10-year-old boy when he sees his older brother after the accident that had left its aftermath. I think he was dead for a while and the doctors managed to save him by miracle. However, the lack of blood flow in his brain had caused him some damage that was initially unknown whether it could be repaired.
My parents were obviously affected. They did not talk about it. Nobody was talking about it. My father felt a certain guilt for having been so permissive with him and my mother did not help much. She was one of those women who thought that leaving children of their own free will would only bring misfortune, and she would have preferred to keep us all locked up in our room during childhood. The accident was, therefore, a taboo subject. I never knew what happened, and maybe it is better that way. I barely remember anything about what Eric was like before that summer.
He had improved remarkably, especially on physical aspects, and his mobility was practically the same as before the accident. Mentally, he seemed to be aware that he did not have to be this way, but his head had stopped working like a sixteen-year-old boy. He had dropped out of class and was learning to read and write again. He even had trouble pronouncing certain words. He made an inhuman effort to adapt without drawing too much attention.
I remember one day I told him, half-jokingly, that until he was all right, I would be his elder brother and take care of him. Eric, half-seriously, had to decide that he felt more at ease with me than with the kids of his age and adults who treated him like a freak. So, I had lost an adolescent and troubled elder brother to win a sixty-kilogram pet with the strength of an adult, and willing at all times to obey my orders.
That morning he was already dressed and made me wonder if he had done it alone or, simply, had avoided the neural wear and tear by sleeping in the clothes of the day before. I remember thinking that “it would be really smart” and it would show that my brother was starting to take the initiative he had lost, more out of fear of screwing up and embarrassing my parents than for not being able to do things.
–Hello, Eric, how you doing?
–Better – replied as usual.
The smell of toast coming up the stairs broke into the room. Of all the mother’s habits, mine had a wonderful one that stood out making forget all the hateful ones. She always bought copious amounts of bread every day, so that it would be left over and she could make toast the next morning. Those slices of loaf bread had nothing to do with the industrial sliced toasted bread that we usually had for breakfast in the city. Eric spoke again.
–I am hungry.
Due to his difficulties in speaking and that lost look, he gave the impression that the next step would be to devour me. So, I quickly got dressed for breakfast. We descended noisily the wooden stairs that separated the attic from the first floor and, after finding my sister Truly in the hallway, we continued our troop descent to the kitchen-dining room from where the succulent aroma of breakfast began. Oh, yes! That was not breakfast. It was BREAKFAST, capital letters. I remember the kitchen with that rustic table made of thick wood, overflowing with food that my mother had been collecting from the neighbors’ houses.
As I have already advanced, she had many defects. But Gertrude Bryston (her maiden name) knew how to get along. As usual, she had spent the first few days of the summer grumbling from one side of the house to the other, while removing sheets from furniture and accumulated dust from the shelves. That dust was particularly dense due to the humid climate and salty environment area. A breath of air in Graiport seemed to feed about half a dozen herring. I remember the tireless Gertrude with the broom and the dustpan in her hands, shouting and chasing her husband, my father, around the house, he was determined to go in and out with his boots full of dirt or sawdust. They had been arguing for years about the need to put a shoemaker in the lobby to change our shoes for slippers and not spread dirt around the house. “Like civilized people,” my mother would say over and over again. “Like the Norwegians.” It never struck me as a good example, since I imagined them as Vikings thirsty for calvados returning home after looting some nearby village. I could not conceive of how, after crossing the threshold of their homes, they would leave in a civilized manner their boots, covered with the blood of slaughtered enemies, in a beautiful red spruce shoemaker, and then put on elegant plaid slippers. Evidently, my mother had a more elegant view of the Nordics, more influenced by Hamlet’s mother, her twisted namesake.
As I was saying. After that stage of compulsive cleansing, expressing her discontent with everything that surrounded her, my mother began to enjoy like the others that wonderful environment. By habit, he spent the last few weeks in Glasgow accumulating orders of all the acquaintances of Graiport and we made our journey from the city as if we were real peddlers, with the car full of all kinds of goods. Once we arrived, my mother made a wide round of visits and received thanks from the whole neighborhood that were always accompanied by abundant country delicacies that covered our table most of the summer. If we added to that the kindness of my father, one of the county’s favorite nephews, always helping with any task that needed his magnificent collection of carpentry tools, it was a rare day that we did not enjoy the traditional dishes and delicacies prepared by some grateful neighbor.
But let us get to the point, to the important things. That was a breakfast. Eggs, some days boiled, others fried and others scrambled, French fries, sometimes sautéed with some red onions. Bacon, sausages, toast, honey, jams of all kinds, butter, milk… Everything fresh, natural, freshly brought from the closest cupboards and farms, or delivered by the milkman a few minutes ago, along with the loaves of bread. With a breakfast like that, and a sandwich in your backpack, you’d already loaded your batteries to spend the whole day in the countryside.
The only thing that did not convince me was the mania that my father had of having breakfast with toast and eggs with smoked herring, one specialties of the area. That reek fish, it could make a man’s stomach sick. He was a peculiar guy.
–Eric! for God’s sake! –My mother said as she did every morning –. Cover that pestilent can or you will ruin breakfast for all of us.
My father closed the jar while Mrs. Gertrude added some more toast to the table where hands, knives, and forks swirled around.
–Today I will come to the Goblish’s house –my father said as the three brothers chewed, devoured, swallowed and slit their breakfast without wasting any time breathing –. I think Jonas has to fix his fence and he asked me yesterday at the tavern if I could stop by to help him. Maybe you could come and give me a hand.
That remark was a lethal trap. Without saying names, without looking at anyone. Truly and I, who already had practiced, continued to eat without looking up from the plate and without opening our mouths more than to make way for another fork full of food. My father’s eyes hovered around the table like a ball on a roulette wheel, to end up making full use of Eric’s eyes, who waited for the outcome to come to an end. My brother stared at him with the face of a slit-eyed lamb, sensing that once again he would have to go with my father to the Goblish’s house where the little redheaded, freckled and demonic Jonas Jr. would give him a hard time.
–We were supposed to meet the boys in the village to… –I remained thoughtful, thinking of giving my brother a hand, without giving away our plan, while my father watched at me attentively waiting for something to make sense of the phrase. I went straight to the point, that is how I was! A courageous and concise 11-year-old boy. A people person, a natural leader, and using precise words. –Do… some… things.
–All right, all right, –my father replied, after an uncomfortable silence of about ten seconds, noticing the awkward move and that my hesitant and shaky words had not been as devastating as I intended. Faced with Eric’s undiplomatic expression of relief, he continued. –. You will better take advantage of these days of sun and heat before the storms start and you cannot leave home.
My father was right about that. Summer was being especially sunny and hot in the region and the weather in Scotland was uniquely unpredictable and capricious, so any day a torrential rainfall would come to put an end to all our countryside plans.
Taking advantage of a distraction from my mother, we filled the backpacks with some bread and cold cuts left over from the table, stole some cookies from the pantry and sneaked out as quick as we could to avoid any change of mind. As Truly closed the door, we could hear Gertrude’s voice shouting at us. We heard her later inquisitive words questioning our destiny and curses when she saw how we had left the kitchen table after the looting of breakfast. My father, who was a very patient person, would listen to all his speech, finish his breakfast quietly, stand up from the table with a certain amount of quietness, pick up the table, take the cutlery, plates, and cups to the sink and start a conscientious dish wash. In a few minutes, everything would be clean and drying up in the colander and, before my mother had finished her frantic protest, my father would give her a kiss on the cheek and come out the door with his toolbox, whistling some melody from his young days and without saying a word. My mother, in one last caw, would blame my father again:
–You spoil them!
By then, we were already far from the fence gate. We were running, moreover, flying down the road and Eric was smiling stupidly. When we took the first turn, we slowed down because we knew that, out of sight, my mother would give up and take her usual stroll through the village without the neighbours having her children’s cheeks to pinch. Besides, if we kept running for one more minute, we would throw up all breakfast without the need to sniff the smoked herring.
We entered the village through the narrow streets that led to the crossing of William Kid’s, where the tavern of the same name is located. The villagers frequent it at night to brag about their fishing, vegetable gardens or domestic animals. Framed by the tavern door was Mary, the owner. He had inherited it from his father, the old Faggan, who in turn had inherited it from his father, grandfather Faggan, and this in turn from his father, and so on and so forth, generation after generation of alcoholized and spoiled Faggan who died, without remission, at a very young age, cursed by the tavern’s legacy.
But Mary was different. She was entering a few kegs of beer that looked like they weighed a hundred pounds each. And it Is just that, if there has ever been a tavern girl in use, that was Mary Faggan. Despite being slightly in weight, which gave her an imposing breast, it had never been spoiled and remained in that thin line between the possession of lean meat and fat. His face had also not suffered the peculiar curse that endowed the Faggan with a brilliant bald spot, a thick red, venous nose, and glassy eyes. Thanks to heaven! With dark and reddish hair, freckles, fleshy lips, and eyes… With those blue eyes, almost grey as the sea of Scotland, no man, who boasted of being so in Graiport, could have avoided doing Mary a compliment after the fourth pint of beer perfectly poured and rested. Many children remember their third-grade teacher as their first love, my first love was that robust Scottish innkeeper who rolled barrels of McEwan’s as if it was her life on it. Mary, of course, knew it. she knew that its appeal went far beyond the traditional beauty we are accustomed to in fashion magazines and models.
As we were passing through the alley, Truly greeted her. Not only by education, but also because among the girls of Graiport, she was an example to follow, both in her way of treating men and in her way of doing business. Many girls would come to the tavern’s back door to ask for advice on something they would never have dared to talk to their mothers about.
–Hello Mary! Shall we give you a hand?
–Thank you, Truly, but the day it takes someone to give me a hand to get the fuel in –that Is what she called it –I should better get busy with other things.
Having said that, Mary crossed her gaze with mine and winked at me with a complicity that, even today, I have never forgotten or will never forget. I felt my face turn red and I had the feeling that it was beginning to glow like a two hundred watt bulb. I smiled forcibly and accelerated my step toward the alleyway exit, very stretched and tripping over all the cobblestones that protrude more than half an inch and were susceptible to tripping.
Eric and Truly laughed and followed in my footsteps.
Selkirk St., in honor of the famous buccaneer of Fife County, was the town’s main street, although there were wider streets, better asphalted and with more traffic. The truth is that it had its logic, because it was the main access to the port and, let us not forget that, Graiport, was essentially a seafaring town. The roadway was made of large, slightly uneven stones, and there were no sidewalks to climb which could have been a problem if it weren’t for the scarce motorized traffic. Barely one or two vehicles passed by every hour, most of the time, delivery vans for shops or, sometimes, some absent-minded tourist who had left the main road and took pictures of the picturesque place. However, at six o’ clock in the morning, that street became impossible, when the region’s fishmongers and cooks (some even came from Dunnon) were approaching to the port’s market to get a hold of some lot of marine delights that were auctioned there.
Almost arriving at the port was Mackerel Square, a small square where the roadway formed a circle to turn around and where the most charming shops in town were located. The bakery of McNevin (with those biscuits and tea cookies, it makes my mouth water), the Ackermann’s candy store, the fruit shop, the port’s fish and fishmonger market…
In the center of the square was erected the bronze statue of a sailor picking up the longline with some mackerel hooked, surrounded by benches and planters. The constant shelling of the seagulls had left a mark on Bob’s bronze (so we affectionately called the statue), which offered all sorts of tonalities between black, green and white. There, in a forge bench facing the port, our friends waited as usual. That was a privileged place. Not only did we have the region’s best buns and sweets at hand, but we also enjoyed the most idyllic port view and a small beach where the sailors would moor their boats. In addition, it offered a convenient shelter from the glances of the mothers who chattered at the doors of the shops and a stall of espionage and fantastic gossip to observe and learn about all the town’s events.
There we chatted for hours watching seabirds float over the boats, which once, those who had the best aim, were pebbled to prevent them from approaching our post with bad intentions and their predisposed sphincters. Rarely, we could see above the flight of the seagulls, some osprey that went deep into the port in search of easy fishing to take to its nest on the north’s cliffs.
When we finally arrived, most of the kids were there: Judith, Sarah, Rory, Connell Godard and their cousins, the Dering brothers: Brian, Ross, and Danny. Do not worry if you mess around at first and do not recognize or misrecognize their names. It was happening to me too. Whenever you arrive at a party, the host insists on introducing you to everyone at once. So, it is impossible to retain names and marry them with faces. Then, in addition, you start drinking delusional pints, and faces and names get blurry and finally become completely diluted. The next morning, you wake up with a terrible hangover and the names of all the people you met the night before have been lost in the black hole on the left side of the brain and that absorbs names and faces randomly scattering them all over the memory space. However, when all this happened, the prodigy, which was not prodigious, McEwan’s intake of later years, had not extended the gravitational force of the dark point of my retention.
–Dead! I am telling you, Liverpool is dead. The Everton has swept away, and next year it will again sweep away. Especially if they manage to close the signing of that Leicester guy, –said Brian, who was a forum for the Merseyside team.
He was the firstborn of the Derings. They had returned to their Scottish roots after many years of living in Newcastle. He was a pretty belligerent guy who used to get us all mad with all sorts of acidic and controversial comments. He and his cousin Connell spent the whole day arguing over the most varied topics, although most of the time they argue football. One of the hottest topics of the moment.
–Lineker? –asked his cousin.
–Yeah, that is. Gary Lineker. There is no match for Everton at the moment and Liverpool have a lot of problems signing after Heysel –Brian continued.
–Bad business –Connell said.
–So bad. No English club will be able to participate in European competitions for long. Not in the European Cup, not in UEFA or anything. And the worst thing is that because of the Liverpool fans, Everton is left without playing the tournament that they deserved –said Brian, who knew his cousin would disagree.
–I do not think it is Liverpool’s fault. Something bad was supposed to happen. It is weird that it does not happen more often, –Connell said.
–Bah! –Brian replied, ignoring his cousin’s warnings –. Let them keep their leagues and stadiums. English football will continue to be the best football in the world with or without European titles.
–I am not so sure –Connell returns to the fray –. How many stars do you think will stay in our league without being able to participate in continental trophies? How many world football stars will want to come to our football? Let us see how many years “your” Gary Lineker lasts in Everton when he knows he cannot play in the European Cup. We are going to be so far behind that it will take us years to recover the wake of the Germans and Italians. I hope Rush does not leave, as many others will…
–Take that! –exclaimed Danny interrupting, celebrating the blow perfectly aimed at a clueless seagull who cawed her way to the boats. Danny was the Dering’s little boy and he was seven years old. He had spent his life in the fights of his elder brothers, so it is no wonder he was smarter than other kids of his age. He was a remarkable marksman, actually. He was a really fun kid, although Danny drives Ross (my best friend) crazy.
Danny began to do a victorious dance mix of Mick Jagger and Michael Jackson while humming “Love Is a Battlefield”, Pat Benatar’s song, muttering meaningless words, because he did not know it, of course. He drew a loud laugh and applause from the group.
However, Ross, seemed reluctant to pull out his younger brother’s feat.
– Hey, Is something wrong? You look worried –I asked him.
– I… I… I am still not clear –said Ross, the middle of the Dering brothers –. They tell too much about Yewhill. I do not know if we should go. Several neighbors have crossed paths with that old man who comes and goes through the forest roads. They have seen him sitting on the floor like a beggar, with leaves hanging from his brown and ragged clothes, meditating, observing, listening to the wind… Other times, sitting on some bench of the roads, he lets the birds perch on it. Even Mary Faggan told my father that McKinney, the Garrick’s son-in-law… The one who delivers milk, do you know him? He had seen him on the streets of Corrawk talking to the trees and animals in the village. While he whispers, the birds seem to answer him cheeping.
–Old wives’ tales, wimp dwarf –Blurt out rian by applying a corrective slap to his middle brother. He changed his voice with a tenebrous air as he moved his hands like an evil sorcerer to set his next words in a mocking way–. Old Brown awaits us in the enchanted forest, to take the children of Graiport and turn them into fairies and pucks of the trees. Booooooooaaaaaaaahahahahahahahaha!
However, his joke did not cause the desired joy and it became an uncomfortable silence. That legend frightened more than one.
–Old wives’ tales! –Spat Morag again, who had just arrived, as she shook and tickled Danny warmly, who, being younger than us, seemed to be the only one to have fun with his brother’s jokes –. Are we all here? Jeez, guys, sorry I am late. My father had me all worked up before I left home.
The girl started to lock her black bicycle to the bench, although I do not think anyone in Graiport would take it. The bicycle was one of those who used the delivery boys, and they had already shared all their siblings for years. It was a great investment from their parents who, intelligently, had added a plastic box with elastic cord attached to the back, so that their children could run all the errands for them. There was no day when our friend did not have to bring fruit or vegetables to a neighbor. Without going any further, she had just delivered fresh vegetables.
–Come on. Let us go! –Morag replenished without wasting time.
We all picked up our backpacks and bags, but Ross was still hesitant.
Judith kept silent all morning. She was not the oldest, but she was certainly the most adult of us all. She was on a different level, like she was back from everything. A bit distant. Up to that moment, I did not think she was interesting, dressed in black as a widow at the age of fourteen, with silver pendants and a Gothic look She spent her life among her father’s books of theology and had a great interest in vinyl. Sometimes I wondered what she could see in our company. However, she was a very good friend of Truly and a tremendously educated and cultivated girl. My parents shuddered slightly when they heard his biblical, almost vampire-like name. Yeah, I know that. It happens to me too. Now, over the years, I find her intriguingly interesting and sexy, why not say so? But times have changed a lot.
Cult, Slow, steady, serious. Speaking in a grammatically ordered language and showing an intellectual level far above the average teenager. Chaining words after words, written in one of the many books piled up in the corners of her house, Judith spoke.
– There are those who choose to live the adventures and those who choose to listen to them. There are those who choose to change the destiny and those who choose to wait for it. Both, however, acting and waiting, give form to what is to come. Each person has his place in the course of events. What is yours, Ross?
They were solemn and powerful words. The whole group remained silent, mired in their thoughts, seeking their own answer to the question.
Truly and I crossed glances. I mean, Judith, it never ceased to amaze you. She used to be philosophical and raving, saying phrases that made the very foundations of my childhood falter. Eric, on the other hand, frowned at the search for some recovered neuron that would give him the key to the intellect in order to enter into the privileged who were impregnated with Judith’s words. At the time, he did not seem to make it.
Morag looked up at the hill with a lifeless gaze, not reassuring, but somewhat smarter than Eric’s. It was the gaze of the warriors preparing for battle, talking with their ancestors in silence and praying to some Celtic god who surely had better things to do than to protect their lives from the reach of enemy arrows. Everything with Morag was like this: epic. From the discovery of a clearing in the forest to the theft of a bunch of grapes on a nearby farm.
Brian thought it was a fantastic idea to go to Yewhill, Shuly lands were on the way, eternal enemies of the Godard and Dering. Kyle Shuly had the pretentious pretense of wooing Brian’s mother in their youth and the belligerent father of the Dering had already struck him a couple of times in the tavern for such audacity, even if it had been years before he met her.
On the other hand, Sarah was gazing at Connell in awe of what he was thinking. Connell was still a stranger to epic, basically thinking about the future of the Premier League.
Ross looked nervously at all of us, hoping that someone would have the necessary judgment to say that we would not go up to the place where we had not missed anything and probably have a very bad time. Rory Ackermann noticed the pallor that was beginning to take Ross’ mug and took two balls of gum out of his pocket. After putting one in his friend’s hand, he began to chew the other calmly.
In short, in those three or four seconds the tension was chewed. Without our knowledge, the universe listened to Judith and stopped momentarily to decide what to do with its own future.
Lastly, but not the least important of the eleven, Danny exploded with joy and happiness.
–Oh, men! –exclaimed the little one –. This adventure is going to be awesome. Come on, let us go!
Finally, the universe shrugged and continued to expand a few more eons. But my summers in Graiport were never the same.