Remnants of former lives, in the paintwork and the old photos

Laura Kennedy: I have been lifted out of the present and dropped into the past

'It is never 30 degrees in Limerick. Or at least, never insofar as I can remember.'

'It is never 30 degrees in Limerick. Or at least, never insofar as I can remember.'

 

It is the midst of a heatwave, and I am in Limerick. The place is unrecognisable, in part because it is 30 degrees, and I can feel the sweat pricking and creeping behind my knees just while sitting in my brother’s kitchen. It is never 30 degrees in Limerick. Or at least, never insofar as I can remember. If you talk to the older people, they will tell you stories of summers long before, when it was indeed 30 degrees, and the grass was softer and the sky higher above your head. You’ll never believe them until you get to their age, and realise they were right all along.

My older brother’s kitchen is a place I have never been before, but here I sit. Though he and I are close, there is a strong sense within me that his truest self is the one who tricked me into the large box from some new electrical appliance – a rare and hallowed event in our house – and then shoved it down the stairs.

He and his wife have gone to get milk, and I am here with only the murmur of the dishwasher for company. It is odd, this feeling, of adulthood. It is odd to understand that the person you made a concerted effort to stab through the heart with a butter knife when you were seven, having to be wrestled off by your mother, is a responsible adult who has just bought a home.

For now, it is someone else’s home. The remnants of that life are in the paint colour, the kitchen cupboards, the dimensions and feel of this house. My brother and his wife will gut it, of course, being architects, and make it up new like one of Lydia Bennet’s bonnets in Pride and Prejudice.

Memorial of another life

A new home which is only new to you is a memorial of another life. You must change it in whatever way suits your budget and inclination to make it yours, and build a new narrative.

In the box room, unsurprisingly, are boxes. I have drifted up here even though I know it is a bad idea, because some of my mother’s belongings are stored here. They have no home of their own, now, and lead a vagabond life, moving aimlessly from one box room to another, too precious by far to get rid of but too painful to look at. I feel her things behind the door before I see them, not because they are “doing” anything to me, but because I know what will happen when I see them.

There is a part of me that lives in expectation of residing in the past again

The pictures are there, of her doing the most unextraordinary things in the kitchen, or in her garden, and I am gone. It is as though I have been lifted out of the present and dropped into the past, and all of the tiny elements and details come back so that I know them in the present again.

The glass chime in the kitchen. The red kettle I forgot about, that lived always stout and merry on the hob. I am back there once more, in a kitchen that does not exist. My mother has her back to me, and she is engaged in some industrious but unextraordinary activity – peeling potatoes, talking on the phone with my aunt, marking something off on the calendar that she kept so very diligently.

In a past life

I am here again with her, back in a life that made sense by virtue of her presence in it. Then, slowly, the image blurs and trickles away, and I am once more inside a life from which she has been absent for two years. And I have forgotten precisely and exactly the sound of her voice, and the fragrance of her perfume, and the kitchen is altogether gone; the calendar too, and my life is unrecognisable to me for a moment.

I slipped back into the reality of the past far more seamlessly than I can readjust into the present. I suppose the past was my reality for a far longer time, and there is a part of me that still resides there, or lives in expectation of residing there again, and it cannot adjust to the present. So I shut the door on the past and go back downstairs – there’s nothing else to do.

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