Visions Of Utopia

Entry by: Finnbar

13th March 2022
70 years, or more she imagines, of poverty for him, the strange short man with unkempt stubble across a red face bearing an expression she had first registered as derangement but now realises is a sort of bewilderment with how is has all gone. Promises were made. It was not supposed to play out this way.

Dark is setting in, and she has 6 houses to call on yet, but instead of taking the forms to fil in he is standing in a crooked, urgent pose in the doorway.

“Tea then eh? Eh?” hands run through slightly lank hair, and he proffers an invisible cup before gesturing inside. She should not, of course, but it is cold, and she wonders how isolated he has been over the pandemic, and besides, she has never been good at saying no.

The kettle is a whistling one. The process of its boiling put her in mind of a canary in a coalmine as she smells the gas. He has always lived here. In this town. In this house. It was nearly countryside, but Dublin has grown to maul it. It was never his intention to live here. He pined for Australia since he was 5 and his brother called from Melbourne at Christmas.

All his life he tried to leave for that far-away land, and his sitting room is littered with books, strewn with magazines. Beaches as they were in 1972. The Uluru in black and white.

The mother was dead, before he knew her, and the father a weak man, tortured by ghosts and sins, calling his whiskey medicine and clacking a rosery with the old women and doing nothing of value all his days. And Chrissie- whom they all called Bobo- the older by two years but made simple by God and needing minding. The father was no good to Bobo so he himself did her food and her baths and wiped her arse because sure, she had no one, and when the father passed there was little difference and none really came to the funeral.

The tea was strong, unpleasantly so, and he had milk in it before she could tell him she didn’t take dairy. He was hardly about to have oat milk though was he.

He’d thought he might sell the house and bring Bobo to Melbourne and he and the brother might share the work, but it turned out the council owned the house and besides the brother said “sure she’s settled there, it’s all she knows, it would distress her to move all the way around the world.” And so twenty years passed then, with them having no money because he hadn’t finished school and couldn’t learn a trade when he was needed day and night.

He offers her a sandwich, and she says no, only his face takes on a look and so she says yes, sorry, I was only being polite. It’s white pan and ham and cheese and butter and a packet of King crisps. She tries not to think of the pig as she eats it, and wonders how she can bring him back to the census forms.

Bobo ran off one day, which she’d never done. They were at the shops and he was in a cast where he’d dropped a brick on his foot trying to do repair work. Bobo got scared of a sign on the wall with a face on it and off she ran. It took a day and a half to find her with the Guards and all, and he’d never been so afraid. She was in a ditch and blue with he cold. From then on she lived in an institution and he had to take two busses in and two busses out of town each day to visit her, and sometimes he spent 3 hours on the bus or waiting on a bus in a day. Bobo didn’t trust anyone else and once he couldn’t come for two days when he had the flu and she went off like a firework and walloped herself in the head with her fists, and wouldn’t eat and they said if it goes like this again we’ll have to use a tube. He could only imagine how scared she’d be with a tube and two men holding her down so he tried to never ever go a day without being there.

And he made the best of it, he read lots of books on the bus, and imagined how his brother must be living out there. After a while he didn’t even need to read he could picture it so well already. He could feel the heat of the sun like you only get in Ireland once a year, and smell the salt and the barbeques. In Melbourne they must not think anything of walking around in just shorts, and there’s people there from all over. Chinese people, and Black people and people from America and all. Everyone goes there and they’re all welcome in Australia, especially the Irish, who the Brits sent out there at the start.

She spent 4 months on the Gold Coast and another 8 weeks backpacking, but she doesn’t say, just nods along. What’s the point of telling him about all the racism?
And then four years ago, a week after she turned 70, Bobo choked on a grape and died, just like that. And his heart was broken, and he didn’t know what to do with himself. He thought of going to the drink but decided it was a bad way to die. So in the end he got all his bits and bobs he’d saved up over the years, and sold some furniture, which was why the place was so sparse, and he bought a one-way ticket to Melbourne, via London and Singapore, for April 4th 2020, which was the cheapest date they could find at the travel agency.

Only he was the fool in the end because they cancelled the flight over the Covid, and sure that was it. He hadn’t known he could get the money back and now it was too late.

She’s not crying because of the shock of it, and she eats her crusts and says nothing to him and the silence stretches out.

Has she heard about the Ukraine and what’s going on out there? She says yes, it’s terrible. Does she pray for them? She hesitates but shakes her head, no she doesn’t pray at all.

Each to their own then.

He read there was a woman who was born in the siege of Leningrad, or was it Stalingrad? And she’s under siege now in the Ukraine. She’s twenty years older than he is.

He wonders, did she think of the Ukraine for a long time, when she lived in Russia?

He says, it must be terrible to have a life like that.