Friday, 27 January 2017

CHAPTER 4 PHOTOTIME by A. J. Brittany

Isaac
Next to the box of photographs I’d found on the floor of my parents’ house, two pictures lay separately. I took a swig of water and picked one up. It had been taken in a crowded pub, and my dad was wearing a green leprechaun hat, and raising a pint of Guinness to the camera. Mum stood behind him, laughing.
            Molly Malone’s, Inala, it said on the back in Dad’s handwriting.  I knew it had been taken last year, as Mum had sent me a copy. 
            The second photo was in black and white, and much older. On the back Dad had written, Rosses Point, Sligo. 
Dad had lived in Sligo as a child, before him and my grandparents moved to Dublin, and I’d holidayed there as a young teenager with my parents and Gran.
‘Look at that, son,’ Dad would say, striding along the beach holding Mum’s hand, admiring the mountains and the beauty of the area. It hadn’t mattered whether the skies were clear blue, smoky grey or black and dotted with stars, he’d always find magic there.
‘Boring,’ I would say, kicking the sand as I played on my Gameboy, glancing up for only a second before returning to Zelda’s world.
‘You need to open your eyes, Isaac,’ he would say, disappointment in his voice. ‘Open your mind to the wonders of the world, the possibilities.’
Now, I laid the photo on the carpet. It had been taken before I was born. In fact I could see Mum was pregnant with me in the picture. She looked like a Weeble.
 ‘Weebles wobble, but they don’t fall down,’ she had said when I was about five; handing me the egg-shaped, roly-poly toy she’d had as a child. I was fascinated that however hard I tried to make it lay down, the gravitational force always brought the toy upright again. ‘Everyone should take a leaf out of a Weeble’s book,’ Mum had said.
Dad was young in the picture, his uncanny likeness to me a little unsettling. He was standing in the centre of the photo, one arm draped over Gran’s shoulders, the other around Mum. They were laughing, and I wished I could step into the picture for a moment to capture some of that happiness.
            I picked up the two photos and shoved them in my pocket. And remembering the picture of the Blue Mountains inside the pages of Great Expectations, I grabbed the book and held it upside down, so the picture fell to the floor. I picked it up and stared at it again for some moments, before putting it in my pocket with the others. Having the pictures close felt comforting somehow.
            As I placed the box of pictures in a cupboard under the TV, I noticed a photo on top that stirred more memories. It was of Tilly and me, sitting in the treehouse in her garden. Her father, who I always knew as Mr Cooper, had built the treehouse for her in one of his attempts to win her over, but even that hadn’t worked. I’d liked Mr Cooper. Maybe it was because he was a cop, and that had intrigued me as a child. He even looked like a TV cop to me, rugged and handsome with a square, stubbled jawline. I never saw him happy, and knew by the way Tilly shunned his affections and never let him close that something wasn’t right between them, but we had never talked about it.

Later, I grabbed one of Dad’s baseball caps from a hook by the door on my way out. And as I pulled it on I smiled, thinking of him wearing it.
‘We’ll find her, Dad. I promise,’ I said, the tune from Indiana Jones playing in my head. It was as though he was beside me all of a sudden, and I felt a rush of adrenaline. Nothing was going to stop me finding my mum.
I picked up a burger and a milkshake from a burger bar in Springfield Lakes, before heading to the hospital where Mum worked.
            Doreen was younger than Mum, somewhere in her mid-thirties.
‘So, you’re Isaac,’ she said, bustling towards me in her nurse’s uniform, tucking loose tendrils of hair into a messy bun.  ‘You’re even more gorgeous than your mum said you were.’
            ‘Thanks,’ I said, not sure how else to react. I was hardly Hugh Jackman.  
            ‘I’ve only got a few minutes, I’m afraid,’ she went on leaning against a noticeboard, one knee bent, her shoe flat against the wall.  ‘And I’m not sure I can help you find your mum. The thing is, she was a bit mysterious about why she was heading off to Uluru.’
            ‘Uluru?’
            ‘Ayers Rock.’
            ‘Ah. Yes. Of course,’ I said, nodding. I was bit of a dunce where geography was concerned. I needed to brush up my skills if I was to find my mum.
‘All she told me was she was going to meet a man who could help her make things right.’
'What things?'
She screwed up her nose, and shook her head. 'I've no idea. I’m sorry. But she did mention she'd seen a psychic prior to that. An Irish woman I believe.’
            ‘A psychic?’
            She nodded, touching my arm. ‘To be honest, Isaac, the psychic woman she mentioned sounded a bit, well a little bit strange. I’ve no idea why your mum gave her the time of day.’ She looked up at the ceiling. ‘Now what was the woman’s name?’ She shook her head. ‘Sonia – no, that wasn’t it. I really can’t recall. But I know your mum met her in an Irish pub she and your dad used to go to.’
            I remembered the photograph I'd seen. ‘Molly Malone’s?’
            ‘Yeah, that’s the one.’
            ‘Doreen.’ It was another nurse, approaching quickly, her cheeks pink. ‘You’re needed.’
            ‘Sorry, Isaac, I’m going to have to love you and leave you, I’m afraid.’ Doreen patted my arm before walking away. ‘She’s only been gone a week longer than expected though, sweetie,’ she added. ‘Try not to worry. She’s a big girl.’
#
Molly Malone’s was empty, apart from an attractive young woman behind the bar.
‘Oh, wow, what’s brought you here?’ she said as I approached.
I looked over my shoulder to see who she was talking to, and realising it was me, wasn’t sure how to respond to her bright smile. It was as though she'd mistaken me for someone she knew. I decided it was because she was American. American’s are born friendly.
            ‘So what can I get you?’ she continued, and her non-faltering smile stirred feelings inside me I’d only touched on with Olivia. Stay focused, Isaac.
            ‘Just water, thank you.’
She turned to grab a bottle of water from the fridge behind her, and my eyes darted round the bar. It was dark and dingy, and smelt of stale beer and yesterday’s bar food. I was at a loss to see what my parents saw in the place. Although guessed it reminded Dad of Ireland.
Drink in hand, and unable to find the confidence to ask if a psychic frequented the pub, I wandered around the bar in search of a noticeboard or something that might help.
            Suddenly the door opened, and a man, smart in a suit and pink tie, entered the bar. He was good-looking in a slick kind of way, and he wasn’t very tall, although he compensated with long, confident strides.
‘Hank,’ the woman said, looking up.
He smiled at her. ‘I thought I’d pop down in my break to keep you company,’ he said, climbing onto a stool and reaching to stroke a finger down her cheek.
‘That’s nice,’ she said, moving away. ‘But you really didn’t have to.’
            I headed back to the bar, knowing I’d have to interrupt the couple’s conversation. Ask questions if I wanted answers.  ‘Hi again,’ I said, raising my hand in an odd salute.
             ‘Hi again, you,’ the woman said, smiling again.
‘I wondered, by any chance…’ I began, but Hank was eyeballing me, and I couldn’t bring myself to talk about psychics. ‘Well…it’s just, is there a noticeboard around here?’
‘There is, yes.’ The woman pointed towards the toilets. 'On the wall, over there.'
            ‘Thanks,’ I said, and headed over, with the sense she was watching me.
The board was loaded with leaflets for plumbers and gardening clubs, and events that had come and gone: disco night, Zumba classes, but no psychics.
            As I headed back to the bar, Hank scowled. ‘Can’t you see we’re having a private conversation, you pig-footed bandicoot?’
I’m not going to lie, I was offended. Well I would have been if I had any idea what a pig-footed bandicoot was. I’d been compared to a poodle before, on account of my ‘wavy’ hair, but this was a whole new look-alike experience altogether. ‘I’m afraid I have no idea what a pig-footed bandicoot is,’ I said
‘They’re extinct,’ he said. ‘Like you’ll be, if you don’t piss off.’
‘Hank and his father know a lot about extinct species,’ the woman said with a smile, as though she was trying to defuse the situation. ‘They’re taxidermists in their spare time. They’re excellent at it - even won awards.’
‘There are awards for taxidermy?’ I was bewildered.
Hank growled, his eyes locking with mine.
‘And very well deserved awards, I’m sure,’ I said. ‘And I’m truly sorry to interrupt,’ I continued politely, although by the look on Hank’s face, it was clear that being polite annoyed him more than an argument. I took a deep breath. Surely finding my mother was more important than a bit of embarrassment. ‘But the thing is, I’m looking for a psychic.’
            ‘I’ll be your psychic,’ the man said, brow furrowed as he rose from his stool. ‘I predict that I’ll punch your lights out if you don’t get out of my face, and piss off.’
‘Not the sort of psychic I had in mind,’ I said, deciding to ignore his threat.
‘You really are a dick, aren’t you? What part of piss off, don’t you understand?’ he said, and I suddenly twigged he was pretty muscly for a short guy, and his fists were clenched, his knuckles pastry-white.
‘Hank, stop it,’ the woman said, in a warning tone.
            ‘No, it’s OK.’ I stepped backwards, hands up. 'Fair dinkum.’ Fair dinkum?
            Hank headed towards me, until his face was inches from mine. Boy had he overdone the aftershave. ‘Are you taking the rise, you pommy idiot?’
            I hated confrontation.  ‘No, no, no, I love the Aussies. I was one myself for a bit. It’s a great country – hot weather, koalas, Nicole Kidman. What more could anyone want?’
            He slowly sat back down and took a swig of lager.
            ‘I think you mean Suki,’ the woman said, unexpectedly. She picked up a glass and dried it with a t-towel. ‘She’s the only psychic around here.’
            ‘Could be,’ I agreed, keeping an eye on Hank. ‘Suki sounds like a psychic kind of name.’    
‘Suki,’ Hank said with her huff, loosening his tie. ‘Six balls short of a lotto win, that one.’
            ‘She lives on the mobile-home site behind the pub,’ the woman said, brushing her fringe from her eyes. God you’re pretty. ‘It’s the one with the stuffed parrot on the roof.’
‘Stuffed parrot?’
‘Be warned, she’s a weird one that one,’ said Hank, with slightly less venom.
 ‘Oh. OK.’ I stared into the woman’s blue eyes, and felt a flash of recognition. There was something familiar about her that I hadn't noticed before. 'Thank you.’
‘You’re welcome,’ she said, looking suddenly shy.
I went to leave, but something stopped me. ‘Are you American?’ I asked her, although it was obvious she was.
            She laughed, not moving her eyes from mine. ‘Well I’ve spent the last fourteen years in New York, but…’
            ‘I love New York,' I couldn't help interrupting. 'They named it twice, apparently.’
            ‘You’ve got to be kidding me,’ muttered Hank, rubbing his temple. ‘Who is this guy? Seriously, who let him in?’
‘Have you been to The States?’ the woman asked me.
            ‘No, but I’ve watched every episode of Friends three times.’ It was meant to sound amusing, although I hadn’t expected Hank to burst out laughing.
 ‘Friends is for girls and gays. So who do you fancy, Ross or Joey?’
‘Chandler,’ I said far too quickly. ‘I mean, if I was woman I would…’ I stopped mid-sentence, and turned and left the bar to the sound of him laughing.
Outside, the sun was scorching, and a huge flashing sign by the roadside told me it was thirty-five degrees Celsius. I was tempted to ditch my jeans altogether and proceed in my boxers. 
            The caravan-site was about a hundred yards away, so I left the car and headed downhill, rubble crunching under my feet. As I got closer, I spotted the stuffed parrot on the top of one of the mobile homes, like a brightly coloured beacon, and a woman peering at me through one of the grubby windows.

            I was pretty sure I'd found my psychic.

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