We’ve got no umbrellas in our house, they must’ve escaped to somewhere on sunny days. But these days it’s raining like crazy, like there’s no tomorrow. Then I remember, there are countless umbrellas, like mushrooms in a field, up at the empty house. And more than that, nobody’s using them. Off I go to the house. It’s dark, and there’s nobody home of course. The place is still a mess. I put my head down and walk by ignoring the untidiness. I go to the cloakroom and see a group of umbrellas, black like crows, sulking silently in the corner, plotting. Five black crows, each with a sharp ferrule beak. Brazenly, I grab them, and I’m surprised how each crow does my bidding meekly without a squawk. I hesitate ’cause I remember how he used to be about people borrowing things without permission and then not giving them back, god, that used to get on his wick more than anything.
I stand in the middle of the hall and call upstairs, loudly, like I did a million times before, ‘I’m takin’ the umbrellas! Okay?’ Under my breath I murmur, ‘And I’m not gonna bring them back either.’ And then, I feel guilty for doing such a terrible thing, and for being so cheeky.
About a week later, I take one of the umbrellas with me on a jaunt to Cardigan. It’s raining, ’course it is. Then I remember that I promised to take him there to see the castle on an outing one day and that we’d spend the day in the company of Lord Rhys reliving the glories of past golden eisteddfodau and scoffing scones in his café. So I took an umbrella, and a piece of him came with me to that way out wild west town.
Clearing and tidying up again, finding more notes and letters from decades ago, from way before our time, they’ve been kept in drawers, cupboards, throughout the whole house. I throw things away but I can’t throw other stuff ’cause my hands become stubborn, they just stop working.
And I can’t throw letters. So I put them in my pocket.
The council will take some things to the dump for us. We just have to get them to the side of the road on a particular morning, early, before the crows wake. So, we meet the night before, ready to give the tired sofa the old heave-ho, the tired ancient sofa that shouldered the weight of each of our arses over the years. We helped it out the door with an appreciative pat-pat-pat on its back and then we thanked it for all the faithful years of service it gave, even so, there is no golden handshake and straight outside on the scrapheap it goes.
Then it’s the turn of the ten-a-penny honkytonk piano, that instrument of torture for all unmusical kids. We push it quietly down the hall without saying where we’re taking it. Shhh. It doesn’t need to know. It protests, screaming across the tarmac, leaving its mark in scratches along the yard, digging its wheels in so that it can stay. But you can’t stay, you old piano, it’s over, the fat lady sang.
We give the pile of tired old bric-a-brac a rest by the road; after all, they totally deserve it. Everything in its place ready, the council lads will be here at daybreak. Behave now.
We lock up the house and walk away. It’s quiet tonight, but I could swear I hear sad music floating somewhere just above the hedges, some quiet jazz song flowing slow-like along the road. I turn back and see the lonely piano leaning against a lamp post singing the blues, the saddest song ever; crying its soul out under the street light.
Last night I dreamt that the two of them were still alive.
I was standing by the sink in the kitchen, washing some china hen, ready to give it away, when Mam came in and asked what I was doing. I said I was trying to tidy up, clean things to get rid of them so that, so that what, I wasn’t sure at the time. Anyway, Mam said, ‘But I liked that hen.’ It was a big, ugly, red hen that split in half so that you could put things inside her, eggs probably. ‘There’s three more of those in the house, four in all. I really like them.’ Four? Since when? My hands deep in the soapy suds feel the skin turn lobster in the boiling temperature. I don’t know what to do now, I’ll just have to keep the flippin hens. But they’re huge.
While I’m standing stricken by the sink, in shuffles Dad, in his pyjamas, still not dressed. Nothing on his feet.
‘Flippin heck! How long have you been here?’
He looks sheepish.
‘But your ashes are in the living room! The undertaker brought them round a couple of weeks back. You’ve been sitting in a box in the grate since then.’
‘I know ...’
‘How will I explain to people that you’re still alive? And Mam too? After all these years?’ I swill the water around the sink, it sloshes over the side and the hen sets sail.
‘Yeah, I know ... but maybe nobody else has to know?’
I take my hands out of the sink and suds feather the floor.
‘You’re willing to hide in the house and live here, without anybody knowing? The two of you.’
‘Like a crazy secret.’
‘Oh, come off it. I’ll be the one who looks like an idiot. We held a funeral for you, the two of you.’
‘Yeah, I’m sorry about that.’
‘And you only bothered to tell me now?’
‘I’ve said I’m sorry.’
I tut, turn my back, look for a tea towel to dry my hands, and then, most suddenly, I’m the only one left in the kitchen.
I walk through the house to the living room and sit on the sofa. I look at the box of ashes that’s been standing quietly in a still-still house where nobody lives, and wonder how in the hell am I going to tell everybody that my parents’ demise was one big joke and that they are in fact still alive. But hold on ... maybe, maybe ... we could hide them in the house after all – why should people get to know if we don’t tell anybody? Maybe we could ... it’s totally possible ... We could let the hedges grow high and the windows be blinded by dust.
I wake tied up in the middle of this knotty conundrum of how exactly am I going to hide two parents from the world and remember, just like that, that there isn’t a china hen anywhere near the house anyway.
Translated by Elinor Wyn Reynolds
With hindsight, a bereaved daughter realises that a seemingly trivial fall led inexorably to her widowed father’s death. An eloquent Everywoman, the daughter traces with great delicacy her response to what follows – his hospitalisation, her realisation that since her mother died he has lost the will to live, and the inevitable yet sudden shock of his end. Then begins the slow journey through grief and all the mixed emotions that follow, the moments of pride and gratitude mingling with the quasi-hallucinations that can accompany the confusion of rage, guilt and disbelief, until finally her troubled mind achieves calm and acceptance of the loss.
Utterly clearsighted, and drawing on her own lived experience, in her first novel for adults Reynolds observes the raw emotions and irrationalities that coexist with the practical demands of bereavement. This is no misery-manual but an honest, unsentimental account of the complex, often passionate responses to a death in the family and the changing relationship between the daughter and her own family. With its poetic style married with colloquial directness, this novel is at once deeply rooted in a west Wales community and a moving expression of a universal experience.
'Here is a celebration of grief; of grief being the other side of the same coin as love, and to experience it is an integral part of loving and of being loved.'
Grug Muse, O'r Pedwar Gwynt
This book captivated me completely with its delicate and sensitive descriptions and beautifully playful style. Gwirionedd is an in-depth exploration of grief and loss but more than that, it is a gentle and joyful celebration of the love that binds a family together.
Mari Siôn, Gwales.com