It was the Friday before Hallowe’en. It was a wet, murky and dismal night out and strangely absent all of that usual Keatsian, autumnal mellow fruitfulness, and golden leaf fall save for the occasional passing glow of a weather-beaten pumpkin being chased by the even more occasional posse of pumpkin lights, adorning the even rarer occasional home. “Where did Hallowe’en go?”, Frank inquired of anyone who would listen amongst a gaggle of excited grandchildren, who sported ghoulish and garish masks fashioned that same afternoon from old cereal boxes and who were now busily engaged in trying to scare the living daylights out of one another; and really only managing to create a cacophony of noise that made Frank grateful for the first time ever that he was hard of hearing. In truth the question was more rhetorical than asked of anyone in particular. He also knew better than to expect an answer from anyone but himself; and so for the remainder of the journey home to his house by the shore he grew even deafer to the loudening din that kept him company as he faced into the Hallowe’en weekend seeking an answer to the question that he had just posed.

For some random reason he started thinking about home. Not his current home by the shore but the home in which he grew up in in leaner times. He let his mind wander back to a small thatched cottage at the bottom of a mucky lane on the outskirts of the village of Dromore in the heart of West Tyrone. As he wandered he tried to unpack the wrappings of nostalgia which proved, for a moment or two at least, much easier to do than he could ever have imagined. It was in truth a meagre and frugal existence that formed the threadbare weave of the cloak that sat loose on the stooped shoulders of the McCusker clan. He deliberately sought out the nuggets of negativity, he intentionally, maybe even greedily, fondled the memory of hunger; he eagerly and frantically opened the empty parcels of birthdays past, and he gratefully felt the ice on the inside of the windows of yesteryear as he inexplicably but willingly sashayed from cold to pain, from disappointment to shame, from a straw bed of denial to the grudging glow of the tilly lamp. It always angered him when he listened to those who continually romanticised  all of what neither he nor they could ever really have had.

Then his memory unexpectedly collided with the happier moments: the smell and glow of the turf fire; the heaped pots of new potatoes drowning in freshly churned butter; the dressed turkey; the hand-knitted arans; the camaraderie of the bog or the hay-field; and the meandering sounds of Radio Eireann. He acknowledged only to himself that perhaps there was no way in which the oft discussed two core dimensions of our existence, happiness and joy, can really be separated out. Maybe it was all to easy to build walls within the walls that corralled in our own being. Maybe there is no good side nor green grassy verge down memory lane no more than there is dirt and muck and the uneven rutted surface that characterises life’s very own dusky pathway. He quickly and quietly found himself acquiescing to a view of life that was constructed of walls, closed in by more walls; yet walls that weren’t impervious to the seeping damp of life’s unrelenting realities. Equally he accepted that those same walls would eventually crumble  (they always do) as the seeping segued into a flow which became a crashing wave. And equally he recognised that more walls would be stupidly and mistakenly reconstructed and washed away, and once again foolishly reconstructed and washed away and so on, over and over in a hopeless inescapable cycle until the sheer welcoming, embracing and glimmering reality of that which we try to deny, push away or wall off stands unmoving and steadfastly before us.

As he flitted between his own images and experiences on either side of these walls he found Hallowe’en. He found a warm and glowing range, a table laden with bowls of home-made rice, and apple cake after after apple cake laid neatly alongside rows of shiny and sticky toffee apples. There was a pot of stew bubbling away; pumpkin soup simmering; and bottles of stout arranged neatly on the old mahogany dresser. In another corner there sat a green basin with rosy red apples swimming in freshly drawn well water poured from a white Delft bucket with a faded blue rim. His sisters are wearing green soft cardboard masks that look like luminous green skulls and his older brother has one the same but in pumpkin orange. His own orange mask lays upside down on that hand-knitted green cushion that covers the metal stacking chair of hand-painted yellow. The thin white elastic is broken. In one of his pockets he can feel the weight of some pennies that he collected for the Hallowe’en beggars and in the other the overflow of nuts so generously dispensed by good and kind neighbours. He finds joy in the warmth and cosiness of that one night which seems to obliterate the memory of all others and which now stands alone as the sole definition and solitary representative of every Hallowe’en in his life. It is a paradigm of what might have been or what could be.

The seal of his own deafness is suddenly ruptured by a screech and he is instantly aware that his granddaughter Sinéad has just been either seriously frightened or more than likely clobbered by her overly boisterous and unruly older brother Shane. Like a forlorn bell it tolls him back to the reality of from whence he came and where he was headed. Boys will be boys he whispered to himself by way of consolation, pride or comfort; he wasn’t sure which.

As he pulled into his drive and surveyed the trappings of all that he had built and accomplished and apparently held dear all of his life another bell tolled. This time it was the peal of a different reality. As he off-loaded the baggage of his fast diminishing present he embraced that reality for a brief moment as he walked from van to door. He glimpsed at a life without walls. He reached into a present where the reality of that wall-lessness awaited him behind that white wooden door with the leaded stained glass arch. He felt the unevenness of the loose pink stones beneath his feet firm up as the certainty of happiness lurked within his reach. As he stretched for it, knowing that it was right, maybe perfect it occurred to him; after all these years it occurred to him-heart is where the home is…

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