Tell Me What You Want To Hear
She didn’t like to look at it. It stood monolith on the mantle, daring her to remember, calling to her, taunting her. It was just typical of him. Not even a picture of his own children. Not even of his wife. Just that boat.
She remembered sitting at the end of that pier, waiting for him to come back off of the water, after he had been away on one of his jobs. It was the work, after all. He trudged along the flagstones in his oils, merely nodding to her as he passed. Duncan laughed when she told him, as they shared a bottle of wine. “What did you expect, Ellie? I don’t think he even spoke to me until I was nine. Even then it was just to tell me to shut up.”
“You don’t mean that.”
“Don’t I?” He had laughed again. In the morning they had started the long process of clearing the house.
And now it was all in boxes, as she still wasn’t any closer to knowing who he was. It had always obsessed her. Who was he? What was he saying? Out there, out in the cold seas, did he ever speak about her? Once, she had resolved to find out, and had got up very early indeed and made here way down to the boat. She would have been five, maybe six. Once there, she had hidden herself as best she could and waited. Of course, she had been discovered immediately.
There were those flagstones again. She’d been dragged back along the pier, and up the street, and to their house. And then the door had slammed.
Duncan knew what happened next. He was a little older than her and could remember the commotion. “Do you not remember what he did to you?”
“No – was it bad?”
“You don’t remember?” Duncan had shaken his head at the thought. “How do you not remember that? He put you back to bed, and then, when he thought you were asleep, he put a fishhead on the pillow next to you. One of those ugly deep sea things – he must have gone back to the boat to get it.”
“What? He never did!” Eleanor was shocked – she had no memory of this at all.
“No, he did, it’s just that he was gone by the time you woke up again. I remember that one. And then he was away for another two weeks.”
There was no hint of that here. Just the last few things to be packed. The wallpaper betrayed the places that pictures had hung, now that the job was reaching its end. Just the things on the mantelpiece.
It feels heavy in her hand, that awful thing. She turns it over and notices the unwieldy bulge at the reverse of the frame, where the backing bulges at the clasp. Almost without thinking, her fingernail flicks at it.
A flutter of photographs fan out as they fall to the floor. Eleanor drops to her knees to pick them up. There are pictures of his crewmates there, all swagger and broad faces, and of places that she can’t name. There though, on the carpet that she remembers from her childhood, is a single photograph of herself, her brother and her mother.
At least there was something. She picks the photograph up and looks closer. Her mother is holding onto her wind flipped hair, and her brother seems to be laughing. But when Eleanor looks at herself she sees that someone has used a biro to obscure her face with a crude question mark.
Eleanor stares at the photograph without blinking, the sound of the sea in her ears.