Kate Duggan – Magical Childhood Memories
Magical Childhood Memories
By Kate Duggan
I grew up in a tiny, sleepy town full of idle gossip and dusty secrets. It was, by all standards, unremarkable, dull even, yet for the first twelve years of my life, seemed as vast and wondrously exotic as any of the places I had seen in my atlas. My fascination was hugely influenced by my grandfather, who had lived there his whole life. A man of few words, he, like me, loved the place, saw something magical in it that few others looked hard enough to spot. I spend my childhood being chided to look closely, see the beauty in ordinary things. This, to my grandfather, was more important than anything else, meaning it was not unusual for me to turn up for school looking bedraggled, or, some days, not at all.
Countless lazy afternoons were spent strolling along the banks of the river, my soft, supple hand clutching his, weathered and flecked with age, dappled sunlight shining through the dense foliage, warming our backs with its gentle heat. The river rushing by, ebbing and flowing with a sense of urgency, full of promise and hope. On my twelfth birthday, my grandfather and I went for one of these such walks. Clouds drifted slowly by, soft curling wisps dancing across the endless sky. We ambled on, marvelling quietly at the beauty and seclusion of our undiscovered oasis. As I threw my head back, the sunlight beating down on my freckled face, a plaintive, musical chirp floated softly on the breeze. “ ‘S a lark,” my grandfather remarked gruffly, a smile creasing the edges of his weathered face. “Beautiful,” I murmured, letting its melody wash over me. We sat there, only the chirping breaking the silence, utterly content within our own world. When night’s inky blackness fell, we reluctantly tore ourselves away from our paradise to face reality.
The following day, I returned to school. I despised school, the dull monotony of the lessons, the hostile looks which plagued me everywhere I went. I spent most of my days in a trance, present in body, but wonderfully elsewhere in mind. On this particular day,my brain was hard at work, not at the sheet of algebra that lay before me, but exploring the endless caverns and lush green forests of my imagination. The harsh, pitchy metallic sound of a chair being drawn across the lacquered floor roused me from my reverie. I started, and turned to meet the gaze of a small, slight girl who now occupied the seat. Her eyes swept disapprovingly over my dishevelled, matted mane of curls, bare, freckled face and crumpled, boyish clothes. She pursed her lips in disgust, tossed back her flawless, caramel hair, and offered me her dainty, porcelain hand to shake. “I’m Debra”, she announced with a glossy, simpering smile. I nodded feebly, flattered that she had chosen to sit next to me. The scathing whispers of a gaggle of girls enveloped me as they approached our desk. “Come on, new girl,” they hissed. “Surely you don’t want to sit next to her?” My cheeks burned as I felt their scornful glares searching my face. Debra rose, slowly, deliberately to her feet, linked their arms and walked away. She didn’t turn back. Their words hung behind, stinging me with their spite. I had never felt so alone.
From that day on, the world, to me at least, was never quite the same. I pushed out childish dreams and thoughts, instead consuming myself with becoming the typical teenager. I viewed the world with a new, scathing outlook that had never existed before. My weekends were filled, not with nature walks, but instead with city shopping trips with people I did not know, or care for. My grandfather watched me slowly, sadly morph into the very person I once despised, and we grew distant as our lives moved in different directions.
When I turned eighteen, I decided to leave my beloved town to seek my future in the sprawling city, shedding the last connection to my past life. The place that had held so much wonder for me as a child, now devoid of any meaning, the wonder tarnished by life. As I stood that day on the platform of the eerily silent station, preparing to leave behind all I knew, I glanced across at my grandfather, brows furrowed, engrossed in the paper. The ancient, rusting train hissed noisily into the station, screeching to a halt just short of the final gate. I stood up, brushing any last traces of dust off my pristine suit, and glanced awkwardly across at the man who was all that remained of my previous life. He grunted gruffly, and pulled me into a forced half-embrace. I drew away, eyes pricking with tears as I boarded the train. Eighteen years and yet we seemed like strangers.
I’ve lived in the city for close to twenty years now, grown to like, even love it’s hustle and bustle. But I’ve never felt completely at home there, as I did on those idyllic afternoons. I sit, once again, on a rusty old train, staring listlessly out the window. Through the blur of endless fields and hedgerows, a cluster of buildings emerges. The train hisses to a standstill, and I step hesitantly onto that same deserted platform, met by the all-too familiar smell of damp and must. Cobwebs stretch across every surface, dust floating, suspended in the rays of feeble, watery sunlight which fill the hall.
Later, I find myself walking down a familiar path, peppered with large, uneven stones. My heeled shoes scuff the stones slightly as I stumble along. I look around me, finding a rather different scene to the blissful days of my childhood. The sky appears heavy and overcast, with only a glimmer of sunlight shining through. The river, once so full of life and promise, rushing and crashing against the rocks with a dogged persistance, now reduced to a mere trickle of sludge. The trees are bare, the path strewn with the remnants of summer’s brittle leaves. I brush several off a rock and sit down wearily, closing my eyes to recall the idyllic times spent her as a child. My reminiscing is interrupted by an angelic, yet vaguely familiar sound. As I strain to place the sound, searching my memories for a trace of recognition, I hear faltering footsteps stumbling in the undergrowth behind me. “Lark,” a gruff voice announces, somewhat apprehensively. I smile softly. “It’s beautiful,” I say.
by Kate Duggan,