Have you ever noticed how well birds sing in the rain? It is almost as if the raindrops provide the perfect acoustic for warbling.
On the weekend Daylight Saving ended and it is dark at 6PM. For the first week of early darkness I encounter little pangs of loss for the speed with which the seasons pass. Sometimes it is as if they are on fast forward. But the birds calling to their brothers in the rain helps.
I am standing in the kitchen watching inkblot clouds roll on a sky that looks like it’s made of grey felt. If my arms could reach far enough I would be able to pull off bits of that sky and make it into a winter coat.
The clouds roll in procession, quickly, as if being pulled on a string. I wonder who is pulling them. I am deliberately trying to distract myself by focussing on the natural world.
I am julienning carrots for a salad. This is something I never do. I lack the patience to be so meticulous, although I do like the effect of the long, thin strips of orange against the cool green lettuce leaves. It makes me feel like a proper cook, instead of someone who just throws things together.
As I said, I’m trying to distract myself. I’ve had a rough day. My sister’s husband has started drinking again (after 75 days sober) and has gone on a bender. She has retaliated by placing all of his clothes in a Weber Barbecue (in batches) and setting them alight.
For the past month things have been good between them. They have been fixing up the house he lived in before they got married so they can rent it out. It’s in a good area and promised them an income of almost five hundred dollars a week. During his binge (which has lasted for the past five days) he met a couple in the pub who needed a place to live. He is renting them his house for a hundred dollars a week.
When my sister heard this she hit the roof, telling him he had to get rid of them. He responded by moving in with them, claiming they were the only people in the world who understood him.
She is disconsolate, aggrieved, bereaved. He is too drunk to care. My parents have retreated, unable to cope. My sister in America has her phone permanently on the answering machine.
Aunt Jo and I have been holding the fort, drinking three pots of tea in a row as my sister wailed and gnashed her teeth at the world. Aunt Jo was rattled, although she didn’t say so, but I could tell by the way the teaspout banged against the side of the cup as she poured.
Millie has four stitches in her right arm. Her husband was running with scissors, just like Augusten Burroughs did in his book, playing heroes and villains after drinking an entire bottle of bourbon. I always wondered if it was possible to run with scissors without causing an accident. Well, now I know.
‘He loves Jack Daniels more than me,’ Millie shouted, her voice strange, discordant.
‘You can’t quantify love when dealing with anyone, let alone an addict.’ Aunt Jo is always the voice of reason. She knows what she’s talking about. She used to be married to an alcoholic. ‘It does you no good to look at it like that. In the end it just causes you more anguish. The fact is, he is an alcoholic who is having trouble staying sober. It has nothing to do with how much he loves you or how much he loves the booze but everything to do with whether or not he can keep his demons at bay. What you have to decide, my dear, is how long you’re going to put up with him hurting you.’
I felt my stomach begin to spasm as I watched my sister tear a newspaper into strips, each about an inch in width. Their symmetry was astounding, chilling. It is not pleasant to see someone falling apart, especially when you know how far they’re capable of falling.
‘We don’t need to think about that now,’ I said. ‘We just need to get through the next few days. Then we’ll make a plan. Isn’t that right, Aunt Jo?’
When we backed off, Millie began to relax. She took some sleeping pills and went to bed. Aunt Jo decided to stay the night with her just in case anything happened. I told her to keep me posted.
As the night fills the windows I wonder how long I can keep up the role of supportive sister, and whether, in fact, my support is of any benefit. I wish there was a manual for such things because I am at a loss as to what to do next. He’s hit her, he’s stabbed her with scissors, and he’s threatened to kill her, but still she stays. It is agonising to watch. How did my little sister who made tents out of tablecloths for her Barbie dolls and dressed up like Boy George from Culture Club, end up in this place? How did the story of her life become encrypted with thick, volatile brushstrokes?
I can wait when it’s warranted for things to get better but right now I feel I am standing unclothed on a windy hilltop without any way of tethering myself; as useless as a signpost pointing the wrong way. I look to the sky for a sign. Something, anything, but the dark remains inscrutable as stone.
There is nothing for it but to continue. To watch the morning light turn the stars translucent. And hope that in subsequent days we will find the shelter we seek.