Saturday, 1 August 2015

O'Toole Tells Tales

The house lay forgotten at the end of the road
Where no children, no pets or postman would go
The windows were broken and the doors creaked on rust
And the carpets were carpeted in layers of dust
Whoever had lived there was long lost today
Whoever had lived there, well no one could say

Then one morning a van trundled by
Stopping beneath a perfect blue sky
And movers moved swiftly with boxes and chairs
Each shivering faintly at forgotten nightmares
They worked as quickly as working men could
And unloaded the truck onto bare boards of wood

The neighbourly people wondered and frowned
As word spread through every café in town
Someone had bought that house long forgotten
Where dust coughed and spluttered and all things lay rotten
Someone was coming quite soon to move in
Who could it be? Was it a her? Or a him?

The answer came shortly as a red car arrived
With its owner slow stretching from his long lonely drive
A man it was, a man named O’Toole
Who up until recently had head-mastered a school
O’Toole was a man with no child or wife
Who’d worked every day and called it a life

O’Toole was a barrel chested man of age sixty-four
Who had woken one morning and decided “no more”
He abandoned his one bedroom house in the city
And decided to move somewhere both quiet and pretty
And after two weeks of searching he knew what to do
He’d buy an old house and make it brand new

And now here he stood on this perfect blue day
Looking at abandonment, loss and decay
He rolled up his sleeves and picked up his tools
And unloaded planks and wire in spools
Inside the yard where the grass grew dry and thin
He gazed at the house and eyes gazed back at him

That first day he threw open all of the doors
And with a new broom he swept the old floors
Explosions of dust burst in clouds from the house
Triggering sneezes from a rat, cat and mouse
He swept and he swept ‘til the dust was all gone
“I’ll have this house new” he thought “before long”

That night he slept on the bed that he’d bought
Dreaming of classes that he’d recently taught
Around him the old house creaked and adjusted
To being clean swept and so thoroughly dusted
And up in the attic deep in the night
Six pairs of eyes blinked and turned left to right

The eyes belonged to children unknown and unfed
As these were children who were sadly long dead
These were children who’d had short lives of no care
And who one cold bitter winter had been abandoned right there
They’d died early that winter with the saddest belief
That the saddest of lives garner no ounce of relief

The six children, half girls and half boys
Remained in the house and spun dust into toys
As the windows cracked and the garden overgrew
The children continued and the world never knew
They stayed at their ages, from two up to twelve
The youngest the boys and the oldest the girls

The next morning O’Toole awoke and exclaimed
“Today that garden will bloom once again”
He breakfasted on coffee and sausage and eggs
Chewing each mouthful and drinking to dregs
And as he was about to take a shovel and set to his work
He saw that his home again sunken in dirt

He frowned and he pondered and picked up his broom
And chased away dust again from each buried room
Had it blown in at midnight from the garden outside?
Swirling and whirling as he dreamed safe inside?
He swept and he swept and then placed glass in frames
Of the windows so to stop this occurring again

That night he dreamed of classes once more
Reading stories to children sat on the floor
And as he slept three boys age two, four and six
Whipped up a perfect dust and dirt mix
And three girls age twelve, eight and ten
Spread candy floss clouds of dust out again

So the next day was filled with dusty disdain
O’Toole swept and swept and swept yet again
And later that afternoon he repaired every door
And sealed them all fast and firm to be sure
With everything closed and the dust chased away
O’Toole, with satisfaction, called it a day

But that night instead of retreating to sleep
O’Toole read his book and heard the house creak
And for reasons, if asked, he could never explain
O’Toole cleared his throat and strongly exclaimed
“Marley was dead, to begin with”
and heard the house gasp
As six long dead children heard someone reading at last

O’Toole read A Christmas Carol from commencement to end
Then yawned and sighed and slumbered again
And the children from the attic thrilled and imagined
The ghosts and the characters Charles Dickens had fashioned
And the dust that each night regathered
No longer came in and no longer mattered

O’Toole the next day sandpapered the floors
Sandpapered the walls and sandpapered the doors
He prepared the surfaces and started to paint
In shades blue and of yellow he felt were quaint
That night he lit a fire in the main room downstairs
And settled himself in an old leather chair

He opened a new book and once more read
To his invisible audience of children long dead
He read of Hobbits and a dragon named Smaug
Reading each page luxuriantly loud
And as the tale ended and he fell to his ease
The children stayed with him, unable to leave

O’Toole dreamt that night of the wife he’d not found
Since his only true love had been placed underground
She’d died aged just twenty in a lake in the spring
A lake where O’Toole was to propose with a ring
He’d come back to the world broken and shattered
As without his one love whatever else mattered?

He lay in his torpor bereft and unclaimed
Hating himself and gathering blame
He thought of her dreams and made them his own
And he realised a future his true love had shown
A teacher and wife she had hoped to be
“So a wifeless teacher is what comes for me”

The house was painted when he woke from his pain
Softly crying Pippa, that long cherished name
He blinked away tears as he wandered his home
Heart broken and lonely but yet not alone
For right before him at the foot of the stair
A two-year-old boy picked his nose there

O’Toole crouched down and looked at the boy
Who smiled right back with unrestrained joy
He ran to the books piled up on the floor
Clapped with his hands and waved to the door
Shortly thereafter he threw one to O’Toole
Who sat on the floor and knew what to do

The two year old listened enrapt at the tale
Of a beautiful white uncatchable whale
And his sisters and brothers unseen at the door
Listened to each word still starving for more
The house was ignored as the day turned to dusk
And the boy fell to sleep as two year olds must

And now O’Toole’s thoughts turned to the Police
To those in authority to whom he must speak
And he rose and went for his phone now to find
When something occurred that altered his mind
Outside the room five children all stared
Nervous and hopeful and spikey of hair

The eldest girl related their sad sorry tale
And hearing O’Toole turned uncomfortably pale
As she spoke of starvation and a cold desperate death
O’Toole saw a puff of his own frozen breath
“And then you came and our home wasn’t dark”
And O’Toole found warmth spread in his heart

The next day the children were eagerly waiting
To see where a new day may take them
Where they had been fleshless and boneless and gone
Now they were vibrant and laughing in song
Their memories of death fast faded from mind
Until memories of this morning were all they could find

O’Toole as well found his memories were hazed
And it never occurred to him that life may be crazed
He worked on the house with his family of six
Painting and plastering and gathering sticks
Till the house was perfect but yet not complete
The walls all a glow with the rooms warm and neat

One evening O’Toole sat in front of the flames
Reading The Iron Man to the children again
None of them flinched as the front door swung wide
And Pippa softly stepped from the out to inside
She kissed O’Toole as his story he paused
And the children, delighted, burst into applause

Pippa smiled and whispered “I do”
And O’Toole gazed and said “I love you”
Pippa sat on the arm of the chair
As the fire crackled and the children all stared
“Read” she whispered and O’Toole softly started

Feeling warm and alive and not broken hearted

There is no greater love than love that’s well read
With each night “story time” being words that are said
Children grow fast and soon read alone
In the forest of tales their parents have grown
O’Toole never knew he had long passed away
He just read to his children, and his wife, every day

The house was forgotten by all still alive
And no one ever sought to peer deep inside
No one that was but children long lost
Who’d been too much a burden or too much a cost
They gazed through the windows and came through the doors
And found safety, found warmth and stories…..evermore

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