In the cosy, slightly gothic living room of the house by the sea, she tells me about them. Late at night, after we’ve shared some red wine, or after I’ve come home from seeing friends in the local pub. She tells me their unbelievable tales under the cover of darkness, as if their spirits will be safe in the shadows; tinged with deviance even in death.
I listen, captivated, to hear about my beloved oldest uncle, who served in the army before successfully forging his own birth certificate. He was head of the clannish family; a black belt in judo with whom nobody dared to mess. I remember him as a fat, jolly, laughing man. Full of love, he swore inappropriately and managed to make it to my twenty-first birthday despite his poorly heart. The night before he had a heart attack I dreamed he was talking to me from the spirit world. Three years later, the night before he died, I dreamed of a death in the family.
I hear of another uncle who lived in Glasgow. He was known as ‘Mad Dog Murphy’; I did not ask my mother why.
These aunts and uncles, thirteen in total, who shattered hearts, spoke their minds and made their own rules, are more distant to me than ever. But they come alive in the darkness, in the sound of my mother’s voice. I hear the pleasure in her tone as she conjures their spirits through her stories, the hint of a smile on her lips as she shocks me with secrets; the roar of our laughter at their pirate-like adventures.
This is where I am from; this is who I am. This is why I swear loudly in the garden about the neighbour’s cat killing my peacock butterfly; my fiancé worries that they will hear, while I secretly want them to. This is why straight and narrow and conformity seize me with panic, although I have never indulged in the myriad deviances of my aunts and uncles. This is why I feel odd here, in this stagnant, pretty city; in this cold country where summer never seems to start. My heart is filled with too much energy and the restlessness of the Irish Sea flows through my veins.