I look out my window through the pane of Mam and I see two thieves walk with a hatchet and a lodgepole pine tree which they have stolen from the nearby copse. The spirit of Christmas.
JF: Perhaps I should tell you a little story set around Christmas time . . .
Reader and all the company: Please do.
. . . Long ago and in a faraway clime there once was a little boy, and a handsome boy he was. He lived in a cottage in a forest with his widowed mother. Poor they were, as poor as poor could be, as their ragged clothes and bare cupboards bore testimony. They had one cow, which gave milk, and some hens, which gave eggs. The mother made a little money by selling eggs and milk to the forest folk who lived in farflung outreaches of the great forest and she would come home after a day’s selling very tired.
The boy made his own toys which he did from wood with his pocket knife and the toys came to the notice of the forest folk, who admired them for the skill and artistry in their making. The boy, thus encouraged, fashioned more toys: little animals, squirrels and foxes and images of children, which were meant to be his imaginary friends to share with him the joys of the forest. The forest folk began to give presents of bread loaves and salted butter and small amounts of money in exchange for them.
In winter, a week before Christmas, a heavy snow fell and the forest looked as pure as a poem. Frozen crystals hung on the trees like diamonds when the rays of the sun burst through and one could make out in the snow the different footprints of the animals of the forest.
The boy’s mother did not come home from selling that evening and the boy with great worry on him set out to look for her. Darkness soon fell and the icy cold caused the boy to shiver in his ragged clothes. ‘Mam, Mam,’ he cried. And his voice echoed through the trees, dislodging some snow from the tops of the branches of stately pines. But no sound could he hear save for the hooting of an owl . . .
Jude: O the owl, Leo, that hooted that night.
Leo: Always the omen.
. . . The boy had no fear of losing his way despite the darkness enveloping because he knew every inch of the forest as well as any animal. The snow fell in great big flakes like white ghosts through the blackness and melted into the hot tears rolling down the boy’s cheeks. ‘Mam, Mam,’ he cried again, but the only sound he heard was the wind in the trees.
He wandered on and on by the light of the stars and the moon. Suddenly he came across human footprints, the light bootmarks of his mother, he thought. He followed them, excitement growing in him and he called once more, ‘Mam, Mam’. And this time it was not the wind or the owl he heard but a human voice, the voice of his mother. He followed to where the cry came from and he could just make her out. She was sunk in a snowdrift in a hollow of the wood. How to get her out? He used his knife to cut a fine long branch and stretched it towards his mother because he knew if he walked on the drift he would sink too. ‘Hold on, Mam. Hold on,’ he shouted. His mother clung to the branch . . .
Jude: The wood, Leo. The cross.
. . . and the boy pulled with all his might. At first there was not a budge, but then after another great heave his mother came free from the snowdrift. She was blue with cold and her teeth chattered and her hands were lumps of ice. The boy took off his jacket and put it round her . . .
Jude: The cloak, Leo.
. . . and half stumbling carried her home. They soon had a fire blazing in their little cottage and the mother looked proudly at her son and he looked at her with great love in his eyes.
Leo: She is in her room, her back is to the door which is slightly ajar. She is dressing. I could change my mind. I could turn away or I could sculpt her into my dream, fashioning her into my desired likeness for her. Not the form no, not the form to capture her in her prime, that glorious beautiful woman at her moment when she is ripe to woo a suitor . . .
Jude: Or be wooed.
. . . Who could be her lover? What age, what generation, what century? What period of history? Here she is in my world, her hair slightly curled and shining, and her dark brown eyes like the deer of the forest . . .
Jude: O yes Leo, and on the mountain.
. . . Moulding one’s mother into a form. The picture of her in her twenties capturing her beauty. I see her standing, smiling, holding her bicycle, her High Nelly, and the little boy on the child seat plump and happy with a tuft of hair standing up on the back of his head like an Indians’ feather . . .
Reader: You?
. . . The gold of childhood, where is it to be found? In one’s own youth or the youth of one’s parents where one could cocoon oneself securely in a sepiacoloured world, a solace for the dark times. My mother’s body. Porcelain like the ballerina statue on the mantelpiece. She is being transposed from flesh and bone to marble, no, not marble, that is cold, but to a soft malleable art material, to form an image that is warm and comforting. She is undressing with her back to me about to step out of her skirt, the slit in the door just affording a cutoff vision, a partial view: all we can ever hope for, all we can ever see of the world, the picture of a mother is the picture of eternity. What we can glimpse of it on the edge of it. Is it death that stalks her at the doorway? No, but at the window. Death is at the window waiting for her to look out. To see the storm coming. But she will never hear the thunder. Only the lightning in its sudden, savage swoosh . . .
The Seer of Suburbia: The dead return when their departure is sudden.
. . . I see her now full of the summer joys of youth: mater matar madre máthair in her woollen onepiece bathing costume, green with black diamonds, heavy with brine after the bracing waves, her breasts showing in their fullness. Does she know I am peeping through the keyhole seeing her from the back? But it is all fortuitous. I am not a Peeping Tom. It was by chance that I mounted the stair and found the door ajar. Perhaps I should have turned away. But I will fashion her in my image—a terrifying concept—her cheekbones will be high, and her brow wide. My father, what did he behold when he saw her in her bloom? I will never know. Six I was when he passed away. I did not kill him. There was no Oedipus thing; there was no chance for that. I hardly knew him. Although when he saw my pencil drawing etched innocently in an unwitting heuristic quest at such a young age, trying to find my mother through the graphite when I had seen her that time, he snatched the page from me and tore it up and threw the pieces into the fire. He never said a word. Just frowned. Never mentioned it and I wanted to ask him to explain, but next thing I knew he was dead. So it was just me and her, the woman and her boy, her only boy, the apple of her eye, who would care for her when she grew old, but she never grew old and the boy languishes and tries to bring her back, to resurrect her, to tell her that he intended to take care of her when she would become frail, that he would protect her, that she would not perish in the snowdrift or when the lightning struck. With his indestructible tree, his cross, he would rescue her and bring her to safety. She would not be a wandering waif but would spend her days at home and secure with her son to care for her. The milkwhite fear would be abated, and she would smell of seawater and seapebbles. But this sculpture that I create with my adult mind is incomplete. Like me, fulfilment cannot be found, but she will never corrode or decompose as long as I keep moulding her, eternally making her new, and as long as I keep communicating with her, and she will never age. She will always be young and beautiful in the image of the glass, and when I hear the light footfalls on the stair, I will know it is her.

You may buy Letters to Jude at https://amzn.to/3bTj5CJ or https://amzn.to/3OPhv3d and write a short review which would be much appreciated. I wish all my friends and subscribers a happy Christmas and all the best for 2023.
Some reviews of Letters to Jude:
‘a tour de force’
‘a rich Joycean novel with beautifully written passages of linguistic diversity and deep emotions full of insights’
‘a master work that will endure’
‘a brilliant ground-breaking novel’
‘a fearless and interesting piece of art that tears up the rule book and calls on the reader to stop and think at every turn’


Author: James Lawless

Irish novelist, poet and short story writer.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.