There is a hole in my chest where my Grandpa used to be.
The smell of freshly shaved pine and musty old books sometimes fills it up and the hole becomes whole for a drifting moment. But, the smells dissipate and meander their way back out of the pores of my skin. And that spot is empty again.
The hole never grows or moves or lessens, but it stagnates there, until a recollection, like the residue of old ale in a discarded tin, filters in a fragment of him for a while.
My mother’s hands were my whiplash.
My Nanna’s words were my schooling.
My brother’s micro-movements were my fear.
My father’s breaths were my apprehension.
But, at the end of the garden, several stepping stone hops across the summer lawn, behind an allotment, and under a trellis of climbing roses there was a shack made of wood and all things good – God resided there with my Grandpa.
Deep within that wooden workshop, giant, hardened hands carved tiny crevices and intricate patterns into great oaks and beeches and silver birches, whilst sawdust glittered its way to lay upon roving, ribbon-curled, cast offs.
A steel bar across the upper end of the doorway allowed me to swing off the troubles of my trauma on entry, and I sought sanctuary in that home of saws and chisels and smoothing planes. I longed for hands as hard and a soul as soft, and speech as quiet as his lilting brogue.
Church pews were made less painful by the knowledge his hands carved them. It seemed strange we came for sermons on Sundays to such a grand, cold place when his workshop was brimming full with the sense of God’s grace.
His skin turned to yellowing autumn leaves in those final hours – fragile tissue paper pulled over tiny structural veins.
I gave him my teddy to hold to his chest so he wouldn’t be frightened. But in the exchange I lost something.
A hole was left as this thing was dug out of me. I think it ended up in the ground with him.
I think I need it back.
Sarah Donnolly studied creative writing for two years at Lancaster University, was Awarded a 1st Class Hons in English Literature from OU, and became a secondary Teacher of Psychology and a Writer. Twitter: @sarahdonnellys