This is a modern fairy tale, although not a very nice one. I originally wrote it in February 2008 for a challenge based on The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, to go with the picture titled “Uninvited Guests”.
Martin has lived in the basement for as long as I can remember.
Of course, I can’t remember back the whole seven years, but my grandpa can. This is his house, and he says that Martin has been here ever since he has. In the basement, behind the little door across from the stairs.
The little door doesn’t open, not unless Martin opens it from his side, which he doesn’t usually do. He talks through the door, though, sometimes if you talk to him, sometimes if he wants to talk to you. I’d talked to him a lot, especially since Dad came home.
It was because of Dad that Martin opened his door for the first time in what Grandpa says is a really, really long time. He hasn’t done it again since they took Dad away, either. Grandpa says that this time Dad won’t be coming back, not ever.
Mom’s been sad about that, but I haven’t. Mom and Dad broke up when I was little, because Dad had ‘issues’. I didn’t know what that meant then, but now I know that ‘issues’ are when you get mad all of a sudden for no reason, so mad you have to hurt someone to feel better.
I hope I never have issues. Grandpa says I won’t. Martin said so too, and he can tell about things like that, even from behind his door. He doesn’t like people with issues very much.
He really, really doesn’t like Dad. He never comes right out and says so, but I can tell. He has a name for Dad, not his real name, and he says it like it’s a bad word. I haven’t told Grandpa about that, I don’t want to get Martin into trouble.
I told Martin so and he thought it was funny, but he thanked me all the same. Martin is always very polite, he says it ‘don’t cost a penny to be nice the first time, but the second time might take all you’ve got and more.’ Grandpa says that means if you’re nice the first time you won’t have to be embarrassed and apologize later. I think I understand it that way: after Dad would have issues he’d cry and apologize to Mom for a really long time, and he’d buy me candy. I’d share the candy with Martin while Dad finished apologizing to Mom upstairs in their room, and Martin would tell me stories about where he and Grandpa were from. They both came from Ireland, a long time ago when it was still a nice place. Martin and Grandpa both say it’s not quite as nice of a place now.
I asked Grandpa if the people there had issues, and he said some of them had a lot. I don’t think I want to ever go to Ireland. Grandpa goes every year or two, goes for a long time, and he says you just have to know how to avoid the bad people so you can visit the good ones. He says we have a big family in Ireland and they don’t have issues either.
It was while Grandpa was visiting there the last time that Dad came back. Grandpa’s still not happy with Mom about that, she wasn’t supposed to talk to Dad and she really wasn’t supposed to let him move into Grandpa’s house with us while he was gone. But she did. I didn’t want Grandpa to be mad at Mom too much since Dad had already punished her – I don’t know for what – and I told him that maybe she liked his apologies because he always took a long time to do hers so they must have been really special ones.
Grandpa got a funny look on his face when I said that, and then he tapped the cast on my arm and said something to Mom about if it was worth it that made her cry and run upstairs. I was worried about that and asked him if he’d been trying to punish her too and he said that he didn’t need to because she was punishing herself. I asked if that meant her other eye would get all black and swollen like when Dad punished her and if she’d have to go back to the hospital and Grandpa said no. He looked sad after that, and he went down and talked with Martin for a long time while I ate ice cream in the kitchen. Grandpa always buys the best ice cream, it has little pieces of cake in it that he says are Italian. The ice cream doesn’t taste like spaghetti, though, so I think he might have made a mistake about that.
When I got done with my ice cream and swished out the bowl I sat by the basement door and listened. I could hear Grandpa’s voice but not all the words, and I could hear Martin’s voice too, sometimes loud, sometimes soft. I hope Martin never gets mad at Grandpa like he did at Dad because of the issues. When they came to take Dad away he was all funny-looking because his hair had turned white like Santa Clause and his eyes were really big and only a little bit of brown was around the big round black part in the center, and his mouth was wide open like he was yelling but only this tiny little sound was coming out. It sounded kind of like a baby puppy I heard once that wanted its mama, and when I asked the men who came with the ambulance if that meant he wanted his mama they got real nervous and wouldn’t say anything. So I asked the doctor at the hospital who was fixing my arm and he got nervous too and went away for a while, and then a nice new doctor came back with him and talked to me about all kinds of things while they put on my cast – a blue one, they let me pick my favorite color and I said blue. The nice doctor had on a tie with a cow on it, and he got a white pen from the nurse and made some cow spots on my cast with it. He said Dad had a breakdown, which means something inside his mind broke and they’ll have to try to fix it but it will take a long time. I asked him if Dad’s mind broke because of the issues and he said that was probably it and I was really smart for figuring that out.
The nice doctor had a lady come after that, and she took me to someone’s house to baby-sit for me because Mom was in the hospital because Dad punished her so much and she was too sick to take care of me. They were really nice people, and I got to stay there with them until Grandpa got back. We got to go back and see the nice doctor again too, and he said he’d called Grandpa all the way in Ireland to let him know he needed to come home. He said Mom was better enough to go home and I got to see her for a little bit, but there was a law and I couldn’t go home with her unless Grandpa was there. That was last week, and this week we’re all home but Grandpa said I could go visit the nice people again sometime if I wanted to because they took such good care of me, and he said we’ll get to go see the nice doctor every other week so I can talk to him. Mom has a different doctor she gets to go talk to, but her doctor is a lady and doesn’t wear neat ties like my doctor does.
I told Martin about the ties, and he thought it was funny that someone would have a tie shaped like a fish. But when I asked him if he’d seen Dad’s mind break he got quiet and for a while I thought he’d gone away. I wasn’t really sure if he wanted to talk about what happened, because my doctor said that some people wouldn’t and that was okay, but Martin was out from behind his door when it happened and I really wanted to know. I hadn’t seen Martin come out because he’d told me to hide and Grandpa had told me that if Martin ever told me to do something I should do it right away.
I’d been up next to his door and I was crying because my arm hurt after Dad had got mad and twisted it really hard, and then Dad opened the basement door and yelled that I couldn’t get away from him now, and when he started to come down the stairs Martin’s door moved a little and he told me to go hide behind the water heater and not look out no matter what. Dad was yelling at me to stay put and take my punishment like a man, but Martin’s door wiggled open a little more and I went and hid and covered my eyes. Dad banged down the stairs and he was still yelling and calling me names…and then it all just stopped like when you turn off the TV. It was quiet for a little while, and then I heard little footsteps on the floor and Martin said from the other side of the water heater that I should stay put until someone came to get me out. Then the little footsteps went back and he called Dad that bad-sounding name again, and then I heard the little hinges on his door squeak and a little click when the door closed. Martin had said to stay put, though, so I stayed there and fell asleep and didn’t wake up until a big policeman came. The policeman talked like Grandpa does, and when he saw Martin’s little door he looked at it really close up and then made a sign in front of his chest with his fingers and said something in words like Grandpa and Martin use sometimes. I think he was telling Martin thank you for something, I think, but I don’t know what it was.
I asked Grandpa, and he said I was right and he was going to start teaching me those words because that’s our people’s language from the old country. The old country is Ireland, I already knew that. I think it’s really neat that they have a special language just for if you’re from there.
Martin started talking again, and he told me he was sorry about my Da – that’s how he says Dad, when he says it and not that other name – and he said someday when I was older he’d tell me the whole story, but not now. I asked him if ten was older, and he said when I was old enough to understand why the policeman said what he did then that would be the time. Martin liked the policeman a lot, and he said he thought the man would be back to see us again, and maybe to see Mom too. That made him happy, and when I went back upstairs later and told Grandpa it made him think for a minute and then it made him happy too but not in a smiley sort of way.
Grandpa came back up out of the basement after a long time and he didn’t look surprised or mad that I was sitting in front of the door waiting for him. He picked me up and we went to his big chair in the other room and I just sat on his lap and got hugged while he read me a story about something called a boggart that lived in Ireland and was sometimes very nice and sometimes really mean depending on who you were and if you were polite or not. It was kind of like a fairy tale, but Grandpa said it didn’t used to be and then we went to make dinner.
I wonder what a boggart is? The story never did really tell, and I didn’t get a to ask Grandpa before bedtime. Maybe tomorrow I’ll ask Martin, I bet he knows.