The Bone House
And I'm running, running so fast that I can almost feel the blood building up in my nose. There are tears on my face, angry, guilty tears that sting my cheeks like the ocean spray and I'm still clutching the leaflet from the hospital in hands littered with paper cuts.
He calls out to me, from somewhere behind, but I can't turn back to look at him. Not now. Not when the sight of him makes me feel sick to my stomach.
I'm going to run right off this cliff, I tell myself. The edge is nearing and I'm picking up speed. The rocks are running out, and below me the sea is still eroding the cliff, I'm going to leap right off this cliff and let the sea eat me up, like I always knew it would.
My great grandfather's name was Kieran Cormac Jude McGuffy; Keiran, for his father, Cormac, for his uncle and Jude, for the brother that died in infancy. By the time he was eight, every one of his namesakes had died and he was a boy held together by ghosts of the past.
He was the one that built The Bone House. I've always had this romantic image of Kieran Cormac Jude McGuffy, inherited from my mother I think. I can only ever imagine him in sepia; tall and handsome with the telltale McGuffy chin, willowy like my mother, struggling to lift a stack of beams above his head, sweating despite the cold Welsh autumn.
My mother remembers her Taid as a clever man who could recite poetry in Welsh, Gallic and English, who could whistle every hymn in the old church hymn book and who could build a house on a cliff top from scratch. A long time ago, they would have called him a wise man, for building his house upon the rocks or however the old saying goes.
For this, I can only call him a bloody idiot.
But I have to be fair to Kieran Cormac Jude McGuffy (it seems as though the female McGuffy trait to make excuses for the men in our lives has almost become as prominent as the chin); he couldn't have known, of course, that the tide would gradually begin to gnaw at the cliff face our cottage was built on anymore than he could have known about all the other crap his family was going to be exposed to.
I know though. Every morning I look out of the paint-flaked window and it seems as though the sea is gradually catching up on me. Sometimes I mentally estimate the days we have left before our diminishing yard is swallowed up by the North Sea.
"Your house is falling into the sea, Cait," says my social worker, Ruth, for what seems like (and probably is) the hundredth time.
"Yes," I reply simply, because it is my house and I have noticed.
The way she says it, though, with her 'dealing with children' patronising tone it's as though it's my fault. As though I really should be making more of an effort to stop my house from falling, like I should construct some kind of complicated rigging system to keep Clogwyn Bwthyn above sea level for just that little bit longer. She would; they're all about breathing machinery and catheters and keeping things alive, when really all they want is to plummet.
Ruth sits back in her chair and drums her fingers on the lightly coloured desk. Her office is a familiar one; an ancient, battered computer sits next to an untidy mess of papers that I'm just itching to organise into a filing cabinet and the two grey chairs Ruth and I are sitting on make up the furnishings of the room. It's a cheery shade of yellow, like there's melted butter smeared onto the walls and it doesn't match the dull grey outside of her large, glass panelled window and the dull grey jeans I'm wearing. In the corner lies large stuffed lion, its dead eyes staring at me in the same patronising fashion as Ruth, hanging off my every word.
"And you're sure you don't want to find a new one? I could make some calls, get you a nice council flat."
I do want to find a new home. I want a nice ground floor apartment, so I can take Mum out without having to worry about pushing the chair up a bloody cliff on the way back, I want to live near town so when we run out of milk I don't have to wear my hiking boots up to the market and I want to be nearer to hospital, for obvious reasons. The house smells of death and loneliness and sometimes I just want somebody my own age, who isn't a doctor or a social worker or somebody who's only paid to care about me to talk to. But ever since I was twelve, what I want and what has to be done are two entirely separate entities.
Ruth and I stare each other out for a bit, her glassy grey eyes boring into mine. But by now she's used to my dogged relentlessness and gives up reluctantly, closing my case file, signalling the end of the 'official business.'
"How're you holding up?" she asks sincerely, leaning forwards on the desk, her bitten down nails chipping at a crack in the wood
Ruth has been my social worker since I was fourteen. She's brilliant; all fat and warm with a great pink face and white blonde hair that makes her look like one of those Botticelli cherubs who hasn't aged very well. She cares a lot about her charges, more than most. On her desk she has a picture of every one of the children she's looked after; I'm on there, looking embarrassingly moody in my graduation photo and there are others too, including the wide-eyed boy she cared about so much that she ended up adopting herself, despite having three kids of her own.
Also on her desk is a pink china bowl filled to the brim with chocolate covered peanuts which she is forever nibbling at absentmindedly. She gets stressed when the bowl starts to look too empty and has a drawer devoted to refills
I tuck my feet up onto the stiff grey chair, hugging my knees to my chest and cramming sweets into my mouth. "Fine," I say dryly. "Bill's come back from university for the Christmas holidays, so naturally I will want to murder her by the end of it. We're going out to some party tonight. I bloody hate parties."
Ruth chuckles appreciatively, her chins wobbling.
"You always moan at me to go out and enjoy myself," I continue, mouth full, spraying shards of chocolate onto the desk, "but I think I'm just a person who doesn't measure her self worth by how many times she's been out in a week or whether or not she's drunk her own weight in cheap wine."
"As long as you try it, that's all I ask. I do worry about you sometimes, Cait; up in that old house all on your own, it really isn't healthy for a girl your age. What's your mam doing while you're out?"
I watch her nibble the chocolate off a peanut, discarding the naked nut in a separate bowl the way she always does. Once again, I try very hard not to let it annoy me. I think that's one of problems with living virtually alone for so long; other people's habits tend to grate of me quicker than is usual.
"Mfanwy from down the road is sitting in with her and I rented Titanic for her to watch, I'll be back before the damn thing sinks."
Ruth 'mmms' and nibbles at another peanut. I clench the edge of my chair and try not to look at her, focussing instead on the clock in the corner of the room; it's shaped like an owl and when the clock strikes four, which is coming up, the owl will hoot four times. But it's no good, I can still hear her tiny teeth working away at the sweet.
"Why do you do that?" I snap and ask her, disgusted, "why not just buy a bag of chocolate drops, if you're going to leave the peanut?"
"Your house is falling into the sea," she points out, as if that's a trump card beating every argument I could ever throw at her - and I suppose it is. She smiles at me fondly and I have no choice but to smile back. The smile drops off my face when I remember what I've been meaning to ask.
"Ruth," I say, playing with the toe of my shoe awkwardly. "Since I'm eighteen and technically not a young-carer any more," I cough and look very carefully at my feet and a scuffed and browning sneaker that I've had since I was fifteen. "Do I still need to have these meetings with you each week?"
Ruth's blinks and opens up my case file again, the professional barrier that we have. Bloody great, I've gone and hurt her feelings. "I suppose not," she says frowning. "If you're comfortable leaving. But you know we don't turn people who need support away just because they've hit eighteen."
"No, I know. I didn't think you'd gone off me just because I'm getting older; you're my social worker, not my sugar daddy, but I do want to try and do this on my own for a bit…" I scratch behind my ear, unable to meet Ruth's eye. "After all, we've only got about a year and a half - two years maximum - before my…" the words catch in my throat as always, I wonder how I am going to cope with it, if I can't even say it "…before my house falls into the sea," I substitute feebly.
Ruth frowns further, her little cherub face sagging at the corners. "A year and a half? Cait, you know that the hospitals these days are keeping people up and about for much longer and longer-"
"She'll need the hospitals by then, and I won't be able to do anything for her except read Vogue to her while she blinks approvingly," my tongue begins to swell with the reality of it. "I want to do this on my own, Ruth, before I can't do it on my own anymore."
We both know, though, that my mum would much rather die in a house falling into the sea than spend more time in a hospital, with all the space-age breathing machinery and tubes to put the food in and take the shit out.
She's a lot like the house, my mum, pale and creaking with constantly blinking eye lids like shutters flapping in a coastal wind. Like the house, she too is slowly reaching that point of falling in the sea, the neurones in her spine like fine chalk on a cliff, time eroding at her frail bones making her weaker and more useless with every tide.
I don't fit. I am too sturdy, too modern and too healthy, like those ugly new flats that always seem to be built on the foundations of wonderfully dilapidated gothic mansions. I am never going to be a triumph of design, all coarse bushy hair, chunky thighs and dusky skin, but stand me next to my mother and you can tell which one of us is built to last.
The house and her. They go hand in hand. It is her birth, her childhood and her death combined in a cement mixer within bricks and mortar. I am sure, but terrified, that someday soon they will go together off that cliff and into the sea, leaving me on the edge, homeless, purposeless and totally alone.
Welsh to English translations: