I was awoken by a loud noise which I thought was the neighbour’s cat at first. I was six years old at the time and we had just finished school for Christmas the day before. It was a bitterly cold morning; from what I remember, there must have been three inches of snow on the ground when I’d looked out the window.
As I made my way downstairs, the smell of stale beer and cigarette smoke overpowered my young senses. I found my mother in her dressing gown lying in the middle of the living room, clutching a bottle of Plymouth Gin as if it were a teddy bear.
The coffee table was covered with empty cans of Carlsberg Special Brew, [ot Noodles, and packets of Sterling Dual, all my mother’s usual vices. The ashtray was full to the brim; there must have been fifty stubbed-out cigarettes in there.
She starts slowly slurring words in between the sobbing. “Terry, my boy, your father has left and he isn’t coming back.” That’s all I really remember.
I don’t know for sure why my father left. Growing up, I did hear rumours around the neighbourhood that he and his friends Billy and Tommy had pulled off a warehouse job over in Hockley or somewhere in the inner city. Apparently, the police were swooping in on them so he got out fast. But I mainly believe it was because of my mother. I know more than anyone that it isn’t easy living with an alcoholic Irish traveller woman.
In the summer of 2005, a year before my father left, my Aunt Maureen, my father’s sister, had moved down to Spain to manage a bar in a small town on the Costa Brava called Lloret de Mar. I have a hunch that that’s where he went.
So here I am on my 18th birthday, driving my extremely used bright red 1983 Austin Maestro through the long winding roads of the Pyrenees approaching the border into Spain. I see road signs directing me to the border towns of Bourg-Madame and Puigcerdà. Perhaps I will stop off at the latter for a cortado and some breakfast. I smile to myself as this little relic of British industry surprisingly cruises so smoothly through the rugged mountain pass. The mountains are as breathtaking as they are high and topped with snow as clear as crystal. The rising sun glistens off the peaks. The sides of these gravelly roads are rimmed with the greenest grass I have ever seen. I almost don’t want this drive to end. Tracey Chapman’s Fast Car plays on the Maestro’s almost antique radio as the scenery becomes more beautiful by the mile. Since I alighted the ferry in Cherbourg, it’s taken me over 12 hours to drive through France, and I’m not tired at all; in fact, I feel invigorated. This is the first time in my life I’ve ever left Birmingham, let alone England, and the first day I can remember since I was six years old that I was wasn’t taking care of my mother. My whole life lies in front of me. For the first time ever, I feel content and at peace with myself: free at last. The rough landscape and sandy beaches of the Costa Brava await me just a few hours away on the other side of these mountains. Ciao, for now.
Joe Murray has been a merchant mariner for many years and has been lucky enough to travel the world with his job. He took up writing short stories as a hobby to distance himself from the drinking culture that is heavily ingrained in his occupation. Murray was inspired by his father, who used to enter short story competitions for Ireland’s Own. His stories are often like an enjoyable mix of Dennis Lehane and Irvine Welsh. Murray divides his time between Somerset, England and Ibiza, Spain.