The lough is still out of bounds.
The forest track leading to the beauty spot where Gabrielle met her untimely end has become impassable. Fallen tree trunks, shrouded with clusters of vegetation and thick tentacles of ivy, block the entrance. Where prisms of sunlight pierce the leafy canopy, clumps of untrammelled nettles, tumbleweed and briars thrust through cracks in the forest floor. It’s as if nature has conspired to prevent me and anyone else from trespassing, in collusion with the crude- looking, crumbling ‘Danger: Keep Out’ sign swaying against a tree trunk. The laneway down from the road is similarly obstructed; here, a wide gate smothered with thorny brambles and wild bushes, strengthens the barricade, and the gap in the ditch where her car went off the road is shored up by a sheet of rusty corrugated iron reinforced with barbed wire.
I’ve waited so long for the truth to be exposed but it’s finally going to happen. Lynes Glen has been re-opened for the weekend and the family are gathering. All of us. The broken family, I think, although they don’t know who is the most damaged of us all -– yet.
Dust sheets have been whisked off furniture, and cleaners have wiped and washed and buffed. I glimpse my shadow moving across the parquet floors and my reflection shimmers as I pass the gleaming woodwork and the sparkling crystal and mirrors. The west-facing windows to the front have been unlocked, the sashes thrown up, and a fresh breeze flows into the rooms, fluttering up to corniced ceilings, surging freely through hallways and swirling up around the curving staircase. It carries a mountainy tang, mixed with the scent of pine trees, and it sweeps away stagnant air, driving any remaining dust-motes into a crazy dance.
In the faded splendour of the sitting room, a beam of sunlight slants through the window and glows like a spotlight on the row of polished photograph frames lined up along the top of the piano. The family photos have been taken out of storage and arranged exactly as they were two decades ago, the images caught and frozen by the camera in an innocent fragment of time during the hot summer of 1995 before everything shattered. I step outside myself for a moment, I forget who I am and the scores I have to settle while I stare at the images objectively, as a total stranger might; Alex, Lainey and Niall, followed by proud parents Leo and Gabrielle. There are no hints in any of the faces as to how sharply the bottom was going to fall out of those glittering lives.
First up is Alex, the eldest son, the photograph taken outside on the pebbled driveway that sweeps to a circle in front of the house. He leans back jauntily against the bonnet of his BMW convertible, his red-gold hair flopping over his forehead, his eyes glinting, his whole demeanour infused with the assurance of a young man in his mid-twenties who thinks he owns the world and expects to follow every one of his dreams.
Next to his photograph is one of Lainey, taken inside in the hall. A year younger than Alex, she has a flirty smile on her face as she stands in a sideways pose by the curving staircase, her hair caught into a gleaming barrette. She’s wearing a backless, red, designer dress with lipstick to match, holding a cocktail glass aloft in one hand, silver bangles sparkling on her raised arm, her eyes full of calm confidence as if she had no doubts that life would deliver all the good things she expected.
Then Niall, the youngest, at nineteen years of age, caught in a pulse-quickening image down by the lough. He’s posing on the diving board set into a rocky outcrop, his face taut in concentration, his body perfectly aligned in a formation that looks effortless but speaks of hours of practice. He is ready to take flight out into open space, before executing a dive into the still, calm waters of the lough, some thirty feet below.
No matter how arresting they are, these images are eclipsed by those of Gabrielle. The next photograph is a formal one of Gabrielle and Leo, taken at an international literary event just weeks before their world imploded. Tall, spare, Leo is dressed in black tie and holding a crystal trophy, awarded for his latest collection of poetry. He looks uncomfortable in the limelight, as though he’d rather be tucked up in his study in Lynes Glen, writing his soul across the page, but standing beside him, Gabrielle more than makes up for his reserve.
Always his muse, forever his beloved darling, she is smiling her brilliant smile. She’s dressed in a jade, figure- hugging dress, a ruby-stoned pendant gleaming at her white throat, her flame-haired, emerald-eyed beauty frozen in time. Lined up beside Alex, Lainey and Niall, it’s obvious that only pale glimmers of her allure are reflected in each of her children, in their green eyes flecked with amber and shades of red-gold hair. Gabrielle’s is a luminous beauty that shimmers forever; it will never fade or grow old.
I hate her all over again for this as much as for what she did, ruining the rest of my life in the process. I’m tempted to stamp my foot. I want to raise my arm and send all the frames crashing to the floor. I want to cry out loud. But I’ve never allowed myself the luxury of tears. I clench my fists and go across to the long, sash windows, taking a few deep breaths to compose myself.
From the front of the house, the world stretches away, full of a raw, desolate beauty, an unspoilt panorama of stone-walled fields, gorse-covered hills and glinting streams. It’s a patchwork quilt of green, purple and brown, granite and flecks of slate, where shadows dissolve into sunlight, and clouds chase their reflections across to the sea. Up above, the skies are limitless. On clear days, high-flying airplanes trail needle-thin vapours across the heavens as they head out over the Atlantic, across to America. It’s enough to make you dream of running free as far as the sea, like the glinting rivers, or taking flight out into the big, wide world. But those kinds of dreams are long gone.
The back of the house settles into the curve of the forest. Beyond that the mountains form a towering backdrop, their pinnacles serrating the sky. Today the sunlight cloaks the summits in a veil of barley-sugar light. They do not always appear so benign. I’ve seen the peaks of Slieve Creagh turn into menacing brooding hulks in the blink of an eye when dark clouds scud over, blackening the horizon.
As the family gathers in Lynes Glen this early September afternoon, everything appears to be calm and peaceful. There are no shadows creeping in corners, no sad whispers wafting through the passageways, no talk of buried secrets, or uneasy ghosts flitting through the rooms or up the curving staircase. That will change within the next twenty-four hours, thanks to what I have planned.
To add to my devilry, a storm is coming. It’s seething out in the Atlantic, gathering strength before it hurls itself onto this remote glen in a far western corner of Ireland, expected to hit landfall on Saturday evening.
The timing couldn’t be more perfect.
©ZOË MILLER 2017