2nd The Ugly Truth

That lava lamp was a thing of magic and it’s hypnotic ever changing shapes were a defining memory of childhood. When it was not turned on mum would cover it with a heavy burgundy shroud. Mum loved it as much as I did, but as time went by she came to fear it until it stayed permanently beneath its burgundy veil. I didn’t think much of it at the time putting it down to the fact she dropped her bundle when dad left and wanted no reminder of their life together. Life went on and it soon merged with the other clutter in the house.

When mum moved into a nursing home I was left to clear out the house. As the accumulated layers of debris were removed the outline of my childhood home began to gradually re-emerge like a forgotten snapshot of happiness before my world was turned upside down. A sudden surge of both pleasure and pain briefly overcame me and I sat down heavily in a daze. As the rush of emotion receded I looked up. Before me was the familiar burgundy cloth. I tugged at it gently. It fell away with a swish and there it was, just as I remembered it. I plugged it in and its warm glow suffused the room. Lost in the fog of bitter-sweet nostalgia I stared at the sinuous waxy forms for a long moment. What if for old times sake I invited my childhood companions for a last dinner before the house was cleared for good?

The dinner invitations were accepted with alacrity. Each wanted a final glimpse of a treasured childhood; that is, that part of childhood before the inadequacies and failures of our parents’ lives intruded. Of course, the lamp had pride of place. Mounted on its Moroccan pedestal it presided over the dinner table like a benevolent deity and its warm light spread a comforting glow while its waxy bolus formed and unformed itself into alien galaxies. The table was set with old stirling silver cutlery and plates decorated with patterns that were no longer to be found except in the jumble sales of deceased estates, and like people who had grown into their inheritance the children had even come to resemble their parents.  The night was shaping up to be a splendid success, and when the wine was at its ripest and the talk at its freest my dinner companions seemed to abruptly transform into liquid shapes that seethed with colours that bled and foamed into each other. The lamp now seemed to loom over them and its comforting glow had congealed into a grey mortuary light.  The convivial conversation had become snappy, snarling and sarcastic. Pustules of envy burst into torrents of vitriol adding a vicious edge to the conversation. These well to do, if a little self-satisfied adults had transformed into molten beings of hatred and self-loathing. The conversation now threatened to erupt into physical violence as the wife of my oldest friend lunged across the table looking to scratch out the eyes of my sister. Her eyes had been riveted with scarlet desire upon the woman’s husband and I realised with a sudden jolt of insight that they were sleeping together. All about me were laid bare the true feelings of my friends. Infidelity, shame and jealousy that seethed and bubbled and the corpse of a long suppressed childhood memory floated to the surface: the night – a night like this – when my parent’s marriage fell apart. The cauldron of unhinged emotions threatened to boil over at any moment. I lunged at the lamp and yanked the cord violently. The lamp went dead and the wax floated to the bottom. Everyone awoke as if from a dream. Not daring to say anything and avoiding the eyes of their erstwhile dinner companions they shuffled out without saying goodbye. Desert sat there untouched. Pouring myself out a large drink and a generous slice of apple pie I sat their eating and drinking silently. I had seen the truth tonight beneath those carefully maintained exteriors. The fallout would play out in the weeks and months ahead. I realised now why mum had come to fear it. That lamp was trapped malice that illuminated, certainly, but only the worst of us. I finished the last of my apple pie and gulped down my wine. I carefully wrapped the lamp in its burgundy shroud before picking it up. It was uncomfortably warm to the touch and weighed heavily in my arms. I took it out to the skip and tossed it over the edge. The glass smashed and I swear it hissed like an angry spirit. For a moment panic and anxiety settled upon me like a dark cloud before dissipating in the cool night air.

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