Luke Macpherson

Mind Your Nut

Luke Macpherson

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I haven’t been home in a while. I’m at the cottage and I swear it’s just how I left it. Even the chairs are in the same place. It has the same smell, too: mildew, with a touch of salt and stained wood, seaweed and aged rugs.

     It hasn’t changed a day.

     I’m taller, though. I walk through to the living room – a name I always considered ironic given that we reserved most of the living for the garden on sunnier days – and bang my head on the threshold. For god’s sake. I’m in a foul mood as it is - the city has me resenting most of everything – and a knock to the noggin’ isn’t made any easier by the fact that, here, noggin is the first word that comes to mind when I go to describe my skull. I step back, rubbing the bump and accuse the doorframe with a glare.

     Mind Your Nut, it says.

     My shoulders drop. I’m overcome with a love, with a grief, for my grandfather – I get my height from him.

     It’s coming to the end of summer. The rains are back and a fog sweeps in from the North Sea to coat the bay in a translucence I’m only familiar with in the form of cheap shower curtains and glass, that I hope, is frosted. I’m almost surprised that the dark smudges are shrubs and cattle, and not mould left to grow by a negligent landlord. I cough less here and put two and two together.

     I don’t hate the city. I probably should, even just while I’m home so home doesn’t get so jealous. I’m in the nasty habit of anthropomorphising the inanimate, even when they’re inhabited by tens of millions or empty for most of the year. I know the city isn’t to blame, I know the people certainly aren’t so, no; I don’t hate the city.

     I just think it hates me.

     DO NOT ALLIGHT HERE.

     Bloody sign.

     I hate that bloody sign. Saw it for the first time not twenty minutes after touchdown so, how does it know? How does it know whether I’m coming or going? I sure as hell don’t half the time. Don’t leave? Don’t dare set foot on my soil? How am I supposed to know? Just bloody well tell me, would you?!

     Mind Your Nut.

     I’ll try my best, I think, and tap the advice as I duck on through.

     Even the dust here is homely. It coats most of everything equally, except those ornaments and drawers that are picked up, ogled at or trifled through by guests and sentimental relatives. Sentiment charted by sediment.

     My father and uncle are measuring up the wall. We’re set to knock it through into the kitchen. The building is almost three centuries old so the act requires precision; which you wouldn’t have guessed by the mumbles and grunts escaping past dangled cigarettes or the sledgehammers resting against an unhung mirror in the corner. 

     I pick amongst the painted rocks resting on the squat mantel piece, the initials of their artists on the back. Only half I know. I’m only half interested.

     I’m too busy remembering the banks of the river. The place I fled to often to escape the noise of it all. The confusion.

     I moved for both love and money. Two fickle mistresses. And I laugh because I’m joking with myself and I know that I can only do that now because I’m home.

     The bank is where I fled to when I found out. Found out that she’d done it again. Found out that I’d been a fool to forgive her. A fool to try and forget it. A fool to sit and listen to her say that she’d forgiven herself and a god damned idiot for letting that-

     I’m white knuckle clenched around the pebble canvas of a cat.

     I set it down and pet its head by way of apology.

     The pipes. That’s where I had started, the pipes. They wash up along the shore, all clustered around the same mark of the tide. Thin hollow tubes of clay that had once been tobacco pipes, disposed of by labourers on their way to or from work, cast into the river decades ago now finally returning to the surface. Their contemporaries join them; thick bars of blue and yellow and green.

     I liked them. Odd relics from the past, novel in our present. I collected a couple for the mantel in our flat.

     Her flat. She got to keep it.

     I ask my dad and uncle if they need me.

     Not yet, they tell me, but say they will in twenty minutes or so. They’re both entranced by the damp laden wall and all but look through me when they turn to speak.

     I tell them that’s grand sure, that I’m heading down to the beach and that they should call me if they need me.

     They don’t really need me. I know that. But knocking the wall through will forever change this place that has been around, at least to me, since forever. I want to be there when it happens; more than anything just to say that I was.

     I dip through to the kitchen, slowly open the pantry door and open the fridge as quietly as possible. It’s well stocked. A party tomorrow. For my coming home.

     I grab a can of beer, slip it into the pocket of my coat and leave through the front door. I always found it funny that it’s called the front door. It was, once upon a time, I know that; but now the rest of the world lies on the other side of the house, via the tarmacked road. This place has been around for so long that the back has become the front and the front has become the back, and I laugh again because I too feel all turned around.

     I pat its white pebble dashed wall and smile. This place can be home if I let it.

     The lane to the beach is narrow. The weather here has had the bushes running rampant in their growth and now the sun-baked petals, of their no doubt impressive bloom, swat at my cheeks and shoulders in the breeze.

     I keep my chin to my chest because I am still trudging along that horrible thin street with all the comedy clubs, or the one out the back of the station with the theatres. I run my hands through the leaves and branches, trying to ground myself to that which grows but I am frustrated by my own fixation on the soot laden bricks and concrete slabs that kept me corralled for the better part of a decade. Their rising up and up and over. Their looming. Built to intimidate.

     The screeching. The hisses and horns. The rushing and racing and the fact that, not for the life of you, can you find a moment of silence for always there is the groaning or gushing of something overhead to spoil your view of the stars.

     When you’re lucky enough to see them.

     The mottled cotton of my robe; not washed for weeks. The absence of conversation. The droning of a television - that did more talking than I ever did after the fact - and the thumping in my ears of blood that yes, you can hear, when your heart hasn’t stopped pounding that quickly in days.

     The blame that runs like a river round my head, forming a canyon.

     The blame I was left to accept.  

     And here it comes again. The sinking, the drowning, the numbness in my fingers and toes and the twisting and turning and the grinding of my teeth and oh for the love of god would you quit it! The panicking, god it drags on. No one ever tells you that anxiety attacks become boring.

     It’s done. I left. I made the right decision. It’s over. But Christ it all hangs on. If that’s the weight then I’m the hook, the thing that gets all caught up on the ocean floor. And I know – I know! – that if I pull on the line it’ll snap.

     I breathe.

     I accept the fact that – no. I decide to let myself be stuck. To hope that the current eventually will set me free. I mind my nut. I slow my shallow breaths, lift my chin and –

     Oh.

     The sky is larger here. And there’s nothing but sky. A landscape of turquoise, lilacs teals and fuscias – whatever the hell they are – drift from one end of the world to the other. I rest against the wall that guards the sea and keep my eyes on the horizon to keep them from naval gazing.

     Nothing between here and the North Pole. Well, at the proper angle; or so my dad says. The right perspective.

     I choose to believe he’s right.

     Confetti detritus of kelp, black as it rots, marks the tides highest reach upon the shore. The waves have already begun to recede behind these darkened tendrils of wet sand, yet they still roll in as if they might just make it that little bit further. At first, I am stumbling through the fine, dry mounds but slowly, I am coming closer to the lapping and crashing. The sand is easier to walk on here. I haven’t opened my beer. It’s nestled in my palm in my pocket, making my hand far colder than it would be, were I to just let go.

     I just can’t seem to. 

     I don’t remember us ever having been on a beach. Not one like this, anyway. I just know that at some point in the six years previous I had sand between my toes and her fingers between mine and I can’t help but know that the memory of one is going to be as difficult to remove as the other.

     Both seem to cling.

     But now, the sand has made its way into my trainers, into my socks, and I would be mistaken to remove it; because it doesn’t feel, like it might have done once, like an inconvenience, an exfoliating nuisance on my soles. No. Instead, it feels like a thousand, a million small earthen ball bearings easing the friction of my unsteady steps.

     I sink at times, to be sure, into sea packed sand lain atop the mountains of seaweed beneath. Without even the intention, I keep my balance, and pass the countless jellyfish which already line the shore, awaiting the next high tide.

     I stop to look at one. Not the largest, not the smallest – just the closest. It appears symmetrical at first, a pancake flop of living gelatine with a mass of tangled venom underneath. Nothing out of the ordinary. But it’s folded over itself slightly at one side; a gentle rise towards the middle shows its rejection by the sand in favour of some rock or shell beneath it. A dozen or so of its tentacles are exposed at the top, an angel hair mop cut with maroons and royal purple.

     It doesn’t seem concerned. If anything, it seems patient. Relaxed, even. Assured of the tide’s return and, with it, its duty to survive. The sea monster on shore leave.

     Lord am I glad to be home.

     I bare my knuckles across the jellyfish by way of thanks, raise myself from a foetal crouch, and turn to face the way I’d come. I see the cottage, nestled close amongst its comrades, kissed by sunset gold that breaks through the last of evening mist. It looks at home. It looks like home. I start towards it.

     The lane is gilded in the suns late glow, fit to burst with saturated blooms. The islands of moss amongst its gravel are my stepping stones; no longer the cobbles of some dreary lane. The gate swings open on oiled hinges and grates on the rock into which it’s borne a hole. Behind it, the garden is serene.

     Except for the sounds of the hammer.

     The living room is bathed in the last of the sun streaming in through the one deep window that frames the bay. Dust dances in its beams, settles, and bounces once again with every strike against the wall.

     “Have a crack”, says Dad, passing me the hammer. He offers a smile, one that invites happiness but doesn’t require it.

     I smile back.

     “It’s pretty cathartic”, he says.

     They’ve drawn on a threshold in thick pencil bars and wiped the area clean as best they could. The wet white swipes against the short fur of mould like iodine on a soon to be wound.

     “Start low”, my uncle says, lighting another cigarette.

     I aim for the skirting board, splintering the wood. I swing again and connect with the wall. The shock reverberates up my arm but I bite through the pain and swing again, swinging through. A crack appears.

     I swing again and again and splinter by splinter of plaster, stone and straw-thick mortar, the wall comes apart.

     On my final strike, several chucks collapse under themselves, showering my boots and the carpet in debris. No light shines through.

     My dad and uncle peer over my shoulder as I poke and pull at the hole with the head of the hammer. The wall is hollow.

     More debris spills out onto the carpet as I rummage, a small avalanche of history, and with it comes a familiar rattle.

     Dozens upon dozens of thin, hollow clay tubes.

     I pick one up.

     “Tobacco pipes”, my uncle says, as he takes it from my hand. “Builders leaving their empties in the walls. Keeps the fairies happy, they say. Makes a happy home.”

     I’m crying all of a sudden and though they don’t know why exactly, they both know exactly why.

     I gather a handful of pipes, bind them with stiff, sun bleached twine and set the bundle gently on the dust laden mantel piece.

     You’re going to be okay.


Luke Macpherson


Luke Macpherson is a Belfast born, London based writer whose short work is primarily concerned with our relationship to nature in the past, present and future. Having graduated from Queen's University MA Creative Writing in December 2021, his speculative fiction has been broadcast on BBC Radio Ulster and published in the Books Beyond Boundaries NI anthology. Find him on Twitter at @lpmacpherson.