If you want to know about Iris, I suppose I’ll have to begin with myself and the fantasy that was Iris The First.
When I was seven years old I went through a stage of all-consuming loneliness which resulted in me dedicating a lot of time to the bottom of the garden. I would sit there, telling the flowers and the sycamore tree about my plans to be a boat driver. I liked it down there, mostly because the plants were never too busy to listen and they didn't gratify their ears with their own volume whenever I let words between my lips. I was going to live on a narrow boat and keep myself folded into canals on a boat too small for the noise of my family.
I had great plans back then; I had a great imagination.
My dad thought it was “bloody queer” and he meant it in more ways than one.
“I swear Beth, it’s just wrong,” he told Mum one evening having discovered me addressing a congregation of pretty blue flowers that afternoon. “Normal boys don’t sit in the flower-beds talking to imaginary friends. He should be out playing football or something – like a normal boy.”
It wasn’t that I disliked football; it was my brothers that created a problem. I did not cast aside the days, football in hand, because I knew that I would still have been a disappointment. Dan and Matt were three years older and eternally better than me. I could never compare, especially not at sport.
“He’s just a kid, let him be one,” Mum said wearily but my dad just made an angry noise in his throat.
“There’s a difference between ‘being a kid’ and being fucked up!”
“Harry, please,” Mum rebuked his frustration with a learned vagueness and through the crack under the door I saw her sigh and shake her head.
“You didn’t see him Bethan; he was talking to himself-”
I’ll never know what possessed me to correct him. I think, perhaps, I thought that I might as well prove my knowledge if I couldn’t prove my worth as a son and a footballer. To explain myself was an opportunity to show off something I had knowledge of.
“I wasn’t talking to myself,” I said, pushing into the room. “I was talking to the flowers; they’re irises.”
In hindsight, I now realise that that was possibly the worst thing that I could have done. In fact, I could have told anyone that I'd made a mistake from the very moment that I spoke. The problem was that clarity and understanding came only with reflection; there were never present in the here-and-now of split-second decisions. Crouched behind that disparaging door I'd been proud of knowing things; I’d got the fact from a cast-off book from my teenage sister Bron. It was the kind that attempted to engage children with nature by encouraging them to identify flowers or birds. God only knows why anyone ever thought that a girl raised in a washing machine of rural inactivity needed to be encouraged to interact with the countryside. She’d discarded it many years previously, along with her picture books, and I can’t really remember why I'd picked it out. It was probably due to some sort of inclination to acquaint myself with the members of my natural audience.
I was seven years old; the memory is hazy and probably irrelevant. I said the words and they were fools gold.
“What have I told you about eavesdropping, you little shit?” My dad exploded. Explosion was not a rare occurrence. He was a bomb that somehow recharged itself between eruptions so that we’d just be picking shrapnel from our wounds when something would set him off again.
Mum looked sorry. Not properly sorry, not sorry enough to intervene, but sorry in a sad sort of way like she wished she didn’t have to watch. She had the apologetic face of a student dissecting the holocaust. Sorry but unattached.
His fingers slammed across the top of my arm and then dragged me from the kitchen. I bit through my front lip with the effort of not showing that it hurt me. It could never count itself as domestic violence; it was merely a smacking-a-naughty-kid kind of attack. The fact that it hurt was irrelevant and it hurt in the wrong way. It hurt less because of the physical pain than because of the intention behind it. It hurt because it was a punishment for misconduct when I couldn't detect the sins I'd committed. He simply did not come close to understanding or praising me. Some days I wondered whether he and Mum had only ever planned to have three children.
I don’t know how the others found out exactly, maybe we’d all been listening-in from one vantage point or another, but it became something of a joke for Dan and Matt:
“Ignore him Bron – he’s not talking to you; he’s talking to Iris.”
They’d say when I opened my mouth. Or;
“Hey, Gareth, send my love to Iris next time you feel like having a chat.”
“Did Iris say anything interesting today?”
They found themselves hilarious; they were ten and thought that jokes like that made them twelve.
The funny thing was that I actually quite liked the idea. I didn’t dare to continue giving my lectures, speeches and sermons to the tail-end of the garden but I found the idea that there was someone down there, someone who belonged entirely to me, strangely attractive. Sometimes I’d kneel up in bed, trying to peer through the window and dusk-stained sky to the tree I’d once seen as a haven. I imagined that, if I were to go down there alone again, a figure would emerge. She was made of the colour blue and sometimes she was rimmed with mauve like the petals of an Iris flower.
And maybe that’s what I was expecting when Iris was announced in our classroom eight years later.