There had been lights, bright, welcoming. There had been voices calling him. Men’s voices were steady and strong, clearly heard, calling to him across crowded rooms. Women’s voices were warm and smooth, flowing towards him like fine wine sliding down the sides of cut crystal glasses.
Little wonder then that he thought this would last forever, that the night was just beginning.
He slapped backs while his was slapped in turn. He laughed at humour only half heard, enjoying all the while the camaraderie, the feeling of one. The company pleased him.
She stood apart in some way he couldn’t quite understand. It was n’t as if she was silent, not as if she wasn’t part of the continually changing crowd. When there were surges of crowds coming and going she was still there. When there were side shows of romantic endeavours forming, she was still there. In the midst of swirling streams of free flowing speech, she was still there. He was attracted to such stillness, apparently self-sufficient calm.
All the time she smiled, nodding in an attentive way, listening, speaking, engaging.
He liked what he saw, was intrigued by what he heard.
After some more drinks, when he bought her one, when she had accepted, they were chatting.
It may have been aimless, idle, light and harmless, but it was conversation. It was easy he felt, it was definitely good. When she smiled he smiled in return. When he smiled she too smiled in reply.
It was a dark road with few lights but she didn’t care. Walking along, engrossed in her texting, the keys’ comforting clicks chased away wind in the trees. She noticed another sound, somewhere behind her but phone bells chiming chased that away.
“Watch out for Banshees!” the incoming text proclaimed.
Smiling, tapping the keys in reply, she barely registered the sound of heels’ clicking behind her. “Let you know if I see any” she replied.
Seeing a comb lying on a level stretch of wall suddenly stopped her in her tracks. The noise behind her she had finally registered also stopped. Quickly looking back the way she had come she could distinguish nothing but a darkish empty street.
Moving on she heard the sound behind again, footsteps click-clacking in time with her own. Stopping again it seemed to her the noise also stopped. This time she didn’t look behind.
She came towards the old dark house, empty for years. Heart thumping in time with her quickening pace she could distinguish little ahead. Now it seemed there was something ahead, faint lights, darker shape. Sobs squeezed her throat, strangled with terror, sounds behind quickening.
Then there were arms around her, a voice saying, “hey I didn’t mean to frighten you, it was only a text!”
Laughing, relieved, the pair saw the irony in yet another friend dashing towards them, breathless. “Oh, God! I thought I’d never catch you, that’s one spooky stretch of road!”
In momentary silence a squeak, faint, yet loud enough to be heard in the stillness, reached them from over the wall. A louder squeal followed, as blurry white shape fell from the sky. They ran screaming.
The cat scuttled away, disgusted the owl had seized the mouse for it’s own prey.
On a dark October evening trees reached bare arms towards the little group on the poorly lit street. The few remaining leaves added to the unnatural effects. Leaves dancing across the few street lamps scattered splinters of light and shadow over the youngsters.
“You go first!”
“Why should I?”
“Yeah, why should she?”
“Cos I said so, that’s why!”
“If you’re so brave then go on yourself!”
Silence followed, broken only by the wind rustling yet more dead leaves on the ground. Distant lorries added a low rumbling note, steady and ominous, heard on the fringes of hearing. Somewhere nearby a door slammed and loud footsteps echoed down the narrow street. They had all involuntary jumped at the sudden sound.
The tallest youngster, the last one challenged, looked around his little band of followers. A challenge was a challenge and could not be left unaccepted, even more so when you are the eldest and the tallest.
“All right, I’ll go first, but you all follow! Is that clear?” He looked slowly around the little group who all nodded in reply, some more certainly, firmly, than others. “I go first and you all follow, got it?”
“I will, don’t worry, I’ll follow.” Everyone looked in surprise at the fair haired girl with the good torch in her hand. Her little brother, the youngest of all, stayed close by her side, saying nothing. There was an air about him that if he thought he’d get away with sucking his thumb he would. It was hard to say which he clung to more, his sister or the torch she held.
“Go on then, we’ll follow you,” one of the other boys added. Vigorous nodding of heads expressed heartfelt agreement. Faced with all of this the tall boy now had no choice. He must go on, he had to lead them in.
Rotting ironwork pretending to be the gate it once was presented no barrier to them. As quickly as possible in the gloom they moved past tottering headstones, yew trees pointing towards the dark sky, celtic crosses crumbling towards them. The further they went in to the old graveyard, the deeper the darkness seemed. He hesitantly stepped forwards, steering a course by the dim outline of a large chestnut tree he could see.
If that was the far corner then he knew the collapsed vault he had seen in daylight had to be nearby. He was suddenly afraid he would take one step too far, one step into the waiting open grave. “Damn!” he said, louder than he intended.
Behind him he heard the shouts from the others, “you all right?” “You O.K.?”
Realising he was near enough their target he couldn’t resist crouching down behind a tottering headstone, tall enough still that he could hide in it’s shadow.
“I found it, come on!” he shouted out, grinning to himself in the darkness.
Now the wind sighing through the skeletal branches of trees was accompanied by stifled laughs, squeals of delighted terror, muffled curses as shins barked on unseen kerbstones of graves.
When he judged the moment right he jumped out dramatically from behind the headstone. His loud screech, prolonged as his lungs could bear, was enough. He heard the sounds they made running as fast as they could. Now they were heedless of obstacles, drawn towards the dim street lights like moths with a death wish drawn to the candle’s flame.
A bright beam projected a cone of light along the ground. The fallen torch cast it’s own shadows. The fair haired girl and her little brother had been too stunned by the initial fright to flee with the others. Satisfied with his results the tall boy retrieved the torch and returned it to the girl. The little boy spoke up then. “Well, where is it? You said you’d show us.”
Faced with the pair of them looking at him expectantly and unexpectedly he blurted in reply, “over there, I think,” pointing vaguely to his left.
“Thought you knew, come on so,” the little boy said, dragging on his sister’s free hand. She shrugged and went along with them.
“Wait up then, I’ll show you.” The older boy quickly overtook them and with the torchlight illuminating the ground ahead of him quickly located the dark space yawning open in the ground.
Old red bricks were visible along the sides of the collapsed vault. Three pairs of eyes followed the beam of light downwards. They peered at the rubble of brick, mortar, clay and dust. “There it is!” cried the little boy, calling a halt to the wandering light.
Fascinated he peered down, oblivious to the comments on either side of him. The skull returned his gaze from the furthest corner. Hollowed eye sockets were even darker in the bright light’s glare. Torn between horror and curiosity they seemed frozen in place until the girl felt her brother tugging at her sleeve again, saying, “come on, we can go now.”
With their curiosity now satisfied, their courage tested, they went.
Lying on a park bench I found it. The book was lying there, not me. It was a random book, randomly placed. I’d heard this idea before. Leave a book you had in a public place, hoping someone would pick it up. How far would it travel? You would never know.
Mind you, once you let a book go you have no control over it. It’s the old stone in the pond idea, watching the ripples spread. Random books randomly placed have mysterious power.
You don’t know what happens next.
I sat down beside the book and opened it. Inside was a list in various handwritings, of where the book had been.
Who started the journey in Lewisham, London? I’ll never know. The book travelled then from Lewisham, London, to Green Alley, Athy, to “beside the Claddagh, Galway.” Across the Atlantic to Battery Park, NY. Then there were places I didn’t recognize all over the States. Somehow it ended up back in Ireland beside me, park bench, Kilkenny Castle.
If you’re thinking of playing this game mind your bookmarks. Friends of mine once left embarrassing photos in a book, followed by a frantic search of library shelves! Like the stone in the pond you don’t know where the ripples will go.
In my found book there was a scrap of paper with an e-mail address. I have both in my hand boarding the outbound plane. Thank you Miss Austen for “Persuasion.”
The girl in the coffee shop is beautiful, serene in her loveliness. I am not wrong in admiring her in the mornings, allowing her brighten part of my day. Turning from a glimpse of her I can stir my cup, read my paper, glimpse instead a more distant world.
Every morning she sips her Latte, absorbed in the beginning of her own day.
So it continues. Unknown to her she brings a smile to me each day. I came to count her part of my day, someone I know, as they say here, “to see them.”
Time passes, new staff come and go. The regular customers remain the same. There are those who say “good morning,” followed by my name, those who say “morning” and no more and those who say nothing, but I know them to see them.
That’s how we are and if I think about it, I am part of the ritual of someone else’s day, as they are part of the ritual of mine.
The girl I think so cheeringly lovely comes and goes, as all the others do, but one morning, suddenly, she sheds quiet tears and I who thought I knew her don’t know why.
Both things are something of a shock.
Firstly, that a young person like her should be so troubled as to cry like that in public, in a place where she is known, at least to be seen.
“That was yesterday, Anyway I have it now, look, see!” With quiet pride in her voice she continued, “now we’re set.” Then she groaned softly, “Oh dear, I’ve forgotten what I do next.”
This time her daughter intervened, having silenced her brother with a withering glance and a barely murmured, “shush!”
If their mother noticed she gave no sign. Instead she peered intently at the spot on the screen her daughter indicated, reading aloud, “address book.” She double clicked and leaned back, satisfied, when a list of names, locations, numbers, e-mails magically appeared. As her son went to move the mouse she gently slapped his hand away saying, “no Tom, let me do it, you showed me yesterday, I have to learn.”
He shrugged his shoulders and like his sister watched their mother hesitantly scroll down through the list. Their patience over a few days home tutoring was well rewarded when she cried out in almost girlish excitement, “look, look there they are! That’s them, look!” Her daughter Mary gently pulled her hands down from her mouth, drawing them back to the keyboard.
“No good there, Mam, come on! What next?”
She frowned in intense concentration, “Let me see, I’ll double click anyway.”
They didn’t need the glow from the screen to see the light in her eyes when Jim in Australia and Kate in Alberta came on the screen. The three way family chat filled the house with noise, with laughter
None of the children, home or abroad, heard her crying on the phone that night to her friend of many years, “this Skype thing makes it easier.”
Published as part of Kilkenny Library Poets on Board scheme