eBook available now

“Pools of Light”, my 2015 collection of poetry, prose and photography is available now for purchase online, in eBook format.  I know this will make it easier for readers across the globe to access and I look forward to hearing your comments.  My thanks to Diarmaid O’Riordan, who is responsible for all the technical magic behind this eBook.  Any mistakes are all my own responsibility, of course.

Don’t be shy about sharing this!

Whistling past the graveyard

Whistling past the Graveyard and on beyond the Bridge

 

( A tale commonly told in many forms, but in this instance the author, a  man of integrity in the re-telling of tales heard by him, assures his readers of it’s absolute veracity )

 

“Terence and Jerome, such fine sounding names,” Surgeon Westropp paused carefully then added, “for two such disreputable, down right ruffians, blackguards and…”

reilig3                  “Body snatchers?” suggested James Hartley, one of his old friends from their days studying medicine in Edinburgh.

The three of them chuckled at the irony.  James Hartley, Richard Westropp and William Percy were gathered around the Surgeon’s fireside.  The servants had been dismissed once the needs of the two travellers from London had been met.  They were now refreshed and eager to spend an evening of conviviality together.

They had much indeed to discuss as they sipped the fine Brandy offered by Richard.  Smuggled no doubt, thought Hartley, recalling the many coves and inlets along the coast on the final leg of their arduous journey.  Still, he was appreciative of the warming alcohol and the tobacco filled long-stemmed clay pipes resting ready for them beside their comfortable chairs.

“Nonetheless, needs must, eh, Richard, needs must,” William Percy offered aloud.

“While the laws stand as they are at present, I’m afraid gentlemen, the advancement of our Scientific Enquiries must rely on using such distasteful methods, carried out by such dubious characters.”

With a typical Scotsman’s droll humour Hartley observed that no matter how distasteful employing the likes of the finely named Jerome and Terence was to them, they in turn were equally likely to find plying their trade distasteful.

The three old friends laughed uproariously at the image thus presented, of two such fellows digging by the pale light of a half hidden lantern to recover the body, newly laid to rest.  Who knew what West Country superstitions they had to overcome?  Still, that was the work they were prepared to undertake in their quest for golden guineas, payable on delivery of a corpse suitable for their quest in the pursuit of the aforementioned Scientific Enquiry.

“So William, what latest news have you brought us from London?”  Westropp asked.  “As you can see this is a rather remote place, the mail coaches take forever to arrive and the ships around these waters are mainly engaged in fishing.”  Pouring them more of his fine  Brandy from his Waterford Crystal decanter he added, “with some additions to their income!”

William Percy mused aloud, “silver the herring and silver the coins, eh?  Yes, I have matters of interest to us, matters that should encourage us in our mutual endeavours.”

He reached down beside him and took some papers from his leather satchel.  He passed these over to the others before reaching down again.  This time he removed a finely bound volume. Balancing it on his knee he waited quietly while the others leafed through the material he had brought them, eagerly trying to absorb all they could.

“There’s a Bill to be brought before The House which would advance our cause!”  Westropp was astonished, he had never expected to see Parliament consider, even for a moment, the use they and others wished to make of the deceased.

Hartley, reading from The Spectator, intoned, “a Bill is being prepared by the Select Committee to inquire into the needs of the medical profession in the matter of teaching and learning essential anatomy.”

“Alas, you may temper your enthusiasm, gentlemen,” Percy cautioned them.  “The Archbishop of Canterbury has already spoken in Lords against any changes to the 1752 Murder Act.  I am afraid he is not alone in such opposition.”

He drew a broadsheet from out of his well supplied satchel.

“Let me read you this from an otherwise intelligent man, William Corbett, who was nonetheless able to put forth these few words, ‘…they tell me it was necessary for the purposes of Science?  Why, who is Science for?  Not for the poor people.  Then, if it be necessary for the purposes of Science, let them have the bodies of the rich, for whose benefit Science is cultivated.”

Westropp explode, “Nonsense!  Science benefits us all, rich and poor alike.  Why, Jenner saved the milkmaids with his vaccine, did he not?”

The other signified their agreement with this irrefutable argument while Hartley, again with his native droll humour, informed them that the common folk in Aberdeen were known to say that there were no pockets in shrouds.

Taking up again the matter of their coming together Percy proposed, “so we are decided then, we must continue as heretofore.  Westropp, your chaps will deliver, no doubt?”

Their host reassured them both, “by morning we shall be ready to proceed apace,” continuing he asked, “you mentioned in your correspondence some new study which might better guide our enquiries?”

“Here it is,” said Percy, holding aloft the precious tome.  He read the title aloud, ”The Anatomy Of The Human Body, by Andrew Fyffe.”  He smiled as he mentioned the name of their old Anatomy Professor in Edinburgh.

“But this is wonderful, wonderful indeed,” Westropp called out.  “How has this come about?  I understood poor old Fyffe died a few years ago, reached the fine old Biblical three score and ten, I believe.”

Hartley could not resist observing, “it’s one thing for him in his day and us in ours to study the dead in order to serve the living.  It beggars belief that the dead should now be induced to present us with their findings!”

As the posthumously published volume was passed around and commented on they planned some of the areas they wished to explore in the morn.  It was only when the light began to dim as the candles guttered down that they were reminded of the necessity for a good nights sleep.

With no trace of his previous wit as they focused on the serious business at hand, Hartley wondered aloud were their two ruffians already on their way about their grim business.  With such thoughts, an admixture of Science, Law-breaking and Speculation as to the Phase of the Moon, would it help or hinder their suppliers, they eventually retired for the night.

For Terence and Jerome the end of the night was a long way off, they knew exactly the phase of the moon.  They needed a certain amount of light, enough to work by, but not so much as to reveal their work to anyone else on the roads that night.

“Cloudy night,” Jerome observed as they gathered the tools of their trade to put in the rough-hewn home-made barrow they used.

“Chance of rain, might keep everyone in by the fire,” he continued.  There was still no reply from Terence.  He was concentrating on applying to the wheel’s axle copious amounts of the pork grease he had carefully saved for just this purpose.  Eventually satisfied he tried wheeling the cumbersome vehicle back and forth to further spread quietening grease.

“Still a squeak,” he muttered.  His fingers scooped out more from the wooden bowl he used.  Deftly he applied as much as he could.  “Lean back on the handles,” he told his confederate.

Jerome knew what he meant.  Leaning down hard he raised the wheel off the ground.  Terence was thus able to spin the wheel and apply the required grease.  Satisfied now he nodded to Jerome.  Without further ado they proceeded to load their necessities.  A coarse blanket lined the interior of the barrow and on this they placed their short handled shovels and picks.  In went two lanterns, each with only side clear, the remainder deliberately blackened by candle smoke.  The cargo was completed with some ropes attached to iron hooks.  When the whole had been covered over by the sides of the blanket, to further muffle any rattling sounds, they were on their way.

Not normally the most talkative of men it was easy for them to proceed with the necessary quietness.  The intermittent light projected by the quarter moon was sufficient for eyes accustomed to seeing in the dark.  Poaching, by land or water, along with nights spent working with smugglers, nights when you could be sure the Excise men would not be abroad, instead confined to their home fires, these had all given them eyes that could see where others would be left peering helplessly into a shapeless dark.

Wordless, without a sound, they went on their way.

At the graveyard they located the fresh mound of clay and set about their business.  The work was warm, Jerome removed his jacket first.  Terence followed suit, handed him his own coat and whispered, “hang them on those railings there, behind the lamps, that’ll help block them out from the gate.”reilig2

“That’s good, about the only thing good about those damned railings!”

They were both in no doubt about why the custom was growing that those who could afford them had taken to placing sharp-tipped iron railings around their family graves.  The height of a man’s chest they could still be climbed over readily enough, but they would restrict their movements such that digging would be nigh impossible.  As for raising a coffin, emptying it’s contents, transferring said contents to a barrow, all out of the question in such confined spaces.  If this trend continued they would soon be forced out of this line of work.

It was a lucrative line of work indeed.  Not only did the body fetch golden Guineas when duly delivered, but there were coins holding eyes closed to collect.  Oftentimes rings, necklaces, lockets, trinkets and tokens could be gleaned.

It was really a matter of luck, good luck for them, bad luck for the mourners who had placed such items intending them to remain for eternity in the grave.

Hands and muscles were toughened by a lifetime of manual labour, including spells of breaking stones in the prison yards after petty sessions in Yeovil Courthouse.  They soon made short work of the earth between them and their goal.  Nicely loosened by the gravediggers the clay soon gave way to the satisfying sound of iron on wood.

“Bring over one of those,” Jerome, now standing on the coffin lid, asked.  Terence moved one of the lamps to the head of the grave where it cast enough extra light for them to finish this part of the night’s work.

Effortlessly switching to the picks they soon levered them under the coffin and were able to pass the ropes through the space thus created.  After that it was a matter of moments to have the lid removed once their burden was hauled up on to ground level.

By now they were wearing cloths, well doused with vinegar, across their mouths and noses.  They also knew to to step swiftly back and let the stench of rotting flesh waft away on the faint breeze.  When the initial rush of decay had passed, and the vinegar was defence enough, they examined their prey.

It was a good result, two pennies held two eyes closed, quickly scooped into two pockets.  A fine locket on a golden chain was next, followed by a golden ring which did not slip easily from a swollen finger.  Still they knew the Surgeon would not complain.  This one, in spite off the smell and now some extra bruising, was fresh enough.

While they set about covering over their traces the corpse rested patiently in the barrow.  More talkative now, their own version of ‘whistling past a graveyard’, Terence said, “I heard a tale told in ‘The Admiral Benbow’ the other day.”

“Aye, and what was that,” Jerome asked, cheerful now that he had something in his pocket, now that he was sure of more.  Mention of the Inn rose a thirst in him that he knew would be quenched soon enough and well enough.

Terence paused, pulling the cloth down from his face, “there were two fellows caught up Bristol way, for doing this,” he nodded towards the half-filled grave.

“You sure of that,” asked Terence. Such news was a serious matter.

“Certain sure, the news came in on the coach and that drunk of a schoolmaster read it off the penny papers.

“What happened them?”

“Nothing yet, the case is listed to be heard at the next Assizes”.

“God help them!”  He suddenly thought to ask, “here, how did it come about they were caught, were the Magistrates on to them, watching?”

“No, not that,” although they both involuntarily glanced around, “simple really, they were stupid and greedy.”

Jerome waited, it was a grim prospect, being found guilty of grave robing.  He was sure as could be of a few things, that they had learned their trade well, that no-one else, apart from the Surgeon, knew they did this.  They never left any signs of their work, no-one would ever know.

“Greed was their downfall, one them did a bit of tinsmith’s work.  He took the four brass handles, changed them a little, added a base and there you were, four fine matching candlesticks.

With that they took hold of the handles on either side and pitched the coffin into waiting space.  As Jerome added the lid Terence continued.

“That was all well and good until the desire came on him to turn the candlesticks into ready cash.  Off he went then to the nearest and soonest fair, over Glastonbury way.”

They were now well into the back filling, their spades working together in a fine rhythm.

“The man who’d made the coffin was at the same fair, needless to say, he knew his own work and that was the end of that.  I hear tell he got a nice reward from the Magistrates for his news and he got the brass again, did well enough all told.”

By now their work in the graveyard was done.  The blanket was placed under and over the body in the barrow and they were quickly on their way.

At first the going was perfect, dark but not too dark.  Quiet, not a soul about but themselves.  It was a satisfactory night’s work until, without warning, they heard approaching from behind them the clatter of cantering horse’s hooves.

“Quick, turn in here!” Terence  needed no second telling, in a matter of seconds they had twisted the barrow to the side and off the road.  They threw themselves down, faces pressed into the dirt lest bright they might shine out of the gloom, drawing attention to themselves.

Their luck held, whoever else was abroad in the dead of night was intent on their own affairs and sped past.

Jerome and Terence emerged from their wayside hiding place, brushing yet more dirt and earth from their already filthy clothes.  Together they wrestled the barrow and it’s load back on to the road and went about their journey.

It was no good.  A few steps told them something was wrong.  The barrow squeaked and squealed.  No matter how hard they tried to wrestle their burden it could not be kept going in a straight line.  The hurried exit from the road had twisted their axle and wheel.

A few more minutes of cursing did nothing to improve either their temper, or the wheel.  “Here,” said Jerome in desperation, “put this damn thing over my shoulders and tie it on with that rope there.  We may go on as best we can, even on foot.”

Terence did as he was told and while Jerome struggled up the road with his horrific load hid the barrow behind some wayside bushes.  Running to catch up he said, “there’s that old tin mine up ahead, just beyond the bridge.  Wait for me at the bridge while I take a quick look around, there might be a bit of an old handcart lying around.”

He was quickly gone, swallowed up in the gloom.  Jerome staggered forward, the burden of dead weight pressing him down.  By the time he reached the bridge he was in a lather of sweat.

With an iron will and screaming muscles he made it as far as the mid-way point across the bridge before he stopped.  With relief he tried to arrange himself in such a way he could sit and wait.  It wasn’t easy, he struggled to place the corpse with it’s legs dangling over one side of the parapet, legs dangling above the steep  drop to the swift flowing waters far below.

He took a section of the rope he had used to secure the rotting body to himself, lifted it slightly, then sat himself upon the roadside edge of the parapet.  The rope across his chest jerked upwards to his scrawny neck.  Once more the corpse plummeted down into empty space, to a watery grave this time.  Cleanly, swiftly, the rope cut through the grave robbers throat.  His headless corpse slumped forward, back resting  against the wall, going nowhere now, awaiting the approaching dawn and eventual discovery.

The Surgeon and his learned friends, to their scientific delight were asked by the Magistrates to assist in the investigation by preparing a report, based on the scene on the bridge and it’s surrounds.

Terence was never heard of afterwards but then again, he was never missed by anyone.  It is said that the local blacksmiths almost immediately began to prepare iron sharp tipped graveside railings for future anticipated sales.reilig4

Searching For Love

Searching for love
Lorraine watched, in a carefully furtive manner, as the red tail lights disappeared around the corner. Their house, their first home, had only a small paved area in front so it was easy observe any traffic passing along the street.
Her husband’s, their car, turned right at the junction, gone for the evening, again. The street lights cast a sheen on the window allowing them a glimpse of her own ghostly reflection.
‘A ghost, that’s what I am now, a fucking ghost,” she murmured aloud.
Her never seen, felt and never touched, a resident ghost, that’s what I am now!” She was louder now, consciously so, why wouldn’t she be, the silent house was her’s to fill with whatever sound she chose.
About to turn away something in her movement caught the street light in the window from a reflective angle.
“Nothing wrong with me, is there ghost?”
A quick appraisal, hair still shoulder length, no lines on the face, at least not in the window pane. He once praised her ‘cute nose’, “and my luscious lips,” aloud again, angrier now.
“Nothing wrong with me,” she almost shouted, turning to face the empty room. A surge of adrenaline fuelled by anger, aggravated by a sense of the unfairness of it all got her moving, drove her to the kitchen.
Classic hits were her thing, usually the radio was set to a station broadcasting an endless stream of songs and dance tunes she knew so well even the first few notes, before a single lyric, was enough to re-kindle a memory, generate a smile.
The opening bars of Abba’s ‘Chiquitita’ were enough for her to silence the radio. Cradling a coffee, reckless at this hour, especially while she seethed with already heightened emotions, she wandered back to the living room.
“I wonder,” she murmured, somehow feeling better already, comforted even by such a simple thing as being able to speak aloud. “Talking to myself, better than anyone else here right now, ‘hello’”, she called even louder, “no just me, the ghost, just me.”
When the screen burst into life she automatically turned to Facebook, scanning through other people’s lives. It didn’t help. The whole world seemed to be posting pictures of themselves, their lovers, their families, friends, cats and dogs.
“Pull yourself together, Lorraine, this won’t do,” she muttered.
Leaving Facebook she was about to check out TV listings for the evening when a thought occurred to her.
“What are you up to?” If her fingers hesitated over the keyboard she certainly never noticed it. With a few masterfully determined strokes she had logged out of her account and called up his home screen.
“Now, Paddy dear, let’s see what you’ve been up to.”
When Lorraine entered her own name as his password and found it worked she felt a pang of guilt. “Not changed, still me,” she wondered for a moment if she had been imagining things. “Maybe I’m the one who’s changed, not him,”
Reaching for her coffee she sat back, confused, uncertain, lonely.
“Fuck it, you should be here, where are you?”
For over an hour she worked through his virtual world as best she could. There was nothing there she didn’t already know, nothing. There was nothing to be found that could cause her to worry even more than she already was, nothing.
The last thing she checked was his version of Calendar. It was the same story, she couldn’t see anything out-of-place, yet an unformed thought still nagged away at the back of her head, she still had a troubling, worrying sensation that all was not what it seemed, there was something wrong, something she couldn’t quite grasp.
“That’s it, nothing is the answer.”
With renewed determination she attacked the keyboard, skilfully stroked the mousepad. In his version of Calendar months passed by in a blur until she paused.
There it was. Finally nothing became something.
Evenings they had spent together, restaurant reservations, arrangements for weekends away, they were all there in among bills due, bills paid, meetings to attend, work related deadlines. His life, her life entangled and intertwined together. Then it stopped, there was no him and her, it was all work, all business, the diary entries tracking a life separating, falling apart.
“The curious case of the blank calendar,” she whispered, “so I’m not crazy after all, what happened then and what now?”
She cradled the by-now cold cup, smelling the faint aroma of coffee dregs. “I’m right,” she said but felt no better for knowing it, no comfort in saying it aloud.
A few days later during a slight lull at work she looked around, wondering who among her colleagues would be best to approach.
The manager, was he one? Perhaps Miss Potter, prim and proper as the called her but never in her hearing. Did she too have a secret persona, a safe place where she unveiled herself to lovers, released her wild side buried deep beneath the frowning forehead, the pursed lips?
What about Wandering Wayne? Forever rambling about the place, dodging any real work, what exactly was he running from? There was another layer to his name. Were there other hidden levels beneath the ever smiling exterior? at office parties when girls were tiddly and giggly he liked to let his hands wander. Was that really as playful as he claimed when apologising the following day?
From the little she had learned it seemed everyone on the internet was hiding behind a false name.
She had a lot more to learn and looking around some more realised that Shirley was her girl. She was a rare mix of wild and free at times yet sensible enough and definitely capable of keeping a trusted confidence, this she knew from experience. Shirley then it should be, all that was necessary was the right moment and the right mood. Time would deliver both and sure enough in due course it did.
“That’s a strange question,” Shirley replied.
Lorraine ignored any implicit suggestion that her mousey life would never include surfing the net for a partner.
Honesty, or at least partial disclosure, was the best policy, she decided.
“Shirley, I wouldn’t even begin to try to pull the wool over your eyes. I think I just want to try a little harmless online fun, no one need ever know, except you of course. I know I can rely on you to keep anything to yourself.”
Shirley hesitated, slightly, “really? Gosh, I never thought of that, well, ok then. Bit unexpected but still, hey, why not, a girls gotta do and all that?”
“That’s great,” Lorraine felt a sudden rush of renewed enthusiasm, a scheme shared was a scheme made feasible, even in merely sharing.
With Shirley’s help and guidance Lorraine developed what they thought was an interesting profile and more importantly only posted it where they felt it would be safe. They settled on not using a photo, instead Lorraine chose an avatar using the Mona Lisa. The enigmatic expression, the knowing smile and the eyes that followed you everywhere appealed to her.
The same image as an avatar intrigued Peter, whoever this mysterious Laura Byrne was she had caught his eye, even more, she piqued his curiosity and held his attention. His fingers gently, slowly and carefully caressed the keyboard bringing to life the first delicately flowering words of interest.
Now Lorraine could look to forward to time on her own, time to herself. It was fun and she was certain was harmless inconsequential fun. No harm could of this ghostly online imitation of herself.
“Shirley, you’re a genius,” she whispered to the screen as she clicked on yet another message drawn to this other Lorraine, her alter ego Laura.
Paddy was surprised by how easy it seemed, chatting to this unknown woman. It was no bother to share feelings, eventually fears, troubles, hopes, interests with her. It was remarkable how much they had in common. Interacting with the Mona Lisa he was drawn away from all the worries and fears he had about his marriage.
Here was a woman he could be with anytime.
Be with?
Why not, little ideas unchecked and then nourished can grow into big ones and become a source of courage, or was it recklessness? Paddy decided against over analysing as he always did. Impulse, action, time to, move, wasn’t it? The final barriers of hesitance fell away. He was ready. Was she?
There were times she felt more Laura than Lorraine. The freedom to unburden herself to an unseen, unknown man was something she was coming to cherish. One evening, when Paddy was out, again, she was chatting easily online when she laughed aloud. Nothing unusual about that anymore, not during these comforting sessions.
This time the laughter sprang from the oddest of thoughts. Long ago as a young girl approaching what became the turmoil and pitfalls of puberty, she still attended Confession. In the comforting security of the darkness, speaking to the unseen whispered voice behind the wire mesh, she had been able to rid herself of troublesome and disturbing thoughts.
Now the faint light was the glow of the laptop screen and the voice was something to read, aloud if she liked, but otherwise unheard.
The effect was similiar to what she felt as a girl but now as a grown woman, much better. Maybe the time had come to hear the unheard and to meet the unseen, face to face and not on-screen.
It was a beautiful evening, the warm air still lingered from a fine summer’s day. Paddy strolled with a confident air towards the cafe by the canal. he would be early, it was good to relish slowly a turn he felt coming in his life. The red carnation he carried would be on the table and when it was joined by a white the evening would truly begin. Mona Lisa was surely the woman for him.
The white carnation Lorraine had plucked impishly from a neighbour’s garden where she knew it grew twirled in her fingers as she held on to the confidence to turn the final corner to the cafe by the canal.

For the taxman, a love story

For the taxman, a love story

When she said she was having an affair I didn’t believe her, as simple as that, I just did not believe her. Not of course that she ever put it that way. She never looked me straight in the eye, over a second cup of coffee or a drink, and said, “Sheila, I’m having an affair.”
I don’t suppose people say things like that; “I’m having an affair,” I mean. It’s more like a word they use in books, or magazine articles, or even on early morning chat shows, but never heard, or said by real people. You know the sort of things you hear.
“Good morning, we have a lot of interesting items for you today, why are dogs roaming our streets? The Greenhouse Effect, is it responsible for our atrocious weather? But first, affairs, who’s having them and why, are they sometimes necessary, how common are they?”
However, this is not about the significance of words as used in magazines and on radio, or words as used in real lives, your’s or mine. This is about Anne. Anne and her…, what shall we say then? Entanglement? Sounds spidery. Relationship? God bless her and all who sail therein.
“There’s something I want to tell you.”
That I remember is how she began, “there’s something I want to tell you.”
I suppose as well that as any other foolish way of trying to tell me, her best, indeed almost at times, her only friend, that she, Anne, of all people, was now and had been for sometime past, going out with a man who was married. To someone else.
In telling me all of this she came at it in a roundabout way. That particular conversation, I remember, was going along fine, right up to the point where she said she was seeing someone on a regular basis.
Good for you, I thought.
She liked him, she said, and yes, they had been to bed together.
Why not, I thought, why not.
I needn’t tell you I was interested. I was pleased for her, we were after all, really very good friends and then she said, “the only thing is, he’s married.”
I said nothing. Neither, for a while, did Anne. I don’t know what I thought, what could I say? I asked her what he was like.
“What do you mean,” she snapped, “what’s he like? He’s married, that’s what he’s like!”
Do you know, I could not disagree with that. No matter how hard either of us might try on that point we both knew she was right. Anything else she could or would say, was totally and completely irrelevant beside that one great statement.
He was married. Needless to say he, they, had children. Three of them, two boys, one girl. They had a fifteen year old marriage, personal problems, obviously, financial problems and now, an Anne problem. Well at least he had, or knew he had. Bernie was the other third of this cosy little threesome and she as yet knew nothing. She also had an Anne problem but lived on for the moment, in ignorant bliss.
Anne, who did some baby-sitting from time to time. Nice, harmless , poor old Anne, who actually worked in the same building as Bernie, well what can I say? Those two, Anne and Bernie, Bernie and Anne, shared an awful lot more than working together on monthly motor-tax returns.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not that old-fashioned and I would never dream of judging anyone else. I have my own life to live and I always say let others live theirs. I’m single, mid-thirties and I’ve never slept with a married man but I’m no prude. The only reason I mention any of this is that I was so stung when Anne said, “the trouble with you is you’re becoming so bitter.”
That was so unfair, it was really uncalled for. I mean we are such good friends and the only reason she said that was because I could see no future in what they were at and told here so in no uncertain terms. After all, what are friends supposed to be for? If I couldn’t say these things who could? How could she think they’d be any different? All married men who have such, involvements, said they would and never could leave their wives and certainly not their children. That’s what I felt and that’s what I said.
But that came later, at first I listened to her, all her sympathy for David and his problems. I listened to her delight in the things they did and the places they went and the people they met. think of it! They actually went about together, a public pair, a couple who met other couples who sometimes knew and sometimes didn’t. They weren’t so bold around here of course. That wouldn’t be David’s style, as far as I could gather from Anne. However, there are other places, it’s a small world now, London is merely short hop, accountants travel and Paris is only a weekend trip.
I listened to it all. I didn’t say very much, just a few pertinent comments now and then, but when she said I was bitter, well, we just didn’t see each other after that, not for quite some time.
I will admit I was upset when I realised she wasn’t coming around anymore. I missed the company, but I put all that behind me and carried on.
I heard various bits and pieces through mutual acquaintances, the sort of people you know well enough to swap a few words with at bar counters. I’m sure you know the type as well as I do, jumpers slung casually around their shoulders with the sleeves hanging over their breasts, ordering drinks with notes folded lengthways pointing towards the barman, “hello there, gosh I haven’t seen you in ages, how’s whatshername?”
On that sort of grapevine I heard that Anne had gone away on some sort of course and then, for a good while, I hear no more.
Until, well really, there she was. That’s it exactly. The bell rang one evening and there she was and then we were inside and we talked and talked.
Oh, the things she told me!
I’ve never had a ringside view of a fight but this was as good as. The language she used! I’ve never heard such words before and I’m glad of it.
Naturally it had all ended badly. There was no need for me to say I’d known all along this would be the case. Any fool could have seen that. Mind you, I have to admit it didn’t end exactly the way I thought it might, perhaps it was, if anything, even worse than that.
Bernie and David had separated, the business had finally proven too much, he’d gone working for another firm. Anne had stopped seeing him, she’d gone back to him, they fought, they made it up, they fought again.
Now I heard her say, “it’s over for good this time, no question of it, I’ll never have anything to do with that bastard again.”
So she said but I couldn’t help wondering what would be so different about this time. Of course I asked her straight out and with a bit of dithering and a lot of beating about the bush she finally told me. It was something else all right. David must be a very fine accountant indeed, but whatever about accountancy he’d get full marks for neck. He’d written Anne off against his tax.
I just looked at her. I don’t know which was worse, to do such a thing, or having done it, to tell her. I suppose in a way it was something which made a perverted kind of sense.
It seems that after Bernie and David had gone their separate ways, Bernie returned to work and claimed the full married couples tax credit. Now that was reasonable enough to my way of thinking, he wasn’t working for a while and had no need of any tax credits. But then, when he did land himself a job, what did he do? He got a little bit greedy, not surprising, considering his track record, and being greedy he used mother’s maiden name as surname when he went about settling his tax, claimed he’d been working abroad and that Anne was his dependant spouse.
Anne, being neither spouse nor dependant, was livid when she heard this. He talked about different tax districts and she talked about the right to live her own life and on that sort of note they parted.
“Forever, I’m telling you, I’ll never see him again, or have anything to do with him, nothing, just absolutely nothing!”
So she said, but when she had taken all the tea and sympathy I had to offer, when she was gone, I sat and thought it over for a while.
Anne had dived in deep in the first place. She’d risked her name, her friends, everything, for this David. Would she do the same again? Look at this tax thing, I thought, something should be done about that.
He’d get away with it, thousand sand thousands of people paying income tax and who’s going to notice a little thing like that? I’ve thought about it a lot lately and the more I think about it the more I feel it’s wrong. I don’t want to see Anne hurt even more, but I don’t think she would be. He’s the one who’s cheating the system, not her.
She needn’t come into it at all, just the fact that this man is making false declarations on official forms. If it’s to be done maybe i should wait until the right time, the end of the tax year would be just about right.
Yes, that would gave me time to think it through. After all, I don’t want to rush into things, I just want to do what’s right.

Still waters run deep

Still Waters Run Deep

The other lads didn’t mind him much, one way or the other.  He was never so forceful that he annoyed anyone.  Although quiet he sometimes said something reasonably witty, sharp, to the point.  He usually smiled and it was easy to have him around.  Everyone else was too absorbed with themselves to notice much or care much anyway.

There was a lot of preening to be done.  Not that they would call it that, or think of it as such.  When they were younger they would impress the girls, they thought, by pulling their hair then running away.  Later, growing physical imperatives led to bouts of sudden semi-feigned wrestling, miniature trials of strength, challenges that rarely led anywhere.

Fundamentally they were too close as friends for too long to allow anyone to be seriously hurt  If they had ever thought about such things that is the conclusion they would likely have to come to.

Rarely, however, did their thoughts run so deep.

Tim, however had  a knack, a flair for deeper thought.  At times he felt this a blessing, frequently it felt like a curse.  He once told a girl that he could remember a moment when he had really started thinking, as if a switch in his head had been pressed and there was no way he could turn it off again.  He wasn’t sure if she understood, something he often experienced.

More literate and absorbed by literature than the others with their horse play, he often saw and felt things differently, as far as he could tell.  All too often, when his friends indulged in elaborate attention seeking situations in the presence of girls, he could be seen smiling away to himself.

Saying little, never joining in, no threat to anyone he was deemed to be simply happy enough and easy to be around.

Making connections, seeing one thing in another, these  were the ways he thought, tried to understand the world.

The antics of the others often reminded him of Tom Sawyer walking barefoot, precariously balanced, along a white picket fence, to attract the attention of, to impress, the golden curls of Becky Thatcher.

The antics differed, the motives remained the same.

As time went he would occasionally notice someone among the girls quietly watching him quietly watching the others.  When they both noticed each other’s awareness he found it easy to maintain eye contact.  Easy to smile in a different, more knowing way.  A slight toss of girlish hair, a hand brushing away stray lock behind an ear was often the signal to look away, to close the moment.

The language of such signals was one he found it easy and natural to read.  He could always recall such an incident later and so a girl became in his eyes different from others.  Such brief contact was often enough for him to build on later, to seek out ways and means of becoming closer.

Observing girls he had come to learn that their behaviours were really just feminine versions of the boyish boisterousness he had grown up with.  The same competitive jostling for status and notice was there.  The weapons of choice were different.  Where the girls were more subtle, the boys were more direct.

Colours and styles were their battlegrounds.  In trying to outshine each other they tried to sparkle in the eyes of their target audience.  Tim noticed that their very best efforts, being directed more among themselves, were often totally unnoticed  by his friends.  Absorbed in their own competitions they were mostly too busy to notice the pearls laid at their feet.

Over time pairings parted from the others, became besotted for a while before couples uncoupled and returned to their prospective groups.

Little eddies and whirlpools of gossip flowed from these pairing.  Tim was initially unsure of his bearings, these were after all uncharted waters for them all.

Sooner than others he found his depth.

The secret was simple.  Listen carefully, that way he could take soundings.  Quietly he listened, quietly he heard much.  Often it was an expression of gratitude.

“You’re such a good listener!  Why can’t he be like you!”

Tear falls ended in kisses laid upon his cheeks, accompanied by bright eyed smiles before his latest confidante slipped away again.  He learned much, absorbed more, pondered the rest with his usual quiet thoroughness.

As the quiet listener he heard all the boasting the boys did.  The crude commentary they gave on the girls they had been with he found distasteful.  There was much discussion of what they would do, given half a chance.

Anyone asked, “did you?” always replied, “I did!”

For all their coded language of delight Tim increasingly noticed that in the actual presence of their female friends, for the most part they fell silent.  They became tongue tied, bashfully grinning at each other.  All the while the girls chatted away among themselves.

Small wonder then that Tim so often heard, “you’re such a good listener.”

When his friends asked him how he got on he would say with smile and a shrug, ‘oh you know, all right.”  Perceived as no threat, not quite part of the game, he was then politely ignored.

Inwardly he would remember from some old film he could never quite recall, “ a gentleman does not kiss and tell.”

He would savour the phrase, rolling it around on his tongue.

There was always a lot of kissing, a lot more than kissing and he never did tell.

Tim may have held his tongue but the girls, being girls, did not.  Even the good listener never heard what tales were passed around among themselves, what details revealed.  They all knew who was sloppy, who was awkward and clumsy, above all who to watch out for.

One of the boys, once, came close to a truth but failed to understand.  Asking his girlfriend about Tim and the girls she said with a knowing smile, “still waters run deep.”

The last hobo

The last true hobo

hobo

If you looked too closely at him you could imagine him giving you the Evil Eye.  That’s what the old women called him, ‘The Evil Eye’.  You’d hear them call as he passed down their streets.

“Here Johnny-Jamey-Jacinta-Mary-Michael-Dawn-Deirdre, (or pathetic forgotten celebrity of eight years previous) come on in, I’ve got orange-ice cream-biscuits-clean T-shirt-cartoons-games!”

All reasons to leave the street, to come in before he got too close, before he might look at them, or worse attract their attention and have them teasing him.  Who knew what the consequences of that might be?

I don’t suppose the children thought much about him anyway.  To them he was just a shadow passing through.  A muttering scarecrow of ill-fitting clothes flapping behind him in the breeze.  Sometimes he pushed an old shopping cart, directionless wheels announcing his impending arrival in high pitched squeals.  When I picked one like that I seethed with supermarket rage.  He was oblivious to that, scruffy Karma followed him like a dusty halo.

He came, he went.  He was noticed, then unseen.  There was no pattern discernible.  He wasn’t a swallow, arriving in Spring, disappearing heralding late autumn.  Master of his own Odyssey he came, he went.

Others somewhat like him were known around town.  Never good enough to rise to higher modern standards to be called buskers, still they performed on the streets.  We were all familiar with their limited musical repertoires.

One woman sat on cardboard sheets at the edge of the street.  She endlessly sang sad songs, stories of poor lost children.  Designed to tug at the heart strings, followed by the purse strings of passers-by, they usually failed with locals.  Tourists sometimes gave, took pictures and perhaps wondered how could a town be so heartless.  It depends on what you know really, doesn’t it?

Competing with her for street rankings was Mr. Saxophone Man.  No-one knew his name but everyone knew his tune, or rather his lack of one.  At a distance from the sad lady, lest the competition for coins drag them both down, he plied his trade.  Some said he played endlessly differing parts of the melody of “La Vie en Rose.”  Others said he simply overlaid a backing track with a few notes from practice scales.  None gave money, except perhaps the poor tourists who may have smiled at his slight touch of the exotic.

These and others like them were almost fixtures, part of the street furniture.  The wandering man was never like that.  He was in no way predictable, if he received alms he gave nothing in return.  His was a name I never learned.  He was the man with the wild grey hair, even wilder beard.  When not pushing a trolley his hands swung wild and free, as if he didn’t know how to control them.

If his comings and goings were erratic, there was one feature I eventually noticed was a fixed one.  He always carried a battered satchel.  The colour might vary, like-wise anything resembling style, but it was always there, some sort of satchel slung across his chest like the bandolier of an old time guerilla.  What it might contain, I could not imagine.

One evening, simply enough, solved the mystery.  On a warm, summer’s evening I arrived early at a cafe where myself and fellow poets often met to share our words and enjoy fine coffees into the bargain.  Sitting outside, enjoying the pleasant air I found I was on the same public bench as the wayfaring stranger.  He glanced at me as I sat down, making eye contact, even going so far as to nod.

This was intriguing indeed.

Pretending to be fascinated by the swallows swooping carelessly across the clear blue sky I watched as he untangled the straps across his chest.  Curiosity piqued, I waited to see what would emerge.

A laptop he laid across his knees was quickly opened and before he began tapping the keys I noticed he glanced across the street.  A fast food outlet was in our line of vision, quiet now ahead of the later evening rush.

I must have been staring in astonishment because he grinned and for the first time ever I heard him speak.  What accent he had, where he came from, I couldn’t afterwards say, being so surprised that he spoke at all, never mind what he said.

“They have an unsecured wi-fi over there.”

He nodded towards the shop across the street.  Tapping away expertly he added, “the signal’s strong enough to cross over.”

My friends were arriving by now, calling greetings, inviting me in, so I left the bench and repaired to the Cafe with them.  Behind me I knew I left a true knight of the road, the last of the hobos, hitching a ride on another man’s connection to the Internet SuperHighway.

 

Help me out with this, please,

fragment2

The following story was published recently by Short Story Sundays, you can find them here  http://www.shortstorysunday.com/

Now they are running a competition to choose the best story of the month, if you follow this link

https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/2JRNS6X

it will take you to the site where you can choose between four stories, including this one.  Hope you can read, enjoy, choose and vote, thanks, Kevin

Fragment of a love story, recovered

No more than the following fragments were ever found, as if a tiny piece of pottery must needs reveal to us the whole.

…so they would be safe.  However, as we think it will be is not always how it transpires.  More was expected of him, being older.  Strange then that such foolishness came from him, not from her.

She could see all the dangers, the perils behind them illuminated for her the dangers in the ways forward.

The whirlpool of passionate love swallowed her in deep.  Such reason as she at first tried to apply was soon swept away.  Together they would go wherever, do whatever, escape however.  Together they would be, forever.

In their time of troubles, in the making of them, she was not entirely innocent.  Jealous gossips later said it was pride in her own great beauty drove her to such extremes.  No woman they said, could be so unaware of her own beauty as to be senseless of it’s effects on others, no woman…

…strange how none of the jealous gossips who speak in such vicious tones are never troubled by the burdens of beauty themselves.

It was a small enough world they lived in, you could only hide in it for so long.  They never spoke of a first meeting.  Did their overwhelming love grow slowly, a great blaze from a tiny spark?  Was it perhaps a sudden light, flaring in blinding brightness through the dark night? They never said before the time came when they could no longer say.

The same gossip, oftentimes the same gossips, who were so critical of her unquestioned loveliness, were their ultimate undoing.  That is the way, the path of gossip.  Once the tales, the whispers, are unleashed they can never be unsaid.

Long years ago a wise teacher told me that if  you wished to retrieve words spoken you might as well take a pillow filled with the finest of feathers to the top of the highest mountain you could see.  There you must shake loose the feathers, turning all the while to the four corners of the world.  Repairing the damage of ill-chosen words was as easy as gathering once again each and every feather and restoring it to it’s place in the pillow.

Soon the lovers had more to contend with than words.  One day in the narrowest of lanes leading into the Great Market a clay flowerpot fell from on high.  He was lucky.  A full blow on the head from that and no surgeon, no matter how skilled, could save him.  As it was the pot hit a ledge on the sudden downward flight and fragments flew everywhere.

His scars were simply added to yet again.  The malicious gossips commenting on his ugliness compared to her much maligned beauty now had even more to say.

It did not help their cause that that one tiny fragment flew away from him, towards an old storyteller, the lane being that of the scribes, storytellers and singers.  A storyteller can be a dangerous enemy at the best of times.  One who has lost the sight of an eye, blinded by a projectile meant for another, could be a terrible source of trouble indeed.

Tellers of tales can tease the truth to torment others.  That he may have stepped into the lane from his lair of manuscripts to ponder the man of scandal passing by possibly rendered his cup of bitterness even more galling.

They say that the strange day was not finished then, they say that…

(The manuscript is unclear here, I have left out some pieces I cannot understand, dear Reader forgive me)

fragment1The lanes of the clothing for women were some distance away, at the far side of the Great Market.  This led on directly to the Quays.  Inside one of the finest shops in the best part of the lane of the finest women’s clothes she waited to try on something new.

The owner, an older woman who wisely presented herself plainly to her customers, helped her in her choosing.  In her plainness the woman of the shop supported the faith of her customers in their own beauty.  Alone, when evening had come, when the doors and shutters were firmly closed, the candles lit, she had the choice of all she showed to others during the day.  All the wonderful colours, fabrics, dyes, scents, powders, jewels, sandals, shoes were hers to choose.  it was the and only then, she would reveal to herself and her many mirrors the truth of her own loveliness.

With her customers she gave pride of place to them, by false praise she lined her pockets, all the while attracting no attention, or jealousy, to herself.

That day the woman in love, in exhilarating, disapproved, scandalous love, glowed with the inner beauty of all women in the first flushes of the blinding light of love.  Truly, she needed no further enhancements, no more adornments.  Yet she could not resist the allure of the fine materials the woman of the shop laid out for her.

It was the older woman who picked out clothes she could try.  These were such that her customer must needs disrobe.  Stepping behind some curtains she removed her street clothes and reached her hand through to receive the chosen garments.

To her utmost horror, as she did so, the flimsy rail supporting the curtains seemed to collapse of it’s own accord.  There she was exposed, her beauty momentarily naked, unadorned.

Stranger still, even more horrifying, she caught a glimpse of a silent knot of people, women and men alike, standing around the door and the little windows.  Somehow items previously displayed on the window ledge had vanished, making the interior even more visible.

She turned her back in confusion as the woman of the shop covered her in apologies and curtains.

The image of silent figures with burning hostile eyes almost glowing in the darkness of the lane was seared in her memory.  When she could turn again they were gone, as mysteriously vanished as they had arrived.

Some say it was that very day the lovers first made their desperate plans.  Who can say?  Certainly they cannot.  It is known for certain that they were seen later beyond the lanes and narrow streets leading from the Great Market.  Far out on the Breakwater they were seen walking together.  Almost at the end they seemed to spend a long time looking out across the waves, beyond the fishing boats, far beyond the great swirling masses of white birds drifting up and down the coast.

Then, for a time, they were not seen or heard of again.  It cannot be said they were not spoken of during that time.  For sure it was not anything like the storm of stories, songs, tales  and so on that flowed later.  It could not have been, not then.

Even during that quiet time they were still spoken of but it was along with all the other affairs with which people were concerned.  The price of food, the movements of ships, the unpredictable nature of weather, the luck and otherwise of gamblers, births, deaths illnesses, these all occupied peoples thoughts and words.  In that time the two lovers were just one among many other concerns, for that little while.

Then they were gone.  One morning they were gone, no-one knew when but crowds streamed towards the quays where the cut ropes that had fastened tight one of the boats were held up as further proof f their treachery.

fragmentIt wasn’t long before other boats were made ready, there was no shortage of people to take part in the pursuit.  Swiftly the best were chosen, the boats launched, the chase begun.  There was no doubt now as to the outcome and what the terrible future would bring to them upon their return.

Surely, all thought, they had no chance…

(At this point the manuscript finally ends.  Other than some faint drawings we know no more.)

 fragment

Changing Lightbulbs

Changing Lightbulbs

It was a dark bar, not just in comparison to the strong sunshine outside, it was a dark bar by nature, by decor, sometimes by the mood of the customers.  Half an hour after opening time the bar man was idly polishing glasses while leaning against the rear counter.  The radio softly played, the volume so low that he could, if he listened for it, hear the ticking of the clock, the settling of the coals in the open fire as the sticks he’d used to start the flames burned through.  Later on there would be noise a-plenty he knew well, for now he had the place ready for the day’s trade, he could quietly enjoy the peace and prepare himself for the long shift ahead.

His quiet thoughts were interrupted by the sound of a door opening.  It was a gentle, almost apologetic sound.  From where he stood the barman couldn’t see the street door into the little lobby but he could hear it, especially in the quiet of the early day.  He had learnt a lot in his years in the job.  The interpretation of sounds was skill he had unexpectedly developed since he started work in the trade as a sixteen year old earning summer money.

Without looking he knew that whoever was coming in was hoping there would be no one there. The early hour, the hesitant step told him so much.  This was someone who wanted a drink, even so early, but also wanted discretion.  For sure he would look around before picking the darkest end of the bar.  Somewhere he could see whoever else came in, somewhere he could also make a quick and equally discreet exit out the back, through the yard, through the service gate and out on to the lane behind.  Bending down to place the polished glass on a lower shelf he also figured that if all that was true, this was someone he knew.

Straightening up he turned around and said, “morning Bill, how are you?  What can I do for you?”  He was glad he had held his tongue abruptly when he almost said, ‘long time, no see.’

Even though true, it might not be what the customer wanted to hear.  “You’re looking well,” he safely added, waiting for a reply while he quickly surveyed the man in front of him.

“Pull us a pint there, Tom, like a good man, and I’ll have a whiskey while I’m waiting.”

“No problem,” said Tom, safe to say more now that the order had been placed and the customer settled himself on a high stool at the end of the bar furthest from the main door, nearest the back door.  “Haven’t seen you for a while Bill, have you been away?”  Tom wondered what he would say, wondered again if what he had heard was true.

Sharply Bill looked at him, quickly looked away, “why, what have you heard?”  There was an edge to the man’s voice that Tom couldn’t recall being there before.

“Nothing at all, Bill, nothing at all.”  He put the whiskey and a small jug of water on the counter and turned to the beer tap, expertly holding the pint glass while the drink flowed.  He also watched surreptitiously while Bill poured a little water into the whiskey, then taking a drink savoured it for a moment as if considering what he was doing.  In an instant the contents of the glass were gone and he gave a little shudder.  Tom reckoned he was reading all the signs right this morning.

Pleased with himself he placed the pint in front the customer, saying “there you are.”

He was taking the small glass away to put it in the dishwasher when he heard, “put another drop in that while you’re at it.”

Without comment he reached up to the dispenser to refill the glass.  He heard a door open, this time the lesser used door from the yard, from the lane.  Bill turned awkwardly on his stool trying to see who was coming at him from what he clearly felt was his vulnerable side.

“They’re pouring in today,” thought Tom as another man came in, also quietly, almost shuffling.  He too checked around, taking in everything he could before mounting a stool two down the counter from Bill.  The two men were similiar in age and demeanour.

“What’ll be, Andy?” the barman enquired, expecting by now that some drink or other would be ordered.  Irrespective of the hour he knew Andy of old, although he too had been absent for a while.  Nothing to do with me, he decided, as he waited patiently, listening now to the quiet so deep that he could even hear the clock ticking.

Andy settled a little bit more, shuffling on his stool, casting sidelong glance at Bill, avoiding eye contact with the barman, edgy in every way.  He finally said, as if he had thought long and deep on a weighty subject, “pull us a pint there, Tom, like a good man, and I’ll have a whiskey while I’m waiting.”  Saying that he glanced sideways along the bar confirming to himself from what he could see that Bill had ordered the same.

When Andy had tossed off the whiskey in one go, with no water, and had worked his way through half his pint of beer and repeated his instructions to Tom, only then did he turn to his neighbour and say, “well Bill, haven’t seen you in awhile, how have you been?”

“I was thinking much the same of yourself,” Bill was swirling the end of his beer around as if he might finish up at that.  Tom decided to stand back, polish another glass and see what the two of them were at, what they might say.

“Will you have another?” Andy asked, nodding towards the glass.  Bill responded by calling the barman over, “fill these up again,” he ordered gesturing towards the glasses on the counter,  and winked discreetly at the smaller whiskey glass, making sure he understood that was to be included in the order as well.

“Thanks,” Andy said, “I’ll get the next one.”  He was satisfied now that a flow of drink had been ensured, that the man beside him was perfectly happy, by the look of him, to go along with a morning’s drinking, no question about that

Relaxed now and easy in each other’s company the two men began to talk more freely, more openly.  Andy tried again, “heard you were away for a while?” quickly adding, “I wasn’t around myself either.”

“Really?  I didn’t know that, but then again, you’re right, how would I when I was away.”  He thought for a bit and added, “where were you at anyway?  I went in for a while myself, seemed like a good idea at the time.”  He was careful not to specify anything too openly.  If Bill knew what he was saying he’d know why.

Looking carefully at his companion, pausing carefully before saying anything, Bill chanced, “I was in St Anne’s for a few weeks, things were getting on top of me a bit, had to get out of circulation for a while.”  He said no more, watching and listening for a reaction.

Andy shuffled the fresh whiskey glass in front of him around the counter in a repetitive circle, when the fresh beer appeared he lifted it, drank long, slow and carefully, placing it back on the counter carefully.  Only then did he say, “I was in New Horizons Haven myself, same as you were saying, needed to get away for a while, spend a bit of time sorting out a few things, you know how it is.”

“Aye, that’s how it is, sometimes.  It get’s to the point where you have to do something.”

Neither of them said anything for another while, each lost in his own thoughts.  Tom polished a few more glasses, wiped down the far end of the counter, left behind the bar and went to refuel the fire, by now well settled and throwing out welcome heat.  He knew of the places they mentioned, he knew hard drinkers sometimes went there for “the cure.”  There were some and he never saw them again, there were some and he only heard of them when others spoke of their funerals, there were others, like the two there now, who went away for a while and came back, still shook, but maybe less so than they were when they disappeared.  There was very little he felt he hadn’t seen or heard in his line of work down the years.  Two early morning customers talking about the treatment centres they had been in didn’t surprise him at all.

Then there were three.  The lobby door from the street entrance opened with a decisive, audible, swing.  All of them looked up to see who was coming in now.  Bill and Andy shifted slightly on their stools as if prepared to move if necessary, depending on who it was.

The newcomer strode purposefully towards the bar, nodded to the other two customers and sai, in a firm voice, almost as if rehearsed, “pull us a pint there, Tom, like a good man, and I’ll have a whiskey while I’m waiting.”

Taking his place on a stool two his hands shook as he fumbled in his pockets for money. Loose coins fell on the floor.

“Here,” said Bill, “let me help you with that Chris.”  The two of them were peering down at the floor now, scattered coins catching their eye were picked up and left on the counter.

Andy said to the barman “I’ll get that and fill the others while you’re at it.”

“Thanks,” Chris said, “I’ll get the next one.”  He settled himself back on the stool.  His hands still shook as he lifted the whiskey to his lips and drank it in one steady movement.  In the silence you could hear the glass hitting the counter as he left it down.

“So where have you been then?” asked Bill.

“I was telling him I’m just back from New Horizons,” added Andy.

Chris sipped some of the beer in front of him, his hands steadier now with the infusion of drink.  “Yes,” he said, “I noticed you weren’t around much lately.  Were you away too Bill?” Nobody said anything, Chris himself filled the silence by saying, “I came back out of the Dock Road about a month ago.  Glad to be out of there I can tell you.”

Listening while trying to appear as if he wasn’t, the very essence of his trade, Tom was replacing the paper receipts roll in the register.  It came to him after a few moments, the Dock Road Project was a new treatment centre  for addiction problems of all sorts; food, gambling, drugs and he knew from others, drink.

Contemplating the almost empty beer glass in front of him Bill asked, as if to no-one in particular, as if thinking aloud, “so how’s it been going then?”

Nearing the end of his own pint Chris said, voice stronger again, “oh, you know yourself, good days and bad days.”

“Ain’t it always the same,” interjected Andy, “doesn’t change much, does it?  You out long yourself?”

“Five weeks yesterday,” Chris replied, “fill them up there Tom, like a good man, will you please?”  His hands gestured generally towards all the empty glasses on the counter.  This time the barman took all the empties away, leaving them in the sink behind the counter, then wiping the counter in front of the three men clean.

“Fair play to you, you’re still ok.  I only got out of St. Annes myself yesterday, needn’t tell you I’m glad to be here.  I couldn’t stand it, supposed to help people, help my arse!”  His voice had a bitter tone in it matched by a twisting of his features as he spoke.

Nobody said anything as the fresh round of drinks appeared before them, as they all drank thirstily, greedily, paying attention to the glass and only ready to converse again when they were momentarily satisfied.

Andy spoke next, “I left New Horizons this morning, got the bus straight to here.  I couldn’t stand another day there.”

“So that’s your bag I nearly tripped over in the lobby then,” Chris laughed, “you were quick out of the traps.”

“The bag!  You’re right!  I nearly forgot it, I’d better bring it in out of the way.”  He made as if to move towards the street door but Tom said, “it’s all right, I’m on it,” as he retrieved the bag.  “I’ll leave it back here, you can get it later,” he said as he left it in the store room behind the bar.

“Oh yeah,” Andy continued, “I couldn’t wait to be out of there.  Shower of fecking idiots telling you what to do, asking you how do you feel.  How do you feel?  I felt like a drink, that’s what I told them, I felt like a drink.  Needless to say they weren’t impressed.”

Laughter spread along the counter, interspersed with coughing as drinks went down the wrong way.  “Good man yourself,” commented Bill, “they don’t like hearing the truth, do they?”

“For sure they don’t,” Andy went on, “always on about it themselves but not able to handle it when it’s thrown back at them, and don’t start me on counsellors!”

Just then the first of the lunchtime crowd started coming in.  Younger men and women, chattering away at higher volumes were quickly lining the bar, taking menus, drifting towards preferred corners, tables, seats.  Extra bar staff in the form of young, black uniformed waitresses appeared from doorways beyond the bar, all bearing trays and little order notebooks, ready for action.

Quickly, before it was too late and they were overlooked in the crowd, Bill said, “pull us a few pints there, Tom, like a good man, and we’ll have a whiskey while we’re waiting.”

Once the spirits were in front of them Chris said, “we’ll move back over there Tom.  Out of your way.”

“That’s right,” Andy added, “give you back a bit of counter space.”

Leaving notes on the counter Bill continued, “you can get one of the girls to bring over the pints when they’re ready.”

“Work away lads, work away,” Tom replied, already in a different, far busier frame of mind.

The three men went back towards the door leading to the lane.  A corner there formed something of an alcove and there they settled around a low circular table.  Physically they were bunched together much closer than they had been.  After the drinks they’d had so far they neither noticed nor cared.  With a full bar the background noise was much louder now.  This only served to mask their own conversation, this they knew from experience.

Bill was curious about something, he asked Andy, “you’re out five weeks and it’s still OK?”

Sharply enough the reply came, “of course it is, why wouldn’t it be?”

“Hey, he didn’t mean anything by it.  It’s just that…, you know, you were in…,” Chris interrupted Bill saying, “you were in a treatment centre, we all were.  I’m just wondering, you know, you’re out five weeks and you’re still OK.”

Sipping his pint Andy relaxed, getting the point after all. He wondered if he had been a little bit slow following what was going on. That sometimes happened, he had noticed.  He blamed the beta-blockers the Doctor prescribed for his heart flutters, which reminded him…

“Yeah, I’m doing all right.  If you lads are worrying, don’t.  Word of advice though, I’m thinking of changing Doctors.  He’s the one who persuaded me to go there in the first place, almost forced me in.”  He sipped some more, “definitely changing Doctor, he doesn’t suit at all.”

Chris turned to Bill, “how did you end up inside?  I would never have put you down as a hard drinker.”

Laughing at the idea Bill answered, “no, you won’t find me sleeping rough under Green’s Bridge drinking rotgut wine!”

“Me neither,” added Andy.

Bill took his time before continuing, “they were on to me at work.  I made a mistake and went in one Monday morning.  Early.  Not rightly ready.  I nearly slept in and just rushed out without thinking, in a panic.  I won’t get caught out that way again, needless to say!”

“God almighty, they could have given you a chance!  That was a bit drastic!” Chris exclaimed.

“They said I’d done it before and that they’d noticed drink off me before, that there had been complaints before.  I didn’t believe them, I have absolutely no memory of anything like that.”

They were silent then as some of the lunch time crowd passed by on their way out for cigarettes, laughing, smiling.

They sipped their drinks.  Bill continued, “I’ve still got a week of sick leave left.  I needn’t tell you I’m going to use it well after a few weeks in St. Anne’s!”

“Good man yourself,” Chris encouraged him.

“Yeah, well done Bill.  There’s a bit slack up at the bar now, I’ll get us some more. Same again I presume lads?” Andy asked.

The other two nodded assent.  Carrying some of the glasses with Andy made his way to the counter.

Tom turned around from completing an operation at the till, noticed Andy and asked him, “yes, all right?  Another one?”

“Pull us a few pints there, Tom, like a good man, and we’ll have a whiskey while we’re waiting.”

Returning with the small glasses to their corner Andy was so intent on walking with the whiskey in his hand he almost bumped into one of the lunch time crowd.

“Sorry,” he said apologetically, not noticing the glare he received.

“What’s with your man?” Chris wondered, as they accepted the drinks.

“What?  Didn’t notice anything?”

“You got a filthy look on your way back,” Bill observed.

“No matter, it’s just that bloody crowd.  Think they own the place ‘cos they fill it up once a day.”

“You’re right, they wouldn’t keep going here without regulars like us.”

They fell silent each time any of the others passed by on their way to and from the smoking area.  They ignored the occasional scornful glances cast their way.  When one of the girls brought over their pints they silently accepted them.  It was only when the rush died down, when the last of the lunch time crowd was gone and the settling of the fire, the ticking of the clock could be heard again, only then did they return to conversation.

Chris asked suddenly and out of the blue, “how many counsellors does it take to change a lightbulb?”

Andy said, “I don’t know, they discuss it in Group Therapy?”  They all laughed at that.

Bill said, “they don’t, they form a coping with darkness group?”  Again a round of laughter

Chris explained, “it only takes one, but the lightbulb really has to want to change!”

The Stolen Child


They, the Big People that is, think we’ve gone away. But we haven’t, gone away that is, we haven’t gone away at all. Just because we are seldom seen doesn’t mean we aren’t there. Or here. Or anywhere. Or somewhere. We are most definitely here, with ourselves, among ourselves and even, dare I say it, amongst you.

The old folk, just about gone now from among you, used to say that we went when the TV, the telly, the television came. So it seemed, for a while at least. How could stories of us compete with the bright lights of the world as seen on your magic lantern box in the corner? From the very beginning you were glued to this, in the early days right down to the disappearing white dot in the centre at the end of the night. You were held, mesmerized. Nowadays there is never a fascinating white dot telling you it’s over for another day. Nowadays there is no other day, there is no night, there is no new, there is no old. There is nothing but an endless wave of overwhelming waffle and the tales of us are well and truly buried underneath all of that. This suits me.

For centuries, even for the very millennia you are so fond of but cannot truly see, it has been my work to protect us from you. I know, you would think it ought to be the other way around. That you should be protected from us, but from our point of view, over a great length of your time, we have needed protection from you.

Out of sight, seldom seen, lingering about places you have almost totally forgotten, mostly it is easy. We don’t let you see us and you only speak of us in stories for children, the very stuff of fairy tales. We whisper in your ears at night when you cross the border and are dreaming. In the bright light of day we can barely be seen anyway. We are only half remembered thoughts as insubstantial as the drying dew. As I said, this suits me.

Of course borders and boundaries are breached, burst and broken all the time. This is also true of the line between us and you. Sometimes, among you, there comes along a gifted one. Even they might not always fully realise or appreciate their gift. There were many who hid their gift, disguising it as the gift of storytelling, Mr Anderson for example, and the Brothers Grimm were others. Some were not so lucky and were at times burned at the stake. Many resist and refuse to believe in their second sight., their ability to see the unseen, to hear the unheard, the voices from beyond or the fiddle tune that comes in on the wind.

Musicians like Mr. Scott catch it sometimes. With his friends the Waterboys they broadcast it everywhere but how many have ears to hear I wonder? Poets too know a lot, people like Mr, Heaney and Mr. Yeats. That’s a man I knew, I had to watch him a lot and I often chased his thoughts o’er airy mountains and down by rushy glens. Oh yes, easy for me to remember how he could sense the stolen child with the tale I’m trying to reveal.

Fearghail of our folk was the one who stole the child. In any language he’s much younger than I am and maybe that’s why his pity and kind heart overcame everything else. He lost his clear sight and his long vision because his heart ruled his head and his head became as soft as his heart. His feelings were good ones, I don’t dispute that, but feelings led him astray and the consequences for a time were grave, very grave indeed.

He saw the life the little child had. Parents who just didn’t care, at least I think so. He told me afterwards that he was wandering along the ancient track leading from the sacred well to the grove of old oak trees and he heard crying coming from the human house. It was, he said, what a banshee must sound like to the big folk, terrible because they don’t understand it. Fearghail did not understand this cry and it terrified him. He knew that babies cry, that they cry when they are hungry, when they are hot, when they cold, when they are wet. He knew all that, but this cry was like nothing he had ever before. His heart was moved and with it he moved, he turned away from his path and went to look and that was his downfall.

What did he see? A small child, a baby, in a filthy cot, dirty blankets he could smell even outside and a clearly upset little thing screaming with a high pitched scream and no-one near. He was stunned. He could tell this baby was hungry and even worse had been hungry for some time. This child was seldom properly fed and had more experience of hunger than being full and satisfied. There was no-one else, he could sense. in this place. This baby was all alone and no help was nearby. The baby was helpless and could only cry. Fearghail was red faced with anger first and that was it, without further ado he was going to intervene, to step inside and he did.

Maybe stunned momentarily with the wonder of a little man the size of himself the baby cooed and rocked the cradle. Fearghail realised the baby could see him. Convinced even more he reached for the flask at his belt, drew out some drops of nectar on his finger and let the baby suck. What they call magic worked, it is only nectar but some call it magic, whatever that is. It worked by spreading warmth and food, proper food, through the little baby’s body. Quietness reigned in the little house and under that cloak of quiet Fearghail lifted the baby and slipped away in the night.

Fearghail, like all of us, had plenty of caring and nurturing skills. He had no concerns about wandering our world with the baby. He knew he was looked after better now than before. Everywhere Fearghail went he was popular with all and praised by many for rescuing the child from such a terrible life. Who wouldn’t be moved to do such a thing? What sort of person, big or small, can hear and see a child in distress and not be moved to take action, to do something, anything?

While many praised, and many helped, especially among the Sidhe, others were not so sure but held their counsel. I remembered that among the Big Folk there had been many legends and stories and poems and songs about the changeling, about the stolen child. I wondered what might come of all of this, for Fearghail had acted impulsively and had left no changeling but now had a true stolen child. Anyone interrupting the delicate balances of nature must needs be aware that you cannot always foresee the consequences. To throw even a pebble into a pond means you do not know what effect the tiniest of ripples might have.

My own journey, you see, took me back that way some time later. There I too heard weeping, loud, wailing, bitter weeping, as I passed along the ancient track leading from the sacred well to the grove of old oak trees and I too thought this must be what the banshee sounds like to the others. The heart break in that cry would break and torment any heart, human or otherwise.

It was the woman who was wailing, or so I could see when I stood by the window and peered in through the dirt and grime. All who were there were no longer children and so could not see me. There was a woman, an older version of the keening lady and I could tell she had the sight and could sense me. She had the feeling she couldn’t say upon her and looked around wondering, as she stroked the hunched back of the keening lady. A wild eyed, red faced man stood weaving and wobbling in the middle of the floor, shouting in strong language that he would swing for whoever did this. The spirits that were upon him were no friends of any spirits I know.

Men in blue uniforms whispered to each other and seemed to be waiting for the others, a man and a woman with notebooks on their laps, to get some answers to their questions. The whispers told me they were called social workers and other whispers told me the men in blue were very suspicious of everything they heard and saw. The oldest of them was looking around all the time and I could tell he was taking in everything he saw. Every dirty baby’s bottle on the sideboard, the dishes in the sink, the overflowing ashtrays, the half rotten scarps of meat peeping out from under the sofa, it was all being absorbed by him. This was a man who was not easily fooled.

“You’re in here a long time, do you want to come out for a fag?” He said this looking at the older woman.

She took a last long look at her daughter, for so it was, glared at the red faced man and wrapping a coat around her went outside with the blue clothed man. I stepped back into the shadows and listened to them. The keening inside had subsided now to a shuddering sobbing, the mother was becoming exhausted by her own grief and pain.

As the cigarettes reddened the air around them they spoke about what might have happened.

She said, “well Sergeant, what have you come up with so far?”

“I was just going to ask you that myself,” he replied. “We have no idea, yet. Missing babies are a very serious matter. I hope you don’t mind me saying this, but that pair don’t seem to me to be the best of carers?”

Snorting in anger she said, “they can barely mind themselves, let alone an infant!” For a minute she couldn’t look at him or say anything. He seemed to wait, not wanting to prompt her, letting her find her own words. I admired his technique. Then it worked.

“I blame that goddam shit she took up with. Have you seen him! His baby’s missing and he’s mouthing off full of drink. I’m not saying he did anything, mind you.” Here she looked sharply at the man. “I’m just saying that something was bound to happen here, the way those two lived.” She paused, thinking again, then, “blame myself too, should have been here more often,” flicking ash away, ”should have taken the baby myself ages ago!”

When she was quiet then he asked, “is that what you think happened, the baby’s been taken?” He waited. I waited. She hesitated. “I don’t know, maybe. In a way I hope so. Did you find anything yet, what do you think?” Underneath her tough exterior I could see plain as day her weakness, her own longings and frailty, her desire for an answer that would make sense to her. I knew there was none that could or would.

“We’ve found nothing yet, only a pair who should never have had a child in the first place!” he said bitterly. Scrunching out his cigarette he continued, ”sorry, I shouldn’t have said that.” His voice was softer then, “you see, like yourself I have grandchildren too. Wonder what I’d do if it was mine?”

“Different, isn’t it? I hope you’ll do the same for mine as you’d do for you’re own.”

He was business like then. “There’s no sign of any forced entry, no sign of disturbance other than the mess they live in, no-one saw or heard anything, there’s nothing showing up in all the searching, inside or out. We have nothing. It is a bloody mystery. I tell you, i’d love to pin something on that useless gobshite inside, but so far I can’t. We have a missing child and for all I know it’s vanished into thin air.”

Very quietly she added, “I keep on praying that wherever the poor little thing is, it’s in a better place than here. Not easy say that, but at least I can hope it.”

They were quiet then, I suppose they had nothing more to say and I knew the dark thoughts each of them was thinking and the comforts they were seeking. With that my own heart was moved to pity and like Fearghail before me I was moved to more than pity but felt called to action. Our choices were different but we each followed the stars guiding us and that is how the end came about. I’m happy to say we both still watch over that stolen child.

The social workers were astonished to find a perfectly healthy, well fed, well wrapped, smiling and gurgling baby on their doorstep when they arrived for work the next day. We were watching and enjoyed that moment. The Big People took their own course after that, they keep to their own way of caring for the life of that baby. The young couple split up, the Grandmother keeps a watchful eye, the older man in blue often strolls by.

Anytime we also keep watch beside them I know they feel us and they look around, they wonder what really happened and they never question too much. After all, they cannot know and the stolen child, returned, is better now than before.

Isn’t that all that matters?

 

The Homecoming

The Homecoming

At school the tension had been barely restrained all day.  Every chance to whisper, to pass notes, had been taken.  There was plenty of scope for furtive planning.  The teachers were much busier than usual with errands to other rooms.  Grinning at each other in the corridors they gave an occasional glance towards their rooms.  Their talk was all about the match.  All of them had been.  The boys whispered about the homecoming.  Only the lucky few had been.

In the yard at little lunch Reilly shoved Power against the pebble dashed wall in the far corner.  It was bright in the September sunshine, an hour before the Angelus.  It helped that the sunlit corner was also farthest from the gate.  The teachers were still staying close together on yard patrol, leisurely going through the details of the match.

“What ya do that for?”

Walsh was big, not as tall as Reilly, but heavier and much better in a fight.  Like a lot of the lads he hung around with, there was a hurl in his hand that day above all days.  Reilly stepped away, shrugging back his jacket.  Keeping his eye on Walsh he finally said, steady enough, “I was saying I have flares for tonight, he called me a fucking liar, that’s it.”

“Yeah?  How many?”  The thought of letting off some flares in the crowd immediately interested them all.

“Three!” piped up the squeak Brennan.  He was always doing this, almost physically putting both feet in it at every inopportune moment.  In class this earned him a lot of cuffs across the ear for blurted wrong answers, where silence would have been merely ignored.

Just then they noticed the teachers coming their way, the growing crowd now too big to be ignored.  Walsh grabbed a sliotar from one of the younger boys brave enough to fringe the edges of the big lads.  A quick puck of the ball and a chorus of “catch it sir!” ringing around the yard was enough of a diversion.

Shortly after the bell went and in their lines they filed inside.

It was after the Angelus prayers, while they still stood silent, that he laid down the law.

“Fools names, like fools faces, are often seen in public places.”

He often quoted the only graffiti he ever saw that he asserted was worth reading.

“If I see any boy from this class, no, from this school.”  He paused for effect, for emphasis, to range his eyes over them, closely seeking close attention.  “Up to any sort of mischief, anything I say, then he will pay for it.”

He looked at the neat rows of boys.  They looked at the floor, looked sideways, glanced away; anything to avoid being caught in the glare, being singled out.

“We all remember the Patrick’s Day Parade, don’t we Callaghan?”

That was the cue for a permissible round of laughter.  They all remembered Callaghan bursting out through the barriers as the head of the parade turned into High Street.  He swaggered along for a few yards, delighted to be showing off.  A Garda Sergeant gave the nod and a couple of stewards chased him back into the crowds of spectators.  It was only a momentary distraction on the day but the following morning’s retribution was both swift and harsh.

As the final bell of the day rang, before the stampede for the door, he called out one last time.  “Remember what I said lads.  Enjoy yourselves at the homecoming, but you don’t have to act the maggot to do that.”

Then they were gone, racing out of the yard, out through the gates, only slowing down as the different little knots formed and went their differing streets.  Reilly, Doyle and Cleere went down the hill, aiming to take a short cut through the lanes and back across the bridge as fast as they could.  They all lived near enough the railway station.  They could be there, at the very start of the homecoming.

“It’s not every day you get to see the McCarthy Cup up close,” piped up Brennan, skipping along at their heels, having finally caught up with them.  The rest were too excited to be bothered by him.  When it came time for them to disperse momentarily homewards they all roared around the crossroads, “come on the cats!” and shouted that they would be back at the same spot early.

Disappearing home they were gone to dump bags and books, to collect colours and flags, gone to wolf down a meal and ignore parental warnings and avoid the care of younger siblings where necessary.  Who wanted to care about anything or anyone else?  Tonight was a free night and who knew where a fair wind down John Street might blow you?  Reilly took the three flares down from a shelf in the coal shed before he left.  This was going to be a homecoming to remember.

“There he is!”

“Where?  I can’t see a thing in this crowd.”

“Come on, we can squeeze along the back there.”

The crowd heaved towards the station entrance leaving a thinner press along the edges farthest away.  Doyle and Cleere ducked and dived through the throng, Doyle calling back helpful hints to Cleere.  Reilly, sheltering behind a fat lamp post, held his jacket tightly closed with his right hand, his left hand thrust deep inside held the flares unseen.

“We can see nothing here,” complained Brennan.  They were all dwarfed by the crowd, the people pressed closer, the roars were loud and prolonged.  They were almost trapped.

“We should’ve gotten into the station earlier,” shouted Doyle, “we could’ve at least seen the hurlers then!”

A man with a small child clutching a flag tightly on his shoulders overheard.  He smiled and told them, “listen out for the detonators lads.  Ye’ll hear them at least.”

“Detonators!”  They were impressed and wanted to ask more but the man was gone.  They could see the child’s flag further in, tiny amongst all the other banners snapping and crackling in the breeze.  Their view was blocked in every direction.  Others from school were being equally pushed back to the edges.

“Here, Walsh,” said Reilly, “what’s the story with the detonators?”

“They’re on the tracks,” chorused three or four of the lads in unison.  Others added in bits they’d heard.

“They put them on the tracks.”

“Train rolls over them and boom!  They set them off!”

“A whole load of ‘em.”

Reilly was getting exasperated now.

“They’ll be nothing.  You won’t even hear them down here.”

Face flushed and eyes bright with excitement Walsh shot back at him, “you’ll hear it!  Don’t you worry you’ll…”  As if on cue they all heard it and they and the crowd roared as one, answering the train whistle’s first shrill blast.

Just as the crowds roar died away, just as breath was taken again, just as the whistle’s echoes died away, the first of the detonators exploded.  Louder than they had expected the sharp reports satisfied them deeply.  A series of loud bangs rapidly filled the air until lost in further rounds of cheering all around them, the closer sounds muffling the more distant.  There was a forward surge of people pushing even more urgently towards the station.  The release in pressure created spaces and they were gone.

Moving downhill, down John’s Street, away from the station, they headed towards the team’s ultimate destination.  Getting ahead they might have some chance of climbing to some decent vantage point.  Reilly felt a warming glow of excitement when he fingered the cylinders tucked deep inside his jacket.  He twisted sideways through knots of people in his way, anxious not to bump into people lest they collide with his flares.

Brennan and Cleere were laughing at the drunks staggering out of pubs along the way.  Bench hugging oul’ lads, tongues loosened with drink, were letting fly their usually corner mouthed comments on the passing parade.

“Dan!”  They called loudly, “you’ll be late for your own funeral!  They’ll be gone on ya before ya get there!”

Poor Dan was confused, some of the crowds were heading towards the hurlers and others back across town.  His staring eyes were opened even wider than usual, even more obviously astonished by the world around him.  Girls with woollen colours woven into their hair flirted with face-painted boys.  Mothers with buggies grew snappy with Council workers trying to keep them behind crash barriers, trying to keep the roadway clear.  Dan ignored the drunks and with flailing arms was gone further into the streams of people.

“This is worse,” Reilly said to the rest of them when all forward movement finally stopped.  They were over the bridge but ahead both street and pavement narrowed and now they were being funnelled back off the road, behind the barriers.  Gardaí joined the council workers in trying to marshal the flow.

“Fuck this for a craic,” Cleere suggested turning away, down the river and through theCastlePark.  “We can look out over the Parade from there.  It’s the only way we can get anywhere now,” he added.

The four of them looked at each other and, without a word spoken, backed left away from the throng.  In seconds they had burst through and were on their way, running towards the roar of the river falling over the weir.  They only stopped when they had to, when even the fittest of them had to put his hands on his knees or lean on the trunk of a tree, gasping for breath.

The flares were large in their small hands.  Passing them around in a circle they each of them acted as if this were nothing new.  None of them wanted to appear in any way anxious.  Doyle held one of them out from him by the base, gauging the weight.  He caught their eyes, grinned and flipped it in the air in a double loop.  He caught it again, easily, held in the same hand it had left.  He was an expert at the game where they threw penknives between the feet of an opponent.

Cleere held it up and looked at it closely, wondering what to do with it.  He tugged gently at a little ring on the end of a line.  “What happens if I pull this?”

“What do ya think’ll happen?  It’ll go off in your hand, that’s what’ll happen!”

“Do it!” Brennan shouted. “Go on!  There’s no-one around.”

No-one expected the sudden response.  Blinded by the intense purple light their little circle exploded outwards.  At the first burst of flame Cleere had luckily, instinctively, dropped the flare.  A tongue of almost white heat shot out from the cylinder, causing it to turn on the ground here and there, in random patterns.

Light on their feet they skipped and screamed out of the way of the writhing object on the ground.  Their screams echoed off the walls of the park, rang out among the tall stately trunks of centuries old trees.  Water pouring over the weir drowned the sound of other, more widespread, celebrations.

Even before the purples and reds and other blinding, dazzling colours had finally faded they were gone, gone further down the deserted riverside park.  Gone over the wall, where they knew it could be done.  Gone, with the remaining flares held tightly by Reilly.  Gone from scorch marks across the gravel littered with the first of the falling autumn leaves.

They trotted together, avoiding the open spaces, keeping out of sight among the trees.  Skirting gingerly around the edge of the Castle they paused and crouched down, peering around the base of a turret.  The Rose Garden was all that lay between them and their goal.  The walls along by the great public square of the parade were encrusted with others like themselves.  Older boys and young men had achieved advantaged views by climbing on the roof of the public toilets tucked against the walls.  The homecoming crowd were jammed in their thousands into every available space.  The Mayor and the Corporation in their scarlet robes had their own viewing point, a temporary platform across the Parade where they would officially great the returning champions.  As one Reilly, Cleere, Brennan and Doyle raced to find a space across the Rose Garden.

Walsh looked behind him, hurl still in his hand.  He saw them running towards where he stood with lads taller and older than himself, struggling to hold his place, precariously balance on the flat concrete roof.  “There they are! I told you!” he shouted, tugging at the arm of one of the older lads.  Others turned with him as the boys reached the garden side of the wall.

Jumping down one of the older boys grabbed Brennan and lifting him off the ground threatened him, “Where are they?  Give me the flares or I’ll fucking kill ya!”

Brennan was paralyzed into silence.  Others he didn’t know, all of them older, all of them bigger, were on the grass now and Cleere was rolling on the ground, hands held around his tummy, winded by a punch.  From above them Walsh shouted, “He’s the one!  He has them!”  His free arm was pointing at Reilly who was struggling, one arm twisted behind his back.  “Leave me alone, they’re mine, let go of me, you big thieving bastard!”

It didn’t matter, not even Doyle kicking one of the bigger lads on the shins, leaving him hopping ludicrously around, yelling uselessly.  There were tears of frustration in Reilly’s eyes as the two flares were torn out of his grasp.

Their attackers whooped and yelled and scrambled back up on to the toilet roof.  In front of them the crowd was facing away, across the Parade to where the first of the hurlers mounted the steps of the platform.  The sight of the silver cup gleaming in his hand drove the crowd into their greatest frenzy yet.  No-one was bothered by the first of the flares rendering purple the shadows under the old leafy trees.  No one noticed Reilly climb up on to the roof, wiping his tears away and pushing forward, eyes fixed on the last flare and the hand that held it.  Only those closest in the knot of youngsters on the roof knew that he was tugging at the last flare.

“Give it back! It’s mine!” he screamed with rage.  There was a tug of war, it was brief and ended when neither of them let go and the string was pulled and there was a flash of light and heat.

One by one the hurlers mounted the steps and took their place on the platform.  All eyes were on them, all eyes except at the back of the crowd, pressed against the toilets, jammed against the wall.  There they saw the flames, the jumpers ablaze, the hair on fire, they heard the screams of young boys, they heard the bodies falling down, through the leaves, through the branches, landing with heavy sickening thuds on the concrete of the Mayor’s Walk.

 

Long-listed for “Fish Story Competition” 2011