Short Stories

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Ivor and Declan go for bike rides

I walk into Declan’s room, the sky outside is becoming ultramarine as the sun sets. The evening is balmy and a film of sweat is still building under my t-shirt after the cycle. He turns to me with a strange energy. A sour smell is stagnating in the air, he’s stoned. His eyes are stung red by the drug and the glowing white tv that he sits before. The playstation hums and whirs at his feet, adding more heat to the warm room. Declan hasn’t slept in days, not properly at least. He always lost it during summer. He pushes aside the messy array of open boxes, their discs sliding out onto the dirty carpet. I sit down and declan puts the greasy, player2 controller into my hands. The analogue is sticky and I can see tiny crumbs of food lodged in the seams of plastic. I glance at Declan's hand, he grips his controller with a sweaty anxiety, turning his knuckles white. Crash bandicoot on hard mode, why does he even bother with this, I think. ‘C’mon Dec, lets go out, fuck this.’

Together, me on my racer and Dec on his ma’s martello, we leave his gaff. Declan follows me mutely. What spot will it be tonight, our bikes clang and skid down by the pungent canal and through paths guarded by stinging nettles. We head towards the infinitely dark Phoenix Park.

The jeeps' headlights turned to strobe as they hit the density of the trees, the high contrast making it almost impossible to see. I’m cycling as fast as I can and other boys are running too, cawing like crows ‘garda garda garda’. The ground vanishes and reappears before me as the beams of light move across the trunks and boughs. I can hear someone shouting, not a boy, or some alco, but a man. Angry and familiar with the park's grounds, and determined to find us. Not a shout, a roar. The leaves and twigs make my bike slow and clumsy. Churning the soil but not allowing me enough traction. Finally the uneven terrain dropped away to smooth tarmac. Declan’s heavy hash rang through my brain, vibrating my thoughts with white hot paranoia, I start wellying it, trying to get as far away as possible. I dunno where Declan is, he only had his ma’s bike, a heavy thing. Maybe he fell in the woods, tripped. I wind through the park's unlit paths, I come onto the main avenue of the park, a dark straight road that leads towards the gates. Out of the woods, the warmth of the evening fell away sharpley exposing the bitter truth of the Irish climate and soon my sweaty t-shirt was making me shiver. I tried to figure out what happened to Dec. I pull out my phone and see a message from Dec. He shared his live location, he was down by the pond on the west side of the park. I turned my bike around and cycled off the path once more, into the rough.


The boreen

The honda trundled down the boreen, the trees and hedges on either side nearly met above the moving car. Sinead looked at Fionn as he sat in the passenger seat. She scanned him to excavate his thoughts. The dappled light danced upon his face as he looked out the window at passing green. He fiddled with the tape recorder that sat on his lap, clicking and unclicking the buttons. She concentrated on the road and the days ahead. Sinead had twisted his arm into coming out here, he had not wanted to return home. Fionn had agonised about it in the library, whispering every reason not to go but she insisted that it was the right and true thing to do, and he believed her. They went straight from the library to her tiny bedsit in Dundrum. They slept silently in the hard single bed and when the weak winter sun broke through the clouds, they awoke, packed lightly and began to drive west. She thought it was madness that he would not return to see his uncle buried. Fionn explained that it was not as simple as that, he did not belong there, in the land of sleáns, hens and bales of hay. He was uncomfortable in his skin, ashamed to think that the people in the library might know that his dad cut turf and did not vote. His people were poor and god fearing but he had escaped it and did not want to look back. But Fionn could not avoid it forever and she would make him face his own being. He opened the glove box and found his cigarettes , he stuck one in his mouth. He held the box to her but she shook her head, he dived into the glove box again looking for his matches. When it was lit, he rolled down his window and seemed more at ease. It was getting dark by the time they crossed from West-Meath into Cavan, they pressed on, down more twisted lanes. Lakes appeared and then vanished. They stopped for petrol and he walked to the road to smoke another cigarette as she stood by the pump. `We're very close.’ he said as they left the filling station. Soon the car was stopped at a rusty farm gate, held into place with wire. He hopped out of the car and with familiarity and deftness opened the gate and invited her to drive in. He returned to the car and they followed the tracks down the wild looking field to the assemblage of structures nestled under a copse of trees.There was a house and a few sheds with tin roofs. The lights were on in the house and the inhabitants must have seen the car as the couple could see figures emerging from the doorway to greet them. She had not known what to expect and was surprised. The men were tall and thin, and the oldest man; Fionn’s father, had swollen arthritic knuckles. They all wore white shirts that hung off them and black braces. They had carved gaunt faces, as if their features had been sculpted out of wood by a poor craftsman with blunt tools. Their lives had given them deep eye sockets and ears like mug handles. A ragged cigarette sat in each of their mouths. They seemed from another world, a world of silence in black and white.

The Mother was warm and hugged Sinead and told her that she was glad that she had came and that she was a good girl for driving him out to the sticks. The men stood back stoically and nodded their approval of the youngest child’s beour. The family ushered the couple into the damp and white washed house. They were led into the kitchen where the stove was lit and candles sat around the only photo that was ever taken of his uncle. The grainy monochrome print had yellowed with age. It depicted his uncle squinting at the camera, a bright reflection of sweat on his brow with one hand resting on a horse’s back. The kettle was boiled and cups of tea were poured out into the chipped delph cups. They stared into the steaming liquid in silence. The two older brothers began telling stories of the late uncle. He had taught them to ride a horse, showed them how to make a fishing rod and how to tell when an apple was ready to be picked. Their father had never been able to bestow these secrets, he was too busy slaving for pennies on the neighbouring farms, or at the mill. In the end it would be the uncle's nature that killed him. He was kicked in the chest by a horse and suffered a heart attack and was dead almost instantly.


The currach and the crannog (all accents are meant to be Fadas)

Ma shook us awake. The sky outside was dark. The quality of the peat smoke in the air told me that the fire had just been doused. “They have found us’ ma said. ‘Take your brother now, and do not let go his hand.’ I looked at her confused with the haze of sleep still on me. Ma shook Colm awake then she stood him up and threw some clothes on him. I stood up and Ma put Colm’s hand in mine and pushed us out the door way into the cold spring night. We ran in silence down to the shore of the loch. Ma dragged the currach out from under the thickets, she pulled it into the black glassy water without a splash. She picked up Colm and sat him in the aul båd and then she helped me in. ‘Take yourself and your brother to Kevin. He lives on the crannøg along the Fionn River. Keep the currach to the left of the loch and eventually you will come to the mouth of the river. Paddle down the river til the hills on either side of yee become flat,shortly after you will see Kevin’s cranøg. You cannot miss it. Go now, anois’ She pushed the boat further into the loch and as she pushed I could smell the peat smoke on her hair and the scent of everything else that I thought I knew