Laurie Allen holds M. A. in Health Promotion from NUI Galway, and B. A. in Anthropology and Communications from GoldsmithUniversity, London. She worked as a Health Promotion Tutor with HSE, and in various film projects, including Co- producer for ‘Welcome To Our World’. Allen worked as a researcher for Puddle Pictures in creating documentaries on suicide and alcoholism. She acted in two of Margaretta D’arcy’s productions, one concerning whistle blowing and as a pussy rioter in Kilkee playwriters festival.
The Green Man
By Laurie Allen
My name is Joeen. A good old fashioned Conamara name. I was called after my grandfather, my dad; he was dead when I was born so I took on his name and probably a lot of his traits as I was named for him. You see in Conamara a lot of the incoming generation is called after the outgoing generation. I always thought that the pattern of the world was circular instead of steadily marching forward on a linear progress to some point in the future most people think we actually go round in circles like the seasons and the pattern is actually circular with our ancestors coming back regularly taking our place in the world.
My family consisted of mum dad and me the baby. We had the local post office and the pub, which was an attached to our house. So our family home was always busy, we lived beside a hive of activity. People coming and going, cashing their dole cheques or posting letters. Of course we spoke the native tongue but in our home we spoke bearla as our mother was from the east coast. My dade was a tall and kind man. He manned the post office and knew all the local people intimately.
He kept an eye on their mail, which has always held a curious fascination for postmasters in times gone by. Letters form America etc. usually heralded a bountiful load for the lucky recipient. My dad told me that in times gone by he used see his grandfather disappear in to the kitchen with such letters and place them over a steaming kettle, he did wonder what happened to the bounty was it always delivered in full to the right recipient. Sure in those days the post office was the eyes and ears of the community almost like the gateway,
Anyway there was auld Johnny who lived up the boreen and still rode a Honda 50, he made for quiet a curious sight with his hat fixed pointedly on his head and his pipa clamped in his gob coming up the road on the Honda 50. The bike made an alien sound as it cracked the stillness of a country afternoon it was almost like a cow arrested in its moo. He had a long face, which could look menacing, but when he smiled his face cracked up in to tiny rivulets of valleys and mounds, I was fond of him. He kept a good garden neat and tidy with plenty of spuds and cabbages growing. He lived with his sister who kept ‘smacht’ on him. Thursday was the day he would usually appear as that was dole day and the pub was busier than usual those days. The Honda 50’s journey home was usually as resolutely straight as it was when it appeared in the morning.
Of course there was Maura, she was quiet mad. I used to hear them whispering about her in the shop. Maura was steady for years then she just seemed to surrender to the nub of neurosis that was inside her. She had a severe hairstyle with grey sides, which was always brushed back with no gentle wisps caressing her face; no Maura was plain and inclined to develop certain obsessions about events or people. She was accused behind her back of course of leaving the villagers garden gates open which around out area was a transgression to far as it allowed the cattle to get in and trample all over your garden or it allowed the cattle out to wander the roads. She had it in for poor Mrs. Stafford a blow in from Wicklow. Mrs. Stafford used to sit at her window with a view out on to the road and beyond that road, the sea which kept to its own laws sidling in on quiet days or moving more vigorously in windier weather. Mrs. Stafford used to tap away on her computer writing her books. I liked Mrs. Stafford as she used give me some money for carrying her bags of groceries from the shop or watering her flowers when she went to visit her daughters who lived in town.
Mrs. Stafford endeavoured to keep order on her garden which was difficult in an area like yours where the wind blew in from the Atlantic and salt was in the very air that you breathed so close to the sea we lived.
I wandered these gullies and inlets around our home there were pools of black bog water, sea weeded rocks with green tentacles spreading all over. No day was ever the same in our little village the light changed from day to day and the sea seeped beneath our skins.
Maura’s husband Padraig was a skinny man. He rode a high Nellie bike. I remember the vision of his retreating back and arse in the air as he rode his bike at a fast pace. He was like a Jockey who was suspended in a race that never reached its conclusion. That backside rarely sat on the saddle of the bike in fact I used to think it resembled a man’s rear cleavage as it retreated down the road. Padraig used to frequent the little pier, which edged into the sea on the opposite side of the road. He used it for fishing and bringing up some seaweed.
One day Mrs. Stafford asked Padraig “is it okay Padraig if I avail of some sea weed for my roses. I believe the seaweed has lots of rich properties and it does an excellent job on the roses. Mrs. Stafford had met Padraig in the shop when he had set down his bike outside. You had to be quick because once Padraig mounted on his high Nellie he was off. Fammine? Padraig said in the old tongue. “Yes Padraig just a bit to feed my roses.” “yes tá sé sin ceart, better still I will get you a wheel barrel full.
“Ohh that’s marvellous”Mrs. Stafford replied.
Our shop sold groceries and some fresh fruit; we also did the papers sweets, cigarettes and lotto. Papers were important as it kept us up to date in our little village. My dad was very strict about selling tobacco and cigarettes to the younger ones I think it was because his dad has died
of cancer as did his sister. There was a little graveyard in our village right down near the sea. It was dedicated to all those little babies who had died unbaptised. The priest father Brennan had held a special ceremony for these lost little souls in the graveyard one day and most of the village attended. I used to love listening to Irish been spoken. That beautiful language which jostled beside the English tongue, which still managed to break over the ear like the gentle sea. It held hidden depths of local lore which was difficult to penetrate if you were a blow in and “Béarla” was your first tongue. Me, I had both languages so I moved quiet well between the two worlds. I liked to hear about old stories and old suspicions and superstitions. Yet our little village was home to lots of survivors, people who had emigrated to England or further a field places like America and had returned home bringing with them many diverse knowledges. I used to hear them singing in the pub about digging railways and humouring gangers and sub contractors.
Mind you many years hence I heard talk now and then of a dreadful happening which had occurred more than 100 years ago. A house which was perched right near the Atlantic which had been raided one terribly windy night. Its contents sundered from their presses and the old woman killed in mighty awful way. The sea was boiling that night and the wild wind was rapping and pulling at anything which was not tied down. The woman’s chest had been opened and her lungs pulled forth, they were never recovered. They say the woman was suffering from pneumonia.
Oxygen, the breath of life. Oxygen that pervasive unseeing unsmelling unadulterated substance that gives us life. I am the breath of life no one gets to the father but through me. Even the great God in heaven spoke of the precious air. You see as I became older I suspected that terrible thing that happened to Mrs. Stafford had happened to that other old woman. I saw the god awful creature one night when I was staring out of my bedroom window towards Mrs. Stafford’s house. It was rainy and the sea spray was alive in the air. The wind was getting up and the tide was unusually high. I often stared out my window towards Mrs. Stafford’s house as my dog gypsy used to wander down and be fed by Mrs. Stafford. There was a side light on the end of her house, which was sensitive to any presence that was moving. It would switch on if movement were sensed. I knew Mrs. Stafford was not very well at the time she told me she was suffering from a lung infection. Her light was on and beneath it was a sight which made my breath gasp. There was a green slithering wet creature peering in her window. I had never seen such a creature; it had the shape of a man yet it was not a man. I looked again keenly. Yes it was a green dripping man of the sea. He was like a green gelatinous tumour sending out his antennae for his blood supply. A thought struck me no not his blood supply but his air supply. He was a sea creature and he smelt Mrs. Stafford’s lung infection just like that other woman who had pneumonia. He wanted their lungs to breathe here on earth. He could smell them and both these women were non-smokers. He probably did not like smoker’s lungs as they had probably damaged the silica. He wanted to mutate. The green man!
I did not tell anybody as I was scared and terribly confused; I had decided to keep my sighting to myself until I was sure of my ground. There had been talk now that Padraig was beginning to dismount from his bike outside Mrs. Stafford’s cottage for a chat quiet often now. He had even been seen bringing up a wheelbarrow full of seaweed for Mrs. Stafford’s roses. It became obvious that his wife Maura had got wind of the word of Padraig’s dalliance with Mrs. Stafford as there had been some queer events which had happened in the garden. Seaweed and rags had been thrown in and I myself saw Maura riffling with her roses pulling them up by the roots.
So when the green man struck and pulled out Mrs.Staffords’s lungs all the local people were none the wiser they said it was auld Maura. Her madness had finally caught up with her and she was incarcerated in the local psychiatric hospital. I kept my sightings and thoughts to myself and decided to move further inland.
The Third Eye.
O f course moving in land was in my mind but in reality I had many years to live out yet. Although this was my first sighting of the green man he was to figure a lot more in my life. It came to my attention through talking to auld Tom Lydon who lived alone on one of the local islands Inishboulinn that he, the green man resided occasionally in a cave there. This news came to me because I had begged my father to allow me accompany father Brennan to the annual mass which was held on Inishboulinn. Father Brennan was recovering from a beating a local Darragh had meted out to him because he spoke about men fondling young girls and boys, the local Darragh took it into his head apparently that father Brennan was referring to him personally because he had nieces and nephews visiting him.
Father Brennan was saved from serious injury because two lads who were having a quiet drink down by the sea heard the ructions and intervened. Father Brennan did not press charges so my dad said. Darragh’s uncle Peter Reilly was angry with Darragh he felt father Brennan was a good priest and wondered why he had not picked on another more deserving priest.
Anyway I had heard this conversation when I was getting change from the pub for the shop. Peter Reilly was flailing the counter with his fist and fulminating through his gob. It took a bit of an effort to follow Peter Reilly as he had a tendency to stammer, but when he co-ordinated the hand movement with the final syllable of the sentence it was a masterpiece in cohesion. Mind you, you did not want to be standing to close to him when he delivered his soliloquies as he tended to drown all around him with spittle.
So it came to pass that father Brennan, Michaleen Jack who was to row and I set off on the gentle sea rowing to a rhythm. The oars spliced the water and gracefully we glided over the nippy waves. . The feel of sea spray being absorbed through the porous skin almost like a process of osmosis made me feel settled with all around me. Father Brennan held his sacred objects for the mass beside him. We also had the table on which the ceremony was to be performed on board. There was a silence almost holy among us. We alighted at the other side to be met by auld Tommy with two dogs. Tommy was old as the sea and his face was creased by weathering many storms and lulls. He wore the remnants of an old suit with a check shirt. He had raggedy sideburns which now and then recalled with a flash the vibrant red colouring he once had when he was a young man. His teeth were brown stumps spread sparsely in his mouth. Tommy had left his home on Inishboulinn once in his long life for a stint in Sasanagh.
We made our way to the graveyard where the ceremony was to be performed. The grave yard was situated near the sea quiet near where we disembarked as is the way in Western coastal communities where the sea was the thoroughfare of communication and transport. They buried their dead in the east end of the land where they faced the rising sun. IT was also a matter of expediency as the priest was usually in a hurry to reboard and continue his sacred duties in his next parish which could be the next island.
Father Brennan preformed his duties in the old tongue he exhorted God to bless all there and hold them close to his bosom everlastingly. His old words in this quiet place made me feel so close to the ground and the sea which circled us. To the earth which would cradle me when my body was spent. I felt a comfort as the sound of his words being repeated by the people were the bonds which bound my temporal body to these great elements.
After mass Tomwee told us that he knew he was sharing his island with another being. He sensed his presence down among the rocks where there were caves which had been eroded into the base of the cliffs. In fact he had actually seen the green man squelching about at low tide. Tomwee noted that he had a third eye. This third eye lived in the back of the green man’s head. The green man’s head could also rotate. So he could see all situations from all points of view. He had an all rounded perspective on sea and land. Jesus father Brennan he was a sight to behold. I think he steals oxygen says Tomwee, what says father Brennan and I in unison. Yes he wants the air we breathe he is like some people I met in London or even here, they want your energy or oxygen. Jesus.