Sean Garvey is an IT consultant working in north Dublin.
Originally from Mayo, he spends his spare time writing short stories and building websites.
Sean’s had his first short story featured in Wordlegs.
The Mighty MacBride
By Sean Garvey
“You knew him?” she asks, her words almost lost on the wind. They sound so distant that I half wonder if they are meant for me. I nod a reply to her and she smiles and tucks her chin into her coat. I watch her turn and wander down the hill, stopping every now and then to examine a name on a headstone. Soon she is consumed by the twin ranks of fir trees that line the entrance to the graveyard. They are an ancient gaping gullet, swallowing the dead and spitting them out in neat grey rows.
I turn once more to look upon my father’s grave. Seamus MacBride, beloved father of one, widowed at the age of twenty, never to remarry. He knew loneliness too I suppose. The flowers in my hand don’t seem appropriate. My father was not a man for flowers while he lived; I’m not sure why he would appreciate them now he’s dead. And yet it’s the only acceptable gift to bring to a graveyard, so I lay them near his headstone and remove the dead ones they replace.
The wind whips across the barren hill once more and the sky has darkened overhead. It’s threatening to burst and a sudden chill in the air promises rain. I turn my collar up against the wind and follow the old woman downhill. Is she old? Not much older than myself. Time is slippery.
The drive home is slow and tortuous. Pounding rain has muted the colour of the world I drive through. Trees bow and dance in the wind, but not of their own volition. There is something awful in their movement. I am trapped in this car with memories of my father. I recall long evenings sitting on his knee while he told me of our history. His father was fireman in London when the wax museum burnt down. He said he saw nothing like it until twenty years later when he saw pictures of Hiroshima after they dropped the bomb. Melted faces.
My uncle Joe built the Empire State Building. I saw a picture of him once, high above New York. He looked half a god. “We lost him to the drink,” my father had said while he thumbed the picture in his hand. I had never met him so I can only recall him as half a god. It’s for the best. My father once told me that Joe was loved by everyone until the day he wasn’t. No-one knew what line he crossed to change their mind. Perhaps there is no line. Perhaps they just get sick of you.
I remember him telling me about another brother who was a fisherman. He was caught in a storm once, two fronts forced together by a third front blocking from the north. There was never a storm like it they say, waves as tall as mountains; the coast was torn apart with the power of it. My uncle, the fisherman, was lost at sea. Only seventeen years of age.
My father loved my mother, that much I know. I had never met her. Any pictures that remain of her have her face rubbed clear off by my father’s thumb. I don’t know my mother’s face, but I know her as my father did. She was eternally beautiful to him. He would tell me she moulded him into to the man who raised me. I am forever grateful to her for that. I know I should shed tears for them.
The car boot is stuck and it takes the heel of a hammer to pop it open. The stench of cattle feed pours forth, a familiar smell. I throw a bag upon each shoulder and carry the load into the shed. I make another trip for the last two bags while the rain tapers off to a drizzle. The calves are costing me more than they’re worth, but I should keep the place ticking over. I owe him that much. He reckoned this land has been in MacBride hands for centuries. He was proud of his name, of his family.
I’ve lived here my entire life. It is a discomfort to be so familiar with a place. Some evenings I sit before the fire, sip on a mug of tea, and try to recall a single thing I did that day. Weeks pass unmarked by exceptional events and thus they blur together into nothingness. It is as if time has given up on me, and has decided to wind its way around me and leave me in a vacuum. Still, this farm is where I remain. I’m not sure how to live anywhere else.
I place the kettle on the hob and watch it boil. The whistle begins to blow and steam curls in ribbons towards the roof. The ceiling is blistered and wet where the ribbons meet old paint. I must repair the blackening plaster. Perhaps that will help me mark tomorrow. The boiling water scalds me as I wash my face and hands. With reddened skin I sit and read a little.
A poet once claimed that love was his religion, and he would become a martyr for it. What cause have I to die for? I know myself capable of love, but I’ve yet to meet someone who believed me. Instead they claim I know nothing of affection. I hadn’t realised they were the same thing. It is too late to learn such tricks. When I’m finished I dress myself and sit into the car once more.
The pub is full this evening. The young Reilly girls are playing some song or other in the corner and I sit upon my stool and listen. As the night wears on it becomes harder to keep my eyes open and often I find myself sliding from my perch. Frank Higgins approaches me from a crowded table. He shakes my hand. “Cormac MacBride,” he says, “the last of his line.” And I begin to cry at last.