Anne Marie Kennedy, MA in Writing at NUI Galway is the winner of the Molly Keane Creative Writing Award 2014. Her work is published in ROPES 2014, Black Heart Magazine, The SHOp, The Colony, Galway Review and others. She is an award winning performance poet.
By Anne Marie Kennedy
It all started on Saturday, when you didn’t go to mass. You got a ‘right wallop’ on Sunday, that’s what you called it. On Monday, the ticker went completely off-kilter, and only then did you let them call the doctor, and me, in the middle of the night in Boulder, Colorado.
My small sister sounded brave on the phone and I was afraid of the words she was saying; doctor’s words and nurse’s phrases about the heart, about your heart in particular. Mam said to come home as quick as I could. She said to try not to worry on the way, because she knew your heart well, and she knew for sure it would wait for me.
Five thousand miles of crying like a child on Tuesday. Denver, Chicago, Shannon; the air miles, the road miles, the road works in Gort never ending and I alone, and terrified you’d be cold when I’d kiss you.
But you weren’t.
You were warm, frail yet fatherly.
‘Dry up your eyes now a girleen. Isn’t it great you got home, safe and sound, and sitting here beside me?
Now – tell me about the flight, was it Aer Lingus?
What was the captain like?
How was the landin’ and how did he handle her coming down?
Did ya get a glimpse of the black cliffs along the coast of the county Clare?’
In the next three days, you did your damdest, as you’d say, to make us laugh and make the crying go away. You didn’t like it.
‘I’ve a lot a mileage up on the clock,’ you said, ‘it’s a bad job that, mark my words, the high mileage, on any engine.’
In and out of a coma you went on Wednesday. We went daft from lack of sleep, non-stop cups of tea and Bourbon cream biscuits.
On Thursday you wanted jelly and ice cream. A nice nun said she’d make it but then we couldn’t wake you. Don’t worry, it wasn’t wasted. When I got her back turned I ate it.
On Friday we thought you were gone, but then the cousins came. ‘The big lads’ you used to call them. Tall grown men, awkward, shuffling, mad about you; never took their eyes off you, no touching though; just small talk about parts for vintage tractors and how the buckrake was broken. They said you were going to weld it. You smiled from your sleep and they were delighted.
They made round bales around your bed. They brought in the oats and the barley. They footed turf, told you the weight of the weanlings at the mart and what the dry cattle went for. And who’d be the first to hear the cuckoo that year? Simple things they knew you’d want to hear, being said, near you.
They said they were staying the night then, told me to go to bed, but then you sat up.
‘What age am I at all?’
‘You’re eighty seven Dad and you’ll be eighty eight in two weeks.’ I answered.
‘Wouldn’t that be some number lads? Wouldn’t it be great to see it? Only round the corner. I think I’ll hang on for that.’
But your number was up.
As you’d say in your own way, ‘it came up, with the dawnin.’
A Modest Matter *
By Anne Marie Kennedy*
Although they hardly ever got letters, Noel the postman called in every morning at ten, when they sat down to the second breakfast after milking. His place would be set with a mug of strong tea and two slices of buttered currant cake.
Any mail they got was addressed to both of them – Martin and Sonny Broderick, Trasna, Kileenadeema, Co. Galway. They were twins and they were old fashioned, in their dress, attitudes, and mannerisms and their sheepdogs looked old fashioned too; ‘shy yokes’, Martin said when someone enquired about the breed and they were all called Darkie; Darkie the dog, Darkie the pup, Darkie the stray and Darkie the bitch.
The dogs never made eye contact. They skulked around with tails tucked in and when a car drove into the yard, the old dog would hide behind the Ford Anglia, where they kept the geese, and make a continuous low growl. The pup would lurk or get into a panic, teeth flashing, darting in and out of the turf shed or peering at the visitor from the dog sized holes in the laurel hedge. The stray and the bitch would hide shyly around the gable and reappear at the paddock gate and when the visitor’s car passed, they would fling themselves, one on each side, at the tyres.
The Broderick’s owned thirty acres of average grazing and a share of commonage at the butt of the Slieve Aughty Mountains. When they were about seventy, on the evening before the County final, Sonny broke his brother’s shoulder and collar bone with a shovel. It was an accident. Martin spent a week in hospital and until he died nine years later, he did not speak directly to his brother except for one sentence. Sonny died on the night of Martin’s month’s mind mass.
They had asked the Spark Callanan to rewire the house and sheds but he got busy with a job in the factory in Gort and kept putting them off, which left them in a quandary because he was a neighbour and they could not give the job to anyone else and so they put up with getting the shocks and minor electrocutions from the damp walls, dodgy light switches and dangerously functioning plugs.
One winter’s night they sat in complete darkness, after mooching around the parlour trying to find drawer handles, searching for the blessed candle, rather than touch the round black light switch that was making a hissing sound. Both of them had gotten darts up the arms from the television, the electric cooker and even the kettle. They bought a gas ring for the worktop, cooked their meals on the range and mostly did without electricity inside, watching and waiting for Callanan’s van to turn in from the main road.
The milking parlour was the worst. It was a converted barn that had a winnowing loft and the galvanised roofing strips were a foot away from the wall plate. When it rained heavily from the west, the back wall was live with current, because of the dampness and the sixty year old wiring job.
On the day of the accident, they were going to Saturday evening mass because of the County final. They brought the cows in early and Martin said he would drive them out and make the supper while Sonny washed the milking machine and hosed out the parlour.
Martin collected the eggs and walking past the barn door he felt a stone in his right wellington. He put the eggs carefully in the coat pocket and with his left palm flat on the back wall, he leaned in and threw the right leg out and shook it away from him, back and forth, up and down he shook it vigorously, trying to dislodge the bothersome thing, so as not to have to take the wellington off and get the socks wet. He woke up in Portiuncla.
‘That amadán of a fool, to think he put me in here, tied up like a beast in the crush, that’s what I feel like Mr. Finnegan, strangers poking at me, it’s awful, you’ll have to let me home, will you? Haven’t you the say around here?’
Martin was in a public ward, wearing pyjamas for the first time in his life; green flowery ones that Noel’s wife had bought for him in Stauntons. He was in a neck brace, the left arm was in plaster, the forehead and one eye was covered with a white muslin dressing and there were several cuts and bruises along his swollen jaw line and chin.
‘Any pain today Martin?’ Finnegan asked.
‘Not much but I can’t sleep Doctor. I was awake half the night twisting and turning in this yoke of a bed. What sort of a bleddy yoke is it at all? I’ll only sleep right in me own bed.’
‘We’ll give you something to help with that tonight. Let’s have a look at this forehead now.’
Emergency room staff had told Finnegan how the ambulance crew found him. They said he was lucky, could have been impaled on a rusty plough that was only inches away from the spot where he fell.
‘You were lucky I hear.’
‘Lucky is it? I feel very lucky right now alright. Lucky me arse. How would you make out I was lucky, smart man and all that you are?’
‘It seems you fell close to an old plough or something and if your head had come in contact with it, we might not be having this conversation Martin.’
‘I wish I had hit it and be gone altogether. It’d be better than this.’
‘And you don’t remember anything about it?’
‘The last I remember is collecting the eggs, God help me.’
‘Look,’ said Finnegan, ‘it’s bad but it could be a lot worse. You’re fit and strong for your age and it was an accident, genuinely. Your brother thought you were being electrocuted.’
The nurse removed the neck brace and explained how to use the good arm to work the hoist. She mentioned two neighbours who had rang enquiring about him.
‘Tell them nothing. I don’t want visitors. I don’t mind Noel coming in, he’s our postman and he can bring me home too when ye let me out of this godforsaken place, but keep that other lad away from me.’
‘Your brother is feeling very guilty. It’s very hard on him,’ she said.
‘Guilty me arse. Would he swap places with me? Himself and his guilt – I’ll give him feckin guilt when I get out of here.’
‘Try to stay calm and rest if you can and how’s the waterworks?’ Finnegan asked, when the nurse left. She had told him about Martin’s reluctance to use the bed pan and bottle.
‘Fine,’ he said shyly.
‘You’re going to have to use the pan and bottle. Just for a couple of days. It’s a better option than being catheterized.’
‘Whatever that is,’ he muttered.
‘We insert a plastic tube into the urinary tract, through the penis…’
‘Lave it so, lave it so, I’ll use it, I’ll use the feckin thing, enough said.’
‘Good man and you’ll be able to use the commode in a day or two.’
‘All because that ceolán Callanan let us down and he’ll hear all about it, let me tell you. I’ll redden his fat arse when I see him. How long do you think I’ll be in Doctor?’
‘Three or four days at most and the community nurse will be call to change the dressings for a week or two. You will have a few sessions with the physiotherapist and we will have you back to the day clinic for a check up in about a month.’
It was probably because they had established routines in their mundane lives that Martin was able to keep the promise of not speaking to his brother. When Noel came in he would pass himself off, throw an odd third person comment in Sonny’s direction but not speak directly to him.
‘He was saying we might only cut ten hoppers this year. Haven’t we half a shed full of turf still and he was saying it’s gone to forty euro a hopper.’
‘Was he?’ Noel would say and carry on as if it were normal. Other neighbours thought it comical, but Noel felt sorry for both of them.
When he drove him home from the hospital, Martin insisted they stop in Harney’s, said he wanted to treat Noel to a drink and have one or two to give him the courage to face ‘the bucko,’ at home. The pints came and Martin walked to the furthest table from the bar and sat down.
‘I’m ashamed of me life after it Noel. Will I tell you the worst part?’
‘I don’t mind.’
‘It was the shower. That’s what nearly killed me. They made me strip off, with the brace on the arm and no way of covering meself and wasn’t it one of the young Maher girls from Clonoo that washed and dried me and she saw every bit of me. As naked as the day I was born. That was the worst part of all. I didn’t mind the pain; it’s the shame of it. Good God I nearly died in that bathroom. Do you know what I’m going to tell you Noel? I cried, cried I did.
‘Ah sure them girls do that every day. They don’t take a blind bit of notice. Don’t be thinking about that now.’
‘I can’t get over it. I won’t set foot in the church again or go to a match in case I’d meet her.’
‘Ah now, that’s a bit extreme Martin.’
‘It might be. It’s easy for you to say and you a married man but I never had anything to do with a woman. Never in all my days did I?’
‘But it’s their job Martin. You’ll forget about it in time I think.’
‘I won’t. I’m grateful for the lift home and won’t you call in the morning as usual? It might be shop cake for a while until I get the plaster off but sure you won’t mind that.’
‘Not a bit. Of course I won’t.’
‘Here’s a few bob for the diesel and what do I owe your missus for the pyjamas?’
‘Never mind that and you don’t need give me anything.’
‘Here, take it,’ Martin said, handing Noel a folded up twenty Euro note.
‘Buy yourself a lottery ticket and sweets for the kids.’
In less than six months Martin was back to full health and the following April when they were walking the bog road, Sonny heard the cuckoo. He had gotten used to not being spoken to but thought he would try one more time and the cuckoo’s song seemed like the perfect prompt. The first of them to hear the cuckoo always pronounced it and depending on the week or month, there would be some prophesy made about the harvest or the weather.
‘Is that the cuckoo I hear?’ Sonny said. Martin stopped walking, looked up and listened but gave no answer.
The spuds got planted in silence, the turf got footed and the summer came. The Spark rewired the house and sheds. They saved the hay, cut the oats and stacked it in the haggard. They had a herd test, cut down trees for firewood, disinfected the calf stalls, made rhubarb jam, hung the onions in the shed, made the potato pit, cleaned out the gutters, sold the bullocks at the mart and bought ten weanlings without speaking a word to each other.
The following March when they were planting the spuds, Sonny kneeling in the drills with a bucket of slits, Martin following with a bag of fertiliser, they both heard the cuckoo at the same time and stopped working.
‘And that’s what all the feckin talk was about this time last year.’ Martin said.
*Winner of the Molly Keane Creative Writing Award 2014