|Marc Ó Riain‘s work has been published in the Sunday Tribune, Southword, and the anthology Abandoned Darlings. His fiction has been short-listed for a Hennessy Literary Award, and his poetry short-listed for the Gregory O’ Donoghue International Poetry Award. He holds an MA in writing from NUIG. He lives on the Loop Head Peninsula, and blogs occasionally as An Idler on the Loop.|
The Last of the Light
By Marc Ó Riain
An old friend called by today. I hadn’t seen him in a while but I’d heard that he wasn’t well. Something with his eyes. There was to be an operation soon.
We drank tea, caught up on things, settled into our old ease. And after a while, it felt good.
He wanted to drive around, see a bit of the peninsula. The day was grey, heavy-looking. Earlier, while I’d sat reading the paper, the sun had come out for a bit and I’d thought it might come good.
We took the coast road by Dunlickey; past the weekenders out cycling, jogging, cliff-walking, on until the narrow road was all ours, the Atlantic full on our right. Far out on it, a long clean break in the grey, with sunlight on calm-looking water. Looked like it was drifting our way.
We didn’t talk much. Just looked out on it all. Drove.
We were gone past the old well when I remembered that it was known to have a cure for the eyes. I stopped mid-road, reversed, pulled the car in on the grass. My friend grinned, said what the feck.
The sky brightened a moment, the walls gleaming a pure washed white. Inside the housing: rosary beads, old scapulars, medallions. On a ledge: a broken inhaler, aged coins.
I left him alone. My old friend. The arty one.
When he was turning to go, I dipped my fingers into the well, reached up and touched his forehead. It wasn’t awkward: we knew each other too well, too long, and had lost good friends along the road; been humbled as men that way.
Back in the car. On again. Towards Loop Head.
Illaun’araun: Healy’s Island. Lying flat and empty in the sea. Like a cake.
Goleen: Half quarried. Silent as old violence.
Up Knocknagarhoon Hill. A burnt-out house that we hadn’t seen before; it kind of arrested us. Then on, the estuary opening below us to our left; on our right, the Atlantic beginning to shimmer closer. We stopped the car in the middle of the road, looked out as far as the eye could see.
A couple of sharp rights: Tullig. On past the crossroads, the telecoms mast. On down to Rinevella, where the big water was moving gently on a high tide; the long, soft bulge of it swelling up the Shannon estuary.
My friend had lived here for a few years, back when he was taking pictures. He was silent, looking out on the water. Intense look on his face; a flat glint like a mica disc in his sick eye.
After a while, he spoke.
It was of things that he had seen from his window, years before:
The huge waves, once, on Kilstiffen Sandbank: An easterly wind, the water very low; the run of tide and river hitting the bank and sending the spray right up, high into the sky.
And once, drawing back his curtain in the morning, he’d seen a pink bolt of lightning shoot down onto the estuary. No sound. No crashing water. Nothing like that.
. . . And another time, in summer, a big sun setting in the west: thousands of midge-flies were rising from the fields and the bushes and the rushes, up into the last of the light . . . and thousands of tiny, backlit, blood-red particles were flickering in the sky.