”But I was only … only eighteen back then,” I said, changing my mind. “Nobody knows what they want at that age, or where they’re going,” I added.
“But they do at twenty-two, it seems! They think they know it all at twenty-two.”
“It’s not that simple, really,” I said, surprising myself at going so far.
“Oh, sure, it’s not simple. It’s anything but!”
He pushed the kettle aside and opened the top of the range again as if he was checking to see the fire was still lit. It was.
“I went out with her, because I didn’t know – I didn’t know what to do, because all the other lads had a girl…”
“Oh, you were …”
“I asked her in the first place because I had to take somebody to the school formal. Everyone was taking some girl or other. I couldn’t go alone. And it would’ve been odd to take Máirín or Eilín. They wouldn’t have gone anyway. I couldn’t stay at home because I’d’ve been the only one in my class not there. What else could I do?” I said, amazed I’d managed to get that much out.
“How do I know what you should’ve done? Couldn’t you just be like everyone else … that, that or stay home?” There was something about the way he said “home”.
“I couldn’t,” I said, “not forever … It’s not that I didn’t try …” I thought it best to go no further, afraid he wouldn’t understand.
“So that’s what brings you up to Dublin so much,” he said, glad to have worked that much out for himself.
“Yes. Yes, I suppose.” What else could I say, I thought.
“And we were all convinced you had a woman up there. People asking me if we’d met her yet… or when we’d get to see her. Aunty Nora asking just the other day when we’d have the next wedding … thinking a year after your mother’s death would be OK.”
“Aunty Nóra doesn’t have to worry about me. It’s as well she didn’t get married herself anyway,” I said, scunnered as soon as I’d said it at the suggestion I was making.
“Up to Dublin! Huh.” He spoke to himself. “Dublin’s quare and dangerous,” he added, in a way that didn’t require an answer.
He turned around, his back to the range. Clambered over to the kitchen table. Tilted the milk-cooler with his two hands to pour a drop of it into the jug till it was near overflowing. I was glad he never spilt any on the table, ready to clean it up if I had to. I felt awkward and ashamed sitting there watching him do this – my job usually. He poured the extra milk that wouldn’t fit in the jug into the saucepan the calves used and set it on the side of the range to heat it up until the cows were milked; after that he’d see to the calves. He lifted the enamel milk-bucket that was always set on the table-rails once it was cleaned every morning after the milking. Then he gave it a good scalding with hot water from the kettle – water boiled stupid that had the kettle singing earlier. He set down the kettle, with its mouth turned in, back on the side of the range so that it wouldn’t boil over with the heat. He swirled the scalding water around the bottom of the bucket and then emptied it in one go into the calves’ saucepan. He stretched over a bit to grab the dishcloth off the rack above the range. Dried the bucket. Hung it up again rather carelessly, watching to see it didn’t roll down on top of the range. It didn’t.
All at once, he straightened up as if a thought had suddenly struck him. He turned round to me. Looked for a second as our eyes met and went over each other. The look he gave was different from the first -that soft sudden glance he gave me when I first told him. I noticed the wrinkles across his forehead, some curled, some squared off, the short grey hair pulled down in a fringe, the eyebrows: the eyes. What eyes! It was those eyes drove out of me whatever dream was going through my head just then. Those eyes caught me out all right. Those eyes that could say so much without him even having to open his mouth. I understood then that the only way to look at a man was right in the eyes, even if it was a casual side-glance, on the sly… I looked away, couldn’t take any more, grateful that he took it upon himself to speak. He had the bucket tucked up under his armpit the way he did when he was going out milking.
“And what about your health?” he managed to say, nervously. “Is your health OK?”
“Oh, I’m fine, just fine,” I replied quick as I could, more than glad to be able to give such a clear answer. I started tapping my fingers. Then it struck me just what he was asking.
“God preserve us from the like of that,” he said over his shoulder to me, on his way to the door. You could tell he was relieved.
“You don’t have to worry,” I said, trying to build his trust, having got that far. “I’m careful. Very careful. Always.”
“Can you be a hundred per cent careful?” he added curiously, his voice more normal. “I mean if half what’s in the Sunday papers and the week’s TV is true.”
I let him talk away, realizing he probably knew much more than I thought. Wasn’t the TV always turned towards him, with all sorts of talk going on in some of the programmes while he sat there in the big chair with his eyes closed, dozing by the fire it seemed but probably taking it all in.
He took his coat down off the back of the door, set it over the chair.
“And did you have to tell me all this at my age?”
“Yes and no.” I’d said it before I realized, but I continued: “Well, I’m not saying I had to, but I was afraid you’d hear it from someone else, afraid someone’d say something about me with you there.” I thought I was getting through. “I thought you should know anyway; I thought you were ready.”
“Ready! I’m ready now all right… And are you telling me people round here know?” he said, disgusted.
“Yes, as it happens. You can’t hide anything… especially in a remote place like this.”

AuthorMicheál Ó Conghaile
2018-08-21T17:23:04+00:00 February 25th, 2008|Categories: Prose, Literature, Blesok no. 58|0 Comments