(excerpt from the novel)
Guido found her.
Seaweed for hair, she lay like a broken shop-window mannequin on the black wet rocks. Guido looked at her, the sun off the water making his eyes squint. It was a beautiful morning, cold and full of sun in a blue, wide sky.
They took Guido away. For hours they asked him questions. They took her body away too and the tracks of the ambulance stayed in the soft brown sand until the tide came in and washed their stain away. They let Guido go. Yes, he knew her, but that, discouragingly, was all. Everybody knew her.
Guido sold chips and fried sausages and burgers from a white rusty van. How long are you in this country? They asked him. They were not friendly. Many years, Guido answered. My children go to school here. Well, just you be careful, they said. They moved around her broken unclothed body, touching, feeling, looking, taking photographs, and then the ambulance came and she was put in a black bag and taken away. Telling all of this to his Irish wife, Guido said: How she loved the beach! When his children came home, they said that everyone was talking about it. All their friends.
Some of the village children thought Manny was a witch.
She wasn’t, but she wore her grey hair long behind her, her face was wrinkled like an old apple and she made her own clothes. And she didn’t eat meat. She wrote poetry. Someone said that she was well-known, somewhere. Her German accent had dwindled over the years. She spoke some Irish as well as English. Once a week she held a Poetry Group in the back room of Maher’s Pub on the quay.
Some people said she was mad. All the foreigners around the village were mad or at least very odd. With their odd – mad – ways. Their poetry and middle-aged little girlishness about them, the women. The men handy at everything from putting in light-bulbs to mending thatch.
Which went to show that they had been well educated and that meant they had money, so what were they doing pretending to have nothing. Living in caravans, while their cottages were being built. They had money. And they took drugs and their children, running around in knitted clothes of every colour in the rainbow, were to be pitied, with their oddly posh accents.
The shop was full of talk about the girl’s body on the beach. When Manny came in, the talking stopped. Manny looked up and smiled: Don’t you mind me at all! She said.
Which came out, to them, like a taunt. Manny said mildly as she paid for her candles and some other nick-nacks that it was a terrible thing, that girl, what had happened to her. And the women moved in, thinking Manny knew details they had not heard. They resented her for needing her. They looked at her angrily. What happened to her? one of them said. Was she, God spare us, raped? said another, rolling the delicious word around on her tongue so that her thin pale lips were wet. I know nothing of that, Manny said. I just think it is so terrible.Oh, said one woman.
Yes, said another. They were disappointed. Manny had let them down. Which is what you could expect from these mad people. Manny had no electricity in her cottage. She kept her own poultry. And a cow. She seemed to do everything for herself. She lived alone. Woman her age, someone said as she left. Acting the hippy.
The mountain lay its huge hand over the village. In the distance, its brothers and sisters huddle raggedly against a thin, cold horizon and in winter, they wore hats of snow.
The sea lapped at the feet of the mountain. The village was here too. The mountain gave some meagre shelter against harsh ocean weather. Dirty white spots of sheep speckled the brown slopes. Around the mountain’s waist was tied a thin yellow path where the pilgrims walked. Upwards they’d go, disappearing into the dripping grey cloud.
Many years ago a French tourist had gone up that path and he’d never come back. The mountain, some said, gave out a low, monotonous moan, a single, sad note, from time to time. Some said it was the chant of wind and sea, courting each other. Seals came up out of the sea sometimes and they were the people who had died in the village in the old days.
The tiny village graveyard, headstones blistered by lichen and cracked by age, was near the sea so that the departing souls would have no trouble going home. But the mountain was a benevolence, looking over everything. It was a holy place. For as long as tradition could tell.
There were people who’d had visions of saints up there, under the clouds.
O Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy upon us! O Sacred heart of Jesus, Have mercy upon us! I have sinned. I have blasphemed. I have killed. I have spat upon the most precious love of Our Lord Jesus Christ. And I have been justly punished. And there will be no place of peace for me anywhere in the earth. And I will kill again.
I have confided so many things to these small pages over the years. Things I would not confide, with any hope of forgiveness, in the dark anonymity of the confessional. To whom can such things be confessed? I do not hope for absolution; perhaps that is the greatest sin, black with pride. Heavy with pride, sick with pride. That I have taken the law into my own hands – whose law? What does the phrase mean? That I am above ordinary men, who must sin and suffer a torment of desire to repent. I have killed once, out of love. Love as red madness. And not a day, or a night, passes when I do not see the face of my victim. Sick with grief and love, I killed. A love I had no right to fee. A grief I did not earn. And cowardice! I concealed my crime. I had not the courage to deliver myself into justice. I pulled God down around myself and hid under Him.
But now this killing is full of justice, almost glorious in its rightness! Anger, revulsion at my human kind, hatred – I feel all of these things. With these sensations come images of that first time. I cannot sleep. I do not have the strength I had that first time. I do not have the courage. Fill me with strength, Christ, that I may kill what has to be killed. And kill at the same instant, in the instant of the new death, the grief of years which has blackened and corrupted my immortal soul.