Life settled down into routine contentment where desires, events and needs are neatly governed by tradition and expectation. It was the same for most of Sonnyjo’s age. Scottyboy was up the mountains raising three children; Sonnyjo occasionally saw him at the cattle mart or in the grain store and would shyly turn away when questioned about his own potential offspring. YoungJed, across the fields, also had two boys, although as the years fled the neighbors seldom exchanged more than routine acknowledgements anymore, their backgrounds finally having crept up to overcome their childish, boundryless necessity. It wasn’t that they deliberately avoided contact, simply that their social groups never touched.
When forced into society Sonnyjo saw more of his cousins than anyone. That family continued to spread, counting and naming long since a deserted intention. Little Joe, Big Joe, Old man Joe, Joe junior, the permutations of the traditional family names were long wrung dry until Sonnyjo lost track and referred to very few by name any longer. Nevertheless, there was minor uproar when his cousin Boris the Bearded named her last daughter Imelda: having nothing to do with the family or even a common saint, the name was held by the older generations as blasphemous, to the extent that they reverted to calling the poor child Mary regardless. Baby Mary. She spent her adult life trying to shake it off, unsuccessfully. She would always be the baby of the six preexisting Marys. Sonnyjo ’s immediate neighbor YoungJed also got married, a few months after Sonnyjo’s wedding. They had a son within ten months to the silent chagrin of Sonnyjo’s father. With the exception of Pep who lost his life to a loose hunting bullet, and those from poorer families, landless homes, who had ventured south to the cities for a chance of improvement, all of Sonnyjo’s school year were soon settled. There only remained the brotherinlaw, Junior.
Sinead had quickly deserted him originally, glad to be away, too busy with her new home to remember or feel sorry. Later, with the kindness of distance, he came to appear less of a threat and more of a thorn in her conscience. Relaxing with, gaining confidence of her new found position, she could begin to view her brother more neutrally. Painfully, she realized that like many others she had cursed him with the sins of her father. Though burdened with a gloomy disposition and a tendency to scorn, his character, she was forced to admit, bore little resemblance to that of her parent.
Her father had drunk their scant business into the ground, and drunk heavier as he watched it collapse. Never good at working he did nothing at all once blacksmiths went out of fashion. It was Junior who ventured into machinery repair, who scraped a penny wherever he saw an opportunity. In a modest way he had kept them going and allowed the older man the luxury of bringing himself alone to an early grave. Despite his efforts people gave little credit and refused to see anything but his father reflected in the hunch of those same sullen shoulders. Trapped with one, then the other, Sinead had made the same mistake. Smothered by her own bitterness she neglected to realize that while Junior had been cursed with, or forced into, the grumpy shadow of Junior senior, he had more reason to be sullen, and that deep down the violent streak of frustrated despair was totally absent. Junior had never struck her once, would never even think of it. Sinead knew that, but only accepted it as fact now that she was safely beyond having to worry. He too had had to survive their father. With a degree of shame, she finally separated the two men who had governed her life for so long until she recognized the hurt that ran through Junior like an undrawn arrow. In a rush of compassion, she once wondered how he could keep going.
The steps echoing in Sonnyjo’s ears were unrecognized echoes of those Sinead once took along the pathways of her and Junior’s past. Especially in the bad months, those black infested hours where even summer failed to enter, she would respool the images over and over, to fast forward again and again through the running order she finally settled upon. When she felt so alone, devastatingly empty inside, with Sonnyjo out the fields too far away to notice, solitude always returned her to Junior. How could he still laugh? Having left him alone, guilt forced her eyes to follow his every twitch; and read between the mangled lines a saga all the more poignant for its silence. He would never tell it, not now. He would immerse himself in the linear schemes of politics instead. Sinead’s heart ached for him from the safety of her new home; and for a while, her instincts, stirred by the first months of blissful marriage and heightened by later disappointments, drew them closer, over the gap of legal distance, until in unspoken ways they explored feelings that for so long had been kept barren. Nevertheless, it took Junior a long time before he came up to visit her at the farm.
Sinead knew some mouths had suspected him of actually wanting the damn land but she was convinced that all Junior wanted was to keep her at home.
At first she didn’t miss him. Then out of vanity, the need for some family beyond the most recently acquired, she cursed him for not coming up to visit. “Just jealous,” she scorned him after mass one Sunday, and began to wonder if he really was.
When she went into town and sought him out he pretended to be busy. “How are you managing?”
Clank of spanners. Muffled curses to the Gods as fingers skint a fender.
“Are you eating?”
“No. Fucking starving! What do you think?”
“But really... They say you don’t go across to Mrs. Wockings. She promised to feed you once a day.”
“Fine by myself.”
Sinead kicked loose coal along the floor, more absently than thoughtfully.
“All right then.” She departed, intelligently reining in an instinct to give the kitchen she’d glanced a rush of cleanliness. Do it once and she’d be back here once a week, then every morning, cooking and cleaning for two houses. That’s what he was playing for. Jealous she’d found someone and would do his best to capture her back, at least partly, for long enough to do the basic chores. No. He had had his opportunity and let it slip. Had he thought of her when the deserting shoe was on the other foot? She doubted it.
She let a week slip by before she ventured into town again. He had made no effort of coming anywhere near the farm. Sonnyjo ’s aunt still hadn’t been completely retired from the house and Sinead was glad of the opportunity to get for a break, to sample her new found freedom. “Off to see the brother,” she muttered to the older woman. She repeated the excuse to her fatherinlaw who was coming in the door. He grinned widely, nodded happily at the bubbling stew before walking her down the path to the road.
“Winter falling in soon.”
“Yes,” she agreed absently, her slim arm slipping around the crook of the less steady if equally fragile bones of her companion.
“But still a nice day.”
“Not bad. Not bad at all.”
Soft, kind. Well meaning banalities without any need for the illegible shadows of dishonest gloss. They walked shoulders bumping as feet stumbled across loose gravel until Sinead faced the road into town alone unable to see the old man waving briefly at her back.
He loved her for the shine of normality she had brought to Sonnyjo; and for the spark of memory she had lit in his own soul, that bitter twist of another’s reflection in her eyes, of his own wife all those years ago. He was too old to be lonely, wise enough to appreciate company, even of ghostly reminders.
Passing shouts of curious welcome, gentle probes and chortling banter, fluttered around her as she made her way to what she still, ironically considering her haste to leave, called “my home”. She was vaguely surprised that the marriage, happiness, freedom she had presumably achieved, still couldn’t wipe clean of builtin pressure. The smells and creaks of her old house oozed ease even as they hinted all too strongly at crueler faiths.
“Why don’t you come up?” she asked him directly on her second visit. While all too aware of the benefits of time, she remained impulsive beyond her own cautions. Standing in silence, resting uncomfortably against the doorpost of his shed, feet idling among loose coal chunks, she refused to play the game any longer it would only become boring, then irritating, too late to be bothered altering.
Sinead was returned to tossing coal between her feet. Refusing to answer him her attentions focused squarely on the lumps between her toes until she managed to place a chunky hunk neatly in the crack behind her big toe nail.
“Oooh ... Bitch! ... What did y... Sorry.” Childish shame pleading forgiveness for adult language as the pain faded and Junior stopped holding his tingling shin.
Encouraged by her aim, the neat flick of her ankle, Sinead was giggling. “Serves you right.” She tried again and struck closer. Junior winced.
“What do you mean? What did you do that for?
Still too pleased with herself to listen Sinead held her stomach and laughed without shame as Junior’s face glided from surprised hurt through flirting anger, to reddening confusion. His mouth was wavering, searching for a command, held tight by the fear of his sister simply ignoring it. His confusion stirred her on until she was twisting towards him in a ballet of mirth. Junior stepped back as if it were contagious. Then he gripped her arm quickly, tugging as he attempted to gather himself together with the power of words. “What are you doing?” each syllable bending under the stress of command. Sinead spun around him unheeding, her deep throated shouts twisting off the roof. “Stop it. Stop being silly. You’re a married woman now,” he warned, except that, back in her house, out in the shed, trapped under the soft force of her brother’s fingers, she no longer was. Marriage was finally allowing the child the space to come out and play she had never enjoyed before.
Darting sunlight rose to spear their cave like blasts from an ash wand, until even Junior was spinning in a blaze of good humor. He held her wrist firmly but it was she who led; under the strength of his own grip he was forced to follow.
Finally, she calmed herself to uneven chuckles, falling back on a pile of empty coal sacks with relief, a tinge of exhaustion. Junior tumbled down after her, the mature severity of balance long lost. He felt himself panting. He no longer had the strength to reprimand or to urge sense on a timid school girl. He just shook his head despairingly eyes closing above puffedred cheeks. Still tied together at the wrist the two bodies heaved under a single, childish sigh.
That was when Sinead remembered that Junior had once laughed, that it was now missing.
Sometimes, especially under the weight of more recent events, it seemed that very few people at all laughed any more with anything other than malice, humor tainted with meanness. Vicious little squeals had replaced those great bawls of sheer fun as people ran from the streets to hide in the darkness of what their life had become. But it hadn’t always been like that; even in bad times laughter had once eased the pain. Sonnyjo’s Old Man was the perfect example. He was like a barometer of the villager’s state of mind. He’d always loved fun, a good laugh, but the strength, the tone of his roar, heard by those well accustomed, was more than simple laughter: it was a definite indicator of how the town felt as a whole. Pastor Friedman, the local mayor, any public figure who lasted long, or successful, including clergy, learned to wait for Sonnyjo’s father’s contribution to any village gathering before finalizing a decision. The strength of his joke, power of his own appreciative humor, reflected the dept of general approval or resentment to the motion on hand. When Pastor Fredman called a meeting to propose gathering funds for a new church roof, the old man finally pronounced, with a long waited flourish, that God would find them all the easier without one; and it wasn’t the joke itself but the way he laughed at his own humor which confirmed the priests fears that he would forever give sermons under a leaking dome. The roar rose until it enfolded a host of echoing thoughts, until the whole room shook in support. Sonnyjo’s Old Man was then the first to get out a ladder and replace a few loose tiles: they didn’t cost a penny a good laugh, he always said, was the fountain of common sense.
The night Mayor Jakeson wanted to have the river dredged for pre-historic remains, their historical past, the old man heaved with a rolling thunder of scorn. He didn’t even bother to say anything. The sound alone was enough to blaze the villager’s disbelief: they all knew who owned the dredging company, that any remains would find their way to the Mayor’s own bank account down in the city; and they weren’t talking about lost bones but backhanders, false work generating a spiral of needless commissions.
The only time the old man had ever to crack two jokes to raise a brief chuckle was through the heavy rain which saturated the headmaster’s suggestion for a peace march. “I’ll march peacefully,” piped Sonnyjo’s Old Man firmly from the back. No one said a word. His own accompanying chuckle faded under the weight of damp air and stodgy disapproval. “Although I can’t march for long anymore,” he continued after a pause. Again silence hung through the evening twisting in the confusion of people’s desires. Finally, from behind someone did cackle loudly, proudly through the tense rain until, timidly at first, then with tornado building force, a torrential downpour of raucous sound beat away the rain. The march went ahead but the initial hesitance at supporting the old man’s jokes hinted at the discord which was beginning to run deeper and deeper; his laughter no longer reflected anything but his own good humor, common sense, the wisdom of unheeded age.
It was the last time he generated public laughter. He himself seemed to recognize his failing powers. Like a witch doctor on the border of senility, a magician with two ends of a broken staff which wouldn’t quite fit, he was left doubting, aware that the humor he had last created was in reality as divided, out of tune, as the village itself. The peace march wobbled feebly to a close, short, thinly spread out, walked out of respect rather than conviction, like that last laughter he’d been awarded.
Since then laughter itself appeared to have lost it’s mystical grace. Harder to be heard, more easily warped, distracted, refracted into unvoiced anger, it brittled into specks like the shattered glass of a stoned window.
Junior had stopped laughing long before that Sinead remembered; but like the town itself, even in despair he had once found a tease, a slant, a twist of the uncommon, a glimpse of the absurd, that glint of magic humor that maintains the banality of life behind the boundaries which keep it from encroaching to destroy the spirit.
Lying on the harsh coal sacks, lungs heaving under the fun, she willed him to grin again, chuckle, twist once more just as he had when they were young, in the days when he’d kept her from both their father’s hand and the house’s depression. Unexpectedly, she saw him mimicking; she’d forgotten how good he had been, that he used once fill their stolen minutes with a regalia of characters, halfimaginary or carved viciously from reality. After their father scolded her she would keep tears back under the deferred gratification of watching her brother’s own scorn: later, hidden behind this very shed she would repeat the ugly words of their father, the threats smothered in tears, until Junior would take up the role with gusto, stomping drunkenly, rolling his words into an inedible dough of sticky curses, vile promises, humorless pain: “I’ll fucking flog you ’till you fall. Teach you to laugh at me. You think you know it all you little brat. Come here and I’ll teach you. What are you running from? I’m your father. Come here and I’ll tell you. Think you can get away with that shabby work. Call that clean and the bloody potatoes half raw. Get away from your father. Teach you a lesson. Teach some respect. Take that.” Junior would stumble under the attempted stroke then fall drunkenly, struggle to his feet arms waving blindly lips moving clumsily over a stream of antique curses until they both collapsed laughing, as quietly as possible in case he found them. Hidden away, those snatched minutes of mimed ridicule, like all good comedy or art, seeped the despair from horror and made their father more bearable.
Junior’s role as a laughable clown took the sting from his blows; and his own frustration at not being able to stand up to the big man was blunted by cutting him down to size on his private stage. Their huddled theatre was like a sly exorcism, banishing the spirits without their even realizing. Giggles overcame fear, laughter released their hatred in the darkness of the garage, once they knew he’d disappeared back down the village on a binge and that they would be safe until he woke them much later that night. A brief escape, quick respite.
They couldn’t hide for long. There was still work to be done: if it wasn’t finished the wrath would be worse and if they weren’t there to deflect the blows their mother would be left defenselessly alone it was easier for three to dodge than one. Stolen moments on the coal sacks. Brittle shouts of mirth brushing aside the darkening shadows of a rough hand. The laughter seemed so far away now.
Sinead had always wanted to ask her mother what had led her to marry him. Perhaps there had once been love, or youthful infatuation; maybe they had no choice, but even Sinead could remember softer hands, bluer eyes teaching her to toddle, mouthing the strange sounds she would later come to recognize and accept as speech. He hadn’t always been a brute, had he? What had changed? She used try to sap the answer from Junior’s extra five years experience. He never replied beyond cursing, urging her not to forgive or forget the bastard he’d become, weaken under illusions of past innocence.
“Always bad. People didn’t change. Born a bad ’un and would die one. The sooner the better.”
People did, however, change. Sinead recognized that. She had seen Junior himself alter over the years. Did their father too have his reasons?
Too many secrets are carried to the earth to be buried beyond reach, their roots left to grow, not necessarily correctly, in the imagination of those left behind. If their mother hadn’t died so early perhaps the whole nightmare of their later childhood would have fallen into place and made sense: there would have been time to explore the reasons and values, understand and pity the worlds of another generation. Or would they have only fallen into deeper horrors, unavoidable frustrations, a more desperate violence as the inability to change truths got tangled in their revelation?
Junior had already taken to striking back by the time their father sagged drunkenly in front of a citybound truck. If it hadn’t been for the tattered coat and the fact that everyone in the bar had heard the scream shortly after his leaving, the pulverized body would have been possible to identity. Dragged for over a kilometer across the knifeedged ice, little was left of the old man by morning. Even less remained of the truck which had faded into the safety of the distant fog and big town light. But if it hadn’t been for the accident perhaps Junior himself, would have killed his begetter. Fists had already been gloved. They were only dancing in the shadows waiting for a misjudged feint.
He was only fifteen the first time, after one of his tiesnatching escapades, when the first all important blow was struck.
Junior had come home scarred from school, a nasty bruise rising over his left eye. Once again he’d taken someone’s tie as he loved to do in some unspoken release of pentup frustrations on those he thought he could handle: he made a mistake that particular day. The new kid had a bigger cousin to avenge his bare neck. The cousin was old, muscular from work, and lived directly across from the school. He was waiting when the final bell rang. Junior defended himself bravely, striking for his right for posterity to steal ties whenever he wished. In those terms he won: no one ever created trouble over a missing tie again. It was more difficult to explain the bruise to his father.
“You little shit you. Bloody little coward. Who did that to you? And I’ll fucking plaster him to a wall. Ganging up on you, were they? And what did they call me, eh? go on tell me. That’s what’s it about. I know what they say about me down that town. Well they wouldn’t say it to my face. Fucking bullies. Take it out on my son. Bloody cowards. Beat the shit out of someone half their age. Shower of wanking cowards. And you, you little runt. Come home in that state. Dare you? Worse than the lot. Little wimp. Did you not fight at all? Not even to defend a poor father. coward. Cowards the lot of you.”
The paranoid ranting followed Junior around the kitchen table, unstoppable in its illogic, grazing his mother’s elbow until after her halfterrified efforts at grabbing the overbearing shadow to one side, she edged back into the alcove beside the stove and sought invisibility.
“Don’t you dare try to defend him!” roared her husband. “And you …” his finger pointed in a damning warning: “You! Old Dawson’s son ... don’t deserve the fucking name. Come home in a state like that. Fucking little coward. I’ll teach you to fight. Come back here you little runt. You’ve done enough fucking running for one day. Who the fuck’s son do you think you are? No bloody Junior are you. Funning away like that. From your own fucking father now. Not a drop of my family’s blood in you. Spilt in the first minutes. Son of a bloody whore’s mother. You’re properly not mine at all.”
The idea was enough to set the mind on fire, on another target.
“Slut. Bloody whore you. Whose fucking son is he anyhow? Eh? I out working my balls off and you free to fuck away with any fucking coward you want. My son wouldn’t come home like that.”
Under the blows of his own oral venom he urged himself towards the fire grabbing his wife by the wrist to sling her, doubledup, across the table. Flour splattered in inaudible puffs. Plates clattered noisily. A tooth snapped to seep blood. A sob. A grunt of breathless pain. Breath choked in a fiery wheeze.
Her husband lost his balance temporarily under the force of his thrown weight.
It was the first time young Junior ever struck back.
He didn’t reach to save his mother. Too blind to see her plight, his blood rushing red at how she’d been verbally mauled, he raced around the table in a blaze of uncontrollable fury. His father was still spinning in his own blind haze. The son charged the father, head to the stomach. The heavier body collapsed backwards with a rolling thump. A scream of pain bit the air. The room shuddered in blindness. The roar continued. The seconds it took for them to realize what had happened froze into long minutes before senses could brace themselves for a reaction.
In disbelief streaked with pain, Old Dawson jerked his back off the stove. He stared at the smoldering skin, instinctively cradling one damaged palm into another. Eyes reddened visibly, mouth fishlike in astonishment. The first to break the spell his indignant body spun around the table.
Junior was to stunned by his own anger to run any further. The back of a knuckled hand clattered across his ear. He felt his neck jerk, heard a bone screech through the hissing in his head. The sound gained momentum until he fell deafly to the floor.
He’d been lucky. His father walked straight over him, out the door without a further glance at any of them. Lucky. Afterwards, he realized he had feared for his life in those fleeting moments, when he was terrified into stillness, a heretical statue awaiting the mallet.
Sinead was the first to reach him on the floor. She rocked his head in her lap tears dripping down onto his forehead. “Get up you little bastard,” she whispered suddenly. “What the fuck you doing sulking like that. Lazy little ...” She was no equal to Junior in mocking mime but her instincts drew a smile, then painful chuckles as they abolished evil with a wave of glinting teeth.
Their mother fell back onto a chair staring at her two shivering children, wondering if they had all suddenly gone mad, if he had driven the whole family over the cliff of sanity. She’d been hating this day for years, when there would be two men to fight each other and the women would be left powerless to come between, attempting to dilute anger as they washed wounds. This was only the beginning she recognized. Her son had got away lightly. Revenge would see him pay in the future, while he himself now had a taste for blood and wouldn’t let it dry un-refreshed. One of them wouldn’t survive; and the women would have no option but to cry at a wake.
Their mother couldn’t find a dash of humor to abate her sorrow. Watching her children giggle madly, she could only hope they would be able to take care of themselves as she sobbed silently through the wrinkled fingers of her beaten hands. Her bones ached as if she herself had been thrown to the floor. She was tired. She was dreading the night to come.
Unable, still too ashamed to have lost or kill his own son in vengeance, old Junior took it out on an easier, more familiar prey when he rolled in later. There was little sleep that night as young Junior and Sinead huddled together to close out the silent thuds, the choked protests of their mother from next door. The yellowing patch along the neck, over the cheek below the left eye, and what further marks buried beneath rough wool, were the following day’s confirmation. Eyes avoided each other unable to communicate comfort for fear of stirring reprisals, or their own frustrated anger: it was easier ignore what they all knew was happening than face the consequences of dealing with it, of discovering impotency in the face of the twisted loyalties of nature.
Junior’s attack was, however, a turning point.
Shocked by his son’s sudden growth to powerful anger, Old Dawson Junior was suddenly afraid of provoking his son beyond reason: nothing more than the clip around the ear to maintain respect, remind him who was boss. He refused to go any further. His fear was, as his wife suspected, far deeper than simply physical: deep down he was frightened of desertion, of being left all alone with nothing but his own twisted heart.
His wife cursed his wisdom. Junior would be better off provoked, gone, away out of here. And Sinead as well, married to someone, anyone would be better and get her out of this misery. If anyone could be trusted. Rapidly aging, their motherr despaired of human nature, seeingit for what it was, a twisted fate of good will turned sour, smiles that conceal hard knuckles, smiles that lure the innocent to fist across the jaw. She had been brought up to please; she would forever feel guilty for somehow failing him, for allowing him to beat his own children. It was for them she mourned, waited. She had grown used to it. Too late to run away now. No where left to go anymore. Years ago her family might have taken her back, but not with two children: they couldn’t afford it. There was no other choice: stay or die on the edge of the road. All she wanted was something better for the young ones. They still had time on their side but she also knew that beating their father would only create rather than solve problems. Meanwhile nothing was said.
The terror continued within it’s most recently defined boundaries.
Junior didn’t strike back again at his father, in fear, not for himself, but of the inevitable reprisals their mother would have to suffer later that night. The idea of entering their bed chamber to defend her still frightened. The only way out was to kill the bastard in cold blood. Himself and Sinead had often discussed it, from time to time, when their laughter struggled and their mother’s sobbing could be heard across the yard. Like suicide, the thought was an ultimate relief, when all else fails. It provided a certain calmness, diplomacy by it’s continued presence.
Meanwhile Junior and Old Dawson had reached an unspoken pact. After the confrontation in the kitchen his father knew that there were new boundaries to his power, and the knowledge rose until it was with fear he gazed slyly at his son across the table. Physically it was uneven: the child had outgrown the man. The clouts Junior suffered reflected this, becoming more tokens of authority than genuine blows of power. Sinead survived the best. Sensing the closeness between the two offspring the old man was cute enough to realize that any onslaught beyond the normal on his daughter would be a declaration of all out warfare and he was no longer the man he used to be. In his heart he recognized a better; and fortunately, in the process of maintaining this delicate balance of power, he spent more and more time down the bars so that when he arrived home he was rarely able to achieve more than a stream of curses and desperately untimed lunges at whoever happened to be near, most of them ending up glancing off the doorpost. Violence declined into drunken fumbles. Even their mother benefitted. Within the parameters of what the family knew, they were achieving relative peace.
A year passed like that. New customs overawed daily rhythm and their mother was quick to sense that a defense had been formed, the rules of a new game defined, which would permit those who remained to live in the nearest resemblance they could achieve of peace. She died from pneumonia on the second of May, when most thought Spring would save her.
Sinead was certain her mother knew better. Her cough had lashed through the two previous springs unabated; her face had grown thin beyond her frame; her bones ached for all to hear; she knew now that her children would survive, finally able to defend themselves. It was time for a respite. She allowed herself the one comfort of her life, the luxury of death. Sinead only realized this later, when she had come closer to Junior again, as she finally braved the teeth of emotions to probe, like an amateur doctor, beyond hoarseness to the burning ends of the offended throat.
When her mother died Sinead felt only resentment, the hurt of being left alone. It wasn’t until she achieved a level of selfautonomy that she began to reach beyond such resolve. Married, escaped, free as far as she could be, Sinead realized that her mother had left because she knew they would be ok; Junior would take care of her, she of both the men, bound into a metal triangle of hate, love and obligation, all within subtly defined boundaries. They use triangles to build bridges nowadays she reflected, not arches but the entrapping force of three opposites straining without a centre. Her mother couldn’t have waited any longer; her children had no choice but to be held, like a bridge in suspension, until one of the side gave way. That’s what Pythagoras was talking about. School was too far away for Sinead to remember.
Locked in their growing hovel the idea of patricide was perennially active. An accident would be easy given his propensity for rickety bikes on top of a crateful of empty bottles. Anger, however, hinted more at a quick stabbing, reckless malicious cracking and the joy of watching hated eyes exploding.
They never did it. They were too smart, the triangle too brittle. The urge to kill someone close is the strongest, and the binds of family a tight taming bind on those almost natural desires; the slaughter of a relative can only be premeditated Sinead decided afterwards, and neither of them were strong enough to destroy their own blood, no matter how poisoned it may have turned.
As their mother’s funeral faded under tattered daffodils they all calmed down into a sullen cohabitation, the grumbles that hid frustrations only occasionally bursting the pipes of consensus with force, the frost of deep winter destroying the flow of normality. Nevertheless, even in the storm, Old Dawson’s blows lost their sadism to become routine twitchings. Junior’s eyes lost their anger, sinking into distant warning lights that were seldom switched on. Alone with two men Sinead retreated to the company of females whenever she could. The neighbors were good. Despite cruel tongues their insides were of a softer dough, a less crustified urge of kinship.
Sinead grew apart. She did the chores, cooked, cleaned, pressed and ironed, as far as was needed; the dullness of unpolished windows, the scorch stains on an old table cloth, were never noticed. Bitter words sank to silence; memories were beaten back until even their mother disappeared in a haze of broken promises. Sinead did as she was taught to, timidly, hastily, just without the boundaries of being justifyingly beaten. As the neighbors taught her to survive she slowly began to distrust even her own brother: a woman’s life was that of a cheat, defiance through indifference, love through pity.
Lying on rough coal sacks the dust bit her nose, her mother returned, hanging above them ghostlike, also giggling, for the first time. Something snapped. As Junior struggled to regain flapping feet, Sinead clutched him all the closer laughter ripping upwards, refreshed from the bottom of her lungs: they’d survived! Ghosts could return, spirits still achieve victory. She laughed again, hugging him closer, down into the coal dust beneath their backs.
Finally, Sinead released her brother from his embarrassment. Fighting for curses he stumbled to his feet. Too happy to grumble Sinead continued giggling until he retreated into a wary silence.
“What?” he began, then hesitated beneath the tender mockingness.
“You’re all black,” she told him, pointing ridiculously to the coal dust that clung to his back.
“So are you!” he returned, before realizing he’d been trapped into natural instincts, the absolution of feint anger. “What in hell?” He tried again. “What the hell is up with you? Some bloody secret charm. You wouldn’t think it of him.”
“Of your bloody husband. All this laughing. You’re not a kid anymore.”
“Nothing wrong with a bit of fun, is there?”
Junior growled feigning despair. “I don’t know. Don’t know.”
“Course you don’t. Jealous. That’s what you are. What’s wrong with a good laugh. Jealous.”
Before either of them knew it they’d returned to the familiar territory of easy banter, rudely tainted by the fear of weakening kindness.
And she left him, both of them swiping coal dust from their clothes with aimless swashes of bony arms.
She took the long way home. It was home now. She’d been searching for a home for so long she might as well recognize it as well as enjoy it.
Sonnyjo’s Old Man met her at the gate, beaming, a rake gangling over one shoulder. He’d heard steps approaching down the path and raced across the garden superstitiously to meet her. “Just tidying out the back garden like you said. Get some potatoes in there, a few carrots, like you said. Good ground. You were right. Few onions, even a cauliflower or two, did you say? What do you think?”
She smiled but he noticed the wake behind it, the lack of gleam. He searched for her eyes but found them hiding delicately, behind the shades of long practice. “You all right? That brother of yours giving you trouble? I’ll see to him. Just say the word.”
It wasn’t fair.They all thought the worst of him. Even herself. She’d just ignored him beyond decent restraint. Teased and betrayed without any consideration for what he was suffering.
“No. Fine.” She fumbled for correction. “Keep at it,” she urged, “get those potatoes in before it’s too late.”
Hesitatingly, unnervingly, moving the rough wood of the rake from shoulder to fist, back again, rasping his neck, the old man coughed, spluttered, spat, spittle knawing away at the gravel beneath their feet. He’d lived with a woman long enough to decide he was temporarily unwanted: back to the potatoes as she said hard worked solved all confusions.
Inside, as alone as one can be once married, tied to men who cry about apron strings, Sinead calmed down. She got the soap out and tackled an oily old jacket in an effort at concentration. Rub scrub dub, back, return, over, knuckly knead, blast soap, buckling nails, starch spread and wring out, and again, over and over, pound and tumble, her heart regained an even beat. Outside she heard the equally rhythmic thud of a hoe through roughly soft earth. Potatoes and oil. Flannel and wood. Earth washed away, replaced, the endless stains of day to day living.
Several days passed before she allowed herself to consider the Junior problem seriously. It took that time to deal with her mother’s resurrection.
After looming above her, hovering on those sacks of coal, the presence remained, attentively close for several days. Her mother returned to plead, or explain forgiveness. And in her dreams she was younger than Sinead had ever known, less troubled, happily gay as if her daughter’s memories were nothing more than a cruel falsification, the years of hardship a mockery of genuine happiness.
“Why did she marry him? The question span through Sinead’s mind in every spare, solitary moment. Her dreams were disturbing. They unlocked the framework she’d created, the reasoning that had been carefully constructed so that all their suffering made some sense. But the myth was too simple, one dimensional. There ws a lingering fear it could all be repeated, that she too could end up in her mother’s cage. Nothing about Sonnyjo ’s meek character told her so; she just hoped her search for peace hadn’t thrown her into the arms of another monster. They were all so innocent once, her father throwing her into the air to stop her teething, catching her just before she hit the ground, stuffing a bottle down her neck with a smile, heavy breath, a slush of panic, sluice gates panicking to be opened.
Sinead wasn’t superstitious. Nevertheless, she couldn’t deny the presence of her mother during the five days it took before she returned to face Junior. Reminders regenerated her memory until it searched beyond traditional confines, into the wilds of fresh growth; she began sowing like her fatherinlaw. Like the river Dubroc in storm, her emotions trembled to swamp previously untasted sensations. A deeper grasp of relations confounded her as she began to see beyond the trap of hatred and glimpse the seeds which blended it with sorrow: how she longed to speak to that haunting presence of her dreams, and keep them from growing into fullfledged nightmares.
Even Sonnyjo noticed her distance after a day or two. Vaguely concerned he hid in the hills, tending sheep, searching for nonexistent weed plagues. Her fatherinlaw was subtler in his observations, old instincts reblooming. He brought her tea in bed one morning and did the heavy work around the house before she had a chance. “I’ll carry that.” She allowed him until she realized what he thought and forced herself back to some kind of normality.
Snapping herself out of an unwilling trance she held back from outward declarations of “I’m not pregnan.” If only, she wished inwardly while all too aware that being so would hurl her deeper into the hole she’d been excavating). “No. No problem. I’m fine. I’ll carry it.” A smile floated. Really. She wasn’t even about to lose another one. Nothing was wrong, nothig moving, nothing stirring, no matter how hard they tried. “Just a bit tired. Bit of a flu.” She turned quickly from the disappointment in the beaten face. Soon, she promised silently, beneath the weight of her mother’s shadow. Soon. Once she’d promised never to breed further hatred, possibility of destruction but selfishly she grasped the power a child offered, the comforting dependence she could nurture, until she shied away and told herself to think clearly.
Floating above her mind like a rain cloud or the sun hidden behind, her mother drew closer and closer, reaching back down to earth to fiddle amongst embers and strike them back into blaze.
Sinead had to snap out of it. Unsure of what she had triggered, supernatural or simply lost twists of her own mind, she had to break from her fears and face reality through those dreams: triangles are bred form circles. She could move endlessly through the maze of her parents, initial kindness, forced vows, infatuation, hate, but she would never know now which was the dominant theme: it was too late, deservingly so, even with her mother so close. Analyzing the past doesn’t reconstruct the future, only further bind it to the inevitable twists of a preordained destiny. Sonnyjo wouldn’t become violent. She sensed it and forced herself to trust that instinct, because to wallow in doubt would only fertilize unnatural instincts, force the reincarnation of the past. She’d married for happiness and had achieved it: her own mother smiling in recognition. Blessing her daughter from the distance of recovered hope.
During those sparse days of mental isolation, under the guiding gaze of her mother, Sinead obtained the gift every child should receive, but only the lucky are capable of absorbing, the space to float above life and view it from without. Five days. No desert, no locust, no honey. Nothing spectral beyond the simple desires of a mind stretching beyond what it’s told: learning to be was enough. Sinead obtained a type of peace, guiltlessly because she understood that it was what her mother desired. She hadn’t answered the questions alive and wouldn’t from any other world; all her dreams conveyed was that the past defined as it defied itself: it was over and it’s needless repetition was the son of incest, not hope.
The unconscious shock of sudden escape forced the weight of this resolution upon Sinead; and then, once accepted, once she had come to terms with her past and future worlds, she was finally free. Her smile blossomed afresh. Her fatherinlaw watched her happily through the window. Nothing wrong. Everything fine. He breathed more regularly as he heaped dung through the vegetable patch. The house vibrated under the caring of a revitalized hand. Sinead could feel a glow extent through her whole body and had an instinctive sense that her child too would be okay; relaxed, at ease with the prospect of generating a future, she would soon be pregnant. She knew. That only left Junior.
Junior was the unluckiest of them all. Their mother had finally escaped with a clear conscious; their father had been cut off before he grew old enough to despair of a wasted life; Sinead herself found physical distance and with the dreams of her mother’s mental reassurance during those early days of marriage, a comforting confidence. Junior, however, was left alone, without a comforting hand to guide him into perspective.
Sinead cursed herself for not noticing, for her initial selfishness. Angry with herself she realized that her mother’s ghost had opened her eyes in an attempt at reaching son as well as daughter. Sinead was suddenly frightened by the idea that she would never have become aware alone, she who had been closest to him all her life.
“Jealous,” she had taunted. And why shouldn’t he be? He had every right. Caught up in her own selfishness bitterness at having served men all her life, she had run away without wondering what Junior had given in return. Two kids had shared the hardships that two shoulders alone couldn’t have borne. In return, once she’d found another to take her away; she left Junior with no one to lean on, without the least concern for his spirit. Jealous. If only it were nothing more. She was no longer surprised he didn’t want to come to the house. Jealous perhaps. But more likely angry, or bitter, or more frightening simply sad at such heartless desertion.
The Gods bless some with unending support and others with the malediction of oblivion; then ripen both into a destructive fusion. Sinead began to fear for Junior’s luck.
Calmed by the memories of her mother, a personal interpretation of what they meant, Sinead started spending as much time as she could down the forge. In the afternoons especially, dinner washed away, clothes ironed, supper still a plan without need for action, she crept away into town for thirty minutes sometimes even an hour, to be with Junior. She still refused to enter the house and take charge of it: there were limits. But she offered him her company, a line to show that her desertion wasn’t complete, only an advance as they wavered through life. Grumpy at first, as silent as the spanners tinkling through his fingers, he worked away, outwardly oblivious to her efforts.
“Have you eaten?”
Bang. Rap. Clatter. Crunch. Snap. Twist. Bang.
“Of course!” toned with a certain scorn: did she think he’d starve himself?
Bang. Clatter. The sounds echoing the feet along the stairs above X’s head several years later.
“Nothing. Fucking engine. Can’t quiet get it together. They won’t send the part I need. Can’t find it properly or just not worth their while. Years out of date. Easier sell new machinery than keep the old ones working. Bigger money for the factories up north. Their smothering small businesses, cutting out people who have no money for fancy new machines, or strangling them with depts. they can’t afford after having tricked them into buying new rather than repairing old. The money ends up in the same hands anyway.”
Her presence gradually awoke his tongue until it babbled like old times, which were only a few weeks earlier.
Listening vaguely Sinead would glide through the sound of his beatings, the rustle of oily overalls, the raw smell of thick grease, the rasp of working breath, a flush of curses, until they were together as they always had been through the years.
The regularity of her visits beat down his initial resistance until Sinead was sure she could spot a gleam in his eye when she appeared. His replies remained monosyllabic but they always had been apart from his illogical rants when some unseen spark of anger stuck a flame of spouting arguments which Sinead seldom bothered to understand: that was Junior, the brother she loved.
Sometimes it seemed that she spent her life stealing secret moments form others, to savor in rushed isolation for herself. As a child she had hidden among the briers that surrounded their apple trees, singing, playing before they called her back; and later down by the river to dream of boys who seldom left her in peace. Her trips down the forge to Junior became similar. With nothing else to do but wander silently through the crumpled garage or outside amid those same fruit blossoms, she savored the peacefulness of those captured moments of freedom. She listened to Junior, attempted conversation, but wanted nothing more than to be there. Returning from what seemed afar her once home became a haven rather than the prison it had only recently been. It refreshed her so that upon going back up the hill, along the pebbled earth of their farm’s lane, she was looking forward once more to the domain of her new kitchen, the old man’s chuckling eyes, Sonnyjo’s meek adoration.
When there was too much work, newly born sheep to be tended, feed to be taken out to a husband too busy to come in and get it, she missed her visits into town. Then, like the slow encroach of winter darkness, her time became eaten up without her noticing; and to skip off into town, down the hill, without a direct necessity was soon nothing les than a childish quirk. Her trips wavered into rareness, to the extent that Junior glanced up in genuine surprise whenever her skirts brushed tools into disorder. By that time, however, she had settled and was no longer struggling with the need to fuse two homes: there was only one. Fortunately, the process finally forced Junior up to the farm.
It hadn’t been easy. He resisted all through that first winter. Perhaps because her “Jealous” taunt still hurt, or because of his low opinion of Sonnyjo or a simple fear of admitting the weakness of being lonely, he held out until the invitations ceased.
“Have it your own way,” Sinead told him long ago, “But they keep asking for you. You should come. Why not?”
“I went to the wedding, wasn’t that enough?”
“Don’t be stupid. Come on Sunday. It’ll be fine. Sonnyjo is all right. He’s a good man whatever you think. He’d never offend you. And don’t do it to him. He’s my husband!”
The blend of warning, pride and distance hurt Junior.
“Ny husband,” she repeated, as if that explained everything. A good man. And no one, not even Junior, had a right to criticize him. She knew him better than any of them. Nothing wrong with him. In his own quite way he probably knew more of what was going on than any of them did. Solid, a loner, but not half as dumb as people thought him to be. Her husband himself had told her to invite Junior more than once. A good man. A hard worker. And he had pity.
When the subject rose Junior grunted himself back to work sulkily, annoyed with himself for provoking her. He had to learn to keep his opinions to himself. Yes, indeed, that idiot was her husband. And she wasn’t stupid: she had married him for something, something a brother couldn’t offer.
It was Spring before Junior finally made the move, carefully disguised under a gesture of necessity. “Brought you this,” he rattled. The coiled chain slid noisily off the back of his Landover. “You said last time you were down, that trouble with the axel, that you needed a good strong chain like this. And not have to go off wasting time borrowing one. Cheap, if you want it. I inherited it in lieu of payment. Broken. I’ve put it back together. Good as new.”
Sonnyjo couldn’t remember any chain but then the whole struggle of the bogged tractor was tied to more emotional dreams. “Right,” he managed regardless, faintly aware that some kind of gesture was being attempted. “Come in. Come in. Sinead’s inside.” He coughed, holding one end of the metal tail aimlessly between his hands. “Come in. Coffee,” he added, eyes rustling along the length of wrinkled iron in puzzlement. He always felt uneasy with Junior. A townboy, Junior could never quite understand them.
“I’ll give you a hand with this first.”
Together, hand over sweaty palm, they humped the heavy peace offering into the cavern of the fuel shed, bending awkwardly under the low door as they entered. Following the screaching noise Sinead watched them from the window, heart trembling slightly in pleasurable surprise, and a quiver of tension. This is how it should be.
coffee passed quietly. They mumbled about the weather, getting crops down, the threat of frost to young lambs, the bulging level of the Dcbroc after the wet if warm winter.
Sinead breathed a deep sigh of relief in the privacy of her kitchen once they left.
“Junior came,” she told her fatherinlaw afterwards when he came back from the town.
“Yeah. Saw him down the road. Thought so.”
He twisted out of his coat slowly before turning to catch her eyes. A flick of silent questioning and reassurance as they both stared.
Whatever about Sonnyjo Sinead was certain his father knew exactly what was happening. He was the best judge of people she knew.
She smiled briskly before getting him a coffee. Back to the stove.
“Should come here more often.”
“I know. I know.” Her eyes hit in the bubbling blackness. “Maybe he will now.”
“I hope so. Can’t loose the family. Nothing else. That’s a great coffee.
They both left their thoughts unfinished.
After that initial lurch forward Junior did broach the winding road out of town more often, each venture leading his steps more confidently along the track to his sister’s home. Only occasionally now did she visit the forge. There no longer seemed any need. Their worlds had spun into new obits, which, over the years, would develop their own intricacies.
Junior’s coming to the farm was a final recognition of Sinead’s new stature. She hadn’t realized how much she had been looking for it but was quick to appreciate the development. Junior’s unspoken presence strengthened Sinead’s position in her new home, lending her equal status to an extent: there were two families living there now, fifty fifty. She felt herself growing into a position of responsibility and confidence rather than meek attempts at providing pleasure in case she was expelled. It wasn’t bossiness, rather the feeling that she no longer had to indirectly supplicate when she could directly dictate what the wanted, the rules which could make her job easier: no boots in the house, lunch at a certain hour, sandwiches in the fields only when necessary and “if you’re not coming back take it with you, no time to be wandering the fields looking for you, too much to be done at home.” Her tongue never wagged angrily, never with more than the force of reason. Her two new men obeyed as meekly as the lambs which paid for the food. They’d been awaiting a voice like that for years. Even Junior agreed, finally acknowledging that she was the queen in her own house and would never return to be a sister in his; and that if he wanted to retain a family he’d have to obey royalty.
The relationship between the men themselves was more intricate.
Sonnyjo’s Old Man, while softening with age and newly regained comfort, retained an ingrained suspicion of Junior and his motivations. In some ways he pitied the man but all too frequently he feared the complicated shards of anger which lay beneath the strained face. It wasn’t as others thought: he had never suspected Junior’s designs on the farm, he knew better, defended Junior publically from that particular accusation. There was, however, something less clearly defined which stroked the old man’s reservations. Junior’s inner desires lay beyond physical redemption; they’d long given up on material pleasure. nevertheless, despite his hesitance, from lack of real proof and above all out of respect to his daughterinlaw’s obvious happiness, the old man remained quiet, polite, defensively objective. To Junior’s constant despair he used his humor to lighten the slightest hint of cross purpose, difference of opinion.
The old man’s laugh often drove Junior home early. That and his sister’s growing confidence reduced him all to frequently to foolish nods of obedience. Only when there was a larger audience was he freed to express definite views, extort opinions from dithering minds. “Here am I struggling to keep old engines running. Save on money. Keep it for food, keep it here in the south. And a fight it is. Try finding parts of a beaten up old Moto 621. Try it. It isn’t easy because all they they want is to sell us a new one, from those factories down south. And give us a loan to help us do it. Soak up our money then our precious land if we can’t repay.”
The heads of the Moto 621 owners would nod appreciatively they all owed Junior, his persistence scrounging through nearby markets keeping them all on the road another couple of years.
“Our work, our money is flowing down that river into the south and no one is lifting a finger to stop it. Coronel Factur is right.” Local heads would turn again, trusting his opinion as they placed their faith in his ability to find the part they may need tomorrow. Junior was one of the few with intenet, a fancy phone soembody had given him in rturn for a job well done, better than case he was reassured.
“Great engines those. Work with a brick inside them. Never invented better.” The old man would clap his fist on the table, loud laughter covering up the feebleness of his argument. Anything to lighten the air and keep temperatures within safe limits. He remembered the dangers of such wild talk and didn’t want to relearn old lessons.
Junior would glance angrily at the irrelevant contribution, curse silently as everyone began to chortle in unison, then remember a forgotten anecdote, another, until the cards and whiskey were produced and politics buried under bellowing ash.
The subtle wars of such conversations avoided Sonnyjo. He still remembered his tie. It was difficult to shrug off the humiliation, the continued suspicion that Junior still treated him as a child. Junior kept the tattered remainder, greasy now, in the tool box of his Moto 621. Occasionally he fingered it before grabbing a wrench. Unused to explaining feelings, especially his own, the battered material was some kind of feeble conscience, a symbol of unsettled distrust, a thorn of envy, a pang of fear as he attempted to join his wife and Junior together wishing he could have one without the other.
Sonnyjo could never voice such instincts. He always treated Junior with respect, speaking about the weather, the river, the seasons, his new lambs, more warmly to his brotherinlaw than to any other acquaintance as if quilt forced concessions. In return Junior attempted to hide the scorn which wouldn’t abate. He often mused sullenly, as his arms coaxed worn mechanics to be proud once more, at the ironies which forced the most unlikely people together and kept what he still considered natural ’unions` apart. Sonnyjo in Junior’s eyes, with all due respect to his sister, would never be more than a halfwit, a bowl of mindless jelly. She wouldn’t admit that, allow herself to see it. She was right though. He would keep her; there would be no cruelty. She deserved a quite man and Junior pardoned, even if he didn’t completely understand, her instincts totally.
Thus, a new family came to life. Junior participated after initial hesitance and became, much as he would have liked to deny it, part of it because he had little choice. There was nothing else. His sister. He’d do anything for her, to revenge their miserable past. Back then, in those initial family gatherings, he didn’t realize how that power of hidden urgency would form part of everyone’s destruction. Junior’s submission in coming up to the farm was a relief and pleasure for Sinead but her brother continued to preoccupy her mind when more personal anxieties allowed him space. “Jealous”. Her own cruelty still sprang to mind, but only once did she allow a direct reference, one day when they were alone in the kitchen and she let her thoughts slip.
“You still love her, don’t you?” She finished the question quickly, almost ashamed at reminding even though there was no one else to hear. Sonnyjo was out the fields as always, his father tending the ever expanding vegetable garden. She watched the familiar fingers grow white on the handle of her coffee mug.
“I’m sorry. I really am Junior. I shouldn’t have.” She turned hastily to the sink. Then went outside to pump water and hide her misting eyes in the spatters form the tin bucket. She wiped her face roughly with knuckled before reentering. She needn’t have bothered. He’d left before she returned. The bucket overflowed into expanding puddles on her gleaming floor.
If only she had never said it. Jealous. It had come without thinking and like most incautious words spoke a truth which should be forever kept locked.
Of course he was Jealous. Even happiness for another can be jealousy when you are left helplessly all alone. Visiting him, then bringing him to the house, allowing a certain continuation of their childhood closeness, were she sometimes thought more selfish deeds than generous. She gained form every angle, the security of two homes, until the new became familiar and the old comfortingly as an old slipper which can eventually be thrown aside if new loyalties demand. Junior knew.
She should have known better than to taunt him with that evil word, syllables which held many others beneath their spell: anger, loneliness, frustration, forbidden desires. Later, as she felt content with the opportunities she had provided her brother and more importantly as the weight of her own growing responsibilities forced one family ahead of the other, she tended to forget what Junior had been through. Indeed, her treatment of him strayed to hover on scorn as his politics roved beyond the boundaries of common sense: “Let you off to fight then and leaves us innocents alone. And my child? What do you wish for her? A future you say. A mountain of blood. You’re too young to have learned anything and you refuse to grow up. I’m not much older but I’m wise, as only a mother can be. Fancy ideas won’t hide the truth from me or anyone else with a child. Go down and work like everyone else or off and die like those poor souls up the mountain. But don’t bring it down here. We’ve enough problems without heaping others on our backs and I don’t care what you say, fighting won’t make things any better now or in the future. It won’t be worth the price.”
Junior would sulk away grumbling that it was such narrow mindedness which would ruin them all: together they could win for once. Together.
The verbosity of those attacks were still in the future long after Sinead had forgotten the one time bite of the taunt “jealous”. In those fresh weeks of marriage, her acceptance of a new position and the illumination of her mother’s hovering presence, she’d still found time to consider Junior’s plight. Only later would she grieve at his inability to overcome it, to do what every sane mind did step out of the past and welcome the future, whatever it held, as inhibited as possible. Parents, children, birds and bees, the ties were made to be broken, or otherwise strangle you in a haze of spite; timidity was the excuse for repetition, the breading of the father’s sins until they grew to provide only a holocaust of evil.
Earlier, years before, she had been far more sympathetic, allowing for the tinge Luck held over people’s souls. Junior had been unlucky. With a growing child she refused to allow this interfere with her judgments, but when they were still young it’s blight frightened her dreams.
Jealous. She understood the word; and how it involved luck, hers and her brother’s. If it had happened backwards she could imagine all too well how she would have felt: jealous. Just married, full of hope and forgiveness she still remembered the panic that once assault her heart. What would happen to her if Junior left, married, and lived happily ever after as she rotted the spinster sister at home, or in their home, working, slaving, just to make her presence worthwhile and stomach lined?
Under the oppression of their father there had been few opportunities to meet boys or girls beyond official gatherings such as Mass, football for the boys, the cafes in summer for the girls, if they were allowed out. They weren’t different from most families but their oppressive parent made them feel extinct, removed from the world, above all from the whirl of romance and the urgings of young hormones. They listened to whispered particles of life behind the school latrines with envy, genuinely believing what they heard as if everyone outside their own hovel of a home lived in a palace of delicious freedoms. Accustomed to solitary dreams Sinead felt her heart stop when Junior told her about Marlene. She’d giggled, sneaked kisses behind the hedges on the way home on a fine summer evening once or twice, but she wasn’t ready for this fullblown relationship her brother actually had a girlfriend! The concept was appalling. Her own carefully guarded flirtations paled in envy and fear. In panic, or vengeance, she had even let that idiot from the mountain go almost all the way that night late Marlene when their father was once again too drunk to notice and would beat her no matter what she had being doing. Fortunately, between his last whiskey and her own shameful prudence, nothing happened: she could arrive to Sonnyjo whole, in spite of the tinges staining her almost white consciousness. Junior with a girlfriend. The rush of envy momentarily unsettled poor Sinead. Jealous. She couldn’t even understand where he had found the time or opportunity.
At the beginning she calmed herself thinking that it was little more than her own evening adventures behind the bushes blown up under Junior’s oratory later on the coal sacks. All too speedily this comfort drowned as she feared he had gone further than she would ever dare, that he’d been with the same person more than once, behind the same forage, regularly now for two months.
Three, four, eight, eleven, quickly loomed until consummated. Marlene. The name rang through their private sojourns until they scarcely appeared to think of anything else. Sinead no longer waited with impatience for those stolen minutes together in the barn as they were robbed from beneath her feet by another. “Go on tell me!” she had once urged. “And then what?” Her encouragements became halfhearted with time fading to healf-hearted encouragement and silence as long as the shadows they threw through the fading light in the forge. She was glad of the rattle of their father’s fallen bicycle to rip her brothers dreams back into the solidity of a good beating or at least the harshness of hoarse cursing. She’d grown tired of Marlene. Afraid.
What was more, Marlene was beautiful, in a sturdy, practical way. Her body flush with enthusiasm, fae rounded to please, ready to embrace, take a chance on something new, brown hair curling slightly out of control, tangling her spirit into the occasional rakish resolution. Her presence lent a further knife to Sinead’s heart. Far too easily Sinead could imagine their evening escapades together, lost, betrayed under the force of beauty, desire, passion, all those emotions she’d either been afraid to allow herself or simply never found the impetuous to instill. From the lonely silence of the coal bags she joined the heaving couple in her mind, desperately attempting to shore back the desire to tear the other from his arms.
Apart from being stunning, dominating Junior’s thoughts and moods, Marlene was also the daughter of the North’s major store. From sugar to grain her father’s shop, or his various other businesses, monopolized serious trading on the North bank of the river. While never having the range, or price, of the two bigger stores Soouth, it still held its own under the pressure of community solidarity. What was often suspected, but little known, was the fact that the three shops struck frequent deals to maintain the status quo; business thrives in the wake of patriotism. Often agreeing to buy from the same source the monopoly of the three major stores grew beyond their own particular community until they held both in their grasp. There were various smaller shops but the three main stores held their corner firm never allowing the slightest intrusion, playing the field for all it was worth, religion, patriotism, knowing no restraint. Nobody trusted a shopkeeper at heart.
Under such a concealed cloud hung the prospective wedding of Marlene and Junior. Eleven months passed graciously, fondled amid the rumors of young love, wild spirits. Too drunken to notice, Junior’s father noticed nothing. Marelene’s father noticed everything and said nothing.
It was the fifteenth month when Junior jerked his proposal. Caught in a wild bramble, flushed, emotionally in love, Marlene agreed.
It was the fifteenth month and two weeks before she broached the issue with her father. He exploded. Having worked for sixty years, and his father before him, breaking his conscience in sly dealings, anything to provide something better for his family, he wasn’t going to let it waste away on some good for nothing lay about. Her father burst into a flame of bitterness and reproach: “What? What Junior? Him? The drunkard’s son? Lazy sod?” Words rushed each other to be heard until they made no sense. “My daughter?” escaped from the melee, the poignant question hanging above the rest. “My daughter? What would you be doing with the likes of him? A good for nothing. Look at his father.”
Love was no argument. Marlene scarcely attempted it. To her disgrace, if she actually felt something beyond the spirit of rebellion, she became weary under the growing assaults. Love was never a primary impulse: there wasn’t time, place, or freedom to nurture it. Love led to disappearances, emigration to the cities, sin, the loss of families, the shame of not having one, the pride of avoiding it. Pregnant. Unfaithful love. The wrong choice. Love. The wrong man. Parental disapproval. You surrendered or ran away. Fortunately, she wasn’t pregnant at least.
There was no need to fade away. Marlene balked. Their flustered mauling under damp leaves greeted only frustration. “I can’t. My father would never agree.”
Having spent his life under the fist of a misguided elder Junior had little pity, less understanding. Who gave a shit? “What about your father? We can get out of here. Disappear to the city. I’ve a trade. Always find work. We’ll survive.”
Survival, however, is a personally defined concept. Marlene knew what her future would be, had to achieve. Her father’s angry rebukes, her mothers softened if equally persistent common sense laced with younger sister’s surprise and shame at family dinners, provided a potent brew of reticence and back peddling. She didn’t want solely to survive. She wanted to enjoy herself; she’d been promised it all her life. Maybe she didn’t really love him after all; and as her father said, love was a duty rather than desire: children didn’t know what it was, they had to learn. And she did.
Devastated, Junior had little choice but to surrender. He didn’t give up the fight but the ring was snatched from beneath his shuffling feet regardless. The worse was the growing sensation of realizing that he no longer loved, that it had all been a cheat, that parents form barriers stronger than emotions, that instincts are governed by situations, you can never escape your background. “Bitch!”
Sinead remained silent under the power of his anger, a force which occasionally had made Marlene herself wary: the reputation of his father was too strong, her own father’s reasoning so logical. Occasionally, under the influence of heated emotions or simply with the intuition of future fears she glimpsed that tinge of anger which clouded the eye until nothing else saw the light. Perhaps, after all, despite his courtesies, his father’s bad blood couldn’t but be transferred. Thus Marlene reasoned herself away from love.
Separation is painful enough but it always lends hope. Perhaps, buts, maybes, ifs, if onlyies, ride together in a wave of fake optimism no matter how religious the refusal when faced with the panic of desire. “Bitch!” he swore but her absence was as painful as her loving presence. Sinead had regained a brother but he could still think and speak of nothing else. Perhaps she would change. Maybe they would regain each other. Imaginative reunions refueled his cursings. The coal sacks still pounded dust to the rhythm of Marlene’s name. Until fantasies were forced to cease. Hope was finally blocked by the finality of a lost cause.
Nothing more was ever said; until that day Sinead forgot her place and broached the subject which she should have remembered was buried for good, beyond speech, in the hearts of the unforgiving. “You still love her.” Sinead choked on her own thoughts. She’d been jealous and now from the comfort of reversed circumstances could finally realize how Junior must feel. Of course he still loved her, if only the ideal, the sensation of being wanted, of escaping; and even if she hadn’t loved in return the pain of rejection still stung, all the more bitter if she had and her emotions stirred aside by an external chef.
Marlene’s marriage to YoungJed was celebrated only eight months after Junior’s official failure, the tombstone on his future hopes. Just before the final onslaught from the mountains Sinead remembered his verbal reaction. “Fucking bastards. Taking out money and now our women. No boundaries to their greed. Leave us nothing.” Through the years Junior’s rhetoric appeared to do little but reverberate those initial sorrows; all that had changed was Sinead’s understanding, forgiveness of such bitterness as she watched her daughter expand before her eyes.
True, YoungJed was basically from the North.The farm spanned the river for starters, technically YoungJed himself did, breed being born of the land. More importantly, he had a good size farm and after long dealings with Northerners Marlene’s father had no qualms in offering his daughter to a good future whichever side of the river it came from. Nothing wrong with a mixed marriage, he argued down the bars, “and this one would benefit them all. A new bridge. Can’t live in fear forever. Have to stretch out hands and sow the seeds of a new crop.”
He was pleased with his reasoning, the flash of poetry through the yellowing whiskey shine of his eyes. The multitude listened with a mixture of fascination and rising belief spurred to a head by another free round: “Knew what he was doing did old McDermott, knew how to deal with those southern bastards and maybe he was right, beat them at their own game.” Thus ran the confused reasoning’s of those who lived in awe: “Who else would have dared; and to have her marry a southerner! Wasn’t that something. Something to be proud of!” the southerners were les surprised considering YoungJed almost a northerner anyhow, despite his experiences on the ancient school football team. With parents like his they were far too happy to deny him a rightful heritage, the risk of ruining their self image by tainting it with doubtful blood.
In another cafe, a darker back room, the counter mutterings were less enthusiastic. No one gave direct sympathies to Junior, they knew him too well, but the deep silences and spitted curses spoke clearly enough.
“Must be something wrong with her to be coming this side of the river.”
“Or that farm.” Spite rising bile Junior scarcely defended her honor, sensing that there was little point and he was better rely on the loyalties of those around him than attempt saving one who had deserted.
“No good will come of it I swear. Some funny business going on. McCaThat man is swindling us all. We’ve known that for years. Too many deals with the South, the cities.”
This kind of marriage was only bred in the cities, where people had forgotten their roots and the vision of it happening on their own doorstep hinted at their own existence being threatened, the stories and folklore which kept them going being suddenly trampled under trains and posh new ambitions. The more they fuddled, excused, blamed, criticized and kindled suspicion, the more the whole episode bordered on the blasphemous.
Junior could only agree, convincing himself as he did others as the multitude shared the loaves and fishes of paranoia and had a feast of lonely fear. They were up to something. This was more than true love: you only had to look at Junior.
A blend of tribes the marriage ceremony progressed uncomfortably, an awkward divide between the rich and the poorer, all the more poignant in the closed confines of an alien church where gaudy efforts at outdoing the other side clashed in a gory cascade of color, over large capes and silly blouses which let the wind through and underwear show. Pastor Freidman attempted, with a bravery beyond the call of duty, beyond the natural instincts of most of his breed, to induce a sense of occasion, hope, wonder for the future. The congregation were more interested in sly glances, suspicious fawning and rank criticisms.
“Look at her. Would you ever. No taste.”
“She looked beautiful. Happy but I’ll never know why she had to go other side of the river.”
“Pity he couldn’t find someone over here. One thing is having a bit of land other side another having to marry.”
“He was always a bit of a loner. Probably doesn’t even realize what he’s doing.”
“He will soon enough!”
“Sure her father is over the moon.”
“Idiot. Takes more than a soiled daughter to make him one of us.”
“He’ll get his upcummance all right. If not over here, on the other side.”
Both banks of the river were vaguely surprised when the marriage appeared to work, outwardly at least, to the resentment of many watchers. No one ever knew why it did, what had stirred those first sentiments of love, the adventure of crossing the bridge for two souls who had never been previously defined as wild or risky. Nevertheless, Marlene and YoungJed settled into their world, remote, crossing the river daily, working, a little apart as YoungJed had always been and perhaps Marlene had always wanted to be. She brought no new status to her father’s disappointment: YoungJed was just a man in her eyes, and a good one, without the flash of anger she had been, justly or unjustly, frightened by in Junior’s eyes. She would never be sure if she had genuinely felt that poised gaze or if it was his father’s genes she feared until later of course Junior’s anger raged for all to see except she could still not be certain if it was inbred or born of her own desertion. She clung to the rock of YoungJed’s pacifism in order to avoid such personal retribution. Perhaps she had loved Junior, maybe she loved YoungJed, but she doubted Junior would have brought her the comforts she now had, the distance from her father’s ambition, release from her mother’s persuasiveness. Junior would have tangled her forever into twisted loyalties while YoungJed offered the peace of singled minded concentration: keep the farm going. Only Sonnyjo in the neighboring fields could ever have attracted her in the same peaceful way, that solidity of a man who knows his place, who won’t interfere and will do everything to uphold his own idea off duty. Simplicity. Hard working. Only Sonnyjo if he had ever bothered to catch her roving eyes from the pew in front. Marlene often laughed when she remembered he had married Sinead. It wasn’t fair but poor Junior appeared doomed to lose out to the innocents, failing to realize that imagination was a curse when survival depended on the thread of immobility.
Junior didn’t go to the wedding and Sinead breathed a sigh of relief once it was over, one she would only truly hear later, when she had escaped the providence that had befallen Junior. She’d had nightmares during the romance, not only of being left alone on the coal sacks but beyond them, forever, the spinster sister of a happily married man. The failure of that romance was greeted silently with approval in the back of Sinead’s desires and her own reversal of the situation allowed her to finally breathe freely; at the time once she had gained a position she presumed it would be easy for a handsome man like Junior to find someone and even if he didn’t always through a bachelor man had more fun than any unmarried thirty year old woman and because of this perhaps she could never quiet forgive what she saw as Junior’s continued vengeance. There had to be limits. She only hoped that she would never have become her brother.
Would she have been more forgiving, or would she also have allowed their father’s blood poison the goodness at heart? The question haunted her to the end on the sagging kitchen table.
Junior was left striving through incestuous feelings of impotence: his father dies when he should have been killed, his woman became a traitor when they should have been happy, his sister deserted when there were only the two of them left, together, struggling on, somehow above the rest because they had suffered enough together to retain their pride.
“Jealous,” the taunt was too powerfully vindictive. Sinead would forever remain ashamed of having uttered it so unconsciously: it displayed more than anger, an insight neither could afford to expose.
Gradually, as she grew into her new home the word faded to that jumble we refer to as memory; although like many significant items, old clothes of special if poignant value, it was never wholly dismissed, thrown on the bonfire.
Over the years they grew apart, bother and sister, once their new relationship had been carefully defined. Sinead realized later why Junior had taken so long to come to her new home initially but by that stage she couldn’t retract: he was right, he’d become swallowed up in a new family for her own gratification, ease of mind. And by the time she realized how her selfishness had played its part in subduing her brother into the entrails of revolutionary anger she accepted the change pacifically, the distance it had created was too engulfing to be broached and far too complicated: to delve beyond their new confines and create the parameters of a new way of seeing would have destroyed what she had created for herself. She had given, never allowed, Junior anything else but submergence into the confines of her new family or forever remain apart. By the time she had realized her own selfishness it was too late to resolve. Once so close she had allowed the relief of her own rescue cloud the frustration she left behind.
Junior had had various other girlfriends, half flings which he never trusted with the result that they left him like that, a shallow encounter in the twilight. Did he ever really want another to share the now bleak coal sacks? With the hindsight of age Sinead doubted it. He did but they would never mean what his sister’s presence had or replace the endless fantasy of Marlene impaled on lost confidence and desertion. The sacks would forever be empty in Junior’s eyes.
Sinead, meanwhile, dislodged them, one by one, from her concerns. She had enough work to put on plates without dawdling in a forge long left behind. It had been years since she’d been down there. She relied on Junior instead to make himself welcome in her new house and with little choice he quickly made free of it, the last instincts of a shipwrecked man to clasp a shattered lifeboat. She had done her duty regardless. Brother and sister were free to be together and grow apart as they wished.
Unlike his father he was never a drinker, nevertheless, his time was spend in the company of such, in the bars, cafes, an endless search for company whenever work allowed, until weak lips accused him of subjugating work beneath a haze of lazy solidarity; he too must be a drunkard, like his father, so much time in the back rooms what else could he be doing. It wasn’t true. Junior made money, more than most suspected; as Junior had always argued he was there to keep money flowing north by providing the mechanics and patience to keep old engines long beyond their desired lifespan. It was a profitable business. Spare spark plugs and bits and pieces add up when in demand. He would have provided for various families if he had had them. Destitute in those terms his finances found other channels. It was Junior who provided for the Outsider and others before him sussing the ground.
Disregarded from a certain respectability as a bachelor and further still as a selfdefined loner in that respect, Junior soon made up for it, not by being the village idiot as some cruelly criticized, but by becoming the local philosopher: in the sense people with little time for anything but working survival come to accept.
Unburdened by the demands of a twentyfour hour a day family, screaming bellies and tattered cloth, Junior had time to read the papers. All of them and some most had never heard of. Then he summarized, argued his way through he nonsense until the forced it into sense: they were all publishing the same story in the end, because they were doing it from the cities down north, by journalists who wherever they were originally were from had become immersed in the game of politics until, intentionally or otherwise, all they could produce was propaganda for the existing system. “Fascist bastards. Can’t trust a word they say. So President Salvo allows two Northerners into the cabinet. So what. Wonderful after years of nobody at all and a cabinet of twenty. And even the southern papers claim it as a victory. All in the same game. Traitors. We’re in the majority here. Free elections? the only place we’ve strength is in the army. Not generals of course but the majority of recruits doing the dirty work, against their own kind, are southerners. Proof of how well the whole scam works. Get them to control themselves. And why can’t we rule ourselves as we did years ago?”
The river, slowly, with its endlessness, apolitical stream of time, ebbed its way into Junior’s thinking until it formed an estuary of exploding concerns.
“The boundary is there. it’s all a masquerade. We gave our blood in the last war and what have we become again? Democracy? We’re still the foot soldiers under northern general’s rule. Time will continue sapping away our wealth instead of increasing it. Remember it’s the North that has the mines, the farms, the lumber. But where does it go? The money? The rewards? Where are the cities, the treelined avenues? Time we defended our own instead of other’s wealth. Taking ours from us. Buy your flour, grain, seeds, trees, coal, and what do we spend the money on? Cars, machinery, electricity, television, the industries we have no need of, which come from the north. We don’t need them. All those factories down north would be nothing if it weren’t for what we provide form people to coal. Could shut them down in a day. Slavery! And what have we in return? Fake democracy where all us stooges in the south are coaxed by bribed papers to vote for equally corrupt politicians with vague memories of what it’s like to run a humble farm in the south. When was the last time they were down here except for the elections, in a posh black car air condition blowing full throttle Still cannon fodder after all those years. Massacred every year, hunger, mines, unemployed grief. We die. They live well. We’re still glad to be cannon fodder at least they still remember us, because we’re still happy to be alive. We’d work for anybody, anything. Happy to be alive. That’s all. Look at this,” and he’d selectively quote from the papers to prove his point. “Still slaves. Nothing more. Giving everything we have to a nation that isn’t ours. We should be ashamed.”
He had a habit of not pausing. But even when he began in a corner, surrounded by raucous jokes and gossip, his voice eventually spun other’s conversations into the one orbit until a frenzy of naked common sense hailed across the gables into a rain of muttered discontent.
It was a time of talk, of breath whistling threats, the future freezing, for the moment, across the frustrations of long winter nights.
During the day Junior continued to rage but in a more smoldering silence noticeable only through the carelessly brutal, if delicately placed, beatings of hammer across sparking anvil. Facing roaringred heat, eyes bulging in concentration, metal winched into shape beneath his face. Patience. The searing fires and fizzled cooling of a forge tempered his soul. Only once did the sparks briefly fly out of his nervous control.
YoungJed was suddenly walking towards him. The migratory birds alone broke the silence of their rustling feet, the ragged beat of Junior’s walking stick along the ledge.
Having grown to know the path to Sinead’s new house almost off by heart at this stage Junior scarcely bothered to look up, searching instead the pebbled undergrowth of the lane as if it reflected his inner thoughts. He heard the approaching footsteps but retained his gaze earthwards: Sinead’s fatherinlaw no doubt. He’d withhold his greeting another few paces, nothing much to say, better make it last. His stick twigged a stray nettle. His neck twisted lazily upwards. His eyes stumbled as YoungJed stared back. Two paces separated both men, scarcely enough for the woman between them.
Head bent, eyes blinking to disguise nervous surveillance, YoungJed wiped his nose between two great fingers. He’d seen Junior coming but had refused to turn back, hide in the hedgerow like a child mitching from school. Sooner or later they would meet, on one side of the river or the other. He couldn’t forever react in guilt; he had to assume the confidence she had placed in him and stare Junior straight in the eyes to face the anger she had left knawing in there.
YoungJed wiped his nose again head lowering, bulllike, to make a twist forward. Without a red rag to defend himself Junior dug his stick behind a neatly weighed stone. Flick. Clunk. YoungJed’s hand raced back up, beyond his nose, to smother the dampness over his left eye.
They passed. Not a sound to frighten the birds, to interrupt the regular trudge of clay clogged booths.
Only when they were past did YoungJed stop to soak the damage. Fucking little bastard. Vindictive little shit. He was muttering, clutching an oily cloth to his forehead swatting the stain where Junior’s lucky stone had stung. He stood momentarily, almost in shock. The blood kept falling, gentle trickles through the stubble along his jaw. How the fuck? Accident? No fucking way. Split seconds fracturing through his mind. Stick barely moved. Bloody chipped stone. Of all the fucking luck! Still clutching his head, refusing to look around, unable to revenge such faint deliberateness without becoming a child again, YoungJed struggled off attempts to retain his pride. At least it was over. He’d faced him. Done it. And it wouldn’t happen again. He’d be ready if nothing else. And with a bit of luck, like a school year squabble, it was all over now. A cheap price to pay for helping someone else retain their dignity. “A stray briar,” he explained the dripping cut to Marlene.
Junior couldn’t refuse himself a quick twist, wiping away the faint grin as he glanced back at the halting strides of those familiarly tweedpatched behind. A relieved chuckle glanced his lips. Couldn’t say a thing. Did nothing. Flick of his stick. Accident, although where YoungJed saw the Devil’s luck Junior felt more inclined to believe in some form of revenging providence. It was over. Heart still beating he turned around sharply and carried on, faint whispers on his lips, mouthing reflections to the sparrows overhead as they wished goodbye until the next year.
Even with a river struggling to keep them apart the two men saw each other again in far less that those twelve months. It was all over now though, returned to the envelopes of sealed thoughts. Junior nodded over distant food counters, from the back of the hardware store. No words, just reflections of the head, the civilized coexistence of small town necessity glossing over the tensions such geographical closeness couldn’t avoid. Junior maintained some comfort, that inward grin, every time he noticed YoungJed’s scar; it remained ingrained, sleek, lined in red like a woman’s lips, a lashing reminder that YoungJed had stolen his kisses. Instinctively, especially with Junior in sight, YoungJed attempted to hide his newly gained tic of scratching the wound, returning his finger to pinch an increasingly hairy nose instead. Broad shouldered, stooped, he too would then nod before turning back, paying quickly, renewing an order, slipping away.
The mark dragged across the years, a hairless, colorless streak slicing that weather-beaten face as the hair above grew greyer. No one ever commented, not even Marlene, although no one doubted that it took more than a stray thorn branch to nick a forehead for eternity. The luck of the Devil, someone once remarked. Could have got him in the eye. The luck of the Devil, Junior breathed from a corner, eyes glistening over in the silent mirth of sweat and strangely stinging tears.
A half moon of silvery blankness, YoungJed became his scar, the first hint of his presence that was ever noticed. Everyone has an inbuilt warning of their approach, that smell, whiskey breath, faint cough, a gentle shuffle or flash of color, twitch of stiff plaid shirt, the identification that brings out the blind in us all. YoungJed’s was that scar: people seemed to be aware of the curved pale slice before they saw YoungJed himself. Hanging before him, even in winter, beneath a cap, a mask, it shines with a bulb of its own, struck magiclike from the staff of the conquered, suffered silently in the magnanimity of victory. Sonnyjo could trace it in his mind, see it through he dark, the blaze that flicked open his brain, wrung his throat dry, lips into knots of cringing fear. It blacked out even the clanging of metal, the pain in his neck until his daughter ran through it, to him, stumbling, scraping happily in the moonlight, calling for Daddy, arms weaving, fingers dangling through his freezing mind, scrambling for an uppie. Instinctively, Sonnyjo reaches out to grab her, spin her above his head. Little angel. Feels her drop. Can no longer hold. Slips from his broken hand the space between his fingers growing wider and wider. Abyss. She’s crashing. Lights out. Scarred moon bursting into stars, millions of black holes burning each other out, comet crash asteroid strike. Big bang inwards. Lost again. Grounded. Daughter slippery with his blood. Falling away. Out into space. He wished the chisel would slip, slither wildly like his girl, streak through his heart and not another bone of his hand.