Celler, Teller

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Chapter 5

Chapter 5

“Remember Raddle. As quiet as a sheep. Wouldn’t hurt a lamb. Took care of them all his life.” Sonnyjo ’s Old Man paused in expectation, although they all knew the story: they’d heard it on their mother’s knee.

“And when they killed that ewe, poor harmless thing which had done nothing all her life but, like Raddle himself, care for her young.”

Sonnyjo winched uncomfortably in the corner by the dead fire. Even without it the heat of the back room rose to smother with a smell of old feet and damp underarm shirts. Too many men in a small space. He wished they’d gone back to dosing the lambs. He wanted to be dosing them himself, but knew he couldn’t.

“They killed that ewe and meek young Raddle exploded.” the bluered veins of his elderly hand pounded into black knots as they thumped a sturdy knee in genuflecting punctuation. Sonnyjo’s Old Man sucked in the surrounding steam to fill his cheeks with the whistling wind of a good ending. “Ah yes, meek little Raddle stood up before their eyes and beat the shit out of those cowboys while too many others would have stood still. Single handed he drove the bastards over the hills. And they didn’t return for centuries.”

A gulp of suspensive air wheezed through the room graciously.

“You know the ending of course, but it still bears thinking about,” he concluded, quietly now, in the guise of a magician proposing a moral.

It wasn’t exactly the way their mothers had ended it. God had been in there somehow, hovering behind a bush, all sweetness and light, but the idea was the same: Raddle beat the shit out of those fucking barbarian invaders.

“We need more fucking Raddles,” one of his cousins muttered, pensively, shaking his head in surprise, as if he’d thought of the idea himself.

Sonnyjo cringed in tension. Another wellworn story, all too familiar, the Raddle factor.

“Well we’ll see what this new man does.”

“All words I’d say. They say he doesn’t even go to church. I reckon he doesn’t even know where he comes from.”

“Puppet I say.”

“Ah now, don’t dismiss him like that. Words maybe, but there’s fire in those eyes. You watch him next time he’s on TV.”

“If they let him on anymore. That’ll be the next step.”

“Sure haven’t they started already. Look at Fatur. neither see or hear of him apart from what we know ourselves. And why? Too bloody dangerous. Censored out of our lives.”

The others looked at Junior halfheartedly. A certain instinct censored their own response, their own feelings towards Fatur, or was that censorship itself speaking?

“Only waiting a chance I’d say,” launched cousin Patty. His brothers nodded; they eren’t allowed many more options at home but to agree silently while their mother held the fort.

Junior stumbled to agreement. You’re right. Only playing the game. To test them out. Only waiting but I tell you when he gets going you and me, we’d better be prepared to follow. Our only chance I reckon. And we’ll see then how many dead sheep it’ll take to get some of us going.”

Junior was getting excited with the conviction of his own verbosity and the midafternoon brandy. He caught Sonnyjo’s eye deftly but was forced to retreat in blindness; he caught Junior’s and was uttering the next words before he sensed a glimpse of reproach. “I mean Jakeson is no fool now. Any idiot could see that. You know.” He’d been exposing himself long enough. It was time for others to take the rein. Seeking refuge in a narrow glass he finally went quiet.

“Oh, no fool at all. I’ll give you that.”

“I wouldn’t be too sure.” interjected Junior firmly. Just the one point. Sharp. Undecorated. For everyone to take note. He was no fool himself thought Sonnyjo’s father.

Cousin Patty wasn’t listening. The liquor was loosing his tongue, or was it the distance from Aunty Johanna. “No fool at all,” he repeated needlessly, “isn’t that right?” he then pleaded to gain time over the garbled space of his thoughts. “Give him half a chance and he’ll sort it out.”

“Who’ll give him the chance?” Junior questioned in the threatening tones of a whispered hiss.

Cousin patty hadn’t heard. “No fool at all I say.” He thumped Sonnyjo on the shoulder, partly because he was sitting next to him, mainly because he knew they were all there to take care of Sonnyjo in his hour of need, along with the sheep sheering of course. “All I’m saying is that ...”

He was arguing with himself. Unheeding words around him jumbled into the smell, the uncomfortable heat of being inside. Grunts and nods smoked tobacco until the air stung, until it choked on its own breath. Rattles chinked in from the kitchen next door. Men fed, the women were scuttling about even more frantically than before lunch. His father made a joke. Sonnyjo cringed. For once he dreaded the laughter to follow as it blackened out the feet trampling upstairs, the clink of a full bucket, the creak of the bead overhead. Sonnyjo strained through the din, heart offcentre, himself an anxious ewe on the edge of a knife as he waited for a sign.

Another clatter across the back. “Don’t worry. I’ll be fine this time.” Sonnyjo’s Old Man had leaned across clay clogging boots and stabbing fingers. A quick wink followed the thumping gesture. That ragged grin through the fizzle of wellwhitened stubble. Sonnyjo attempted a smile back, a straightening of his shoulders as he watched his father sink into the ramblings all around. The house was like a coal cellar: too cramped, too claustrophobic, too many people, Sonnyjo’s vision of hell.

“I know the stories. He’s no poor farmer. Loads of money and all that.”

“And we don’t know where from. Some fancy dealings. Didn’t make that kind of money on a farm as we all know.”

“Yeah. Yeah. I know,” Junior was shouting down cousin Patty, and all the rumors but I reckon he’s the best offer we’ve got for years.”

“Since Raddle himself.” interjected Junior, the sarcastic note of his tone lost on the heaving puff of ingrown smog.

Sonnyjo’s Old Man snorted, unconsciously unsettled by the use of his favorite old story. “Centuries ago,” he grumbled to himself. “Centuries ago.”

“All the same,” replied Junior across the knotted space between closely grouped stools and breadcrumbed table, unheard by the others continuing overhead, “Raddle is the very thing we need. None of this pissing around by those who are only out for personal gain in the end. Where and more importantly, how did he earn that money indeed. Not by honesty I’ll tell you. By playing the game, and the game is exactly what we can’t afford to play. We’ve been loosing for long enough to know that.”

Through twitching nervousness at the sounds overhead Sonnyjo had a flashing reminder of football at school and wondered how fairly Junior had ever played. His father was equally dismissive as he briskly turned aside from Junior’s glowing eyes o busy himself with the chore of filling his guest’s glasses.

“Enough of those pondering idiots. Playing into the hands of those Southerners.”

“And the Army.”

“And the Army which is the same thing.”

They agreed in unison, downing fresh beverages and loosing the thread of their argument in the process.

“We’ll see.”

“We’ll see.”

“We will indeed. Let him have time.”

Sonnyjo’s Old Man sighed approvingly, if surprised at young Junior’s unaccustomed caution. Squinting suspiciously, he recognized another storyteller budding behind that shybitter exterior: it was Junior who had finished the discussion, and old Sonnyjo wondered as he recollected more carefully, on what note.

“Give him time and if he can’t do anything they’ll be others who will.”

“Indeed. Indeed!” A defiant glimmer of coals encloaked the men in skirting conspiracy as cousin Patty launched his final plea. His brothers gave their silent support.

Sonnyjo’s Old Man glanced sharply at Junior. Clever. Knew how to get them going. Chuckles of conidence, rash bravery from the guts of empty wine bottles, the extended restt from sheep dosing. With any luck now, they’d be settled in for the afternoon, night even.

Politics briefly sorted they searched Sonnyjo’s face with expectancy.

He lowered his eyes.

Another clap to a wilting back. “Don’t worry boy. We’re all behind you.”

He knew they were, wished they weren’t there at the same time. If it were a sheep he’d know exactly what to do, infinite patience and he could do it himself. Not so now. The infinity of helplessness dappled with the muffling chatter of the women and the second guessing of their shuffled comings and goings, in the other room, upstairs, along the wrinkled ceiling above: he’d have to paint it. If it hadn’t been the second time he might have felt better.

Taking a breather to relquidify their throats, a silence dawned on the men, a touch of respect, the hint of a male instinct perhaps as their hushed breathing coincided with a crackling in the sky.

The bed overhead creaked in an agony that made Sonnyjo’s boners loose their marrow in streams of anguish. A screech. Another. Hushed voices muffling reassurances. A hand on his knee, the rough physical comfort of his father, awkward through its irregularity. The hand hung there, larger than ever before. Sonnyjo became fixated on the mangled old hand, years of toil and hearty thumps locked beneath the bulging frame of vein, bone and liverspecckled skin.

Mind wandering into the innner sanctums of mindnumbing distance, he scarcely noticed the clank on the stairs, cutting across bawling, the tensing of the air through the steam all around.

Someone pushed him to his feet. Then the jabbed him out of the corner and around the table. His father’s palm gave the roughest shoves. His foot caught awkwardly on the table leg.

“Come on out of that.” It was Junior admonishing him now, clasping his elbow, edging him out the door.

“Well now young Junior, you’re a proud father at last!” one of the cousins chuckled, a little too loudly with drink. But it broke the nervous silence, the rising spell of expectant commotion. Yes he was. This time around. He deserves it they all wished under the softening spell of birth and alcohol.

Aunty Johanna led Sonnyjo up the stairs. His knees fumbled, remembering the sadder journey scarcely a year earlier to see a bundle of wet towels sapping up what had never grown to full life.

“A fine baby girl. Bit small but she’ll be fine. Pretty as her mother” Despite her bustling Aunty Johanna paused in speech to reconcile his every fear. “And your wife’s as right as rain as well. Don’t you worry. No problems at all.” Impatiently she urged herself to answer all his questions without having to listen to them.

“An expert. No better woman,” they had reasured him before lunch started. “Best mid-wife in the North. If she hadn’t been unwell that last time it would have worked out allright. As good as you yourself with the sheep. No need to worry at all.” Tripping over the final steps Sonnyjo wanted to thank her but wellmeaning words forgot themselves in the urges of seeing his new family.

Sonnyjo paused again at the bedrooom door. Halfshocked by the thought of a baby, what to do next, even more intimitated by this public invasion of the most intimate square meters of his bedroom, it was Junior who had to push him on again. Having followed his brother in law up the stairs he briskly urged him forward the last steps into the room.

Sinead was being bundled up on their three best pillows, the ones she herself had bought two Christmasses ago. All around there were hands patting, flatening, darting the hair back from her fershly dried face. The smell of new flesh, old blood, the steam of hot wather, five sweating women and the powder of disguise wafted steeply through the room. Choking with emotion Sonnyjo forced his legs forward.

Sinead saw him stumbling in and smiled, weakly but warmly. Her hand beckoned, almost as it had years ago, four was it, those first nights with her alone, fumbling, mumbling tenderness of innocence long past its youth. Soft as they had been back then her eyes edged him out of his coccoon and into the world of their future life.

Avoiding the soggy pile of fleckedledred sheeting being rapidly stuffed into hot water. Sonnyjo followed Sinead’s fingers to the gently pulsating bundle hunched beside her on the bed, crowned by the crook of her protecting oxter.

Sonnyjo’s feet gained nimbleness as he approached. He felt lightheaded suddenly, in a new sense of the word, almost a child again himself. He moved closer. Touching the bed he stared wordlessly at his daughter, all crunched up like a red walnut, silent but alove, all his, theirs. Instinctively, despite the crowds all around, booze still booming downstairs, he leaned forward through their own particular silence and kissed his wife on the forehead.

From the door Junior nearly fainted: he’d never seen Sonnyjo do anything like that. Envy glanced briefly off his heart. Then he too smiled and entered the room as if in a trance. His sister’s eyes were searching for him also, a differnet lover, another family, but one equally close in her hours of happiness, happiness, one of the few treasures which can be shared selflessly on occasions.

Brother and sister smiled at each other for a few seconds before Junior turned back downstairs to leave the genuine couple alone.

“Here take that” Aunty Johanna insisted on his way out. “You’ve a strong stomach I hope.” Junior wasn’t so sure but grabbed the heap of stained cloth and duitfully followed her down to the kitchen. It was the least he could do.

The noise soon waffled back up from below. Fresh corks cracked. Sonnyjo’s Old Man, reddened with pleasure, found the whiskey. The sheep could wait for once. A grandfather. “How is she?” he demanded of Junior.

“Fine. Lovely. Both of them.” Junior hadn’t any other adjectives for this kind of thing. “Great. They’re both fine.”

“Good man yourself,” rowed Sonnyjo ’s Old Man clamping him around the neck, jibes and fears forgotten, as if Junior had done it all himself. “Great woman, “the old man atoned majestically. “Good luck to the pair of them, the three of them, “he corrected himself quickly. There was no stopping him now. Just like the old times the others reflected when he left them briefly for a piss. “Come on back here and we’ll drink to their health,” they shouted after him, “to all of our healths.”

“Aye. Bring more whiskey and let’s drink to all our health.” Sonnyjo ’s Old Man waved at no one in particular in concordance once he returned form the toilet. “Let’s celebrate. They deserve it.”

“No one quite like the old man,” was the common consensus. “One of a kind.”

With the washing still to be done and, by the looks of it, more food to be prepared for the night, the women fumbled around the door for a bit, tasting the remaining wine, then hushing themselves back to the more familiar disorder of their work. “A generous old sod,” was all they muttered as they found more food for the gaping mouths outside.

“Got the place well stocked in preparation.”

“Well,” someone added tauntingly, “probably herself. Well able to manage the both og them.”

“Not to hard to manage the husband at least, lucky woman I say.” For a moment the kitchen’s laughter fought and beat the uproar from the saloon next door.

“Come on work to be done. Put those two bottles aside,” a woman ordered, “we’ll need them for ourselves later. We can enjoyit in peace once we sort out this mess and the men fall asleep over their cigars.”

Above the uproar Sinead’s hand beckoned Sonnyjo onto the edge of the bed. He was still smiling wildly, more flushed and paler than his wife was. Gingerly, they fumbled to hold hands, afraid to leave her out of sight as if she’d be spirited away, fall through the pillow to be swallowed up in the moon, some black hole of doom, the one they’d been through not long before.

“She’s beautiful.”

“She is.”

Tenderly their hands became interwoven with the fabric of their offspring. Redfaced, tiny fists weakly beginning to pummel, to taste the friction of the air that will surround us until we leave, their child attempted to make herself felt between the giantesque shadows of her parents.

“Beautiful.”

“Beautiful.”

Exhausted now Sinead finally allowed her eyes to close, the reward of nodding into a willowly blanket of safety. Finally, after what seemed so long, she could relax. A child. From her own soul. Alive. Bubbling within her wrapping with the healthy pulsations of a good stew. She could feel the gurgling close to her heart through he tingling tenderness of her new breasts; each new breath, the floundering sailing of those tiny tiny fists, in her stomacch, beside her on the bed, see them with her eyes clsoed as they held her heart with the binds no adult would ever enforce. And slightly to one side, apart yet desperately close, comfortingly close, her two men. Sonnyjo beside her on the bed, big and awkward as ever, tender and graceful as she had taught his mawkishness to develop, to express the adolescent admiration which he would never completely grow out of. She knew he had suffered too, in his own inarticulate way, silently, deep down in feelings which his thoughs would never frame, never mind his voice. She’d so longed to talk to him, to bridge the silence of their mutual pain when at first it took so long for her to become pregnant, then during the black months after their stillborn first child, when a life of loneliness loomed ahead, failed men and women taunted by fertility of their livelihood all around. And it was out there, of course, in the taunting healthiness of nature, that Sonnyjo had buried himself and his fears. He dug deeper than ever into his farm leaving Sinead inside, alone, or worse, with her father in law’s good natured if persistent taunting, bleak hints, questions or encouragements. She’d grown to dread entering the town for the same reasons. The leering eyes of the frequently fertile; the shadowed looks of the “told you so” brigade. He’d never touch anyone, she thought herself smart but now she sees what she really trapped, a good for nothing farmer’s son without even a brain in his dick.

Those were the bleak days. Her mother had begun to fade, her ghostly presence no longer resistant. And, naturally, it was Junior who began to regain an ancient role, to provide some real comfort, an attempt at understanding without pity as they fell back to the companionship of their younger necessities. Another man, with his fleeting visits, selfconscious pats on the arm, childhood reminiscances and jokes, kept her going as Sonnyjo disappeared to the fields. Sinead didn’t blame Sonnyjo, but gratefully accepted Junior. Even if they argued in public, if she grew weary of his mouth curdling visions, his visits brought brother and sister together again in the world they had always shared, united against the sensations of helplessness. Her mother had been right. Like a church icon but not half so cold, her mother received pJuniorers, blessed Sinead in the dark hours of the night. And she’d been right. Always had been. Junior would stand by his sister; he had never deserted.

Sinead knew now everything would be all right. She opened her eyes briefly to send Sonnyjo back downstairs. A few seconds more to swaddle her daughter, hold her firmly, feel a new life inject her own with the peace of wellearned sleep. A final prayer to their mother. Ignoring the bustling around her, head soaked into the pillow with a tender motion of pride and love.

A fresh roar greeted Sonnyjo downstairs and for once he rather enjoyed the sensation, the release of elation in company, feeling like one of the others. No one had ever seen him drunk before. Through the sprouting veins of aching heads next day noone was certain they had.

Accustomed to allowing each other powers according to domain, the joint decision of naming was the easiest they had ever made together.

“Have you thought about the name?” Sinead broached before taking the child from her breast one night two weeks later. She glanced at Sonnyjo noting once more the hulking gentleness as his eyes sucked in the scene and his great big hands wrung each other dry in fumbling comfort. “Here you take her for a bit while I get myself organized.”

Inwardly grinning at the excited jerkness of his grasp she handed the baby over and slid it into the lurching rocking of his nervous arms. The hoarse voice hustled a clucking sound of comfort, as if talking to a new born lamb. Full, sleepy, hands still grasping blindly for one final twitch of warm brest their baby settled back within the rocking cage of her father’s protection.

“Well?” Sinead pried a little further. Urging Sonnyjo was a question of patience she had long since discovered. Prying a thought, a feeling, was similar to cracking hazel nuts: keep twisting and turning until just that moment when they’re ripe otherwise they crack open too soon, empty or blackened with rot.

“I don’t really know, hadn’t thought that much. You know.” A tinge of displeasure stained the angelbliss of his weather beaten cheeks. Fumbling anew he handed the bundle back to be changed and stood up to walk around the process as if the movement would unglue his words, stick them together and maybe bind what he thought he was thinking. “Between one thing and another.”

Struggling with a wet bum Sinead grunted pleasantly. Let him fluster away. A couple of years ago she would have fumed up inside, a kettle of steam waiting to scald from the precariousness of an unbalanced rage. Now she hummed along, happily oblious to his dallying indiciveness. Safety pin clutching the corner of her lips she offered her own suggestion as if it were passing cloud of reason. “I thought Dovric would be nice. Not too many of them around and with the river and all so close, it sounds just like her, gurgling away peacefully.”

“Yes.” He thought a little more before reiterating. “Yes.” There was relief glistening on his tongue, at not having to decide or at the genuine pleasure of the name off his silent mind Sinead couldn’t guess which. Wet nappy slapped neatly the floor to be replaced efficiently. She was getting good at it she noted proudly. She sucked a thumb as the pin bit. “Ouch!” Still needed more practice. Another dig and the dry cloth was neatly installed, a white bundle of wool making her offspring appear even more defenceless within its smothering mass. “There you go.” she told the child. “All nice and dry for the night.” She picked her up for one last cuddle. “And you and the farm,”

It took Sonnyjo a minute to realize she had readdressed her attentions. He forced himself to concentrate.

“I mean you love this place, we all do, and the river, just seemed like a nice idea.” Slight tickle. Flip over. Tiny arms bent, shoved, out through the holes. “There you go. Nearly finished.” Lifeless in sleep the baby was pushed into the formless holes of a nightdress. She moved as her last leg was stuffed down the black opening. “Now now,” warned Sinead with a delicate touch of firmness. The baby cried for a second. “Now now. None of that. Off to sleep and let’s see none of you until morning eh?” That would be nice she thought veinly, a night without having to awaken twice or three times. Sinead forced herself back from her dreams. “I just thought it would be, a kind of, well, appropriate.”

“No. No. You’re right. A great name. I was thinking maybe, well you know, family and all that,” Sonnyjo realized he would have to continue, that their child’s name was far too important to be selected without mutual justification, “... thinking of the Grandmother’s name perhaps. Keep the old man happy, but you’re right. Dead right.” He could feel himself blushing with the heat of unaccustomed verbal exercise. “Great name. Dovric.” He allowed the sound slip from his lips as Dovric had just surrendered her mother’s teats. “I’d even thought of it myself as, perhaps a name.”

“So are we agreed then?”

“Yes. Yes. Yes, go on, of course.”

“Well here you go. Give her a goodnight kiss. Dovric, kiss your father good night and tomorrow we’ll take you out to gurgle at your namesake.”

The tiny face jerked instinctively away from the sharp bristle that curled over her father’s cheek. Sonnyjo smiled. Wavering on the childish border of sleepy consciousness Dovric giggled silently at the dark shadow who was beginning to loomed familiar, comforting, hands to raise her up and down in this strangely harsh cornered world, nothing like the creamy genteleness she’d been used to up to so recently; all bright, then black, the shock barely soothed over by the rubbery support of those giant hands, her mother’s milk. Her fists kicked in comfort. Mouth stretched in sleep.

“Off to bed little Dovric. You can’t stay awake all night like your big sister outside.”

Sinead lowered the bundle into the old wooden cradle. “Her grandmother was reared in that,” Sonnyjo ’s Old Man had mused, banging the chipped frame to reassure them of it’s continued strength. “Generations in it yet.”

Sinead didn’t care. For a year or two one cot was as good as another. “It’s fine” she said when he first brought it from the back of some shed, “Perfect. Couldn’t wish for better than to share a grandmother’s bed.” Sinead liked the idea of this historical continuance yet some superstition held her back from accepting a dead relative’s name. They had to start afresh, move forward she reasoned intuitively. It was wrong to remain forever tied to the intricacies of a past no one could clearly remember. Grandmother’s memories fade into nostalgic reminiscance but who knew what they were really like; better give their daughter a clean start. Sinead knew how important that was.

“Dovric, say goodnight to your father,” she urged one last time, whispering though, so as not to wake the child. With luck she could try and snatch a couple of hours sleep for herself.

Folded beneath the blankets with only fists and crinkled face showing his daughter snoozed off. Sonnyjo sighed countently in her wake, his own mangled hands opening and closing in clumsy reflections of childish salutes.

Outside the river Dubroc flowed with renewed vigour, a thumbling desire to protect this newborn from the onslaught a symbolic naming couldn’t prevent. From years away the waters crumbled to the silent despair of Sonnyjo’s caged pleas: “Dubroc. Dovric. Come and take me away.” Up the stairs, out into the sunlight, another new born.

The christening was a month later.

“We’ll keep it small.” Sinead decided. “No point spending good money on frivolities.”

“Ah, small will be fine,” agreed her fatherinlaw, “But not too quiet now, eh?” he joked. “Have to have a bit of fun, don’t we?”

“With you around it couldn’t be anything but rowdy. No need to invite half the town.”

Goodnatured banter filled each bone crack of the house those days. Long cozy spiders shivered from the shaking of their webs under this new found gaiety. They moved further afield as Sonnyjo painted the backroom’s ceiling for the occasion, then he had to do the walls as the new paint showed up how smokey they had become.

“And since you’ve started,” urged Sinead from the kitchen, “you could dawb a bit in here also.”

“Enough is enough,” grunted Sonnyjo, sighing exageratedly to illustrate his sense of humor. “Can’t spend all day in here as if I’m the mother myself,” he reasoned with new confidence.

Sinead laughed gently, pleasantly surprised at this new twist of humanity. Hope for him yet although she wasn’t sure if she could bear two of them around, the old man was enough these days. Better get Sonnyjo back outdoors before he became used to a cosier life pandering to his daughter. She could do without that, the hassle of having three babies to feed and coax to bed.

Something quiet they decided, but size is limited by offence and politeness in the delicate bakery of a community like theirs.

Family only. That was the first decision. “Well ok, but we’d have to bring YoungJed and his wife. Neighbours after all.”

“And the cousins.”

“All of them? And then there’d be your aunt Johanna of course. She has to come anyway, the least you can do after all the time she spent down here. Would never forgive us. You know what she’s like.”

Mumbles of agreement as old Sonnyjo joined them from the garden window. “Might be a good idea to leave her out and all,” was his fleeting contribution as he briely disappeared around the corner and enter the kitchen properly for such important considerations. Sinead knew they were lost then. It wouldn’t be all that quiet.

“Given half a chance that woman would be back here to help you with the baby and we’d never have any peace.”

“Sssch!” warned Sinead as Dovric stirred from her basket on the table. “Don’t start getting exciting or shouting or she’ll make more noise than the three of us. A voice like her grandfather I swear, once she’s put to it.”

The old man smiled proudly as he obeyed Sinead.

Like her grandfather thought Sinead to herself, let’s hope her voice isn’t related to more distant branches of the family.

“And then there’s Boris the Bearded of the bar, one of your father’s best mates, or at least your father is one of his best customers.”

The list grew as bedtime hovered. Once the exceptions started the rules had already disappeared.

“Well,” was Sinead’s final contribution, “if it’s this quiet.” she paused but it was to late to be craftily funny. The old man was almost as dozy as his grandaughter; Sonnyjo as distant as if he were out the fields. With half the village already officially invited and the other half sure to presume their presence essential, Sinead threw in her last penny’s worth of reason. “You know of course that we’ll have to bring YoungJed and Marlene as well.”

The silence deepened as sleep drifted uneasily away.

The old man snorted himself awake, saying nothing. Vaguely aware of the consternation Sonnyjo refused to do the thinking: once was enough, that time when he had proposed marriage. His sole wish was that the social angle could be surmounted in rapid ease and then dissapate firmly to leave them alone within their happiness; although, childlike, he was beginning to sense that unlike the farm hills he knew well their distance and number permanently imprinted, the world of humans kept churning out new horizons which all too frequently broadened to unchartered boulders with no way around. He felt like clearing his throat but his father had just done that.

Tensed between the men’s perarciation Sinead’s voice ground itself into a slice of determination. “Well?” she demanded. Then relented slightly in justification. “I know. Yes I know it’s a bit ... well delicate ... but we can’t not. They’re just down the road and it’s different with them. I could throw a stone into their bloody back yard if I wanted. We say hello every morning over the ditch at the end of the far field.”

Delicate was the last word the old man would have thought of. Fucking dangerous was his instinct. He’d heard all the stories about Junior and Junior could be trouble enough without provocation.

Sonnyjo wanted to go to bed, turn their plans on their heels and return to a nice quiet day for the family and a couple of necessary friends.

Protocol had already shifted the boundaries of Sonnyjo’s dreams beyond reach. In a village that size there was no such thing, the family maybe but you would be looked at strangely for years to come, mean bastards the whole family. A few friends were equally unacceptable in an area where friendship depended on mutual dependence rather than the luxury of personal relationship’s, or where at least the former outweighed the latter: you couldn’t afford to insult somone who you may need to find a stJunior lamb in a couple of weeks time, no matter what you thought of him as a person. Celebrations were by nature open to the public. The only general limitation, excepting funerals where respect often guided by a good business sense broke barriers, was that good manners need never bend social boundaries. A southern wedding was a southern affair, a northern baptism a northern one. There were too many traditions and customs to risk mixing the two.

“Well he is the neighbor,” the child’s grandfather proffered, lips searching for a last drink to dampen his doubts.

“He is of course,” snapped Sinead, tired of all this maledodging silence. It was time to put Dovric to bed. “So what’s the problem?” she flung, reaching over to pick up the baby and pat her bumb for wet patches.

The old man’s head jerked. Sinead caught the movement, the glint of smoldering reproach. She watched him blush and a wrinkle of kindness appear as he tried to hide the recognition of his reaction. “I know. It’s Junior.” She picked up the baby and rocked the sleeping bundle to dispell her unease, to give her a focus off attention for her eyes. “It’s Junior.”

The old man snorted loudly again and rattled a dangerously low glass. “So what do you think?” He had no problem in inviting YoungJed, saw it as right and just. He probably wouldn’t come anyway, but he was their neighbor. The problem wasn’t YoungJed. As harmless as his own son. But there were others. There was Junior.

“What do you think?” repeated his father from the shadows. “You know him best. He’s your brother.” A full glass and a teasing if meaningful smile threw the ball back to her lap.

Sonnyjo finally felt free to clear his own throat as the conversation roamed beyond his reach.

Sinead grinned secretly as she recognized a decision made. “He’ll behave himself,” she halfpromised, wondering as she spoke how taunt she could stretch the famial lines of their patience before they swung back to scar her face. “It’s awkward.” she did conceed, searching Dovric’s squinting eyes for reassurances. “But they are the neighbors. It would look bad, as if we were avoiding them or something. You were even at school together, weren’t you?”

Surprised by the sudden attention Sonnyjo nodded vigurously. He was searching his throat for a fresh obstacle to clear. Finding it dry he had to speak. “He comes up to borrow the odd thing still. Helped me out last week with that bloody tractor.”

“It’s only right.” sighed Sinead. “Only normal. I don’t see what all the fuss is about.” She could only hope Junior and some of the others would justify her flashing scorn. “Bedtime,” she whispered and began deflecting the remains of the conversation through the bustle of getting the child changed and into her nightclothes.

“Oh it’s only right. Only right. But rights get caught up in their own wrongs. Long grass in the mower.”

Sinead searched for his eyes but they took a turn into sheltering sarkness and a newly reddened wine glass.

“I’m off to bed. A long day.”

The old chair creaked beneath his shifting weight as he paused to steady himself, finish the drink, before aiming for the door. “Where’s me stick?” Sonnyjo passed it over. “And while you’re at it get the Smiths over as well. Always done business with them. Seeing that we’re inviting everyone. Night now.”

Clunk. Click. Clang. The hissing scrape of his walking stick echoed through the hall. They’d moved his bedroom down the stairs. The steps are getting too much for him Sinead reasoned and Dovric will soon be big enough to move into the upstairs room beside them. We can’t have her too far away. Sonnyjo’s Old Man said nothing. Having only been told the latter logic but no doubt having guessed the former perhaps secretly he was relieved: the nearness of the kitchen would be warmer he told himself, handier for the winter mornings without having to trample through half a cold house. Convincing himself he was getting a good deal he hid from the implications of age, the memories of being master of his own house.

Sinead struggled with Dovric as she ran through his final suggestion. The Smiths. Common sense she supposed. Another Southern family would lighten the load, give a less exclusive shine to the gathering. Everyone dealt with the Smiths for their seeds, had all their lives, or for a can of paint or the occasional roofing ladder. How simple pleasures complicate themselves she puzzled with Dovric’s left leg caught in folds of tumbling white cloth. “There you go. Almost finished.” He’ll behave himself she promised once more to herself. “Come on. Off to bed now.”

Not sure who she was talking to Sonnyjo rose from behind the table and prepared himself to move.

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