Celler, Teller

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Chapter 6

Premeditation breathes more anxiety than it predicts. How much stress could be left ungenerated if the future lay like the present, beyond the realms of hypothetical control cold meat on a plate, take it or ignore it but it’s too late to recarve the dead animal now.

The sun squinted hazily over the mountains, turning from shadow to glow as the peaks shone slowly thorugh, defiantly cheerful above the lowering cloud. Nevertheless, reluctant mist to the East encouraged several last doubts and changes of shawls for the women. The men had less choice, it was their one good suit or to be left at home in shame.

Pastor Friedman, sweating profuesly, a trick he managed into the depts. of winter, glinted even more threateningly in the excitement of this bonus sermon. From the back people grumbled, intentially vocal enough to be overheard.

“No need for speaches. It isn’t church or high mass. For God’s sake!”

Unpious muttering hovered, professionally with the result of practice, as the offical droaning echoed around, rebounding luburously off the steeple that formed their stony roof.

“In love with his own voice.”

“Too old to change now.”

“Old enough to be out of here and leave us in peace.”

Male tones churned in impatience from the sheltered arches of the church door while the women up front, along with Sonnyjo and his Old Man, strangled similar inclinations into mere thoughts.

Pastor Friedman was as stubborn as his perspiring glands in persistence. “A beautiful day. A beautiful occasion.” He droned on, piously oblivious to the shuffling knees. “Let’s raise out hearts like the sun. And reflect briefly on the words of light we have just heard. Christ appeared from a bush. A burningg fire. to anoint and give faith to our Lord. To help each one of you,” a pause, significant glance to the restless shadows down the back. Too dark to be spotted individually but some of the men instinctivily shrank further back into the porch. I know who you are Pastor Rablin noted silently. “And so let us anoint this child with the spirit of the light of that love, strength to face and live in the faith we share and offer to her and the Lord on this important day.”

“He’s going cracked,” someone whispered, from among the women.

Even the family had betJuniored their wandering attention. Pastor Rablim impatiently waved them forward, with the child, for his oily anointing.

“So, let us anoint...”

“He’s said that already.”

“Too old.”

“Past it.”

“God save us from the like of him.”

“Sassh. If you’re not careful he’ll become a saint for putting up with us all.”

“If he becomes a saint I don’t want to be saved and spend eternity listening to the same parable every week with the longer version for special occasions like this.”

“Who does?”

“Ah, leave him alone. He’s harmless enough.”

“So’s a good brandy but he won’t have that either.”

Ingoring the rustling behind, the important people, the family, Junior as the Godfather, Aunty Johanna as Godmother, moved sideways towards the baptisimal font of heavily carved stone, the details worn from centuries of splashed holy water.

Dovric squealed as her hair drowned. A bitter streak off cold water slashed her forehead. A salty ribbon of moisture rolled down her cheek; Pastor Rablin wiped his brow, as discretely as possible, it being the obvious centre of gravity for his rising heat.

Without exception even the most pious exhaled relief at the final blessing and struggled outside quickly in a tightening knot of claustrophobia.

“What a man!”

“Too old to be moaned at this stage. Have to put up with him.”

That was the general conclusion once more, as the crowd gained the light. The sun had regained its confidence and blazed down in blessing. She’d be lucky. She’d do well. That slouch of a boy had finally produced a miracle; old Junior’s family had finally produced some good.

Trampling the weeds of the churchyard, moving towards the gate, away from the graveyard, that other centre of gravatiotional celebration outside of normal Sunday sermons, cheerful voices and flaying arms broke from their icy confinement.

Sonnyjo recieved countless thumps on his back as people praised him generously, spurred on by the promised feast to come. Back claps, in sympathy or encouragement, eventually alluded to the chance of a celebration where drudgery could be beaten into a tasteful pulp of comiseration or joy, both merging into the exhaultance of moving forward together, a community which could only survive united. As the sun melted the sterness of internal worship hands pumped even more warmly, smiles crisscrossed in an intangible blend of confusing aims. Women excahanged shrivelling glances of despair with their menfolk and then whispered: “sssch he’s coming”.

Oblivious to everything except the effects of the heat on his bursting pours Pastor Rablin tended his flock like a well trained politician; and in return, under the pleasant gaze of an unobstructed sun and years of practiced hypocracry his sheep smiled genuinely before making their escape from his attentions.

Striding between them Pastor Friedman was more than aware of what was happening. Come here through fear alone, he swore to himself. Ignorance and fear. How he longed for a true believing congregation, educated and respectful like their grandparents or even their parents grandparents used to be. It wasn’t the same nowadays. Too much mixing, newspapers, television, internet, ideas and all that nonsense. Better off before when people knew their place. Left alone there would have been no great war or minor squabbles. And look at those rufffians, he thought as he shook the hands of Sonnyjo’s cousins. Down the back as always and here they are telling me how good the sermon was. Women’s fault. They used to know how to control their men and bring them up front like civilized human beings and not the mountain goats they’ve become. But he shook their hands and beamed in their praise because everyone needs acceptance no matter how shallow, no matter how much perspiration the sun drips into your eyes.

Wrapped firmly in the prettily embroidered shawl someone had lent them Dovric dozed peacefully unaware of the surrounding attention, happy now that the icy water and drips of salty spittle had finally faded beneath the sun.

Proud parents and grandfather surrounded her with further warmth. Junior hung about over their shoulders as her official protector should anything go wrong. He took his post seriously. He would behave himself Sinead realized, both her own selfconfidence and knowledge of her brother rising in happiness.

Duties accomplished, Sonnyjo’s Old Man began to separate himself from the family knot and spread among the audience. Glazing more hands than the Pastor he moved among the crowd until he had gained the clustered twist of his crownies. “Sorry I couldn’t invite you all back,” he was explaining as he shook hands and accepting thumps of support. “But you know the way it is. Not my home any more.”

“A born politician.”

He was laughing. They all were.

“Ah now tell us another!” They teased him gently well aware that they were of the generation which could no longer expect invitations other than the duties of funerals.

“Not your home! Thrown out by a whippersnapper of a woman!”

They roared laughter, thumping sore limbs in appreciation until tamed by the lurking spectre of Pastor Friedman. They turned away to avoid reproach.

“Duty calls.” Old Sonnyjo attempted a jocious defense.

“I’m sure it does.”

“See you Tuesday as usual you mean old bastard.”

“Ay. And you owe me one an’ all.”

“Do like shite.”

Pausing gently, outside the limits of Dovric’s pivotal range, the family he loved, Sonnyjo’s father had a sudden desire to taste his own personal celebration before melting into the ties of required position. “Tell you what,” he profered. “Forget old depts. and I’ll buy you a quick one. If we run down to Boris now I won’t be missed for a good half an hour or so.”

“Knowing you you’ll probably make it an hour or two and we’ll all have to buy you one instead.”

“Come on out of that.”

“Come on then.”

The crowd had trickled down the path into town and old Sonnyjo knew they’d get away with it. “Come on.” he urged again. A separate old coil they followed the others down the hill, lagging further and further behind until no one remembered where they had gone and everyone had forgotten that they’d been.

Lacking both the social graces and positon of authority of Sonnyjo’s Old Man, his son was swallowed up into the principal crowd, shuffling from heel to heel, proffering a hand when some grabbed it, until finally he found himself left to one side as they moved off without him. Looking around frantically as the distance grew resolved he realized he had to keep up; he was the centre of their attention, had to be there with the baby, or something like that. From the corner off his eye he spied his father disappear and for an instant wished he had someone to disappear with in moments like this; his sheep no longer counted, the efforts of his newly planted barley provided no acceptable excuse. He would have to follow them to the house.

Nervous of his social duties he quickened his steps to tag on behind the babbling bustle as they headed for the cars. He’d rather walk. Wasn’t that far. But he’d have to do what was expected.

In the turmoil, between the chatter and baby wonders oooh, look at her, not a word, is she always as quiet as that, wish mine were, and is she as good at night, what a pretty shawl. Sinead managed a fleeting word in Junior’s ear. She hadn’t time to glance his reaction, trusting in his support to keep himself at bay. He’d better. He was the godfather afterall. Politics could rest for one day. She was sorry to inflict her warnings on him but he had to grow up; can’t sulk forever. Don’t be too hard on him she warned herself before losing her concerns in the cheer of rustling skirts and carefree shrieks.

The group divided up and moved off, Junior left slightly to one side, Sonnyjo to another. Both wondered what to do next amid the trails of women folk.

“Come on. We’ll walk,” grumbled Junior finally and marched off in silence, yet in no hurry to celebrate any further now that his duties had been sealed. Sonnyjo followed, forcing himself to catch up once more.

Within an hour the party had reformed and quickly jerked itself into motion. “A great spread!” the women complimented. “Jesus, tons of drink!” groaned cousin Patty in awe. Skirts bustled with sandwiches, men chomped before cigarettes and wives. Sweet cakes followed the chatter, dissected giblets of sound jelling as a whole somewhere near the ceiling, unheard by anyone, until YoungJed finally turned up with Marlene and paused outside briefly, before entering, listening to the noise.

Their entry was discreet, and after the initial hesitation, pausing of smokey wanderings, quickly warmed. Within minutes Marlene had been waylaid by the women to help and YoungJed was being plied with food by Sinead. In memorance of his father he scarcely drank. He’d suddenly had more glasses than he’d had in years. The rustling voices all around were beginning to take a ringing tone. shuffling through he crowd, unable to maintain more than fleeting greetings with any one face he eventually found Sonnyjo himself. They chatted about sheep prices and the new fertalizer on the market until eventually they formed a knot, jokes started, a story, another round of prices; and the knot untangled spinning both Sonnyjo and YoungJed into new orbits, fresh spheres of conferance until they both began to mingle easily from one group of mumbling voices to another. More stories. Louder jokes “But sssh here’s your wife coming!” Voices thickened like the wind through sheeps wool, tangling with the friction of drink. The coming reccession dominated the more serious tones of after lunch brandy. The height of the river worried them. They skirted over politics with due respect to YoungJed, Mr. Smith who had finally turned up and maybe their wives. With everyone fed Sinead took a breath of relief and a quick glass of wine: they were behaving themselves.

“Ah, he’s a great man!” cousin Jimby assured anyone who would listen, thumping Junior’s arm, the closest, for support. Junior winched.

“He is indeed.” rejoined another voice saving Junior from verbal deceit.

“If only they were all like him.” Cousin Jimby stopped himself quickly, until he realized that the Smiths had also left. Gathering courage in their absence he felt the need to elaborate. “I mean if they were all like those two there wouldn’t be half the problems we have now.”

A general concesus. Another round. Only Junior doubted their confidence. He drunk to dampen his own.

Sinead was watching him from the doorway as she passed with dirty glasses. Observing him gulp back his drink a chill bit her lip. Teeth relaxed as she saw him refuse a refill, never a drinker she breathed in a gust of silent relief. Not him. Knew he’d behave himself. Proudly she returned to the kitchen to check on Dovric and how she was responding to being the centre of female attention.

The christening passed off as a great success soon to be stored in the album of happy snapshot events packed away carefully to be glazed over in times of stress or simple nostalgic trance, although in reality there was seldom need for such feeble memories as Dovric grew before their eyes, a jewel in the flesh. She had measels, the occasional high temperature, almost broke a leg when she was scarcely able to walk and Sonnyjo decided to show her a real sheep (untamed, out the fields, he almost died with the anguish of having cradled his own doom) but she survived like any kid and was stronger, livlier, than most. Chubbiness grew firm as she was finally permitted to venture out alone with Sonnyjo; and hands became useful under the stricter guidance of her mother. A teasingly seductive smile blossomed from the endlessly patient attention of a grandfather until, crowning the fine features of her mother with Sonnyjo’s wirey strength, the general consensus was that she’d be a charmer; like the old man himself but not half as ugly! “I’ll tell you,” they’d agree down the village. “Sonnyjo will have his work cut out one day with the suitors. It’ll kill him. He won’t stand that kind of competition.”

The town loved her and still wondered how Sonnyjo had managed it. “Well just goes to show, doesn’t it? Never trust the quiet ones.”

“Never let them get away!” a sharper mind qualified. “Look what they can produce in the right hands.” Winks. A flush of crinkled giggles.

Dovric grew in spirit and bone as other’s hair went white and stomachs widened to peer over at their toes. Sonnyjo kept firm, out on the farm as usual. He had, however, learned to combine his instincts cleverly; he frequently had Dovric out there with him and thus savored the luxuries of the two worlds he loved. Sinead kept a firm eye on such indulgances; the only time there was no work to be done was when they both went to do it together.

Beyond them the wider world grew in turn, its endless revolutions twisting inevitably down the same orbits.

Countries reformed, disappeared, died of hunger. An American was killed in the someone else’s country and the world cried. Thousands died in an earthquake and people sighed at their reliance. Hillstown was never mentioned on the screens of spinning satellite creations. Their homeland only ever made a rare thirty second splash of misty mouments; “difficulties”, “unrest”, “economy in tatters”, muttered a toneless voice as it struggled across rare vowels and the rugged countryside of a land lost behind the mountains and the ignorance of distance, despite satellite TV and the Interneet.

To a large extent, for Sonnyjo also, despite the building temperature of discontent all around, the wavering fabric of his own nation with its two great majorities increasingly convinced the other had dissolved into a minority, lay almost as far away as the satellites spinning overhead. The fragments of a paragraph, world famous names, vaguely familiar cities from his school days, fragmented quotations from newspapers he never read, politics he seldom heeded, slipped by in a haze of dispelled agreements, or dissent, as Sonnyjo glazed through the melee into the eyes of his daughter, the softness of new born lambs.

Even Sonnyjo, however, couldn’t ignore external developments completely as they crept insidiously closer, to interfere with the most private of lives, interrupt the simplest of desires.

Dovric’s christening had forecast a recession. It had truly hit and, unlike the flow of the Dovric, had never receeded. It appeared to be without natural instincts. The wider political fabric which Sonnyjo had never understood, and with which those who had tried to explain it to him fared little better, collapsed, leaving their own lost land isolated in its grief: there was no longer anyone left to care for them and left like a morooned ship, berefit of attention there seemed little choice but for the tides to turn inward in a vortex of potential destruction.

Fueled by the growing lack of imported supplies exports fell graphically. Governments imploded with incresing speed. Six in eighteen months at one point with President Salvo backin office for the umpteenth time finally dying of exhaustion. Corruption some claimed. Time to clean the old system out. “Need a change. He’d done his bit. Time for new blood.”

A tiny, frail little man, with funnelled blue eyes, Salvo’d managed to compensate stature with the persuasive power of his mind, a brain that wove spells of delicate consensus to bind the tunnels of powerful dreams. Some saw him as a spider tying everything to his own greedy centre. Perhaps, but his popularity, wrought from years of permanence, presumed dedication, kept him at the top (or hovering overhead) for over half a century. Powerless, a figurehead of respect, the last bulkard before shame, he bravely braved the neverending tornedo his world of reason had become, until finally, sickened inwardly with generals’ greed, insidious plotting from a handful of increasingly powerful hotheads, black marketing local delegates, governments crashing over minor squabbles, he finally surrerendered: he’d done enough over his years in politics. There comes a time when the most determined finally waver before the onslaught of unreason. Even the walls of Jerico were tumbled by fanaticism. Last of a privledged ruling cast, the shadow of his coffin disappeared, to shelter from the burning gaze of hate drenched eyes.

The political world would never recover. Having failed in his final attempts to breed a subtle transition from the bastions of traditional power to the more unpradictibable if unassailable desires of burgeoing burgoise pretentions, his passing left the path open to the anarchy of desires struggling to abuse a vacuum.

“Oldfashioned, patronising. But a patriot. Knew no better.” were some of the kinder comments. And yet the funeral drew the country together in glorious pride. Hands clapped, feet stomped unitedly in nostalgic devotion, a nervous jangle to the rhythm of hovering fear and disgrace which clouded inward devotion to this great man’s ideals; a trail of treason tinted many of the hearts wwishing Sotelo eternal peace.

Two months later his wife was still struggling for a state pension. They had kept nothing else to live off, a concept which the fattened officials she dealt with refused to believe. She left the country to wither away with a daughter who’d married an Italian doctor during one of their few official trips abroad, years ago, when people still cared to remember where they were from and what their nation should stand for.

On the flight into exile his wife remembered his dying fears as she left the body of her husband forever out of reach. They came to mind again as a handsome customs officer looked puzzedly through her passport: there was no turning back. We have to leave he had promised. If we don’t take care of ourselves no one else will. They’ve forgotten we even exist. We’re not just from another generation, for better or worse, unfortunately the latter I fear, we’re a land that time wants to forget. Only now, standing amid the bustle of a strange airport had the words returned to bounce through her thoughts like astoroids prodding her final decision home. There was no turning back, no back to turn to. Above a jutting Adam’s apple, the clean lines of starched collar, she could see the officer’s lips struggling silently with the strang name.

“Welcome!” he finally said, after clearing his throat carefully. His eyes sparkled with pride.

“Do you speak English?” she asked automatically. He responded in Italian. Noticing his flushed cheeks, she was sorry she had asked and destroyed the illusion of his initial exertion. Forcing a word of Italian from her battered memory she bent her head in recognition, a flicker of kindness. The president’s wife, she had always had that power. He smiled automatically and handed back her passport. So bright and young, vibrantly alive. Everyone was bouncing within a single stride of urgent motion. So involved in their internal lives she hadn’t kept in touch with world affairs, but that was how Rome airport appeared in the early hours of midday. Bright colours welcomed her from the gloom. Tears choked her eyes as she walked forward to a new country. Dessertion was the most hinious of sins. That’s why they’d stayed so long. Only her husband’s words forced her on. Sometimes you had to take care of yourself. He had given everything, and so had she, her husband, her life devoted to his ambitions. It was time to rest. She walked forward into the brightness of frivilous abandon. She hoped her daughter was waiting, already it was too noisy, too much bustle to be genuinely calm.

With the old president finally removed from the scene, several breaths were released in relief. The vicepresident, recently promoted, hung on, reputation constantly twarted by ambitiousness and allegations of corruption. The remaining handful of Otels genuine supporters left him rapidly, he was never Otelos real choice, just a gimmick to apease the army. The uniformed elite were equally discontent. Sables could be heard rustliing even as they stood guard over otelos tomb; there was no doubt that they were declaring an active interest in the next government. Wellbred southern patricians they saw their duty as that of containing their vision of anarchy, regionalistic fanaticism destroying their lap of luxury.

From the North, and sabreless as a result, Fatur nevertheless did his own rattling, roundyeyed spectacles pinched firmly on his long pointedy nose. Behind, left and right hand men clumped together in an impressive shadow of threat: there would be no government without him either. They had been a brutalised minority for long enough when in reality they were the majority and intended to show it from now on. The years of subjection, tipping of hats, meek acceptance of crumbs from across the wellfed table were over. A little to one side Fatur’s pet intellectual Toby was already rewriting more history, gently misframing President Salvo’s later life, creatively divulging the old mans slippery slide from pedestal to base opportunism, his rejection of those who trusted, his continued abuse of power for personal gain. Such airbrushing of a potrait suited all sides of the developing political map. Generals were known to read the diatribues in good humor over a fine bottle of brandy: their acceptance kept Tobn from jails for months. As his pamplets and dynamic TV appearances grew more vehemently racist their patience quickly became threadworn. “A Pseudointellectual from some petty Northern university town,” was the official slander while secretly tongues slavered over images of fresh torture techniques. “We’ll get him soon enough and he won’t write for years.”

“The intellectual father of my dreams, my people’s history,” Fatur meanwhile acclained; while privately dismissing his associate as a “pompus old fool who’d sign his soul away for a few lines of good literature.” Toby may have sold his soul but he never attained literary levels as sharply ground as his political edge. He would forever remain mediocre outside of his ability to drew up old themes in sheeps clothing, then release the wolf in a passion of newly found patriotism, a cultural resurgence of the Northern peoples, regrouped pride in their superior heritage. Dragged from the obscurity of nostalgic folkloric poetry and a junior post in a country university, Toby had tagged his star to Vloric’s passionate nationalism, ferocuiosly prolific in his ability to recreate a literary basis for the rising tide of political mobilisation. Old myths were wrought up to date beneath the anvil of his frail hands; old significances met new; dead heroes returned to life with a fresh message; until it was difficult for anyone to remain neutral, until Sotelo turned in his grave unnoticed.

“He was a great man all the same.”

“Aye, he was.” Sonnyjo’s Old Man agreed. “A giant in his time was President Sotelo.”

“He was indeed,” his cronies muttered. “Kept some of those wild boys at bay after the great war.”

“From schavaging what was left.”

“Exactly. Kept them at bay and rebuilt some kind of a country where, all in all, we didn’t live too badly.”

Sonnyjo’s Old Manstill agreed. “A statesman. Knew how to bring us together.” A pause. A deep inhalation of countryrough brrandy. throat clensing, thought clearing. “That was the problem. Too good by half. An old gentleman.”

Cusin Patty nodded thoughtfully. His hand shook as he refilled the glasses. A long wet afternoon. There was little else they could be doing. Or so they reasoned as they filled the stuffy back room with smoke and homespun philosophy as they watched the glazed raggle of shadows bustle across the street outside, loosing themselves in the mist off the river. “Too good. But I reckon he lost it in the end. Living in the past he was. We all have to change with the times.” There was no irony in the thought for the know of ancient raincoats hanging feebly to the last few years of their disccussions.

“Have you seen this?” A reddened hand tugged the paper from an inside pocket. They all had but feighned renewed ignorance. Toby’s obituary of Sotelo crinkled in the giant fist as it unfolded across the slippery table clutched between their knees. “That’s exactly what Toby says. Living in the past. A gentleman perhaps but spent. Dried up.”

Sonnyjo’s Old Man twinged, snorted. What was wrong with respecting the old: still had minds, and more. Better stay quiet though. Hot blood left little spae for thoughts of restraint.

“A patriot through and through according to Toby but too old. He could no longer see the deviousness all around and let himself be used by the generals and radical southerners.”

“Aye, not many gentlemen left. Too soft.”

“He was. That was the problem. Let himself be used. Some of those bastards have no scruples.”

“You’re dead right. They haven’t. Vloric says a lot of truth you know. Eveen that fellow Toby whoever he is. Have to take care of ourselves or they’ll walk all over us.”

“Just as they did with Salvo.”

“They say he made a little money on the side himself, though.”

Minds pondered the implications, the origins of such slander.

“Dodgy building contracts or something,” a voice offered in illusive clarity.

“They’re all a bit crooked it you ask me!”

“To be honest it wouldn’t surprise me either,” another hoarse tongue spluttered through the choke of inhaled tobacco fumes. “Wouldn’t surprise me at all.”

Sonnyjo ’s Old Man nodded vaguely in consent. He couldn’t think of a humourous coment to defuse the bubble of thickening air around their sweating bodies.

“Daughter studied in France they say. Didn’t pay for that on a President’s salary.”

“Too right and the wife was quick enough to scoot off. Good old Swiss bank account I’d say.”

“Well you can’t believe everything you hear. Look at Fatur and all the slander the papers and T.V. tell us about him. Not a word of it to be believed as we all know.”

“Ah but that’s differend. He’s one of us. They’d do anything to discredit him.”

“You’re dead right. Propaganda. Vicious rumors. Fatur is too dangerous, they’d do anything to destroy him.

“And I’ll tell you something else. He’s the only one we can trust now. Only one able to stand up to this shite.”

Sadly, vague memories of past conversations, their fathers, roaming between these same walls, the old men sighed their agreement as the smell of conspiracy spun a fine mist of dillusion and collusion.

“The only one left. Even if we don’t like him, he’s the only one left to stand up to the generals and the men behind them.” Sonnyjo’s Old Man pounded the table in emphasis, fist glancing off the timesoftened wood harmlessly. “They’re out to destrroy us.”

“Aye. Look at the factory they closed. Where did that go. To the southern side of course, closer to the cities. And what are we to do as farm prices keep falling. Follow the factories further down south and get sucked up in Southern culture.”

“If you’re lucky. From what we hear you’re more likely to get the shit beaten out of you down some dark alley for speaking with a northern accent.”

“Gangs roaming the city streets. A poor southern in the wrong area of town.”

“It’s all well planned I tell you. Weed us out, water us down for the final onslaught.”

The arguments wove endlessly along the same threads, the growing patchwork of a new future, etched between the halftruths of divided propaganda and the tangled interpretation of unremittant reality.

Moves and pieces could be analyzed, prophesised, rebuked or cheered, through the haze of political gambling and delicately controlled manipulation; the increasing harshness of their lives, the scarity, collapse of agricultural markets, scant work, were beyond dispute. International context was publicly blamed. Years of bad management. For the people down the bars, hard at work in the Northern fields, people like Junior’s comments started to make sense: whatever the international or national situation, it was clear that the effects were being unequally distributed.

“They’re going to wipe us out,” Junior promised to a growing audience. “Completely. Wear us down and finally kills us off. There’s no one watching any longer. We’re no use to anyone but ourselves. They’ve a free hand to do what they want. With the mines finished no foreign country will give a shit. they’ve no interest in what ahppens any longer. They’ll push us out and then they’ll be making a fortune with our land within a week. They’ve still got contacts and are only waiting for a chance to benefit themselves.”

The resigned predictions of the elederly had speedily been choked under the glowing spittle of brittle young tempers. Reduced to a raggled huddle in the back room Sonnyjo’s Old Man and his cronies mused in ever lenghtening silences as Junior and his ilk stroked the fires out front.

As he always had, Sonnyjo listened when he couldn’t avoid it, confused when he attempted to understand, vaguely frightened as someone mentioned loosing the land. They mightn’t make much money any more but the land was his: it wouldn’t let him down, would always feed them; it still kept them alive more or less.

Sonnyjo’s Old Man father was equally subdued, torn between the fear that Fatur was ritght and the ulcer reminding him that he’d suffered hunger before and didn’t want to again. Junior threw a book at him one day. ‘The Mythology of the Northic Races: a culture under threat of the death penalty’

“There you go. All your own stories. All those ones you used to spin here before the fire.”

“Not mine.” The old man snorted bruskly. He didn’t even understand the title. “There not mine. Every father’s mother has them. Were you not told them yourself as a litle un?”

Junior reddened. He never referred to his childhood. Never liked being forced to remember.

Sonnyjo’s Old Man didn’t recognize his slip. “Who is this bloody Toby anyway. What did he do, invent these stories? Didn’t write a word of them.”

“I know that,” whispered Junior, angry now. “But he collected them, put them down in print for the first time. Perservation. We have to be aware of who we are.”

“I know exactly who I am. Don’t be deceived young Junior. Paper words are no stronger than real ones. Little squiggles won’t win an argumeent. You have to shout to be heard.” He whistled off one of his famous laughs. It flattened itself limply against the roof.

“Well, read the introduction if you want to know what he’s doing.” Junior’s breathed his reply weakly. There were more productive fields to be harrowed.

Sonnyjo’s Old Man put aside with a clatter against a tea cup. Junior left. Another round, further bout undecided.

Sinead did spot her fatherinlaw pick the book up when the house was quiet. Dovric on his knee, he flipped through the pages idly before laying it oneside once more. “I’ll tell you a real story,” he whispered gently and he proceeded in a lyrical tone, rising, crawling, gurglingg under the varying tensions of a wellspun yarn.

From the growing shadows of the evening kitchen Sinead gradually slowed her chores to a stand still as she too became bound up within the folds of a tale she had never heard before. Briefly, as the last straws of light faded behind the mountain, she too was sitting on his knee, smelling the gentle breath of brandy laced poetry, her cheek catching gently on the greying bristle of narrating cheeks.

Beneath the swelling vowels of the old man’s throat, the book lay forgotten, its introduction poigantly unread: “The necessity of recuperating our glorious national heritage, that wonderous culture of myth and folklore which defines out character, urges us forward into the bravery of heroes like Radlin, to reconquer what is rightfully outs, forge a future worthy of such a glorious past. these simple tales are more than nostalgia, they are a map for our destiny and it is each man’s duty to read them and the future they implore from valient consciousness of every good Northerner.”

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