Celler, Teller

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Chapter 8

“Have you never wished for a son?”

Sonnyjo’s tractor was stuck again. It had taken three days searching to find Junior. He had become harder and harder to locate, dissapearing here and there, out the hills, another town, silent missions. He’d finally turned up and they were heading up the road, out of town, home. “Sure you have a fine big chain up at the house. You don’t need me at all.” Junior admonnished. “Come on. I’ll give you a hand anyway.” Sonnyjo had forgotten the chain and cursed the two days he’d wasted with a bad memory.

Dovric had come into town with her father and was racing on ahead on the way home, twitching the ditch as she went with a slip of hazel branch. The two men were stumbling after her with far less grace when, without thinking, Junior asked the question.

“What?”

Junior was suddenly embarrassed, for once. “Nothing. A great girl. Didn’t mean that. Just.” He paused. “The farm and all, always needs a son, doesn’t it?”

“Ah, she’ll be fine. Can’t complain.” Sonnyjo hadn’t thought of a boy for years. And he wasn’t really listening to Junior, trying to remember where he’d left the damn chain.

“No you’re right. You’re right of course.” Junior wasn’t sure how he had wrapped himself into this conversation, too many other things on his mind to think straight, he argued. Then, to heighten his unease, reinforce the uncomfortable theme of the conversation he was trying to quell, they saw YoungJed’s youngest lad racing diagonally across the fields towards them.

YoungJed had three sons, the twins four or five years older than Dovric, and this one who arrived seven or eight years later, a genuine surprise one Christmas.

No escaping reminders, stormed Junior internally, in a town this size. He was cursing the bloody instinct that had drawn him onto the subject of male offspring when they noticed the little arms flailing. Across the wavering grass a shout strangled, reverberated as the figure stumbled closer. Stirred into action the two men fought through the ditch and ran towards the kid. He was panting, red faced, gushes of air, struggling pleas. Grabbing Sonnyjo’s arm he pulled the big man into motion. Stumbling into a run across the uneven fields Junior grumbled for an explanation, then swore as his ankle snagged in a rabbit burrow. For fuck sake, he moaned, forcing himself to regain a stride and beat back the distance between himself and the two figures racing ahead.

“He’s fallen. Fallen.”

“Who?” panted Sonnyjo.

“Father ... father...”

Junior had closed enough distance to hear. He hadn’t breath left to groan, nor time to think.

“Coal cellar. Ladder gave way. Won’t speak. Won’t speak.”

Urged by a sob the kid finally released Sonnyjo’s arm and raced ahead alone.

Panting, the two men followed, relieved when they finally reached the harder surface of YoungJed’s back yard.

“Here. Here.” Arms waved from behind the barn.

“That fucking coal cellar!” swore Junior. “Thought they’d closed it off years ago after it flooded. The water just eats it away. No bloody good for anything.” They were suddenly upon the entrance with no time for further oaths of wisdom.

The wide wooden doors had been swung back baring a gaping hole straight into the earth. A low moan siphoned upwards through the gloom. Junior knelt to stare. Shadows lost some of their intensity as his eyes grew accustomed to the darkness. “Are you all right?” A further moan. “We need a damn light!”

Sonnyjo pushed the kid. “Torch. Lantern. Anything. Go on!” He too knelt to peer into the eyes of hell. “Look!” he pointed and began to search through the rubble at the door mouth. “Here!” and his fingers began to feel out the ragged remains of the wooden steps.

“No!” Junior restrained his arm as the top step creaked beyond repair. “They won’t hold. We need a ladder.” They both looked around aimlessly. No idea where anything was. Sonnyjo hadn’t been there for years. “Ladder!” they shouted in unison as the frightened child returned with a light. Sonnyjo followed him as Junior took the lamp and set about finding YoungJed amid the gloom.

YoungJed was crumpled over the bottom rung. The ten in the middle had snapped completely, rotten with the dampness of disuse and the seeping ripples form the nearby river. Idiot, swore Junior under his breath. “Are you all right?” This time there was a faint reply.

“Knocked out cold. Fucking leg. Can’t move the fucking thing.”

“Don’t worry. Hang in there.”

Sonnyjo returned with the ladder. They eased it down, guided by the fading Junior of the torch. “Go look for a battery!” The child didn’t want to leave. “Go on!” Junior pushed. “Your father’s fine.”

“Just hold it firm.” Then Junior changed his mind. “Here you go. Stronger than I am.” He didn’t look Sonnyjo in the eyes. Sonnyjo didn’t notice. “I’ll hold it for you.” Junior assured as his brother in law stepped over the edge.

Into the deep Sonnyjo faded, step over step, foot seeking each rung gently, firmly weighted, then feeling for the next. The lamp was withering yellow. Sonnyjo could barely see. Wet coal dust smothered the air, clogged with the remaining grime of the fallen stairs. A groan rung in the corner as Sonnyjo stumbled against YoungJed’s leg. “Sorry.” There was scarcely room to twist amid the rubble. Sonnyjo didn’t know what to do next. Heave him over his shoulder? Was there room for the two of them?

“Give me a hand up.” urged YoungJed suddenly. Decision resolved, Sonnyjo heaved. His neighbor wobbled until, stumbling, he managed to stand on one leg. The other hung limply, at a strange angle, provoking a rush of nausea in Sonnyjo’s stomach. He’d seen it happen to a sheep. Broken bones, split flesh always made Sonnyjo weak.

“I’ll pull myself up if this fucking ladder holds. You push from behind.”

Behind was exactly where he pushed. Sonnyjo ’s claustrophobic queasiness in the coal cellar wasn’t helped by this intimate contact with a man he hadn’t touched since their school day’s centuries before. Nevertheless, it worked.

They collagsed into the gentle strands of day light just as Marlene returned from town with the other two boys. “Oh my god!” she screamed starting to run. “It’s all right. He’s fine.” hushed Junior. Then he stepped aside as she raced for YoungJed.

“Idiot!” she admonished once assured it was only a leg. She sent one of the older sons for the doctor and beckoned to the men to help bring her husband inside.

“Just thought I’d check it out,” YoungJed was explaining. “Could be good for the winter again. That other shed lets everything in. Could do it up.”

“You’ll need a new bloody ladder for starts. Metal steps or something.” warned Junior. Then he went quiet. His arm brushed Marlene’s as they heaved the limp body to a bed. He pretended not to notice.

“I know. I know.” YoungJed was repeating, partly to hide his pain. “I’ll sort it out. Do it up or something.”

Junior and Sonnyjo slipped away when the doctor came and their presence only served to block out the light he needed for an examination. In silence they wandered back to the road and the haul of another rescue: Sonnyjo’s tractor was still stuck.

“Awful idiot.” judged Junior after a while. “What does he want with that place?”

“Father always said it wouldn’t last,” submitted Sonnyjo. “Dampest coal cellar he’d ever seen. Too near the river. Water just seeps in. That land is damp through and through and not a rock to keep it in place.”

“Too right. And your old man would know.”

“Aye. He would and all.”

Humbled by their resurrection of a ghost they said no more.

They’d found the chain and attached it to the back axel when events of the day grew even more disturbing.

Sinead raced out to call them inside. Stuttering in the corner of his father’s backroom the old black and white television was warming up.

“Heard it on the radio.” Sinead whispered.

Lines flickered, bars rolled dizzily from top to bottom. Junior tapped the machine roughly. “Heard what?” he snapped, tired of messing around, wanting to be finished and get back to town. He had a lot to be doing. Dots sparkled in a mish mash haze. “Only the fucking test card!” he sulked. But the screen was gelling into place.

“Turn it up!” Sinead was wringing her apron between floury hands.

“What Mammy?” wondered Dovric as she returned form school.

“Ssscch!”

The national flag waved from the dusky corner of growing twilight. X flicked a nob and an old walz strung the air tensely as they waited, slaves to the flickering reflection across their faces.

They stood in silence after an initial hissing of intaken breath.

A panel of three generals fused into shape on the shaky screen. Sternly, they stared defiantly into each home. General Patton, obviously in control sat in the centre. Eisy on the left and Monty on the right. “Bloody token Northerner of course!” hissed Junior, jabbing a finger into Monty’s eye.

“Sssch!” Sinead repeated as the walz ceased and General Patton cleared his throat with clear invocation of divine authority. Sinead finished with the apron and reached for Dovric instead.

“Considering the recent waves of the crimes …”

Junior tapped the screen madly. “Come on! Work damn you.”

“... the worsening economic crisis created by years of government in which the country has been submitted to selfish, individual and party need, rather than the loyalty you the people desserve ...”

There was a further burst of static hissing as the screen wavered in fright. Someone fiddled with the ariel.

“... also viewing, with increasing anxiety, the lawlessness, insance violence and racist attacks ...”

Junior hooted. “Look who’s talking!”

“... we feel that we’ve been left no option but to acccept this painful responsibility in the name of the Nation, for the good of all its peoples. Temporarily, A National Committee shall be constituted to govern and prepare the ground for a genuine democratic state, once the nation has recovered it’s honor. To enable us to construct this new road forward any political act or attempt at disorder which endangers the unity of this Nation will be severely dealt with...”

The rambling continued in the monotone of a voice which has the power to convince nobody, emanating from steel eyes which show they have no necessity to persuade. Curfew, censorship, the limiting of political activity, everything was a precaution, temporary while the lips framed the promises with the frozen clasp of eternity.

“Fatur and other leaders of more extreme persuasions have already been detained and will be tried for their actions against the Nation...”

Junior turned white.

Sinead caught the change.

“No fucking way. Don’t believe a word he says. Vloric is too smart. He’ll have seen it coming. They were waiting for this. He’ll have got away. No fool. We’ll soon see. They’ll learn it takes more than pomp television appearances to sort out what’s best for ‘this great Nation of ours’“

Juniors final words echoed form the set as General O Leirged finished his speech. Military music returned, another old classic strummed out by an Army band, twisting slowly into a sombre version of the national hymn.

“Junior!” Sinead’s voice stung with urgency. “Don’t you dare bring politics into this house. Talking is one thing but they’re past that stage. and we’ve enough trouble just feeding ourselves at this stage.”

“That’s the fucking problem isn’t it?” her brother snapped back. “And if some of us didn’t act we’d all fucking starve.” The snarling eyes spun to fix Sonnyjo in their shower of recrimination. “And it will be the fucking cowardly sideliners who’ll be left to pick up the rwards when we’re all gone.”

“Don’t talk like that!” Sinead’s voice stammered between a cry and a shout, a tear and a scratch. Junior stormed out and wasn’t seen for two weeks.

There was no garison in Dovric but a tank rolled up the next day at noon. It stood, silently, hulking, on the far side of the bridge. Rumours spread that there were others watching the main roads down south and troops all over the mountains behind. One of Sonnyjo’s cousins disappeared. Aunty Johanna was paniching. “They’ll kill him. Torture him. He’s done nothing.” For three days she flittered about any house she could find in a howl of angonising disbelief, until someone finally passed the word: he was all right. With us. Doing a job. Calm down. He’ll be back soon. And he was. He turned up three days before Junior did. Nothing was said. Questions had quickly become taboo, barbed intonations which could defuse more than the truth.

The temporary measures announced on T.V. lengthened to attain the invisibility of permanance. Unhindering the change of seasons, they equally failed to affect Sonnyjo, directly, at first.

They watched the news every night, what Sonnyjo had never done before, but learned little beyond daily doses of corrupt expoliticians, punitive actions against maurading “terrorist actions against unimportant Southern targets”; the freezing of prices; then their spiraling increase due to “the corrupt forces of blackmarket profiteers, and other antisocial sectors of the community”; more arrests; the occasional execution made public although those kept secret were far more feared.

The rumors in town, or more directly from Junior when Sinead let him rant, fueled another angle to the official story.

“They say the savages eat some of the poor bastards after mutilating them horribly.”

“Well there’s only one answer to that. Don’t let them take over. Defend what we have.”

“Shut up Junior!” Sinead screamed. “Not in front of the child.”

Dovric was sent to bed to shiver between cold sheets and the flashing terror in her uncle’s eyes hinting at a world she didn’t understand. She struggled to sleep fearing its intrusion, while secretly straining to hook spare words of reference from under the bedroom door.

“Don’t believe a word of that nonsense.”

“What they always say.”

“I know. I know.”

Sighs of resignation.

“Junior! I’m warning you. Don’t!”

“But I tell you!”

“Truth.”

“What?”

“Sssh! Keep your voice to yourself.”

Another door slammed to seal the leaking innocence around the child.

If it wasn’t Junior, it was the cousins, Boris, the bars, the half grumble on every street corner. Sonnyjo was glad of his farm, the bleeting of his sheep to blank them all out, even happier when Junior or the cousins would disappear for a while and leave them all in peace. Within the privacy of their own lives they could feign ignorance and live the life they understood, with no disrespect but simple disregard for the turmoil all around.

Over time it became easier. Temporary measures obtain the solidity of stone through the endless repetition that weaves continuitity. They even stopped watching the TV most of the time; Sonnyjo only faced town when he had to; Sinead made deliberate efforts at avoiding Junior. There could be no complete escape though.

“Why are they wiping us out Mum?”

“Who taught you that?” snapped Sinead turning with a speed and vengeance which Dovric had never seen.

Mouth open on a sandwich her eyes retreated in shock. “But, but they’re all saying it. It’s on the intenet. There is still a connection down town sometimes.”

“They know nothing. Nobody is wiping anyout out. Eat your lunch.” And she turned back to the oven hoping disinterest would derail the dangerous thumble of inquisiviteness.

“But everyone is saying it in school!” forced Dovric after five minutes treaty. She was insisting because at fourteen and a half the fear of growing up alone, removed from the world, is stronger than that of parential retribution. She had to know where they, where she stood.

“Well you just keep your mouth shut.” was her answer. “Don’t be taking sides. Loose mouths will wipe us all out yet.”

Sinead bit her tongue. Facing the oven, back to her daughter, she stood still for a moment, holding back the ghost of a tear. Sides. Would they have any choice? Were they always selected for you by others, from birth?

Silenced but seething, Dovric’s curiosity raged, spurred by the hormones of adolecent thirst. It was she who began to insist on watching TV again; and hiding in the corner she soaked Junior’s crypticc reinterpretations and then mulled them, counted the contradictions like sheep after been sent off to bed once more.

The deepening crisis, despite its growing familiarity, was just as confusingly twisted for Sonnyjo.

His father’s tales were coming alive before him. Voodoolike the past was rising to cloud out a future. He worked all the harder to avoid conflict, for food if nothing else. At least they’d eat if they couldn’t sell and it was becoming harder and harder to achieve either. Trade with the South was dissapating, only bare necessities being exchanged while others were edging him to keep it himself or sell it to the outsiders who occasionally visited nowadays. “They’ll take care of it, give you a fair price” Junior had explained. Sonnyjo wavered. References to “black economy” on the T.V. made him anxious. Junior was more insistent when Sonnyjo sold three sheep to a butcher from the South.

“I told you!”

Junior had taken him outside and Sonnyjo shied up against the rough shed wall in surprise at Junior’s vigurous assault. He was almost snarling in contempt.

“Warned you. Don’t listen to a think do you? Wander about in your own world but don’t you see that’s all gone. Can’t fight this alone. We’ll give you a good price in future and more importantly see it goes where it should. No need for this messing about. Can’t protect you forever. Next time you come to me.” and he strode away allowing no response.

“We”. What we? Whose we? Was Sonnyjo part of a We? He tried not to think. He tried to dredge up his father’s stories from the last war. Were they the same we?

A loner all his life Sonnyjo had no desires to make himself plural. And yet, a distant uneasiness stroked his consciousness into doubt. What would his father have done? Laughed and followed his own path? Run off like the cousins and be the first to disappear, do whatever they were up to up the mountains? It was all there. In the stories. Those ancient eyes had lived it all before, with glory. They no longer shone, however, not even a glimmer beyond that particular grave.

For the second time in his life Sonnyjo felt the uncomfortable fear of social anxiety except that now, unlike his marriage, all he really wanted to do was back away, remain where he had always been, alone, alone now with his family.

“What do you think of it all?” he finally broached one night. He knew she was still awake. Junior had been briefly and she never slept after his visits.

“I mean ...”

“I know what you mean.”

He said no more. Sinead often seemed cross these days. He tried to be nice. Tidy up the house a bit, take Dovric out, out of the way. He’d brought her flowers a couple of weeks earlier. Never did it before but would again, the acceptance smile of simple trust returned that stomachache he’d had so long ago standing shamefully before the coal sacks of Junior’s forge.

“I’m afraid Sonnyjo,” she whispered a little later. “Afraid.”

Breathing heavily, he fumbled for her hand beneath the heavy bedclothes. They lay silently, squeezing the comforting clasp of ancient lovers, that simple entwining of fingers which enclose passion and tenderness, trust and insight in the intermingle of nothing but ten tenderly fleshed bones.

He wished he had words of comfort. He longed for her to tell him what to do. His bones were weary with the throb of inadequacy, the growing awareness of his inability to deal with the outside world, to ward off the bulge of its seething intrusion, a cancerous growth waiting for the knife he didn’t know how to yield.

Days strode into weeks, wandered off into months, munching and clearing the new meal being served as new rules ate their way to the foreground. Everyday conversation was the most noticeable change, evolving backwards to the stone age frostiness of either silence or ambiguous grunts. From Sonnyjo’s own home to the schoolroom, the ever decreasing activity of Junior’s forge, the cafes, even Sunday church, eyes avoided or snagged meaningfully as people kept quiet or firmly marked out their stance.

“Did you see last nights news?”

“Same as ever.”

“What’s happening at all at all?”

“Fucking bastards.”

“Sure that’s nothing to what I’ve been told they’re doing down the North West.”

“Hard to know what to believe nowadays.”

“They’ll be doing the same here soon if we don’t watch out.”

Junior had taken to bringing a new paper, thready of gossip from the Internet and the occasional outsider to explain the situation more clearly, sort out all that propaganda to select groups of interested listeners. Sinead refused him a forum in their house. Sonnyjo was glad. He didn’t know what to do. His silence was the most genuinely nuetral; he had no idea where to start making decisions marking lines; and above all he really didn’t want to be involved.

Events rolled with the momentum of a steam roller over frequent coffee breaks. Weeks would pass with little more than Junior coming or more frequently going, Aunty Johanna complaining aoout missing sons and all the work she was left to do by herself. Then something would happen. Even in the lulls, though, new patterns became marked. Sonnyjo and YoungJed still nodded at each other across the fields but like many their eyes met less that ever, guilt forcing them lower into the soil that ran between them. Trade between both sides of the town scattered unevenly to a trickle between estrangled families. Sonnyjo did as he was told and bought and sold off the fugitive backs of passing trucks. Pastor preached loudly against “childish tribiality” to little avail. Canon Hopsman made sounds, knowing they wouldn’t be heard. Sweating more than normal he gradually retreated to his roots until, like the majority of his congregation, his sympathies fell in line with pressure, their history, the myths which tugged feriously, easily knawing through the fragility of more recent ties as they sucked communities into isolated holes, bubbles growing seperately to bump each other in the sky, little hands developing, fighting to be the first with the deflatory needle.

Sonnyjo retreated further into his own corner and took his traditional distance to be approved of by Sinead’s recripricol response. For once he didn’t feel guite alone, or guilty. There was a purpose, preservation of what he loved, lending comfort to the enless unease which had always kept him apart before.

Thus winter blew into spring and through the wordless cauldron of building pressure hot coals would occasionally spark as a reminder that all was not well.

Rambo posters were plastered all over the cinema one night. The rumors from the hills, the shivering T.V., were less subtle but more persuasive in their praise of violence, so no one knew why or who put them there. The black humor of idocy is seldom far from fanatical intepretations of the blind and childish gestures are frequently the first steps towards stumbling actions. Mr. Smith had his windows broken and most guessed why.

“I can’t not do it” he protested, hands high above his head in despair. “Have to sell. It’s a business. One of my daughters is even married to.” He shut up. There were few who dared pause and listen anyway. Sympathy could be as dangerous, collusion in the eyes of a possible Rambo. Even within communities tongue and eyes were carefully under leash.

One day in May cousin Patty stormed up in his pickup screeching gravel close to the kitchen window panes.

“Look at that will you?” he was roaring over and over as he stumbled out of the truck to wander in a haze of maddening circles. “Fucking dogs. Bloody bastards. Fucking shower of bastards. No accident this I tell you. Set them loose. Fucking bastards. Sons of their mother’s whore.” Blood spattered his arms. Flew in specks under the force of his flashing movements.

Sinead shouted for Sonnyjo.

He came running from the shed as cousin Patty threw three baby lambs down of the back of his tuck. He was almost crying as he flung. Sonnyjo knew why. The shattered bloodwhite corpses stung his heart as if they had been his own.

Then, without further explanation, cousin A was back in the driving seat shouting above the groan of an over used engine: “Not the only ones I tell you and won’t be either. Always the same fucking same,” he snorted backing back to get an angle on the road. “Bloody townies. Never understand. Won’t do it again!” and he rattled off, staggering Sonnyjo’s gate on its post in his anger.

“What did he bring them here for? What does he want you to do?” Sinead was screaming now. “I can’t take any more.” and she too stormed away, inside.

Rooted, Sonnyjo stroked his eyes in weariness. Instinctively, he went to drag the mauled lambs inside. He hated seeing Sinead so upset. She was nervous so often at the moment and all he wanted to tell her was that it would pass like a bad harvest. But the words of solace were buried in choking bile. He didn’t know how to react, how to frame the comfort his heard so desired. Increasingly aware of his own helplessness his despair ate deeper as the realisation of his powerlessness to protect those he loved grew within like a wellfed tape worm. It was like after the first baby, when he’d hidden shyly to overcome his own sorror unable to stretch into the expanse of unknown which strung even the best relationships from a wire of fumbling intentions, inability to express. This time Sinead couldn’t turn to Junior.

That night shots rang through the South side of the town. Doors banged. Lights flickered, were quickly switched off. The click of oiled bolts. Squeeze of a finger. Whinge. Screech of wet rubber. Rattle of a truck. Silence amid the odd howl of pain.

Twenty-five dogs lay dead by morning, their owners shoking on anger and gear, deliberately selected or worse, random revenge of the righteously convinced, the morally insane.

That incident brought the troops out. There had been displays before, excursions North side but this was the most serious raid to date.

Junior’s forge was the first. He wasn’t there, which surprised few. Door left hanging, equipment thrown loosely, what was too heavy to disappear, a gaping mouth of seething warning awaited his return.

Sonnyjo’s cousins weren’t at home either. Soldiers tore through the barn and began approaching the house. Aunty Johanna screeched until caught between hitting her and retreat, they left kicking a dog as a symbol, taking a pig as a threat. There were still limits in those days.

“Oh Christ. The sheep!” remembered Sinead as the armor car tore up their lane. “What did you do with them?”

Sonnyjo froze. He’d never felt real fear before. Mouth dry he stood and waited.

There were no questions.

Guns smashed a window. Boots made fun of rotting shed doors. the dog barked then instinctivelly cowered a retreat. First time he’d ever hidden but Sonnyjo’s Old Man had always said he was a smart one.

Hens ran from their prison as the door collapsed. Clucking they scattered around the yard in a flurry of feathers, innocently beckoning their end.

Dovric choked back a screech, smothering herself in her mother’s apron as two, then four necks were twisted out of synch, out of life.

There were no shouts, no orders, no questions. Nothing. The silent threat of dark grey uniformed might was sufficient the time for talking had passed. Arrogantly, the troop carried felled the yard gate on the way back to their recently acquired meal.

Dovric was sobbing. Sonnyjo always killed the chickens with an axe, behind the barn, out the fields. She knew that even though she had never watched. The brutal finality of what she’d just witnessed was different. Her mother kept muttering that it didn’t matter. Held like a baby, curled underneath her mother’s arm, lying gently to her breast, Dovric knew it did matter.

“Where...?” Sinead was mouthing at Sonnyjo through mouthfulls of Dovric’s soft hair.

“Over there, behind the shed,” he fumbled.

They stood there in shock. The adults didn’t care how they’d been slaughtered: they knew the chickens had saved them.

“Fucking cousin Patty. Fucking lot of them.” swore Sinead. she rarely cursed, and never in front of the child.

Further events, closer scares, took their toll, all the heaavier as they became ingrained in the routine of what had become normal life.

Occasionally people would reflect on the good times, a brief few years earlier, when you could cross the river without glancing either side, buy or sell from who you wanted knowing before you did the prices to be exchanged; wander about at night without running into troops or shady figures just as dangerous; but they seldom allowed themselves the frustration of such pointless luxury. There was more than ever to be done to ensure basic living. The most frightening realisation was how they had become accustomed so quickly to the added intrigues and risks of simply existing: that was why people seldom remembered, refused old photographs in fear they would become mirrors and reflect what they had become.

In the midst of this mounting turmoil Sinead forced herself to attempt alieviate the tension, her tension. You had to think ahead she confided in herself, keep your family going, daily routine sprinkled with diamonds of childish relief, anything to break the monotony of unease. She laughed silently, maybe little had changed, same as it ever was she reflected, for once bitterly.

“Dovric will be fifteen next week.”

“Aye.” Sonnyjo was lost in the muffled sphere of his thoughts. “Time goes quickly doesn’t it?” he added a massaging afterthought.

“Do you think we should do something?”

enough time had passed for Sonnyjo to have developed a degree of intuition in certain matters. He was beginning to realize that he was being led into a plan. “How do you mean?”

“Well. Why not have a party.”

Sonnyjo shuffled beside her. “Ah now.” Words fell on silence.

“No. I don’t mean a party party. Just a dinner, good food for a change, bit of chicken.”

“Do you think she’d mind?”

“Maybe. Maybe but there’s not much else we can afford. Anyway that’s no important. Anything to give us a break. It’s been a long winter and it’s not fair on the kids. They need something.”

“They say it’s all for our children,” Sonnyjo reminded as he remembered countless political arguments.

“I know what they say!” It was so frustrating at times trying to talk sense to her husband. She wondered why she bothered. “I know what they say,” she repeated softly, “I know. But you know what I mean and anyway she’s scarcely a child any more is she?” Pride forced them to chuckle. No she isn’t, is she? Sinead reminded herself, wistfully, regretfully.

Sleep crept slowly over the bedposts, rustling them uneveningly in its increasingly calloused embrace.

Sinead of course was right. They all deserved a break.

“Which ones would be the best?” was Sonnyjo’s offer of support. “That’s a nice plump one.”

“Yeah. Looks fine. Nice bit of meat on it. Becareful how you kill it though!” They forced a laugh from fearful memory, the whole population had become deft at this trick.

“Aye. And I’ll do it quick, before they come back and take another few.”

They giggled childishly again.

“Do that.” his wife urged.

“It’s not a party assured him later before Dovric came back from school. Just a dinner. Bit of surprise.”

Sonnyjo nodded generously, with relief. Just themselves, the family minus Junior who Sinead presumed would be away and if not it was the perfect excuse: this was to be a rest, an escape from the turmoil Junior could only insist on strengtening.

“And a couple of Dovric’s friends from school. And I think we’d better bring Arunty T.”

“What? Maybe.”

“No. Go on. Just ask her.” Sinead felt sorry for the woman, for once believing her complaints were not exagerrated groans but the plain truth. The troops had raided her three or four times now. The sons were forever away, only barely keeping the farm together. Work built up, children squabbled as a constant stream of outsiders flowed through her kitchen.

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