OVER THE GARDEN WALL
Two days after Christmas, two weeks after his son, Harry, had barged squalling into the world, the house was teeming with guests, drinks in their hands, teeth shining out of their gobs, there to welcome the wain and celebrate the season. One, a woman, a pretty woman clutching her bag, kept staring, and Lafferty, staring back, noticed her eyes weren’t of a set, one eye staring him down, the other gazing out over his shoulder. There was something about her. Not only the staring, he was accustomed to that, to women gawking at him, what with the endearing dimple in his chin, his unruly good looks. What with his reputation. They were all guests of his wife, Peggy, her family and friends, coworkers from the hospital, and there was nothing out of the ordinary in them wanting to look him over, assess the goods, examine Peggy’s ne’er-do-well pig of a husband, and wonder why she kept him around at all.
Having turned forty, having at last brought a child into the world, he was trying to mend his ways, to mature, to grow the bloody hell up. But reputations stay stuck on you like mange on a mutt, and Lafferty, at the end of the day, couldn’t blame the lot of them for staring, for judging. And the one who kept gawking, the pretty one with the tangled black hair and lopsided green eyes, she might well be the one who took his reputation, chewed it over, liked the taste of it and took it as an invitation. The one he would have to avoid, if his new leaf was to remain turned over.
What’s wrong with this picture? When he was a lad, Lafferty would stare at the picture in the puzzle book till he found it, the wheel on the bike with no spokes, the clown with the missing ear, the square button in the row of round. A flirting friend of Peggy’s, though, did not a square button make. Sure, there was something else. Something more.
He stepped outside for a wee bit of cogitation. Peggy’d barred the smoking from the premises, considering the babby’s newborn lungs, and the little stoop and sodden yard about was crowded with chattering, undaunted smokers. Sodden butts ground into the dirt like a crop of potatoes. All up and down Blue Bucket Lane was parked a motley row of cars, and Lafferty noticed, again, the little blue Fiat down at the end of the row, a man still sitting inside it. He’d thought nothing of it at first, just a man and a cigarette, an anti-social sort, the stubborn sod who’d not wanted to come in the first place, who’d quarreled with his wife. But there he sat, still. Too far away to make out clearly. The clown with the missing ear? No. He’d not be the first pouting man who’d wanted to stay home and watch his game on the telly.
It was something else that didn’t quite fit. Then again maybe it was only himself. His new son, his new leaf, his new life, making him wonder did he fit in at all. Back inside, carols spilt from the kitchen, laughter from the hallway, lively craic, and he found himself watching the circle of women kneeling by the Christmas tree, cooing over the baby boy wrapped in blue beneath it. Peggy’d stuck him there, like a necktie or pair of gloves or box of chocolates—the most priceless gift of all, she said. Lafferty, with a contemplative gulp of stout, was assessing the degree to which he should agree with the sentiment, knowing full well there was a time he’d have scoffed at such fluff, when doesn’t he feel a nudge at his arm. And the woman with the green, lopsided eyes says, “Isn’t he just precious?”
“You bet,” said Lafferty. “Precious indeed.”
“Which one’s his mother?” said the woman, and the bell rang. On his second try, he found the proper eye to stare into. “Do you not remember me at all?” said she.
Lafferty blinked. “Mrs. Hogan?”
“Call me Enya?” says she. Says the square button.
He remembered. The B&B in Donegal, scarcely three months before. Glancing at the gathering round the tree, the cooing women, Peggy in the forefront, gawking in adoration at the babby. Nudging Mrs. Hogan toward the corner for a bit of privacy. “What brings you to Kilduff?” seemed a nicer, gentler question than what the hell are you doing here.
“I was hoping to have a wee word with you.”
Peggy looked up from the child toward the pair in the corner, other ladies following one by one, a dawning of suspicion. Lafferty looked at his wrist, where his watch would be had he a watch to wear, as though Mrs. Hogan’s inquiry was simply about the time of day, and he pointed toward the loo, as if Mrs. Hogan’s inquiry was simply about its whereabouts, mumbling meet me out back in the garden with scarcely a movement of lip. Ambled away with a nod toward the tree ladies. Through the kitchen a great sloppy man named Browne clasped him about the shoulders in a rude plea for Lafferty to lend his voice to the roaring chorus of Good King Wenceslas, but Lafferty gracefully demurred, making his way out to the garden. There he waited. A chill in the damp sunless air. He could make out down the road the little blue Fiat still there. The lump of a man still within it.
Mrs. Hogan coming at him, her fingers working imaginary beads.
“How the devil are you after finding me?” says he.
“You put your name and address down in the guest book,” says Mrs. Hogan. “Do you not remember? Do you not remember me at all?”
He did. He’d forgotten even signing the bloody book, so taken was he at the time by the stunning apparition of Mrs. Hogan, the ambush of sudden loveliness in God-forsaken Donegal, like finding a gem in the muck. Peggy’d insisted on a getaway, an overnight holiday before the baby arrived, just the pair of them—the first time they’d been away together in donkey’s years. He suspected she was putting him to the test, to judge if he might make a proper husband and father for all that. They spent the night at the Gorse Hill B&B, the Hogans’ establishment, and, truth be known—please God, Peggy never would—he hadn’t truly passed the test. For hadn’t Mrs. Hogan that night had a need and a hunger and other ideas.
“I do. I remember you.”
“Don’t hate me,” says she.
“Hate you? Why would I hate you?”
“After I’ve told you the news.”
“What news?” Though by now he knew what news.
“I—I’m in the family way.”
The knowing of the news did nothing to soften it. Your man may have cringed.
“I was out of my mind, for God’s sake,” she said, “I’m sorry!” Sudden wetness in the good green eye. “Himself pissed out of his senses, again, bloody blind and roaring and filthy, again, and—” This time the full sob escaped her. “Do you hate me?”
“No, of course not, it’s only—”
She was in his arms before he could finish the sentence, having leapt there like a fairy, where Lafferty held her as though she’d been dipped in paint.
“Now, to be sure,” he said with a modest grunt, for she was not as light as she looked, “you’re saying it couldn’t be his then, Mr. Hogan’s, for sure?”
She unwound herself, dropping, backing off, presto, chango, mortally indignant. “No, Mr. Lafferty,” says she, “it could not be. Why, I can’t remember the last time him and me…”
He gathered in a great trembling chestful of air. “And does he know?”
She sniffled and frowned and maybe a nod. A raucous rendition of Silent Night came tumbling out of the kitchen. Her eyes, each on its own, fell to the ground, the grays and browns of dirty old December, the opposite direction of your man’s eyes, that were looking toward the gloomy sky over the cars parked down the road.
“Mrs. Hogan,” he said, “Enya—what kind of car does your mister drive?”
Presto, chango. She smiled, smearing the tears with the back of her hand, suddenly bright as a snowflake. “Why, a wee Fiat. He can barely squeeze into the thing.”
“And the color,” he said. “Is there any chance the thing could be blue?”
“Aye. Blue as a button. Why do you ask?”
Though he was not as given to rash impulse as he’d been in his younger days, the difference between Lafferty at forty and Lafferty at twenty would not be readily apparent to a blind man on a fast horse. Within minutes he was hightailing it. Whatever consequence he might have to face from Peggy, whose old brown Ford he hijacked for the hightailing, whom he was abandoning to the mercies of a gossipy mob, however he might have to fend off her fuming and fury, it seemed nothing in comparison to the fury of a large and hostile man whose wife he’d left up the pole. On the night in question he’d heard the drunken roar of him beyond the guest room door at the Gorse Hill B&B, a roar fierce, desperate and mortally frightful.
And now, hadn’t he seen in the rearview the little blue Fiat nosing out onto the road behind him as he sped away down Blue Bucket Lane.
“Himself is behind us, following,” said Lafferty.
“Holy mother of God,” says Enya, “I don’t understand how…”
“You’re after saying he suspected. Could he not have looked in the guest book too?”
Enya cocked her head to stare quizzically. Crowded by her feet was the bulky canvas bag she carried, large and worn and stained, an odd sprinkling of multicolored plastic gemstones glued on the side in a design such as a child might craft, a crooked yellow sun with rays spraying out, flowers or weeds or trees or some such underneath. She turned to show him her face full of alarm. “Begod—shouldn’t we go back for the child?”
“Yes! For the boy, the boy, for the precious baby boy!”
Such was her state of excitement, so red her face, he was at a loss to place the pieces properly. “He’s fine—he’s fine. Well looked after, believe me. In good hands.”
The words quit coming out of her then, but the look of panic remained, until, just as quickly, an emptiness took its place, as though she were trying to remember something beyond recall, something she never really knew.
“Where should we go?” he said. He wanted to know—for he hadn’t planned beyond making good the escape—though at the same time, he wanted to rein in the suddenly bucking bronco beside him.
“I haven’t a baldy notion,” she said.
“We’ll find a place, have a pint, make a plan,” said he, calm as a clam in command. Though already he knew. Even now he already knew where he was taking her.
She turned to look, but the little blue car had fallen from view. Sinking back, she reached over and took his hand. Her own hand hot and damp.
It sank into him that she was a stranger, this woman who, before this day, he’d been in the presence of for maybe fifteen minutes of a lifetime, the intimacy of those minutes notwithstanding. That night had been a dream—the scent of the ocean in the breeze over a hillside in wild Donegal when he’d stepped outside, unable to sleep—Peggy, pregnant, had been snoring for two. Still shaken he was by the drunken roar of Mr. Hogan coming home late and thoroughly langered before he’d passed out, his own raging snore from somewhere in the house. And Mrs. Hogan accosting him there in the wee moonlit garden, pulling him down atop her in the damp, dewy grass. No choice but to meet her demand for love, so fierce was her hunger.
Now, holding the hand of this person he didn’t know, this person who purportedly carried another child of his own, he felt out of sorts. Nevertheless he clasped her hand in return, squeezed it reassuringly. For he was not the sort to wound the feelings of another if he could help it, particularly one so like a frightened kitten.
This was his own turf, far from the boglands of Donegal where Daniel Hogan, Proprietor, Gorse Hill B&B (so said the sign in the front), had marked his own territory, and it was Lafferty who knew the shortcuts and cut-offs, the lay of the land in general. And soon found himself following a leisurely lane northward up the island, across the rolling midland plains, sheep country, stone walls and hedgerows of hawthorn and holly, the occasional grand vista of fields and farms, varying degrees of green trying to stay brave in the gray December day. And no sign of the Fiat behind them.
When her hand fell limp in his, he looked at her sleeping.
On the run and fast asleep. And oddity, to be sure.
Or not? The great relief of having delivered herself to him, of having placed herself and her worry into his hands, had no doubt scrubbed her mind clean, freeing it to easeful sleep. Delivered herself to his protection. This sleeping woman, this frightened creature, placing herself in his hands—didn’t the very thought of it puff him up for a moment.
Just as quickly it left him, like air squealing out of the balloon.
The role didn’t fit. He’d tried it on before. All the people in his life—all the women—he’d loved and failed, back down all the years, back to Flossie, his own mother. And now a son, Harry, Harry in the world. The thought of holding the well-being of the wee babby in his hands filled him with doubt and dread, though the more he thought it over, the more it came to him what a waste of perfectly good dread it was. There was no doubt in his mind that Peggy—one of the first of his failures—in no way believed him to be capable of any degree of protection whatsoever. Of Harry or of anyone else on God’s green earth.
As Enya slept, the notion of protection leaking out of him entirely, he plotted his way back to the north, to Donegal, to deliver the woman back to wherever and whatever she’d come from—to do quite the opposite of protect her. Allowing any inklings of guilt and betrayal to crawl back into the dark recesses of his blameless mind, where they rightly belonged. Above, a bird of prey sailed high, disappearing into the overcast of clouds. When Enya finally stirred, she looked about bewildered, with a desperate frown that, before his very eyes, melted into a beguiling smile.
“Tell me about him,” said Lafferty. “Your oul one. Is he savage and fierce as he sounded that night?”
She nearly leapt from the seat looking back, but the road behind them was clear. “Yes,” she said. “No.”
“You wouldn’t want to be near him when he’s into the gargle, which is nearly always. He’s a beast, fierce and mean and loud, though at times when he’s not pissed out of his mind he can be gentle as a lamb.”
“A lamb? That one?”
“He loves his poems. He’s forever reciting me poems.”
“Poems? You don’t say. A man of surprises. What sort of poetry? Yeats? Moore?”
“Sure, I don’t know one from the other. Such as this: I eat my peas with honey. / I’ve done it all my life. / They do taste kind of funny, / but it keeps them on the knife.”
“I see. Lovely. And what does your poet do for a living?”
“Why, the B&B.”
“You couldn’t make a living off that, sure you couldn’t.”
“It’s not so bad in summer. There’s the dole as well. And of course he’s forever trying to get his hands on my fortune.”
“Your fortune? You have a fortune? What sort of a fortune?”
“Why are you asking me all these questions?” came out too harsh for its own good.
Lafferty raised an eyebrow. “A wee bit of chit-chat is all. Shouldn’t we be getting to know one another better, what with the news you’re after telling me.”
Enya’s cross frown retreating.
“The news of the child,” says he.
“Aye,” she said. “The child.”
Lafferty said nothing more. Her mention of a fortune snagged in his mind as such mentions were naturally wont to do. Her imaginary fortune, he imagined. He was beginning to suspect much of Enya Hogan’s world was imaginary.
“Where are we going?” says she, stiffening and bristling.
“North.” He looked over, fearful of her reaction. “The last place he’d think to look—the place where you’re just after leaving.”
She looked at him softly, her pretty face cocked to see him all the better with her good, true eye, and the chest of her heaved, and she reached over past his hand this time, to touch his pocket. She said, “Aren’t you the sweetest man? Then, just as quickly, she turned to see a thing passing by. “Oh look, there’s Jesus,” said she, and by the time he was able to peep in the rearview, whatever it was was gone. Whether it had been a Christmas artifact bedecking a cottage by the side of the road, or the genuine article Himself, he would never know for sure. With Enya Hogan, it seemed, you could never know for sure.
Up into Donegal, the hillsides and boglands growing more barren and brown, he spied a pub by the side of the road, a place called Gilligan’s Island. He liked the whimsy in the name, and hadn’t he after all promised to find a place, have a pint, make a plan. And didn’t his legs need a grand stretching after two hours on the road. And not a whiff of a notion of where to go to now that he was nearing the edge of the island, of what to do with this one beside him, this creature of ups and downs and highs and lows and little in between.
When he pulled into the carpark and shut off the motor, she didn’t stir, asleep again. He looked at the handsome face of her, the chin tucked down toward her chest, her feet crowded in by her big canvas bag. Her chest. Bosom gently heaving with her breathing, her oversized tan jacket fallen open, her hands laying easy in her lap where the soft dress gathered up in bunches. Her lap. He thought of the night in the moonlit garden, the mortal pleasure of the instant, and didn’t the stirring commence in his own nether regions. It had been ages since he’d had a dalliance with his own missus, what with wee Harry having invaded, an occupying army, both before and after his birth. And wasn’t the lust the last thing he needed just now.
He resolved to not give in. Another intimate episode would represent another degree of commitment, and wasn’t commitment another last thing he needed now. He resolved to maintain a courteous manner, helpful, sympathetic, dispensing only as much charm as he dared, and that as distant as he could disguise it.
At that moment she came awake and saw him watching, her good green eye homing in, coming nearer, almost without him realizing the approach, coming nearer as though by instinct alone, and wasn’t her hand up his leg and onto his own lap before he knew it.
He felt out of sorts, again, the same odd discomfort, the hand of this stranger having reached into his trousers, yet didn’t he nevertheless clasp the neck of her, squeeze it reassuringly. For he still was not the sort to wound the feelings of another if he could help it, particularly one so like this frightened kitten.
Walking into the place called Gilligan’s Island afterwards, she threw back her head to laugh at the sky, and didn’t your man laugh along. For the promise of a pint in a new-found pub, the mellow afterglow of the antics in the little brown Ford, the sense of freedom—however fleeting he knew it had to be—from the routines of the everyday, dreary domesticities, all conspired to send him high as the sky that they laughed at. The pub was a ramshackle establishment with a tin roof and, inside beside a turf fire, a juke box playing: I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die. He took her into the empty snug at the end of the bar for the privacy, for it occurred to him, somewhere within the transitory joy, that Gilligan’s Island was after all on the main motorway from the midlands up through Donegal.
A handsome snug it was, polished wood and frosted glass, two comfortable stools trimmed with something akin to leather, and, most important in Lafferty’s mind, a solicitous bar man who was hearing their orders before they were firmly settled into their seats. He ordered a pint of plain, she a lemonade.
“My condition,” she said, patting her middle. “They say the drink is bad for the wain.”
The wain. He felt the slippage begin. “So they say,” says he. “It’s a wonder then we’re not a nation of imbeciles and lunatics, if there’s any truth to it at all.”
“Are we not?” says she, and Lafferty had to squint to see the joke. She said, “Have you thought about how close our baby and little Harry—Harry’s the name of your other, is it not—how close in age they’ll be? Won’t it be grand? Won’t it be the grandest thing? They’ll be best mates—like brother and sister they’ll be, or brother and brother, I don’t know which yet, but then of course they will be. Half-brothers they’ll be.”
Lafferty nearing full free-fall by now. “We’d best figure this thing out.”
Her one green eye smiling, the other one over the moon. “Sure, I’ve been figuring all the while. We can buy a pub someplace, a pub like this one—maybe even buy this pub.”
“Buy a pub? With what? My good looks?”
She smiled and touched his thigh. Again. “Handsome you may be, but maybe not quite that handsome.”
Wasn’t your man at a loss. The blood in him beginning to run for cover. “We’d do well to think of a realistic plan, something a little more—realistic.”
“What’s not real? Sure, you love the drink after all, you can be a real publican, make real, honest money, all your mates’ll come in to have a jar with you. I can cook in the kitchen, at least now and again, when I’m not busy with the wains. Harry and our child—we must think of a name—Harry and our child, they can play in the carpark. We can build a play contraption there—a jungle-gym.”
“And where will the bloody cars park?”
She frowned. “Dream with me, Mr. Lafferty.”
“Terrance,” says he.
“Dream with me, Terrance Lafferty then.”
“I can’t bloody dream. I’m not bloody sleeping.”
“You can dream if you try. If you want.”
“We’ve no money. We can’t buy a bloody pub.”
“There’s always money.”
An odd crinkle to her brow. “There’s always money.”
“And what about my wife? What about Peggy?”
This was what caused the shadow to cross her wounded face, her eyes to soften and moisten in differing directions, though there was something else there as well. Something in the eyes of her shifted, hardened, something like resolve taking shape in the shadows.
But Lafferty was in with both feet. “I can’t just bloody walk out of my life.”
She said nothing, pointing her chin out bravely over her untouched lemonade.
He downed his pint, motioned for another, but the only taste of it was brooding and sour. Of all the escapes he’d pulled off in his lifetime—his specialty, escape—none before had ever been in slow-motion. Finally, when it was evident she was sulking, intent on sitting silent, the part of him that was not the sort to wound the feelings of another, particularly one so like a frightened kitten, began to rise up again. “We’ll think of something,” he said at last. “Some way I can help. Some way we can manage.”
She came out of her sulk. “Here’s another then,” she said. “Over the garden wall, I let the baby fall. / My ma came out and she give me a clout, / over the garden wall.”
Coming out of Gilligan’s Island, Enya clutching the bag she’d been swinging so gaily going in, clutching it to her chest now like a wounded teddy bear, they saw Peggy’s little brown Ford had been parked in. A big man emerging from the little blue Fiat that had parked it in.
All his life Lafferty’d heard talk of this thing called the Fight or Flight Instinct. All his life he’d never truly believed in it, like Santa Claus and the tooth fairy, for the only thing he’d ever been possessed of was the Flight Instinct.
He turned on his heel and ran.
Enya behind him just as quick. Daniel Hogan’s roar, “Stop! Wait!”
Back inside the pub were lounges, alcoves, a barroom, a dining room, any number of snugs to choose from in the ramshackle establishment, and there was the door to the kitchen where a back door would be, and there was the loo with maybe a window. Lafferty’s choice. Enya had darted her own separate way, Hogan no doubt still lumbering across the carpark. Inside the jacks, he saw the window too small for egress. Two stalls. He went into the one, closed the door, latched it, stood panting and sweating like a stevedore. If Hogan came in, the jig would be up. When Hogan came in. Nowhere to hide. His feet could be seen under the door. Up he stepped onto the toilet. His head could be seen over the top. He crouched. Squatting on the seat of the toilet—there was no lid, only a seat, he had to take care not to slip in—didn’t he feel the complete bloody eejit.
Albeit a hidden complete bloody eejit. Some measure of consolation.
Probably a minute that seemed like ten, and his thighs began to ache, his ankles to tremble, his knees to threaten to pop. It occurred to him he could make himself comfortable until he heard the bloody door, and he started to make himself comfortable, when he heard the bloody door.
Followed by footsteps. That stopped at the door of the stall. The door was pressed with a wee squeak, one, two, three wee squeaks, then the voice. “Fee, fi, fo, fum, I smell the blood of an Offaly man,” was, while not a roar, nonetheless familiar.
Lafferty held his breath.
The door to the stall beside him squeaked open, followed by a grunt, the groaning of floor and fixture, a shadow, and Lafferty looked up into the face of the big man staring down. Not an angry face. An anguished face. A tear dropped from it onto the floor by the toilet, where many an unmentionable fluid had fallen before.
“Can you help me, Mr. Lafferty?” said he. “Can you help me bring her home?”
They walked outside together, Lafferty and Daniel Hogan, the former’s left foot soaked through and through, having splashed it into the toilet bowl as he’d tried to stand on wobbly legs. Hadn’t your man Daniel Hogan laughed then, hadn’t his tears of laughter commingled with those of his sorrow, the misfortune of another man seldom failing in that regard, at least not in Lafferty’s memory. Outside, in the carpark, they stood staring together like old mates at Peggy’s little brown Ford. Lafferty took advantage of the occasion to inquire of your man, Hogan, as to whether or not he had neglected to take the keys from the little blue Fiat when he’d exited so hastily giving chase. Hogan didn’t reply. Together they stared at the vacant spot where the little blue Fiat had been, wondering where, oh where, could she be.
Hogan thought he might know. Less than an hour to the north were the ruins of a place called Carrickbarren Castle. Hogan had found her there before. They’d stopped one grand day after an outing when their lad was only toddling, and the child had been so delighted, exploring the open stone steps and ramparts and walls with such joy that Enya had never forgotten. Since the boy died, she’d returned several times, as if in hopes of finding him there.
“You’d a child who died?” Lafferty said.
“Aye,” said Hogan. “Billy.”
“Billy.” Lafferty remembered it then, in the foyer at the Gorse Hill B&B three months before, a picture on the wall on an equal footing with that of the Savior and His bleeding heart, a photograph, enlarged, behind glass, of a yellow-haired boy with the ears of an imp and a dirty face. Blurry, a snapshot not intended to be the lasting memory. Lafferty’d thought nothing of it at the time, room in his mind for only the stunning vision of Enya Hogan.
Billy. How did the lad die?
Too delicate a question to ask. He didn’t ask it. Hogan was well into his cups—Lafferty suspected that to be his normal state—though all the roaring was over, a fated and restless calm having settled over him. He rambled on in his voice like low thunder. Stuffed into the passenger seat where his wife before him had been transported like a canary in a cage up from Kilduff, and didn’t Lafferty wonder if Hogan could imagine the shenanigans that had taken place, could maybe even sniff the lingering scent of them. And the more he went on about her, about Enya Hogan, nee Bannon, his wife, his pet, unknowable, untamable, both wild and needy, the more Lafferty began to worry that the scent would surely come through, reveal itself, and he remained alert to the possibility of eruption from the volcano sitting dormant beside him.
Not an easy life for Enya Bannon, as her husband would have it: abused by a drunken mother who died young, the daddy she adored deserting her—a thief, truth be known, who scored big and vanished off into parts unknown—leaving her all on her own, wild as a wren, before the nuns had taken her in and suffocated her. As a wee lass she would pin the prickly sowthistle in her hair and run naked through the heather on the hillsides, imagining herself to be a Celtic goddess, how she’d paint up her face with the juices of berries, till the nuns, stern in all their horror, had beaten that nonsense out of her.
It was with the losing of Billy that the glue had finally come undone—though Hogan conceded that his own miserable indulgence in the drink hadn’t helped—the losing of Billy, knowing all the while that he’d been her last and only, that she was incapable of bearing another.
“She can’t have another child?” Lafferty said.
Hogan shook his head glancing over, sly blue eye over fat red cheek. “But she’s after telling you otherwise?”
Lafferty didn’t reply, staring instead out through the windscreen up the lonely little road they were travelling, allowing the topic to scurry away.
After a proper pause, he said, “She’s after telling me you like the poetry.”
“Ach,” said Hogan with a rumble of a chuckle and a dismissive wave. “She loves her silly rhymes, she does. I use ’em to lull her down, soothe the savage breast—a useful tool in that regard. Her and Billy used to laugh—the one feeding off the other—till the tears would be streaming out of their faces, the pair of them.”
“She recited me a couple. One about peas and honey.”
“One of her favorites, that one is.” He recited the thing. “Didn’t Billy have to try it himself, eating his peas off his knife. Honey and all—such a face he made.”
“And another about a garden wall. About a baby falling over the garden wall.”
Hogan let his chuckle slip away, wiping at his cheek with the back of a fat hand. “Garden wall? I never told her any such about a baby and a garden wall.”
“Something about her ma giving her a clout?”
“Oh, that part I can believe. But it’s not one of my own.”
“Maybe she made it up.”
“We’ll bloody well ask her. After we bloody well find her.”
Less than an hour later, when the evening was beginning to come down over the rolling bogland up the coast of Donegal, and the storm clouds thicken out over the Atlantic, they found the little blue Fiat parked in the gorse where the lane ended at the ruins of Carrickbarren Castle. The gray light held a pale luminescence, the day suspended halfway to night. The ancient stone tower looked to have been lopped off halfway up, a ragged cut, while a stone wall with only a parapet or two remaining trailed off, guarding nothing, a few more odd, meandering walls and piles of rubble nearby, all of it overgrown with the brambles, all of it roofless. Ivy clinging up the stones. Out toward the north and the west, the sky was black, storm winds stirring, carrying with them the scent of the ocean.
Hogan unfurled himself from the little brown Ford. Lafferty followed. “Where the devil’s she off to?” mumbled the big man. Then he sang out, another roar, “Enya—Enya, darling!” and listened, but there was only the whisper of a breeze in response.
Lafferty called out, “Mrs. Hogan—Enya!”
They stood for a moment by the car, listening. Hogan said, “You go that way, Mr. Lafferty, I’ll poke about over there,” and off they went their separate ways.
He heard the rumble of Hogan calling for his wife, even after they’d lost sight of one another. Lafferty made his way through the rubble down the wall, eyes scanning the high grasses and sedges and heather of the boglands surrounding, calling, loud as he could, though his call was dwarfed by that of Hogan up beyond the tower. Was she hiding? Was she hurt? Had she wandered off? The light was failing.
A sense of urgency quickened in him, then, just as quickly, the sense of urgency brought all the other urgencies to his mind, urgencies such as the missus, Peggy, at home, all alone with wee Harry, waiting, wondering where he’d got off too. The hell there’d be to pay.
There came Hogan’s call again, softer, different in tone, “Enya,” the tone of discovery, of revelation, then again from up beyond the tower, barely heard, “Enya? Love?” Then a hollow knock of some sort, a quiet commotion, and nothing again, only the quiet of the restless breeze from out over the ocean.
He hurried toward the sound, like swimming upstream, the dread was that thick.
He found Hogan, on his back, on the ground, blood glistening on the dead, ruined face of him. A flash of motion, a soft rushing sound, and a glimpse of what he took to be a woman, naked, running off through the heather, vanishing up into the bog.
He found her clothes among the stones and brambles. The tan jacket sprawled like a victim, limp rag of a dress a few feet off, a pair of knickers, a dreary brassiere, and the bag, the oversized canvas bag with the crooked yellow sun tipped over not far from the tower. Something peeped out of it. He dipped in his hand and pulled out a bundle of cash.
A tidy stack, rubber-banded, old Irish money, punts, not Euros. Pulled out another. There were five bundles altogether, inches high, soft to the touch, lovely and supple with age.
He climbed the open stairway in the tower, stood looking out over the highest stone still standing, scanning the darkening bog, searching for a sign of the woman. The breeze in his face, the primal smell of ocean, his hands gripping a stone placed there by a man five hundred years before.
His left foot had an oddness about it that set it apart from the other, from the rest of his body altogether, the foot that he’d dunked in the toilet. Still damp it was. Lafferty lifted it, shook it. You put your left foot in, you put your left foot out—didn’t he curse himself then, mayhem and tragedy all about, a fine fellow (for all it would seem) lying dead in the ruins of an ancient castle, an injured, damaged creature rushing headlong into the storm, and him with a silly song rampaging through his brain,
—you put your left foot in and then you shake it all about.
Should he not report the whole desperate affair to the Gardaí? Of course he should. Hogan lying there dead, his head bashed in. His face. Not the back of his head. He’d been facing her then, looking at her, looking into the eyes of her as she raised up the stone. Into which eye had he stared, into the one that bore down on him, or into the one that wandered out over the bog? Should he not report it all to the Gardaí? Should he not report the money, the thousands of punts? Of course he should.
He should. But then again too, after more than a bloody hour, shouldn’t his bloody foot be bloody well dry?
The hell there’d be to pay. In the wee hours when he finally arrived back at his home on Blue Bucket Lane, the missus was still awake. Your man braced himself going in through the door.
And didn’t she call out softly from the bedroom.
“Terrance? Terrance? Is it you?”
“Aye. I’m back.”
“Where were you?”
“I had to run out. An errand for a friend.”
“Brilliant, love. You’ll have to be quiet, there’s a good man. I’m only just after getting him down. He wouldn’t go down for me at all, at all—too much excitement in the day.”