What else would you do on a train?

He reached for the soap, wincing as it slipped out of his hand, automatically stretching further but his ribcage was fit to burst at even this small movement. He rubbed the spot gently, wondering as he showered if it was bruised or broken, cracked or shattered. Each small stroke brought new sensations of pain. What was he going to do? It had finally happened, the connection of foot on bone, he had been waiting for it forever. But now that it had, he was confused as to his next move.

There were mitigating circumstances, there always were. He remembered his own occasions of volatile temper raging through him, the only release would be the explosion in his knuckles as he punched something or someone. The time Gerry Downing had teased him about his hair colour in the pub, the surprised expression that hung on his face as he was launched over the bar. Yes he could remember each and every time.

But he had never hit her. They had been going out for over a year now and he had been sure to keep his temper in check. The guys in the bar were always riling him but he began to count to ten, if she were with him, some of them had copped to this and upped their game whenever she was with him. They and he knew, this was the one. The keeper. He just had to keep his cool long enough to get the ring on her finger and then it didn’t matter. He was a cop, he knew domestics were never investigated and maybe, just maybe she would behave herself all the time and there’d be no need to teach her right from wrong.

Last night, in the bar, the guys had just gone over the top. Mocking his clothes, his hair and when they started in on his after shave. Billy Mac, did a pirouette and said in the campest of voices, “lovely cologne, what is that a hint of lilies or lavender?”

He jumped up, strode over to Billy and was about to grab his neck when…

She called his name and he turned. She was slightly squatting, almost a split squat and all in a second was up delivering a front kick to his breast bone and then into a power side kick, from the left. That’s what threw him. Her front kick had been on her left leg with the right outstretched reaching his body. But how did she get that on the floor before beginning the side kick, and when he thought of the power behind it, he winced.

She walked out of the bar, head held high, legs like a gazelle. At the door, she turned, bowed to the ensemble and on rising, raised one arm in the air in a fist and shouted, “for Michelle, you gutless wonder.”

The men gathered around him, it was unfair they said, one said, they were only ribbing. This caused a wave of giggles, but they knew the score. It was only banter and the physicality of it all, just lads having a laugh, blowing off a bit of steam. But Michelle.

Michelle Grainger had lived in the village her entire life, never leaving it for the bigger towns like most of them. She drank in the bar and worked in the shop, her life was simple and her dream was to settle down with her handsome boyfriend, the policeman from town, who came every Tuesday to air the old Garda station and give out the odd ticket for busted back lights. Garda Brennan, AJ to his mates, loved the attention from this yokel girl and spun her a line for a year or two but he had a fiance in town and was not going to be shackelled to Michelle no matter what. The what happened though and she arrived at the station one Tuesday morning to meet him and give him the good news, she was expecting.

She did not get the conversation she wanted as he suggested it wasn’t his and called her names. She didn’t understand, everyone she met that day she told her story, and it didin’t make it right. Meanwhile AJ had contacted his mate on the force, asking his advice. His friend had said, don’t worry, he’d sort it out for him. There was a young hoon, Backers Mackie, he was on the edge of everything and about to move into a bigger league. He needed taking down but it was proving impossible to tie him to anything. Now, he was in Mountjoy on remand, being tried with Michelle Grainger’s murder, he had no alibi, his prints were found at the scene. The village, scared witless by the thought of a murder on their doorstep were all to eager to place Backers in the area on the night in question. Garda Brennan was an absolute rock of support to the family and neighbours. He talked about the shock of her news two days before but how he had bought a ring and was going to propose at the weekend. He was as white as flour throughout the whole affair. He explained to his fiance how this local girl had been stalking him and thought he was her boyfriend telling the whole village. She was so understanding, they waited a year to get married just to allow Michelle’s family some peace. They were invited to the wedding but it was still, for them, too soon but they wished the couple all the best. AJ had moved across country, doing something in vice in the city.

He actually hadn’t meant to kill Michelle, just talk to her, bundle some money at her and get her on a boat to England, but she was so adamant. She wanted the white dress and the marquee, she had even planned the music for the first dance. She was either obsessed or had little to occupy her mind.

He was still in the shower, letting the water cascade over his rib cage, in all his years of thumping and kicking people, no one had ever landed one on him. He thought back to last night. How he had crumpled in agony. This couldn’t go on, his rages were getting more ferocious, he was under investigation at work, things were beginning to unravel and now this. Michelle, that had been two years ago, Backers was locked up, albeit he hadn’t been to trial yet. There were pre trial hearings with the barristers and a growing swell of people wondering why he was claiming to be innocent. Backers had begun to help the Gardai with their enquiries into a number of unsolved cases around the area and was admitting to the dealing and GBH of more than a few people in town. So why wouldn’t he cop to the murder.

He looked in the mirror, “Thomas James Cronin, it is all getting a bit messy,” as he said this to himself he smirked. Understatement of the century. He winced again as took a deep breath. His phone beeped. The message read, “Lord, hear my prayer, listen to my cry for mercy; in your faithfulness and righteousness come to my relief. Psalm 143. This might be your answer, mate”

It had been sent anonymously. On his way to work, a guy tried to give him a leaflet as he said, “Repent, the end is near.” At break time, a few of the younger guards were reciting poetry at each other, trying to remember the words from their leaving. They were on the cusp of their thirties and realising their youth was gone, were reminiscing about school and the dreaded exams. Julie Tolley raised her voice in the hushed canteen,

“I have lived in important places, times
When great events were decided, who owned
That half a rood of rock, a no-man’s land
Surrounded by our pitchfork-armed claims.
I heard the Duffys shouting “Damn your soul!”
And old McCabe stripped to the waist, seen
Step the plot defying blue cast-steel –
“Here is the march along these iron stones.”
That was the year of the Munich bother. Which
Was more important? I inclined
To lose my faith in Ballyrush and Gortin
Till Homer’s ghost came whispering to my mind.
He said: I made the Iliad from such
A local row. Gods make their own importance.

Kavanagh”

The whole canteen burst into applause, none of the others had quoted an entire poem, just a line here and there.

“Way to go, Jules.”

“Good one, Trolley Girl.”

Nicknames were common, some stuck. His was “Moanin’ Cronin,” he didn’t care one way or the other. Poems in the station was a good distraction from his mind in turmoil. He looked up and saw the Inspector enter.

“Sir, I would like to meet with you today, if possible, I mean if you are not busy. I mean I know you’re busy but can you fit me in, sir?”

“Sergeant Cronin, I can see you tomorrow at nine am, I have things to do today.”

“Yes sir, thank you sir. Right nine o’clock tomorrow. Sir.”

He walked to river after work, he looked into the water, looking for answers, he only saw his reflection. It’s down to me then, to do what is right. He smarted at the pain as he walked slowly home. He got over another hurdle, he hadn’t jumped off the bridge as so many other tortured souls had. The bookshop was still open, it wasn’t a place he would normally be found.

“Hello Sergeant, how may I help you today?”

“I got a message this morning and I want to look it up, do you have a, a, a Bible?”

“Yes of course, which translation?”

“I dunno.”

“Modern?”

“I guess so.”

“Try this.”

The woman thrust a book in his hand.

“The Message?”

“It’s popular with the young ones and er, um, people not used to opening a bible. What is the passage?”

“Psalm,” he pronounced it p-salm

She smiled warmly, took the Bible back and turned to Psalms. “There are 150 psalms, do you have the chapter?”

“Oh yes, sure, let me look,” he took out his phone, “1 4 3.”

“Here, you read away, no rush.”

“Thank you,” and he sat on the chair and read:

 Listen to this prayer of mine, God;
pay attention to what I’m asking.
Answer me—you’re famous for your answers!
Do what’s right for me.
But don’t, please don’t, haul me into court;
not a person alive would be acquitted there.

The enemy hunted me down;
he kicked me and stomped me within an inch of my life.
He put me in a black hole,
buried me like a corpse in that dungeon.
I sat there in despair, my spirit draining away,
my heart heavy, like lead.
I remembered the old days,
went over all you’ve done, pondered the ways you’ve worked,
Stretched out my hands to you,
as thirsty for you as a desert thirsty for rain.

Hurry with your answer, God!
I’m nearly at the end of my rope.
Don’t turn away; don’t ignore me!
That would be certain death.
If you wake me each morning with the sound of your loving voice,
I’ll go to sleep each night trusting in you.
Point out the road I must travel;
I’m all ears, all eyes before you.
Save me from my enemies, God—
you’re my only hope!
Teach me how to live to please you,
because you’re my God.
Lead me by your blessed Spirit
into cleared and level pastureland.

Keep up your reputation, God—give me life!
In your justice, get me out of this trouble!
In your great love, vanquish my enemies;
make a clean sweep of those who harass me.
And why? Because I’m your servant.

His eyes were damp as he finished. “I will take it.”

“Okay, that will be twenty five euros, Sergeant. Say do you need to talk to someone. I mean I don’t want to pry, but you seem different today.”

“Do I know you?”

“We went to the Tec together, years ago now. But you seem beat today, I hope you don’t mind me saying. It’s just you have always commanded the space you were in. But now, well you seem to have shrunk, ever so slightly.”

“Stress, I guess. Oh sorry,” he smiled, “they were quoting Kavanagh at work today maybe it is rubbing off.”

“Ha, ha, Kavanagh never rhymed. Seriously TJ, I know a guy, he is a good guy and he is strictly confidential. He could meet you tonight?” She left it as a question in the air as he got out money to pay for it.

“Where?”

“Just round the corner, in the wee chapel, he’s a minister, well a lay minister, but he is a good listener and he’ll be there now. He cleans the kitchen on a Tuesday night.”

He walked around the corner and through the open door. He saw the guy drying dishes at the sink. “Hello,” he called, “I think I am in trouble. Can you help? …”

data protection

“Good Morning,” the clerk at the desk said and he smiled warmly.

“Hi, I mean, good morning, where am I?” She moved forward a little, feeling strange in a strange kind of way.

“This is processing,” he replied and continued, “just for the record, name?”

“Jade Willow”

“We have no one of that name for today, is that your name?” He frowned as he spoke, put down his pen and looked up burning the insides of her own eyes.

“Well it’s the name I go by, everyone knows me by that name and I guy I once met on Dursey Island he sculpted a jade willow, just for me,” smiling wistfully of times gone by.

“This is processing, it is for your own protection, we must have your baptismal names, what is your full name?”

“Where am I again? ‘Processing,’ what does that even mean? And why protection? Seriously, you seem like a really nice guy, love the glasses by the way, real funky, but, what is the bigger place, outside of processing?”

The clerk coughed, and touched his glasses. A little blush appeared on his cheeks, he coughed again. “I need a little water, could you wait in there?” He pointed to a door with the words, Waiting Room carved into the wood.

Jade put her fingers into the carving, thinking of her husband and his skilful hands. This workmanship was on par with his. Lovely she thought and opened the door. A man in a suit stood to attention, “good morning, ma’am, how may I assist you this morning? We have fruit, infusions, tea, coffee. Although the tea’s not up to much.”

“Where are you from? Is that a Cork accent?”

“Why yes, ma’am, I was born in Cork City just below the Shandon Bells.”

“Could I have a coffee, just black with three spoons of sugar please.”

She looked around the room, comfy sofa, pretty pictures, a small table with flowers. Just like any waiting room anywhere, except something was different. She sat down in the sofa, it seemed to engulf her in the most beautiful hug and she sighed, a sigh of peace. Well whatever this is, it is very nice, she thought.

She chatted to the guy, got his life story, told him where he had gone wrong and what he should have done, the way she always would with anyone. She never understood that; why people didn’t heed her wisdom.

A buzzer sounded.

“That’s for you.”

Okay, thanks and she got up out of the sofa. Well she tried but halfway through the easy movement she realised and that changed everything.

In the office, the clerk had been joined by another.

“This is the woman.”

“Please take a seat,” the second clerk said. Again there was a genuine smile.

I like this place, she thought.

“Now, full name for the records,” clerk number two asked.

“Jade Willow.”

“Is that the name you were born with?”

“No, my married name.”

“Is that the name you were baptised?”

“No but I don’t go by that name anymore”

“I’m sorry, miss, I mean ma’am, we cannot allow you past processing without your baptismal name and birth surname. It isn’t allowed. We have rules, data protection laws. We must follow protocol, it is for your own protection.”

Jade sat up straight, breathed in deeply and spoke, “Listen mateys, my body got up out of a sofa, it walked in here, I have two feet, two legs. I know where I lost them. There was a car accident three years ago and I have been using a wheelchair ever since. But I walked in here. I know where I am. You can call it processing if you want. But I know your boss and he knows me. He knows me as Jade Willow, he knows my name because he whispered it to me when I asked him to be my boss. When he held me as I rested in his arms, he knew who he was holding. So take your data and stuff it. Is that the door I go through? Right!”

“Yes,” clerk number one answered.

Jade Willow opened the door and entered into the arms of her Lord.

newsday

She was crying.

Not pretty tears, red swollen eyes, her nose full of snot, running freely as the tears.

She sat staring out of the window, oblivious to the world going on outside. People were beginning to get up and out for the daily grind. Mr Boyson was having trouble starting his motorbike directly opposite, his cursing, slamming and banging going unheard or unseen. Martha and Martin the twins from number 23 were gabbing on at a hundred miles an hour as they swung their bags and shuffled through autumn leaves.

Doris sniffled and wiped snot on her sleeve, grabbing her handkerchief too late for the slug like trail on her clothes but she dried her eyes. “Well this will never do,” she exclaimed to herself and put the telegram back in its envelope and into her apron pocket.

“Clarence, I am putting on the kettle for tea. Are you coming down today, love?” She spoke up the stairs hoping her husband would hear her. She didn’t want to take a tray up today. In the kitchen she straightened the envelope and put it leaning against the salt cellar.

She drew the black out curtains in the parlour and put the gas masks away, hung up in the cloakroom, she wished this damn war would end before anyone else’s son was killed. She sobbed again, before shaking her head and turning to brew the tea.

Talenkynic arrives in Dromdrevc

It was decided I would die on my birthday, my parents and the guardians agreed. Death was to take place in the Quuadravik. The town square. All the ritual killings took place there and for my parents there was honour attached to the place of my death. Lesser children were killed by the Gorthachiv, the garbage hole, and disposed of immediately. My body would be in repose for a week, to allow celebrations and fraternising of the higher families.

My schooling stopped on the day the deal was set, there was a month for my body to be prepared for the day. Each morning I took a ritual bath whilst bitter herbs infused the water and honey, cleansing every part of me. In the afternoon my hair was plaited in the intricate patterns, one for each day, I carried a countdown calendar to my own demise on my head. Evenings were spent with the local guardian, it was their responsibility to ensure my mind, heart and innards were scourged of the evil that had brought this death penalty to me.

What crime did I commit? That of laziness, around the Quuadravik was the Path of Right Thinking, the local rule was: To step on the Path, a person must complete the entire Path before continuing their journey. I was walking with Dorinek, listening to his boasts, not caring about the unlikeliness of the tales because he had the most gorgeous blue eyes and they were concentrating on me. A classic case of girl meets boy, in being in this bubble of “teen love” I accidentally stepped onto the Path. I lithely jumped across as if I hadn’t touched it and continued gazing into those blue eyes. Dorinek told me to go back, he got all grumpy with me and stalked off, I didn’t see him again. From what I heard he immediately told the guardian of my folly and the rest is history.

So there I was on the afternoon of my birthday, plaited, dressed and ready for the procession to the town square when the great guardian arrived from Dromdrevc. My parents although quite high in our town, were not high enough for a visit from him on a death day. But there he was, and there I was and very shortly afterwards the two of us were in Dromdrevc in front of the guardianship…

The Turf Bank

As I bent down once again creating the stook at the edge of the bank I cursed my absent husband. It was the one place, and the one job that I missed him most, turf. Three hours so far today I had been stooping and placing sods of turf in the intricate design known as a stook, many hours this year I had spent turning and footing the damned stuff. It was his smell that surrounded me, his voice in my ear. Not sweet nothings, it is an extensive rulebook, little stories ran through my mind like the day he came back from the bog berating poor Jerry Pa.

“Girl, a fierce day at the bog, the wind would cut ye in two. Saw young Jerry Pa, what a scoundrel, his daddy would roll over in his grave to see him trat the sods like that. His turf’ll be so wet and heavy he’ll never raise smoke from his fireplace this winter. Took it straight off the ground and threw it into an abstract kind of a stook. Tis no way to treat turf. Treat it right and it’ll warm the coldest of hearts come winter.”

 

I remember when I first asked in all innocence what a foot was. He laughed heartily “Maybe the villagers are right about ye, a flighty young one from the city, knowing nothing about turf. Lil you’ll be at the bog one day, and I’ll tell ye, all in good time.”

 

I was from Cork city, a civilised place with gas to heat us in the winter and a coal fire on special occasions. I married Dan when I was twenty two, fresh out of college and full of life, Dan was a fully paid up member of the bachelor club until I arrived this year according to the old men gossiping after Mass, he was forty four.

We had first met when I was sixteen and running away from home because my brother, the sneaky little pup had stolen my diary and read it to the gang of kids we hung out with. Full of teenager-angst he told them all I had a crush on Timmy, the unofficial leader of our pack. My diary no more said those words than if the Pope had a baby, himself. So I was on the train to Mallow, with a bag of clothes, a tenner and a packet of biscuits. Dan, was just the man sitting opposite, nose in a book, he didn’t blip on my radar, owld one. The train had been getting up speed over the viaduct when it made a sudden stop. Dan fell forward over the table and we banged heads.

 

Through apologies and smiles, I noticed he had wrinkly lines around deep blue eyes. The guard didn’t come down to tell us why we’d stopped and we started to chat pondering on the situation ideas from cow on the track to alien attack, we had great fun laughing at the more preposterous stories. He had a flask of tea and offered me some so I got out my food store and we had a mini picnic. He was great fun for such an old man.

We became friends, he helped me through the tough teenage years by phone and by letter. Dan encouraged me to continue my studies and he began a courtship, old-fashioned courtship of me, during my college years. The day of my last exam, he swept me off to Kerry and proposed in The Square, Listowel. We married months later, no children were to grace our step but he was a good man and I still missed him five years on. Crying softly to myself I bent down and continued the ritual of stooking.