The Old Bog Road

I am in the darkness. Alone. Floating in the darkness. My glassy-eyed friend is still here but you could hardly call him company. They took my clothes, they took my dignity. They left me alone with the fox, the ferret, whatever it is, it’s hungry now, it bares its teeth. I feel its dead claws scratching, tracing patterns, making plans. He’s stuffed and so am I. He tells me stories. I don’t like his stories.

 18 months in the industrial school in Letterfrack.  I was sent there for throwing stones at the Monsignor’s roof and for stealing his fags. Fags. We’re all his fags now. The lucky ones were beaten, stripped down and battered with leather belts until they were unconscious. Some of us got preferential treatment. You need to go back there. That’s where we’re going Brick.

It tries to kiss me, the dead tongue pushing between my lips, powerless to resist.

Sarah made her way up from the port and stopped into a Maxol Service station, changed, put the black wig on, did her lippy and headed up to the main road. Thumb out, the first car she flagged stopped. Sure she still smelled of fish, she climbed in. It was 2 Spanish guys, probably late twenties, seemed alright, heading for Dublin. Perfect.

Somewhere in the midlands, somewhere in the middle of nowhere literally nowhere the car shudders to a halt. Tomas, Joaquin and Sarah get out, Tomas is cursing his luck, Joaquin lights a cigarette for himself and Sarah. The bog stretches on forever, a low sun hangs in the cloudless March sky, a lonely bird cries in the distance.

Tomas peers uselessly into the engine, sure he hasn’t a clue. She’s not bothered, when you don’t want to go where you’re being sent here is a good as anywhere else. Joaquin is cracking jokes – ‘”jokes” – they are a bit suggestive a bit Ernest Saunders. She doesn’t like it. She doesn’t like him. He gets a hard stare and shuts his mouth. His stupid fucking….. In the middle distance a figure on a bicycle appears, after a few minutes an old man pulls up beside them. He’s probably in his late sixties, dressed rather anachronistically, an old three piece suit, pocket watch, battered hat, he’s chalky, covered in dust. He’s pallid and almost see-through as if he’s barely there.

“Evening, oh dear Lord but isn’t it a lovely day, and sure where else on God’s green earth would you want to be, sure a church wouldn’t be in for a bit of peace and contemplation. Who could blame ye for stopping and drinking it all in as it were. The old man produces a hip flask “Would you like a sip ..?”

The men decline but Sarah takes it, swallows and hands it back.

“Thanks, decent of you.”

“Sure there’s no harm in a wee nip…tis cold enough even with that sun there, pale you see, no heat in it, watery..”

Sarah looks at the ground in disgust as Paddy spits a brown tobacco juice on the earth and sucks a dram from the hipflask. He wipes it in his sleeve and offers it back, she declines.

“ I’ve been here all my life, played across the bog as a child with my brothers, it’s a strange lonely place and at night the spirits wander free, oh let me tell ya, there was a time…not many people you know, everything was different of course, there was nobody telling you couldn’t cut a few sods of turf, no auld whore over there in Europe telling us what to fucking do, they didn’t have to go through the famine did they? They did in their arses, the hungry grass, bucko, not a wan of them would have survived a night out here in ’46, not a wan of them and I thought the English were bad and they were bad, shower of bastards if you ask me but …”

He catches himself, falters, looks confused.

I’m sorry, where was I, ah yes so what is it you want?

“We don’t want anything, well the car…”

“Didn’t you mention the priest? Well sure everyone knows him, what he was like and it wasn’t his fault, a kinder man you wouldn’t meet, Father? Father but sure he’s gone too, there’s nobody left, the children even, God love them.”

Sarah look at him, surprised and a little shocked.

It’s dawning on the Spaniard that maybe the old man isn’t all there, Tomas gets back in the car and tries to start it, it coughs, then nothing.

“Here, let me take a look.” Before anyone can stop him he has opened the bonnet and is fiddling about, cursing gently, Sarah can see him drooling into the engine. Something snaps and he slams it shut.

“Jesus Christ there she is. Try her now.”

The car starts first time.

He gestures to Sarah. “Heading to Dublin?” He doesn’t wait for a reply. “Good Friday in a few days. Will you be doing the stations?”

“The stations?”

“The stations of the cross you stupid fucking bitch. Jesus would be turning in his grave if he knew what had happened to this beloved Isle of saints and scholars..” He spits the last phrase out, high on contempt.

“If he hadn’t risen on the third day..”

“I said would. Now fuck off , on your fucking way. This is my land, my land..”

Sarah didn’t need telling twice, if he hadn’t been so old she would have fucked him straight into a bog hole. Herself and Joaquin get back in. As they drive away Sarah looks back in the rear view mirror but there’s nobody to be seen, evening is falling and they pass a Marian shrine flickering in the half light.

They come to a cross-roads, Tomas heads left, completely ignoring the sign-post for Dublin.

“Tomas, it’s the other way..”

He says nothing, keeps driving.