The Boys of Barr na Sráide
Excerpt, The Boys of Barr na Sráide. Chapter (?) - "Fathers and Sons"
Cahirciveen, August 1918.
John Sheehan sat outside his cottage, smoking his pipe, and looking over the town, thinking the thoughts that no one is allowed to see inside a father's mind. The sky was a deep shade of orange and there was a strip of blood across the green Binn an Tí.
"Would ye be lookin' at that sky, Conor," said the old man, taking his pipe out from between his teeth, as his son came loping up the hill.
When Conor did not look, but kept going into the house, John Sheehan bridled up and stopped the boy with his voice. "What ye be meanin'?" he snapped. "That a fah'ter cannot be askin' his son what to look at a sunset?"
Conor drew back from the shadow of the doorway with an expression of miserable conflict on his mottled face, not wanting to battle his turbulent, sensitive father and not wanting to exchange poetic pleasantries with him either.
"I didn't say anything," he said sullenly, hedging.
"Ye be sayin' a lot. Come back out here," said his father, in a voice that meant he was not to be disobeyed.
The youth, who had just spent the afternoon emptying round after round of lead in the mountains across the Fertha, came out with a swallow. He was angry at the fact that, before his father, he felt like a ten-year old with a knotted stomach.
In casual slang, he asked, " 'Story?" to cover his fear.
John Sheehan sat there with that glint in his green eyes, a bit wild. "Ye aren't treatin' me right, Conor," he began. "When a fah'ter says, 'Wouldye be lookin' at that sun?' ye don't walk away; ye answer. That's the way it is. I don't deserve yer treatment."
Conor looked at John's woollen lapel and the green beyond.
"I don't deserve ye be walkin' by with a spirit of hate. I have a right to be angry at that. What ye be sayin'?"
The tan and green went out of focus. "I don't hate ye," said Conor.
John Sheehan seemed to relax a bit visibly. He changed his tune to honey. "Aye, boy. That's alright." The iron grip released. "I understand ye're goin' through a growin' time, and that's addlin'. I understand."
"I have to go," said Conor, turning his toe toward the barn.
"Aye, now. If there's anything ye be needin' to talk to me about..." said Mr. Sheehan, but Conor had already disappeared behind the cottage.
And he had been so blithe! sailing home from the secret target practice in the hills. When planning for the freedom of Ireland... he felt like he was walking on air. But after talking with John Sheehan, he was trapped again, as if his childhood was perpetuated over and over.
Near the chicken coop, he heard,
"No! No, stop!"
Alarmed at his sister's voice, he hurried around. Johanna was holding a dark piece of stale bread above her head, and Cú Chulainn trying to nip it. Cú Chulainn was a beautiful gold and white collie, but he was becoming greedy - and going deaf - at the age of ten.
"Cú, stop!" Conor said sharply, clapping his hands together.
Johanna had raised her voice to shrieking point in panic for the bread, and Cú Chulainn did not heed, and Conor was angry, so he gave the collie a brisk shove and was about to cuff him on his glossy neck when Cú Chulainn piercingly yelped because he had stumbled back on one of his hurt paws. Conor held his arm in arrested motion. What did he do; was about to do? Hurt an elderly and lame dog, on account of a piece of bread?
He turned red. Heat pulsed through him.
"I will never be like ye; I will never be like ye. Do ye see what ye make me do?"
"A egg!" said Johanna. "I found a egg!" The dying sun was on her little three-year old face, and she was illuminated from within. She held the egg up to her brother like it was a bar of pure gold.
He dropped to his knees before her and kissed her cheek. "Did ye, me bonny? Did ye, me heart's delight?" He cupped her face. "Did ye, me little blossom?"
"Sha. I show Mammy!" The child bounced across the yard, her rosemary-brown curls dancing, and Conor watched her absentmindedly, stroking the top of the collie's silky head.