Willow Lake Press
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BALLINCLANNA
by Paul Kestell © 2000

Ballinclanna I had been watching Mr. Evans for a good twenty minutes, I observed as he downed at least three loose measures of cheap Portuguese Brandy. His routine practiced over the years he placed the stub of his cigarette, it balanced precariously in the dubious holder of a high ashtray which resembled a sugar bowl.

He pushed out his swollen red cheeks not unlike a hoarding rodent, his small eyes were hidden in darkness beyond a pair of old fashioned black rimmed glasses, he poured the Brandy to lips that though fattish, suited his face. The wide glass lost within the forest of an unkempt moustache, untidy in a final fling at youth and the modern.

His swallow was wild more suitable to beer than spirits, he had pretended not to notice me. I knew that he had caught me staring a few times, as I turned away looking out into the darkness I could feel his gaze. It zoned in on me causing a weird like ache from my shoulders down the length of my back. Out there in the dark the sea lurked, like some stranger waiting in the shadows. He seemed to feel it as well and started to chat from two tables away.

"Women the worlds worst," his accent educated, his Englishness apparent.

"She is forever late you know," he was scanning a tattered looking menu.

"We will miss our table, if she doesnít hurry up, they have no sense of time, as an ex-headmaster, you get to understand time and itís importance," he gulped more Brandy placing the menu on the table.

"Where are you from," he asked throwing his eyes beyond me.

I told him I was Irish he seemed pleased, the beach bar was full of natives, French and Spanish. I thought like a Moth to a bare light bulb an Englishman will always seek out an Irishman, second best of course, but a good second.

"Think she would know about time, she used to be a Nurse, time is important to Nurses, isn't it, patients medication all of that."

Mr. Evans laughed, when he did his dull sad face became almost handsome, for a moment I could see a flicker of his youth, I imagined a dashing young man, accompanied by a beautiful young Woman like in the movies, driving along a quiet country road their hair tossed by the wind, they laughing hopelessly in love.

"God know wonder half her patients died, waiting for pills no doubt."

He introduced himself offering to buy me a drink which I refused preferring to sip my Gin &Tonic, which was served with a straw, sacrilege, but I got used to it even grew to like it.

"My eldest Son is a qualified Doctor, my youngest sheís studying medicine in London, good business to be in these days, plenty of money need to go into practice on your own though, none of this hospital stuff, unless your into constancy..."

I asked him how many children he had out of making conversation rather than interest.

"We had three," he said making a conscious effort at normality.

"We lost a boy... he had cancer Iím afraid," he downed the rest of his Brandy.

I asked what age he was, feeling a cold rumble in my stomach.

"He was only six years old the little fella was a bundle of joy, full of fun you know, of course my other two take after their Mother," he reflected on this before adding, "Course itís twenty years since young Peter died, a long time, twenty years," the waitress arrived.

He paid the glum waitress an attractive girl, but her smile was false and cumbersome, he handed her a one thousand Escudo note. She was surprised that he expected change ,she charged off to the bar pushing her way through the crowd of hip youngsters. They were chatting and shouting at each other most of them with no drinks, a few mostly women were sipping Coffee from tiny cups.

"God damn country what sort of messy currency, one thousand Escudoís ,bloody fortune youíd think, hopeless money how would you live here."

I tried to say they were nice people very friendly, he butted in.

"Dirty place isn't it very dirty?" he nodded as if anticipating my agreement, whilst trying to swat a fly with his menu, he brought the full weight of the laminated cardboard down crushing on the poor creature, the fly using all of itís inherent skill managed to side step him, exacting retribution buzzing into his face forcing him to use his right hand to fan it away in my direction. I chose to be brave it flew up and over my head and away into the night.

"See what I mean dirty place," his voice hushed.

"I wouldnít swim in the sea over here, sewage they havenít got it right, sewage ,people coming here from all over the world, you know what that leads to, my son heís a Doctor I told you that didnít I, hepatitis, all sorts of things," he pursed his lips glancing around him, least anyone should overhear.

"Hepatitis," he mouthed the word.

"The Golf is good do you play Golf,?" I shook my head, I had tried it was a disaster no patience for the game.

"Yes I played Palmares this morning its over beyond near Lagos," he waved his hand pointing over the cliff face behind me, as if to say it was in that general direction.

"Getting to old for the game used to be good not now, tried to get the son to play not bothered, bloody Tennis a girls game, bloody Tennis," he laughed.

"My daughters taking it up, she plays with my wife, they donít play enough, you should play," he looked at me accusingly as if I werenít telling him the whole truth.

I told him I had tried but failed miserably.

"All about timing friend shame good golf courses, dirty country, as for the beer canít drink it Brandy is about all I can stomach, bloody horrible taste," he threw back his head as if to catch breath in some non-existent pure pocket of air, then he looked me straight on, a little disappointed.

"These people canít play Golf themselves itís only for Tourists, no good players ever came out of here," he lit a cigarette inhaling through his mouth ,then exhaling in steam engine puffs through his nostrils.

When Mrs. Evans finally arrived I knew it was her before any introduction, she was out of place among all the young people she walked proudly upright, her movements unsure she struggled making her way through the crowd.

She emerged pale white through a cloud of cigarette smoke, she was slightly older than her husband ,she had aged better her skin taut, clear on high cheekbones. Her nose was small it was comfortable with the rest of her, she had been blonde but was now silver. Only a blanket of wrinkles warned of her age, she was tall for a woman in no way thin, not stout enough to labeled fat either. She wore a long flowing Summer dress that whilst hugging her figure was never erotic. I would have preferred had it been bare at the shoulders.

Neither of them smiled as she sat beside her husband eyeing me nervously, as if she suddenly realized that we had been in conversation. She had kind sad blue eyes I was sure she had been quite stunning in her youth. Mr. Evans made the introductions her smile was polite but short, she wasnít used to instigating conversation.

"The food will be all gone," he barked handing her the menu ,trying to attract the glum waitress to order more drinks.

Mrs. Evans head down studied the menu like it were a medical report, he didnít ask her but ordered her a Vodka &Coke. He threw his eyes to heaven but then smiled as she pointed to the Monkfish in the excited way that is the reserve of Women.

"Sooner the better we get the Euro," he said to the waitress who ignored him she ran off to the bar taking an age to return with his change.

"I thought youíd gone to London for that," he laughed but the waitress walked away gathering empty glasses in a defiant mood. Mrs. Evans watched her move from table to table she sipped her Vodka like one would hot tea.

"I love Ireland I have cousins there," Mrs. Evans volunteered her breeding not allowing her to remain silent forever.

I asked her the obvious whereabouts, I got that superior I know what I am talking about and you donít syndrome.

"County Cork I think," as if County Cork was one very small place.

I asked her to be more specific.

"My Lord what was it called," she beseeched her husband who obviously hadnít a clue but tried with, "Manor or Manher."

"No, no," said Mrs. Evans much to her husbands disgust, she waved her long slender hands showing off her expensive wedding ring, she was perplexed.

"Mallow," I was all knowing. She was delighted with me.

"Yes that's it, that's the place," she grinned at her husband who wasnít impressed he nodded as if to say he had known that name all the time.

"My Lord how could I forget," she was silent for a moment.

"She spent her summers there as a child," Mr. Evans proudly pointed out.

"Just two, two summers my Mother was very ill I was packed off to Ireland with my Sister, my Aunts place, gosh I have so many cousins still there, we lost touch havenít heard from anyone for years."

"We must go there sometime, we really must," Mr. Evans said, looking in disgust at the small change the waitress had left.

"Weíre due to go to Greece," he said. "I believe its lovely." Mrs. Evans was warming to the conversation.

"You ever been."

Mr. Evans directed his question at me, I told him I hadnít, but would love to visit the Greek Islands.

"Food is good in Ireland great Golf courses spoiled you are," I agreed with him he was glad he had said it.

Mrs. Evans interrupted, "We had the most wonderful Summers in Ireland. We stayed at my Aunts farm, they allowed us to help out with the animals, the walks and the picnics with my mad Irish cousins, Lord it was such a peaceful place. They kept horses they had one race in the Grand National at Aintree.

"My Mother would be seething when we went back to England. We would put on a half a stone in weight the food was so good. Poor woman was dying but she wouldnít half let us have it," she glanced at her husband there was brief recognition, they had spoken often of her Mothers illness.

Mrs. Evans sighed "Lord it all seems so long ago as if it belongs in a different life," she sighed again lifting her drink taking a tiny sip.

Mr. Evans looked at me and said, "My Son is sending us to Greece for our fiftieth wedding anniversary, maybe Ireland will have to wait,"

"I loved Ireland," she said sadly.

Soon the waiter from the upstairs restaurant arrived to escort them to their table, he was tall, thin, efficient without being fussy. He allowed Mrs. Evans to take her drink with her. They both shook hands with me it would have appeared to strangers that we were close friends. They left climbing the cold steps carved from the crumbling cliff face.

Mrs. Evans paused under a fake lantern she pointed seawards towards a light flickering in the distance, he rushed her on impatiently almost pushing her up the steps.

I was alone searching the small cove for the whereabouts of my children. I pulled the beach chair against the hard wooden safety rail. There she was my nine year old daughter a light among the shadow. She was playing with the sand making roadways and small sand castles. The sand thick, plentiful, the light from the beach bar in half flood only the sea was dark, its sound like some muted language, itís waves relentless drowning out the now savage background music.

My world beaten into servitude my Son in outline standing by the shore would appear then disappear, throwing flat stones into the endless pool he was good at getting them the skim the white tops. For a moment our fate was sealed by the lid of stars that lit the Universe. We were captured inside all things living, the stars those millions of stars holding our fate.

My thoughts drifting like on some massive river itís cold water memories floating full of different sounds of faces, wild places full of the sea. I saw her as a girl running through the meadow her bare feet dancing through the lush grass. I saw her she was running hiding on her Sister. She the glistening happy face of youth, she ran beside thin muscular thoroughbreds skipping jumping like a foal, the sun burning her soft skin.

Her blonde hair long full of straw she answering the call to dinner she running so fast. She owned Summer, every long lazy moment. Her life was endless. Summer would last forever. She was the Horse hugger, the Sun magnet, the safe days of youth, her childhood wrapped forever by the tide of the landscape, the orchards she owned.

Naked swims in cool streams no pain in the coldness of childbirth. The ice stream tells her nothing of the mundane, no boredom in marriage, no loss of a child. She picked me up carried me miles downstream, released into the forgotten winds.

My eyes lost in this tempest of time in a tiny cove in west Cork, how long ago in Ballinclanna all those years ago. I, like my Son, not yet fourteen years old, standing, my Father looking on. I getting taller so skinny, I stood in three feet of Atlantic Ocean, my Father guarding me, filling his pipe. It was that safe aroma, sweet safe tobacco bought by the ounce, sweet safe tobacco.

I stood in three feet of Atlantic Ocean beyond the wider world of half eaten headlands of endless holes in the earth. Beyond the wider world of sea creatures of huge iced lands of lost continents. I waded in the sharp stones bruising the soft soles of my bare feet.

His sad eyes scanning the horizon for lost ships for buried treasure for Captain Flint those adventurous eyes. He was a raft sailor abandoned with Captain Bligh, two years before the mast his Father, a sea Captain, his Grandfather, a sea Captain. I could feel the salt in the air, sea salt nostrils, ship ahoy, Captain land off the starboard bough.

He could see me melt into the dead world of sickly flowers in plastic containers the procession the guard of honor, the choir sang heavenly for him.

At night the world watches for him in Ballinclanna, the floating starships pass it is his spirit they search through his eyeglass. To stand watch as his scrawny son shivers at the new invading hordes, real soldiers leave their footprints small boys cannot fight deaths dragon.

He stood watching, I in three feet of Atlantic Ocean, his Pipe in hand....

Did he feel the shiver I felt it now as I watched my children, the shiver of time, moments trapped beneath the roof of stars, the egg timer universe, sand filtering through moments to be savored then lost as the world moves on relentless.

I walked down the cold steps that spiraled to the beach. I was washed by the scent of Summer as if the wind was bearing messages of goodwill. My Daughter smiled at me warning me to thread warily should I step on her sand castle.

My Son like some far away beacon his face brushed with light beckoned me closer to inspect his arsenal of small stones, he threw his left arm around my shoulder as he spoke. On seeing him my Daughter embraced me her hands tight around my waist. Beyond stars fell from the sky combing the white horses in blue, all the while the waves crashed against the hardness of the land.

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