Month: April 2023

The Sage of Shanleys by Stephen Brady

J. J. Shanleys’ Bar sat on a lonely road facing out on the grey Atlantic. To the south lay the bare tundra of the Burren. And all around the hills, a funeral country on the ragged edge of the old Continent.
J.J. was leaning on the bar, studying the funerals in the paper – “Who’s Who In The Underworld,” as he liked to call it. The door to the bar popped open, admitting a squall of rain and the roar of the sea. He glanced up, and saw two strangers in the doorway.
“Come on in, folks. Shut that door behind ye.”
The door was closed, and the newcomers advanced into the bar.
They were a couple in their thirties, both tall, sandy-haired, athletic. They were wearing expensive raingear and matching baseball caps. The man had a Nikon slung around his neck. They both wore rimless glasses, through which they peered in the taproom’s gloom.
“Come on in,” he said again. “Pull up there and warm yeerselves.”
“Thank you sir,” said the man, and the pair climbed onto barstools. The woman looked down at hers as though it might give way beneath her.
“Now.” J.J. closed the paper and straightened. “Welcome to Shanley’s. Last stop before the Hudson Bay! I’m J.J. Would I be right in saying ye two are new to the parish?”
“That’s right,” said the man, blinking at J.J. in a not-unfriendly manner. “I’m Todd Garrity. This is my wife, Shanice.”
“Hi,” she said.
“Are ye from the States?” asked J.J., a little sardonic.
“That’s right, sir. Milford, Delaware. Go Eagles!”
J.J. didn’t know what to say to that, and a pregnant pause ensued.
“So…! What can I get for ye, folks?”
“How about some tea?” said Shanice. She was looking at J.J., but she seemed to be looking through him, at the same time. “You guys always have tea, right?”
“Right y’are. Two teas coming up.”
He went into the kitchen, leaving Todd and Shanice alone.
“I’m telling you,” she said in a low voice, “we took a wrong turn. That old woman at the post office was making fun of you. That Kilfana place, it’s not out here. There’s nothing out here. Except this place.” She looked around at the bar, and shuddered a little.
“It’s fine,” said Todd. He laid his Nikon carefully on the counter. “We’ll get our tea and use the restroom. Then we’ll get out of here.”
“The sooner the better. There’s something weird about this place. And I don’t like the way that guy’s looking at you.”
“What guy?”
Shanice made a minor motion of the head, and Todd followed it.
There was a man there, sitting at the far end of the bar. Todd could have sworn he wasn’t there when they came in.
The patron was barely visible, and seemed to be solidified from the shadows. He was ancient, a mountain of a man, wearing dirty brown clothing, a shapeless felt hat squashed down on his head. A rich, loamy odour issued from him. His face was a mass of wrinkles and weather-raw skin, from which a pair of narrow eyes glinted.
“There ye are,” the patron rumbled. His voice seemed to make the windows rattle.
“Good afternoon, sir.” Todd’s Mom had always told him there was no excuse to forget your manners, even before Saint Peter. “We didn’t see you there.”
“No,” the denizen growled. “Ye wouldn’t have.”
Silence ensued. Shanice was scrolling intently on her phone. Todd was starting to wonder where their tea was. And he was acutely aware of the denizen’s eyes, heavy upon them.
“Very windy out there,” he ventured.
“April the 12th, is it?”
“Um… yeah. Today is April 12th.”
“Well then.” The customer raised a glass of black liquid to his face, took a pull, and set it back down with an air of satisfaction. “That’s the reason for that.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Always a big wind April 12th. Every year. ‘Tis to do with the craters, out in the sea.”
“Really?” said Shanice, without looking up.
“Indeed. Big wind April 12th. And it always blows in a couple of strangers.”
Another silence followed that remark, punctuated only by the wind and the muted roar of the sea.
“This place is not so bad,” said Todd, drumming his fingers.
“I’m telling you, we took a wrong turn. Oh for Heaven’s sake.” She was trying, without success, to pull up Google Maps. “Can’t get a darn signal in here.”
“Did ye come out from Knocknagrealish?” the patron enquired. It took Todd a moment to make sense of the question.
“Oh yes, that’s right. A very helpful lady at the post office gave us some directions.”
“On the wrong wrong,” muttered Shanice.
“Not at all,” came the reply. “That road out from Knocknagrealish is the best road ye could be on.”
“Oh yeah? Why’s that?”
“‘Tis a perfect circle, that road. Follow it long enough and it’ll take ye anywhere.”
Shanice was looking hard at the barfly now. But she could detect no humour: the crumpled face remained unreadable.
“Where’s our darn tea?” she muttered.
They glanced toward the kitchen. The sounds of tea-making were faintly audible, but there was no sign of J.J.
“Say,” said Todd. “when we were coming out on that road, we saw kind of a stone circle. On the hill, a few miles back. Would that be what you guys call a ‘fairy fort?'”
The sage put his glass down, hard.
“No. That would not be what you call a ‘fairy fort.’ There is no such a thing. This ‘fairies’ lark was concocted by the conquerors, to make the natives look backward. Flim-flam is at all it is. ‘Fairy fort’ me eye…” He drank, grumbling.
“Hey, if I offended you, I apologize.” Todd raised a hand, palm out. He was in Human Resources, and had a number of gestures on call to defuse tense interpersonal situations. “But I guess you’d be the right person to ask. What is the significance of the stone circle?”
“‘Twas the house of the Banshee.”
Another silence descended. Shanice returned to her phone. From the kitchen still came faint sounds, shifting and clanks.
“Won’t be long,” Todd said. “We’ll be on our way soon.”
“Still, this place ain’t so bad. It seems kinda… I don’t know… familiar?”
“Please. Next you’re gonna tell me you feel some ancestral connection to this dump.”
“Well, maybe I do.”
She looked up, and her gaze was hard.
“Well I just hope you remember whose idea this was. It wasn’t me who wanted to come to this crappy country.”
This was true. Since Todd’s father had passed the year before, he had talked of little else but finding the land of his forebears. Shanice guessed it was a mid-life thing, and had tried to hook him up with a life-coach. But he wouldn’t let it drop. He’d started talking a lot about his Grandma (whom Shanice had always thought a dismal old witch), and about the townland in County Clare that her people had departed a hundred years before. And now they were here, or in some godforesaken place in the same general area.
“I hope you know,” she said, “that I’m dealing with a lot right now. And I hope you’re getting all this out of your system.”
Before Todd could answer, the rumbling voice came again from the shadows.
“D’you know, you look fierce familar to me. What’s this your name is?”
“Garritty, sir. Todd Garrity.”
The sage nodded, or at least the massive head tipped back into the darkness, then returned. “That’s right. Fierce familiar, you are.”
Ignoring his wife’s gaze, Todd leaned over the bar. “Actually, sir, my family name was Garraghy. From around this area originally, we think.”
“Would that be Garraghys from Kilfarnagh?”
Todd was so stunned he had to grip the bar to keep from falling backward.
“That’s right! That’s what my Grandma used to say. Her Mom, my great-grandma, left from Kilfarnagh with all her people.”
“That’s right,” said the sage. “Margaret Garraghy, wasn’t it?”
“That’s right,” said Todd in wonderment.
“Knew her well. When she was a wee gerl.”
“Oh for Heaven’s sake,” muttered Shanice. She looked over at the kitchen door. But where a chink of light had been visible before, now was only darkness.
Todd said, “I’m sorry, sir, but that’s not possible. Margaret Garraghy left Kilfarnagh in the 19th century. Sometime in the 1880s, we think.”
“That’s right,” the sage said equably. “A grand sweet gerl. They called her Maggie Poll. Somethin’ funny with her left eye. A finer wee lass you couldn’t meet.”
Todd was dumbfounded. All of that matched with things his Grandma had said. All of it taking place in this bare country, more than a century ago.
“Todd!” his wife hissed. “Don’t be an idiot. That guy spins yarns to tourists all day. He’ll hit you up for a drink next. What’s the matter with you?”
“And yourself, young lady.” The denizen addressed her for the first time. “What was your family name?”
She considered not answering, then said: “Schwarzheim.”
The sage drank, and returned to a complacent silence. Todd found that he could not stop staring at the man on the far stool, half-eaten by the shadows. And it seemed, as he studied the mountainous figure, that moss lay in the wrinkles of his face, that swatches of grass grew on the backs of his hands, and that when he moved fine curtains of earth would sift from the creases of his clothes.
Shanice Garritty was staring out the window at the ocean. The sounds from the kitchen had long since ceased. And she realized that they would never get their tea, or leave this place, or see Springtime in Milford again. The only sound in Shanley’s bar was the neverending miles-deep rumble of the sea

Defiance by Catriona Murphy

Over the outcrop, on the rocky lip, the waves crashed in a ferocious thrust, thrashing against the drenched boulders.

Clara could hear the splash, the rush of that river’s surge – the power.

And was jealous of the force it wielded.

Because it had all crumbled a week before.

Her professor’s body was found in the men’s toilet.

The sigil that was burned into her front garden lawn, blazed until the neighbours called the police.

Her brother’s breathing down the phone, his kidnapper holding it to his trembling lips to drain her, to provoke her.

To tame her.

But there was no taming.

She wouldn’t relent like some broken beast, hobbling on its last leg as the hunter’s final gunshot rang through the forest. No sounds that would run terror or fear through her bones or veins.

A rod of defiance stuck deeply in her body and would not bend to any wind. Any call. Any bluster.

Closing her eyes, she allowed the waterfall spray onto her face and neck, the droplets cleansing.

She felt the pulse of the forest run through her, down her dark hair and tingling spine, and into her rooted legs and feet.

Today there would be no sacrifice; today there would be no submission.

Stepping forward, she dipped one foot into the water, then another, until the calming waters pooled and rippled around her waist. They emanated her echoing sadness, in how each concentric wave reflected the desolate sky; clouds overhanging and cushioning down the Brazilian humid heat within the earth a little longer. To madden its inhabitants in that press, that pressure, that would squeeze the moisture out of her body, if not for the solace of water.

She allowed herself to float like driftwood, a little away from the bottom of the waterfall, feeling the unsettling of what cried inside her to come out.

Only when she could touch the rod inside, could she take action, and not before.

Closing her eyes, she saw the book burst into flames in her room again, the dying cries of the crow outside before she threw clothes and her wand into a case, and fled into the night like a despairing shadow, leaving death and her captured kin in her wake.

She opened her eyes to the constellations of branches and leaves overhead, and beyond clouds puffing to burst their burden, and cleanse the earth.

Recalling her initiation and her days of living in the wild, of how she read the stars, cooked breakfast over a fire and shot arrows into her food. She longed for the simple life of living only to survive and take no more than what she needed.

She still has furs above her living room mantelpiece of a panther she’d encountered.

But those days were gone.

Now were the days of college, adjusting to a society she felt cold in and dealing with matters too dark for any of her fellows students to bear.

Slipping away from the water’s cold embrace, she thanked it for its imbuing clarity and walked to her tools by a sapling tree.

The forest birds called out her name but she ignored them.

Picking up her amethyst stone, it emanated a soft violet glow, and her mind ticked over the past week’s events.

Regardless of her plight, she knew what to do.

Bakers From the Western Islands by Elaine Reardon

Off the coast of Galway a noddy boat could skip between the islands and pull in close at a harbor dock. The highlight of the week was when the fishing boat came into the harbor. They’d be handsome bachelors on it, so the single women went down to the harbor with hot tea, something to add a bit of strength to it, and still-warm bread with sultanas added for sweetness. They went down dressed in their best, not dressed for buying fish. More than one woman had found a husband this way. The practice began to elevate the quality of the baking on the islands as  single women competed, each wanting to be known as the best baker. In time this stepped up the commerce,  and supply boats brought in more flour and butter, especially when the Walsh triplets all went to work on the boat just seven months after the Connells got into it. Here was the whole fleet of handsome bachelors.

After a couple betrothals took place the  single women on the island gathered. They realized they had good talent, and there was something to be gained if they cooperated. Already supply boats now were bringing in more supplies on a weekly basis, and the families were all doing a bit better. Why not send their baking off to the mainland, and make some money from it?

Arrangements were made. A truck would meet a boat in Doolin, and take all the baked goods up to the farmer’s market in Galway. One or two women would travel along to set up to sell. A sign was made, proclaiming  Baking From The Western Islands.

Sometimes they sold small fish pies, other times hand rolls filled with lamb. Their bread and scones became popular. Maureen made small scones that were light enough to be mistaken for the host at Sunday mass.

There was always a line here. Women stopped doing their own baking at the end of the week, and their husbands would buy the lamb roll or small fish pies instead of nipping home for a meal. Before you knew it their baked goods were being sought after mid week, too. The women  finally set up a kitchen in an abandoned cottage, and worked their together, right at the harbor mouth.

Soon the baked goods were placed in cafes in Galway, not just at the Farmer’s Market.  In time they made their way to Limerick shops. Today you can still find scones made by  Bakers of the Western Islands in proper Dublin tearooms, and at Shannon Airport. The women who began this business  back in the 1930s, the boats, and the handsome bachelors are gone. Still, there’s the idea of it, butter and flour giving rise to marriages and children, giving rise to life.

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