Connemara, Ireland, November 2007
As the sun was rising, the old man woke short of breath. His lungs froze as he sat up. He grabbed at his chest, bared his teeth and it passed. Beside him, his wife pulled the covers tighter around her body and rolled away.
“Marcus,” she said.
“Again?” she said.
“I’m up now.” He swung his feet off the bed and gasped when they touched the floor. It was cold. “Want a tea from the shop?”
He was answered with snores; Edna was already asleep. Marcus had a shower, shaved and dressed. He took his wallet and keys from the dresser and was careful to be quiet closing the door. He locked it behind him, a habit from his years living in America.
The chill air bit at his face. A few steps along the front walk, Marcus pressed tongue to teeth and blew two short whistles. It wasn’t a moment before he heard paws scraping along the gravel drive that curved around the house and Russell appeared in full run. The dog came to a stop inches his master’s loafers, sat on his haunches and cocked an ear, awaiting his orders.
“With me,” Marcus said.
He closed the gate behind him. Russell bounded over the wall and was by his master’s side, trotting.
Marcus kept a quick pace, hoping to fight off the cold. He let his hand caress the placed stones of the wall, set long ago, well before his grandfather purchased the plot. The two homes they passed were still dark and, being Sunday, would remain so a while longer. The houses sat on what had been the family land when Marcus first left it, decades before. That was in January; a cold rain fell as he gazed upon the rocky hills for what he thought was the last time. He’d asked Declan what would happen to the farm in their absence. His older brother claimed to have enough money saved in America to buy it. Not knowing any better, Marcus doubted this, but it was mostly true. They’d managed to keep more than half, and that was enough.
The sun breached the horizon, but Marcus only felt colder by the time he reached the intersection. The left-hand road led into the village. Marcus headed that way a few steps and stopped. He turned, Russell a pace or two off his heel, and went right, the beach road.
It was not long to the shore. He heard the tiny waves lapping the beach before he topped the small rise and had a view of it. There was a car lot and a sign with directions for visitors regarding beach behavior, courtesy of the government. Once, this had been the western border of the Mannion’s pastures. Now the grazing land was pitted with stakes topped in orange paint, arranged in rectangles to demarcate the number of houses that could be built..
Marcus passed the sign and came to a low stone wall. He almost didn’t cross it. On the other side, the beach disappeared as the land rose and fell off as a cliff into the water. So far the walk had not accomplished what he hoped; he didn’t know yet why he wasn’t sleeping. He stepped over the wall, whistled to Russell and trekked north.
The grade of the hill leveled off after a time. Gulls wheeled and called to each other over the water. Marcus scanned the knolls for sheep and found none, so he released Russell with a short whistle. The dog tore across the green. Marcus blew three short blasts and the dog turned right. Three more, he turned left. One sustained note and Russell returned to his side, tongue lolling from his mouth, chest heaving. Marcus bent down and gave the dog’s head a few rough pats. Before he could remove his hand, Russell’s ears perked, his tail dropped and his legs planted into the sod. Low growls came from his throat. Marcus looked out at the fields. A quarter of a mile on, he saw a horse galloping across the pasture.
“Is that all?” Marcus said, but as he followed the horse’s progress, he saw that he’d been mistaken. There were two horses, one behind the other, and they were having a race. The closer one, white with black spots, obscured the second, who was red with a deep brown mane.
The horses were keeping pace, nose to nose. They ran beyond the hill and vanished from sight but it wasn’t a few moments and they came back into view, still pushing hard. A few hundred feet before they came even with Marcus and Russell, the horses slowed to a trot and sauntered into a stop. They wandered a few paces apart and bent their heads to munch at the dead grass, but never strayed beyond the smell and sound of the other.
Marcus was still staring at them when the voice called. An old man about the same age as he, a Mannion descendent perhaps, was waving and pointing back toward the beach.
“Off with ya!” he said. “This is private property!”
Marcus glanced at the horses one more time. He raised his hand to the old man and started back the way he’d come, Russell at his heels, growling.
Edna was dressed for the day, frying eggs and buttering toast at the stove when Marcus returned, a cup of tea in each hand.
“Almost started lunch,” she said over her shoulder. “You lose your way home?”
Marcus set a cup on the counter next to her and took a seat at the table. Edna plated the eggs and toast. She set one in front of her husband and the other at her place. She caught Marcus wiping his forehead as she sat down.
“Too warm in here, is it?” She buttered her toast. “Here we are, what? A few days on in November, with the heat already on.”
Marcus used his fork to scoop an egg onto his bread. “We should do Christmas in the States.”
“If only.” Edna pulled the cover off her tea and held it close to her face, watching the steam rise.
“I mean it.” Marcus wiped his hands on his napkin.
“You wouldn’t be serious?”
“If you’re just taking the piss out of me-“
“It’s wrong, us not being with the kids.” Marcus tossed the napkin onto his empty plate. He leaned back in his chair.
“They have their father,” Edna said, “and that aunt, down stairs.” She lit a cigarette and passed it to him, then lit her own.
“The children,” Marcus said. “They need us.” He flicked ash into the tray between them and stared down at his plate.
“Alright, alright. You’ve made your case.” Edna sipped her tea. “I’ll call Daniel after lunch.”
Marcus gave a quick nod. That was it then. The family was in need. They’d go back to Boston.
(From my other novel-in-progress, Semont Rd. I read this last November at the second annual Global Fellowship Reading. I spent a month in Connemara, Ireland doing research for parts of this book.)