s t o r i e s b
d a r r a n a n d e r s o n
i will have my revenge
bastard tree that broke the neck
of albert camus
life after godhood
the old man & the
the last man
t h e l
a s t m a n
b y d a r r a n a n d e r s o n
"Cover all the mirrors so the dead cannot see that they are dead"
The elderly woman paused as she muttered to herself, vaguely aware that she had
an audience in the little boy who sat wide-eyed, transfixed and petrified. The
old man had finally died in his sleep the night before. They had been expecting
it for some time. He had a fall a few months earlier and deteriorated rapidly,
his solid strong frame becoming emaciated and brittle and pale. There had been
an embarrassing episode in which some well-meaning soul had placed his obituary
in the local paper three days before he had actually died. That is how she found
him whilst scanning down the pages in the local deaths section. All the old women
did it. It was a collective and contagious symptom of old age and the only cure
came when you made an appearance yourself. They had managed to keep the mistake
from the old man as best they could and besides the doctor had said he was probably
too far-gone to fathom anything anymore. Not that he hadn’t put up a fight;
on the contrary his prolonged struggle filled the house with an unbearable tension
so that for the last days the very room seemed to be holding its breath. There
were times when she almost wished he would give up the ghost. God forbid. But
he insisted on lying there upright in the bed, paralyzed with one eye in this
world and one in the next. And there were times in a fever he would talk in tongues
of distant places and people, "raging against the dying of the light",
isn’t that what they called it? Sweat soaked he would repeat "awake" and
they would mop his brow and place wine and bread to his parched lips and inform
him he was awake. He didn’t seem to make any sense. Whether this was the
illness or his natural… eccentricity no one would ever know, many said
he was "touched" so to speak. Nevertheless she had maintained vigil
over his body alone for several hours tidying his belongings for the priest was
coming. She was experienced in these matters learning from her mother and her
mother’s mother back until creation. In death though he seemed to be conspiring
against her for her rosary beads kept slipping from his grasp. Manipulating his
rigid fingers, she remembered reading somewhere that the hair and nails keep
growing unaware that they wouldn’t be needed. Perhaps she should tidy the
corpse, put it in order, maybe. It could be slightly inappropriate for she had
barely known him. No one had. But she had seen him everyday for as long as she
could remember and she thought it comforting that she was there.
At first the boy had startled her, entering silently unannounced, against his
parents wishes, tiptoeing in as fascinated children do with eyes filled with
electricity, that look upon the world as bewildered and mesmerised as the first
man. When she was that age there were ancient skilled wailers who turned up howling
and weeping and shrieking, as was the custom in the land, for money or gifts.
Her mother had taught her, it was perhaps her earliest memory. Most natural thing
in the world, no point hiding it from children. They called it the wake. "Why?" she
had asked. When we were peasants lead cups were used to drink ale and whiskey.
Of course the combination of copious amounts of alcohol and a potent neurotoxin
with the strength of lead would often send the reveller spiralling into a coma.
Bodies would be found scattered along desolate highways, bloated in swamped ditches
or immersed in riotous undergrowth and be taken for dead. Naturally they would
place the remains in a coffin and prepare for burial. Then with a peculiarly
Irish sense of timing the corpse would awake during its own funeral service causing
a universal emptying of bowels and stomachs from shock. So to prevent such uncomfortable
episodes all bodies were laid out for a couple of days and the family and friends
would gather around and eat and drink and wait to see if they would wake up.
There were probably even a few unfortunates who didn’t come around until
they were in the clay. "Why didn’t they just take the pulse?" she
asked her mother who promptly ignored her. After the body was prepared in its
best Sunday clothes the keening, as her mother had called it, started. A sort
of hysterical dirge, a wailing that started once the soul had a chance to leave
the body. Premature keening, they warned, could wake all kinds of demons. She
had noticed even then that the wailing at the beginning was often awkward, each
person nervously emitting a few pathetic moans but things soon improved after
the first glass or ten of whisky. Of course many of the keeners would compete
with each other to enhance their reputation. She had remembered one occasion
when two old maidens had competed so fervently and passionately that they set
upon each other in an attempt to scratch the other’s eyes out. In the tempest
of flailing creaking limbs the coffin was knocked off its stand and the body
rolled out onto the floor, its hair set ablaze from a fallen candle. It didn’t
seem to mind. Nevertheless the church stepped in and a prodigious Synod of all
the archbishops and bishops the length and breadth of the isle issued a statute
calling for "heathenish" keeners to be driven from all wake-houses.
Anyone found to be mourning too much could be shown the door. In the end the
keeners stalked the funeral processions screaming and shrieking all the more
like vengeful banshees and had to be chased by the priests and their acolytes
brandishing huge sticks and launching rocks in their direction.
No wailers had approached this house for there was no one here to mourn. Nowadays
sorrow was reserved for the deaths of children and those to whom death had come
unexpectedly. Not the old men who walked around with death on their backs. All
the same the corpse must never be left alone just in case. She dusted around
the looming mahogany grandfather clock, which had been stopped out of respect.
Blessing herself once more she could hear the others, sitting next door over
tea and biscuits, talking in hushed tones, audible through the thin plaster walls.
"Sure it was inevitable".
Aye at least he had a good innings".
And he went in his sleep sure that’s the best we can all hope for".
The child had left their company at this. They hadn’t noticed him leave.
At first he approached the body slowly and prodded the flesh on its forehead.
It was waxen and pale, grained like the ancient bark of an oak after rain. He
tried to picture the corpse as a child by mentally smoothing out a face entrenched
with scars and winkles like a map of experiences. He tried to whiten the yellow
splintered teeth and the red blemished nose and iron the cracked lips and the
sagging bags under the eyes, all to no avail. The corpse refused to be anything
other than what was there, what was left and whatever it was it was not the man
he knew. So he took a seat at the far end of the room and watched with his mouth
hanging open, waiting for something miraculous to happen, idly swinging his feet.
Soon he became bored and so he crept forward and edged open the window, filling
the room with the smell of freshly cut grass and the chill of the morning air.
Outside the clouds briefly parted like disappointed tourists and then decided
there was safety in numbers. The dust stirred from its sleep on the tables and
the bookshelf and the windowpane, caught in a tiny maelstrom, the dust, his dust,
awakened revolving and revolving trapped in a pirouette like shoals of silverfish
towards the roof illuminated in a solitary celestial stream of light.
"Tch…close that window, ye wee shite… you’ll catch your
death of cold".
The boy felt flustered at being scolded. He hung his head and paced awkwardly
to and fro, from one leg to the next and then he belatedly returned to his chair.
Looking at the sleeping body he wondered whether the old man was simply trying
to hide behind his own eyelids. Sensing that the old lady was closing the curtains
further, with her back towards him, he tiptoed towards the coffin and began to
carefully lift the man’s heavy eyes. Just as he was about to stare into
his pupils he was jolted by a scream.
Jesus, Mary and Joseph…get away from him."
The boy startled turned to face the furious lady.
I was just…"
Youse young un’s… can’t even let the dead rest in peace can
I’m sorry…I didn’t"
Go make yourself useful son. You’ve exhausted my patience. The priest’ll
be here soon and we can’t have you poking about where you’re not
The boy felt his face flush crimson as he fled from the room. The sting of injustice
occupied his soul for he was the only one who had ever spoken to the old man
when he was alive, surely he had a right above the rest. Perhaps spoken wasn’t
quite the word for when you encountered the old man you listened. More than anything
he was eager to point out to the boy books: veiled, impenetratable, life-affirming
books, which intoxicated him with the passionate intensity of words that flowed
off the pages. Books with arcane forbidden names like Rimbaud and Nietzsche and
Lorca and Camus. Thinking of the old woman polishing around them, their pages
firmly locked closed, he considered how unjust it was for such creations which
blaze out of a long- silent mind to end up wasted there. His mind soon passed
on and was unwillingly drifting back to the last time that he had spoken to the
old man, a memory still close enough to be almost unbearable to relive, not yet
soothed or anaesthetized by time. He had found him in his usual restless state,
arched over the washbasin, the light bulb glinting on his baldhead, speckled
like a prehistoric egg. He had heard the boy enter the room for he had glanced
up and addressed him without turning across the mirror. The boy stood gracelessly
as the old man shaved and sang what sounded like a forgotten hymn, something
about "the International". Suddenly the old man stopped singing and
it seemed an absolute melancholy invaded the room and the boy could see him absorbed
in his reflection. Then, with head in his trembling hands, he broke down and
sobbed relentlessly not turning to notice as the embarrassed boy fled from the
house. It was the last time the boy had seen him alive. The memory had deeply
troubled him and his mind betrayed him by continually reliving it. Stepping outside
as he had done that last time he reluctantly found it was still morning and he
had no idea what to do with himself. Kicking pebbles against the wall and avoiding
the cracks in the pavement he wished he were elsewhere. Then it occurred to him
that his father was in the pub and perhaps he would know what to do.
Under a lowering sky, helicopters circled the city like shepherds. In another
time they would have played Wagner to scare the natives. Nowadays though no one
took any notice of them for they were used to the omnipotent hum from the heavens.
Gone were the days when old drunks would lob beer bottles onto the heads of shoppers
in a vain attempt to knock the trespasser from the sky. Now it was best to ignore
them. At night they hid amidst the constellations, disguised as wandering stars
they’d roar out of the sky falling like stukas to startle trees filled
with sleeping birds and petrify children to hide beneath their blankets. A lonesome
drunk staggered along struggling to find his feet as if the street were the deck
of a storm tossed ship with a thirst for whatever drink he could lay his hands
on. He had started on whiskey and moved onto harder stuff; white spirits, brake
fluid, antifreeze, formaldehyde siphoned off Lenin’s tomb. What he knew
but no passerby did was though he was a deadbeat with breath like a blast furnace
his head was filled with stars.
Avoiding eye contact the boy overtook the drunk and trudged on through the closed,
tumbling, ramshackle terraces, the houses drunkenly dragging each other down
onto their knees, little honeycombs of human happiness and suffering crushed
impossibly close together. There was a certain mythology about the pub that he
had heard from the other boys who claimed to have been served despite their youth.
He envied these lads, older and wiser advocates of mysterious forbidden taboos
such as sex and alcohol and he would learn how to return their knowing glances,
like freemasons, to save himself shame when in fact the things they spoke of
At this hour the boy knew that the pub would appear closed on the outside but
the locals would be locked in, before hours. He passed the bar three times before
entering it. It was a place to be entered into with hushed reverence like a church
or a library and he felt its power as he slowly began to push the door open using
the full force of his body.
The place was so dark he wondered whether it was trying to fool itself that it
was night. People could spend entire lifetimes with arms outstretched trying
unsuccessfully to find the exit. It took his eyes a while to accustom themselves
and he didn’t wish to stand at the door for he could feel eyes already
peering at him so he kept walking down the steps and almost into a stool that
had placed itself in his path. He could feel the eyes quickly shift around the
bar to give the appearance that no one was staring at him in particular. Stepping
into the bar was like stepping back fifty years. All along the walls were long-dead
railway line ads, a faded proclamation of the Irish Republic, an antique clock
with no hands, a poster of a man carrying a horse in a cart: Guinness for strength,
a fiddle without any strings, rusted metal signs for obscure archaic goods: Athlone
woollen mills, Gallahers snuff, Hudson’s soap, Shag tobacco, Andrew’s
liver salts, old dusty bottles, sepia photos of railroad crews and people dancing
and people making poteen in the hills of Connemara, hollow radios, portraits
of Irish writers like Joyce and Wilde and Beckett hounded off the island. A plaque
caught his attention "Authentic Irishman for hire. Storytelling and singing,
dancing and carrying on. Available all hours. Experienced drinking companion.
The only man in the world who would step over a dozen naked women to get to a
pint of stout." Puzzled he turned to face the bar. Random groups of men
and some women were sitting around in clusters talking in a constant murmur with
no distinction of words, their warehouse eyes shifting from the pint glasses
to the floor to the pint glasses. Now and then an effigy appeared at the bar
to ask for "the usual" and then slide back into a dimly lit corner,
amidst empty stools and chairs and tables. Sitting alone and divided, sinking
to the bottom of a pint glass, waiting to curse at last orders. It was there
he found his father.
His father’s heavy-lidded glazed eyes briefly lit up with a spark of recognition
as they found the boy.
Well if it’s not the wandering Jew… Hey Charlie have I ever introduced
you to the wee man?"
Aye manys a time".
Here boy grab a seat wi your poor auld da and tell us what you’ve been
Without pausing he turned to Charlie and said "He’s a right wee Einstein
this boy, he’s head’s never out of the books, isn’t that right?
Half the time he’s in a world of his own."
Takes his brains after his da does he?"
They both laughed as if scripted. "Fuck I wish".
You can think too much, you remember that, boy"
Aye and sure it’s the quiet ones you watch"
Do ye mind when ye were that age? Eh… not a fucking care in the world" they
said as if he wasn’t there. Silence.
"Here Charlie give us a song, come on boy". His father momentarily
shook himself to speak.
"Naw not yit. Ask me again after a few pints".
The boy was proud of his father, encouraged by all his mates who seemed to admire
the man for he could drink any fool under the table and could dish out a good
hiding. He had made a name for himself. It was a respect that came from far-flung
anecdotes and dubious history rather than any direct affection. The boy felt
a warm glow when his father told him stories of his youth, which he excitedly
passed onto his friends. They all began "You wouldn’t think it to
look at me…" Of legendary drinking binges and mythological fights
ending with phrases like "Not so fat I didn’t catch ye, ye bastard".
When he was small, about the size of a thimble, he’d read of Finn Mac Coil
and imagined the giant with his father’s head; so immense that men followed
him playing tournaments of handball against his buttocks. Back when the world
was at his feet and not on his shoulders. One thing was certain his father was
a character. Yes he was a good old Irish character. And he was nothing if not
But he had never really talked to him, never really known him and he feared sometimes
that was because there was nothing to know. He was a workingman who had worked
everyday of his life and had little, if any, education. Like Sisyphus rolling
that colossal boulder up the precipitous mountain to amuse the gods. Born back
when the world was black and white. He wore his thick accent with satisfaction
even though in terms of employment it made him a marked man; indeed in the grammar
schools the priests taught elocution lessons to weed it out root and branch.
A man who had struggled everyday of his life without even realizing it or complaining.
Maybe that was the problem. The boy often wondered why his father and those like
him were the builders, creators of a society, which sought to exclude and destroy
them. It just didn’t seem fair. Recently his age had begun to tell on him,
his previously jet-black manic beard had faded to salt and pepper gray, his eyes
sunk deep into his skull. Had he noticed it himself he would have shrugged it
off with "Aah well, sure it’s just a machine for living in".
The boy didn’t realize that this man, this once passionate, living, free
soul had worn his fingers to the bone and had been forced to beat himself to
pieces pointlessly like waves against the rocks. Everyday an old man was occupying
his reflection more and more.
He looked at him there, stared at the drink in his hand, the whiskey. How strange
it was that it was called a spirit, as if it were a ghost, as if it were in the
process of haunting his father.
His friend Charlie was a retired labourer from the country, a huge doorful of
a man like staring up at some monumental statue. This man with his thinning silver
hair and his quiet scathing humour, this man who built his own home with his
bare hands, this man with an affinity with the earth, who had laboured tirelessly
through the rise and fall of empires and governments, wars, holocausts, inventions,
discoveries, epidemics, earthquakes, and yet remained the same, the same as a
thousand years before, a man of utter integrity who thought with his blood and
whose wisdom lay in folktales, an intellect founded on inspiration whilst others
were shackled by education. He would say storms are coming because the mountains
looked closer and pains would emerge in the joints. He was almost always right.
The council had appropriated his farmland to build a housing estate. He had received
adequate compensation but had lost his focus, his purpose. The boy was often
enchanted and often infuriated by the occasional phrases of Gaelige that Charlie
would self-consciously launch into a conversation. It was a strange distant mantra
that he had known all his life that had pervaded everything and yet he knew nothing
at all about it. It hung with a terrible beauty over everything he encountered.
It had an allure, the voice of warriors under this same sky who had had pitched
bloody battles, who had had elected kings to live lives of sweet debauchery,
with hedonistic orgies and drunken banquets where milk and honey flowed, men
who earned every breath and died as they lived: on their feet men and women who
lived lives in which myths and legends were as real to them as TV was to us,
wondrous people now turned to dust and buried under supermarkets and car parks,
their gods gone, forgotten. If we must have gods let them be spectacular he thought.
And yet he feared it. A language with more poetry, with arcane blessings and
curses, "Go n-ithe an cat thú is go n-ithe an diabhal an cat"- "May
the cat eat you, and may the cat be eaten by the devil." It made the language
he spoke sound harsh, abrupt, awkward, without poetry. This language, this Gaelige
angered him when he heard it spoken, the language that he did not know, the language
that made him feel an exile in his own homeland, the language he hated because
he was placed outside its mysteries.
Charlie rose whilst putting on his coat. It seemed as if he had been waiting
for some time to do so.
Are ye going Charlie? Sure, stay for a while yet."
Naw, I best be heading on. Got to get back to the wife…see ye later lad",
he said ruffling the boy’s hair as he left.
Awwwh…God bless us and save us" his father yawned. Silence.
"Better git some of the auld firewater" he said to himself before rising
and returning to the bar.
The boy admired his father’s drunken swagger from a distance. He was a
smart man though not in the conventional sense. A believer in that naïve
revolutionary idea that human beings if unobstructed and given a level playing
field were decent creatures, he had spent many a drunken night in heated debate
with drinking partners over politics. They would shout his father down and tell
him to leave the politics to the politicians and he would rise to his feet and
bellow, "God forbid you bastards think for yourself". The boy wondered
why his father’s ideas and stories were saved only for those drunken nights,
his words, as if written on water, might as well have evaporated from his mouth.
Yet he relished his role as zealous activist of the public houses claiming "he
who is born to hang will never drown" and there were many who had taken
him on and been outwitted, slouching to the toilets where they’d dictate
an eloquent riposte of all they should have said with a felt tip pen on the back
of the toilet door beside the party boy phone numbers and slogans of the cubicle
situationists. There were many people who badmouthed him calling him a wasted
alcoholic behind his back. They said he was as useful as tits on a bull. His
path would be soiled with whispers of "that fucker thinks he is somebody".
It was perhaps because of his words. Once he had enlightened the boy, "Listen
son, people don’t like to be told they’re not free. Or that their
thoughts are not their own. Just as the dead don’t like to know they are
The shattering of glass suddenly awoke the boy from his daydreaming. On the way
to the bar, his father had stumbled and knocked into a table of drinks, spilling
the contents. A group of young boys were sitting at the table waiting to watch
a football match and roared, almost in unison, "Hey fucking watch it".
Ye auld fucking prick"
You’ll be buying us replacements"
Listen boys I’m sorry…act a’ God," he reached into his
pocket and pulled out a handful of copper and a crumbled up bus ticket. "All
I have’s shrapnel…"
Are ye fucking joking?"
The barman intervened leaning over the counter, "Hi boys keep the noise
down. What’s the problem?"
This fucking cripple knocked over our drinks…"
Listen to tell ye the God’s honest truth I’m skint."
The barman motioned him over and talked in whispers, which the boy strained unsuccessfully
to pick up.
He could see his father nodding then shaking his head and then he returned. For
the first time he looked small.
He finished his drink swiftly and then lifted his coat and draped it across his
"Fuck it son, kiss the hand you cannot bite", he murmured without making
Emerging into the blinding daylight like stunned nocturnal animals in headlights
the boy sped ahead of his father who was feeling his snug drunken glow already
subsiding and cursed as he repeatedly put his arms into the wrong holes in his
coat. With the fading glow of intoxication he felt a stirring nostalgia for those
times when he had thought more of the future than of the past, more of what will
be than what might have been. For the first time in his life the boy had realised
his father wasn’t invincible, he didn’t know all that there was to
know, he was prone to disappoint and that if he was some kind of God it was a
God rapidly in the process of drowning. But he was a good man for all that counts.
The boy crossed to the bright side of the street where the numbers were even,
just out of reach from the shadows of the houses, which grew along the ground
as the sun sunk like a deadweight and the clouds dragged cumulonimbus debris
across the sky. It hadn’t rained for days and the sun was faint and distant.
It was hard to believe that this was the same sphere of flame, which was an orchestra
of warmth in the summer, which could melt the tar on the roads, evaporate reservoirs
and conjure the landscape into rising waves. The city slept in the artic distance,
its towers climbing onto each other’s shoulders, competing to invade the
skyline. Under the same sun it was dawn elsewhere, illuminating some strange
land he had read of; like the Silk Route into the Far east or the Siberian Steppes
or the scorched savannah plains of Andalusia. The boy ran on faster as the wind
whipped the breath from his lungs scything down from the mountains and through
On the way home he got to thinking of the dead man. He was like a different race
to the other old men who repeated tired old jokes over and over as the mechanisms
in their head slowly, slowly ground to a halt. A solid man made out of the elements,
his atoms being the same as those of granite. He was one of the few that when
he talked you wanted to listen. Even near the end he was unreconciled, unappeased,
uncontent, undefeated. Maybe he had left something behind.
As he arrived home his mother was silently preparing the dinner and the children
followed her into the living room to crowd around the TV. His father now bitterly
sober called each member of the family an impressively original and explicit
obscenity for hiding the remote control until he realised that was exactly the
object he had been waving at them in contempt. His mother rolled her eyes. His
father belatedly calmed when he discovered a fascinating bruise on his arm he
couldn’t remember getting. She had tried many times to make him disappear
completely, driving him out to the outskirts and leaving him there but he always
found his way home.
Why don’t we have a conversation for a change?"
Naw I’m serious… turn that racket down".
The TV was turned down to a groans of disapproval and when the silence brought
not conversation but a heightened awareness of the sounds of eating and digestion
his father clearly agitated reached over and turned the volume up. His mother
and father got on like a cross on fire. They had gone beyond even wishing themselves
unmarried, they had surrendered.
All eyes glued on the flickering screen. There was nothing really on. His mother
momentarily broke the hypnosis without taking her eyes away from it.
There was a young lad washed up at the point last night."
Suicide… most likely".
No-one even knew he was missing".
Silence. Father turned the volume up further.
The boy missed the days his father would light the fire and they would sit up
intoxicated by wondrous tales, some of which would visit him alone at night but
he regretted hearing none. He could remember a poem about a frog who, looking
into a lake in the dead of night, had believed it was the moon. Another story
had haunted him, a true one, of an ancient town in the mountains, which had suffered
a goldrush, which brought famine in its wake. The inhabitants died out and it
was decided to flood the town to make a reservoir for the nearest city several
hundred miles away. Whenever drought comes and the reservoir dwindles, the spires
of the old town church and the rooftops of the ghost town reappear, the bells
tolling to the ghostly congregation with each lap of the waves. It had taken
him a long time to shake that from his dreams. Now the fireplace was filled with
ash, it hadn’t be lit in so long they said there would probably be a nest
blocking the chimney and to do so now might burn the house to the ground. And
yet the boy longed irresistibly to see it. With the spellbinding rhythmic attention
of the fire departed, his father lay sleeping his face illuminated by the television
glare, dead to the world.
Turning out the light of his bedroom he stood for a moment in the darkness alone
but for the crest and ebb of the fleeting cars, sailing along the road outside
and vanishing into the night. He opened his window and climbed down the drainpipe.
He had until morning.
Stretching to his utmost he managed to scale the wall from the alleyway and landed
in the yard. As he moved stealthily towards the back door he wished for a cloak
of silence to wear on his movements, which seemed somehow amplified. His heart
stopped in the second between seeing the face in the window and realising it
was his reflection. The door was unlocked and opened effortlessly. He inched
along the wooden corridor holding his breath and gritting his teeth with each
step. Candlelight lay in wait along the floorboards from under the door. Closing
his eyes he pushed the door open. He had the fear of god in him.
The body hadn’t stirred and was there alone.
A crucifix had been forced into its hands. At the bookcase he opened the drawer
and found it was filled with junk. Bundles of photos, sketches and writing were
forced together, when they had found him the entire room had been covered with
sprawling texts and great sweeping arcs of manuscripts. The photos immediately
caught his eye. A group of men and women embracing with eyes towards the sky.
Behind them steep fertile hills lined with fluid regiments of Cypress trees gave
way to a limitless delta. "Catalonia 1936". Another had a young man
with a rifle on his back, perhaps even the old man, embracing a strikingly beautiful
woman so long ago it is likely they are both dead, yet alive for that camera
On the back a scrawled quotation "We are not in the least afraid of ruins.
We are going to inherit the earth. There is not the slightest doubt about that.
The bourgeoisie may blast and ruin its own world before it leaves the stage of
history. We carry a new world here in our hearts and it is growing every minute." Buenaventura
Strange names and places hypnotised him: Orwell, Auden, Hemingway, Simone Weil
on the Huesca ghost front, Gaudi’s magnificent Barcelona, the shrinking
lake of L’Albufera, the Ebro delta, the 300 towers of Onda, La Coruna the
city of glass, the Navarra bullrun, the burnt highlands of Castile and the steep
fertile hills of Euskadi, Fermin Salvochea, the last stand of the philosopher
Unanumo, the brothers Ascaso, the poet Hernandez, Bajatierra, Besteiro, the death
of Federico Garcia Lorca.
Names that couldn’t be of this world.
Newspaper cuttings revealed that the old man had been a volunteer in the International
Brigades, the Connolly Column who had gone to fight fascism, battle the night
and fog and forge the revolution, to be tortured and die amongst olive grooves
and sierras fighting for the ghost republic in the name of human decency. And
to return to be labelled a "premature anti-fascist" and be blacklisted
from employment and benefits, forgotten about, ignored, washed up like wreckage
from some glorious armada.
As the boy lifted the dead man’s notebook a loose page fell onto the carpet.
He raised it up to the light and found it to be another newspaper cutting in
Spanish with an English translation. It showed a photograph of a jubilant crowd,
smiling and cheering holding him, the young old man aloft on their shoulders.
He had scaled the walls of the Fascist fortress in Grenada, had ascended the
flagpole and swapped the Fascist "for God and Country" banner for the
Red Flag of the people.
In the diary and in the photos the boy caught glimpses of a world beyond the
pub and the church and the television and the dead. A world where people created
rather than consumed, where they drew a line in the sand and stood together,
where no-one had too much to lose, where another world was possible, where people
refused to be collaborators to their own undoing, where man was reinvented, where
blind indifference was not an option, where the more you own was not the more
you are, where history had not ended, where everything was questioned, where
tomorrow was another word for never and what is was turned into what could be.
And the boy understood why the old man had fought at the end; it was not the
fear of death but adoration for every single precious second of life.
The boy jumped as the grandfather clock wound itself up suddenly and chimed.
Outside the clouds had burst and it was raining torrentially, the Gulf Stream
swept in over the Cliffs of Moher and tempestuously lashed down on all of Ireland
who faced the desolate Atlantic alone. The boy closed his eyes and imagined rain
so relentless all windows would shatter and the soil could take no more and the
floods would sweep down the terraces, drowning trainloads of commuters and washing
the concrete from the streets. Outside the storm lanterns were dying out one
by one under the downpour until all that was left was the blue vacuum of night,
which sapped all colour from the soaked earth until morning.
In that room beneath a sky that fell into infinity past archipelagos of stars
the boy silently uncovered the mirrors so that the dead would see that they are
dead and the living would see that they are alive.
copyright © 2005 darran anderson, all rights