Rosie was on her knees, scrubbing the bedroom floor when the news about Jimmy came. They sent Willie, Ellen’s husband, to tell her. She didn’t get up when he came in, but sat back on her heels, waiting for him to say what she already knew.
“Where did they find him?” she asked, her voice little more than a whisper.
“Over at Blackditch,” Willie answered, working the rim of his garda’s cap, “up at the Fairy Ring. Don’t know why he’d go there.”
She nodded and said nothing.
“He must have stumbled with the loaded gun. We think the cattle were spooked. They trampled,” his words trailed off.
“Is he still there?”
Willie shook his head, “No, they took him to the hospital.”
“Can I see him?”
Willie hesitated, “I wouldn’t, Rosie, not the way he is. There’ll be a post-mortem.” Willie was tall and thin and didn’t know whether to stand or sit, say more or stay silent. Jimmy had never liked him. “Will I ask Ellen to come over?” Willie said, when the silence became unbearable.
“Not now. Later, maybe.” And then, not wishing to cause offence, she added, “I want to be on me own for a bit.”
Willie nodded. “Is there anything I can do for you, Rosie?”
“No,” she said, staring beyond him into the kitchen where the ashes from last night’s fire were still warm.
“Well, you know where we are. I’m sorry for your trouble, Rosie,” he said, and he settled his cap and took his leave of her.
Rosie got to her feet. She went to the door and emptied the basin into the yard. The grief rose from the pit of her stomach and threw her off balance. She leaned into the door frame, the enamel basin clattering where it fell. She stayed there for a long time until the dog, licking her hand and nosing around her, brought her to her senses.
“It’s all right, Blackie,” she said, and the dog’s whimpering subsided. She scratched his head. “We’ll be all right, Blackie, won’t we, you and me?” She wiped her face with the corner of her apron and went back inside. She sat by the fire where the ashes gave out little heat.
The usual crowd was in playing cards when Jimmy first came around. He was new to the area, and the local shopkeeper told him he’d find company there. Rosie’s mother welcomed him and blessed him with holy water. He stood watching the card game, taking everything in, before the music and the story-telling began. Ellen and Willie were there, too. Jimmy Doyle put his eye on her, but Ellen was a newly married woman, and Willie was a garda and, though people sometimes laughed at him behind his back, he was not a man to be trifled with. So, when Mick Squire took out the squeeze box, Jimmy Doyle turned to Rosie and asked her to dance. She was seventeen, the old cow’s calf, the shavings of the bag, and her mother and father doted on her. In school, the teacher scolded her for inattention and carelessness.
“Never mind,” Rosie’s mother said, “you’re a dreamer, always away with the fairies, and what harm did a dreamer ever do in this world?” When she turned fourteen, her father said, “You’ve learned all you’re going to learn up there, Rosie. Stay home with us now, and Mammy will teach you anything else you need to know.”
Rosie had never been with a boy and had never met anyone like Jimmy Doyle, anyone so young and sure of himself. The fellows who came to play cards were of an age with her father, and they treated her as a little girl. A few younger fellows had come to court Ellen until Willie became her suitor. But Rosie was invisible to them all, and they held little interest for her.
Jimmy was a different matter. He was twenty-eight years old and acted like he was the equal of any man. And he had wavy brown hair and blue eyes that burned with a dark light. Rosie knew she wasn’t beautiful, not in the way Ellen was beautiful, but being with Jimmy made her feel alive, made her skin tingle. And when he swung her around and smiled at her, and she felt the pressure of his palm on the small of her back, she experienced such a melting sensation she thought she was in love.
Jimmy came from Ballinaclash, over the mountains, and took the job as farm manager with the Robbs, who were horse Protestants and owned all the good land for miles around. He told Rosie he quit his family’s farm when his older brother showed up one day, out of the blue, and took over the running of the place as if it was his due. “I did all the work, and he got the reward.” There was an ugliness in him when he spoke of his father that frightened her. “I’d kill that thieving cunt without a second thought,” he said. He told Rosie that he would show them, his father and his brother, that he’d have his own farm, one day, bigger and better than the one that had been stolen from him. He took her down to see the cottage in the glen that went with the job.
“It needs a woman’s touch, Rosie,” he said, “and you could be that woman.” Rosie saw herself there, in that place, with the man who made her insides melt, and she flushed with happiness. After that Jimmy Doyle was a regular in Farnhams, and Rosie’s mother said it was no great mystery what the attraction was. She told Rosie she was blooming with all the attention.
“He’d be a right catch, now, Rosie,” her father said, “not like that long streak of misery that took Ellen away from us.”
“Don’t be saying such things, Daddy,” Rosie’s mother scolded, though Rosie knew she thought little enough of Willie.
On her eighteenth birthday, Jimmy Doyle brought Rosie a young dog that had strayed onto the Robbs’ farm. It was a handsome dog with a shiny black coat and an intelligent face.
“That’s some class of a gun dog,” her father said. “He’ll be a right friend to you, Rosie, and look out for you, so he will.”
When Jimmy was going, Rosie saw him out. He led her a little away down the railway line to the shed where the company stored tools and equipment. Although he was often in Farnhams, Jimmy and Rosie were rarely alone. Seizing the moment, he pushed her against the wall of the shed and kissed her, and she kissed him back. But when Jimmy pushed hard against her and forced her legs apart with his knee, she grew alarmed. She was not prepared for the way he acted then, thrusting his tongue into her mouth and reaching up under her dress. When she panicked and tried to push him off, he laughed.
“Is that the way you thank me for my present,” he said, and he pulled her hand down to the zip of his trousers and ran it up and down.
“Wait till we’re married,” he said, “I’ll be up you like a rat up a drainpipe.” And he laughed a hard laugh.
Later, safe in her bed, her father’s words tossed around in Rosie’s mind, “He’ll look out for you.” Did Daddy think she needed someone to look out for her? Was Daddy readying himself for her departure? And she remembered Jimmy forcing her knees apart and grabbing at her. Would Jimmy do things that frightened her?
Before Rosie turned nineteen, she and Jimmy Doyle married in the small church in Newtown. Rosie’s mother and father threw a party for the couple, and neighbours and friends filled the house on the coast road. And when night fell, Jimmy Doyle brought his bride home to the cottage in the glen.
After Jimmy consummated the marriage in the dark in their new bed, Rosie sobbed in bewilderment and fright.
“I’m your husband, Rosie,” Jimmy said. “What did you expect? Isn’t that what your father did to your mother on their wedding night? You can cut out that little girl act right now. You’re a married woman.”
Rosie huddled in the corner of the bed and whimpered like a frightened animal. Long after she fell asleep, Jimmy Doyle lay awake, and a primitive anger took hold of him and tightened around his heart.
The cottage in the glen was isolated. From the road, there was a rough track that ran for two miles. The hedgerows on either side were dense and matted, and the valley closed in the farther you travelled from the road. Here and there, there were old things strewn in the ditch – rusted buckets or furniture beyond repair. In the weeks after the wedding, Rosie spent long afternoons walking the fields with Blackie. She picked wildflowers: bluebells and buttercups, daisies and cowslips, wild orchids and meadowsweet. In places, she found violets and cornflowers. There was thyme, too, and wild garlic and sweet marjoram. In late summer, Rosie went in search of blackberries and picked honeysuckle and wild roses. As the summer days shortened, clouds gathered quickly, without warning, and the rain, coming in from the sea, had a sharp edge to it, and Rosie and Blackie were forced to take shelter until the clouds opened and the hot sun raised steam from the wet grass. On those summer afternoons, Rosie felt happy. Jimmy was not part of that happiness.
Her mornings were spent cleaning and polishing, washing and ironing. Everything Rosie did in the house was intended to smooth her passage into those hours of solitude. If everything was ready for Jimmy’s arrival home, and if she was attentive when he was there, then she might steal some precious hours for herself.
When winter came, and the clouds sat low and immovable, and the track seemed longer than she could bear, Rosie sat twiddling the dial of the radiogram. She liked saying the names aloud as the red bar moved from city to city: Berlin, Hilversum, Sundsvall, Gottenberg, Helsinki. For the most part, there was only static and interference, but every so often, a voice or a snatch of music emerged from the speaker inside the wooden casing. It was a source of wonder to Rosie that these voices reached her from so far away. They made her feel less alone even though she had no way of speaking back, of telling them that she, Rosie Farnham, Rosie Doyle, was listening.
Some days, she sat for hours beside the radiogram without turning it on. She sat with her eyes closed, her knees drawn up to her chin and her arms wrapped around her legs. When she was small and sat in that way, her mother would say:
“I think you’re a fairy child, Rosie Farnham, sitting there in your own little world.”
When the Atlantic Storms lashed the house, Rosie imagined it taking off and flying over the sea.
Rosie dreaded those nights when Jimmy reached for her. She had schooled herself not to cry or show signs of panic. She thought of herself as a rag doll to be poked and prodded and pushed and pulled, and when he spilled his seed in her, she felt soiled. And Jimmy, sensing her revulsion, felt small and angry and unbearably alone.
“What the fuck is wrong with you?” he’d ask.
“Am I not good enough for you? Is that it?” And her answer was always the same, “I’m sorry. I love you, Jimmy, I do.”
“A funny fucking way you have of showing it. I’m sick of this. Start acting like a real wife to me or so help me -”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
Jimmy looked at her and shook his head, and she felt his contempt.
“All this shite will have to stop or I’ll lose my fucking mind. Is that what you want?”
Rosie spoke to her sister Ellen about being a good wife, but Ellen laughed her off. “Keep your mouth shut and your ears and your legs open,” she said.
Rosie tried her best, but soon she and Jimmy grew quiet and wary around each other, and their conversation dwindled to nothing. Jimmy took to staying out of the house for long stretches at a time. He was at a loss what to do. Up to this, when he encountered an obstacle, he strode through it, relying on his strength and vigour. Or his bravado. But these were of little use to him now, and he felt powerless. He saw himself as a gelding, wounded and diminished.
For her part, Rosie took to washing herself when Jimmy was not there. She filled the bowl with warm water and wriggled from her slip. She liked the way it slid down her body. She soaked the sponge and ran it over her face and neck. She raised each arm in turn and washed there and around her breasts. She rinsed the sponge in warm water and held it above her head, closing her eyes as the water dripped onto her skin. And she imagined, then, that love felt like this.
Sometimes Blackie came when she was washing and licked the back of her bare legs. One morning she washed and lay naked on the bed. Blackie jumped up and lay beside her, and she fell into a deep sleep, with the dog keeping her safe and warm.
Seven months after they married, Rosie’s monthly blood stopped flowing, and she knew that Jimmy’s baby was growing inside her. She was shy about telling him and afraid, too. And she wondered how the baby would come out. She wasn’t sure. She had seen sheep give birth but could not imagine a baby coming out of her in that way.
Rosie’s news gave Jimmy back his swagger. He suspected that the whole parish knew of his failure as a husband and was laughing behind his back: Jimmy Doyle, the cockerel who couldn’t crow. This was something to throw in their eye.
Rosie had seen little of her parents since the wedding. Those visits she had made had been short and uneasy. Her parents questioned her, and she hated to lie to them, and she knew that they knew that all was not well between her and Jimmy. Now, everything was changed, and Rosie looked forward to visiting them with her news. She set out on her bicycle early one morning, with Blackie running alongside. She took the shortcut down by Newtown. Coming near the old churchyard, the dog got agitated, running back and forth across the road, whining and whimpering and blocking her way.
“What’s wrong Blackie?” she asked, slipping from her saddle and rubbing the dog’s head.
The dog crouched down at her feet, looking up at her. She could see the fright in his eyes and felt uneasy now because the dog was uneasy. Then Blackie stood up and began to howl in a way she had never heard before – a long continuous note that made her want to turn the bike and flee from whatever it was that was afflicting him. Then she heard it. At first, she thought it was just the wind playing in the trees of the graveyard. Then she heard it clear and unmistakable: the wailing and whispering of human voices. The voices came from the graveyard trees. The wave of sound washed over her, and she feared she would be smothered.
Rosie reached the top of the hill at Newtown before the panic abated and she became aware of herself. She stopped by the water pump and drank and splashed her face and the back of her neck with cold water. She sat for a while and allowed her breathing and heartbeat to return to normal. Blackie stood by, wagging his tail, happy.
“Animals have a gift,” her father said. “They sense things that humans can’t. Bob hates that stretch of road, and I have to give him a good slap of the reins before he’ll pass the graveyard.”
“But I heard them, too, Daddy. It wasn’t just Blackie.”
“Then you too have the gift, Rosie.”
“But what did I hear, Daddy? What was it?”
“The souls of the dead,” her father said, “souls in torment. People who did bad things in this world and find no peace in the next. The roots of the trees reach into the mouths of the dead. That’s what you heard in those trees, Rosie, the dead, sighing and weeping.”
She stayed for the afternoon and helped her mother with the baking. Blackie laid by the fire, and Rosie was so comfortable and content she almost forgot she had to go back to the glen.
“You’d better get going, Love, before it gets dark,” her mother said.
Jimmy had hardly been mentioned by any of them. Then her father said, “I see Jimmy is grazing Robbs’ cattle in the Fairy Field. Tell him to get them out of there. The cows will sicken, Rosie, and bad luck will follow him.”
“Jimmy doesn’t believe in fairies and such things, Daddy.”
“Well, he better start, Rosie, especially with you the way you are.”
“Will you stop frightening the child! Don’t mind Daddy, Rosie -”
“Would the fairies harm the baby, Daddy? Is that what you’re saying?”
“Those that cross the fairies always suffer. That’s all I’m saying, Rosie. And you tell Jimmy to heed my words.”
When Jimmy came home that night, she told him what had happened.
“Ah Rosie!” he said. “You heard the wind in the trees. That’s all it was, Rosie, the wind and your imagination.”
Rosie served him his dinner and watched him eat. “Daddy said you shouldn’t keep cows in the Fairy Field, Jimmy. He said bad things could happen -”
Jimmy laughed. “I’m beginning to think you and your father are soft in the head.”
“This is serious, Jimmy. If the fairies get angry -”
“Fairies, my arse. Listen to me, Rosie. Nothing’s going to happen. That’s just shite talk. And that’s the end of it now.”
For weeks Rosie and Jimmy lived in the happiness of the child they were expecting. One morning, when Rosie felt poorly, Jimmy told her to stay in bed and brought her a cup of tea and some toast. He smiled at her and touched her face with love, and she felt the way she had felt when she first met him.
It was after midday when she woke. Jimmy was long gone, and Blackie was nowhere to be seen. She supposed Jimmy had put him out in the yard. He had no time for the way Rosie petted and pampered him. She eased herself up and tried her feet on the ground. She was shaky, and her head felt light. She had a pain in her side, and the pressure on her bladder was so strong, she feared she would wet herself. She tried a few steps but knew she couldn’t hold it any longer. The sudden whoosh of blood terrified her. She sat on the floor and tried half-heartedly to stanch the flow. In her heart, she knew there was no point. Her father had been right: no good ever came of going against the fairies. She dragged herself to the corner of the room and lay there in her soiled nightdress, and she didn’t care if she lived or died.
Jimmy found her in the evening when he came in for his dinner.
“Ah Rosie,” he said, when he saw her lying shivering and wretched in the corner. And he repeated it when he saw the blood and understood what it meant, and she didn’t know if it was a reproof or a sigh of sorrow and heartbreak. He brought her to the bathroom, and bathed her, and found some clean nightclothes and put her to bed and tucked her in. She wanted to say something, to tell him this was how she had imagined he would be with her, in the time before their wedding, but she was too tired and low in herself to form the words and speak them aloud.
Rosie wasn’t sure how long she slept. It was night, and the shouting and the dog’s barking woke her. She got up to see what the commotion was. Jimmy was in the hall, roaring drunk. She had never seen him like this, wild and raving. When she appeared, he turned on her. He told her that she was useless; he said that he’d leave her, and no man would ever look at her because they all knew how worthless she was.
“I told them all,” he sneered, “I told them the kind of woman you are.” When he made a lunge at her, Blackie ran at him, snapping and snarling, and he fell over. Rosie held the dog back, and Jimmy scrambled to his feet.
“I warned you that something bad would happen, Jimmy. But you wouldn’t listen. It’s not my fault I lost the baby.” As soon as she had said them, Rosie wished she could take her words back. But it was too late, and the words provoked all of Jimmy’s bitterness and regret.
“So it’s all my fucking fault now, is it? Is that what you’re saying? All my fault? All my fault that you’re a cold bitch who can’t keep a child inside her.” And he began to weep uncontrollably.
“Jimmy,” she said.
“I’ll show you whose fucking fault it is,” he answered, and he pushed past her into the kitchen. She followed, keeping a tight hold on Blackie. Jimmy took the shotgun from its hiding place in the cupboard.
“What are you doing, Jimmy?”
“I’ll settle this thing once and for all,” he said, and he loaded two cartridges into the barrels.
“Stop, Jimmy,” she said, “please stop; you’re frightening me.”
He raised the gun and pointed it at her and then at the dog. Rosie fell to her knees and wrapped her arms around Blackie.
“Don’t harm him, Jimmy. Please, don’t harm him.”
“I curse the day I set eyes on you, Rosie Farnham, I curse the fucking day,” and he stumbled to the front door and disappeared out into the dark night.
Rosie went to the door and called after him,
“Jimmy, come back. I didn’t mean to say that, Jimmy. I love you.” She slipped on a coat and a pair of boots and, weak though she was, she ran out into the fields calling his name. She searched for a long time. She heard a fox barking and a dog barking back, and she heard the faint sound of the sea beyond. And then she heard what might have been the sound of a gun somewhere in the distance.
Rosie sat for a long time in the kitchen, beside the unlit fire. When she began to shiver, she realised that the evening was coming on and the light was failing. She rubbed her arms to warm herself and shook herself from her stupor. When Ellen arrived, Rosie sent her to fetch their father. She moved quickly now. She went to the bedroom and finished cleaning the floor. Then she made up the bed, pulled the new sheets taut, and folded the top sheet with care. She moved from room to room, making sure nothing was out of place. In the kitchen, she poured water on the ashes in the grate and cleaned the fire.
Then she chose the clothes she wanted Jimmy buried in. The rest she bundled into the linen she had taken from the bed. She brought the bundle to the yard and set it ablaze. While it burned, she walked the field with Blackie collecting twigs from the rowan trees. Some she scattered on the fire; the rest she tied in a bundle and hung over the door. It was too late for Jimmy, but it would protect whoever would come after her.
When Rosie finished packing, she pulled the suitcase into the kitchen and lit the lamp. She knelt and said a rosary for Jimmy that his soul would find peace. She prayed with all her heart and all her love, though already Jimmy was becoming an abstraction, the man she had married but never really knew or understood. The man who crossed the fairies and cursed her baby. And then she sat by the radiogram, in her own little world, with Blackie at her feet, the world in which Jimmy played no part, and waited for her father to come and fetch her home.
Kevin Mc Dermott
Kevin Mc Dermott is a Dublin-based writer. He is the author of six novels for young adults. His writing for radio includes plays, feature-length documentaries, essays, and short stories. His poems have been published in journals, magazines, and broadcast on RTÉ, the Irish national broadcast service.