Other that the dam letter he'd got from the solicitor the day before , it had the makings of the was a perfect fishing day. The cloud was high and the pleasant wind blew fresh and from the west . The gulls were swooping in the fresh olive hatches The temperature was up and the fly had been hatching since before noon. They had both caught fish , and the air in the boat should have been much more convivial .
Marty just couldn't shake off the spectre of the dam letter which haunted him since that morning.
He just could not get the man out of his head,. True enough , his business was going through a bleak period at present , and he was a bit behind with his creditors , but so what . He had always come good before. ; it was the nature of the business.
It was the sequence of things which seemed to bedevil him now. The outstanding bills , his wife in hospital and his son in a spot of trouble at school.
Singularly he could have dealt with them. But the maddening thing was to get a solicitors letter. It made him out to be untrustworthy, and just a short step of a court appearance .
Quite against his nature he had allowed himself to become consumed and distracted by his inner vitriol . This was in sharp contrast to against his usual happy disposition.
Times were difficult enough with his the wife in hospital - he reasoned ,
- but imagine that bastard to send me a solicitors letter
Frank knew him of old and appreciated that his old mate had to let this this run its course. Better he do it here than in the pub later.
- And that man calls himself a Christian..- I call him a bollix.. Sorry Frank
- I mean to say he only had to tell me , I was only two weeks behind.
And that man goes to communion every Sunday. And the merchants the same . Oh yes . Holy men . Well he's some Jesus if he lets that sort of carry on.. Its all bloody wrong . I dunno if I believe in god anymore.
He looked at Frank who continued to cast downwind effortlessly with the soft whish of his unperturbed timing.
Frank's countenance betrayed nothing of his pity. He knew pity was not sought and had he offered it now he would be rewarded with scorn.
Marty was so distracted with his travails that he had difficulty tying on his cast .
- Damn , I cant get the Jesus thing.. That man has me .. Distracted ..disgusted .. He's a bastard Frank …that's all he is and we'll leave it at that.
They did.And only the rising sound ruffle of their flapping hoods against their backs caused Marty to look back at the skies over the mountain range to the west. Getting up a bit , he thought but put the thought aside.
- I mean - Marty began again-
-what sort of a ballox would send me a solicitors letter and me wife in hospital and the creditors all down on me . ? What sort of a holy man is that will you tell me .. And hes there every Sunday for the communion gobbling up like it was prawns or caviar.. The body and blood of our saviour.. And does he think for one minute.. But I'm blaming Jesus himself , he let him write it. Jesus knew all about it . Yes sir ..Jesus knew ..
Marty was in the plumbing business, . Business was good . But at the moment he had hit a bit of a slump .
He like many in the post war trade in the town the creditors had a genial understanding with their clientele. They needed one another and for the most part exercised restraint if one was in arrears now and again. Tradesmen usually enjoyed credit for up to a two months before paying for materials.
.Marty had run a week or so over the two months . In this case the supplier had engaged a solicitor, who might have been more zealous than he needed be when he had sent a letter to Marty warning him that if payment weren't made within the following week , legal proceedings would be initiated against Marty which would necessitate a court appearance .Oddly , whereas the supplier had engaged the solicitor Marty's is venom was reserved for the solicitor . Marty was not a man who reasoned with any prudence in moments like this. But Frank was disturbed about bringing Jesus into the mix. Marty while not quite devout in his religious practice , he observed the commandments and went to mass every Sunday, fulfilled his Easter obligations , and gave up drink for Lent and for November.
The boat drifted on .
- that man is no good frank, he said .. No good at all with this holiness and all of his bull..
Frank held his council
- I swear to god if that O Donnell was drowning in front of me this minute - I'd turn away.. I would..let him feck of to his Jesus.. I would and that's a fact. !!
They were coming to then end of the drift when the first squall hit the bow and threw them a couple of feet. Ahead the clouds had turned an ominous grey and the sky had darkened all round them . The breeze was blowing harder now , and he had to raise his voice to s shriek as he reeled up and went to the engine.
- I think we'll pull in and let that old storm blow over…she's a dirty looking hoor!
Frank sensed instinctively the change of timber in the voice -one of fear Frank too sensed the unwieldy roll of the boat .Then suddenly she began to lurch, and roll and as the waves slipped down just inches below the gunnels and Frank knew they were in trouble . He buckled on his life jacket, and held on to the gunnels , waiting for a chance to slip off his boots- if he got the chance; no hope of swimming against that swell.
No words passed between them as Marty started up. The island behind was windward to them and to gain access to shelter he would have to swing to the boat around passing the bow through the eye of the wind .
- hold on there so !
Frank's grip on the gunnels tightened The engine fired. Marty turned the boat into the wind , and Frank looking down to the stern saw the terror for the first time on Marty's face.
He revved and waited for a big wave to raise the bow and when it came he charged the boat up into the wave in expectation that she'd fall into a smaller trough. The bow lifted as the boat ploughed windward . Then it dropped but before she fell back , another big freak wave hit the bow. The water dashed against the boat almost swamping them. Frank hold stiff,. Marty revved again . The boat now twice as heavy groaned under the dead weight of the water they'd taken in . Marty saw another gap in the waves ahead, and again took his chance in the dip, the boat turned sluggishly, and he got her round before the next wave lifted and rolled the boat, but he engine was now whining high losing traction of the water .
They were some fifty yards off the island now , but their power greatly diminished as the boat battled along sluggishly.
-' wonder should we make a dash for it - Marty screamed above the howling gale.
- looks as if its getting up a bit more -!! , don't like the look of that old cloud…!
The tall poplar trees on the island were swaying and the wind threw itself at them with all its fury, such that they could scarcely hear one another.
Frank cupped his hands and roared down
- Head her in !! Soon as you get a chance **
As he went to turn the boat jnto the wave , the second wave struck . At the same time the boat had dropped into the trough between waves. Another unexpected bigger wave struck and the water spilled in over the gunnels flooding the fishing boat.
She was heavier now and the engine starts to roar ineffectually against the blowing gusts . He persevered .
The engine screeched as he tried to keep her bow into the wind.
But she was heavy now and the prop was only gaining intermittent traction between the dips.
From the calm just minutes ago it was blowing down at them straight across the lake.
They both knew they were in trouble.
Marty tried desperately to hold her steady as he waited for a lull between waves where he might turn her through the eye of the wind.
At last he saw one such .
- hold on I'll try to bring her round **
The little boat dipped in the stern and the prop took hold, he revved her and swinging her through the wind and wave and while she took a little more over the gunell he had her round . The danger had almost passed . Almost ..All he had to do was to keep her ahead of the following wave.
He said a quick prayer , they were half way through the danger.
He revved her forward and dropped back as the boat lunged forward like a sodden log down the wind. Marty kept his focus now on the following wave at the stern . That's the one, he thought , that's the bitch that got them . It was almost a personal thing with him and he shook his fist as they rounded the point at last and glided sullenly into the cove . He felt the first jab in his chest in his moment of triumph but the second when it came struck him like a bullet in the breast bone .
He was about to shout to Frank that they'd head for the pier when he saw Franks figure slump down drunkenly..his head lolling to one side . Marty knew immediately he was in trouble
He noted with alarm the face turn a livid colour .
- allright there ?
-Hold on .Frank.. Hold on ... Nearly there !!
He reached the pier and ran the boaat up on the shale . Frank was unconscious when Marty reached him .He knew his friend was dead .
- good God - Dear Jesus.. He took off his hat and kneeling down on the floorboards he whispered an act of contrition in his ear.
He took Frank's wrist and again in vain felt for a pulse . Then the neck. Nothing.
Then he lay him of the floor boards , and covering his body with his overalls he said a decade of the rosary and finally got out , tying the boat to the pier. . .
- dear Christ . Frank gone . What would he say to Nancy, . And the children. Was there a history he hadn't told him about. No ; these things happened.
For the first time he felt the cold and now .He felt the bleak weakness of the shock sweep over him.
He had to light a fire.
Paradise part 2
There was a open space beside the pier , and under the poplars ; steadier here in the lee of the wind , he gathered sprigs of wood. He got the petrol tank and against his better judgement he sprinkled the wood with petrol. The fire took with a whoosh of blue and orange flame , and he fed it piece by piece to larger pieces of wood , logs , branches.
He took out his mobile phone and studied it, then went to search and found the number . He pressed call and waited , thinking , dear Jesus what to say.. They'd blame him ; a thousand things went through his head .
He gave a sudden start when the phone rang . It was ringing from the boat. He looked again at the number he had dialled . He had mistaken Frank's cell phone from his house number and now the phone was ringing in the dead mans waist jacket .
It had started to rain . Slowly at first then as it gathered in fierceness and the steam rose up in the cove where the rain lashed down in huge drops. Unnaturally massive drops were falling The noise was like a train as it lashed the sheltered little bay echoed on all sides by the swaying trees. He was reminded of the story of the presence of the Celtic god of evil- sloth and gluttony ; he was supposed to be associated with sudden and ferocious showers.
Then the rain abated again like an animal who'd run out his madness and settled in exhaustion . - tamed and spent.
The canopy of trees extended out over the pier, and the leaves now heavy with the rain spilled down making him back up to a seated area fishermen used for lunch.
There is an old graveyard on the island dated 12th century. Little was known of the monks who lived out their hermetic lives here. There was a more modern church with a delicately ornamented doorway which seemed so incongruous in the crudely cut stone that cupped it.
He walked heavily in his thudding boots up to the graveyard ,where he again knelt and saids a prayer .
But the rustle in the trees has quietened and as he headed back to the boat he saw the sky has cleared and a nice ripple has come up . He arrived at the boat and to his shock there was no evidence of Franks body. Frank was gone . He rushed to the boat and noticed his overalls were still there where he'd laid the man out .. There were rats on the Island he knew as one Sunday he and others brought a consignment of wild tom cats to curtail the rats . But the cats disappeared and they said that the rats had eaten all the cats and the cats were as big a boniffs now .
Boniffs my hat .. What in the name of all that's Holy is going on here …He has to figure a number of things out .
He sat down on a bulwark and began to put his thoughts in order. Think man think. As he contemplated the events of the morning the spectre of John O Donnell 's letter kept popping up.. All right we'll start again , he says and this time there'll be no mention about solicitors..
- John O Donnell I don't want to hear his name ,- he said aloud .And as again reflects against his resolution on the letter he saw a fine fish rise just two rod lengths from the pier ,. Must be 3 pounds easy - he thought ,and almost immediately another ; maybe six pounds had come up an sucked down a fluttering mayfly with that lovely slurping swirl..
Oh Lord what to do.. What to do . Ye of little faith - he added for no apparent reason …
Temptation got the better of him and within a half hour he had caught six of the best fish he's ever caught . Fly fishing at its very best -
- Good on ye Lord .. Forgive me my sins ..but there's another .. Over the 10 maybe .. ''
Just then the fish went go down again and the cove wnet still . It had got chillier , and as he took up his wax coat he noticed he's taken his shotgun -He hadn't remembered packing it
- but he put the thought aside as t something else is changing .. The sun has fallen low in the south west and is turning back the season .. It has changed ..changed, to mid November and he grasps the gun as he sees on the horizon a flock of geese flying low in the wind . Marty was a man who took luck as it came his way but while he doesn't know what's happening he knows what to do. Instinctively lies down in boat .. Finds his gun hands on the stock and barrels .. He'll puzzle this out later ,,
- bless you Jack wherever ..he says as he takes out 2 number threes and places one in each barrel….
-Still Marty Still Lad.. He says ..Wait till you hear the wings lad..
The flew y low over the boat and as he heard the thumping turbulence of their wings he stood up and fired both barrels ..
Four geese fall dead from the flock..
-God Thank you… Jesus God.. Just give me one little bit more of this ..
But the breeze was getting up again and as he began to start figuring out , the gently falling dusk surrendered to the dark as he reached the pier.
But Heavens above ,; Look ; there is a full moon to his windward , meaning the flight pattern would remain low and with the silhouette of the moon , it was the things dreams were made of.
The flocks of duck come over him in legions, Pochard, Mallard Teal ,and the strangest thing is that each time he thinks he's used his last two cartridges another two are mysteriously there. He must have shot over fifty birds when nature begins to change again.
The dawn is up in the south east again. There's a chill in the air. A day you 'd call 'crisp' .
Invigorated from the row around the bay collecting his prey he pulled the boat up on the shale again , he goes to the capstan and sits down again chuckling to himself. I cant believe it ..if there was only some of the boys here .. God they'll never believe me…
He returned to boat once more . Would Frank be there? No . Nothong but the shape of Frank's shape moulded on the material. .He began to wonder .
_ poor Frank - By God you'd have enjoyed that … I cannot believe it .. The Geese .. The trout .God did you see the trout Frank .. And I must have over 2 score ducks .. Ahh Frank ya missed it you peer devil..
On his way back to the little chapel the little chapel he saws coming towards him his old pal .Coming talong the path in the pink rude of good health was Cruger Maloney.
Cruger welcomed him effusively.
- how're you doing
Uncertain as to how to respond to his deceased friend he was unlike him , stuck for words.
- great Cruger.. Youre looking .. Youre looking great .. I havent seen you since your.. Well you were looking well that night too .. But tell me Cruger ..
Cruger put up an admonishing hand ..
- oh that's all behind us now.. All behind us , you'll see . Don't lets be keeping the boys waiting .. Well have to rush .. The beaters are waiting for us..
It was a driven pheasant shoot. Again Marty 's aim was unfailing and birds fell from the sky so fast that his barrels heated .
- well by ther Holy- never thought I'd see the day and me shooting a driven shoot.. This place must cost a fortune , but Cruger had said nothing about money ..
His bag of birds was collected by the beaters , who all called him Mister, and said they never saw a shot like him before..
- ah well - he said you get good days and bad.. Good and bad .. that's all ''
Now the season had changed again and his mood while still exultant was sobered as he found himself kneeling in the stoney graveyard among the rocks of the monks who'd been burried here 500 years or more..he looked timidly to the sky.
- is this it God ... Am I heaven.. I must be ,, I don't remember me funeral .. Was it a big one .. No Never mind that God .. I'm so thrilled to be here ..honest to God I'm thrilled to bits . And did you notice .. Not a mention in me head about that.. About a certain Mr O Donnell.. Not a word ..In fact I hope he's doing well.. Wherever he is - and under his breath - or wherever he's going- But would you tell me am I where I think I am
There was no response
- well I don't mind you not saying anything about it if it's a secret .. But the way I see it is .. Well lets say that I know that Cruger is dead these 10 years and well I never saw him lookin better that this evening … not in thirty five years anyway..and look at him now ..
He looked up through the gaps in the overhanging trees : nothing ; Only the slight rustle in the tree tops ; a pair of choughs swaying on the top branches .
But now a slow sonorous voice comes from everywhere at once. A soft but stereophonic voice, rumbled through the fresh earth at his feet , it seemed to emanate from the grass, the trees the wildflowers, at once, clearly and without any echo.
It didn't sound like God . But then he reasoned..
- Is this is it he looked around the pleasant clearing in the trees, the light in dappled ripples coming through the fresh lime of the spring leaves.
A may fly landed on a bush nearby. But this is march . Was it ? But no . it was whatever. He was too confused to think ,but not so confused that he didn't recognise the voice coming through the thicket following two magnificently set pointers. He crouches instinctively behind a furze bush , trembling like the dogs in the chase.
-Will you come out of that he hears a voice jibe at him heartily.
Emerging like a periwinkle from its shell he saw Jimmy and Tony.- two of his shooting buddies he hadn't t seen since,,…
- you look like you saw a ghost.. Said Tony smiling .
Handing him a gun he said he'd better put on that oilskin . We'll be going for an evening on the ponds after the pheasant ..
Marty's heart was racing .It was true . Wasn't it ? . He wanted to tell them about his bag of duck and geest but the dogs were shimmering in the last rapt intensity before the lunge .
- Take the bird on the right and don't be standing there getting your death.. Just walk him up nice and gentle .. Sparks is his name .. talk to him.. Go on .. Slowly now..
- shure shure.. You know I havent seen you…. he started dazedly
- never mind that Marty .. birds to be shot,..
The pheasent rose ; a full tailed mighty cock breaking twigs as he soared up from the under cover .
One shot. Bird down . The pointer retrieved the pheasant and drops him at Matry's feet.
His eyes well up in tears as the emotions which have been coursing through like one tsunami after another had overpowered him now.
He broke the gun . And he yields to the pressing overwhelming events of the day. Its all been too much.
If they just told him one thing .. Maybe ..
- lads . Will ye tell me . Is Frank here . ?
- oh no ,, no no no ,Franks not here yet.
- . He'll be along shortly , don't worry
- ye know whose coming - he asked - and when they're coming.. Good God ..good God !!
The two shooters moved on as another bird caught the quivering flare in the pointers nose .
Marty sat down .
- Think lad think.. ! He said to himself and he began to think.
Presently along the path came a figure he vaguely recognised ; unhurried , in all the splendour of another early summer morning. He seemed to emerge from the dew and the grass , Smiling pleasantly and without the smallest surprise he sat down beside him . A strange fusion of both of fear and joy came over him . Marty seemed to be drawn into the exuberance of the radiated embrace of this ephemeral ; ephemeral but someone he recognised from somewhere but he was damned if he could remember where or who. He reminded him of a mayfly . The face seemed androgynous, and the figure so lithe as to be a girls.
- Well well Marty .. I can see you are enjoying this the figure said affably.
He didn't know whether to bow , or salute so he stood up .
-Sit down Marty . I know your name .We are all much the same here. Names don't matter . You know when you are being called .- He beamed and the radiation was like a kindly golden breath
- You're …. God ? - he says , still standing now , in a wonder he hasn't experienced in 50 years or more, and
Ahh no no ,,
- Indeeed No, ho ho !!
Am I going for my last judgement so ?
No No that's all done with , we needn't bother with any of that now,
- Im in so , I mean I'm here in heaven, like to stay. Through the pearly gates as they say ..
-Oh yes - that is what they say. The figure said but Marty thought , with a curious inflection..
- that's great . You know I was a bit worried to be honest about getting in at all ,
-Yes , well you see . well I was a bit of a bowsy at times ..and I had a lot on my mind and that was why I was giving out about a certain gentleman who will remain nameless because I promised I'd never give that letter another thought. But it was himself that was bothering me with his Holy Joe act and the communion and all that, and then he sends me this letter threatening me with court action if I didn't pay my suppliers and herself in hospital…
-I see.. That must have been a heavy burden
-Heavy ; Now I said I wouldn't mention one word about that man but to tell you the truth he had me pure demented ,and that's why I put the curse on him..
- in what way, a curse said the puzzled apparition.
- well there was O Donnell , the big shot and he was sitting in his front garden reading the paper a few weeks back, and to be honest I had a few pints in me.
- I see
-And I told him he was nothing but a B.. ending in X and then a B ending in d and when he took off and ran into the house I went to the Letter box and I said
''O Donnell I hope you die- no I said I hope you don't die and that ya live for ever and that yer a cripple and they have to feed you goodie and it'll be all dribbling down your spoon.. - that's what I says .. It was a bad curse I know.. But I was so vexed …
- come , let us walk .
The two followed on the path leading to the pier . The wraith explaining idly this and that , all very convivial.
When they arrived at the pier Marty took a start when he saw his boat moored exactly where he had left it. In it was a man in a dark coat sitting in the stern.
- Marty looked at the saint who smiled genially.
- who'se that in me boat..
- don't you recognise him
- I think I do - Marty said , - a creeping ferocity coming into his voice.
-O Donnell get out of that boat this second. !!
- oh no Marty , we don't lose our tempers here,
- well sorry .Sorry So, would you ask him to get out
- well now that's the difficulty
- where what difficulty
-Well you see .. Its been decided that Mr O Donnell will be you r fishing partner hence forth.
_- and hence forth is how long .. Roughly ? Marty sat on the capstan again an awful thought dawning on him..
- O time time ..
I see.. Said Marty.
- Its that or the other place.
- not exactly . There is no other place
-What ! No Hell ?
-None - Only accommodation for very bad people ..
Marty sat and was quite conflicted by the starkness of the choice . It was a trap of course. This wasn't heaven at all . He didn't have any choice . There was no judgement or pearly gates . This was the way they got you .
- So this was it all along ?
- ha ha. He said to the benign figure who looked at him with a fond anticipation, there was about him a little quirkiness around the mouth which in one less jovial might have suggested smarmines
I'm caught - Marty said with a doleful resignation , his head bowed -
-I'm caught !
Caught- yea - ye got me .. - im caught
The bland face was beginning to unerve him.
- are you a saint or what are you at all - he said rage and the deep sense of deception dawning on him more fully now.
- oh me ..No No I'm just a lowly messenger
-well this is my answer, he began slowly, but with ascending determination in his tone
.. - tell him .. Thanks ,.. But no thanks.. Tell the boss man ..no thanks
-A disappointing decision I must say, there will be much disapointment .
No .. tell him.. No way.. Tell him he's not a real God at all if that's the way he thinks.. Only a smart Alec of a god.
-No, said Marty .
- Dam it no ! I'll go to the other place
- It's your choice Marty
Marty's usual garrulous nature had deserted him as he looked at the sombre figure in his boat.
- What , may I ask am I expected to do with that.. That B … that man
- well you must teach him to fish , engage in light hearted banter . He is your guest . You must be courteous and civil , and tolerant at all times
-For how long ?
- Long ? There is no long or short here Marty , why should there be ?
Marty was incensed. He'd been duped . He used all his contrivances to conceal his rage .
-Eternity you mean I have to row that bastard round heaven for eternity ?
that's your game is it ?
- These I am afraid is are the conditions expressly laid down in the circumstances
- Where is God, I want a word of with him - he expostulated ,-
I mean ave I a choice .. Let me out of here . I'll go to the other place ..! No Dam it No !
-you're sure .. Sure about the other place ?
- I am and I will …like a shot.
Marty has been transported to another pace . Now he feels he is being crucified . He feels his arms impaled, but at least there was no pain , more a drowsy pleasantness.
A saintly face in a starched veil looked down at him.
- is this the other place ?
- yes she said pleasantly you were moved here this morning.
- I see .. My legs seem to be free- atleast he thought but the brightness dazzled him. He felt no sense of burning.. Cold if anything
Well that's a relief..
- what's next he said -looking up at the ministering angelic face.
- the doctors will be round shortly.. You can ask them all about it.
- Doctors ..?What doctors.. Are there doctors here .?
- there should be , mind you we don't quite see that much of them.. but they will be here shortly.. Oh here they come .. I have done them an injustice.
-Doctors. Hell. What was going on. He hadn't bargained for this. Then again he hadn't given much consideration to Hell. He always felt he'd get a decent confession in before the end and he'd be off the hook so to speak..
The group of learned men and women gathered round his bed.
One of them came forward.
- good morning Marty . nice to have you back..
-Well now said an older rotund avuncular type , dressed in a 3 piece suit and a waist coat.
So he asks looking up, Is this it God, Is this heaven
A drifting cloud dimmed his view despite the shrill light of the ward.
And somewhere in that passing darkness he knew . The answer to al his questions were flung upon him as he fel back and consigned himself to the care of the medical team.
-You suffered a mild heart attack from the hypothermia - the old physician said taking his pulse with a smile , looking back at his team.
- But we're over the worst of it now .
Marty looked around and noted the other patients on drips and monitors.
Oh God !- he said .
He was about to launch into his vitriol against O Donnell but thought the better of it .This wasn't Heaven but neither was it hell and being the pragmatist he was he held his council.
- How's Frank ? He asked timidly.
Frank was fine too . A little shock from the hypothermia but he'd been discharged several days ago.
He lay back again .
And all that fishing .. And the shooting , the geese , the and Cruger , and they all looking so well. Was it all for nothing ?
- I'll stay here Doc - he said
- As long as you want me .. I'll stay put.