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Authors: Aislinn Hunter

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Stay

BOOK: Stay
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Copyright © 2002 Aislinn Hunter
Anchor Canada edition published 2013

All rights reserved. The use of any part of this publication, reproduced, transmitted in any form or by any means electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, or stored in a retrieval system without the prior written consent of the publisher—or in the case of photocopying or other reprographic copying, license from the Canadian Copyright Licensing agency—is an infringement of the copyright law.

Anchor Canada is a registered trademark.

Library and Archives of Canada Cataloguing in Publication data is available upon request

eISBN: 978-0-385-68063-9

Stay
is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Cover design: Jennifer Lum
Cover image: John Carey 2011/Getty Images

Published in Canada by Anchor Canada, a division of Random House of Canada Limited Visit Random House of Canada Limited’s website:
www.randomhouse.ca

v3.1

For Glenn
and
for Kerry,
and
in memory
of
Stella Laidlaw Shaw

 

“What would the living do
If they had not the dead to see to?”

—Dermot Healy

“mo ghrá thú
*
With me, so you call me man.
Stay: winter is harsh to us …”

—Michael Hartnett

*
“I love you,” in Gaelic

CONTENTS

Cover

Title Page

Copyright

Dedication

Epigraph

Prologue

I
        Recensions

At the Church of Saint Éinde

Carrying On

He Rearranges the Furniture

Spar

The Bay Road

Going Out On the Town

In The Yard

The Sky on Its Axis

Bonaventure

The McGilloway Girl

There is No Night

II
       Excavations

A Drink at the Door

The Wake

The Space Between

All Our Wreckage

Arrivals

Maam Bog

The Traps

Frank

Into the Muck

Going Under

The Unfenced Country

Best Deals Travel

The Bog Man

Dialectics

Closing Time

III
     Finally Away

The Director from Annagassan

The Breakwall

Climbing Bray Head

Between the Cottage and the Bay

Found

The True Love Show

Bellowing in Greatness

Loony Toons

Another’s

Isle of the Dogs

Settling

The Bridge House

The Heritage Service

Odds

IV
   All and Sundry

Wending their Way up the Coast

Minding

Starting In

Last Tethers

Standing at the Close

Acknowledgements

About the Author

Prologue

ALL eyes were on the church. The door had just closed and Father Whelan, two officers from the Garda, and a young man sent over from the
Independent
were safely in. Workmen on their way up the coast had pulled over; they sat behind their steering wheels in a row of cars that lined the near side of the road. They’d heard about the whole production last night on their tour of the pubs, the barman in Rossaveel relaying the news as he’d handed over their pints. So now they waited, arms hanging out their driver-side windows, stereos on RTE, music trailing over the grass to where twenty or so people had gathered in front of the building, their heads angled sideways, ears perked as if waiting for an explosion.

For a long time, no one moved. The church stood with its back to the bay and did nothing. Above, the gulls swung tight circles, one eye to the ground. A cleft in the clouds opened and the stained glass window over the main entrance winked, illuminated for an instant by the sun. At the front of the crowd a mobile phone rang,
and Mrs. Keating pulled it from the depths of her shoulder bag, put it to her ear, whispered into it, “No, nothing yet, Maeve. Nothing’s happened.” By the iron gate, a group from Spiddal had gathered. Conneely stood quietly with the rest of them, chewing his bottom lip and stuffing his hands farther into his back pockets. He was already telling the story in his head. Next to him Dermot Fay snorted through his nose at the tension.

Over the next hour more people arrived and cars filled the parking lot. Murmurs gave way to full-blown conversations. A good half of the crowd was running late for work. A general air of impatience welled up; people considered moving on. The Bord na Móna lads in their cars by the road grew restless. One of them eyed his side mirror repeatedly, waiting for the foreman to signal that it was time to go. Dermot checked his watch. It was nearly ten.

Overhead, the clouds that had been pinned over the bay started to move in from the water. The sky turned a dull shade of blue. People bundled themselves farther into their coats, scanned the throng for their spouses and children. Over by the gate: a girl wearing bunny ears and a boy with a wand. Eventually the sun passed behind the clouds and some of the crowd took this for a sign. Then the bells, a slow belaboured series of gongs. The church door opened and one of the garda, Charley from Oranmore, stepped out, the walkie talkie at his hip giving off static. He stopped on the top step, stunned by the size of the gathering, although crowds had been known to appear when reporters came around—something about news
in the making and having been there. Coming down the walk, he eyed the motley group, tipped his hat.

“How’s it?” one of the locals asked.

Charley lifted his chin. “He’s using the holy water now.”

A few minutes later, the priest came out; a second officer and the reporter flanked him on either side. He stood on the steps, his grey hair tousled, and announced to those assembled that it had gone as expected, adding “She’s gone back,” without any real conviction. The
Independent
reporter lifted his camera to take a few photos of the crowd. Dermot moved behind Keating and kept his head down. Tomorrow it would be in all the papers, he thought. “County yobs gather for a church exorcism.” Things like that still played well in Dublin. In front of him, Keating shifted her ample girth, rummaged again in her bag for the mobile, dialed her sister’s number in Spiddal. Some of the crowd picked up their briefcases or gathered their kids. A good number stayed put and stared at the church entrance. Father Whelan blocked the doorway, arms at his sides, wearing a look of near-exhaustion. There were murmurs of disappointment from the crowd—that they were not allowed in, that something miraculous had happened and they’d missed it. The reporter moved around and, in his little notebook, jotted down statements, an inventory of what people had seen and heard: the church bell ringing at odd hours, a fine mist surrounding the congregation on a Sunday in mid-March, a sing-song voice coming out from behind the velvet curtain of the confessional. This last report followed by a quickly drawn sign of the cross. Dermot snorted through his nose again.

It was Friday morning. The sky was clouding over, the breeze getting cooler, although earlier there’d been hope the sun would last. Herring gulls and crows careened over the roof of Saint Brighid’s and around the church steeple. Father Whelan, confident no one would try for the door, took off his stole and came down the steps to circulate amongst the parishioners. He shook hands with the people he knew, nodded amicably at strangers, patted the head of the girl wearing the bunny ears before she hopped away in search of her brother. Finally, the mood of the crowd lifted. Music was turned up a notch in one of the parked cars—an upbeat pop song, the kind of music people might dance to. The crowd thinned and headed off, content with the knowledge that things were right in the world. There was the dead, and there was the living, and nothing in between.

Keating heaved herself into the driver’s seat of the bakery van, and from the window offered Conneely a lift back to Spiddal. The old man accepted and slowly climbed in. Over by the gates a spaniel, his leash looped around a finial, barked twice then fell quiet. Dermot started the walk back to town, waving once at Keating’s van as it passed him. It was only eight miles to the cottage, along the bay road. If he still felt out of sorts when he got home, he could keep walking, maybe as far as Inveran. Or he could just head past the cottage, and across the back field to old Saint Éinde’s. Go from one church to another, like a sober man doing a tour of the pubs. Either way, he wasn’t ready to go home. Abbey would be up by now and he didn’t know what to say when he saw her.

In the parking lot of the church the last few cars pulled
out and turned onto the road. Standing on the sidewalk near the hedge, Father Whelan, ready for an early lunch, took a quick look over the trampled front lawn and then headed for the rectory. The gulls circled one last time and then flew off towards the bay. Over by the road, the Bord na Móna foreman in the Nissan truck put his arm out the driver-side window and waved once in the direction of Maam Bog. Five cars started their engines in near unison. The stereos went up another notch. Then one after the other they pulled out onto the road, making their way up the coast.

I
Recensions

At the Church of Saint Éinde

DERMOT enters old St. Éinde’s through a gaping hole that was once an entrance to the nave. Goat willow grows up the wall to the left of him and as he steps over the threshold, over a pile of loose stones, he reaches out to steady himself, his palm pushing up against the willow branches. Over by the south wall, the noise of a small animal skittering away. Dermot walks towards the transept looking up at the clouds that sit framed by the walls of the nave, touching the tops of the rotting wood pews as he goes. Towards the altar, a plastic bag in a puddle of water, two empty cider bottles, a soggy
Hello
magazine. He stands over the magazine and looks for the date. Some pop star or other on the cover. Dermot sits down in the first pew, a crushed take-away box at his feet. The edge of the roof above him exactly, so that if it starts to rain he’ll only have to lean forward to stay dry.

On his way to Éinde’s, Dermot passed the cottage, looked in the bedroom window and saw that Abbey was still sleeping. The light coming in and settling on her arm,
her face buried in the blankets. He left a note scrawled on a tear-away sheet from his note pad. It said “at the church” and now he imagines that at any minute she’ll step out the front door and see it under the stone on the mat, that she’ll pull on her boots and cut across the field to find him. And then what will he do? Dermot pushes his back into the bench and the dampness from the wood moves through him. Last night she said she had to go.
Just the week, to Dublin for work
. Then back. “You’ll barely notice I’m gone.” And he didn’t say anything, just listened to the sound of the tap dripping in the next room, stared at her as if it was starting all over again, the coming and going.

When Abbey walks into the church a half-hour later, Dermot’s on bended knee undoing the laces of his left boot. He throws the boot at the wall over what was once the altar. Then he yanks his right boot off, throws it too. It cartwheels once and drops ten feet in front of him. He walks up to it and kicks it with his socked foot, picks up both boots and starts again. Aims for what was once a rose window. Puts everything he has into it. The faint thud of the rubber sole pounds into the stone. Finally, the one boot makes it through the opening, hitting the alder tree beyond. A crack of branches and Dermot, and Abbey behind him, both listen to see if the boot finds the ground. His thin black socks are half falling off his feet. After a minute Dermot turns to Abbey, looks at his socks and laughs. Says, “How long have you been here?” A dozen mossy rot-wood pews between them.

BOOK: Stay
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