Heidi Buyak 10/2010
It took ten years but I got back, this time with my dad and my husband. I asked if he wouldn’t mind staying in the room that Willie died in. It didn’t bother him one bit.
Our first morning the sun was streaming onto the thick window sills and my foot was hanging out from under the blanket. I was slowly waking up when someone started pushing my toes one at a time like piano keys. My husband wasn’t in the room. I pulled my foot under the blanket and snuck to the bedroom door and peeked out. He was working on getting a fire going so we could have hot water for the shower. If he had done it he would have been shaking with laughter. He wasn’t and it looked like he’d been out there for a little while. Next my dad came out of the bed room of death and asked,
“Were one of you in my room this morning?”
We both said no and asked why.
“Well, just a few minutes ago somebody did this to my nose.”
He put his finger on the tip of his nose and moved it in a circle.
I told him about somebody playing with my toes.
We looked down at my husband just finishing up with the fire. Nothing had happened to him, and he didn’t like being left out so he went to the kitchen and made himself some instant coffee.
Dad and I agreed it must have been a little greeting for family only and since Willie was the most recently dead, it must’ve been him.
The brother my dad went to Ireland with the first time was staying at the hotel in town with his wife. We went up there and had breakfast with them before heading out for a whole day of sightseeing.
One of my favorite things is Irish porridge they soak it over night and then heat it up in the morning. The texture is like warm smooth tightly packed tapioca with the steel cut oats popping like thick bubbles in your mouth. You of course have to add heavy Irish cream and sugar to it to ensure that any health benefits are completely neutralized. But it’ll stick with you all day and settle around your waist and ‘arse’ for a lifetime.
We told my uncle Bill about our morning visitor. He thought it was funny in a completely condescending way. Not only didn’t he believe us but was sure it wasn’t even possible. Some people go through life not believing in anything higher than their own intellect, he was one of them.
First we went to the Church and grave yard and made sure everybody was still there. After some searching, using only my memory, we found the family grave. They were all there.
In the city of Donegal we explored the churches and bookstores and went shopping for handmade Irish sweaters.
It had been a long day and we got back late. Around 10:00 there was a knock on the door. Since we knew everybody on the street we figured one of our neighbors needed something.
It was a little man I had never seen before. Middle aged, sturdy, salt and peppered, moustache. He spoke to my dad thick and fast.
“Heard Willie the Shore’s nephew was home wanted to see for myself, are you he?”
“Yes, and this is my….”
He tried to introduce us, but the man ducked back out the door and picked up a wooden bin filled with firewood. My dad turned and shot me a glance that said,
“Who the Hell is this?”
I smiled and shrugged, I thought I knew everybody that knew us.
He brushed past us and into to cottage, smelling like wood smoke. He went right to the hearth and built us a fire.
“Wood’s better than coal, damn dirty coal, burns better, starts quicker than that damn peat as well.”
Then he plunked himself down in the best chair and took a look around.
“Them Yanks did a nice job. Good kitchen and nice bathroom. Willie woulda never done it himself, you know.”
He was right; all Willie ever said was,
“It’ll do me.”
Then looking at me, for the first time he said,
“I’ll have a drink, what’ve ya got?”
“All we have is soda.” I said.
“Alright then, if you’ve got nothing stronger, I’ll take what you’ve got.”
I got up and brought him back a small glass of something lemon – lime flavored. He took without a thank you and just sat there with it.
We still had no idea who this guy was and he hadn’t bothered to tell us or ask us who we were either. My dad made an attempt.
“I’m sorry but we didn’t get your name.”
Okay. Dad tried for a little more.
“Mickey the Shore or Mickey the Rye?”
“Mickey the Rye.”
That helped, not at all.
There were two dominant families on the isle. Ours was McLaughlin and the others were the Doherty’s, if you lived near the shore you were ‘The Shore’; if you were slightly inland you were ‘The Rye’.
Dad kept chipping away,
“McLaughlin or Doherty?”
Exasperated with us he finally gave us a clue I could use.
“I’m Ellie the Rye’s son.”
Ellie, the first person I met here when I was 15. I gasped when I saw her. White silk gossamer hair floated around her head. The palest skin I’d ever seen, watery blue pink rimmed eyes and naturally blood red lips. I couldn’t believe she was solid.
Now I knew the connection. I gave my dad the run down. Ellie was my grandmother’s cousin and lived two doors down the street.
Pointing at me Mickey said,
“Aye, she knows!”
Was this a game?
So, he was a relation. He was my grandmother’s cousin’s son so to us, that made him, completely nuts.
He turned his attention to my husband and quickly asked,
“You’ll go fishing with me tomorrow.”
To which he quickly lied,
“Yeah, sure, thanks.”
Not hearing or waiting for the answer Mickey was verbally off down the next track.
“Just come back from England, lumber mill over there. They had to let me go….”
Had to? Or just really wanted to?
“…home again after fifteen fucking years. Home again and on the fucking dole.”
Did he just say, Fucking? And was he saying it now incessantly? With a mouth like that, I bet he knew some great limericks.
He started in on the water heater,
“If this fucking water heater gives you any fucking problems I’ll be happy to come over and fix it, don’t know why they put this one in it’s a fucking piece of fucking-shit. An how bout those fucking flues in the other rooms I can fix them for you. Yeah, they missed a few things when they fucking redid this fucking place. I can help fix ‘em if ya want just let me know.”
Now we got it, he had come over looking for a fucking job at 10: fucking, 45 at night. How about a ten pound note to get the fuck out of the house?
The fun was over.
I got up and changed into my pink gingham pajamas came back out and sat down.
This guy was thicker than Irish butter.
Finally, we’d been polite enough and my dad said as we all stood up,
“Well, it’s late and we’ve had a long day and we’re all tired.”
Mickey talked right over him as if that would make my dad forget that he had just asked him to leave.
He needed to be told again.
Standing there using that tone I remembered from when I was a child, he said,
“I think it’s time for you to go home. Thanks for the visit, but it’s late. Now. Good Night.”
Reluctantly he hoisted himself out of the chair like we were begging him to stay. He set his glass down and headed for the door, rambling the whole way,
“Oh you’re welcome, no trouble at all, an remember now, if ya need anything fixed….”
“We’ll come get you.” my dad told him ushering him into the night.
The door locked we all talked at once,
“Glad you weren’t here by yourself.” Me too.
“I think we should keep all the doors and windows locked and he is not coming back to ‘fix’ anything.”
Clearly, Mickey’s rye wasn’t done.
Standing in the kitchen with my dad putting the glass in the sink he said,
“Strange guy you know, he brought us wood. Wood. Where the Hell did he get wood? There’s no wood in Ireland. Why didn’t he just bring peat?”
The next morning John Sheils stopped by to pick up the electric kettle, it had a bad cord.
We told him about our late night visitor.
Now, I met John and his wife Mary Bridget years ago and on every visit since. This was the only time I ever understood what he said.
“I’ll make sure he doesn’t bother you again.”
He emphasized it with eye contact and with a big grin added.
“And if he does, you just let me know.”
And with that he took the broken kettle and left.
John’s sister- in -law, Mary Frances, was expecting us for a full breakfast. So, we marched ourselves up the hill a half mile for our traditional Irish breakfast. Fried eggs, rasher, black pudding, porridge and tea.
We told her and her husband Eddie about Mickey.
“Doesn’t know when to leave, does he? Good thing you didn’t have whiskey, he’d likely still be there.”
Her husband agreed and added,
“He’s fairly harmless but I wouldn’t go out on that boat with him. Borrowed Willie’s rowboat one time and took one of the O’Donnell’s farm hands with him, came back two hours after dark pissing drunk. Had everyone out looking for them, a little unpredictable, that one.”
We were still listening to stories of Mickey when John walked in.
“Just come from Ellie’s house, was going to have a chat with Mickey. He wasn’t there and Ellie was crying…. Mickey’s gone.”
The Catholics crossed themselves, the Protestants, we, stopped chewing.
I looked at Mary Frances for clarification. She said,
“Mickey the Rye’s dead.”
Turning back to John she asked, “What happened?”
“It was the evening before last; there was an explosion at the mill all 150 souls lost. Ellie got the call this morning.” They crossed themselves again.
“Then who,” I asked.
“Oh, aye, it sounded like Mickey alright. He was always irritating Willie, asking to fix things. He’ll not be bothering you anymore. Though not much I can do now if he does.” A man of few words, he turned and left.