I remember Flaubert's lament
that language is a broken inadequate thing,
a toddler's tune played on pots and pans,
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William Wall
Frank O'Connor
Shane Connaughton
Kuzhali Manickavel


   Frank O'Connor indiquait, au cours d'une interview dans sa ville natale de Cork en 1961, que le genre de la nouvelle était prédominant dans le patrimoine littéraire irlandais parce que la société et la culture irlandaises manquaient de la maturité nécessaire à l'engendrement du personnage de roman.
   À cela, je préfère la suggestion de Tess Gallagher pour qui la nouvelle ne serait que l'adaptation en version imprimée des histoires traditionellement narrées à la veillée.

William Wall  William Wall

   Un auteur récent qui m'était inconnu. Il a connu une relative célébrité après le succès de son dernier roman.

   William Wall est un auteur de Cork, qui a étudié la philosophie et la littérature à UCC. Il a écrit quatre romans :
Alice Falling (Sceptre, London, and WW Norton, New York - 2000) ;
Minding Children (Sceptre, London - 2001) ;
The Map of Tenderness (Sceptre, London - 2003) ;
This Is The Country (Sceptre, London - 2005, TBD).

   Il est également l'auteur de deux recueils de poésies :
Mathematics And Other Poems (Collins Press, Cork, Ireland - 1997)
Fahrenheit Says Nothing To Me (Dedalus Press, Dublin, Ireland - 2004)

   Il remporte en 1997 le prix Patrick Kavanagh pour son premier recueil.
  Son roman This Is The Country a également été sélectionné à plusieurs reprises pour des prix littéraires. Ce roman traite de la politique Irlandaise et semble être plus généralement une satire générale du capitalisme et de la démocratie libérale qui sont comparés aux empires mafieux de la drogue et de la corruption.

The Meanings of Wind

Sitting in the drowning car, Paddy thinks of Thucydides. A change of wind during a naval engagement throws the Spartan ships into disarray but gives the Athenians the opportunity to attack. The wind was real, according to Thucydides, and both sides reported it faithfully, but the same wind has a different meaning for each side. The Athenian commander saw it as the dawn wind, a regular occurence, and he made part of his plan of attack, waiting for it to rise, knowing it would disadvantage the enemy. On the other hand, the wind is seen by the Spartans as an unlucky accident that favoured the other side, a malign chance, because the Spartans were not equipped to understand the disaster that had befallen them.

They had both seen the dawn wind rise that morning. He got up to draw the curtains, and at the same time she stretched and propped her pillow up against the bedhead. 

'What time is it, Paddy? Christ, I thought it was time to go.

Just at that moment, out on the street outside their window, the big flat leaves on the poplars began to move.

'It's the dawn wind,' he said.

The watched it progress along the trees, each leaf moving singly, on its own individual and ultimately chaotic current, but together forming an impression of a vast restless crowd.

They made love, as they often did early in the morning. 'You're always harder," she liked to tell him. She ran her hands up and down his sides and came just before he did. She smiled and said, 'pratice makes perfect.' 

He liked her sounds, especially when he tortured her a little by continuing to move after she came. 'Oh, oh,' she would say. 'Oh God.'

She slept for a time. He lay on his side staring at the wind and listening to the sound of the early-morning traffic. An ambulance went by blaring: Santa Maria Nuova was just around the corner. Then they got up and went to breakfast.

Later in the day, the wind would trouble him. By then it had turned into a full breeze that shook everything and bent the cypresses double along the motorway. Signs warning of crosswinds had to be taken seriously. Clouds scudded across an enamel sky and below, on his left, the neat olive groves moved uncertainly. Everyone is uneasy about wind, he thought. It has no assurance in it. From day to day, place to place, winds are fickle.

He turned on to a side road and headed up into the hills. The road narrowed and twisted, every now and then went through a ravine. Signs predicted the collapse of the surrounding cliffs and bluffs. On his left, the road was lined with a special spring-mounted fence that was designed to absorb the force of falling rock and neutralise it. Every mile or so, there was a gallery of concrete where rockfalls were common. He stopped at a wayside van and bought a slice of spicy pork in a chunk of bread. The owner read a comic and a radio played in the background. 'Two days ago there was an earthquake,' the owner said. 'A small one. A tremor. The direct road to Norcia is closed. You must go by Castelluccio.'

He cursed. This was a thirty-mile detour.

Thunderheads were gathering over the Sibylline Mountains. There would be rain before long.

Up he goes, higher and deeper. The mountains crowd down on him with their capstone of cloud. He comes out on the high karstic plain in thunder and lightning and sees the ruined hill village of Castelluccio ahead of him. There's a restaurant there, he knows. His mobile phone is registering no signal. People come here in camper vans and tour coaches so they can say they've been in the most remote village in Italy. A paradox. For a moment he thinks of stopping for lunch, and to make a phone call, but instead he drives straight through even though his belly is rumbling. Past the village. Along the flat grassland. Rain sweeps off his windscreen, the wipers weighted by it. He turns his headlights on full. Outside the temperature has dropped ten degrees, but inside the cabin it is still hot and the air is humid. Everything irritates him: the squeak of the accelerator, a scratching sound the wipers make as they reach the end of their stroke, a driver coming towards him in the middle of the road.

He pulls over and tries to call ahead to say he's late and why, but the phone is still silent. Probably the lightening has put the antenna out. His daughter, he knows, will be anxious.

Then over the saddle of the mountain and on to that almost vertical road that winds round and down intermanably. Here stones and gravel have been washed out by the rain. He slows to a crawl. A rock the size of a football sits in the middle of the road. A thousand feet below, the tree line is boiling, firs and stone pines twisting as though trying to escape: but up here in the lightning and rain, there is no wind. He feels like he is swimming rather than driving, the way ahead vanishing downwards and to the left at every bend. He imagines he is diving into a turbulent sea, but then the wind would be above him, the waves would be above, whereas he knows that, on this mountain, lower down things are much rougher. Lightning and thunder come almost simultaneoulsy now, a second at most between. The thunder is hard, singular, explosive, not rolling like a drumbeat. He pulls in again and sits there in the submarine heat, watching the coloured sceptres of electricity divide the sky and plunge earthwards. If I survive, he thinks, I will tell my wife and make a new start. He knows his daughter will forgive him. Something hard hits the back wheel. He turns in time to see a slough of gravel come loose and flood across the road. The water around it is peat brown, like menstrual blood. He thinks that if the storm lasts much longer the mountain will swallow him or push him over the side. So this is the meaning of the wind, he thinks. He thinks of Thucydides. That morning she had joked that it was an ill wind that didn't blow someone some good. With her legs spread and the air-conditionning full on and the room slowly cooling after their sex.

'When is Paddy coming?' his daughter is saying. She had taken to calling him Paddy since their last trip home two years ago.

Her mother smiles and points upwards. 'The gods are angry,' she says. 'They are tramping around the mountains. Pray Daddy has had the sense to stay in Florence. One day more won't be too long to wait.' But she is laughing when she says it. She is shelling walnuts over a wooden bowl, and the gesture she makes contains her hand, the nutcraker and several falling splinters of shell. 'Make me some tea, there's a good child.'

Two flies above the table, their movements are demented. The sound of the lighter clicking and the gas popping into flame. Light and heat out of nothingness. The will-o'-the-wisp. The kettle begins to groan. She feels sweat gathering at her hairline. In Florence, she knows, Paddy will have the air-conditionning on. They always put him at a decent place. There will be a minibar with cold beer and mineral water.

'I see spots on the window,' her daughter says. 'Look. Rain.'

Then the rain is drumming on the house. In a few moments, the shallow drains are spilling. It pours in sheets off the roof.

'God,' her daughter says. 'That was quick.'

They both stop to watch in awe. A door bangs somewhere.

'There's a heatwave on the plain,' she says, 'and when that happens we always get thunder in the mountains. It's all to do with fronts and warm air and altitude.'

Across the way, the Serafinas' Olive trees are dancing. Her daughter points to them. 'Like old men dancing,' she says. 'Old Serafina will be mad.'

'The roads will be closed again.'

'Does that mean Paddy won't be here for dinner?'

'I hope he has more sense.'

'Can I stand in the rain?'

Her mother laughs. Only a child of the Mediterranean lands could want to stand in the rain. If she had grown up in Ireland, she'd sulk at the very mention of the word. But she puts down her nutcracker and her bowl of walnuts and takes her daughter's hand. They go out together and stand on the terrace until they are soaked through, like people who have fallen overboard from a boat. They laugh like tem, too, like people who have almost been lost to the sea but instead have been rescued by a millionaire, like people who cannot believe their luck. Away in the distance they hear the rolling cracks of doom, thousands of feet up in the mountains.

'It is raining in Florence now?' her daughter shouts.

She shakes her head.

'Is it raining in Castellucio?

'Yes. It's bad in Castellucio now.'

Le sens du vent

Dans sa voiture que les eaux recouvrent peu à peu, Paddy pense à Thucydide. Lors d'une bataille navale, le vent tourna, semant la confusion au sein des navires spartiates, mais offrant aux Athéniens une chance de lancer l'assaut. Ce vent était bien réel, selon Thucydide, et les deux camps rapportent fidèlement son changement de direction. En revanche, ils ne l'interprètent pas de la même manière. Le capitaine athénien considère qu'il s'agit du vent d'aurore, un vent fréquent au lever du jour, et il l'avait inclus dans son plan de bataille. Il attendit donc qu'il se lève, sachant qu'il tournerait à son avantage. Ce même vent est, au contraire, perçu par les Spartiates comme un hasard fâcheux – une mauvaise fortune qui favorisa leurs ennemis – parce qu'ils ne purent comprendre le désastre qui les frappa.

Ils avaient tous les deux senti le vent d'aurore se lever ce matin-là. Il sortit du lit pour ouvrir les rideaux. Elle s'étira et ajusta son oreiller contre la tête de lit.

- Quelle heure est-il, Paddy ? Mon dieu, j'ai cru qu'il était déjà l'heure de partir.

À ce moment précis, les grandes et fines feuilles des peupliers bordant la rue commencèrent à trembler.

- Le vent d'aurore se lève, dit-il.

Ils observèrent sa progression dans les arbres. Chaque feuille adoptait un mouvement unique au gré d'un courant chaotique. Elles donnaient l'impression de former une foule immense et agitée.

Ils firent l'amour, comme ils aimaient à le faire tôt le matin.

- Tu es chaque fois plus dur, lui dit-elle.

Ses mains caressaient ses hanches et son torse. Elle jouit juste avant lui. Elle sourit et dit :

- C'est par la pratique qu'on atteint la perfection.

Il aimait les bruits qu'elle faisait, particulièrement quand il la torturait un peu en continuant après son orgasme. « Oh, oh ! dit-elle. Oh, mon dieu ! »

Elle s'endormit un moment. Allongé sur le côté, il regardait le vent et écoutait le bruit des voitures matinales. La sirène d'une ambulance retentit et passa sous la fenêtre : l'hôpital de Santa Maria Nuova était juste au coin de la rue. Ils se levèrent pour prendre le petit-déjeuner.

Plus tard dans la journée, le vent l'inquiéta. C'était à présent une forte brise qui secouait tout sur son passage et faisait plier en deux les cyprès bordant l'autoroute. Il fallait prendre au sérieux les signes annonciateurs de vents de travers. Des nuages glissaient sur le ciel émaillé et, plus bas sur sa gauche, des bourrasques secouaient de façon menaçante les rangées d'oliviers. Les vents inquiètent tout le monde, songea-t-il. On ne peut pas compter sur eux. D'un jour à l'autre, d'un endroit à un autre ; ils sont capricieux.

Il sortit sur une route de campagne en direction des collines. Étroite et sinueuse, elle passait de temps à autre au-dessus d’un ravin. On remarquait des signes d'éboulements des falaises environnantes. Sur sa gauche, la route était bordée d'une barrière grillagée conçue pour amortir les chutes de pierres. Tous les deux kilomètres environ, on avait construit un mur de ciment pour protéger la route de telles chutes. Il s'arrêta devant une camionnette-snack pour acheter un sandwich à la viande de porc épicée. Le propriétaire lisait une bande dessinée en écoutant la radio.

- Il y a eu un tremblement de terre avant-hier, dit-il. Un petit. Juste une secousse. La route pour Norcia est fermée. Il faut passer par Castelluccio.

Paddy jura. Cela lui faisait faire un détour de quarante kilomètres. Des nuages orageux étaient regroupés au-dessus des Monts Sibyllins. Il ne tarderait pas à pleuvoir.

Il continue maintenant de s'enfoncer dans les montagnes. Couronnées de nuages, elles se pressent tout autour de lui. Il atteint le plateau karstique de Castellucio sous l'orage et aperçoit les ruines du village devant lui. Il y a un restaurant là-bas. Son téléphone portable ne capte aucun signal. Les gens viennent jusqu'ici en camping-cars ou en cars touristiques pour pouvoir dire qu'ils ont été dans le village le plus reculé d'Italie. Quel paradoxe ! Il songe un instant à faire une pause pour déjeuner, pour téléphoner, mais il traverse le village sans s'arrêter, malgré la faim qui lui tiraille l’estomac. Les prés se déroulent au long de la route. La pluie glisse sur le pare-brise, pèse sur les essuie-glaces. Il met les pleins phares. La température extérieure a chuté d'une dizaine de degrés, mais à l'intérieur de la voiture l'air est toujours chaud et humide. Un rien l'agace : le couinement de l'accélérateur, un grattement des essuie-glaces à la fin de leur courbe, un véhicule qui reste au milieu de la route en le croisant.

Il se range sur le côté pour essayer d'appeler sa famille et pour leur expliquer la cause de son retard, mais la communication ne passe pas. Il sait que sa fille sera inquiète.

Il continue de longer la montagne sur cette route quasi verticale qui serpente interminablement. Des pierres et des graviers ont été drainés par la pluie. Il ralentit pour rouler au pas. Une pierre de la taille d'un ballon de football est tombée au milieu de la route. Une centaine de mètres plus bas, la crête des arbres est agitée : les sapins et les pins gesticulent comme s'ils voulaient s'enfuir. Ici, dans les éclairs et la pluie, il n'y a pourtant pas de vent. Il a l'impression de nager plus que de conduire ; à chaque virage, la route devant lui disparaît dans des abîmes. Il s'imagine en plongée dans un océan furieux. Mais dans ce cas, le vent et les vagues seraient au-dessus de lui, tandis qu'ici, sur cette montagne, les éléments sont bien plus déchaînés au-dessous de lui. Éclair et tonnerre surviennent presque en même temps désormais, séparés d'une seconde tout au plus. Le tonnerre explose maintenant en un fracas brutal, non comme un long roulement de tambour. Il s'arrête et reste là, au milieu de la chaleur sous-marine, à regarder les sceptres électriques de couleur diviser le ciel et fendre la terre. Si je survis, pense-t-il, je parlerai à ma femme et nous recommencerons tout. Il sait que sa fille lui pardonnera. Quelque chose vient frapper la roue arrière. Il tourne à temps pour éviter une coulée de graviers qui envahit la route. L'eau est couleur de tourbe, de sang menstruel. Il pense que si la tempête dure encore, la montagne l'engloutira ou le poussera dans le ravin. C'était donc ça le sens du vent, songe-t-il. Il pense à Thucydide. Ce matin, elle avait dit pour plaisanter : « mauvais vent celui qui n'apporte rien de bon ». Elle avait les jambes écartées ; l'air conditionné positionné au maximum rafraîchissait la pièce après l'amour.

- Quand est-ce que Paddy arrive ? Demande sa fille. Elle l'appelle Paddy depuis leur dernier voyage dans leur Irlande natale deux ans auparavant.

Sa mère sourit et montre le ciel.

- Les dieux sont fâchés, dit-elle. Ils martèlent les montagnes. J'espère que Papa a eu la bonne idée de rester à Florence. Une journée de plus à attendre ne sera pas grand-chose.

Mais elle rit en disant cela. Elle casse des noix au-dessus d'un saladier en bois et son geste contient sa main, le casse-noix et les morceaux de coquille.

- Va donc me faire du thé, tu seras gentille.

Deux mouches au-dessus de la table ont des mouvements fébriles. Bruit du briquet et du gaz qui s'enflamme. Lumière et chaleur qui naissent du néant. Un feu follet. La bouilloire commence à gémir. Des gouttes de sueurs perlent sur le haut du front de sa femme. À Florence, elle sait que Paddy aura l'air conditionné. Ils lui réservent toujours une chambre dans un hôtel correct. Il y aura un mini-bar avec de la bière fraîche et de l'eau minérale.

- Il y a des gouttes sur la fenêtre, dit sa fille. Regarde ! Il pleut.

Alors, la pluie vient marteler la maison. En quelques instants, l'eau déborde des gouttières trop fines. Un rideau de pluie tombe du toit.

- C'est vraiment venu d'un seul coup, dit sa fille.

Elles regardent la pluie dans un silence intimidé. Une porte claque quelque part.

- Il y a une canicule là-bas dans la plaine, dit-elle. Il y a toujours des orages dans les montagnes quand c'est comme ça. C'est tout des histoires de pression atmosphérique, de courants chauds et d'altitude.

De l'autre côté de la route, les oliviers de Serafina dansent dans le vent. Sa fille les montre du doigt.

- On dirait des vieilles personnes qui dansent. La pauvre Serafina doit être folle.

- Les routes seront fermées de nouveau.

- Alors Paddy ne sera pas là pour le dîner ?

- J'espère qu'il est resté à Florence.

- Est-ce que je peux aller sous la pluie ?

Sa mère rit. Seul un enfant de la Méditerranée peut vouloir aller sous la pluie. Si elle avait grandi en Irlande, elle pesterait rien qu’à entendre le mot. Alors, elle pose le casse-noix, le saladier et prend sa fille par la main. Elles sortent toutes les deux et restent sur la terrasse, trempées jusqu'aux os comme si elles étaient tombées du pont d'un bateau. Et elles rient comme ceux qui ont cru être perdus en mer, mais ont finalement été sauvés par un millionnaire et ne qui peuvent croire la chance qu'ils ont. Elles entendent au loin, sur les hauteurs des montagnes, rouler les tambours du destin.

- Est-ce qu'il pleut à Florence ? Lui demande sa fille.

Elle secoue la tête la tête négativement.

- Est-ce qu'il pleut à Castellucio ?

- Oh oui ! il ne fait pas bon être à Castellucio en ce moment.

Shane Connaughtonshane connaughton

  Auteur originaire du County Cavan dans le centre de l'Irlande.
  Il a écrit un recueil de nouvelles intitulé A Border Station, aujourd'hui best seller en Irlande. Mais c'est surtout pour avoir co-écrit le scénario du film My Left Foot que Connaughton est connu.
  Ses deux premiers livres sont inspirés de son enfance dans cette région pauvre de l'Irlande qu'était le Cavan.
  La nouvelle qui suit a été traduite en français dans le recueil Trésor de la Nouvelle de la Littérature Irlandaise (Les Belles Lettres) mais il semble qu'une autre traduction serait bienvenue.


   The road was dry, dusty and pock-marked with pot-holes. You had to keep swerving to avoid them. When you didn't you could feel the jagged edges dunting the rim of the front wheel.

   "Keep into the side," his father shouted back at him.

   It was easier along the side but his bicycle gathered speed there and that was dangerous. The brakes weren't good. In fact he only had half a one. A worn-down block of rubber which did little more than clean one side of the back wheel. Crashing into his father was a nightmare to be avoided at all costs.

   He didn't even have a bell. And the saddle was no good either. It kept tipping forward and he had to reach between his legs to adjust it back into position. He stayed in the middle of the road and let the pot-holes serve as brakes. "Sure isn't that what they're for?" he heard one of the Guards joke to his father. "Have you ever met a Cavan man yet with brakes on his bicycle?"

   It was a lost part of the world, this. No tarred road, no running water in the houses, no electric light and outside lavatories full of brown and wet and newspaper. The clinging smell of Elsan and when the lavatory was full burying the contents down the bottom of the garden.
   He knew his mother wasn't happy here.

   His father rode in front, pressing with measured energy on the pedals, letting the exercise do him good.

   Earlier he had watched him eating his dinner in the same mechanical way. His jaws pedalling up and down on the roast chicken, potatoes, carrots, cabbage and two helpings of rhubarb pie. Grinding out the goodness. A short nap and then this trip out to see the football match was just what the digestive system needed. Routine and a well regulated stomach were the keys to long life. And eventually Heaven. His father had read as much in the Garda Review.

   As they rode along, hedges, hills, dandelions and swampy fields skirted the way. Cattle, standing in the half-dried mud of gateways, stared at them. A pair of crackling magpies flitted across the road and landed on a rusty barrel lying abandoned in the middle of the field.

   "Well, there's two of them in it anyway," his father said. One for sorrow, two for joy...

   His father had two big fists. They gripped the handlebars raw and red. Even in warm weather they looked cold. The rubber grips on the handlebars were lost in the coil of his fingers.

   His feet were big too. He wore boots, the long laces double-wrapped round the uppers and tied in a knotted bow just below the second hole from the top. "Always give the ankle a bit of leeway."

  His trousers ends were folded neat and clipped up on the calf so the knee action wouldn't round out the regulation-sharp seams.

   His dark blue uniform moved through the countryside like a cloud. The truncheon in its black leather sheath belted to the tunic. The truncheon had grooves round the top and a loop of brown leather though which you put your hand so it couldn't be snatched away. His father had shown him how to grip it.

   The truncheon was heavy and shone like a chestnut.

   They came out from the hills and into a flat stretch. To the right towards the Six Counties the land was even, green and healthy-looking. To the left, though, there was only mile after mile of rushy fields, marsh, lakes and bog. "By cripes," muttered his father, "they knew what they were doing when they drew that Border."

   Suddenly he slowed down. There was something ahead. The boy drawing level with him, deliberately steered into a pot-hole rather than pass him out. They were going so slowly now the spokes no longer blurred.

   In the distance, on a piece of grass between the road and the hedge something was hanging. It looked like a brown sheet.

   "Fecking tinkers," said his father, "and just inside my sub-district."

   They drew nearer the encampment. The brown sheet was a piece of canvas flung across hoops of some kind to form a tent.

   A turf fire smouldered at its entrance. A green and yellow painted spring-cart was uptended at the back of the tent, the graceful shafts curving to the sky. A horse was tethered to the wheel.

   A young stout woman squatted in front of the fire, poking life into it with a cabbage stalk.

   His father got off his bike and stood looking at her. She refused to look up. Flames spurted.

  The horse moved its rump against the cart, shifting its weight from a hind leg. The boy looked at the woman but looked quickly away in case she caught his eye.

   As his father continued staring at her her face became sullen. But she wouldn't look up and recognise his existence.    She had seen them approaching. The uniform. The peaked cap. The silver buttons. She knew well they were there. Arresting her peace with hostile eyes.

   His father nodded a few times, whistling quietly as he did so, then remounted his bicycle and pedalled on.

  The boy surprised by the move was left stranded for a few seconds. The tinker woman looked up at him. Her brown eyes books of knowledge beyond his power.

   A man's face peeped from the slit entrance to the tent.

   The boy jumped on his bike and rode quickly along the verge.

   Why had his father left the tinkers alone?

   Down a laneway they saw a whitewashed house with a window box of red flowers. The nearby sheds were whitewashed too. It had to be a Protestant house. Cleanliness was part of their religion.

   Onto the hills on the left, through a gap in the hedge, tore a pack of beagles. Strung out in line they snaked across the field trumpeting their mad hunger into the air. Behinf them pounded shouting men in wellington boots and carrying sticks.

   "Gos help the poor hare if them savages catch him. The two-legged ones!" Like a belch the jibe came from deep within his father: the words flung with a sharp sideways flick of the head at the backs of the ragged mob of hunters.    They watched the last of them disappear behind a clump of withered trees. The boy knew expressing contempt was exercise.His father got rid of bile that way. He looked down at the road flying beneath his wheels. It sped out between his legs like a river in spate.

   There was a thick black line on his white sock. Oil. The chain wasn't cased. His mother would scold him. But her words wouldn't hurt.

   In bed with his mother was the warmest place in the world. Hay. Honey.

   "Out the hell outa the way! Ye mangy beggars!" roared his father. Goats tethered in paires wandered in the middle of the road. Like wet blackcurrants faeces spilled from under their tails. Cupfulls of them. The thick smell from their coarse-haired bodies could almost be tasted.

   "Their stink has me stunk, Daddy."

   "And they call this the county of little hills and lakes," shouted his father, as they steered through the scattering herd, "the county of goats ans pot-holes is the right title."

   Soon they left the pock-marked road behind and with a final rattle bumped up onto the tarred main road linking Cavan, Clones and the North. Turning right they headed towards the border and the football field. He pedalled up to his father's shoulder. His father with a grin on the side of his mouth glanced at him.

   A contest.

   They stopped pedalling anf free-wheeled.

   Which bike would be the last to wobble to a halt?

   His father's was heavier, had bigger wheels and was well looked-after. He oiled it regularly and wiped it down with a cloth especially if it had been out in the rain. The rims shone, the wheels ran true, the spokes were tight, the cranks glistened, the reflector gleamed and the bell was bright as the belt buckle on his uniform. "Tin Lizzie", he called it.

   "I've looked after her. So she looks after me."

   "How old is she, Daddy?"

   "She was old when I bought her. Ant that's thirty years ago. That'll give you some idea. A Rudge. You couldn't beat her with a drum stick."

   They free-wheeled along, his father gaining momentum, the boy beginning to drop behind.

   He didn't mind losing. In fact he had to. Because of his father lost at anything he would bring a modd down on the world thick as tar.

   In the silent Border countryside above the gentle ticking of turning wheels they could hear the distant baying of the pack of beagles.

   He looked again at the oil mark on his sock.

  White ankle-socks. The tinker woman wore ankle-socks too. Green ones. Her legs were brown with dirt and weather. She belonged to the man in the tent. A slit of white eyes, alert and dangerous. Green ankle-socks.

   The mudguards rattled as he wobbled to a halt.

   "I've lost Daddy."

   "Ah-hah ya boya, " his father shouted back in triumph. He was pleased.

   "If we can't fight a war, any little victory will do. That's what your grandfather used to say R.I.P."

   They reached the Border. A slight difference in level and texture od the tarmacadam was all that indicated they were passing into what awas supposed to be a foreign country. But further along they came to a row of iron spikes stuck across the road. It was a measure aimed at the I.R.A. But the locals had bulldozed between the hedge and the nearest spike, making a deep rutted muddy path wide enough for the use od cars, lorries and tractors. His father dismounted and looked at the spikes. Then he reached out and with his hands tested theirs strength. The boy did the same.

   Rusty flakes on the brown girders. Railway lines sticking up from hell. For the next mile the Border zig-zagged crazily so that one minute his father would announce they were in the North, the next minute the South.

   "Whilst grass is green and water runs, as long as that Border is thee, this country will never be at peace," decalimed his father and went on to repeat it a number of times. As if repetition would turn the words into a political fact so blatant even a fool could see it.

   Peace. Why weren't his mother and father at peace? Why did he thump his mother's bedroom door at night, trying to get into her? What kind of peace was that? And why when they sat to eat was his hand under the table n her knee, her ankle trapped in the twist of his great black boots? Once when his spoon fell on the floor and he went under the table to retrieve it, he saw her hand trying to push his hand away from her flesh. Why?

   They rode on but his bicycle bell fell off and went hopping into the ditch. They searched but could find it, his father lashing at the long grass and nettles, tramping them down with brute force. The boy knew his father was angry. He valued things like bent nails, odd buttons, buckets without handles, sewing needles with the eyes snapped off... bicycle bells.

   "There it is, Daddy!"

   His father bent to pick it up but it was only a stone.

   "Ah, get away out of that, you nigget"

   He flung the stone into the ditch and looked at the countryside and the sky above it.

   "What on God's earth did I do to deserve being sent here to this cursed hole? Civilisation as far away as the dark side of the stars!"

   "Mammy's not happy here either."

   "How do you know?"

   "Ah... she... she told me."

   "His father glared at him, his eyes bright as the badge on his cap.

   "Did she indeed?"

   "And I'm not happy as well."

   "Why not?"

   How could you tell anyone why you were unhappy? Especially your father!

   "Because... because this bloody bike is breaking my heart."

   "This WHAT bike?"

   "This... RUSTY bike."

   "Don't get too big for your boots, me buck. I heard what you said. There's nothing wrong with that bike. It's the way you ride it."

   "But it's falling to bits, Daddy."

   "It's a poor jockey blames his horse. When I was your age I had to WALK everywhere."

   "I'd prefer to walk."

   "Get on that bike! Move!"

   Tears came into his eyes and though he knew it was dangerous, he heard himself shouting at his father.

   "I want to go home to Mammy!"

   He expected a crack from his father's fist but instead his father looked steadily at him and said, as if challenging him,

   "So do I, So do I!"

   Why should he want to go home? He turned away from his father's eyes and stared into the ditch. Right at the bottom water seeped through the weeds and a dandelion clock took off and floated above their heads. Getting on the bikes they rode towards the football pitch. When they got there the rival supporters were gathered on opposite side of the field. The teams were out, the visitors in red, Butlershill in blue and yellow hoops.

   Though people spoke to his father they stood away from him. Beside the uniform they felt they couldn't swear at the players with customary abandon.

   His father stood in front of his bike, his rump resting on the crossbar. Everyone else slung their bikes in tangled heaps on the ground. The match started and almost immediatly a fight broke out. Punches and kicks were swopped and sonn spectators had joined in, some of them rolling about in the mud in their Sunday suits seemingly trying to strangle one another.

   The boy looked down at the streak of oil on his sock.

   "Arrest them, Sergeant," a man shouted.

   "Arrest the bloody referee," shouted a woman, "he's the one started it."

   But his father grinned at them, took off his cap, breathed over the silver badge, wiped it with his sleeve and returning the cap to his head said, "When they get fed up they'll stop of their own accord."

   They did.

   Up the other end of the field away from the game the boy saw a hare carefully hopping along, stopping every few yards, ears cocked, checking the distant clamour of the crowd. Some other boys had noticed it too and gave chase. The hare sprung above the long grass ans with swift lanky bounds made for a gap in the far hedge.

   "Come on," said his father, "this standard of football is too bad to be true."

   They rode homewards, a brooding look on his father's face.

   Nearing the spikes across the road they saw an Army jeepblocking the bulldozed pathway.

   Soldiers looked out at them, rifles resting between their knees.

   "Cripes," said his father, "it's the British."

   Standing by the jeep was an officer. He was tall, handsome, blond-haired and round his neck wore a red cravat. Drawing level with him the officer saluted his father, who saluted back.

   "Grand day now," said his father.

   "Topping," replied the officer. A soldier winked at the boy.

   "Everything alright your side, Sergeant?"

   "Yes. Thanks God. Why wouldn't they be?"

   They didn't await a reply but rode swiftly out of Fermanagh, his father pleased at his religious and political swipe at the Forces of the Queen.

   When they came onto the pot-holed road the boy dropped behind. He had noticed his father was looking grim, muttering, churning himself into a temper. He would no look for an excuse to explode it.

   Before the even got to them he knew they were going to stop at the tinker's encampment.

   His father was pedalling with purpose, making for somewhere definite. And it wasn't home. Tea wouldn't be ready for another hour at least. It had to be the tinkers. What was he going to do to them?

   When the upturned cart was in sight his father slowed down, pulling on the brakes with a jerk of his shoulders. When a little nearer he swung his right leg to the same side as his left and, standing on one pedal, scootered to an eventual stop.

   The fire this time was well banked round with turf and on the busy flames rested a black pan of sausages and rashers. The tinker women squatted by the fire, her hand on the pan handle.

   "Smells good," said his father, surprising her with his easy tone, so that she looked up at him. "Where's your man?"

   "He's not here," replied the woman. The boy looked at her green ankle-socks. His father rested his bicycle against the cart and was about to look into the tent when the man came out.

   "He's here now," said his father, with laconic sarcasm.

   The tinker wore brown boots, a faded brown suit, an open-necked shirt and a hat.

   His face was tight, compact, chiselled, attractive, shifty. His skin was very white and on his upper lip was pencil-thin moustache.

   His dancing eyes flickered from the uniform to the fruing pan. The smoke curving up the side of the pan went straight into the still air. Silence was a tactic of his father's, during which his sized up his quarry. The women stared into the pan, the man shifted from foot to foot.

   "What ails you?" queried the tinker.

   "Where did you get that turf?"

   The tinker swung towards the fire. The flames spurted. So that was it. Stolen turf. What harm was it, thought the boy to himself, even if it was stolen.

   "Sure the bog's full of it," said the women, echoing his thoughts.

   On the other side of the hedge was a brown stretch of water, reedy, treacherous-looking bogland.

   The banks were too poor and unformed for turf to be harvested in the normal way. Mud was shovelled out from wet holes, spread in the banks, cut into rough shapes with the back of the hand and left to dry. The sods were much bigger and not as neat as cut turf but the local people claimed there was 'ojus burning" in them.

   His father stepped towards the tinker.

   The horse turned its head and stared at the uniform.

   "The farmer gave it to me," said the tinker, gesturing towards the whitewashed house in the distance.

   "Did he now? We'll go and ask him."

   The tinker looked at the woman. She took the pan from the flames.

   The boy was left alone with her.

   She put the pan on the ground. The sizzling faded. Squatting down she pressed her dress between her legs and stared at the boy with cold fury, trying to hurt him because of his father.

   He tried to look away but her eyes held him tight. She bounced up and down on her hunkers, her thumb in her mouth. Staring at him. Her eyes big as moons. He clung to his bicycle unable to move out of her gaze. Panic gripped him. He tried to lick his lips but his tongue was dry. He was conscious of his eues blinking and then to his amazement he felt his grip loosen and saw his bike clatter to the road, one of the handlebars resting in a pot-hole puddle.

   In a trance he hauled the bike up and tried to stare at the front wheel but his eyes were pulled towards the woman's.

   "Do you eat sweets?"

   "I do," he whispered.

   "Pity I haven't got any," and she rocked over and back with laughter. He felt ashamed and angry. If his father didn't return soon he was going to jump on the bike and cycle like mad for home.

   The women's attention was diverted to the horse which had pulled at its tether and begun to urinate.

   It gushed out from under its tail onto the grass verge and flooded into the road, foam swirling on top.

   "Good girl, Dolly," said the woman.

   A she. Like her. Like his mother. Not like him.

   Getting up she went to the back of the tent and came back with a bucket, soap and a creamery can. She poured water from the can into the bucket. Kicking off her shoes she lifted a foot onto the rim of the creamery can and began to peel away her ankle-sock with the hook of her thumb. When half off she scratched her heel before rolling the sock away completely. Admiring her neat foot she wiggled her toes and searched between them with her fingers. Unlike her legs her feet were white and clean.

   As she took off her other sock, her dress fell back along her thigh so that the boy saw the far flesh and curved moon of her rump.

   White like her feet. Like flour.

   He looked at the horse and back to the woman.

   She began to wash her socks. Green soapy suds in her mashing fingers. Flies buzzing round the dying foam on the roadway.

   "What the hell are you looking at?"

   Not knowing where they came from or why, the boy heard the words "Not much", coming out of his mouth. The woman's eyes narrowed, but then she smiled at him.

   "Well, aren't you the spoilt wee pup?"

   His father often said that to him. Spoilt. But he only said it when his mother was listening. It was a secret word; the use of which they knew would start a row.

   When his mother hugged him she was warm through her clothes, her apron, even through an overcoat. His father's uniorm was cold and smelt of ink.

   The tinker woman looked warm. As a cake coming out of the oven. She continued washing the socks, ignoring him for some time, as she rinsed, squeezed and then hung them on a bush.

   They were a lighter green than the velvet green in a magpie's tail. Lighter than ivy. Than moss. Grass green.

  She squatted back down on her hunkers by the fire. He found he wasn't afraid of her now. Her face, her hair, her dress, her white feet were pleasant to look at.

   "Where are you from?" he asked shyly, but with a growing feeling of superiority. She laughed, her teeth flashing in her open mouth.

   "Give us a kiss and I'll tell you. Just Just a little one, like you give your mammy."

   The last two words she rolled round her mouth, curdling them, before spitting them out with a venom that cut straight into him.

   A surge of panic gripped him again and once more he was on the point of jumping on his bike and making for home. But he was powerless to move. Besides what would his father say if he disappeared just like that?

   He noticed his fists gripping the handlebars, knuckles glistenning with tension.

   He felt dizzy and believed he was at any moment going to faint.

   The woman stood up.

   "Give that to me!" she commanded.

   He had no idea what she meant. Now she was pointing at him.

   With dread at the consequences, when hi sfather found out, he feared she was going to take his bicycle. That's what tinkers did! They even commited murders!!

   His legs were weakening and but for the bike propping him up he would have clattered down into a heap on the roadside.

   "It's streaky black," he heard her saying, but didn't understand, "I'll wash it for you."

   "Wash it? It?" The words burbled silently round his head. Then they hit him. Now he realised. She wanted to wash hsi oil-streaked sock.

   Never. Never. His mother wouldn't be pleased. A tinker woman wash his sock? He'd be a laughing-stock. Oh no. Never. He couldn't.

   But, as if outside his body, he watched himself laying down his bike, going on one knee, untying his shoe, taking of his ankle-sock and handing it to her. If his father came back now and saw him standing with one foot bare, and the wife of the tinker he was about to arrest washinf his sock, there'd be ructions when he got home.

   He looked up the roadtowards the whitewashed house. They were coming back. And there was his sock in the bucket of suds. He'd never get it back in time. His stomach churned and he noticed he was dancing from one foot to the other. She had the oily part of the sock in a washingboard grip of knuckles and fingers and was rubbing another part of the sock against it, trying to get rid of the stain.

   He could only think of how wet the sock looked and how it would be impossible to dry it, iron it and get it back on before his father reached them.

   The woman looked at him and followed his gaze. But she didn't hurry when she saw the men approaching. With a soapy hand she flicked the hair from the side of her face revealing a big ear-ring, smiled at the boy and carried on washing. His father and the tinker were now only about fifty yards away.

   He slipped his foot into his shoe and tried to hide his naked ankle by holding it close to his other leg.

  The woman flung the suddy water over the hedge, poured fresh water and began to rinse the sock just as the men reached them.

  His father looked grim. Now the woman had the sock by the toe and was whirling it through the clear water. Almost playing with it.

   Surely his father must have noticed.

   "I'm taking your man to the barracks with me," he said to the woman. Maybe he hadn't.

   "But his tea is ready," said the woman with limp defiance.

   "He'll be back," said his father, "when I'm done with him." He went to her, took the bucket of water from her and downsed the fire with a sizzling splash.

   The woman was furious. She tore at his face with her eyes, the boy's ankle socks dangling from her fingers.

   Her man went into the tent. His father took four halfburnt sods from the quenched fire, put two on the carrier of his bike and handed two to the boy.

   "You bring these," he ordered. "And don't lose them – they're evidence."

   The tinker came rushing out of tent, and going to the horse, untied it and leaped on its back.

   The sleepy animal taken by surprise staggered about in the middle of the road not knowing what was going on. A quick crack on its neck with the halter and a couple of heels in the belly brought it to the required reality and, in a cloud of dust galloped away, the tinker clutching down his hat with one hand.

   His father swung his leg over his bike, his great boot momentarily hanging in the air as he adjusted himself on the saddle; then ramming down hard on the pedal, head down, back crouched, rode after the tinker.

   The tinker rode flat out only to be awkward. Not to escape. He knew he couldn't.

   Once again the boy was alone with the woman.

   She stood for a moment looking after the boy's father, then at the dowsed fire, than at the boy. Lifting up her dress to reveal her knees she sunk to the ground. "God blast his face with warts and wrinkles and that he may die roarin'. And that's my solemn curse this day," she roared to the sky.

   The boy knew why she had bared her knees. His mother told him once that woth love or curses you had to have flesh. Now he knew what she meant. Partly anyway.

   "My sock, please," he said to the woman.

   Her eyes narrowed, and breathing heavily after the effort of cursing she seemed about to attack him but then with a weary sigh she sunk to her hunkers and just looked at him, almost in an appealing way.

   She still held onto his sock.

   He was worried. He didn't want to be left too far behind. He wanted to show his father how capable he was by bringing his share of the evidence swiftly and safely to the station.

   But he couldn't arrive without his ankle-sock. He would have to, somehow, get it back from her.

   "How would you like to join the tinkers?" the woman asked, her teeth smiling, shining.

   His heart thumped up inside him. He sloped his bicycle at an angle the better to get his leg quickly across the bar. He would have to go home without the sock and think of some lie to tell on the way. And later in bed with his mother tell the truth.

   "Where the hell do you think you're going?' shouted the woman.

   The boy was sure she was going to capture him. Murder him. Kiss him. And keep him forever.

   He moved off but the front wheelwent into a pot-hole, stopping him dead. He struggled for balance but the bike lurched over and he had to scramble off, the jolt knocking the two sods of turf onto the road.

   Holding the bike with one hand he bent to pick them up with the other? One of the sods crumbled to pieces. He began to cry. Little anguisjed whimpers of fear and anger.

   He stuffed some of the pieces into his pockets and managed to secure the other sod on his carrier.

   As he mounted the bike again he couldn't resist looking at the woman.

   A breeze was sifting through her hair and tucking her dress about her body. She coiled his sock into the ball of her fist and flung it at him. It his him right between the eyes and fell down onto his crossbar and then to the road.

   Her face was fierce and proud and sad.

   The green ankle-socks flappeddrying on the hedge.

   "Come back nice boy. Come back angel"

   He managed to get moving, his legs growing stronger the further he got from her. But even a long way away he thought he could hear her hysterical laughter following him along the wind.

   When he got near the Station he saw the tinker's horse tied to the barracks gate. It had assumed its lazy-leg posture of the encampment.

   He went into the day room with his "evidence". His sense of achievement diminished by the loss of his sock.

   But neither his father nor the tinker was there.

   He put the turf on the table. Then he heard muffled groans and raised voices. Startled, he went into the hallway to listen. Silence. Frightened, he tip-toed along the tiled corridor and though he had decided to get out of the barracks, instinctively he stopped at the cell door. He knew they were in there. Behind the massive door, all bolts, locks and hinges.

   A big bunch of keys dangled from a keyhole. Rooted to the spot he listened in the terrifying silence. Why weren't they making a noise now? His neck was craned at an unaatural angle, the tension hurting.

   A strangulated cry of temper tore through the thick wooden door. That was his father.

   "You broke into that lock-up shop, didn't you, come on, admit it. And you can go."

   The boy ran outside. The horse looked up, pointing its ears forward.

   His father was beating the tinker. It wasn't fair. He'd missed his tea and now he was being beaten! His woman was nice.

   The Station was a large yellow-coloured pebbledashed bungalow with separate entrances to the married quarters and barracks. The outhouses were separated too and the vegetable gardens divided by a high wall.

   His father didn't allow him at the back of the police quarters; but he raced round, got a ladder from an outhouse and put it up against the outer wall of the cell.

   The tinker was screaming.

   A slit in the wall let daylight into the cell. Peering in he could see his father's cap and another head with a bald spot on it. That was Guard McMurray.

   "You broke in there and anything you couldn't take you stood on! Butter, cameras, bread, eggs... didn't you?" shouted his father.

   For a split second he saw the tinker's face. Blood came from his nose. This wasn't fair. It just wasn't. He wanted to shout "Stop", but he couldn't. He heard himself shout "Hello", instead. He felt foolish.

  The bodies in the slit of light stopped swirling and he saw his father flash a look up at him.

   "It's going to rain, Daddy," he said, surprised at his calmness and the stupidity of the remark.

   There was murmurs from Guard McMurray and he heard the cell door banging open.

   Getting down from the ladder he ran to the front of the building. To keep a distance between himself and his father he went out the gate and sat on the opposite side of the road.

   Minutes later the tinker came out. He had his hat in his hand. He untied his horse, got on it, but not as nimbly as before and throwing a sideways glance a the boy galloped away.

   His father came out and walked towards the married quarters,. The boy called out to him.

   "I left the evidence on the table, Daddy."

   His father stared over at him.

   "Come here you."

   The boy was afraid but he knew he had to go.

   His father took him gently by the hand and they walked in together. His mother had the tea ready. The boy sat into the table, keeping his naked hankle well under. So far no one had noticed.

   His father chewed his food methodically. Masticating, he called it.

   His mother played with crumbs in silence. Staring down at the willow-patterned plate.

   The silence was broken by his father grumbling out from deep within his thoughts.

   "'Topping', he said to me, the beggar. 'Topping'."

   The boy laughed. His father looked at him.

   "Tell you're mammy what happened to your ankle-sock. You spoilt wee pup you."

   His mother glanced up, her moon eyes flashing fire.

   Squirming away from them, he slid to the foor.

   Under the table his mother's ankle was entwined in his father's boots and his hand gripped her knee, the dress pushed along her thigh. He sat back up at the table.

   On the mantelpiece was a picture of God. His eyes watched them and the clock ticked the silence away.


Kuzhali ManickavelKuzhali Manickavel

Une auteure pas du tout irlandaise..! Mais j'aime ce qu'elle écrit alors je lui consacre un petit espace ici.

Kuzhali est née à Winnipeg au Canada. Lorsqu'elle avait treize ans, ses parents sont retournés vivre en Inde à Chidambaram où elle vit depuis.
Elle a publié un recueil de nouvelles dont certaines ont retenu mon attention.

Little Bones

The ice cubes are fussy with frost – they were made with monsoon rain which is supposed to be better than ordinary rain.

"Look what I found," I say, holding out the ice tray. Kumar stares at it as if he is looking over the edge of a cliff.

"Those'll make us sick," he says.

"No they won't, they're made out of rainwater."

We spend the morning eating ice and watching tiny green finches spear moths on the window sill.

"I always thought finches ate berries,' I say. "They seem too delicate to be carnivorous."

"Is there anything else?"

"What do you mean?"

"Is there anything else to eat besides ice?"


Kumar puts his glass down and I wonder if he thinks I'm lying.

The ice cubes put an edge on the day, making it glow with faint possibilities.

"We should go for a walk," says Kumar. "Or start a garden or something."

I remember how my mother buried fish bones and grocery bills in the backyard because she was scared something would happen if she didn't. Whenever it rained, little bones would poke through the mud like pointing fingers.

"You really want to go for a walk?" I ask. Kumar rubs his face and sighs.

"No, I guess not."

Kumar's ice cubes are melting into a scummy pool of water that smells like an old toothbrush. He says there's something crawling along the bottom of his glass but I can't see anything.

"Why didn't you eat them?" I ask. "I ate all mine."

"You're going to be sick."

"I won't get sick, they were rainwater ice cubes."

"Does your tongue burn?"

"A little."

"You're going to get sick."

Kumar gets up, leaving behind a space that hums like angry bees. I watch the last of his ice melt and hear the bones settle into the folds of my skin, the blood crunching in my veins.

Petites arrêtes

Les glaçons sont couverts d’une fine pellicule de gel. Ils sont fait de pluie de la mousson qui est censée être meilleure que l’eau de pluie ordinaire.

- Regarde ce que j’ai trouvé, dis-je en levant le bac à glaçons.

Kumar regarde les glaçons comme on regarde le rebord d’une falaise.

- On va être malades si on mange ça, répond-il.

- Non, ils sont faits d’eau de pluie.

Nous passons la matinée à manger les glaçons et à regarder des petits pinsons verts happer les papillons de nuit sur les carreaux.

- J’ai toujours cru que les pinsons mangeaient des baies, dis-je. Ils ont l’air trop délicats pour être carnivores.

- Est-ce qu’il y a autre chose ?

- Comment ça ?

- Est-ce qu’il y a autre chose à manger que des glaçons ?

- Non.

Kumar pose son verre et je me demande s’il pense que je lui mens.

Les glaçons mettent un terme à l’horizon de cette journée.

- On devrait aller se promener, dit Kumar. Ou alors commencer un jardin, faire quelque chose.

Je me souviens que ma mère enterrait des arrêtes de poisson et des reçus d’épicerie dans le jardin parce qu’elle avait peur qu’il se passe quelque chose si elle ne le faisait pas. Quand il pleuvait, les arrêtes perçaient la terre comme des doigts pointés vers le ciel.

- Tu veux vraiment aller te promener ? je demande à Kumar. Il se frotte le visage et soupire.

- Non, j’imagine que non.

Les glaçons de Kumar fondent dans son verre et forment une petite flaque mousseuse qui sent la vieille brosse à dent. Il dit que quelque chose grouille dans le fond, mais je ne vois rien.

- Pourquoi tu ne les as pas mangé ? je lui demande. Moi, j’ai mangé tous les miens.

- Tu vas être malade.

- Non, je vais pas être malade, c’était des glaçons d’eau de pluie.

- Est-ce que ça te brûle la langue ?

- Un peu.

- Tu vas être malade.

Kumar se lève et laisse derrière lui un vide bourdonnant comme un essaim en furie. Je regarde les derniers glaçons fondre dans son verre et j’entends les os se tasser dans les replis de ma peau, le sang craquer dans mes veines.


                                                Frank O'Connor