Bernard O'Rourke


Bernard O'Rourke

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     She is screaming at me. Telling me to get the hell out. She throws something and it smashes. It sounds expensive. I don’t see what it is because I’m looking at the floor.

Get out, she says. Get out, get out, get out.

     The front door slams behind me. I’m on the front step, still staring downward. The welcome mat beneath my feet beams its unwarranted message obliviously.

     It starts to rain. I walk to my car. All around me the cul-de-sac is silent – kids at school, parents at work. Not another living soul in sight. This isn’t so bad. We never liked our neighbours. They all had those we’ll-be-nice-to-you-because-we’re-stuck-living-beside-you smiles. The falseness of it all made me sick. We never liked living here. Maybe that’s the problem.

     No. This is my fault. All of it. It’s time for me to get out of here.

The rain washes across my windscreen, rattles against my roof like a snare drum. I’m in my car driving into town. I’m not going anywhere except away from that cul-de-sac. Away from her.

     I park on the main street and turn the engine off. The rain has gotten heavier, now it sounds like someone marching an army across the top of my car. Out on the street people dash for cover from doorway to doorway, briefcases or jackets raised over their heads or to keep their precious hairstyles dry. I see our next-door neighbour Charlie crossing the street in a pinstripe suit. Halfway across he missteps into a shin-deep puddle, ruining what look like new shoes and soaking his trousers to the knee. The look on his face is brilliant. I’d laugh if I could.

     I take out my mobile and open the phonebook. I look at her name in the list f frequently contacted numbers. Then I put the phone back in my pocket. She’ll only scream at me if I call her. No more screaming for me today.

     The countryside flies past in a blur, obscured by sheets of pouring rain. I’m doing eighty on a winding back road. But the road is slick with water and I can barely control the car. If I tried to break now I’d probably die in a fiery mess. If I think about anything else other than the road it’s all over.

     I reach the end of the line on a cold windswept mountainside. The road comes to a stop at an old rusted gate which leads to a dirt track that is mostly river in this weather. Below me, past the fields and the trees and the low crumbling stone walls, lies the town. Beyond it is the housing estate, our estate. I can’t see our house. The visibility is poor up here. The rain has shifted from a torrent to a fuzzy sheet of clinging mist.

     I leave the car behind and continue on afoot. I trudge the muddy sheep-track, ruining my shoes. It takes me half an hour to hike up to the standing stone. By the time I get there my lungs are aching with the reminder that I didn’t think to bring my cigarettes. The rain has stopped entirely, and the windswept bogland stretching out in every direction glimmers a rich velvety purple. The mountain heather is drinking in the rainwater and flourishing like a bruise upon the world.

     The standing stone is bare jagged rock, its edges serrated by Ogham markings. Nothing grows around it. It rises monolithic from a circle of dull earth. At its base a naturally formed flowstone basin, brimming with rainwater.

     I set myself down before it. Folding my legs beneath me, I assume the image of the Buddha. I remove my shirt and dip it into the basin until it has soaked up all of the rainwater, then I raise the sopping material to my lips and wring it out to drink. The sting of my own sweat is all I taste at first. I resist the urge to cough, forcing the foul liquid down. Beneath the stinging acrid vinegar taste of my own body is the mineral sharpness of the deep Earth. The dry taste of eons. I close my lips around the sodden shirt and suck.

     The wind cuts through my bare chest. It howls across the mountainside. The spent fortresses of rainclouds are brushed as far back as the horizon, leaving the sky clear of all but a thin wash of grey. I begin to shiver and can’t stop. I try to steady my breathing, to feel the touch of the unbound elements. To hear the voice of the world.

     I take my penknife from my pocket with my right hand. I hold my left arm out straight over the stone basin. The wind whistles through the Ogham grooves.

     When I slice through the flesh of my left arm I feel the residual crust of old cocaine on the blade set every nerve in my body alive. The skin of my arm bubbles and the blood runs freely down, collecting in the stone basin. When it’s almost full I set the knife aside and take up my shirt. I press it to the open wound, watching the colour bleed from stained off-white to garish pink.

     I hold the shirt against the wound and wait for the blood to congeal. There is a buzzing in my ears. Flies land on my back, their crawling movement tapping out a pattern on my bare skin. They buzz their wings even as they walk across me, bristling and nervous and ready to flee in an instant. Worms bulge up to the surface of the bare earth. They push themselves blindly out of the clay and probe their eyeless fore-ends into the cool air. A mile above my head, the silhouettes of ravens have started to drift in patient concentric circles. They all crave the blood, but no living creature will dare breach the sanctity of the basin in the shadow of that dreadful stone.

     When the bleeding stops I cast the stained shirt aside and lay my hands flat upon the standing stone. I stare down into the blood. I let my mind empty of all but the question.

     The sharpness of the pain has faded into a dull ache that beats in my ears to the tune of massing flies. At first I don’t even notice that the crimson pool is moving too. Rippling in time to my heartbeat. Unseen entities swim beneath the surface of the blood. It swills itself into a crawling, slithering, sucking blob of movement. A single bubble rises from the black depths and bursts, followed by another. The blood boils, heated by a force rising up seismically from the core of the planet.

     A bubble bigger than the others rises and doesn’t burst. It swells. It expands. It pulses. The red shape, a miniature beating organ, grows arms and legs and bulbous head. The bubble becomes the image of a new life. The new life growing inside her. A new life I hadn’t known about until just now. The vision of the unborn child squirms with a budding energy for only a moment before the blood sucks it back down into its dark depths.

     That is my answer.

Bernard O'Rourke

Bernard O'Rourke is a writer from Dundalk, Ireland. His work has appeared in TheEEELThe BohemythThe Irish Literary ReviewBurning Bush IIThe Linnet’s Wings, and Wordlegs. His twitter alter-ego is @guyserious, and his flash fiction blog can be found at