Looking out the window, I could see Daddy manoeuvring his tractor around the Bawnogue field with the pride of a Formula One driver. The only place he looks at ease is on our farm: I realised that when he came into Galway three years ago. We went to a restaurant carefully picked for its country-sized portions. He made a big deal of ordering wine from Chile; apparently that was the best kind. I didn’t ask what kind of late night infomercial he saw that on. He would often be found asleep on the couch by my grandmother in the mornings. Her first job of the day would be to wheel the old Super Ser heater down the long hall and into my room. If I wasn’t woken up by its squeaking wheels, it would be the sound of her lighting it and the noxious smell of gas arising from it. When she carried me into the living room, we would find my father there, asleep with a solidified bowl of Weetabix on the floor bedside the couch, the television blaring and the dog tucked up around his feet.
I looked back at my Grandmother. She has always been old looking. There is a picture of her and my grandfather when they were courting. His sisters are also in it, wearing flirty, 1940’s frocks, lipstick and the latest hairstyles. My Grandmother’s blouse reaches her neck, her skirt reaches her ankles. I always thought she was a prude but now I know it’s because they were her mother’s clothes – she couldn’t afford her own. The girls in her class mistook her embarrassment for snobbery. People thought she had ideas far above her station. I wondered where my station was, it was so far away I couldn’t see it anymore.
“It might be worth thinking about renting the Bawnogue out to the Fitzmahony’s you know” I replied finally.
She gave me a look that proclaimed how utterly disappointed she was with me, and started again on her favourite subject; the horses.
I looked at her while she fondly describes our new foal’s antics over in fox-cover field. She was holding my daughter, bouncing her up and down, a little bit too fast and a little bit too jerky and with a certain utilitarian grip. My Granny was known in the town for being able to change a child’s nappy on one knee. When we were small she would make Gina and I weed the vegetables in the blistering heat (back in the 80’s, when we had hot weather). Our lunches would consist of whatever was ready in the garden. I hated the radishes the most. You never see people eating radishes now do you? I used to really want to be Gina when I was little. I’m not so sure now.
‘Granny will I make the tea?’
‘Go on, and call your father.’
I am ashamed to admit it but I still call him Daddy. It’s weird calling him anything else. Granny refers to him as ‘your father’, as if she has nothing to do with him.
I went over to our little dresser, heaped with cups, horse wormer, kinder egg toys, Catholic missions calendar, and remembrance cards. I got out a china cup with flowers for Granny, a slim mug with a Shire horse on it for Daddy and then which ever one my hand landed on for me. I’m trying to slowly wean Granny off sugar; she’s down to half a spoon now.
The back door opened and both baby and dog jump to attention. Scout always gurgles at the sight of my Daddy. The dog, Boots, old now, half-heartedly fusses around Daddy’s wellied legs before settling back down in his bed. There is a yellow stripe on Boots’ back from lying right up against the radiator.
“There’s tea. Will you have a boiled egg?”
“Arra go one sure.”
I turn on the hob.
Daddy heaves the wellies off. They make a sucking noise, not wanting to be separated from their owner. He looks smaller in his woolly socks. Granny has always knitted his socks. Ours too, until Gina and I complained about their utter lack of coolness, never mind the itchiness. Daddy takes his hat off, puts it on the baby. She is delighted.
Granny ambles over to the telly and turns it on, torso at a 45 degree angle to the floor, Scout under one arm like she’s carrying a goose. There is some singing contest on. She presses Mute on the remote control.
“Do you not want to hear them sing?”
“Sure haven’t I heard them all by now”
“Do you want Soldiers or Fingers Daddy?” I say, brandishing the sliced pan in my left hand.
He thought about it, weighed it up. “Soldiers, love.”
The familiar ping-ping on my phone heralded a text, but you’d swear it was the Tax Man or Santy or someone. Boots jumped up and started barking, giddy. Scout started crying.
“What in God’s name is that?”
“It’s only my phone Daddy.” I swear to God, every single time.
My eyebrows rose: it was Gina.
“Gina’s coming over” I said and sure enough Granny was out of the chair like a shot. Scout was unceremoniously plonked into the dog-bed beside Boots. Granny strode, shoulders back, over to the counter and started busying herself.
“Well! Well now. Well now we’ll have to make a tart!”
Car lights suddenly swung across the back wall of the kitchen; all hell broke loose. Boots jumped out of bed, barking and jumping at the back door. Scout fell over and started roaring with shock. Daddy’s tea spilled and Granny dropped cooking apples all over the floor. It was too soon for Gina. No one ever came to visit except Gina. Ever. How did they even get past the first gate? The lights quenched. The four of us – me holding Scout – stared out the window into the dark , trying to see beyond the second gate, a mix of two old gates, some corrugated roofing and a couple of old election posters (Boots could fit through the gaps in the gate). We watched as Fr. Murphy tried to untie the knot around the wooden post. How it was this evaded him when the barbed wire on the first gate was so easy for him? We watched him struggle for a while.
“Ah for Jesus’s sake” Granny muttered and went out to him, leaving the back door wide open. She didn’t open the gate; spoke to him over the corrugated roofing.
“Isn’t this a surprise?”
“Howya Daisy, sorry to be bothering you at teatime.”
“Aaah, em, well I was hoping to have a sit down with you and talk to you about something that you might be...able to help us with.” Fr. Murphy spoke quickly, Boots barking at him, hopping up and down. My grandmother is this tiny thing who can’t understand text messages, the internet or polo (“it’s like horse-golf”), but she held a particular place in the community and was known to the Church. She wasn’t exactly a healer. She did fix things, but she fixed them by getting rid of them. Does that count? The one thing she didn’t get rid of was the list of all the dead unbaptised babies in the parish and where they were buried.
Granny came back in. I was immediately aggro; “What did he want now? Preaching about abortions or something?”
Granny rolled her eyes “There’s a girl needs help but nothing like that.”
The first mention of abortion and Daddy was out the gap, something about fodder and hoggets or some such.
Granny sat down at the table, and took the tissue out from its usual spot rolled under the cuff of her blouse. She rubbed it between her fingers, staring at the candle sticks in the middle of the table. She turned and looked over at me. “He thinks he might need an exorcism done.”
I burst into a sudden laughter that frightened Scout halfway out of my arms, I had to quickly readjust so I wouldn’t drop her. The poor child would be grey by the end of the evening with the amount of frights she was getting. “Ah stop Granny! Seriously though, who’s getting an abortion? They’re so clichéd those priests, can they not just fuck the fuck OFF, have they not gotten it yet?” I busied myself in the kitchen making Granny some fresh tea. I waited for her response but there was silence. I looked over to see if she was rolling her eyes at me. No. Again car lights filled the back kitchen wall. Boots didn’t budge. I set out another cup. By the time the kettle had boiled Gina had hopped the corrugated roof-gate and was sitting at the table bouncing Scout up and down on her knee.
“Fierce quiet Granny?”
“Listen to this Geens, Fr. Murphy wants Granny to do an exorcism!”
“Go ‘way! What? Do they still do them? Is there not some creepy Vatican lad with a suitcase going around doing that for them?” Gina put Scout back in the dog bed and leaned forward. “So,” she was grinning and wriggling with delight. “Can we come?”
Granny stood up so suddenly Gina and I jumped. “It’s alright for yous two with you Mental Health Awareness weeks and your Prozac and what not,” she walked towards the scullery. She came back out holding what was known in our house as ‘the box’. “Some people aren’t as lucky.” She went out the back door, Boots scrambling to follow her but getting there a millisecond before the door slammed. A bit of fussing about outside and then the sound of the old Volvo revving up and slowly trekking down the gravel, down to the first gate, then down the hill.
Gina and I stared at each other. Was that it?
“So like, d’you think she’s messing?” Gina poked at the remains of the balled up tissue on the table.
I shook my head. “She brought the box.”
The box contained all sorts of herbs, twigs, tinctures, scraps of paper with Latin names on them. The abortifacients in the box were what got put to use most, on animals mostly but sometimes on women too. Well-water for warts was taken from the box quite a lot, and when we were younger and not weeding radish-beds we were often sent down Floodscraft Field to collect well-water in old 7-Up bottles. The unbaptised-babies list didn’t live in the box that was in a safe under the stove, and could only be accessed by taking out the proving drawer, lying down on the ground and reaching into a hole in the ground underneath. Granny hadn’t had to go near that in a very long time which was good as she was getting a bit stiff in the hips, despite all her tinctures and cures.
By midnight there was still no sign. Daddy was lying on the couch watching a Western at full blast. Gina went home, making me promise to text her as soon as Granny got home. I lay on my bed, a dating app open on my phone, listening to Scout snore gently in her cot. My limit for the amount of time I spent on this app was 5 photos of men at a wedding and 5 holding up a trout to the camera. Although there seemed to be some new kinds of photos now – men proudly standing at the Croagh Patrick sign. ‘Look!’ they seemed to shout through the phone ‘I’m strong and adventurous and SOUND’. A lot less photos of ‘gas’ men in Thailand beside doped-up tigers and no ‘unique’ men at Machu Pichu. I put the phone down and stared at the ceiling. Why was I even bothering, the only man that would ever be able to stay in this family for any length of time was Daddy, and he didn’t really count. As long as he had the farm he was ok. It gave us all something to talk about, kept us from talking about anything that mattered. We talk about what’s here, and who’s here, not what’s missing.
When Gina and I weren’t weeding, collecting holy water of playing or playing an ethically questionable game called Frog-in-the-Pan down Flaherty’s lane, we were teased, bullied, shouted at, or worse, ignored. Not invited to birthday parties, sleepovers, and later to GAA discos, pubs, gigs. Up on our hill, we knew too much about the village. The witches on the hill. Satanists. Vampires. But also the place where women and their kids came when they’d been beaten by their husbands one too many times. Where, even though we were seen as heathens, we saw more of the priests than the other parishioners. We did leave the hill, and when Granny could see that I had the cure in me as well, she tried to get me to come along to places when they couldn’t come to us. She realised after a few years that I had the blood-cure.
At 1am I went down to the kitchen, turned off the television and shook Daddy to wake him up so he could go to bed. At 2am Granny’s car threw lights across the back wall. She ushered a tiny woman of about 20 into the kitchen and quietly closed the door. Boots knew better than to get acquainted with the woman.
“Sit down there love and I’ll make you a cup of tea.” She led the woman to the kitchen table like you would lead a horse, gentle not to pull on the mouth but in charge enough that they wouldn’t bolt. Granny nodded at me. I closed my eyes and sighed. I really didn’t want to do this. Every time I did this, it was one more knot tying me to this house, this hill. Tying Scout to this place. Tying my daughter to a life of being derided and ignored. Are we not done with this?
I went over to Granny. “I don’t want to do this” I hissed out of the side of my mouth, taking out a packet of custard creams from the bread bin. “Can I not just drive her to A&E or the guards or something?”
Granny turned to look at me and I felt whipped by her eyes.
“You have no choice and you know that now stop it, just stop it!”
The woman turned to look at us. She didn’t look weak, or scared, or possessed even. She looked just like me or Gina. Disassociating. Fed up. Accepting – it was only a matter of time. She looked like we all do; how we’ve all learned to present ourselves. And we believe it, until someone like my Granny comes along, sticks her thumbs in your mouth and starts praying and then you start bleeding like you uterus has just come undone. Once the blood stops the tears start and then the blaming, the shouting, the anger. The knowing that you won’t be believed, that what matters the most to you, what will only ever matter to you, doesn’t matter to anyone else.
“How did the priest know about-” Granny stopped me before I could finish by whipping the custard creams out of my hand.
“You know not to be asking questions at this stage!” She spun around and changed her expression to one of a kindly old harmless lady who just wants to make you better and went over to the woman. The woman didn’t need an exorcism, she needed an examination, a counsellor, a judge and jury and evidence that would be believed. Naming and shaming. A permanent record with a name written clearly on it. She needed a prison with high walls, not this. I looked at her and I had the image of a phone, a picture of a man with a trout on it, a man she knows from school, from the GAA discos, from the pub. I hated this. Why did I have to cure her? It was him that needed a cure. An iron bar of a cure straight into the balls. I looked at Granny. Her silent words entered my head: Anger will stop it from working. Well maybe we need some anger. Granny shook her head at me and pointed to the stool she had put in front of the woman. I sat on it. Granny handed me thread from the box that I wound around the woman, knotting it every second loop. I put my thumbs on the woman’s jaw, and then in her mouth. I said the words, looking at her, no, through her the whole time. A noise, a bluster, a slam: a crow down the chimney and flying blindly around the room. Boots shivered in his bed and whined, eyes closed. I got up, arms out, caught and broke the crows neck in one move. “Come on” I ordered the woman and out we went into the dark. The shovel was beside the down pipe. “Take that” I ordered again. We went the opposite way to the second gate and over to the cluster of whitethorns that marked the edge of the Bawnogue. I stopped and pointed down. “There”. I dropped the crow. I walked back to the house, leaving the woman to bury the crow. Granny stood at the back door. I went in, washed my hands and went to bed. I didn’t text Gina.