In the time of Giants, Eamon Macha son of Dithorba was guilty of a most brutal deed. Dithorba, the great King of the North, was enraged. He threw Eamon Macha down and declared ‘You are no longer my son!’ This was a horrific curse, and twenty five generations had lived and died since it was last spoken ‘This Géas I place upon you. You have dug fresh graves to hide your sins. For thirty times three hundred years you shall trudge the tracks and paths of the land with your pipes, you shall play for any that call on you, but you shall only know the sad airs, and men will curse your melancholia.’
Sean McCarthy slammed down the lid of his laptop in frustration. It was garbage, mediocre garbage that just did not resonate with his voice at all. The wandering fecking piper, where did that come from? Where was it going to?
He stretched. It had been a long day. There was a desperation now; what had started as the great adventure, giving up his insurance job to pursue the dream of writing, would soon come to an end unless he could convince his agent that his modern reworking of Irish folk myths was a runner. Without Julie’s income, he would have to crawl back to the corporate world with his tail between his legs. In fact, he may be lucky to get something in the current environment, and there would certainly be a big drop in salary.
On his way downstairs, he called into Julie. Fiercely drawn, thin, pale as God’s host and, who knows, maybe days away from joining them. The morphine solution connected to her central line was three quarters gone, but the switch to self-administer was still in her hand. He missed her badly. She was gone nearly all the time now. A week ago she had occasional lucid moments when he could talk to her, confirm her living will, gaze into the future. Now he stood as the sole guardian of what was left of her. He closed his eyes and said a prayer, holding her hand.
Maire, Julie’s sister was in the kitchen doing a bit of washing and cooking. He did not want her there, but she had made this her vocation, and not a day passed that she was not at her station. Would he be able to evict her once Julie passed?
‘Ah, there you are,’ she whined. She had a tinny voice that always sounded like nails on a blackboard. ‘Would you not give up on that writing thing, get out and get a walk in. You won’t have your little holiday too much longer.’
‘Thanks for the support, Maire.’
‘Well, support whatever. It’s a voice of sense you need to be hearing. If Julie were awake now, God bless her, she’d be getting you out the door.’
She was wrong; Julie had been his muse, had picked through his diaries and talked him into trying his writing again. It had been her idea to give up his job. If she were here, she would stand behind him.
‘Now, I’ll need to wash her down once I have the sheets aired. I’ll need you to help me change her. In the meantime, you need bread, milk and eggs, so off you go to Spar. And mind you walk now. And no dawdling!’
She had a heart of gold and was one of the most selfless people he knew, but God, he would love to punch a knife through her eye.
The Gardener was hungry. Noon had passed and the afternoon was stretching in. His feet was sore, but they were always sore, and his hands ever cold. Hunger came and went.
There was a fat man coming out of a gate in front of him, red faced and panting.
‘Excuse me, sir.’
The man looked twice at him, something he was used to, most people found it hard to take his visage in at once. Shabby black clothes, several layers slung about so that it might appear he was wearing robes; sad old boots with string in place of laces; scraggily beard and hair that had not seen a comb or scissors; finally his seed bag, grown gross with the years. Aye, no wonder that the good and humble people of this neighbourhood might look twice.
‘I’m sorry to disturb you, sir, only I have the hunger on me, and was wondering if you might have a little food to spare.’
The man’s eyes turned, avoiding his, an indication that he was not going to help, but was already feeling guilty. There came a change in his face then, perhaps reflecting inner doubts, and he reached into his pocket. He came out with a ten euro note; he checked his pockets again but, finding nothing else, handed the bill over.
‘Ah, blessings of God on you, sir, but I couldn’t take no charity, sir. Could I… You see, sir, I’m something of a gardener, you know…’ He pulled out a rusty old trowel and ancient looking shears. ‘I could maybe do a bit of weeding, clean up a little. If that’d be your garden you’re after coming out of.’
‘Eh… Well… Ok, sure, in the front garden, I’ve not been out in it much. Bit of tidying, aye.’
The man walked off and the Gardener smiled. When kindness was shown, it could be returned.
Sean was in an odd mood as he walked to the shop. Not that he was ever in a mood that was not odd, not since that awful day in the consultant’s office. They had expected piles, ulcers, nothing to worry about, here’s a cream and off home with you. Instead, the cold grey doctor had started to use words like tumour, then malignant, then primary. Six months he had been in this odd mood, but he could not define what he felt about the old man. He was a tramp, a vagrant, and yet… there was a quality to him, something that made you feel he was a step up from the normal drunk you might encounter.
He bought some extra things, rolls, some ham and bit of coleslaw, thinking it likely a waste of time, the old man would be long gone with his tenner before he got back.
He was not. When Sean returned, the vagrant was bent over what had, at one time, been Julie’s herb bed, now choked with weeds. At least, some of it was choked, a good solid patch had been cleared, and beautifully so, the soil fresh turned.
‘Did you give money to that beggar man?’ Maire demanded. ‘I went out to chase him off with a broom and he said you had asked him to do the garden.’
‘Thanks for watching out for me, Maire.’
‘Not for you. You’d never know what these people are up to.’
‘Up to, schmup to…’
‘You see there you go with your high faluting language again when you should be out there digging the garden instead of paying some layabout who will probably die and then sue you.’
Sean made up a couple of sandwiches and a big mug of tea, milky with plenty of sugar and took it out to the old man. He was nearly finished the herb bed and it was looking great. He brushed off his hands on his jacket and took the sandwich greedily.
‘You’ve done a great job. You know, I’d be happy to pay you for a little bit of work, maybe once a week.’
‘Can’t, got to keep moving,’ spluttered the tramp between bites and slurps.
The old man spluttered, laughed.
‘Here. Wherever might be next… Ye know what destiny is? Fate, like.’
‘Oh, Jesus yes. I found out all about fate.’ He glanced up at the window where his wife’s failing threads of life were fraying.
‘There are many fates, you see. Death wouldn’t be the worst, now.’
‘It is not death I fear, it is… The lonliness. I miss her already, and she is still here. She is… half of me. That’s it, really. I will be half dead when she goes.’
‘Yes, that would be worse than death, for a man like your good self, healthy and strong and all that.’
‘And what about your fate?’
The tramp patted his bag. ‘Seeds,’ he said. ‘I pick them up here, plant them there. That’d be my lot.’
‘What have you planted here?’
‘A Rowan tree. There in the oul’ corner. It will take a bit to grow, now, but it will be mighty. Now off with ye. Sure don’t I have work to do. I must be picking something to take with me.’
And so he left the old man to his trowel and his shears. There was a peace in his heart.
That evening, after Maire left and he finally got a bit of peace, Julie woke up screaming. He rushed to her, astonished to see her sitting up, lucid, alive.
‘There was a man here,’ she said, the first words he had heard from her for a fortnight. She felt her chest, her groin. ‘He took the tumours!’
‘What? A man in here?’
‘An old man, he eased them out of me, like… like weeds…’
A fortnight later, after yet another round of discussions with astonished consultants, Sean found a quiet space and began again.
In the time of Giants, Eamon Macha son of Dithorba was guilty of a most brutal deed. Dithorba, the great King of the North, was enraged. He threw Eamon Macha down and declared ‘You are no longer my son!’ This was a horrific curse, and twenty five generations had lived and died since it was last spoken ‘This Géas I place upon you. You have dug fresh graves to hide your sins. For thirty times three hundred years you shall trudge the tracks and paths of the land, you shall dig the gardens of all the earth, so that some good might come of you.’
So it was that for six thousand years, Eamon Macha walked the back roads and dust paths carrying a stick and a blade, with a bag of seeds, scattering some here, picking up others there.
One day, in the time of motor cars, Eamon Macha walked the streets of a city. He came to the garden of Maire.
‘Get out of here, you dirty foul man,’ she cried in a tinny annoying voice.
The Gardener reached into his bag of seeds. ‘I have the very thing to plant in her dark heart,’ he thought.