This started as a poem a month or so ago but I always intended to write it as a story. This is a rough and I would love for some of you guys to read it and tell me what you think. If it stinks please tell me.
When did courage die Maura Daly? When did the crazy heart of brave convulse and arrest in the face of fear? When did sunken black eyes overtake the screaming voice of a tomboy and let the thunder clouds in.
I saw you today. I was rocked back on my heels by the change in you. Thin, not slim or slight in a healthy way but gaunt, drawn out, stretched as if life has placed you between the traces of a dray and made of you an oxen. You shook my hand, “Sorry for your trouble John” you said and then filed on with those others who came to bury my mother. Your eyes empty, dead already.
And I saw him too Maura, John Wolfe. The reason for this ghost that walk now in your shoes, no longer the girl I knew. The girl I remember, the tomboy who led me into a world of trouble. The first girl I ever loved. I wish I had told you the truth then Maura. But I was never brave, not like you Maura Daly. I lost you to my own fear and your courage. Damn you for your bravery, why didn’t you cry, why didn’t you ask me to stay.
When did you die inside Maura Daly? Not when your Da died. Drowned out deep in the life and trade that sustained him. Fell over board or pushed if the stories are to be believed. Whispers on the beach even then in the midst of grief, if there was any grief. Was there?
I remember him coming in, Rowed home, heavy and wet, for once clean, the dirty bastard. If I had known then what I know now I would have understood better. His body hauled out of the skiff and dumped on the sand, blue, dead under orange tarpaulin, His green eyes just like yours, staring blind at the beach of a rocky cove he would walk no more.
The first dead body I had ever seen. The shock of it, the lack of animation the change from life to death, skin vibrant in the morning now wax or plastic, lacking the elasticity of life. Death was foreign to us then. It would become familiar to me in later years but back then it was the stuff of nightmares.
But you didn’t cry then. You hardly seemed to care. His death registered what? Relief? I saw you smile on the beach. Laughing a while after that. No regret! I didn’t understand that then. I am sorry Maura Daly. If I had known then perhaps I would have been able to protect you or hug you, offer some comfort for all you had lost before that day. I couldn’t even talk to you then or for a few days to follow. Your house full of mourners and gawkers.
I imagine still your poor Ma bawling but mad brave, on the beach at Barnageeragh. I loved her that day. Rocks slicing bare feet, blood flowing unnoticed in rock pools, crimson roses blooming and spreading, drawing a hermit crab to her toes. She paid no heed in her tears. Salt and iodine washed the damaged seen, clean. It did nothing for the damage you kept hidden. All the salt water in the world could not cauterise those wounds.
I remember how your Ma reached for you. With desperate clawing hands, begging forgiveness. Gripping, to cling on close. Pulling courage from you as if it was a shawl of warm wool in which to wrap a cold soul. You were only twelve then, life running wild from black eyes. Rain beating hard from bitter salty skies as you stood on a cold rain-washed beach, a circus freak surrounded by those who cared and those who came to gawk and gossip.
Your Ma buried him on top of the hill and you rejoiced. I remember you changing then and I was innocent and naive. The metamorphosis in you, a slow blooming that I was unable to follow or understand. Boys mature so painfully slow. I was too far behind to help you.
You scared me, you were not the friend I knew growing up. You became something different, exotic, a hothouse flower. You were so alive a heart beating and a body orbiting on a different trajectory. Spinning away from me even as we stood side by side. You were the spring tide rushing to the shore, growing and changing with every passing day and I was just a boy. Damn it but life is unfair.
When did you die Maura Daly? Was it when we were eighteen, when Billy Dunne lost his arm? Torn in a convulsion of blood and pain at the mill. A tangle of flesh ripped from his shoulder joint. The limb mangled under the moving wheel, crushed to cow meal among the pink stained grain.
He loved you Maura Daly. He would have cherished you. He had the words to rock your dreams to wakefulness, to wipe your tears back to clear skies. But half a man can’t fly. Billy knew, he was a few years older than us, wise enough to understand. He choose his own windmills and his own plunging skies. To die at twenty six on a beach in India. Did he die with a picture of you clutched against his heart? I don’t know but the poet in me says yes.
You changed so much after that Maura Daly. A crazy girl, running wild on the high walls of the harbour, tall and brave or just insane, who knew, I tried hard to keep up with you but I didn’t have your mad heart. A heart pumping too fast, craving proof of endings.
I was scared and you were unafraid. Brave in the face of jagged rocks and crashing waves. I see clearly wild winds pulling hair and laughter from you. Always on the cusp of high places, laughing in the face of life’s ending and begin. Laughing loudly as you ran. You were feral and wild. Green eyes shining in bright sun. Forever daring death to come and claim you. Running ahead of pain, along the high ridges and the edges of crumbling cliffs. Slipping and not caring, daring the edge even further. You ran to outpace life and the pain it threw at you and you survived, you lived by your rules.
I’m sorry Maura Daly, I couldn’t stay. I wish I had been brave enough to wait, to grow up in the presence of you, a shining sun, to mature enough to be the man you wanted, the be the man you loved.
I remember so well the day I left. The taxi horn blaring and you shouting impudence and defiance at the interruption of our one and only kiss, a kiss I carried to the edge of that other earth that I now inhabit. I remember you turning and running away, tripping on sharp stones but stumbling on, never looking back, never seeing my heart breaking, allowing me the dignity of tears. You were too kind. I didn’t deserve your concern and kindness. Your mother gone and I, a coward deserting you too and still you forgave and you survived.
You neither cared nor blamed, did you really forgive us for turning away? You, the bravest of us all, showing no fear of the yawing or the plunge, showing no fear at being abandoned. Strong enough to climb back up and run on while others fell.
I am sorry. I fell too Maura Daly. Sorry that I left you alone but by then I could not stay, I understood too much. I knew everything and your eyes would not lie, would not protect me from that truth.
I saw you today at my mother funeral, heard your words that meant little. She has been dead to me for yours but you Maura Daly only died today.
I saw how you walk now, close to the walls and ditches hugging the edges of the world, I saw the fear in green eyes, saw the dark circles of sadness. John Wolfe by your side. He was never any good Maura Daly. You knew that, you knew he was a braggart. He was your father all over again.
But who am I to compare against any man. I who was afraid always. Afraid of falling, afraid of calling death and pain, afraid of saying I love you to a girl who needed only that to give me the gift of her heart.
I saw fear shines clear in a pinched face. When did it happen Maura Daly? When did living start to scare you to death? When did you learn to fear a touch? When did you learn to die a little every day? Was it the first time the world blackened green eyes? Was it when you chose another man to steal your blue skies?
I’m sorry Maura Daly. I am leaving again. Ticket in my pocket, bags packed. I hadn’t the courage to even say hello, to come to you after they lowered her into that hole. I am running away again.
© Dave Kavanagh 2016.