Friday, February 05, 2010

A scene from Ballinvalley

In a post below, I mentioned Thomas Rice's new book, Far from the Land. I want to present you with an excerpt and hope you agree how compelling it is. This takes place when he is a small boy living on a farm with his sisters and mother, abandoned by his father.

Tinkers were Ireland's "untouchables" in the forties, marginalized and despised, especially in the farming community. . . .

The first time I saw Bridget Cash at the gate, I nearly died of fright. She was more than six feet tall with long, jet-black curls that sprung out from under her black shawl like live, corkscrew creatures. She had piercing black eyes, glistening like coals and flashing with passion when she spoke. She visited Ballinvalley about twice a year in her regular nomadic cycle.

We never saw her without at least six children -- and infant or two in a dilapidated baby carriage and others trailing along. The children were always in tatters, often barefoot -- even in winter. . . . [I]t was clear to me -- even then -- that these children were suffering from hunger.

Mother and Bridget were friends, sort of. They always greeted each other on a first name basis.

"Good morning, Bridget. Glad to see you again. Seems like only yesterday."

"Hello, Margaret. How have you and the family been?"

Bridget and the children were then usually invited in to warm by the fire and have some tea and fresh bread. . . . This might seem like normal hospitality if Bridget was a regular visitor or relative who came by once in a while. But she was not; she was a tinker. . . .

If you spent any time around Mother, this you knew: she did not seek approval for what she knew was the right thing to do. . . . Nobody, particularly the needy, was ever going to come to Ballinvalley and go away hungry as long as there was food in the house.

This morning was different. . . . I heard Mother say in a tense, apologetic voice, "Bridget, I'm sorry to tell you this, but I don't have anything for you or the children today."

I turned back and stared at Bridget Cash. I saw her draw herself up to full height, black eyes flashing in disappointment and suspicion. . . . Bridget suddenly assumed a new persona. She launched into her pitiful, whining, begging ritual. . . . "If you have any heart, you won't turn away innocent childer."

Mother sighed, looked down, nervously wiped her hands in the apron, and tried again. "Bridget, rest assured that if I had anything in the house, I'd share it with you. You know I would. I always have."

Reaching for the latch, [Bridget] wheeled back on Mother, filling the farmyard with flashing, black-eyed vengeance. Her voice now a low, ominous growl, she fired her last desperate shot, "Margaret, you'd better not be lying to me. If y'are, I'll put a curse on you and yours that you'll live to regret."

Mother, her voice calm and steady, clasped her hands as if in prayer, looked straight at Bridget and replied, "Oh, Bridget, you can trust me. I'd never lie to you about something like that."

For a long, tense moment, the two women looked at each other across the rain-swept yard, water dripping down their worn faces. Not a tinker, not a farmer, just two mothers searching for the common humanity that was all they had to share.

Then, slowly, Bridget's eyes softened, her shoulders slumped, and she walked towards Mother, arms out, and they clung to each other in anguished silence.

1 comment:

John Finbury said...

Paul: That was a stand-out chapter for me as well! Very powerful demi-gods of motherhood. It will be a great scene in the movie.

John Finbury