Well, it's a sunset to beat them all, blood red and tearing the sky
apart. It could be the same as any other evening but for the missing
sounds. No cows trudging, no shouts from the boys as some of the
wilder ones veer off the well-trodden path down the hill towards the
parlor. The absent hum of the milking machine is louder than the
sound itself.

Underneath the huge old horse chestnut tree, that guards the entrance
to the farm, sit remnants of where the girls, his grandchildren, had
played. Old tin cans, the Homestead paper signs long since peeled off,
rusting beside each other. They'd play shop and beg him to buy from

"No, granddad, buy from me, mine's cheaper!" or

"No, that's not right, we want the list like granny makes for you.
Where's the list?"

Jesus, he can hardly bear to think of it. Those kids so bright, so
full of laughter and only years later did they tell him what had been
going on at home, did all the sewage spill out, and infect their
relationships and the whole family with disease. Dis-ease, and

No matter how much he squints, how hard he tries, they are ghosts,
those girls. Had they ever really existed? He had thought they were
happy. His own children, split up, some dead, some not even talking.
How had it happened? And not one of them, not one would stay and tend
the farm. Years of work, years of loving the land, providing for them
and not one of them wanted to carry it on. It was a fine mess.

The eldest girl, he forgets her name all the time, is waiting for him.
The one he once thought might take it over. She looks like a stranger
and in many ways she is.

"It must be a sad day for you Granddad. The end of an era."

"Aye, it is I suppose. Tis a greater pity it has to end at all. How as
your mother couldn't make it?"

"She was afraid Uncle Dave would be here I guess, she shrugs the
question off, as tired as he is of their ongoing battles, their
bottomless hatred for each other. I used to love it here you know.
I'll really miss coming back. Do you know who's bought it, if they'll
let it?"
"I don't. And I don't want to. It's theirs now. You mustn't come back
here, tormenting them either."
"I suppose."

"Do they know, the rest of them? You're very young for all this.
I don't know. Sure most of them don't talk. Look Granddad, I want to
take care of you now, it's my turn. I can do it."
As they drive out the bumpy laneway for the last time, the girl, this
child, now a young woman with pink hair and metal in her face, and
lace on her hands and arms stops the car and gets out to close the
gate behind them. He sees her look back in the rear view mirror for a
last time, with longing. He settles in for the long car journey. It's
a while to her house, to his new home. He starts a rosary, in his
head, praying to Our Lady for the courage to someday tell this girl so
full of forgiveness that he loves her too.

Pauline Mason hails from the west of Ireland and currently lives in London. She has had poetry published on
EveryDay Poets and fiction forthcoming in Pank. She co-presents London monthly short fiction evening, Tales
of the Decongested and writes with online writing collective, Fiction Forge.

The story was initially inspired by a writing exercise that was posted on an online writing site that I'm a member of. For me, setting is hugely important in any story and particularly in this one. Once I know where it's set, it becomes more alive, I can figure out what characters live there, I can start to tell their story. But the place and the smells, sounds, sights, what it's like to live there is always the process that pre-empts the characters.

I grew up in a very rural setting in the West of Ireland, known for its beauty, in a country where traditionally the people have been very attached to the land. The idea of an elderly leaving his land, his farm and all that means for the last time has always fascinated me. These isolated spots, with their seemingly simplistic lives hold stories, sometimes horrific, often deeply buried, that I feel need to be told.


Copyright 2009