Excerpt from ‘Blood Fable’


By Oisín Curran


From his position wedged under the station wagon, my father’s astonished voice shot up through the tangle of pipes, wires and engine block. I explained impatiently that before I was born I was a girl. I couldn’t blame him for being surprised. My girl-ness in the story was an element that arrived as an unlooked-for twist even to me, it’s author. But once revealed, it seemed inevitable, even logical. Yes, inescapably logical when it comes right down to it. There was no response from Myles as he wrestled with the bolt on the oil pan, cursing gently and exhorting the object to capitulate. I watched his feet, which were all that were visible of him. They jerked and twitched with effort. At length he noticed my silence, remembered where we were, repeated the word Girl in a bemused tone and then urged me to carry on. But the spell had been broken. I switched off the tape recorder that he had placed on the engine block under the open hood. The bleary sun had set and a thin, cold drizzle began to fall out of the darkness. Myles declared his need for a flashlight and a larger wrench.

I covered my head with my coat and hurried to the shack where Myles kept his tools. He called out to my retreating back that the wrench could be found just inside the door, to the left, above my head, the flashlight should be on the tablesaw. My spirits, already low, fell to the level of the mud I splashed through, for even in daylight I found my father’s instructions rarely helpful and the navigation of his toolshed a fruitless exercise. I entered the door, bumping into an old window that had been enthusiastically purchased at a recent garage sale. Having broken a pane, I carefully collected the pieces, my fingers bitter in the damp cold and stacked the glass in a corner, catching now the roar of my father’s voice impatiently demanding what was taking me so long. I called back that I was looking, but all the while pondering whether he had said to my left and up or up and to my left and was that left as I entered or as I exited. These subtle variations should not have made a difference in a space equivalent to the interior of a car and yet the truth was that no level of descriptive precision could have helped me in that bedlam.

The spotty light cast by the fading flashlight (which I had found not on the tablesaw but on the vice) shone on jumbled stacks of old jam jars full of unsorted rusting nails, bolts and screws removed from salvaged wood by me over the course of tedious, sweaty afternoons. Suspended from the rafters were squares, levels, cords and chains in such profusion that proceeding in any direction was hazardous to the skull. An array of circular saws were strewn in varying degrees of disrepair and on the narrow rocking surface of the tablesaw sat Myles’s antique power sander, a device with which he accomplished tasks that ordinarily entailed the use of five or six other tools. The distant thunder of his voice reached me again and I slumped, sensing defeat, but I could not return empty-handed. My forehead cracked against a dangling pipe wrench, but as wrenches went this one was out of the question since I knew it to be useless from previous attempts to proffer it as a substitute (why then it persisted in that shed I don’t know). No, this time the best I could do was a hammer—known to my Grandfather, Padraig, as a Chicago screwdriver. It had been Padraig who replaced its cracked handle with a stick of whittled wood only a few months earlier during one of his month-long stays.

Though billed as vacations, these were, I would later learn, rest cures, or more precisely, dry spells. Once a year he was packed off to our remote spot far from bars or stores or drinking friends, and though from time to time he would press some money into my hand and propose that I ride my bike to the nearest vendor for a fifth of rye or gin or whatever was on offer—a scheme whose unfeasibility due to my minority age I was forced to explain repeatedly—for the most part he puttered away with apparent contentment repairing tools and building benches and coming into the house at regular intervals to sit down and await the preparation of his breakfast, his lunch, his tea, his supper, all of which was resentfully served to him by my mother who found his patriarchal expectations of her only slightly less irritating than my father’s assumption that she would fulfill them.

And after he had finished his boiled egg, his toast and his tea, he would launch into his repertoire of stories, buttonholing whomever was in range—usually me—with tales of hierophantic saints capable of covering whole islands with their miraculous cloaks, or tossing their walking sticks thirty miles without breaking a sweat, or he told of cannonballs bouncing into an ancestor’s backyard, gone astray from a furious naval battle between a Spanish galleon and a British man-of-war, or of famous revolutionary martyrs hunted, hung, shot or beheaded. And best of all, and most repeated, were accounts of tricksters he himself had known—men who used their wits to outmaneuver the overlords—buying property they could not buy through proxies, hunting animals they could not hunt by wearing disguises, finding hidden glens to make the whiskey they were forbidden to make. In those years I still listened with great curiosity and it was not until much later when I had heard them all many times repeated that I began to humour the teller, or to quiz him for further details or to simply switch channels to my own interior monologue. But on one occasion he startled me with a story never before told and never repeated.

I remember that it was a summer night and that a thunderstorm was grumbling in the distance. Iris and Myles were at the kitchen table with someone—maybe Bill and Bernadette. Padraig sat in the rocking chair near the screen of an open window and I perched nearby on a stool. We sat there together watching the lightning and in the silences between thunderclaps we could hear mosquitoes clamoring at the screen. And Padraig abruptly began to say that he’d gone on a pilgrimage in Ireland three times, fasting for three days each time while marking the Stations of the Cross on his knees and muttering the Rosary through the night in the Basilica. And all the while asking: should he go to America? But God gave him no answer. He asked his parish priest who was not encouraging. He asked a Monsignor who was similarly dissuasive. He had a wife and six children; He had a job at a time when jobs were scarce in the Republic. Not only that, it was a government job—he was a member of the Gardaí, a cop. That was secure employment. But the pay was poor and he kept failing the advancement exams. Above all, he loathed policing – handing out fines to teenage girls for cycling after dark without a bike lamp, ensuring farmers were keeping the bracken weeds out of their fields, ferreting out illegal poítin stills, shutting down pubs for operating after hours—it was petty stuff when he was longing for adventure. He’d grown up hearing of neighbours who had made a fortune in the Yukon and come back loaded with gold. His own uncle had been a Forty-Niner before heading the North and now they said he owned most of British Columbia. Most of British Columbia and a good deal of Alberta to boot. Padraig wanted to give it a go. So he climbed Mount Errigal, the tallest peak in Donegal. At the top he said a rosary in each of the four directions according to the pilgrimage instructions. He took in the view flung down before him—green fields and stone walls shooting out to the brutal North Atlantic. Then he descended. Half way down he bent to pick up a jacket he’d left on his way up. As he did, he felt God speak to him. The answer, at last.

How? I asked. How did God speak to you?

It was a shudder. He felt a shudder come over him.

A shudder. The contingencies that depended on that shudder overwhelmed me. Upon that shudder my existence depended. But for that shudder I wouldn’t be standing in the dark of the tool shed gaping down at the hammer, mind adrift, hearing again Myles’ voice hovering now on the edge of desperation. I shook myself free of mental drift and made my way back to the car. Myles was not pleased with the hammer—why could I never find anything in that shed, he wondered, had I looked where he instructed? Were my thoughts circling the ionosphere? His voice was muffled by the engine block past which it travelled and then it spiked suddenly into a fluent stream of curses because he’d whacked the troublesome bolt with the hammer and managed to flatten his thumb in the process. The filthy engine oil began to gush onto him and as he cursed he scrambled to slide Padraig’s chamber pot under the flow. He emerged at last, glasses, face and shirt black with viscous fluid, eyes hooded with rage. He did not look at me but stomped away lamenting the necessity of cars, the inadequacy of their design, the tyranny of matter.

An hour later the three of us huddled around the woodstove waiting for dinner to bake. Among the burning logs inside the stove Myles had placed three potatoes wrapped in foil along with two cans of B&M brown bread, even though, according to New England regulations you were only supposed to have canned bread with beans and hotdogs.

Money was the problem, as always. How to get it, how to keep it. Myles wanted to travel—Iris wanted running water. In summer we bathed behind the garden in a tub filled with sun-warmed water—and that was luxury next to winter’s few gallons of ice melted on the stove top and splashed under the arms. The dollars that my father earned painting houses spent little time in the bank next to Iris’s newsroom wages before the checking account was bled dry by the banalities of power and light. The savings for water pump and copper piping had just been emptied into the car’s new transmission. And meanwhile Willard demanded his tithe of labour on his farm for the privilege of inhabiting the radius of his wisdom.

And beneath the oil changes, penury and meditation was a substrate rarely exposed to open air but if it were it might sound like this:

Myles: I can’t go on painting houses forever. I’m a poet-mystic forced to petty labour by the exigencies of family, a family I never intended but the responsibility for which I honourably shouldered.

Iris: I’m too young—for you, for marriage, for a child. Biology shackled me to family before I had a chance to become the artist I dreamed myself to be.

Me: Since this is all my fault, I will make it worth your while. Let me tell you a story, a tale of derring-do, of cunning, tenacity and ruthless ambition to become your child. It will be grand and miraculous and carved in stone and when it is done you will understand why I had to make you bring me into this world.

But for all my efforts, the waters that coursed above that bedrock were rougher than ever thanks to the looming non-subject of cancer. Iris still refused to discuss her diagnosis, but the oil change had been made to prepare for a trip. We were going to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston where Iris had made contact with an oncologist through a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend. Iris was worrying about the trip and Myles was worrying about Iris, but neither of them were willing to talk about these fears so instead they fought about money.

But then they stopped and I saw them turn to look at me for I had begun to speak.

Excerpt from Blood Fable copyright 2017 by Oisín Curran. Reprinted by permission of BookThug. http://www.bookthug.ca

Post a Comment

Your email address is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>


Oisín Curran

Oisín Curran grew up in rural Maine. He received a BA in Classics and an MFA in Creative Writing from Brown University (where he was the recipient of a national scholarship and a writing fellowship), and a diploma in Translation (French to English) from Concordia University. He is the author of Mopus (2008) and was named a “Writer to Watch” by CBC: Canada Writes. Curran lives in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, with his wife and two children.