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Tom Phelan

Excerpt:  In  the  season  of  the  Daisies 

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In the following chapter from In the Season of the Daisies,
Mister Sheehan talks about Seanie Doolin



The street-light in the blade of Seanie's knife, the knife that moves in the jerking hand as if the jerking hands, the jerking body, will loosen the words stuck inside him. Streams of Milton's words, and Wordsworth's, flowed freely out of him twenty-seven years ago, and now he can't say his own name. The effort to speak contorts his face, leaving grooves behind like the marks of a stirring stick in a pot of boiling gruel. When the sounds do come out, there is a look of intelligence, or maybe pleading, on his face, suggesting that the noises he makes are heard differently by Seanie than by anyone else. Now and then I think I hear something that may be a word, but the rest is unintelligible. His sounds are like the urgent barkings of a small dog, almost yelps. I wonder can he write anymore.

The flashing knife in Seanie's spasmodic hand holds my eyes as he struggles with his words. When I look back at his face, there is desperation, almost anger, as if he were reproaching me for not paying attention; as if he were afraid I would go away without waiting to hear him. He puts his free hand on my arm to keep me there, to stop me from walking away.

To reassure him, I reach out and touch his arm above the elbow, this thin, bedraggled, tortured boy.

Sometimes when alone, I have cried out at what fate has meted out to this one person, almost my son. It was fate, not God, who dealt him his fortune. Or men. God is not that cruel, I hope. Seanie Doolin was the brightest child I have ever taught. He and his brother, Willie. They were almost identical in looks and intelligence. Twins. Beneath the soiled cloth of his torn jacket, I can feel the muscles pulling together in an effort to eject the urgent sounds. Suddenly, over trembling jaw, the words spill out, one word repeated several times. The look on his face, the pleading in his eyes tell me that he hears an intelligent word, but all I hear is something that sounds like Cam aran

- a Gaelic word that he wouldn't know.

'Camaran Camaran Camaran Camaran,' Seanie says.

His knife is pointing across the street. I look over, and there is Guard McSwaine walking with his bicycle along the far footpath. It looks as if he is trying to slink past without being noticed. A sudden rage takes hold of me, and may God forgive me, I give expression to my anger.

I know where Guard McSwaine is going, because it's Tuesday night. And as he is trying to sidle silently past me, Seanie is pointing an accusing finger at him, saying over and over the word Guard McSwaine has used to hurt him. Camaran! It is a derogatory word that could mean any of several things: stupid person, coward, dog-dropping. It's not a word that the casual Gaelic-speaker would know, only a person from a Gaelic-speaking area, and McSwaine is from west Clare.

I shout across the street in a sarcastic tone: 'Say hello to Mr Dunne for me, Guard.' With the defiance of an arrogant adolescent, he calls back to me: 'Right you are, sir.'

I am astonished. In my astonishment, the decision is suddenly made: I will confront the guard tomorrow about his bribe-taking.

I turn back to Seanie and ask him, 'Did he hurt you, Seanie?'

But Seanie has the strange agony on his face that I first saw when he came to me at Willie's grave and I, so foolishly, told him things that were better left unsaid. It's as if he is someplace else, seeing something that I'm not seeing. There are no tears at his eyes, but he is crying on the inside, crying in the past. And now he says the sound again that's like Camaran, only now he is saying it without knowing. The fingers of his empty hand are pulling down on the flesh of his face, distorting it into a mask of pain and sadness.

I touch his upper arm again and squeeze softly. Then I shake him gently. He looks up at my face. All I can say is:

'I'm sorry, Seanie. I'm terribly sorry.'

I know my words have no value, no healing power. How can that be healed which has been killed? This town killed Seanie Doolin. He is still walking around, but this place damaged him more than it damaged Willie - and it killed Willie. May God have mercy on those who did the deed, and on those of us who made the doing of the deed easy.

'Cam aran?' He is asking me a question with the sound of his voice.

'Did Guard McSwaine call you a Camaran?' I ask. To my surprise he shakes his head and makes a noise that sounds like 'nath'. I have wrongly accused the Guard.

'Who called you a Camaran, Seanie?' I ask. The money- bag from the Cinema is hurting my arm. I want to change it to my other hand. But if I do that, I will have to take my hand away from Seanie's arm and break whatever little connection there is between us.

He mouths the word with difficulty again, and the frustration on his face tells me I am not understanding him.

'Cam aran,' I say. 'Is that the word you are saying?'

The sound that comes out to accompany his nodding head is meaningless.

'You want to know what Camaran means?'

He nods; I decide to give him the least offensive meaning.

'It means a weak person, Seanie,' and he is gone again to someplace I can't go, to his place of agony. It's exactly the same as when he came to me in the Paupers' Cemetery, when I foolishly told him that it was Willie who was in the grave.

With his mouth open, and a drool beginning to spill over his lip, he glides out of my grasp. It's exactly the same! He slipped from my grasp at Willie's grave, stole away into his own mind where he sees something he can't escape from. Miss Bevan was right. Seanie would come to us, she said. He came alright, but when he did I told him too much too soon and drowned him. Now, he falls away again and disappears into a shadow before he has taken ten steps.

I change the money-bag from one hand to the other.

'Good night, Seanie.' I start off towards home again, crying.

Seanie was robbed of his nights years ago. The stories that were invented then! He had seen a banshee. He had killed his own brother. He had seen the ghosts of his father and mother. The twins were drunk, the smell of porter on the two of them - Enda McKenna said - and Willie had fallen while climbing over the Cemetery gate. One of the spikes stuck in his head. They still say he killed his own brother. The Town has officially adopted that story.

Seanie is our sacrificial goat, except in the biblical community the sin-laden animal was driven off into the wilds. Seanie never went away. His presence keeps the truth - our sins - before our eyes. He won't be driven off. He has no place to go, only the Paupers' Cemetery. So he is continually abused by the adults and the children. And those who don't abuse him shun him.

I don't even know if he realizes that someone loves him.

The same flu that killed fifty million people in 1919 killed Seanie' s and Willie's parents. It also killed my - our - two girls. Deirdre and Eileen. Oh God! They were eleven and twelve and they were laid out in their confirmation dresses. White coffins, as if the colour could make any difference. Dear God! That was a time when blasphemy brushed my lips. Caithleen descended into a black place.

It was two days after Eileen's funeral that I went back to school. My sadness wasn't unique. Nearly every family in the Town had a funeral that year. The resilience of the bereaved boys in my classroom was contagious, and my spirits were lifted.

There were two new boys in my room that morning. The moment I saw them I knew they were orphans, knew they were from the Workhouse. Their heads were shaved except for a small fringe. It was a cruel hairstyle, but then, everything about the Workhouse was cruel. These two elevenyear-olds were terrified strangers from another town; before they could even see their parents buried, the local authorities had bundled them off to the Workhouse.

Workhouse; the Union; the Century House; the Poorhouse. No matter what the name, the Workhouse was what the privileged imagined was a good place for the wretched to live in, as if the privileged ever had an imagination as far as the poor were concerned. Even the window sills on the inside of the Workhouse were sloped downward, so the inmates could not sit on them. The thing that set the two boys apart the most was their pauperism. Paupers! They would have been treated better had they been lepers, because they would at least have evoked pity. But as paupers they were fair game for anyone who wished to abuse them. They sat close together in the crowded classroom, as if they were ready to grab each other. Several times during that first day tears were on their faces, but they cried silently and kept looking forward. They touched their bald heads with their fingers, and they knew they were different. During the lunch-break I saw them with their backs to the school wall, and the taunts and jeers were loud. In the classroom again I saw them surreptitiously touching each other, reassuring each other. That night when I cried for Deirdre and Eileen I cried for the Doolin twins.

Every night this money-bag gets heavier. I wonder would it be as heavy if Father Quinn had invited me to the dinner tomorrow. Now I won't be able to give up The Cinema, because everyone will think I'm doing it out of spite or revenge. I'll have to do it for another few months. It will be nice to have the evenings free after all this time. If Caithleen hadn't died, I would never have taken on the job, but without her there was nothing to do.

Caithleen! First it was Deirdre and Eileen. Their dying broke her. Then it was Seanie and Willie, the day before we were to adopt them. They would have used the girls' room, the girls' beds. But Willie was murdered, and Seanie went mad the same night. Caithleen died, too, when she heard. She cried till the end. Oh dear God in heaven! It was too much to ask. Too much!

The water in my eyes fractures the lights on the streetpoles. I remove the glasses, and with the back of my hand, wipe away the itching tears. Deirdre and Eileen and Willie and Caithleen - and Seanie's mind shattered. I feel sorry for myself, because Father Quinn should have asked me to the dinner with de Valera tomorrow.

Big gulps of grief hurt my throat. I have to stop and put down the money-bag so I can blow my nose. It's something I could never do with one hand. The glasses I fold and put away into my breast pocket.

A noise, up ahead on the street, raises the hair on the back of my neck. It's a fiendish sound, growling and scraping. I fumble for the glasses, and, peering into the darkness, I can see someone near Peetie Mahon's shop. Then two dogs trot into the light. One has the thigh-bone of a cow in its jaws, the shin-bone dragging along the road, the hoof still attached. The second dog is behind and to the side, waiting for the opportunity to grab the bone and run; a stupid opportunist, because the hole in the field behind Joe Butler's shop is full of bones; bones and rats in winter; bones and rats and flies in the summer; bones and rats and boys with catapults in the twilight any day; bones and the rotten smell of decaying flesh all the time.

The big hip-bone will be dragged and kicked around the streets of the Town until one of the street-cleaners throws it into his cart and curses Joe Butler yet again.

I can see that Peetie Mahon's shop is lit up. Peetie's outside, and it looks as if he has his face against the shop window. Just seeing him does something to my insides. Peetie Mahon! If I am damned to hell when I die, it will be because of my inability to forgive that man. He robbed me of my last chance of happiness in this vale of tears. But I will pray for him.

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now, and at the hour of our death. Amen.

Peetie Mahon is going back into his shop. I won't have to greet him.

©1993 Glanvil Enterprises, Ltd.

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In the Season of the Daisies

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ISBN: 1 56858 108 4
Published by Four Walls Eight Windows