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Another Report from the Field: A Rerun from May 2009

One more in my series in the spirit of “Lowell Walks” from the days when I hit the trail each weekend, usually in the morning. Lotta water under the canal bridge since 2009. — PM

Scenes From an Urban Redevelopment Zone

by Paul Marion

Garcia-Brogan’s (web photo courtesy of mami-eggroll.com)

 

 

  1. From the high ground of the Lord Overpass near Durkin’s Carpeting and Interiors you see to the north on a banner over Dutton Street the Textile Museum’s white-suited astronaut reaching for a big ball of woolen yarn floating in space. We ought to hang that spaceman banner on every parking garage for a couple of months while the Museum rolls out its new permanent exhibition—Textile Revolution: An Exploration Through Space and Time. In a single image, the Museum pushed the mill story into the 21st century.
  2. The rocking blue graffiti’d letters on Sun Electric in that subterranean area off-shore of the Lord Overpass; the agitated letters on the fully painted side of the building set against a night cityscape backdrop. Electric Motors & Pumps. The left side of the mural painted in peach, lavender, and greens, picking up the early spring colors, new-leafed trees, and weeds springing into shape. In the grassy path on the safe side of the guard rail the man-hole cover is in synch with the theme: “Lowell Electric Light Corporation.”
  3. King St., Revere St., Garnet St., Middlesex St., Pearl St. Freddy’s Auto Repair, Domestic and Foreign. Ocean State Nails & Hair Salon, and across the way the closed Best Buy Sea Foods. The massive warehouse reminiscent of the former Curran-Morton monster on Bridge Street that was demolished to make way for Kerouac Park, a near-indestructible bunker of concrete and re-bar. U.S. Dry Cleaners. KWG PC, Computer Repairs & Sales. La Tijera de Oro Barbershop with its poster of artfully cut hair/shaved heads featuring tattoo-type designs, a real body-art shop. La Differencia Restaurant promises “The Best Caribbean Flavors.” The Law Offices of George P. Jeffreys. An iron front grate pulled down tight to the sidewalk. Court House Deli by the Livingstone family—door propped open. Two guys eating breakfast. Construction underway at Garcia-Brogans, the Mex-Celtic eatery “getting in on the ground floor” of the Early Garage.
  4. Garrity’s Antiques (Always Buying Estates). Sailboat-cover sheet music of “Bobbin’ Up and Down” on a wooden table. An amateur painting of JFK in a blue polo shirt, holding sunglasses, looking at the ocean from his Cape Cod compound. A poster from the Metropolitan Opera’s 1981 production of Parade in NY. Framed Monet maritime scene print and a City of Medford Fire Department Certificate. Lamps. A wooden sled. Trunks and chairs. Mirrors and out-of-state plates and dishes and white figure skates. 1950s model cars. A gold metal troubadour, slightly damaged like a broken Aphrodite.
  5. At the Lowell Transitional Living Center small clusters of people waking to the day, talking excitedly under the blooming dogwood trees. The sidewalk is a path of pink petals. A black man steps up and sweeps a blonde woman off her feet and into his arms with a loud “Good morning,” and everyone laughs.
  6. Ever notice that the WCAP radio sign is between two signs for Cappy’s Copper Kettle? WCAPPY?
  7. Major’s Pub. Loft 27. The Lowell Gallery. Ray Robinson’s Sandwich Shoppe. Mr. Al sitting in a chair reading the paper when a Saturday morning customer steps in for a haircut. A block away at the Majestic Barbershop there’s one guy in the chair and two young guys waiting. Washington Bank. Sim’s Driving School. Electrical Distribution. The Club.
  8. Garnick’s Music Center. Classic used album sleeves pinned up on the side wall: Songs by Ricky, The Buddy Holly Story, The Beatles Yesterday and Today, Orpheus Ascending, Glad All Over by the Dave Clark Five, Elvis’s Blue Hawaii, The Beatles’ Something New, and Surf City by Jan & Dean. In the 1960s, Record Lane on Central Street and Garnick’s on Middlesex were the hot-spots for the latest music. Aisles of albums in between television sets and phonograph consoles (hi-fi and stereo). What’s left is an echo of its heyday. There was a straight line to Garnick’s from “J. C.’s Golden Oldies” on WLLH and TV’s American Bandstand, Shindig, and Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert.
  9. Romeo and Juliet Cafe. Allied Retail Systems, Specialists in Service, Sales, and Supplies since 1959. The closed Elliot’s Famous Hot Dogs stand. Cars and trucks nosed in against the Owl Diner, advertising Haddock and at least one job available. Favor Street and the Eliot Church (Could they sell hot dogs on Sundays and call them Eliot’s with one “l”?).
  10. All the other scenes I missed.

May 9, 2009

Boarding School Blues: Chapter 11

Boarding School Blues

By Louise Peloquin

Chapter 11: Cinephiles

The atmosphere during lunch was as icy as the showers. On the menu that day was French-Canadian cottage pie called “Pâté chinois” (Chinese Pâté). Blanche had never understood what was “Chinese” about a layer of ground beef topped with kernel corn and mashed potatoes. In any case it was comfort food and she concentrated on eating each ingredient and avoiding eye contact with Andy.

Titi had noticed Andy’s attempt at cheating during the algebra quiz. “That wasn’t so bad, don’t you think? Anyway, it’s only a quiz and Sister Amelia said she would drop the lowest mark at the end of the term before figuring out the report card grades. So it doesn’t even matter if we messed up.” She directed her comments to Andy in an effort to lessen the tension between her friends. No one chose to pursue the topic and the conversation changed course, once again with Titi at the helm.  “Remember that we’re going to see a movie tonight? It sure beats another prayer session.”

Andy decided to stop brooding. She had forgotten about the film and joined Titi in happy anticipation over a welcome change in the SFA schedule. “Yeah, I wonder what they’ll show us. Could be something like “The Song of Bernadette” with Jennifer Jones. It’s around twenty years old. I didn’t even know that the nuns were allowed to watch movies. But that one’s harmless. I’ve seen it. Wouldn’t it be cool if these nuns were trailblazers who expose their students to the cinema arts? I love movies. My father and I go all the time. He lies about my age so I can see other things besides Disney. During Thanksgiving weekend we’re gonna see Fellini’s latest release – ’Juliet of the Spirits’. My father’s a great guy. He’s a musician, a writer, an artist and he knows a ton of things. I really miss him. He understands me more than my Mom does and he gets it that I don’t feel like cleaning my room. Boy, if he saw me here, making my bed every morning, his jaw would drop.” Andy was rambling about her parents, something she had never done before.

Blanche was moved by Andy’s words and decided to barge in, “yeah, my Papa understands me more than my mother does and the two of us go to the movies sometimes and I really miss him too. Is that movie about Romeo and Juliet?”

Andy, surprised that Blanche talked to her after the quiz incident, quipped, “No, you IGNORAMUS! I’ll bet you’ve never even heard of Fellini. Yeah PF, maybe we have a few things in common but…”

Titi nipped the potential spat in the bud. “I thought Frankie Avalon was dreamy in ‘Beach Blanket Bingo’. Have you seen it? And Elvis in ‘Girl Happy’, that was good too. I’ll bet tonight’s movie will be ‘The Greatest Story Ever Told’. Our entertainment has to be ‘inspirational’ remember? Come to think of it, Frankie and Elvis can be VERY inspirational. I can imagine all kinds of scenes with me as the leading lady. Hihihi, haha!” A riff of Titi’s giggles dissipated the lingering bad vibes.

When the boarders heard that their gym teacher had chosen the evening’s feature they were thrilled. Sister Roger had her own approach to boarding school life, one that wasn’t only made of toil and sacrifice. She thought a bit of good clean fun was essential to an individual’s wellbeing. During gym classes, she enjoyed telling students how she had been a frequent movie-goer before joining the Sisters of the Cross. She talked about the ways actors boosted their stamina with calisthenics. She succeeded in getting everyone to move and even the most sluggish girls had fun in Sister Roger’s gym.

While demonstrating the proper form for lunges and squats, she announced that the school year’s first film would be in French. “Now girls, you know that part of our mission is promoting all things French-Canadian. That includes eating specialties like “Pâté chinois” and “Tourtière” pork pie. It’s also discovering history like the 1759 Québec City Plains of Abraham Battle and the origin of the Canadian national anthem, “O Canada”, composed by Calixa Lavallée. Most of you are French-Canadian immigrants’ grandchildren and your parents are pleased that we make an effort to expose you to our cultural heritage. Learning a bit about French cinema is another way to achieve this and our headmistress Sister Theophile entrusted me with the task of finding suitable films. After a fruitful exchange with cultural attaché Alain Chevalier, Boston’s French Consulate agreed to lend us films.”

During a series of jumping jacks, Sister talked about the young diplomat who happened to be Maurice’s cousin. When no one recognized the Chevalier name, Sister began to sing:

“Wonderful! Oh it’s wonderful
To be in love with you.
Beautiful, you’re so beautiful,
You haunt me all day through.
Every little breeze seems to whisper ‘Louise’.”

Suddenly, several of the girls remembered French crooner Maurice Chevalier and sang along. The five class “Louises” cringed and the gym echoed with such outbursts of joy that Sister Gerald hurried down to discover the cause of all the commotion.

“What is the meaning of this Sister Roger? Have you forgotten how to control your class? As we speak, there’s a Latin test upstairs and our students need to concentrate. I shall therefore ask you to cease this disorderly conduct. And may I also remind you that musical activities must occur in the appropriate rooms ONLY. The gym is NOT the place for singing. Now girls, I shall ask you to please proceed with your physical education class appropriately!”

Sister Gerald had publicly admonished her colleague. Yes, it was humiliating but Sister Roger was so eager to share her passion for cinema that she brushed it off. “Girls! Girls! We cannot deny that Sister Gerald is right. But, in order to enrich your cultural baggage, it’s interesting to know who Maurice Chevalier is and also to know that our special evening is linked to this great star through his young cousin. This is a sign from the Almighty Himself. We are in for a rare visual treat.”

Nothing could dampen her enthusiasm. To make sure she wouldn’t be sanctioned by the headmistress, the girls rallied around their teacher and exercised without a peep. While they touched their toes, swung their arms and jogged in place, Sister Roger gave them a summary of her conversation with Maurice’s relative.

“I told him all about our academy and how we are striving to open our minds to our ancestors’ cultural legacy. After all, history makes French-Canadians and French people ‘cousins’.  The French cinema scene is world renowned and we are thrilled to collaborate with the Consulate. Monsieur Chevalier told me that Jean-Luc Godard’s 1962 production “Vivre sa vie” was a sample of the French New Wave movement and I thought all of you girls could appreciate a movie called “My Life to Live”. After all, part of our mission here is guiding you on life’s path. The cultural attaché didn’t give away the plot and I didn’t ask any questions. So tonight’s film will be a surprise because it arrived too late for me to preview. It’s so exciting, isn’t it?” Sister Roger turned all of the girls into future cinephiles as eager anticipation spread.

 *****

Read Chapter 1: The Announcement

Read Chapter 2: Facing the Inevitable

Read Chapter 3: Readying

Read Chapter 4: Au revoir!

Read Chapter 5: Arrival

Read Chapter 6: Settling In

Read Chapter 7: Beginning to Belong

Read Chapter 8: Quick Showers

Read Chapter 9: Inside & Outside Study Hall

Read Chapter 10: Math Manoeuvres

Lowell Goes to Hollywood

The recent death of Academy Award winning and Lowell-born actor Olympia Dukakis at age 89 got me thinking about Lowell’s contributions to American movies and television. There are many.

Dukakis, the cousin of former Massachusetts governor Mike Dukakis, was born in Lowell in 1931. Her parents, Constantine and Alexandra (Christos) Dukakis, were both Greek immigrants who had come to the U.S. in 1910 (mother) and 1916 (father). Mr. Dukakis had a number of occupations. When he first arrived in Lowell he worked for a munitions manufacturer and then a printer. Eventually he became a lawyer with a general practice. During the Great Depression, he worked other jobs including as a teacher at St. George’s Greek school. Several Lowell Sun articles from that time report on Christmas pageants and other school shows that were directed by Mr. Dukakis so Olympia must have had early exposure to the stage and performance within her own home.

Olympia graduated from Boston University with a degree in physical therapy then travelled around the country helping to treat polio victims. She then returned to Massachusetts and B.U. to study theater. Dukakis got her start on the stage and returned to the theater throughout her career. But her stage career led to numerous roles in movies and on TV, the most famous of which may have been her performance in “Moonstruck” (1987) for which she won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar.

Here’s a rundown of other TV and film actors with roots in Lowell:

Bette Davis (1908-1989) was born in Lowell and lived on Chestnut Street in the Highlands. When Davis was seven, her parents separated, and she moved with her mother to New York City. After attending several boarding schools, she got her start as an actor on Broadway but moved to Hollywood in 1930 at age 22. There she appeared in countless films, was nominated for ten Academy Awards, and won two (for Dangerous in 1935 and Jezebel in 1938).

Michael Chiklis (born 1963) is perhaps best known for his starring role in the FX police drama the Shield, a role for which Chiklis won an Emmy in 2002. He has also starred in the ABC police drama The Commish and a number of other TV series. He has starred in several movies, most notably playing Curly Howard in the 2000 movie The Three Stooges. Although he was born in Lowell he grew up in Andover and graduated from Boston University.

Robert Tessier (1934-1990) was born in Lowell and served in the United States Army during the Korean War where he was awarded the Silver Star and a Purple Heart. After the military, he worked as a motorcycle stunt rider which landed him his first movie role in the Tom Laughlin film, Born Losers. Perhaps Tessier’s most memorable role was as a football-playing convict in the original The Longest Yard move. Through his career, he appeared in nearly 50 movies and almost as many TV shows.

Ed McMahon (1923-2009) was born in Detroit but raised in Lowell. He graduated from Lowell High School, and got his first broadcasting job at WLLH radio. He also flew 85 combat missions as a Marine pilot during the Korean War. Best known as Johnny Carson’s sidekick on The Tonight Show and as a TV gameshow host, McMahon also acted in several movies and TV shows.

Michael George Ansara (1922-2013) was born in Syria but grew up in Lowell and then moved to California where he became an actor. After serving in the Army during World War II, Ansara appeared in many television shows with a breakout role as the star of the series Cochise. Throughout his career, he appeared in nearly 100 films and at least that many television shows. He received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his work in television.

Mark Goddard (born 1936) was born in Lowell but raised in Scituate, Massachusetts. He is best known for his role as Major Don West in the late-1960s CBS series Lost in Space. He later played a police officer in the series The Detectives. Goddard eventually left acting and became a special education teacher in Massachusetts.

Dean Tavoularis (born 1932) was born in Pawtucketville where his Greek immigrant parents rented from the parents of former Lowell School Superintendent George Tsapatsaris. When Dean was still young, his family moved to Los Angelos where he studied architecture and art. His first job was in the animation department at Disney Studios but he was soon hired to be the artistic director of the movie Bonnie and Clyde (1967). Through the years, he has been the production designer on countless major films including several directed by Francis Ford Coppola including the Godfather and Apocalypse Now. He has been nominated for Academy Awards five times and won the Oscar in 1974 for Best Art Direction for Godfather Part II.

Jack Neary would likely respond to the question, where were you born, by answering, “Sacred Heart” but that’s part of Lowell and so is Jack. Best known for his local and regional playwriting, producing, and acting, Jack has appeared in a number of films including The Town (2011) and Black Mass (2015). He has also appeared in the TV programs Spenser for Hire, Law and Order and Brotherhood.

Maryann Plunkett is a Tony Award winning Broadway actress from Lowell. She has appeared in several feature films (Claire Dolan and The Company Men) and has guest starred on numerous TV shows including Matlock, L.A. Law, Murder She Wrote, Miami Vice, Star Trek: The Next Generation, and Law & Order.

Mickey O’Keefe retired as a Lowell police sergeant but also had a lifelong passion for boxing which brought him into contact with Micky Ward and Dicky Ecklund. When the Academy Award biopic about Ward (The Fighter) came to Lowell to film, O’Keefe ended up playing himself in the movie and had extensive time on the screen.

Steve Perez (aka D-Tension) featured prominently in the 2009 Ricky Gervais film, “Invention of Lying” which was filmed in Lowell and starred Gervais, Jennifer Garner, Tina Fey, Rob Lowe, Jonah Hill, and others. Perez is a well-known Lowell music performer, radio talent, and social media personality.

James Patrick Hogan (1890-1943) was born in Lowell and became a prolific Hollywood director, specializing in inexpensive “B” pictures including several “Bulldog Drummond” and “Ellery Queen” movies. Hogan is credited with directing 61 films, writing 7 more, producing 3, and acting in 5.

Nancy Kelly (1921-1995) was born in Lowell and became a child actor and model, appearing in several films before she turned 10 years old. In her teens, she became a glamorous leading lady playing opposite actors such as Tyrone Power, Henry Fonda and Spencer Tracy. She won a Tony Award in 1955 and was nominated for an Oscar in 1956.

There must be others. Please add to our list by leaving a comment to this post.

Tom Sigafoos ~ The Cursing Stone, a novel

We are pleased to present here the opening scenes from a new historical novel by writer Tom Sigafoos. “The Cursing Stone” is set on Tory Island, off the coast of County Donegal in northwest Ireland. The year is 1884 and the islanders are threatened with mass evictions. What are they willing to do to prevent them happening? Tom Sigafoos has previously appeared on Trasna with his wonderful essay, Dobhar Chú.

The Cursing Stone opening extract

 

 

County Donegal, Ireland, 1884.

Your island home is threatened with mass evictions.

What would you be willing to do to stop them?

The Cursing Stone

a novel by

Tom Sigafoos

 

———————————————————————–

Dedicated to the people of Tory Island

and to King Patsy Dan Rodgers, 1943-2018

 

Book One

WITHIN

THIS ENCLOSURE

ARE BURIED

EIGHT BODIES

RECOVERED FROM

H.M.S. WASP

WHICH SHIP WAS

WRECKED

NEAR THIS ISLAND

22nd SEPT. 1884

 

Grave Marker, Tory Island

21 March 1884

Ruairí knew the path by the way it felt under his feet. The grassy walkway from East Town curved up through the sloping fields toward the cliffs on the north shore. He could see dim outlines ahead where the grass ended and the granite began. He had been out on the cliffs on other nights when a bright moon and stars lit the way, but the light had made the cliff-birds restless. The egging would be better, he knew, on a night like this one when the clouds covered the stars like a wet wool blanket.

He heard Eoghan following close behind. He knew that Eoghan couldn’t see well in the dark – his shins were scarred from running at full speed into the rocks and iron ploughs that littered the fields of Toraigh Island. He could hear Eoghan’s heavy breathing. Ruairí wondered if his brother realised exactly where they were.

The grassy walkway ended, and he felt the narrow dirt footpath begin. The path ran along the narrow granite ridge at the eastern end of the island, inches away from the sheer cliffs that dropped straight to the sea on both sides. He could hear the waves washing against the rocks hundreds of feet below. He shifted the bag of straw from one shoulder to the other. A gull flapped by, the sound of its wings disappearing into the darkness.

He saw a flickering light on the path ahead, and he kicked the ground in anger. He’d wanted to be the first one down.

“Hey, look,” said Eoghan. “Pádraig’s already here.”

“Yeah, the bastard,” said Ruairí. “That’s twice tonight he’s beat me.”

“Twice?”

Ruairí was tempted to snap at Eoghan, but he didn’t want Pádraig to hear them. “Don’t you remember? In the game?”

“The football game?”

“Remember when you got the ball away from him, and you broke away up the field?”

“Yeah, I scored a goal then.”

“That’s the time. While you were up there at the goal, he clipped me from behind. I still got a sore rib.”

“I didn’t know that, Ruairí.”

“Nobody else did, either.”

“If you’d told me then, I’d have got him back.”

Ruairí stopped and turned to his brother. “That’s why I didn’t tell you. This is just between him and me.”

“Well, sure, Ruairí…”

Ruairí stared at Eoghan without saying anything. Eoghan fidgeted and said, “I’m sorry. I mean, I know you can take care of yourself. I just want to help…”

“If you wanted to help, why didn’t you come up here faster with me?” Ruairí said, surprised by the harsh edge in his own voice. “I could have beat Pádraig up here if you hadn’t wanted to piss around back there after the game.”

“I didn’t even know we was coming up here.”

“Didn’t you hear what he said? It’s a good night for eggin’, if anybody has the nerve. Didn’t you hear that?”

“No, I didn’t…”

“He’s been pushin’ me since I can remember. Don’t you see it?”

As they walked along the ridge, Ruairí could feel Eoghan trying to decide what to say. He didn’t like to boss his brother around, but there were times when he ran out of patience with Eoghan’s slow thoughts.

They approached an ankle-high pile of rocks where a dry, long-abandoned bird’s nest smouldered. A rope was looped around an outcropping of stone, trailing over the edge of the cliff and down into the darkness. Far below, they could see Pádraig dangling at the end of the rope, holding a burning stick in one hand and a cloth bag in the other.

“Hey,” said Eoghan. “I’ll grab that rope and scare the piss out of him.”

“No, don’t do that. I got a better idea.”

Looking down the cliff-face, they watched Pádraig shove the burning stick into a hollow in the cliffside. Two puffins came flapping out, and Ruairí could see a flash of their bright red beaks for an instant before they disappeared into the dark air. Pádraig reached into the hollow, pulled out an egg, and slipped it into the bag over his arm.

“I want to go down tonight,” said Eoghan.

Ruairí put down the bag of straw and looked at his brother in the firelight. Eoghan was swaying back and forth, mimicking Pádraig’s dangling dance at the end of the rope.

“Ah, now, Eoghan,” said Ruairí, “you know what Aunt Eithne said. She’ll skin us alive if she finds out we was eggin’ up here.”

“She won’t know unless you tell her.” Eoghan was still swaying, imagining the pull of the rope and the rock face under his feet.

Ruairí tried to size up his brother’s mood. It was impossible to talk sense into Eoghan when he got one of his stubborn ideas, but sometimes he could be distracted. And he liked it when people confided in him.

“Come ‘ere, Eoghan. I got an idea.”

Eoghan grinned. “What’s that, Ruairí?”

“He don’t know we’re here. You rig me up and lower me down. Not right beside Pádraig. Over here.” He stepped away a few feet along the cliff-edge.

“Sure, Ruairí.” Eoghan unslung the coil of rope from his shoulder and wrapped it around Ruairí’s chest three times. Ruairí watched while Eoghan tied the bowline knot. Sometimes he got it backward, and it could slip.

Ruairí looked up at the dark sky. It was the time of year when the nights grew shorter and the days longer – Aunt Eithne said that the winter and the summer touched each other twice each year as they passed. She always lit a candle on the night when they touched. Ruairí imagined a boy and a girl walking toward each other on a path, too shy to look into each others’ eyes but close enough to let the backs of their hands graze each other.

Eoghan wrapped the rope over his own shoulder and once around his chest. Ruairí picked up the bag of straw, and Eoghan’s face clouded. “Why do you need the bag if you just want to scare him?”

“Watch this,” Ruairí grinned, and he leaned out over the cliff. “Let me down there a little below him.”

Like Pádraig, he kept his feet on the cliff face while he tilted back against the rope. The mossy rock face was slippery, and he tried to find solid purchase with one foot before moving the other. He looked up as he made his way down, seeing Eoghan and the cliff-edge recede against the sky.

The face of the cliff was pocked with deep holes, perfect shelters for the sea-birds. Gulls and gannets, graceful in flight, became puffy duck-like creatures in their shelter-holes, squawking like indignant old women when the island boys raided their nests. He wondered if they squawked and complained at other times. How would anyone ever know?

Pádraig didn’t see him. Ruairí knew what it was like to grow absorbed in the in-front-of-your-nose details of egging. It was a way to keep yourself from thinking about the steep drop to the bone-shattering rocks below.

As Pádraig turned sideways to reach into a nesting-hole, Ruairí pushed himself along the cliff with his feet and snatched the egg-bag from Pádraig’s arm.

“You fecker! Who’s that?”

Swinging away, Ruairí grinned. “It’s myself, Pádraig.”

“Gimme my bag back!”

“Ah, it’s only half-full. You can get more in this one.” He threw the empty bag at Pádraig, who caught it and glared at him.

“Come on over here, you red-headed prick!”

“Nah, there’s more eggs over here.” Ruairí pulled the rope sideways, and Eoghan moved along the cliff edge, swinging him away from Pádraig.

Pádraig started climbing his rope. “I’m going to throw your fecking brother over the edge.”

Ruairí put a friendlier tone into his voice. “Hey, Pádraig!”

Pádraig stopped climbing. “What?”

“I’ll bet I can get six eggs before you do. If I can’t, I’ll give you these back.”

“And the eggs you get?”

“And the eggs I get.”

“All right, you piss-arse.”

Moonlight broke through the scudding clouds, and Ruairí could see the silhouette of the granite ridge they were hanging from. The island looked like it had been tipped by the pounding of the ocean, exposing the unyielding layers of rock below a few inches of weedy soil. On this end of the island there was no soil at all, only a ridge of bare rocks jutting up out of the sea. The islanders called the ridge Balor’s Army – Balor, the one-eyed king of the Formorians who could kill his enemies by staring at them – Balor, with his bloodthirsty army of mutilated and one-legged men, lined up to repel invaders from the east. Ruairí thought the ridge looked more like a row of rotten teeth.

A squawking pair of cormorants interrupted his reverie as Pádraig raided their nest for eggs. I’d better get busy, he thought. He pushed away from the granite wall and let his feet dangle as he swung back. Pulling himself sideways, he reached into a hole in the rock face. He felt a flurry of beating wings, and the webby feet of gulls slapped awkwardly at his arm as the birds scrambled out of the cleft and flapped away. He slid his hand over the crumbling sticks of the nest and reached inside. He could feel three eggs, still warm from their mother’s breast. He slipped them one by one into the centre of the sack, separating them from each other with the straw. He hoped that they weren’t ready to hatch, because it was disgusting when the eggs contained pink half-formed birds.

“I got three!” he shouted to Pádraig.

“Feck you, Mullan. I got four.”

Pushing himself to the right, he felt Eoghan moving with him at the top of the cliff. He would beat Pádraig if he could find three more eggs. He scrambled toward the next recess in the cliff face, a perfect nesting hole. Reaching into the blackness, he was surprised to feel only dirt and pebbles under his hand. Had Pádraig already been in this one? Not likely – with his fixed rope, he couldn’t have swung over this far. Pulling himself upward with one hand, Ruairí leaned into the hole and stretched his arm into the darkness. The narrowing cleft smelled of wet earth. He began to feel short of breath in the confining space, but he grinned when he felt the twigs of a nest.

Claws tore into the side of his face, and a bird-shriek filled the space like boiling water. He shoved himself out of the hole, swatting desperately at the thing that was digging into his skin. In the half-light he saw the glint of an eye – the eye of a hawk, a hunter – before the bird stabbed its beak into his eye and the world flared into hot red waves of pain.

———-

The peregrine falcon returned to her nest. Her leg hurt. The boy who had invaded her lair had bent her claw-joints when he pulled her away, and they would be slow to heal. With one claw she could capture only small birds. If her two eggs hatched before her foot healed, she would be able to bring back less food, and only one of her chicks would live.

Bits of the boy’s flesh adhered to her injured claw. She picked and cleaned the claw with her beak. His blood tasted salty, like rabbit.

Below the falcon’s lair, the cloth sack floated in the water. An incoming wave slammed it against the cliff, smashing the eggs. The loosely-woven cloth snagged against the sharp edges of the rock-face, and the waves tore the sack to shreds.

~~~

The full Irish historical novel The Cursing Stone is available in serial form to interested readers at no cost. To subscribe, go to the author’s website www.tomsigafoos.com. Printed and e-book copies are available from the Lulu Bookstore, from Amazon, and from other on-line bookstores.

The first episode of The Cursing Stone (21 March 1884) was published under the title “Egging” in The Copperfield Review, 28 April 2012

~

Tom Sigafoos is the author of Dobhar Chú, published in Trasna on August 28, 2020.

His crime novel Pool of Darkness was shortlisted for the Penny Dreadful Novella Prize. His work has appeared in in The Quiet Quarter Anthology, The Cathach Literary Journal, Crannog Literary Magazine and many other publications.

Based in Co. Donegal, he is a member of the Irish Writers’ Centre and the Irish Writers’ Union. Sigafoos also serves as PRO for the Allingham Arts Association.

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