Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Far Off Fields

We trudge through slime and dirt, through slime and dirt, and the rain pelts down on us something fierce until we're all soaked to the bone, with faces dark and brooding, and some aul wan somewhere might say of us that we have faces only a mother could love.

We march across the fields of France, smoke in the air, with a purpose that holds at bay thoughts of certain death by all manner of contraptions that men made to prolong this bloody war. There are bullets that fly over our heads without warning and at that deadly speed. There are mines, hidden like young childers playing hide and seek on a Spring evenin'. 'Cept these blasted hunks of metal would blow the bejaysus out of ye, if you aren't careful.

There are men too. You should never underestimate them. Removed from the bullets and the mines in a quare sort of way, they're the biggest threat, in spite of their mad absence. They watch, hidin' in bushes, with eyes like hawks, waiting to fly down and catch some wee mouse.

You had to walk a fine line when thinkin' about those damned Germans. You could think of 'em as hawks, that they were flying up in the sky, that they were always in a better position than the mice, with the benefit of wings and blooming air to carry them, and that we were the mice.

You have such thoughts, have to have 'em sometimes. But you have to think of 'em as less than you as well. Boyle was always good at that. He used to call 'em all Kraut's. I heard the English lads calling 'em that once or twice. Musta bin some German curse. Course, they called us Paddies too.

When Boyle'd get goin' we'd all be in hysterics. He would march back and forth, finger over his lip, mimicking Mister Hitler, marching back and forth, back and forth. His face would fake seriousness as if it were the real thing, and he would shout in that harsh German way which I'd say was just gobbledy gook but was German enough for an audience like us.

We were a strange auld bunch, us. An Irish regiment, fighting England's holy war. The patriotic detachment of the rest of the country did not wash over us with the fervour or resignation that it did Ireland.

And my reason for joining this war, to fight in France and other places still? Well, they are my own. A man can keep some secrets, allow them to define him in mystery. Or at least he should be able to do that. That is what I'm gonna do. I'll tell you a little, but not a lot.

I was born in county Mayo, me father went and fought in the Great War, came back a cripple, sore of body and of mind. He cursed my mother, for years and years, till she finally gave up, and died cause the drink had got me father bad. He outlived her, the bastard!

We went to stay, me, Bridgette and Mike, with auntie Nora when me mother died. She had no children, but she was a good woman, and looked after us well. The sadness and pain of our younger years (of which we rarely spoke and I can barely admit to this day) was softened by our time with Nora, in her little cottage. I can remember the fields were golden in the summertime, and wheat and barely blew gently in the breeze.

I remember fighting for Collins, and then for Dev, in fields first against my current employer and then against me neighbours. I killed young Paddy O'Reilly in a feild one night. The guns went off, we knew they were there, and we fired into the darkness, me and Chesty Maguire, kneeling down into a thorny bush as we shot over it with our German guns.

They found his body the next day, and I imagined the scene many times. A bloody cadavar, a twisted look, or maybe something more graceful than that. Ara, he was dead, by mine or Maguire's hand, more or less, but it may aswell a' been mine.

- Ah sure, Maguire had said over a pint, 'twasn't one of us that did the deed. 'Twas those blasted bullets.

I laughed, that night. But it left me uneasy. It was only now that I thought of it again. Now I really understood the quare luxury of disconnection that guns 'n' bullets provided. But then I don't know these Germans. I knew O'Reilly, we used to play together in the fields.

Not long after that I met Molly Malone, a wee lass from the big smoke. She called herself that, that first time, when I took my hat off to her, with a smile on my face. That was not her name, o' course. She was a funny girl, knew the world more than me, not averse to the gentler side of things that I had never seen, nor the things that the priests warned us against in their infinite wisdom. An infinite wisdom you have to leave behind to live. Me and young Molly certainly did that, for a while.

I asked her to marry me, after me following her up to Dublin like the trollope that I was. That was the time that the Monty district was closing down. If I'm honest, now, the city scared me, with crooked streets, alleys lit sometimes in the dark, at other times not. Molly, with her thick accent, brought me into her world for a time; childers in the rubble, drunks and scondrels in the alleyways between places. I learned how to drink some bit I'll tell you in those Dublin pubs. We sang as the women waited at home.

When I think of Molly, I think of me crusted soul, like a scab. The tri-colour flies in my eyes as if I were looking at it through a cinema reel. It blows in the wind, and I can see that there are three colours there on that flag, but there is no colour. And where now to find colour, where now to find it indeed.

I will not say why I fight today for the crown. I will not say. To keep a secret that is my own, that's all I'll say. I might myself stand a little perplexed on this, the blood stained side of France, the only side I know.

Suffice to say, I'm handy with a rifle. When I catch 'em in my sight, I am that swoopin' Hawk.

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