It is quite simply the most soothing sound I have ever heard.
It has the insistency of a waterfall’s fight with gravity, the rhythm of a wave’s caress, the lightness of a leave’s rustle, the glow of a pollen-laden honeybee’s wing-beat.
His chest barely moves and the breathing calm but determined. His blues eyes sizzle, again. Alert.
‘You know,’ he begins. ‘Stories are a lot like people.’
The words saunter across the room, casually smuggling their way past the hang-over. The lads in the brain department take a break from hitting the pain receptors and pause to listen. HIs voice doesn’t appear to be a sound, it is a feeling. And I feel like listening.
‘When they start out, newborn, no one to look after them, they’re just like a baba og. Helpless. Anyone can come along and whisk them away.’ He blinks, slowly. As if reading from inside his lids.
‘Without someone to look after them, well. Well, they can grow up all wrong. They need a good parent, someone who can help them grow, help them find their place in the world.’ Ned pauses, briefly, to take on board tea. My phone vibrates in my jacket pocket, probably from the Editor. Probably wants to know why we changed his splash. I ignore it.
He looks at my pocket. A token crease of smile briefly registers at the corners of his mouth. ‘The boy is father to the man, as they say. And so it is with stories.’
‘Sorry, Ned, I’m….’ I interject. A slash of the razor blue in his eyes silences me. He inhales, intones again, steam from the tea snaking across his face.
‘And a parent never abandons a child. They have responsibilities. Children are a burden. A burden we must bear. And stories, stories need to be nurtured, cared for. You cannot lose sight of a child and you cannot take your eyes off a story. They carry our ideas, they have work to do. Their telling, their retelling gives them life, allows them to grow, to live.’
My brain may trying to justify to the liver why it attempted to poison it within the last 24 hours but it knows when its coming under attack. It takes a raincheck from negotiations with the rest of the body and attempts to get my mouth into gear.
‘I…I’m not…..I’m not well,’ I blurt feebly. NOT what I wanted to say. Stories are not people, stories are just what will be lining the bottom of the cat litter tray the day after tomorrow. Why am I getting lectured? Last time I am going to the Oak, I lied to myself. The breathing walls seem to hum now in time to the bass. This is not feeling right, not feeling right at all.
Ned’s looking beyond the walls, 1,000 word stare, we call it back in the newsroom. When you’re reaching for the intro, pulling it all together. My teeth are feeling gritty, like small chalky cliff-faces ravaged by my tongue, as if eroded rocks are going to crumble into my maw. My skin feels hot, itchy.
‘Do you remember?’ he asks. But it feels not like a question, more an accusation
‘Sorry, whut, remember what?’ The breathing walls aren’t regulation landlord being anymore, they’re shimmering. My lack of sleep is catching up with me, my brain rationalises. A knot in my stomach disagrees.
‘Do you remember?’ There’s no warmth in his face at all. I feel like I am looking through him. The knot in my stomach has gone beyond hangover nausea. Its adrenaline. From fear. I ring through to the lads in the brain: no reply.
‘Ned,’ I struggle. ‘What’s in this tea?’
Categories: The Last Seanachie