Thérèse Kearns – Christmas Eve
By Thérèse Kearns
I disembarked from the car the sky bruised,the bitter air flushing my cheeks.We were at a dead end,merely an abandoned farmhouse and a cemetery greeted us.Through the howls of vicious canines,my father led me to the battered wooden door and casually opened it to reaveal a hidden home.
We stepped into a kitchen of utter disarray where a hunched figure hugged the range for heat.Shrills of delight were to be heard as Dad placed the bottle of brandy firmly in his clutch.
The stranger introduced himself to me as Eoghan and slipped off his grubby gloves to shake my hand in welcome.They were rough,evidently chapped from vigorous labour yet his grasp was gentle as if a swan’s feather had been brushed across my skin.
He beckoned us to sit down,kindly offering me the stool as any proper gentleman would.I denied it noting there were only two seats and so opted to sit on the ledge of my father’s tweed armchair.
Eoghan was a plump man,squat from beer and biscuits and his face was a ruffle of wrinkles but his eyes still posessed the vitality of youth.Bulbous and blue they latched onto my vision they forced me to stare and listen.
The entire room was cluttered with ancient papers,wires batteries and futile objects that cried to be discarded.However I enjoyed how these copious belongings remained untouched,veiled with layers of dust.To remove them would be to alter the character of the home,each piece of twine or empty box told a story only Eoghan knew and understood.
Beside the gradient of a staircase,flopped on the dresser was a microwave, resting inside was a plate of dinner covered with gleaming tin foil.Perhaps that was his Christmas feast?
There was no sign of the season’s festitivites,no ostentatious decorations nor a humble tree.The only inkling was a fruit cake resting on the wooden table among the piles of rubbish.It was decorated with royal icing and sugar coated snowmen,evidently shop bought.
Eoghan spoke fondly to my Father about card games of long ago chuckling as he remembered the dirty players who cheated.As his slow rhythmic voice lulled me away,I became focused on a blob of black liquid on the surface of the range.Thick as tar it was and bubbled violently with the high temperature until eventually it formed a burnt crust.I pondered deeply on what that suspicious liquid was,whose hissing noise interfered with the hubub of chatter.
Eoghan continued to converse the words spilling out of his mouth as if he were bursting to reveal his knowledge to another being.Tales of thugs who had over charged him for trimming the hedges and stolen the diesel from his tractor were reported.His brows were knitted in pique as he exclaimed “I’d use my gun if they came back again,but the Gardai told me to lock the doors and not answer them to strange folk.”I supressed a grin remembring how we entered without even a knock!
Once again absorbing the ambience of his abode,I focused on a painting which contrasted deeply from the upheaval.It was of a deer his ears pricked as he stared about the forest.I strolled over to the canvas fingering the paintwork,the green foliage bumpy beneath my curious fingers.
“Eoghan painted that.”Dad informed me as I stood in awe.Sure enough his signature was scribbled in the bottom corner.I praised the beauty of his art with enthusiasm but the old batchelor glowed red his hands quivering ever so slightly,unable to hold a brush like they used to.
After that I found it difficult to avert my eyes from the elegant image which hung on the wall as it could easily transport me to that woodland scene.However as conversation tumbled into a different topic,I was forced to turn away from the green brushstrokes dabbled together to form leaves.
Tears moistened Eoghan’s eyes until they resembled a wailing sea.He confessed the haunting story of parents driving to the graveyard at three in the morning to visit their two little angels who slept in the soil.We contemplated whether it was due to loneliness or insomnia but the tragedy of the situation rendered us all speechless in the end.We knew nothing of how they must feel.
After listening to a poem Eoghan recited,there was copious banter which evidently drained the man of his energy.He’d often scratch his head before slowly replying as if hunting the for the answer.For some obscure reason my father had a knack of finishing his sentences as though he were telepathic!
Over an hour had passed and it was time to bid our farewells and return to the “ mad house” where Mother fussed over boiling the ham for tomorrow and ordered my brother to hoover whilst in panic she’d ignite cinnamon candles on the window sill to heighten the season’s spirit.
Before leaving the lonely nook Eoghan stood up and declared with sincerity “Thanks for calling it warmed my heart more than ye’ll ever know,made my day in fact,come around again in the new year.”My father taught me an invaluable lesson that day,he had showed me what Christmas is truly about.
Thérèse Kearns(16 years old), Presentation College Tuam, Co. Galway