Signs in the earth

Their new bungalow was not far from the park, and in the evenings they would go for walks there, Evelyn, Dan, and the dog. They were nice, these nighttime strolls; so many places can be, for a woman alone, locales of suspicion. For example, in a copse on a hill, in which thick leaves tape over the city lights below, who will see you? Or that lonely path that through high grass weaves its disappearance – who will hear you at the end of it? And besides, who can ever tell what is in the mind of that passerby with mud on his shoes? In 1982, Malcolm McArthur, a socialite friend of the attorney general, famously killed a nurse with a hammer in the park for the theft of her car. The murdered woman was sunbathing at the time. I wouldn’t like that to happen to me. So god bless boyfriends.


Within the vast size of the park the couple made little figures. Up close, the dog was a long creamy-golden, grinning animal, and the boyfriend a tall brown-bearded, smiling man: so things were good, and all to Evelyn’s credit. Dan was really an unusually nice man, she thought – he always massaged her neck, he was sweet to the dog, he thought sexism was dreadful. Lovely: look how proudly he photographs the dog, and how, like a good dad, he kisses it on the nose.


A dozen seagulls were looping this way and that in the widely greying sky. On the slopes of the Wellington Monument sat Dan and Evelyn. They watched the blonde dog scarper from the bright grass to the darker line of oaks; meanwhile they pointed and laughed at any nearby weirdos.


Did you know that that obelisk is the tallest in Europe? Dan said.


Evelyn twisted her neck to glance up at the large bronze plaque: at Waterloo, a limp body slackened on a screeching horse’s back. Napoleon’s soldiers were getting their heads smashed in. Then she heard snippets of Italian coming across the grass like a double-consonanted bird call: a group of cold-looking men in beanie hats were yelling at each other, Aspetta! Corri!


Aspetta, said Dan, wiggling theatrically.


Corri, responded Evelyn – when from afar she noticed the dog sniffing at some black item; as they approached, they could see a dead jackdaw, its brain smashed in the mud like an egg: a terrible mess.


Andy, get away from that! Dan said.


Evelyn pointed at the bird’s ruptured wings: its broken pose resembled a swastika, she joked. Dan tut-tutted sombrely. Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today, she giggled. Dan told her she was a bad Catholic with no respect.


A while later, when at a Mass one evening in April, Evelyn remembered Dan’s joke. Her cheeks were deadened by the rigid pew, and when her eyes would wander up to examine the crucifix overhead, a cheap-looking salmon-pink thing, she felt Christlike in her boredom. She felt very squashed into her seat by the rotundity of her sister, Marianne, who, beside her and smugly pregnant, was drumming her fingers incessantly upon her immense belly.


The priest mumbled at the ambo. The interior of the church was a large octagon of stained glass across which his feeble enunciations weakened in the air, barely making it into the congregants’ ears… The Ceremony of Light is a symbol of Christ against the darkness… the light of sin, the darkness of reconciliation… or the darkness of sin and the light of reconciliation… Amongst the procession of families around the altar, Evelyn could see her mother very intently handing a lit candle to her littler sister, Grace, both tight-mouthed in concentration.


Nuzzling quite closely into her older sister’s ear, she whispered: I bet that priest would hate to know that I’m on my period right now. Marianne said: shut up.


Afterwards, they stood around with plates of egg and onion sandwiches in the parish hall. When nobody was looking, Evelyn stuck out her tongue: ugh!


That Mass was so boring, she said, scrunching her nose extremely, that she would have preferred to have been in work instead. Marianne, supercilious with pregnancy, called her an idiot. Evelyn pointed, earnestly, to a badge on her jacket, pondering whether she should have staged some kind of pro-choice protest during the Mass?


No, she said. Okay, Evelyn said.


Marianne had somehow garnered a bowl of olives and was sucking the green things off their sticks; she nodded to the makeup-y blur that was their approaching mother, whose lipsticked features sharpened into view as she passed the two women and said to Evelyn: stop saying ‘like’ all the time – it sounds dreadful; then she drifted off amongst the neighbours.


But I don’t do that, Evelyn said. Marianne smirked. Two little altar girls bumped into them and giggled.


Marianne, still olive-mouthed, noted the surprising absence of Dan; at this Evelyn lodged a whole sandwich into herself and pointed to her overcrammed cheeks. They chewed for one minute.


What was the question again? Oh yes, said Evelyn.


She had lied to Dan about her mother being very stressed and had asked him not to come, for something disturbing had happened the previous week. Unable to fall asleep, tossing and turning like an egg in the scramble, pushing down the duvet, flipping the pillows, so awake in the long middle of the night, in the wind-whooshed cottage’s tiny inside, the rain pelting the pebbledash, heavy Dan breath on her neck, every hair of his against her back suddenly a tangible prickle, she heard him say: mmm mmm mmm, and when she turned to listen properly, she heard him say, in his sleep, something awful.


A snort from Marianne: like what?


Evelyn pursed her lips tightly, sphincter-like: just something really offensive, actually. I wouldn’t even want to repeat the words. When I said it to him he was very upset now. He was mad that I could even suspect him of saying something like that, even in his sleep. He says I must have misheard him.


That’s worrying, said Marianne, he could be a maniac, and possibly shoot up the place. This is what you do: record him in his sleep.


Okay, Evelyn said.


By the time of her return home that evening, the problem was troubling her mind’s peace. She folded away her clothes and chattered with Dan, who was sat on the couch watching two men box, making idle jokes about how much he enjoyed going to Mass. Is that because you hate women, Dan?


What? he said.


Oh, nothing… Perhaps she had completely misinterpreted his sleep-talk… perhaps instead he had been saying something like Brits out? But it was no better to be a republican, and as she reclined on the bed, all pyjama-ed, looking between her toes at the wardrobe, the chest of drawers, the vase with the fake orchid, the fairy lights, the bowl of pebbles – she realised that these were all white things in a white-walled room. She felt odd.


She began to record him at night. His pre-sleep hums and mumbles began to bother her like a wasp in the room, and the following days in work she would listen to eight hours of his snoring on her headphones, pausing, rewinding, and replaying every garbled half-word like some desperate early Christian nodding along to the speaking of tongues. But of course, Dan was very good as always. Respectful: in the evenings he would listen to her various complaints of the day, and, filling up the kettle, would say something like: ah that’s terrible that he spoke over you like that; or, handing her a full mug: you’re probably right, he sounds like a creep.


Dan, you’re very good, Evelyn would say. Then she would giggle at some crossed-eyes, stuck-out-tongue face of his, the two curled up on the couch so cosy. But then something would happen, like a spokeswoman from the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre appearing on the news, perhaps standing in front of some Georgian building, and making a frowning announcement (violent street attacks against women have risen in the last year), and by the time the next news bulletin transmitted Varadkar’s face, the smallness of their house together made her throat close slightly. So close were the rooms together that she often found herself imagining the tenants from a hundred years ago, some poor contraceptive-denied family living there in cramped style; they must have often bumped into each other, surely? That dog was too small for that yard. Evelyn believed that Dan was good; but she also knew that most people believe this of their boyfriends. Don’t look at the statistics. There would be too much upset if she said something. They still went to the park together as usual, but sometimes, recalling with certainty his misogynist somniloquy, she was so hot with annoyance at him that her head felt like a blimp pulling her upwards to bash off the trees. She would let Dan scamper ahead with the dog. Once her ankle was stung and in bad temper she decided that the nettle was male. Perhaps at night, as Evelyn lay beside her boyfriend and worried about his unconscious, she looked up at the ceiling where, as in my own boyfriend’s similar house, damps grows, and, she could see a pattern of bad health.


A month later, outside the church again, Marianne was full of questions, soliciting minutes of mute head-shaking from Evelyn. Her normally smiling little head smiled less. Above them, the clouds were like steel-woolen. She clung to her little sister, who, for the occasion, radiated in a new halo of maturity. Grace was telling her that she was taking the name of Rita, not only that of their grandmother but of a saint who, when a baby, was completely unharmed when a swarm of bees flew in and out of her mouth. Evelyn nodded dumbly; concentration was beyond her and she could only think that while she was down in the country with her family she would not be there to record Dan’s sleep – perhaps, in her absence, something would slip out. She had asked him not to come; he was alarmed; she could not explain; she thought she felt the fog of breakup. They went inside and sat down and Evelyn let the children-sung hymns drizzle tedium over her: make us your own, your holy people, light for the world to see!


The church was a red flower for the ceremony; geraniums and red banners for the Confirmation reminded Evelyn of an advertisement for menstruation. Marianne was joining in loudly with everything; she boomed along with the responses to the renewal of baptismal promises (I do) and particularly shouted out her renunciation of Satan (I do!). The bishop up there, in his alb, stole, and cope – which were words learned in school that Evelyn could not remember – was full of himself: he was bald, save for the resolute, greying smears clapped on either side of his skull, more stains than hair, and he had the lipless mouth of a government minister or Gaelic football coach. A paedo? Evelyn wondered. She stood behind Grace during the anointing of the chrism, watching as he laid his hand on her little sister’s shoulder.


As they slowly looped back around the altar, Evelyn tried to remember Grace’s story of St Rita and the bees – what did they feel like against the inside flesh of her mouth? like sucking on a bouquet of electric toothbrushes? – and noticed Dan standing at the back of the church, behind the pews, and after her little sister had taken her seat, continued up to him. He had a bouquet of flowers in his hand like a lone shooter with a gun.


He mumbled something that went lost, unheard, in the veni sancte spiritus of the hymns – what? Evelyn said.


He went in for a kiss; she pushed him away (gently, she thought); he fell into, and made crackle loudly, a giant, child-made poster of a dove. A twelve year old went: ooh! When she later recalled the incident she thought she had seen the bishop’s little hat fall off. She was not impressed by such cheap and dirty tricks from Dan. But later, Marianne said that Evelyn had been an idiot, and she feared that she was right.





Clíodhna Walsh is from Waterford, Ireland. Her work has been published by The Matador Review, Bohemyth, Corda Magazine, and The Incubator.


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