‘Have you ever heard… Of the case of the Talbot family from County Longfort?’
Far-away eyes. Slow inhalation. A sip of his can of Tuborg. ‘Sad case. In the news a few years back. Good few years back now, actually.’
Green eyes of twenty-one years turn to his compatriot’s blue, then back to the brown, middle-aged eyes of homelessness, who had spoken. ‘What happened?’
‘Terrible, terrible case.’ He shakes his head in the half-light. They drink by the night-time waters of the Corrib, standing adjacent to the Spanish Arch. Behind them, Galway city rumbles. In front, the dark water flows, loosening the bed of memory.
Cold, brown eyes turn to face green-blue. ‘Never heard of it, no?’
‘Ehmm… No, can’t say I have.’
‘Afraid I’m the same,’ echoes blue. ‘What, was it like a big story at the time or..?’
‘Well, it wasn’t found out about at the time. Only later. Anyway, it happened in the eighties. Husband and wife in their forties. Three kids, not too young at this stage. The father, anyway, was your quiet kinda fella. Kept to himself. You know the type.’
Blue-green up and down.
‘A kind, hard-workin man all the same. But see, him and the wife, they never saw eye to eye really. Hadn’t for years. In fact, they rarely spoke anymore but to argue and bicker, and the like. The husband, fella he was, became even more silent as the years went by.’
Cans sipped. Liquid flowing.
‘Now, the daughter at this point was on the verge of marriage. This is where the future son-in-law comes in. Arrogant fucker. Prick of a fella. We always… Sorry, he… He was similar to the mother, so he was. The wife, that is, to the husband I was talkin about. I should say a word about her. Hard-workin, but a callous strain to her. Cold, very cold at times, and cruel. Stayed at home while himself worked the farm. In fact, himself had a lot of money saved, so he did, through the years. But the wife never saw much of it. No. And when the son-in-law-to-be got wind of this, well, things took a turn for the worst.’
His gaze dips into the water’s dark. A glance exchanged, green-blue.
‘As I said, the husband and the wife, they argued a lot, and the future son-in-law started to get involved, on the side of the wife. See, at this point, him and the daughter were livin in the back garden of the house, in a caravan. But the daughter never really got involved in the fights. And the two sons, both younger… Stayed away for the most part too.’
Green eyes move away and scan the river’s bulk, before tilting slowly upwards to the moon, can to lips. Blue eyes, calmly watchful, stay fixed to storytelling brown.
‘Till one night… It got out of hand. They say it was an accident. But, I tell ya now, it wasn’t, I know it wasn’t. I know it was premeditated. The son-in-law-to-be, at the wife’s bidding, struck the father… Struck him dead with a shovel to the head.’
Green eyes widen. Look into blue’s rigid brownward stare.
‘And all for fuckin money.’ The darkness swells round his features. ‘Do you know what they said… Lord save us… Do you know what they said as they buried him out the back? “You won’t get out of there now, you bastard.” That’s what they said.’
Hands stop, midway to mouths. Breathless. The river murmurs, soft.
‘That’s what they said, the fuckers. As they took my father from me and this world.’
Mouths open. Jesusing. Christing. Blue-green observe each other, then brown.
‘That all happened to you?’ asks green. ‘Your own family? Man, that is rough.’
Brown drinks, strangely composed. After a time, he speaks.
‘I didn’t know they had it in them, but, by Christ, they did. Heaven knows they did. They dug him up later too and everythin… And burnt his remains. Only years later, when the body was found, did he get a proper burial. Three times buried, my poor father, so he was. Quiet man… Never would have harmed anyone.’
Brown eyes flit from blue to green.
‘That’s awful, it really is,’ offers blue. ‘So were they brought to justice, when the body was found?’
‘Yes. But only on manslaughter charges. 20 years too late. He’s only doin eight years, and she’s already out, the bitch.’
‘And… What’s the story with you at the moment?’
‘Everything I own, bar a tent on a beach, is here in front of you now.’
In black mackintosh and dark jeans, his appearance blends with the night.
‘Jesus, so is that where you live?’ continues blue.
‘It is.’ A nonchalant sip of his beer.
Blue rising. ‘And how did you end up homeless, do you mind me asking?’
‘No, not at all. I had a wife and two kids who I’m kept from seein now. In Dublin we were. We had a decent life, a decent set-up and everythin… I spose it all started goin downhill when I lost the job. I was an electrician, so I was. An electrician… I was out of work for a while and, well, things were rough at home… Eventually she kicked me out. Not even allowed to see me own two daughters.’
Green eyes, weary with pity and suspicion, stretch their stare down the river to the sea. Beginning to shuffle from foot to foot, blue eyes, suddenly alight, speaks.
‘But how can she keep them from you? Is there a restraining order?’
‘No. She’s a law onto herself.’
‘Right. So surely you could talk to her, explain your situation? Does she know–’
‘She knows, she knows. And I’m tellin you now, lad,’ wide eyes, stern face, ‘she couldn’t give less of a shite.’
Blue eyes study the ground. ‘But–’
‘Wants nothin at all to do with me, and definitely doesn’t want the kids near me. Made me way out here soon as I realised… Soon as I realised it was hopeless… With them.’
Narrowed green eyes suspect unspoken truths. ‘Is there any reason why she’s so… Adamant about you not seeing them, can I ask?’
‘To tell you the truth, what she says is: “you’re a Talbot. One of them. A Talbot and always will be. You’re all the same.” ’
He steps across cold stone.
‘ “And my children… My children will be no Talbots… They’ll have nothing to do with your murdering brood.” ’
He stands still, eyes descending.
Sympathetic green. ‘Well that’s complete bullshit.’
‘No, not right at all… But is there no one you could call… No family, friends, no? Do you want us to call somebody for you?’
The rising hum of the city distracts green, mellowing eyes. He drinks. All follow suit.
‘We’d like to help,’ adds blue.
‘Yeah, we would.’
‘Ah look… There’s nothin for me now really.’
Green eyes squinting again. ‘But you keep going.’
‘I do… By God, I do.’
Green eyes refrain from a follow-up. The waters rush to the grave-black sea.
‘Look, we’re students ourselves,’ says blue, ‘but we can fork out a bit to help if you’d like?’
They hand over what they can.
‘God bless yee, lads.’
‘No problem at all. For a hostel… Or a bus, maybe, back to Dublin? Would you consider headin there, maybe try get back working as an electrician, through your connections?’
Hopeful blue into brown of doubt.
‘Ah, I’m well past that… Well past. No one would have me now.’
‘They might, you never know.’
Eyes awkward in the dark.
‘And, sorry, what did you say your first name was again?’
‘Mark Talbot.’ He takes his phone from his pocket, blue eyes brightened by its glow. ‘I might pass your name on to someone Mark, someone who’d be able to help, if that’s OK? Your story’s heart-breaking man.’
‘Just google the Talbot family case, you’ll see it’s all true.’
‘Oh, I’ve no doubt.’
Green eyes wander, warmed. Turn to brown. ‘Here, do you want a can?’
‘Eh… Yeah, I’d love one. Thanks boss.’
Reproachful, mother-blue eyes. Green eyes regard brown’s face as he nears, the unshaven contours, the pockmarked skin. The latter receives the can graciously, clasps it in fingers thickly gloved.
A phone rings. Green retrieves. ‘Hey… What’s up… Yeah cool… Yeah we’ll come up now… Don’t worry about it… OK, we’ll be up now in a sec.’
‘That him?’ blue asks.
‘Yeah. He’s ready.’
Eyes slowly return to brown.
‘We really feel for you chief,’ says green. ‘Really awful to hear what’s happened to you. This world.’
‘Ah sure what can we do but get on with it.’
Green inwardly winces with guilt. ‘Yes.’
‘Yee don’t have to stay lads. I should be on me way anyway.’
‘Right. Well I’ll pass the name on.’
‘Ah sure, you don’t have to… Well, thanks for the company lads.’
‘Not at all. Take care of yourself man.’
‘Good luck man, mind yourself.’
‘Best of luck.’ Brown unmoving.
Green-blue away from brown. They leave the water’s edge, their minds numbed by the tale. Advance in silence fickle. Soon, words are traded. Gaeity, then laughter creep into their speech. Thought begins to flow easier. Their pangs of pity and guilt cool.
They move deep into the city’s Saturday night din, rise from the night’s dark beginnings, their eyes lit by a gleam they share with the dozens that amble past. And with each new step, the Corrib’s waters wash their memory clean.
Image: JP Dennis