She was only another she, he was only another he, and I was only another I, thinking I had a story to tell. I had been so accustomed to my God-given life, that I never saw reason to peer into the shadowed corners of the tunnel that was my vision. It was easy to enjoy the post-drink merriness, the likemindedness, the hearty proposals for revenge. I would march with him beside me as he was then, and we would memorise the chants that the others would not listen to, for they were only enraged by the sight of us, a mob, breaking into their side of town. But we were there first. They were tourists, and they knew it, deep down. That's what they kept telling us.
She was a tourist. The little Swedish girl, features made stark from a childhood of white nights. Looking at her was like looking into the past: an old photograph, an illuminated letter on medieval parchment. She had woven through the Derry existence with natural talent, seeing no need to hide her unblemished skin as she surpassed him in porter, in that unofficially Green-only pub. They were married, and he had always seemed to forgive her Lutheran curse because she was a foreigner. That detail had struck me from the beginning. He was a vicious advocate for his cause. Intolerant. A worse case of tunnel-vision than I. They were the passionate kind, though, something everyone, including me, turned their noses from.
It would not last, of course.
Their relationship had been one of little talk. I never did see her often, only at nights, baring witness to such an unshakable tolerance for the brew. However, I'd always imagined she lived an ethereal life, spending her days not working but sitting on the shore of the bog, dipping her toes in and finding the water warm, looking past the Catholic sector to the plains that stretched beyond. Those green ripples of nothingness would have been the reason she came, I'm sure, it was no mystery to me. Endless hills that filled her with the will to run forever and ever, an alien flatness to one accustomed only to a village in the valley of a glistening fjord.
Her silent existence nulled any protest that may have arisen from the Green circles she had come to be alongside. Her ivory face was indeed that of a foreigner, not unlike an Ulster's face, though she was protected by her accent, her tolerance to Guinness. She was soon boring. A usual. One of us. And thus she was ignored.
This small detail is what brought about the beginning of the troubles.
I could not replay the course of their three year marriage in any form of detail at that point, memory of specifics would come much later. I could only recall the decline in a general sense, like looking at a graph without reading the figures. It was gritty and nasty, and I watched it all from my barstool. He would come in, confide in me, and I would believe him; my childhood schoolfriend. The purple rings around her eyes, deserved. The miscarriage, the fault of her own spindly body. She had become demonic to him, and he passed the image onto me. Protestant bitch. His hatred was contagious. As he slid down that slope he brought me along at every moment. I could only see from his eyes, the eyes he tricked me into believing were the eyes of Ireland as a whole.
So when the slope reached the bottom, I was there.
This detail only, I retained forever since. Her, on the banks of the bog. Us, fallen to the lowest possible level. Blood, crusty brown around her nostrils, dried on her bottom lip. Her face whiter than ever, though not in immaculacy as it had been. Her blood was blue and stilled within her veins, close to the surface, gasping for air till the last moment. They were like purple cracks in her face, for she was shattered, mistreated like the toy of a careless child. The grass seemed to reach up and wrap around her bare arms and legs, pulling her down, down into the ground. There were green stains on her white dress, and red. Red stains as well. Her clothes were slashed and it seeped through, the only part of her still moving. Her blood was like a parasite, ready to infect even the ground we stood on with some incurable disease. There had been a cloud forming in my head up to that moment. Challenging me. In the practicality of the moment I was able to quell its gnawing persistence. I told myself firmly he was right. I did hate her, hated her perfection, the way she was able to materialise into a place she did not belong. I was disgusted as I stared at her lying there. Ivory hair caked with mud. Eyes wide and cold. A pitiful creature. A pitiful creature who deserved pity... Jag var upprörda, men med vem? (1)
How easy it was to fall into such a frame of mind.
We must have acquainted her with the black water at a point, though this too has slipped from my memory. She had certainly ceased to exist. Physically. Emotionally. From my mind. Nobody raised a brow, no pub-goer, no Orange, no anxious stranger from Sweden. The harmony had been restored. We were free to be divided in peace.
And it was peaceful, for a time. People were always too interested in the one thing they deemed the most important, and it had slowly begun to dawn on me that this could, perhaps, be rather blinding.
That inner voice, tormenting me. It came that night, as I was hunching silently over Guinness, him beside me. It had been a month. That sudden, terrible allowance of doubt's influence caused me to choke on the drink. I leaned over coughing, bitter tears in my eyes, the holy water of our land dripping like hot tar from my nose. Doubt. Hits you like reality. He was looking at me with wide eyes, probably wondering whether to help or tease. In the end it was neither. Doubt.
I would have laughed.
I'd sat for a while afterwards in shaky silence, my thoughts darkening and agitating me to an unbearable apex. The smell of stale beer on the carpet was too strong, the slick wood of the bar too laden with layers of drunken sweat. I asked him, with what I told myself was courage: "Varför?" (2)
"Varför vad?" (3) he replied, instinctively, though I noticed him wince. By that point in the night most people were too happy to notice a thing, let alone the two of us, talking in an accented language that sounds as similar to English as languages do.
"Var det..." I fumbled. "...nödvändigt?" (4) My voice was small.
He was calm, gravely smiling. His eyes held a maturity that seemed to contrast the look in his eyes as he'd complain to me about her all those times, in that very spot. "Of course..." he'd said, before quickly muffling a small chuckle with his glass. He'd looked at me out of the corner of his eye, head tilted back, Guinness sloshing in and out of his mouth. I remember his eyes, glistening. Tears, I had thought.
He was so good, I'd believed him until I got home that night, drowning pitifully within myself. As I lay in bed, alone, I'd felt my thoughts swirling and separating instinct from influence, reality from word. Reality is harsh, I know it, though none of it seemed real to me. All that was left of her was my memory. I knew she had sat on the other side of him, at that very bar, many times before, but I couldn't visualise it. She was gone, forever, and nobody would speak of her again.
How horribly unfair it seemed to me in that moment.
Notes on the Swedish:
Jag var upprörda, men med vem? ~ I was disgusted, but with whom?
Varför? ~ Why?
Varför vad? ~ Why what?
Var det... nödvändigt? ~ Was it... necessary?
YOU ARE READING
Freja (In response to the Poetry of Seamus Heaney)Historical Fiction
An Irish Nationalist is enticed to question the relevance and need for violence in his country's signature, as he is haunted by his involvement in a horrendous political crime, committed silently in the thicket of the Troubles.