I had mice the size of Tony Soprano in the house


‘AUTUMN IS come early,” I said, because the chestnut trees were already yellow near the river. I was in Enniskillen talking to a friend who was involved in the Happy Days Beckett festival.

“Are you coming to our Endgame?” he inquired.

“No,” I said, “I’m going to Krapp.”

“You look tired,” he said.

“I didn’t sleep,” I replied. “I was up all night with the cat.”

The cat was playing with a mouse on the corridor at 2am. But the mouse slid underneath the bedroom door, and the cat started whining on the other side.

The mouse appeared to be dead. There was a little gash on his flank, and the intestines were hanging out. I wrapped him in a newspaper but suddenly he shivered into life, so I took him outside to a quiet corner of the shed, where I suppose he died alone.

It’s odd how a dead mouse can ruin a night’s sleep. When I did sleep again I had disturbing dreams about empty railway carriages and the silence of Auschwitz hidden under snow. And I dreamed of Ireland as a silent movie with deserted roads and derelict cottages and men on windswept bogs in black flapping overcoats and tea flasks gone cold.

I was wide awake again at 5am, and the cat had gone berserk. I looked into the front room and saw something brown scurry across the floor and in behind the sofa, with the cat in pursuit. It concerned me that I had mice the size of Tony Soprano in the house, so I left the hunter to her deadly business. But at breakfast I discovered a little robin behind the sofa, still alive but stripped of her wing feathers and hopping about like a fat hen.

My mother kept hens for the eggs, but she went to Enniskillen for the butter. It was cheaper than in Cavan and she was inclined to buy so much of it that when our Austin 1100 approached the Border she would take pounds of it from her shopping bag and pass them to me in the back seat saying, “Hide that.” My father was never pleased. The customs officer would look in the driver’s window. “Anything to declare sir?” he would ask, with a bouncy but officious Ulster twang, and mother would laugh coyly and reply in her best golf club accent; “Just a few groceries, officer. Thank you.” No one ever asked me anything.

Robert Wilson was performing Krapp’s Last Tape in the Ardhowen Theatre. The lights went down and he appeared in a shadowy world of rain. He stood like a white Dracula from New York crazed and ready to scare the haycocks out of the yokels assembled before him, but then a bat flew over his head and distracted the audience. Nobody had told the bat that Wilson was one of the world’s greatest theatre performers and so with breath taking nonchalance the bat flitted about the stage as if he owned it.

Later I saw a woman fall beside the river. She slipped on the pathway before me and went to the ground in slow motion. I could see her fall, without being able to help her. She fell with the slowness of the Twin Towers. She fell silently as if someone had turned off the sound. She fell with the lazy elegance of a silk petticoat falling to the floor.

She fell out of her own body, out of the universe and lay stretched with her bruised face on the pathway. And the moment was so beautiful that I was instantly attracted to her.

I went over and asked if she was ok, which was a silly question but she said she was fine.

I suggested we make our way to a nearby leisure centre where the receptionist got a first-aid kit and rubbed antiseptic cream on the woman’s bruised face and bandaged her knee and elbow. The woman looked me in the eye and smiled. I felt an inexpressible joy that I had done something good. I had redeemed my neglect of the robin. And I felt pride like I used to, when I crossed the Border with mother, pounds of butter bulging in the sleeves and pockets of my duffle coat and down the legs of my trousers. “Give it to me now,” my mother would say, as we entered the Republic, and I’d produce butter from every sleeve like bars of gold, and with as much pride as if I had churned it myself.

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