I wrote a sweet little affirmative note, as people do on Facebook

I wanted to say, ‘Maybe you should just leave him.’ But I didn’t dare commit that idea to the cyberarchive of the universe


I know a woman west of the Shannon who doesn’t smile any more. She came from some big city, and her face used to radiate, like ripe apples, but now when she drives her car she chews gum, raises her hand in salute like all the other locals, and keeps her eyes on the road. She has been hardened by
dark winters in a world where men
don’t flirt.

I have a high apex ceiling in my studio. The rain splashes on the roof, and dozing inside is a delicious relaxation after a walk on the boggy hills. I lie on a reclining armchair, listening to the rain and thinking of the woman who chews gum, who when she talks talks too much, because she must stay on the surface all the time; she is afraid to go inside.

On a Skype link I ask her does she like the rain, but she doesn’t understand where I’m coming from. “There’s no private lives in the country,” I tell her. “Too many animals in the fields, turning their ears backwards, gazing at you with bulging eyes over ditches; you become a feeder of other beasts.”

Her husband has forgotten who she was when she arrived first from the glittering city. She moves around his house with cleaning liquids in squirting bottles, tripping over the children’s toys, cleaning up the wine bottles and ashes from last night’s war.

Especially the ashes, the remains of big doobies, because he’s a heavy drinker, and a stoner, but she’s too busy negotiating her path through each day to find the big picture, and leave him.

She smiles a forlorn smile on the grainy screen, and for a moment I see again the college graduate, bursting with apples and wild berries, as she was long ago, before she climbed into rural Ireland and got caught in the zone of the unloved women.

If she were with me under the roof where the rain splatters down I would hold her for a moment, but she’s not. She’s in cyberspace, and with one click she vanishes. Her face is gone, as if something in the wild dark had eaten her; some invisible claw waiting for her since the beginning of the universe.

She used to think that birds’ beaks were pretty, when she came from the city first. She thought they were for singing. But beaks are also useful for devouring other animals and frightening to a naked woman in the middle of the night.

I wanted to let her go from my mind and erase the conversation, so I clicked back onto the Facebook home page, where there was a post from a monk in Mongolia saying that the Dalai Lama was in Cambridge University and I could listen live if I pressed the attached link.

So I clicked again, and instantly I was glued to another world. The door of my studio was open, and the finches were devouring peanuts on the feeder, but I was away with the Dalai Lama.

He spoke in English, and laughed a lot as he answered questions from students and professors, and he said that practising compassion for other sentient beings was an excellent way to avoid high blood pressure.

The following day I was in Mullingar, where I met an old friend walking on the canal, a man with a stubbled face and bleary eyes.

“I haven’t seen you around for a while,” he said.

“I had a virus,” I replied.

“It’s going round,” he agreed.

He always likes to stop for a chat. He’s lonely since the wife left him, two years ago. She just walked out.

Nowadays he watches a lot of cowboy movies on TG4, and, like me, he loves the weather forecasters. He can’t explain why, but I know it’s their linguistic fluidity that turns him on. Their Gaelic verbosity seems miraculous in the aftermath of a wife who walked out the door without a word of explanation.

When I got home later in the evening I sent an FB message to the woman who chews gum. I wanted to say, “Maybe you should just leave him.” But I didn’t dare commit that idea to the cyberarchive of the universe. Instead I wrote a sweet little affirmative note, as people do on Facebook.

“We need someone to hold us,” I typed. “And we must believe we are held – even when we are not held.”

And I read the note over and over again as another day’s rain began to fall on the roof.