Traveller wedding, p.1
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       Traveller Wedding, p.1

           Graham Jones
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Traveller Wedding
Traveller Wedding

  Graham Jones

  Copyright Graham Jones 2009

  grahamjones.ie

  1

  We have sat quietly in our caravans for over a century while our fellow Irish have told lies about us through gossip, newspapers, books and films. Kept shtum over the years as a great many people have walked through the mud and knocked on our doors. Policemen, social workers, public health nurses, speech therapists, psychologists, councillors, community representatives and - most infuriatin of all - artistes. Such characters all have one thing in common. They make out like they are tryin to help you, when really they are in it for themselves.

  Our history has been passed down from generation to generation through talk, but the settled Irish have never understood that because of how important writin is to them. I have always marvelled at how they use words to trap meanin and trap us while they're at it. Whether with an official report, some court order demandin we move or just a nasty name. It's all done with bloody words. That's what made buyin this hardback notebook so dauntin and yet so inevitable.

  I always suspected there was a novel inside me. Ever since they sent me off to have a shower durin the spellin competition in Holy Child National School because they didn't want a traveller takin home the cup. Over the years I have accumulated old paperback classics in my trailer and attempted to write short stories. Could never seem to make them work, though. At school they thought I was dirty and at home posh. It felt like I had to choose and would never find my voice.

  However, something happened this week which I consider far worse than usual. This latest insult has a certain edge. Like they have crossed a line. In short, a violent videogame has been released for the Christmas market entitled Traveller Wedding. This may very well be the strongest example ever of stereotypin I have endured throughout my entire life. Or perhaps it's because one of our own was a paid consultant on the game that uneasiness lingers. Deep down, though, I think it's the fact that we actually helped him. I personally helped Michael stick a knife into his own people. That is simply too much to bear.

  Finally, after thirty six years, this girl is provoked. She has reached a point of frustration where something deep within her is ready to become a history book sittin on the library shelf which tells the truth to settled kids. They must understand our story. Know who we are. Who we are not. Otherwise they will believe what their parents tell them. That we are dirt. That we are outcasts or vagrants. That is not acceptable to me.

  Assumin I'm goin to begin, I should probably start by explainin that Michael - the paid consultant I mentioned - had not been seen around here for sixteen years when he suddenly reappeared last winter. In fact, throughout our camp and other camps his whereabouts had become an almost entertainin mystery.

  The first to notice his return were my two eleven year old nephews, Paddo and Christopher. They were burnin a small piece of carpet behind the spiked green bars that run alongside the dual carriageway and their smoke could no doubt be seen comin through the little trees by mornin motorists. There was a gap in the bars where they stood and anyone who glanced in would have caught a glimpse of Paddo rubbin his right hand against the makeshift cast on his left to keep warm.

  Spring doesn't start until the middle of March - St. Patrick's Day to be precise - when the stones turn over in the water and the cold goes out of winter. It takes a long time for that day to arrive and while they are waitin the government likes to build paths, walls and houses to match the grey sky. At least that's what they did here, on the road to Dublin airport. An area sinned on by the clouds and snorted at by cars. Not a real place. Merely the rim of a route.

  Both lads reportedly nodded as Michael suddenly climbed through the gap, briefly rubbed his hands together out of respect for their fire and promptly started walkin across the grass behind them. Three more members of our camp noticed him in the moments that followed. One was Trigger, our groomed and mud-stained white pony who was standin at the far edge of the green but looked like he could fly as easily as the planes overhead. He stared upwards while chewin weeds. Planet, a golden dog slumberin in the middle of the entrance to our tarmacadam who studied the approachin man through half-closed lids. Finally, myself. I was sittin on top of the dump and watchin the entire camp as I am prone to do. It was unlikely Michael saw me, but I couldn't miss him as he slowly entered our haltin site of twenty two mobile homes, seven caravans, six sulkin sheds, five cars and two vans.

  On the left of the entrance he cautiously broached, a thick wooden pole stood with a satellite dish and American flag attached - while below a danced-upon pile of chopped wood was poured up the grassy mound.

  I remember Michael kicked the wood as he passed.

  One hand in his jacket pocket, his other opened the door of a green portable toilet with FUCK YOU MIC written on it. Like he was lookin for someone inside. Then he stopped movin, studied the motionless caravans and trailers and sheds. Examined the ground, even, where remnants of that age old battle between pebbles and glass lay. Made sure both his hands were back inside his jacket and continued bitin his lip.

  I thought he still looked handsome, though would have been invisible to some girls nowadays because of his thinnin hair. His piercin blue eyes were no more open than when he was younger and his mouth no less poised in smooth conviction and determination. He had a calculated amount of stubble on his face and wore runners, jeans and a dark grey sweater with a green t-shirt peekin out from under the neck.

  I considered runnin down to greet him, but my anger was givin orders. It told me to sit tight and watch this long brewin drama unfold - so I simply straightened my dress and observed as he started movin around the camp.

  Some of our doors were open, though nearly all were still.

  In the areas between our homes lay wooden tables, occasional garden chairs or benches. Sometimes thin rubber pipes crissed between our domains. There's always a lot of scenery here. The decorative and the dumped. Yucca plants and wind chimes. Wire. Strips of wood. Lager cans. Filin cabinets and square metres of chipboard lyin halfway onto the surroundin grassy mound as if hopin for sun. Yellow butane cylinders with pipes leadin inside. A few genies. Not the type that reside in a bottle. The type that provide electricity.

  Not knowin what to do after sixteen winters, Michael was producin a pack of Johnny Blues and sparkin up. Passin Missy's caravan. His demeanour that of a tourist, to be honest. Missy kept two old wooden carts outside her place - one painted bright green and one red. The wheels were rubber and on top of each all sorts of plants blew in the wind. In the back of one cart, two tin milk pails that Missy's grandfather had made stood proud.

  Nobody had emerged from their trailer - although less considerate dogs were now barkin and approachin him. Awkwardly, he stepped behind the Virgin Mary molded by his fifteen year old cousin Francie whom he'd never met. Francie had based his Virgin Mary on Angelina Jolie. There were two babies at her feet and another in her arms and all three were different colours. Blue, orange and pink. Mary Angelina wore a white shawl and a gold band over her hair. I giggled as Michael used his non-smokin hand to steady himself on her neck. The arm she had free extendin outward and to her side, Missy havin sellotaped a weatherbeaten photo of her late nephew Paul onto the four fingers. The little finger was gone. A tear drawn from eye to cheek in black felt tip looked like make-up gone askew but the green neon halo around her head added class. Michael ashed his cigarette and, while nervously eyein the dogs, briefly glanced down at the potted St. John's Wort by Mary's feet. Otherwise known as Allus Mhuire. Mary's Sweat. A plaque beneath readin Virgin Mary - most beautiful and fair above all other virgins.

  The dogs began barkin and goin for his ankles, so he was forced to stand up on the low wall behind the statue
and stare down at them until my ten year old cousin Winona emerged from her trailer. That girl was the stamp of her mother with her cow eyes and wellies.

  'Any of the men around?' Michael looked down at her and exhaled smoke in a shot.

  'Yeah,' she nodded and gestured down the street toward the largest and cleanest caravan of all. 'Jimmy's in.'

  The creamy, glib roofs of our homes made three streets and so Michael bravely jumped off the wall and headed down the first in the direction Winona had pointed. I had to move a few feet to my left, to keep him in my sights. Reckoned he had a very self-conscious walk. Like he was directin himself in a western.

  There was Jimmy, grimacin through his lace curtains at Michael who was now standin on his and Sinead's pallet of a porch.

  'Howaya doing?' Michael smiled as the door was opened.

  Jimmy simply stared back and nodded. In his late fifties and so slim he almost seemed like a two dimensional cut-out, his dark grey eyebrows always seemed to watch over the cautious mouth below. Not someone who could be surprised without notice.

  'Jimmy?' Michael clarified like a jovial social worker. 'It's Michael!'

  Jimmy barely nodded.

  'I work at a company in Dublin now,' Michael said. 'We make videogames. My bosses have decided they want to make a game about us. Wanted to talk to youse all about it?'

  'Go and knock on any of the caravans in the next street,' Jimmy said and shut the door again.

  'Thanks,' Michael raised his voice and arm very loosely at the figure already makin tea inside and slowly stepped down off the pallet.

  I watched him wander past the swingin back doors of Old Joseph's camper which was clearly not the concern of anyone this weather, its wooden cabinets hangin open inside. Salty the rabbit breathing beside a liver coloured brick which sat in the middle of its floor. We only remembered Joe's camper as a place to let shoes air - or when we occasionally brought Salty a handleless fryin pan of greens.

  In the old days you could always tell a policeman from a doctor or nurses from nuns, just by studyin how they walked onto the site. You had to be able to do that. As he stepped almost playfully over a black suitcase with VHS tapes spilled out underneath, I was siftin right through Michael in the same way and didn't like what I saw. It wasn't that I should have known what was in store that first day. The truth is, I did know.

  As he broached the second street different dogs did the same thing. So did Michael, though I wasn't sure he looked as reasonable standin on a beer keg to the four lads who approached.

  Something we need to get straight, before I describe these fellas, is that there's no longer really a 'traveller look'. That's in your parent's heads. A combination of different forces. First of all, some of us did used to have a look. Like our eyes were wounds or wells. The gift of pain, we call it. Secondly, because we sometimes marry closely, our children can have a close look about them. Finally, the drink that hit some of us hard combined with outdoor life made us lush. That's it - and nowadays you won't see it much. Our men are a bit thicker in the arms and legs, bit rounder in the face and us women too. We're strong. Most of all, though, we just look like settled Irish people. I'm a traveller and I'm puttin my name to that.

  While there were a few jibes from the lads, none of them asked Michael outright what he wanted - listenin instead as he repeated his little speech about a company designin some videogame. Even from my distance I could see the most incredible thing was happenin. Quite literally, the fellas didn't know whether Michael was a travellin or settled person. You must understand, even gay travellers come home for Christmas. This individual had vanished into thin air.

  My uncle John was first to recover, in his fifties but with all the wild stupidity of his late teens and with a face massaged into the greatest of leathers by booze. He broke the silence by quickly visualisin the game as Travellers Vs. Fingal County Council. With meathooks. Johnny had lived most of his life around Fingal and would repeat this little suggestion again and again durin the ensuin discussion as the others laughed and joked in a similar vein because they all knew Grand Theft Auto and the like.

  'That's the kind of thing my bosses want to do,' Michael put on a long face. 'It'll be crap!'

  'Why'll it be crap?' asked my good lookin young cousin Marto with his extremely dated Beckham hairstyle and tattoo of the family name Ward peekin out from under his white t-shirt.

  'Last year they made a game set in the jungle,' Michael glanced at him and bit his lip again. 'But they didn't go into the jungle.'

  'Are you sayin you're goin to make this place look like the jungle?' Marto cocked his haircut cheekily, though the others waved him off.

  'They want to make a violent videogame set in Ireland,' Michael explained. 'So they thought... travellers! But I said hang on. I have some clout in the office. I said hang on. I know that community. Didn't tell them I was from here. But I said let me go and talk to them first.'

  'That's shite that is,' Marto made out like he was appalled. 'Makin us out to be all violent.'

  'Well,' older Johnny bared his teeth in a wise, stubborn grin. 'Violence is the way. Your bosses sendin you down here. They're sendin you to death's door!'

  They all sniggered.

  'You'll be taken up the Dublin mountains!' Clean Christy shouted and they all exploded with laughter.

  'Ah, stop it,' Michael seemed hurt. 'I'm Ape's grandson. It'll be on the shelves next Christmas and all the kids will be playin it. Just want to get your opinion first.'

  'I know who ya are,' Johnny patted him on the shoulder reassuringly because he was old enough to remember. 'Come 'ere. You should seriously have meat hooks and knives and guns. Get the travellers in the game to go after Fingal County Council?'

  As this express chat took place my four relatives scrutinized Michael with prominent necks, sometimes forgettin not to circle him completely. They wouldn't have shown such neck and circle if they agreed he was a traveller. You can be sure of that.

  'Well,' he sighed uneasily as he offered his pack of Johnny Blues around. 'At the moment it's gonna be called Traveller Weddin. Go to a traveller weddin. Have a fight with your cousin - get this many points. Smash up the place - get this many points.'

  The men erupted and one or two selected smokes.

  'That's fuckin brilliant!' Clean Christy seethed as he postponed placin his Johnny Blue between his lips, suggestions on the tip of his tongue.

  'I'll help by killin ya today,' Marto's fourteen year old brother Francie interrupted. 'I'll cut you up with me sword!'

  With that Francie suddenly walked away from the group in his grass coloured tracksuit and gelled hair, promptin everyone includin Michael and myself to die laughin. At more or less the same moment, my muscular cousin Bernie cruised up slowly behind the wheel of his perfect white sports car in his Formula One jacket - this particular cousin is about twenty years old and wears two chains hangin from his neck with Ward and Freedom in silver plated letters.

  'So you're tryin ta make money ow a dis,' he made a fist of his own face after bein filled in by the others, who stared down at him reverently in his driver's seat.

  Michael once again assumed a pained expression and was about to protest when suddenly little Francie came chargin back toward him with a sword as promised. Michael knew to stand his ground, just pivoted somewhat. I don't think the sword touched him, but he would have felt Francie a little - that boy has an almost sexual aggression. Johnny took the sword away from him, thank God and walked off with it.

  'No,' Clean Christy shook his head as the laughter receded. 'In all seriousness. You'd want to be careful comin back here after all this time, Michael. It's not just fists anymore. You'll have two guys pointin guns at each other the odd time! It can be quiet here for months and months and then all of a sudden - without any warnin - two guys will be pointin fuckin guns at each other.'

  'But if I let them make it all violent,' Michael arched his neck and exhaled smoke. 'About all that shit... then it's just backin up what they w
rite in the papers about us, isn't it?'

  'But traveller's do cause loadsa trouble,' Bernie whined back from the sports car obtusely. 'Ninety per cent of traveller's life is makin trouble. We make trouble all the time!'

  'Seriously?' Michael stared down at him, tryin to see through the years that had passed. 'Do you believe that about us?'

  'Yeah,' Bernie nodded in all seriousness and met his eyes.

  'So,' Michael theorised. 'Ninety per cent of today you're gonna be violent?'

  'I am,' Bernie smiled and they all burst out laughin again.

  'I was hopin to hang out and remember what it's like,' Michael lamented. 'Then be able to go back to my bosses and say forget your idea about the traveller weddin. I've got a better idea!'

  'Travellers versus Fingal County-'

  'How about horses?' Clean Christy interjected. 'The kids are mad into racin.'

  'That's shite,' Bernie shook his head from the driver's seat. 'He'll have to make it violent.'

  Ambition lead Michael down our third and longest street where dogs began the same routine as he veered toward his deadpan, round-bodied old grandmother Rosie. She was in her sixties and standin outside their caravan takin clothes off the line. Apricot coloured hair crawlin down a faded orange pinafore dress and beautiful woolly yellow sweater - while bunched up navy blue socks grasped each of her legs like trophies.

  She wasn't wearin shoes and smiled cautiously.

  'Hi gran,' Michael said. 'Ape here?'

  'Inside,' she replied, lookin her twenty sixth grandson up and down.

  'Thanks,' he nodded and risked a quick peck on the cheek before knockin on the door.

  I folded some of my dress underneath me and sat on my hands all the more anxiously - thinkin this should be interestin. Michael's grandparents and mother were not happy about how his life had turned out. They would have liked to see him marryin one of us. Stayin here with his family. Takin a job that was local and ended with his arrivin back at the camp every night. They always saw the whole videogame world as something for settled people. I remember Ape once complainin about his grandson's hobby by sayin that settled people thrived on games because even behind the most difficult ones there was a pattern - and settled people always had to have some kind of pattern. That it was only us travellers, the true Irish, who knew patterns were the enemy of happiness. We understood that if you really wanted to live, you had to let life come at you. In doin so you would realise the only real rhythm was God's. Not something men could imitate. The settled people didn't get that, Ape claimed, because they had turned their back on God. Because they were dead.

  With perfect timin, that very man opened the door of his two room garden shed and smiled gently at Michael. In his early seventies, he wore a neat grey wool cardigan, had beige eyes that were wide and acquittin and cheeks that became infrared when he told tales.

  'Michael,' he said and took a deep breath.

  I suddenly felt it was time to greet Michael myself and ran down from the dump. Yet as I neared Ape's shed weariness overcame me. I felt giddy. Both from strength I had manufactured over the years and love that hadn't dissipated in the process. I hesitated right outside, hopin to master my own feelins while watchin him through the window as he examined the framed monochrome photographs hangin on his grandparent's wall. They depicted Gable, Presley, Kelly, Grant, Monroe, Wayne and O'Hara. The only hint of colour a natural wooden frame around his great grandparent's portrait.

  In that image Joe McDonagh is wearin a long grey coat over a smart, pressed suit and restin his hand on the shoulder of his wife who is wearin a black sweater and has a scarf tied around her neck. Her name is Bernie. Both are eyeballin the photographer with principled intensity, unmitigated by any form of indulgence whatsoever. Pale and rugged faces that patrol traveller ghost stories.

  'Go on Christine,' Rosie laughed at me as she folded. 'Pop in and say hello.'

  The passage of time was holdin me back. Standin away and closer to Rosie, I was unable to tear my eyes not only from Michael but what he was lookin at - what he was seein after all this time.

  The warmth of that cheap wooden picture frame honourin his great grandparents was matched by the wooden kitchen dresser nearby, the centre inlet of which was accommodatin Our Lady in porcelain on top of a pink Johnson's baby wipe pack. Behind the glass cabinet doors, illustrated mugs steeped and stoopin in false myths about Ireland and yet reflectin our way of life into the bargain. A metal campfire mug was turfed in too. Michael ran his finger along the surface of the dresser past Ape's portable stereo and a jumbo GERODOG Premium tin.

  'No, I'll wait for him to come out,' I whispered and started to help Rosie with the clothes. 'Let him see Ape first.'

  My hands were shakin because it had been hard enough seein the last sixteen years through my own eyes and now it was apparently time to see them through his.

  Viewed by the outside world our homes look like decadently scattered pills. While on the inside, with untapped leaves at each window, you are somewhere else. From outside our trailers look stopped. Inside, it's clear your world never truly will. As I folded Rosie's great grandson's little jeans and stole the odd look within I knew by Michael's demeanour that you settled people had actually taught him to forget this.

  That made me sad.

  I noticed he was gazin toward the corner where a black oil stove stood with a silver pipe headin for the roof and a brass horse and cart, metal kettle and bucket sat on black tiles Ape had lain there only.

  Rosie abruptly left me with the clothes, climbed inside herself and opened the cabinet doors under the sink where orange juice and milk were kept because she didn't have a fridge. She had a cooker, though, upon which pots were steamin. Potatoes drownin in one, turnips in another. Chicken underneath in the oven, judgin by the smell. You never did know how many would come home for dinner.

  I took another judicious step backwards to ensure I was out of sight and continued to fold. In my adjusted view catchin Michael's chubby, stubbled teenage uncle Seamus sittin on the couch and two slim, nine year old cousins who were both nappied in grey and blue sports gear.

  'You guys like computer games?' Michael was askin them by way of introducin himself.

  'Yes,' Seamus breathed politely while slowly runnin a finger under his chin.

  'Not in here,' Ape said as he took his hands from his cardigan pockets and sat down. 'I won't let them. A bit is okay. Odd bit of boxin or whatever!'

  I know his grandfather's voice reminded Michael of an older traveller tone - that beautiful, tamed growl that trundled through sentences with the shock absorption of a wagon wheel.

  'You know most of the time it's not like that,' Ape said about the Traveller Weddin idea. 'Violence is very rare! Your own family is quiet. Do you not remember?'

  There was a moment's silence and I wondered if they recalled their old disagreements about videogames.

  'How long have we been here now?' Michael asked, tryin to re-frame their relationship as he studied the livingroom.

  'Thirty seven years,' Ape stretched his bottom lip with his teeth and then looked at Michael. 'Was beginnin to think you were gonna die in some ditch alone. Are ye back now or what?'

  Michael glanced at the black and white movie playin silently on their widescreen television in the corner and then slowly sat down on the couch. He could see me, strictly speakin, but didn't suddenly smile or anything.

  'Cup of coffee, Michael?' Rosie asked as the water boiled.

  'Just some hot water would be great Rosie,' Michael said. 'Thanks.'

  'Hot water?' she queried as she pulled at the bottom of her yellow sweater.

  'Boiled water,' Michael clarified.

  'Boiled water cooled down?' Ape turned his head gently toward his grandson with a confused look on his face.

  'No,' Michael smiled. 'Just hot water thanks. What kind of work you doing?'

  'Nothing at the moment,' Ape said and glanced at the movie. 'Treetoppin. Bit of PVC. I like to do different things.
Keep movin the body in different ways. Get exercise.'

  'That's right,' Michael looked back at his young cousins. 'Have you heard of the Nintendo Wii?'

  'Yeah,' one of them nodded, chin on fist.

  'It's much better,' Michael looked back at his grandfather. 'You have to stand up to play it... move around.'

  'Not get fat,' Ape nodded slowly like he was mullin the matter carefully.

  'A lot of games on the Wii are sit-down games,' teenage Seamus breathed.

  Suddenly Brian and Martin McDonagh walked past me and up the steps, hardmen arms bent in fear, faces tied up in affability and mobiles pointin out the arse of their jeans. Michael rose as they entered and there was a reunion among first cousins.

  'Are ye movin back in?' one of them asked Michael.

  'No,' Michael said. 'Don't plan to.'

  'You're just gonna hang around,' Ape sighed.

  'Is that okay?' Michael asked.

  'Of course!' Ape stood up. 'This is your home. Come to my shed after your hot water and I'll show you the wheel I'm restorin. Go and see your mother first though, for God's sake.'

  With that Ape left, throwin his eyes to heaven as he walked past me outside.

  I then took a deep breath as Michael himself promptly emerged and, to my absolute shock, walked right past me without sayin a word!

  The anger I had worked so hard to get rid of quickly returned as I slowly began to follow him past the gnomes and colourful little wooden man drivin wooden horses on his cart. In the middle of the yard at the end were two big old wheels from my great grandfather's barreltop caravan many summers ago. I watched Michael looking at all the material on the ground. Waxy, which you would call lino and a lot of bicycle tires that month if I remember correctly. Then suddenly shakin hands with Christopher-Angel. News of his return spreadin.

  I loitered outside the trailer where he met his two teenage brothers Christopher and Jason and sixteen year old sister Denise for the very first time. Short, sandy-haired kids his mother had with a man she married shortly after Michael left. Her first husband, Michael's father, had committed suicide. God be good to him.

  'I think a weddins great,' I heard his sister sigh when her newfound brother rapidly told her the idea for the game. 'Can I be de briad?'

  Everyone laughed.

  'Don't get me wrong,' I heard Christopher sayin to Michael. 'There's a lot of fightin at weddins among other breeds these days. Just not so much with us. The Quinn Wards are pretty bad.'

  'In the game,' Denise was sayin. 'At the weddin. Would you have different names. All the different traveller's names?'

  'That'd be good,' enthused Chris. 'Have the Wards and Joyces and McDonaghs. Maughans. Like a scoreboard. Ye can choose whatever family you want when you're doin the settins at the beginnin of the game.'

  'But are weddins honestly still violent?' Michael asked in that earnest voice.

  'Depends on whose wedding?' Jason muttered.

  'How many weddins have you been to in the last year?' Michael asked.

  'Fifteen,' Jason answered.

  'How many have there been violence at?' Michael folded his arms.

  'Seven,' Jason estimated.

  'Right?' Michael sighed. 'Fifty percent.'

  'Yeah,' Christopher concurred. 'That sounds about right.'

  'But sometimes it wouldn't be serious violence like,' Denise finished textin someone. 'Just bare knuckle. The weddin we were at last month, a fight started and I got sent home by my aunt 'cause she said I'd get rapped with a bottle.'

  'Sometimes they have guns,' Christopher nodded.

  'Only if they come to the weddins with long jackets down to here,' Denise suddenly came into my view for the briefest of moments as she leant forward to touch her shin.

  'If there's a problem they open them up,' explained Chris, makin guns with each hand. 'Go Pop-Pop.'

  'I know,' Michael said quietly. 'Sure in my day a baby got shot in the foot and died. Woman got shot in the face.'

  'Really?' Denise exclaimed.

  'This is terrible,' he shook his head. 'I told my bosses we're not like that anymore! Dunno what I'm gonna do. You guys in school?'

  'No,' Christopher said. 'Denise was in school.'

  'No, I wasn't,' Denise snapped as if bein put down. 'I was in primary school.'

  'What you lads work at?' Michael then rapped his knuckles on the fridge, as if meetin unknown siblins was just part of a business venture.

  'Tree-toppin,' Chris said. 'We deliver leaflets all around the houses and put our initials on the back. Write CM on the back of mine. Then if we get a call I get that job 'cause it's my initials. Had a job there a few days ago. A woman was gonna gimme seventeen grand for one acre.'

  'Seventeen grand?' Michael asked. 'For tree-topping?'

  'No, no,' Christopher said. 'For everythin. Would have had to hire in fellas. Pay them hundred Euro a day. But she never called.'

  'What do most of the men do nowadays?' Michael asked.

  I could tell by his crewcut that Jason was smilin at Christopher.

  'Whatever's goin,' he said. 'Sellin. Buyin. Our da used to collect scrap but he's too busy.'

  'What do you do?' Michael asked Denise.

  'Cookin and cleanin,' she sang in irony and ecstasy.

  Their younger and equally sandy-haired sister Teresa walked past me in her school uniform.

  Stepped inside, stared at Michael and turned to Denise.

  'Bernadette'll kill you for bringin a strange man into the trailer!' she said.

  'He's your brother,' Denise snapped. 'He's makin a game for the PSP about travellers.'

  Teresa grew vexed and then glanced at me standin outside.

  I put a finger to my mouth.

  'Girl in my school likes you Christopher,' she quickly recovered. 'She said... you know the one with the spiky blonde hair? And his mother's gorgeous.'

  'What's her name?' Christopher asked.

  'Amy,' Teresa replied slowly as she sat down between her brothers.

  'You allowed have girlfriends and boyfriends these days?' Michael asked. 'We weren't.'

  'No, we're not,' Teresa sighed.

  'Well you're definitely not,' Denise snapped at her.

  'Who's that in my trailer?' Bernadette asked me, then passed me.

  Her fragrant blonde hair up in rollers, she entered and yelled.

  'Jesus of Nazareth!' were the words that chose her.

  Michael stood up and I could see him properly again.

  'Son!' his mother roared laughin, as if somehow deflatin all the years. 'I don't have a heart for ya to come back to!'

  'Hi ma,' he said.

  It was at that point I spotted a car enterin the site with Michael's oversized second cousins inside, really started to feel like an intruder and began to back off. He'd been home for less than an hour, yet travellers across the length and breadth of Ireland - a considerable number in England too - already knew.

  Christopher-Angel had rung Patrick Ward. Who had immediately enlightened Barney Maughan. Who had phoned his girlfriend. Who texted Auntie Chrissy. Who informed Francie Joyce and The Kerry Clan. Who naturally told their second cousins in Tullamore. In other words the Connors in Drogheda were wise to it. Meanin everyone in Carlow. Each family embellishin the story along the way. Michael came back but he spent so long in Africa that he is black. Michael came back with his settled children. Michael came back but is a ruined man. Typically, the news would be that someone was gettin married or havin a fight in six weeks or similar scandal. Michael's return was choice nugget for the newswire.

  Breathless from seein his mother again, the realisation that everyone knew he was home and witnessin the camp growin marginally more populated and animated by the minute, he next skipped between Francie and Ciaran's trailers to meet his grandfather in the homemade shed as discussed. A shed once constructed from wood found lyin around the camp in order to accommodate a cowboy buggy, before the buggy was then sold. The wine felt floor now a crash of bicycles and t
he wall a place to hang harnesses, whips and halters. In the far corner wicker baskets, prams and old cases were piled up. At their foot, rotten chunks of a wheel once re-painted beautiful blue.

  'They gave me that,' Michael's grandfather said with a naturalness that suggested they were alone. 'To fix it. But it was rotten. So I'm startin from scratch.'

  Michael tapped the solid wooden core of Ape's new wheel and the iron ring that surrounded it.

  'It's good to see you again Michael,' his grandfather sighed as he worked. 'Always worried about you a lot. I don't like my grandsons playin those games. Fake football and all that. Two of them had the things. We got rid of them.'

  'Consoles?' Michael squeezed curly wood shavins from a few days ago and leant against the counter. 'How'd you manage that?'

  'Ah, I just kept goin on about it all the time,' Ape sighed and started drivin at his block of elm with a gouge. 'Sayin I didn't like them. Remindin them what happened to you. Jimmy never made much money from those arcades in the end. You twisted his arm.'

  'Surprised you managed to get consoles away from kids,' Michael murmured.

  'It was really the mothers,' Ape grinned. 'Talked to them. Was always pullin different wires out. Pull this wire out one time and that wire out. Soon they didn't work. Eventually they just threw the things out. Why not go out and play football yourself on the grass? It's ridiculous?'

  Ape put down the gouge, reached for a veiner and glanced at Michael.

  'That's the problem with settled life,' he said. 'It's always simulatin something. Instead of actually doin it. TV was the same.'

  Michael waited for him to look away before throwin his eyes to heaven.

  'The young lads are different, though,' he suggested.

  'Aye, they are,' Ape started in with the veiner.

  'Some of them seem prejudiced against us!' Michael sighed. 'Gainst their own people like?'

  'Aye.'

  'What's that about?'

  'They've just never been on the road,' Ape put down the tool and started caressin the wood with his hand. 'We moved here in '72. The first month we left four times. There was a good dump nearby. Went when we had to, came when we had to. But these young lads don't know the road. I would rather be on the road.'

  'Still?'

  'Oh yeah,' his grandfather smiled. 'I'm settled now but I would rather be movin. I knew a lot of people on the road. Y'know? But the kids - you try bring them somewhere. We brought them to England and all they could say was it's not Longcommon! It's not Longcommon. Took them down to Tullamore and they were cryin to come home. They haven't grown up with it. They aren't travellers any more than you are.'

  'We're travellers in our blood,' Michael said slowly.

  'Ah,' his grandfather sighed. 'If you told these young ones about your computer game they'd probably think it was brilliant. I had eight daughters includin your mother and two sons. I don't know how many grandchildren but it's more than fifty. Would estimate that I have around twenty great grandchildren. Even two or three great great grandchildren. I worry about every single one of you. Fear for your place on this earth.'

  'What are you talkin about?' Michael asked. 'Drugs?'

  His grandfather took a look at him, but didn't answer straight away.

  'Well, there was a guy but he was told to leave,' he finally lied. 'We don't want ya here, we said. You're not welcome here. You are not wanted here. Get out.'

  'And he did?'

  'He knew he had to?' his grandfather said and reflected for a moment. 'Do you know what would be good for a game? The other mornin the men came from the pound to take the horses. The young fellas were runnin around like crazy tryin to hide their ponies. Puttin them in the sheds and everythin. The council was gettin complaints about the horses bein on the green and damagin a church. I don't know what church they were talkin about. You could do that! Man from the pound tryin to catch the horses and the name of the game is to hide the horses.'

  'Michael,' I said.

  The two of them turned sharply and looked at me standin in the doorway in my cloth print dress with dandelion shapes and leather boots.

  I tried to stand as straight as possible while Michael nodded and smiled nervously back. Tried to breathe. Had spent so many summers trainin myself not to feel the way I felt that winter's day. So that sun felt to me like rain did to most travellers. Yet Michael McDonagh had come home in winter. He had come home.

  The ground of the dump was a smooth mash of redbrick nodges, pebbles and scrap amidst puddles. Near the slope an inch-thick black pipe exited the ground and sprayed a fairly tight stream of water out from the joint. Michael passed the pipe, kicked a Heinz tin and started takin measured steps up the hill. Passin cement dappled windowsills, breezeblocks and rocks amidst drier, crumblier earth. Near the top grew the thinnest little bush trees. I walked up after him and sat down on my tuft of grass.

  We stared at Elli's cave and a washin machine and the push of everything forced back by the dozer.

  'How's business?' I asked.

  'It's tough,' he spoke more self-consciously now. 'These days I'm just a code monkey. Not many opportunities for games designers or programmers in Ireland really.'

  'Right,' I nodded.

  'For a long time I was a tester,' he shrugged. 'Got fired because of my spellin. You woulda been great at that, actually, because you have to write down what you think of a game. Help them balance it durin the last few months before it's released. It's easier writin fuckin code. But that's not what I want to do.'

  'No?'

  'Want to write my own games, eventually,' he sighed and looked at me.

  'Will you be able to?' I asked.

  'Dunno,' he said. 'In the old days only took a few people to make a game. Now it takes huge gangs.'

  'Really?' I asked.

  'It's like they're makin a big movie,' he laughed. 'People workin on the graphics, radiosity, tonality. The physics. Man. That physics crowd are a bunch a messers. They're my friends. They're great!'

  I was lookin at the little hill on the other side where two tiny green trees slanted at identical angles as if worshippin the dump's spirit. Beyond them, the housin estate. A lot of travellers had settled there. It looked like any Irish council estate - except for the occasional horse on the grass between it and us.

  I knew we were bein watched and that pressure to get married would return.

  'It's a lot of work,' he sighed. 'Like bein a labourer. You can go all sorts of places and get work buildin the worlds people are gonna see inside computer games. If that's what you want?'

  'Bet that's not enough for you Michael,' I smiled and started to steer my palm through yellow flowerweeds.

  'You're still just as beautiful,' he glanced at me.

  I looked at him for a moment and then casually picked up a tiny triangle of mirror lyin nearby.

  Moved my blonde hair out of the way and studied my face like a little girl.

  'More fever than sculpture,' I noted.

  'Pays okay,' he didn't react to my self-appraisal. 'Last summer I spent the whole time stuck in the basement of a company I was workin for. Codin a game called Mercurial. Put so much detail into it, Christine. The carpets. Under the carpets. What books were on the bookshelves.'

  I scratched the back of a hand with the mirror.

  Michael nervously glanced at the other side of the dump, where my well-to-do cousins lived. Examined their white van, koala coloured trailer, two small caravans and one of those temporary wooden houses you see on buildin sites. It was a very tidy arrangement. Almost like a bunch of settled person's toys.

  'Are you married?' I looked up at him.

  'I was engaged,' he squinted at me. 'We've split up.'

  I nodded slowly.

  'Just moved out Monday actually,' he said. 'Nowhere to go?'

  'Well,' I said without hesitation. 'This is your real home, Michael. Don't ever forget that.'

  He smiled.

  'Played too many video games for her?' I sighed. 'Was t
hat it?'

  'Ha,' he was unable to laugh. 'I actually don't play games so much nowadays.'

  'No?'

  'Sometimes I do,' he smiled. 'I don't like them as much. Early eighties was the golden age. A lot of the games nowadays are crap. They have no heart.'

  I knew it was Michael who had no heart and that he was simply searchin in the last place he had seen it. What the hell had happened to him? To us both! For the first time in years, I missed holding a lighter between my fingers.

  So I pulled my sleeves over my hands, placed my chin on my knees and began to think back to long before we were born - when our paths had started to cross.

 
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