The emptiness in Jack was becoming unbearable. He hadn’t had a hit in three days now. He drove with one hand on the steering wheel, the other stretched across his chest, itching the healed needle marks, at times breaking the skin, causing his arm to lift and swerve the car across lanes. White crosses appeared on either side of the road, more a warning to motorists than a memorial to those that have died there. In Jack’s altered state the crosses seemed to grow as big as the trees and arch over the road. Turning into giant hammers and coming down in blows on the asphalt in front and behind the car. He was shaking now and slammed the brakes causing the rear tyres to skid from the road, leaving a flower memorial flattened. Shaking uncontrollably and reaching for the glove box he pulled out some Valiums. He used his teeth to get through the foil and let two slip down his throat, waited for twenty minutes until the shakes lessened before pulling out. The morning had fully broken and clouds patterned fields with light and dark green patches, he noticed a GAA field in the distance that hadn’t been there before. He took a long breath and let it out with a sigh as he took a right off the motorway and headed towards his father’s house.
The house looked as it always had, ever since he was a boy. Broken slates on the roof, turf and sticks piled against the wall and the smell of the hearth rising in grey smoke from the pebble dashed chimney in the center of the bungalow. The small house had two windows positioned either side of the large red door, from one of which Jack saw the curtain move and the black ratcatcher pounce upon the sill. He knew he didn’t need to knock. The door bounded open before him. His father looked smaller, shrunken with age. He was always known as the big fella but in recent years those big shoulders slouched and his face had shadows at the eyes and cheeks. There was silence as he looked Jack straight in the eyes with a judging stare. He obviously found something he didn’t like within those eyes for a moment of disappointment washed over his face. This caused Jack to look away and to the ground.
“Come in so!” ushered his father.
They sat either side of the fire. Old collector’s sports stickers still clung to the mantelpiece where Jack had got a hiding for sticking them years before. Pictures and sports trophies dotted the house, the only things that had not gathered dust. His father took his seat and Jack pointed to a hurley next to his chair.
“Ya still playin da?
“Ha…use it to get around, back gets stiff”
“Everything else alright?”
“Sur the same, you’re brother and Claire came with the kids on Sunday. Didn’t get a word from the kids, faces stuck in those screens. Do ya want some porridge?, It’s just ready!”
“Nah I’m alright”
The rejection of food brought a bout of silence. The itch was beginning to come back and the silence began to play on the nerves. Jack stared and watched the flames of the fire fight to jump the highest. Patterns and shapes of men appeared within, hypnotising him to the point of sleep. He suddenly became aware his father was standing over him with a blanket and jumped in shock.
“We’ve been here before Jack, I told ya, stay and get clean. Come back to us.”
“I just need a little cash da” was all Jack said before he drifted off.
The time was a little after one when Jack awoke and the fear reached the depths of his stomach and shook his body wildly. He huddled in a ball next to the hearth. His father had kept it going. The crackle and spit of the flames came like clashing wood to his ears, a black panther stood against the wall, a hieroglyph of death. His father appeared through the front door. His hands were huge now and held within them a bloodied body, the body of himself lifeless in his father’s arms. A body to Jack’s mind, sticks for the fire in truth.
“Easy son…fight this. I’ll look after ya, just stay with me.”
Jack picked up the poker and made towards his father.
“I’m sorry da, where’s the stash. I know ya keep money around. Where is it?”
The father’s voiced started to rise.
“Ya feckin blaggard, ya think i’d keep money around after last time? Do ya?”
Jack looked into the fire again and saw the flames had turned a hundred different colours morphing into a face with black empty eyes and then a hand with a finger beckoning him to the the fire. His hand was beginning to sizzle when the father grabbed his hand from it. Jack’s elbow came back and caught his father in the face sending him backwards and to the floor. His lip became bloodied and Jack’s need for a hit reached it’s pinnacle.
“Sorry Da, I really am.”
Spreading the blanket on the floor Jack proceeded to lay down all the trophies and picture frames in it’s center and wrapped it into a satchel. He saw his father was struggling to get up and threw his hurley at his feet. He saw his father’s piercing eyes look in his face.
“Last time da I swear!”
“You’re mother said you’d be the death of me son but I still love ya. It’s not too late son, ya can stay, stay!”
“I’m sorry Da”
Tears welled in Jack’s eyes but the thought of a hit made him manic and he ran for the door. He threw the swag on the passenger seat and started the engine. He knew just the guy to pawn the takings onto for a nice earner. He mercilessly threw three more pills into his mouth and sped off down the country road. He felt the pills take effect and felt an emptiness. This time for his father. A black sheep leapt in front of the bonnet breaking his reverie and he broke hard. He got out and inspected the car. It was fairly dented but with no dyer consequence, he thought. He took a deep breath and felt his head clear. With that voices. Looking across some limestone blocks and towards where the maimed sheep was limping he saw the hurling field and saw a game was in progress. All thoughts of shooting up had disappeared and he became hypnotised by the movement of the players. Without realising he had come so far, he found himself on the sideline and entranced. One of the big lads threw a hurley at him.
“You’re the big fella’s lad aren’t ya? Well c’mon!”
On the pitch Jack felt better than he ever had and a great peace came from the feel of sliotar on ash. The joy of scoring or the dismay of a score against all bringing the most dizzying high he had ever felt. He was hooked and wanted to play forever. Some clouds drifted over the field and it wasn’t long before darkness enveloped the field. Hands were shaken and pats on the back were given all round. The team had lost by a point. One of the players, the captain, turned to Jack.
“Bring the ol’man back tomorrow. He’ll tell us where we’re going wrong”
“I will, jaysus he’d love this so he would”
Jack walked back to the car with a smile from ear to ear. He looked forward to getting to his father and apologising and telling him of the hurlers right on his doorstep. He stopped in his tracks when he got to the side of road and dropped to his knees. There, where he left his car now stood a weathered white cross with fresh flowers tied upright at it’s foot. He turned back to where the field had been but it had disappeared. There now in the dying light stood the circular ruins of a wall, a faery fort. He turned back and stared at the cross for a time contemplating the scene before dashing to his fathers house.
A light came from the sitting room and Jack looked through. A fire was lighting and there silhouetted was an oak coffin and in it lay his father’s body. Small and frail, but the hands across his chest as big as ever. Brandy bottles were dotted around the tables with not a trophy to be seen. A picture of him and his father from many years ago now took one of those places. The door of the house swung open and the spectre of his father walked out, hurley in hand. Both men smiled and embraced.
“I’m sorry Da, I was comin back.”
“I know ya were son, sur you’re here now”
“How long has it been?”
“Four years since I found the car and carried ya back”
Jack grabbed his father in a link and the walked slowly down the road. Time was lost and dawn broke filling the sky with light. Dew clung to the grasses and flowers and the sun upon them lit a path towards the faery fort. Father and son gathered pace and felt their hearts lift as they saw the high posts, flags and clipped soft grass appeared before them.
Jack watched his father walk out onto the pitch and then break into a run, throwing the hurley from one hand to the other. He went to take up his place in goal and grew with every step. Shoulders widening, chest puffing out and back straightening, filling the frame of the goal.