Aya and the Cat
“On top of a pole, you say?”
Pete placed a hand on my desk, leaning forwards over my lunch, “Was she, you know, a keeper.”
Pete was a fisherman’s son. Unlike myself, he was brawny and knotted with muscle, knitted together by to his family’s distinct fishing pedigree. Though most islanders where usually strapped together to serve as haulers for the fishing fleet, my family being one of a few exceptions, Pete’s family were renowned for both their endurance and strength, hence their brute physical prowess.
That being said, Pete was a gentle lad’ I’d never met a youth so physically domineering yet could embroider a dress so delicately. Peter said his father had made him repair his fishing nets for his summer pocket money, notably leaving out that the bulk of his “summer pocket money” came from his mother who employed him in the local sowing shop under the guise of aunty Helga from the Imperial Empire.
While it was a bone of contention, you were sure as hell to receive a famous Pete smack if you dared raised this in public. “Come on now,” people would say, “He’s a little touched in the head so you better not mention it.”
His sheer presence was so potent an urban legend had arisen detailing how Pete had no particular skill in sowing just that the stiches just knew better.
Our teacher, a man so old even the grim reaper would nod and say, “You’re good,” not so much as walked but floated into the room.
People often said that Mr McGowl was an artefact from a time before artefacts were aretefacts, and that his suchness as an artefact was an artefact of the fact of the existence before artefacts. Others just thought he loved his job and so blessed us with his pencil work, what little of it he could see out of his bad eyes and bad ears.
While you would be bereft to find a man or woman on the island who considered him an enemy, you did find the odd fisherman saying, “For sure, he’s a queer one, that fella.”
Either way, he was treated with deference and underhanded support from his colleagues and students, many of whom rubbed out the overwhelming grade he had scribbled on their paper, not because they felt kinda guilty they just felt incredibly guilty.
It was like kicking a puppy.
He went through the motions. Scrappy hair, patched old suit from years way back where smoky coal was not so much a heat source but a mode of transport, giving the lay of the land and the history of the republic.
“The Republic,” he said, in a voice of flaky chalk and island salt, “Is the oldest landmass in the world. For sure, we were here before the Gods, so we were. Aye, yes. Let me for a moment now, if I can recall, the war we fought to persevere our nations soil. Yes, you needn’t worry about how it started only that the empire began it. Yes, they were to blame. That’s is all the history you need to know.”
As you can see, this how our history is taught. Through a prism, crystallised in blood. Nothing here about the Gods, or God for that matter. Nor a wistful reverie to a nation soaked in folklore, fairies, myth and legend. No, it was a story of ocean shell battered, worn, and cut from many heathen angels. God wondered if the flesh inside had ever seen day light, if felt warmth at all.
We’re all victims of the war here, that’s all I thought. My father is a republican priest—he oversees the parishes folk, having been brought here by his fathers’ father’s father, from the small princely state on the continent a 150 years ago. He often says, usually over the wine at dinner, that his flock are many in the same; dyed in the same wool. We don’t do history here, no sir, we do the past. And nothing but the past!
In the end, school continued in this vein. Nothing more. Nothing less. A melancholy of old wounds licked by warriors that had seen no battle but the smarting of their parents’ scars; and I was admits the drift of it. Not really caring about it.
And then, it was over. School was done.
Pete and I took the costal road home.
It was a westerly breeze so it was to the back of us, the spray speckling of cheeks as we lazed back home.
We straddled the cliffs, passing the faithful pole who almost leered at me as if to say, “You’re not bringing any more trouble are you?”
Have no fear, my good erect fellow, you shall remain touched by womanly hands for a while at least.
The cliffs faded downwards, the heaving sea smacking the island was deep greens below. Several Gauls lay nesting in the crooks and crannies of the white rock, many huddled in threadbare nests, others nestled in between the moss and hill.
Pete had spoken.
“You know, girls?”
“I’ve heard about them.”
I ducked underneath his left hook.
“I’m in a good humour.”
“Really? Hate to see a bad one.”
“You know girls.”
“Are you, you know, do you…like them?”
Oh Christ. The more observant amongst you guys might know where this is going. The rest of you hang tight for a moment.
“Like? Watcha mean? Like like?”
“Like like, yeah. That’ll do it. Do you like like girls?”
“I think I only like girls,” he said, glumly.
The rest of you with back with us? Good. In my country this is what is called a Cathail McNamara moment, harking back from the time Mr McNamara was founded with a bible wedged up against the door through which his mother found him in the arms of her younger lover.
There was an awful fuss; many people thought they had died. In the end, people grew up and admitted that while his mother was a witch and that her lover had made a lucky escapee, the applicability of his doorstop had crossed the line.
He should’ve used rented a hotel room, was the accepted communal wisdom. “A bible wouldn’t stop a breeze, let along Ms McNamara and her butchers knife.”
All in all, Pete had not committed as an adulterous a sin, but pretty still, this was a big moment for the island.
“Oh, well that’s…pretty usual.”
“Yeah,” I shrugged, “Me grand uncle had a thing for the back-door entrance too.”
“Wasn’t he a laggard?”
“His poetry aside, he was still a good man.”
Pete strained his back, glancing aside to the seascape where the fishing flotilla was waging war against the ocean floor. A pack of Gauls flew overhead, circling like tiny dots around the rusty armada while the ever-distant rustle of the waves ran up against the hard granite of D’Inis Ri.
“It was good talking.”
“Suppose it was…Please don’t ask me out.”
I said the last part inside my head. Sorry, but when it comes to swinging cats one direction is all I can take. Going anti-clockwise at this time in my life would not only be fiendishly awkward, but I’d also have to delete my search history—and man that’s a pain. Plus I’d have to start liking my male friends and to be honest, that’s a pretty big ask when they all smell of fish.
Pete took the Southern route, which is basically the path leading more west than east, whereas I continued down the Northern Path; the one that leads more east than west.
Republican signposts often give these false readings. Why, you may ask? How, is the better question.
You see all signposts here are connected to large metal pole that is sunk into the earth and fixed with concrete. The signs are bland looking emerald, written in even blander white, clasped onto metal pole by two sliver clasps. These clasps only grip so tightly meaning any well-meaning person can adjust the signpost if it gets bent with age, the road changes, or the wind knocks it over.
However, the urge not to move the signs is so pathetic that within moments of the pole being erected it was not unusual for east to mean south, the city to mean the beach, and dead end to ascribe a particular road upon which lived a person you serious just hated.
It was a national sport, to be honest. Fuck the signs, we called it.
We’d even inter county teams who roamed the country like medieval vagabonds, using hard wood sticks to both fuck the signs and each other, though the latter part was a modern addition.
It’s our version of counselling…I think.
In any event, this pole, today, had a visitor who was neither concerned with tomfoolery or head trauma.
“It’s yourself,” I said, remarking on Aya’s relaxed perch atop, an albeit shorter, pole, “Weather changing, or what?”
She looked at me.
Ouch, oh, you could feel that.
“What do you mean by that?”
I could see, no feel, with every single fibre of my being, that she was angry. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned? Christ, I think Hell would be considering relocation if they heard she was on the way down.
“Ah, I didn’t mean to cause offence…fuck it, I caused offence…I was just concerned that you were lost.”
She sighed and the anger vanished as if it were popped by a dart.
Aya slid down the pole, drawing a long breath as she reaffixed her cream muffler and black coat. They looked expensive.
On closer inspection, they were too expensive. Yes, they were custom made. Can’t see any designer brand label fashioning that sort of style, in any shape or form, for the consumer market.
Question, then, did she make them? And if not, who did?
“Did you see anything strange?” She said, in a voice not expecting much coinage from the answer.
“Something unusual did happen,” I replied, “Can’t see how it would be considered strange. At least, not in the strange kind of way.”
“Someone confess to you?”
“…In a manner of speaking.”
She smiled, “Good for you.”
“No, no, no. Wait,” I held my hand to my head, “It was a guy thing, you know.”
“Oh, you’re gay?”
“No, ah, Jesus, I’m not.”
“But your lover is?”
“He’s not my lover.”
She cocked her head a few centimetres to the left, “Ah, how sweet. You’re still questioning yourself.”
“One. There is is no questioning. Two…No, Three. No, hold on, now…Heh?”
I stopped mid track.
She was giggling. The dour had vanished from her; Aya now looked bright as rain.
“Ah, thanks, for cheering me up.”
I deflated, “You were havin’ me on, weren’t you?”
“It’s a good thing you’re armed.”
“Oh, going to impale me with your mighty sword.”
“Sounds oddly sexual.”
“Really,” she grinned, “Hate to see your internet search history if you’ve a mind like that.”
“My search history is fine.”
“You’re going red, you know.”
“How would I feel,” I said, throwing my arms to heaven and pointing at her, “If your sexual preferences were subject to public debate.”
“You’re the only one getting angry.”
Unbeknownst to me, I’d become the victim of my own demise. Hoisted by my own petard.
“We don’t take well to outsiders coming into our turf and throwing assertions around as if they were candy,” I said, “We fire from the hip here. Bullseye. Blunt and straight to the point.”
She raised an eyebrow, “Fire from the hip?”
“You know what I meant.”
“Yes, I do.”
I crossed my arms, flushing under my layers, the wind blowing her hair and barely touching mine underneath my hat.
“Why are you here,” I asked, “If for nothing else just to torment me.”
“I was sent here to find something.”
“As in to find thing I was sent to find.”
“Have a guess.”
I frowned, “The holy grail.”
“No, the war for that finished years ago.”
"Oh really, well that's...Heh. Eh? EHH?! You found the holy grail?.”
“Yes,” she pursed her lips, “Waste of time, to be frank. All it does it makes you immortal and then stabs you with swords.”
"Yeah. Apparently only teenagers in high school are allowed to participate."
“Yeah, if you see him will you tell him he’s up for a hundred counts of manslaughter.”
“Bit of a stretch, but I’ll mention it to him next Sunday.”
“Any other guesses?”
“It’s not in….”
“Your pocket, no. I checked this morning.”
“Why did you bring a condom to school?”
“That’s none of your damned business,” I flared red, “And how did you…Wait, never mind.”
“Okay, what about a magical stick that transforms you into a type of fairy who battles demons and discovers how they feel in relation to themselves, their friends, and their lover.”
“Sounds like fantasy.”
“So am I wrong?”
“TV signal bad here?”
“It’s a bloody island in the middle of the bloody sea, what you bloody think?”
Okay, focus, Cat. What could she want? What could she possibly want that somehow, emphasis on the somehow, located on this island? I mean, what could she possibly want?
“I’ve got nothing,” I shrugged, “Nothing.”
“That was quick.”
“I’m an abridging my discomfort,” I said, nodding, “Come on, tell me. What’s are you looking for?”
She, standing like a statue in the springs bitter breeze, gave no indication of a reply. Her smile drifted away and the lazy playfulness that had shone from her eyes just seconds ago, faded too. Without favour, or without any sense of remorse or regret, the girl looked at me as if I were but an object, but a thing standing alone on this island.
The look was beyond cool, it was empty.
“I thought it was easy,” she said, eventually, “I gave you my card. I even gave you my number. Thought you would be smart enough to put two and two together. Obviously, I was mistaken.”
Her sword was unsheathed, and the tip was placed under my chin, edge scraping underside of my throat.
I froze. Bag smacking to the ground, legs rooting themselves to my native soil.
I couldn’t move.
“Strange,” she said, coaxing the blade into my skin and rotating it so that the point drew blood, “I understood you would realise that I was searching for you.”