Chapter 4:

The Holy Grail Doesn’t Care Much for Teenage Angst, but I’m a Teenager so Screw That.

Aya and the Cat

“On top of a pole, you say?”Bookmark here

“Yep.”Bookmark here

Pete placed a hand on my desk, leaning forwards over my lunch, “Was she, you know, a keeper.”Bookmark here

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. Bookmark here

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. Bookmark here

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.”Bookmark here

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. Bookmark here

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. Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.”Bookmark here

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. Bookmark here

It was like kicking a puppy. Bookmark here

Fucking adorable. Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

“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.”Bookmark here

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. Bookmark here

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!Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

And then, it was over. School was done.Bookmark here

Pete and I took the costal road home.Bookmark here

It was a westerly breeze so it was to the back of us, the spray speckling of cheeks as we lazed back home.Bookmark here

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?”Bookmark here

Have no fear, my good erect fellow, you shall remain touched by womanly hands for a while at least.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

“Cat?”Bookmark here

Pete had spoken.Bookmark here

“Hmm?”Bookmark here

“You know, girls?”Bookmark here

“I’ve heard about them.”Bookmark here

I ducked underneath his left hook.Bookmark here

“I’m in a good humour.”Bookmark here

“Really? Hate to see a bad one.”Bookmark here

“Listen, lad.”Bookmark here

“Hmm?”Bookmark here

“You know girls.”Bookmark here

“Yeah.”Bookmark here

“Are you, you know, do you…like them?”Bookmark here

Oh Christ. The more observant amongst you guys might know where this is going. The rest of you hang tight for a moment.Bookmark here

“Like? Watcha mean? Like like?”Bookmark here

“Like like, yeah. That’ll do it. Do you like like girls?”Bookmark here

“Yeah.”Bookmark here

“I think I only like girls,” he said, glumly.Bookmark here

“Right.”Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.”Bookmark here

All in all, Pete had not committed as an adulterous a sin, but pretty still, this was a big moment for the island.Bookmark here

“Oh, well that’s…pretty usual.”Bookmark here

“Is it?”Bookmark here

“Yeah,” I shrugged, “Me grand uncle had a thing for the back-door entrance too.”Bookmark here

“Wasn’t he a laggard?”Bookmark here

“His poetry aside, he was still a good man.”Bookmark here

“Hmm.”Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

“It was good talking.”Bookmark here

“Suppose it was…Please don’t ask me out.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

Republican signposts often give these false readings. Why, you may ask? How, is the better question.Bookmark here

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. Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

It was a national sport, to be honest. Fuck the signs, we called it.Bookmark here

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. Bookmark here

It’s our version of counselling…I think.Bookmark here

In any event, this pole, today, had a visitor who was neither concerned with tomfoolery or head trauma.Bookmark here

“It’s yourself,” I said, remarking on Aya’s relaxed perch atop, an albeit shorter, pole, “Weather changing, or what?”Bookmark here

She looked at me.Bookmark here

Ouch, oh, you could feel that.Bookmark here

“What do you mean by that?”Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

“Ah, I didn’t mean to cause offence…fuck it, I caused offence…I was just concerned that you were lost.”Bookmark here

She sighed and the anger vanished as if it were popped by a dart.Bookmark here

Aya slid down the pole, drawing a long breath as she reaffixed her cream muffler and black coat. They looked expensive. Bookmark here

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. Bookmark here

Question, then, did she make them? And if not, who did?Bookmark here

“Did you see anything strange?” She said, in a voice not expecting much coinage from the answer.Bookmark here

“Something unusual did happen,” I replied, “Can’t see how it would be considered strange. At least, not in the strange kind of way.”Bookmark here

“Someone confess to you?”Bookmark here

“…In a manner of speaking.”Bookmark here

She smiled, “Good for you.”Bookmark here

“No, no, no. Wait,” I held my hand to my head, “It was a guy thing, you know.”Bookmark here

“Oh, you’re gay?”Bookmark here

“No, ah, Jesus, I’m not.”Bookmark here

“But your lover is?”Bookmark here

“He’s not my lover.”Bookmark here

She cocked her head a few centimetres to the left, “Ah, how sweet. You’re still questioning yourself.”Bookmark here

“One. There is is no questioning. Two…No, Three. No, hold on, now…Heh?”Bookmark here

I stopped mid track.Bookmark here

She was giggling. The dour had vanished from her; Aya now looked bright as rain.Bookmark here

“Ah, thanks, for cheering me up.”Bookmark here

I deflated, “You were havin’ me on, weren’t you?”Bookmark here

“Naturally.”Bookmark here

“It’s a good thing you’re armed.”Bookmark here

“Oh, going to impale me with your mighty sword.”Bookmark here

“Sounds oddly sexual.”Bookmark here

“Really,” she grinned, “Hate to see your internet search history if you’ve a mind like that.”Bookmark here

“My search history is fine.”Bookmark here

“You’re going red, you know.”Bookmark here

“How would I feel,” I said, throwing my arms to heaven and pointing at her, “If your sexual preferences were subject to public debate.”Bookmark here

“You’re the only one getting angry.”Bookmark here

Unbeknownst to me, I’d become the victim of my own demise. Hoisted by my own petard.Bookmark here

“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.”Bookmark here

She raised an eyebrow, “Fire from the hip?”Bookmark here

“You know what I meant.”Bookmark here

“Yes, I do.”Bookmark here

I crossed my arms, flushing under my layers, the wind blowing her hair and barely touching mine underneath my hat.Bookmark here

“Why are you here,” I asked, “If for nothing else just to torment me.”Bookmark here

“I was sent here to find something.”Bookmark here

“Sent?”Bookmark here

“As in to find thing I was sent to find.”Bookmark here

“Find what?”Bookmark here

“Have a guess.”Bookmark here

I frowned, “The holy grail.”Bookmark here

“No, the war for that finished years ago.”Bookmark here

"Oh really, well that's...Heh. Eh? EHH?! You found the holy grail?.”Bookmark here

“Yes,” she pursed her lips, “Waste of time, to be frank. All it does it makes you immortal and then stabs you with swords.”Bookmark here

"Stabs? Swords?"Bookmark here

"Yeah. Apparently only teenagers in high school are allowed to participate."Bookmark here

“Christ.”Bookmark here

“Yeah, if you see him will you tell him he’s up for a hundred counts of manslaughter.”Bookmark here

“Bit of a stretch, but I’ll mention it to him next Sunday.”Bookmark here

“Any other guesses?”Bookmark here

“It’s not in….”Bookmark here

“Your pocket, no. I checked this morning.”Bookmark here

“You couldn’t….”Bookmark here

“Why did you bring a condom to school?”Bookmark here

“That’s none of your damned business,” I flared red, “And how did you…Wait, never mind.”Bookmark here

She giggled.Bookmark here

“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.”Bookmark here

“Sounds like fantasy.”Bookmark here

“So am I wrong?”Bookmark here

“TV signal bad here?” Bookmark here

“It’s a bloody island in the middle of the bloody sea, what you bloody think?”Bookmark here

“Just checking.”Bookmark here

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?Bookmark here

“I’ve got nothing,” I shrugged, “Nothing.”Bookmark here

“That was quick.”Bookmark here

“I’m an abridging my discomfort,” I said, nodding, “Come on, tell me. What’s are you looking for?”Bookmark here

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. Bookmark here

The look was beyond cool, it was empty.Bookmark here

“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.”Bookmark here

Her sword was unsheathed, and the tip was placed under my chin, edge scraping underside of my throat.Bookmark here

I froze. Bag smacking to the ground, legs rooting themselves to my native soil.Bookmark here

I couldn’t move.Bookmark here

“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.”Bookmark here

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