The Old Man [CW series #26]

The old man continued the drive down the hill to the village on his tractor. He had recognized the jeep which had nearly swerved off the road when he pulled out of the driveway. It was the odd doctor from that clinic up on the hill. The man Peter had gone to see for some sort of therapy. Didn’t prevent his son from killing himself, did it. Would have served that man right to land in the ditch and break his neck. He scanned the fields to the left and right to see if Blacky might be roaming about them somewhere. He was still hoping to find him and hoped that he hadn’t wandered into one of Jimmy’s fields further down below, close to the village, and set about practicing his instincts and chase cows and sheep around. He had gone past his own, barren fields now, and seen no sign of the dog. The bloody woman. It was all her fault. First Peter and now the dog. He tightened his grip on the steering wheel. He’d seen to her, given her a right old beating before he set out on his drive down to the village shop.

He recognized some of the cows and sheep in Jimmy’s fields as the ones he’d sold after Peter’s death. They were grazing in groups and there was no sign of any disturbance. If Blacky had been here, he was now either dead, because Jimmy would not hesitate to send a bullet from his shotgun through any stray he caught entering his farmland, or had been picked up by someone who took him in. They might have put a dog found notice up in the shop. He’d have a look while he was in there getting his groceries.

He liked going to the shop because of the girl who worked there. She was young, around 25 give or take he guessed. She hardly ever gave him as much as a glance, kept her eyes fixed to the screen on her mobile phone pretty much all the time, but she was his type and he had taken notice of her. Red curls, white skin, a few freckles across the ridge of her nose. She looked a bit like the wife when she was young, slimmer, not as plump and there wasn’t as much rosiness to her cheeks. She also looked a bit like the one he had kept in the shed, the one who had born children for him, his son Peter and later the unnamed girls he had sold into adoption. Come to think about it, she bore more of a resemblance to the woman who had got away from him because of the wife. It was all the wife’s fault. He’d make sure she wouldn’t stop suffering for it until her dying days. The girl though, the one in the shop, she was about the right age, wasn’t she, the last of the baby girls that had gone to some childless couple in Dublin for adoption would be about her age now. No questions asked, fee paid in cash. Surely she couldn’t be, could she? He shook his head as he pulled up outside the shop. That would be too much of a coincidence, a discarded child of his turning up in his village. He’d have another look at her now to see how much of a likeness there was.

She was watching him from inside the shop as he jumped off his tractor, stooping and wincing for a moment with some sudden pain that must have shot up his spine, then straightening himself and turning around stiffly toward the tractor to retrieve the shopping bag, a large stained cotton bag which when it had seen better days must have been white. He looked old and tired, no longer the hulk of a young man with a volatile temper who she had once been afraid of. Luckily she hadn’t been his type then and had never been the object of his aggressive advances when they were young, but there had been stories of him getting rough with some of the girls, even rumours that he had raped one of the girls or tried to rape her and she got away, depending on who told the story. Joe’s father had been a much respected and important pillar of the local community at that time, he was chairman of the farmer’s association, so if there had been any truth to those rumours, they would have got hushed up by unspoken local consensus. To look at Joe now, surely he no longer had the physical strength to do any harm and intimidate anyone. The tragedy of his son’s death must have subdued him and shown him that God’s power was after all stronger than the brutish power he had let loose in drunken brawls with the other lads before he finally got married to a woman who hadn’t been a local and let herself be controlled by him. Never mixed with the locals, he must have forbidden her to do that and she would have obeyed his orders. Seemed happy enough, especially once they had Peter. It was odd that she had kept out of sight during her pregnancy, had the baby at home. No doctor had ever gone to see her, no midwife, there had been just the two of them, her and Joe. It was hard to picture Joe acting the midwife, but there you are. You never know what folk are really like and capable of behind closed doors. Fiona said the old man gave her the creeps every time he came to the shop, that he stared at her in a strange way, took a lot of time over doing his shopping so that he could ogle her. Eileen made a mental note to tell her that while he certainly had been a rogue when he was a young lad, he was only a sad old man now. There was no reason to get spooked by him.

Of course Fiona wasn’t local and couldn’t be expected to be familiar with all the local types some of whom must seem a bit strange to city folk, she’d only moved here from the city when she was going out with one of Jimmy’s sons who had spent some time in Dublin studying to become a vet. Once he was finished studying he wanted to move back to the farm and she came along. The relationship hadn’t lasted, but she’d taken a fancy to the area, liked to go to the seaside to surf and so she stayed. She moved into an old cottage on the main road leading out of the village. There wasn’t much money to be earned from working in the shop but the rent was cheap and her parents doted on her and visited often and every time they came up to see her they gave her a bit of extra money.

Their eyes met when he entered the dim small shop and she sensed his disappointment when he noticed Fiona wasn’t there. His eyes darted up and down the single aisle.

“Where is the girl?” he asked in a scruffy growl.

“Hi Joe, long time no see. How are you and how is your wife? I am well, thank you, apart from the arthritis which has crept into my old bones. The young lady who works here and is employed by me to do so is entitled to some time off. She’s taken a few days holidays to enjoy herself and do whatever she pleases and I’m all for it, you know. She’s hardly taken any days off at all yet this year, and there has to be a world outside the confines of this little shop for someone as young and lovely as her.”

Joe only gave a grunt in response and set off down the aisle to gather up the items he had come to get. Eileen wouldn’t have known but he bought more than he would have done had Fiona been in the shop, enough supplies to last him and the wife for the rest of the week. He had no desire to come back down until the girl was back behind the till. He stopped for a moment at the end of the aisle and scanned the notice board. There were all sorts of flyers for local businesses pinned to it, the odd doctor’s among them, but nothing about anyone having found a stray dog. He sighed and turned to walk up to the till to pay for his groceries.

Eileen noticed that he avoided looking at her, but she wasn’t going to be silenced by this grumpy old man. They had isolated themselves from the community around them, Joe and his wife, and after what happened with Peter last year things could only have got worse in that department. Joe had sold off all his livestock and retired as a farmer so he wouldn’t even get a whiff of a social life any longer through going to the cattle and sheep markets. It might just take a bit of confident and gentle persistence on her side to get him out of his prickly shell a little.

“That’s a lovely bit of ham,” she intoned cheerfully, “got it delivered fresh from the butcher only this morning. Let me hold the bag open for you and you can drop all your shopping in, there now.”

No response once again except for a grunt and no eye contact, but he did as told and placed his shopping inside the filthy shopping bag while she held it open for him. He handed over a fifty note and she gave him back his change.

“It’s been good to see you, Joe. Tell your wife I asked about her. How is she keeping?”

This woman was insufferable. He couldn’t control himself any longer and slammed his fist hard on the counter. “None of your bloody business,” he shouted and turned to walk out of the shop a lot more quickly than he had entered it.

Eileen stared after him open-mouthed. She was beginning to think that it wasn’t such a wonder after all that the old man was giving Fiona the creeps.

Joe let a black Mini pass before reversing back out onto the road. It looked like the car that was usually parked outside the shop, which he was pretty sure was the girl’s car. It was going in the same direction he was going, but the little car was a good bit faster than his old tractor and soon went out of his sight. He kept ambling along the main road and as he got closer to the end of the village saw the car stopped by the side of the road, its boot open. It was the girl alright. He’d recognize her flame red curls anywhere. He slowed his speed even more to get a better look. Some idiot behind him hit the horn and he waved him past. A city type probably, how else could it be such a bloody big deal to overtake a tractor on a quiet road. She was lifting a large bag of what looked like dog nuts out of the boot of her car and a plastic bag carrying the logo of a pet shop. He let out a soft whistle through clenched teeth. Bingo. Now he knew where she lived.

© Ash N. Finn

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