by Éilís Ní Dhuibhne
Neither of us said a word the whole way down. The engine made an awful racket, you couldn’t hear a thing, and anyway he was a quiet fellow with not a lotto say for himself. All I could see were headlights, and now and then a signpost: Enniskerry, Sallygap, Glendalough. And after we turned off the main road into the mountains, there were no headlights either, and no house–lights,nothing except the black night. Annamoe is at the back of the beyonds, you’d never know you were only ten miles from Bray there, it’s really very remote altogether. And theirhouse was down a lane where there was absolutely nothing to be seen at all, not a house, not even a sheep. The house you could hardly see either, actually. It was kind of buried like at the side of the road, in a kind of a hollow. You wouldn’tknow it was there at all until it was on top of you. Trees all around it too. He pulled up in front of a big five–bar gate and just gave an almighty honk on the horn and I got a shock when the gate opened, just like that, the minute he honked.I never saw who did it. But looking back now I suppose it was one of the brothers. I suppose they were waiting for him like.
It was a big place, comfortable enough, really, and he took me into the kitchen and introduced me to whoever was there. Polite enough. A big room it was, with an old black range and a huge big dresser, painted red and filledwith all kinds of delph and crockery and stuff. Oh you name it! And about half a dozen people were sitting around the room, or maybe more than that. All watching the telly. The "Late Late" was still on and your one, the call–girl one, was still on. She wastalking to a priest about unemployment. And they were glued to it, the whole lot of them, what looked like the mother and father and a whole family of grown men and women. His family or hers I didn’t bother my head asking. Andthey weren’t giving out any information for nothing either. It was a funny set up, I could see clear as daylight, such a big crowd of them, all living together. For all the world like in "Dallas."
Well, there wasn’t a lot of time to be lost. The mother offered me a cup of tea, I’ll say that for her, and I said yes, I’d love one, and I was actually dying for a cup. I hadn’t had a drop of tea since six o’clock and by this time it was after twelve. So one of them, a sister I suppose it was,the youngest of them, she took me upstairs to the room where she was. The girl. Sarah. She was lying on the bed, on her own. No heat in the room, nothing.
After a while they came to a steep hill. A door opened in the side of the hill and they went in. They rode until they came to a big house and inside there were lots of people, eating and drinking. In the corner of the house there lay a woman in labour.
I didn’t say a word, just put on gloves and gave her an examination. She was the five fingers, nearly into the second stage, and she must have been feeling a good bit of pain but she didn’t let on, not at all. Just lay there with her teethgritted. She was a brave young one, I’ll say that for her. The waters were gone and of course nobody had cleaned up the mess so I asked the other young one to do it, and to get a heater and a kettle of boiling water. I stayed with Sarah and the baby came just before one. A little girl. There was no trouble at all with the delivery and she seemed all right but small.I’d no way of weighing her, needless to say, but I’d be surprised if she was much more than five pounds.
"By rights she should be in an incubator," I said to Sarah, who was sitting up smoking a cigarette, if you don’t mind. She said nothing. What can you do? I washed the child. . .she was a nice little thing, God help her. . .I wrapped her in a blanketand put her in beside the mother. There was nowhere else for her. Not a cot, not even an old box. That’s the way in these cases as often as not. Nobody wants to know.
I delivered the afterbirth and then I left. I couldn’t wait to get back to my own bed. They’d brought me the cup of tea and all, but I didn’t get time to drink it, being so busy and all. And afterwards the Missus, if that’s what she was, wanted me to have a cup in the kitchen. But all I wanted then was to get out of the place. They were all so quiet andunfriendly like. Bar the mother. And even she wasn’t going over–board, mind you. But the rest of them. All sitting like zombies looking at the late–night film. They gave me the creeps. I told them the child was too small, they’d have to do something about it, but they didn’tlet on they heard. The father, the ould fellow, that is to say, put a note in my hand. . .it was worth it from that point of view, I’ll admit. . .and said, "Thank you." Not a word from the rest of them. Glued to the telly, as if nothing was after happening. I wanted to scream at them, really. But what could I do?Anyway the young fellow, Sean, the father as he said himself, drove me home. And that was that.
Well and good. I didn’t say a word about what was after happening to anyone, excepting of course Joe. I don’t talk, it’s not right. People have a right to their privacy, I always say, and with my calling you’ve got to be very careful. But to tell the truth they were on my mind.The little girl, the little baby. I knew in my heart and soul I shouldn’t have left her out there, down there in the back of the beyonds, near Annamoe. She was much too tiny, she needed care. And the mother, Sarah, was on my mind as well. Mind you she seemed to be well able to look after herself, but still and all, they weren’t the friendliest crowd of people I’d ever come across. They were not.
But that was that.
Until about a week later, didn’t I get the shock of my life when I opened the evening paper and saw your one, Sarah, staring out at me. Her round baby face, big head of red hair. And there was a big story about the baby. Someone was after finding it dead in a shoebox, in a kind of rubbish dump they had at the back of the house. And she was arrested, in for questioning, her and maybe Sean O’Toole as well.I’m not sure. In for questioning. I could have dropped down dead there and then.
I told Joe.
"Keep your mouth shut, woman," he said. "You did your job and were paid for it. This is none of your business."
And that was sound advice. But we can’t always take sound advice. If we could the world would be a different place.
The thing dragged on. It was in the papers. It was on the telly. There was questioning, and more questioning, and trials and appeals and I don’t know what. The whole country was in on it.