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  • Writer's pictureDylan McCormack

Lambing Season


He was down in the farm when his phone rang. Sixty two years of age and still able to manage his sheep. Wading through the muck and rain to count the lambs on a May morning, his brick of a Nokia phone blared in his luminous jacket.

Pausing, he leaned slightly on his stick. Patting his pockets to find the phone. The outside pockets only held tissues and the keys to his battered jeep which was parked at the shed. Through the grey haze of rain all around him, a few lambs could be heard bleating off in the distance.

The phone was found in the inner pocket of his jacket. Of course, he thought, always the last pocket.

A number flashed on the light green screen. He didn’t recognise it. Swearing under his breath, he told himself that if it was one of those telemarketer Indian lads he would give them a fucking mighty earful.

‘Hello?’

For a moment, he thought the person had hung up. No one responded. Then he heard the sound of a distant argument. Swearing. It was like someone was fighting on the opposite end of a tunnel.

‘Hello?’ He said. A bit more impatiently this time.

‘Hello. Hello.’ Finally, someone answered. ‘How are you doing Joe?’

He didn’t recognise the voice. He didn’t like the voice. The smooth, nonchalant tone grated in his ears. Who was this stranger to call him Joe?

‘Who’s this?’ He asked. A bit of anger entering his voice.

‘Well Joe,’ an Offaly accent. ‘It’s Michael here.’ The name meant nothing to him.

‘Michael who?’

‘I’m friends with your son Dar.’

Of course you are, he thought. Of course Darren would interfere in the most inopportune time. Standing there in the field, rain drops dripping down his heavy shoulders, Joseph felt frustrated. At the world. At the rain. But mostly, at his son.

‘What has he done now?’ He was sick of asking questions.

Again, there was a pause. Joseph did not know this Michael. Come to think of it, he didn’t think he knew any Michaels. He was trying to remember whether Darren had mentioned this man the last time he was home. But all he could remember was the roaring and the swearing. A man in his sixties, still arguing with his thirty year old like he was a teenager. Darren was not like many thirty year old lads though. From a young age, Joseph could remember his wife taking Darren to a specialist to calm him. To help him. Darren was always getting into fights and thieving. It got to the stage where they both decided he needed to be looked at by a professional. He remembered one and only day when the professional came to their house to have a chat with the parents. He could still picture Darren out in the back, kicking a ball against the shed wall. Joseph and his wife, Magritte, sitting at the kitchen table across from this so called ‘professional’.

‘Now Joe and Magz.’ He interrupted her.

‘Joseph.’ She smiled at him. Her notepad came out and she scribbled something down. He was already getting annoyed.

‘Joseph.’ She smiled. ‘I’ve been talking to Darren for the last few weeks and he’s just telling me how he is feeling at home.’

Right, thought Joseph. Here it fucking comes. ‘What’s he saying?’

She smiled again. He was about to say something but beside him Magritte squeezed his leg under the table. Shut your mouth.

‘Go on.’ Magritte said. She was always very good at keeping him in check.

The professional looked through her notes. ‘Well, you see. Darren is feeling isolated at home. As if he is not loved or listened too. It feels like he is just wanting to be listened to without it turning into an argument.’ She smiled at Joseph again. The ball outside made a rhythmic sound as it hit the wall.

Is this a dig at me? Is she trying to tell me I’m to blame?

‘Now, in all fairness,’ he began, ‘I don’t rightly see how he can think we don’t love him. Sure, aren’t we bringing him to you? Does he not have a roof over his head or food on the table? All we do is for him and he has the nerve to say we don’t love him?’ Magritte kept her hand squeezed on his leg. His voiced may have raised slightly, he couldn’t remember.

Another fucking grin. ‘Joseph, I understand how it feels. I just think that Darren needs an environment where people talk in a calm way rather than aggressively.’ That was definitely aimed at him.

This tête-à-tête continued for another few minutes. Magritte may as well not have been there. The tea in the pot getting cold. The ball getting louder and louder. Eventually, Joseph snapped. He called the professional all sorts of names. Bitch was the main contender. She left but her insinuation remained. The insinuation that Joseph was the reason that Darren was such a ‘little bollix’, as he called him. The insinuation that Joseph was the creator of his own misery.

Later that night, Joseph and Magritte getting ready for bed. The rest of the day not saying anything to each other. Now, being the same bed, they had no option but to talk about the day. ‘Well,’ he said. ‘Tell me what you’re thinking.’

She took a moment to answer. Looking ahead she said, ‘I think she had some points.’

‘Ah for fuck sake. I’m to blame? I’m to blame is that what your telling me?’

She didn’t raise her voice or even argue back. She just looked at him. Her green eyes that he remembered looking at in the pub where they met. The eyes that he looked at when their son was born. He knew that he should feel embarrassed but his ego wouldn’t let him .

‘You and Darren are more alike than you know Joe. You’re both just the same.’ With that, she turned away and went to sleep.

She died ten years later. Cancer. Darren was still living at home at that stage. He must have been in his mid to late twenties. Dropped out of college. Not that it was a good one mind you. It was the only one that would take him and he could even finish a simple agricultural course before drink and drug made him a no show. After leaving, he worked on multiple farms and security companies. Getting fired from each one. He moved back to save money. He had a grand plan to get himself a caravan. But that required work, something which Joseph didn’t believe his son was capable of for longer than a week or two.

She was buried on one of the last days of Summer. They both wore black. They stood side by side and watched her descend into the ground. As she receded into the earth, they felt the connection between the two of them go with her. Around them family members wept but the two men stood stoic. Both jaws clenched and knuckles white.

After, at the house. The halls feeling longer. The kitchen getting colder. The two men went to their separate rooms. A couple days of this, Darren came into the kitchen while Joseph was eating his soda bread and cheese slices. He sat across from his Father and all he said was, ‘I think it’s best if I move out.’

Joseph kept eating. In between bites, ‘If you think that’d be best.’

He moved out the next day. No goodbye. Only then, did Joseph feel lonely. Years went by where they might give each other the odd phone call. Just to check to see if the other was still breathing. The last time Darren visited, he looked like he hadn’t slept in weeks. His clothes were too big for him and his shoes had holes in their soles. Joseph was convinced his son was homeless.

‘No. I’m living with this lad in Tullamore. His keeping me fed. Just have to pay him a bit but not much.’

He shrugged. If this man was taking care of him then so be it.

‘Joe? Are you there?’

Joseph shook his head. The droplets from his hood falling to the grass below. The sound of the lambs seemed to be getting farther away.

‘Sorry. What is it?’ His voice lower now.

‘Well look Joe, Dar has been staying with me for the last while. His alright, just a bit of a thick cunt now and then,’ Joseph bristled at the insult. ‘Now, we were chatting the other day and he said something about you that I know just isn’t true.’

This all seemed so stupid to him. Why is this man ringing me?

‘He said to me that you touched him as a young lad.’

Joseph frowned. What is going on, he thought. He almost laughed, the situation was so ridiculous. In fact, a little chuckle might have escaped his lips. The man on the phone continued.

‘Now, I know that’s bullshit. Dar is always telling lies. You know what he’s like. He’s a fucking snake.’ Behind the voice, Joseph could hear the sounds of whimpering. Almost like a dog.

After a moment, ‘Is Darren there?’

A pause. ‘Yeah. Yeah, his here. D’you want to talk to him?

Did he? Did Joseph really want to talk to his son after he had told such awful lies about him? ‘Put him on.’ The lambs, far away now.

The phone passed over.

‘Daddy?’

It annoyed him that his son still called him Daddy. He would have much preferred that he called him by his name.

Before Joseph could say anything. He thought about that word, Daddy. That small word. That word that was him for so long.

‘Are you alright Darren?’ Was all he thought to ask.

‘I’m so sorry Daddy. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it. My head… My head is so fucked up. I’m so sorry.’ His voice was pitched. Like a child’s. He began to cry.

Joseph stood in the field. Not knowing what to do. After a few minutes of listening to his son cry he hushed him.

‘Come on. Now, come on. It’s okay. It’s okay.’ Eventually, the crying stopped. Ashamed, he realised, never in his life had he spoken so gently to his son.

‘Darren. D’you want to come home?’

Neither of them expected those words to leave his mouth. A shudder ran down the line.

‘Yes.’

Joseph listened to the rain gently hitting his hood. The patter of little lambs on grass.

‘Then come home so.’

He hung up. Placed the phone back in his inside pocket. Steadying himself, he walked on through the misty rain. The lambs were so far now. In time, he would find them all.

He would find them all.

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