Authors: Joseph Caldwell
The Pig Did It
The Pig Comes to Dinner
Bread for the Baker's Child
The Uncle From Rome
Under the Dog Star
The Deer at the River
In Such Dark Places
The King and the Queen of Glory
The Downtown Holy Lady
Clay for the Statues of Saints
The Pig Did It
â¦ and about time, too!
The reader should assume that the characters in this tale, when speaking among themselves, are speaking Irish, the first language of those living in the western reaches of Ireland where the action takes place. What is offered here are American equivalents. When someone ignorant of the language is present, the characters resort to English.
The grave's a fine and private place,
But none I think do there embrace.
“To His Coy Mistress”
aron McCloud had come to Ireland, to County Kerry, to the shores of the Western Sea, so he could, in solitary majesty, feel sorry for himself. The domesticated hills would be his comfort, the implacable sea his witness. Soon he would arrive at the house of his aunt, high on a headland fronting the west, and his anguish could begin in earnest.
Through the bus window now, Aaron could see that the pasture land of Ireland had been long since parceled out, the stones put into service as defining walls, creating what looked like a three-dimensional map, each border drawn in heaviest black, each territory a rectangle or rhomboid with an occasional square or triangle thrown in to vary the cartography.
On the upper slope of an unshaded hill a flock of sheep was slowly nibbling its way to the west as if clearing a path to the sea. Bunched together, a cloud of their own making, they concentrated on their appointed task, uncaring for whom the path was meant as long as the job put food in their stomachs. Above the flock, about ten feet from the nearest sheep, there was a shepherd, a manâor maybe a boyâwearing a sweater of wide horizontal stripes: reds, green, blue, gold, and closest to the waist, black. He was holding a crook, a shepherd's crook. Antiquity lived. Customs survived. A whole history of the ancient land was being offered for his amazement. But Aaron was allowed no more than a few seconds to marvel at the gift he'd been given. It was not a shepherd's crook. It was a furled umbrella, which the man propped against a rock, pulling a camera from the pouch at his side to take a picture of a sheep. He was no more a shepherd than Aaron was. He was a tourist at best, a government bureaucrat at worst.
The bus, more comfortable and modern than the Greyhounds and Trailways at home, sped along at what Aaron judged to be about fifty miles an hour, down the narrow road that curved and wound its way through and around the Kerry countryside. It would bring him by late afternoon to the villageâa cluster of a few houses and a pub, Dockery'sâwhere his aunt Kitty would meet him and drive him the rest of the way to the old fieldstone house where he'd spent summers as a boy, equally unwanted by his newly divorced mother and father.
He loved the house, set as it was in a field not far from the edge of a cliff that dropped to the sea. Below was a beach that stretched along the ocean's shore before ending at a rock face that rose from the sea itself and walled off the cove that lay on the farther side. When he'd stayed with his aunt and her family, he'd resented the wall, a barrier between him and the sandy shoreline of the cove. It separated him from the other children who could come to swim and wade in the quieter waters, to bury one another in the sand, and to build forts and castles that, had they been real, would surely have saved the land from the plundering foe that had swept down from the north and driven his ancestors all but into the sea.
But now the memory of the wall pleased him. His stretch of beach would be deserted. His solitude would be inviolate, his loneliness unobserved and unremarked except by the sea itself. There would, of course, be gulls, there would be curlews. He would hear their shrieks and watch the curve of their spread wings riding a current of air so rarefied that only a feather could find it. Perhaps there would be cormorants and, if he was lucky, a lone ship set against the horizon. There would be squalls and storms, crashing water, and thundering clouds. Lightning would crack the sky. Winds would lash the cliffs andâagain, if he was luckyârocks would be riven and great stones thrown into the sea. Then he, Aaron McCloud, would walk the shore unperturbed, his solitude, his loneliness, a proud and grieving dismissal of all that might intrude on his newly won sorrows.
Aaron had been unlucky in love. And now his body and his soul, trapped in perpetual tantrum, had come to parade their grievances within sight of the sea. Surely the rising waves would rear back in astonishment at his plight, cresting, then falling, bowing down at the sight of such suffering. Solemn would be his step, stricken his gaze. Only the vast unfathomable sea could be a worthy spectator to his sorrows. The culminating act of Aaron McCloud's love for Phila Rambeaux would soon come to pass at this edge, this end of the ancient world.
At thirty-two Aaron had given himself permission to fall in loveâor so he thoughtâwith a woman inordinately plain, a student of his in a writing workshop at the New School in New York. She had undecided hair, mostly straight, but more frizzled than curled at the ends, halfway between brown and blond, the actual coloring left to whatever light might get caught in the unmanageable mass. Under the fluorescent glare of the classroom, she was blonde; in the muted light of the lobby, she was brunette. Her eyes were hazel, flecked with green, and for cheeks she had been given flat planes that slanted down from her eye sockets to her jaw. Her mouth consisted of a squat isosceles triangle, her nose a straight and common ridge, her chin uninflected, undimpled, a serviceable meeting place for the bony angles of her jaw.
But she had notable, beautiful hands, the hands of a harpist. Aaron had the feeling that if he were to press one of those hands to his face, the scent would be not of soap or expensive lotions but of some subtle balm secreted from within the hand itself, enthralling and mysterious. Yet for reasons unknown Aaron was inflamed not by the hands but by the face, the flat cheeks, the flecked eyes, the serviceable chin. His amorous urges were sustained as well by her habit of playing with her right ear whenever she was talking.
Her writing was wispy. She had an inborn antipathy for the specific, mistaking the obscure for the ambiguous. She lacked vulgarity, that gift most needed to transform intelligence into art. She'd been given no artistic equivalent to her notable hands.
And so, two years after his wife's elopement to Akron, Ohio, with a baritone from the choir of Saint Joseph's Church, Aaron decided to let his favor fall on Phila Rambeaux. How grateful the woman would be. She would be given the attentions of a man not without assets, a man noted for his easy charm, his easy wit, his easy allure. He was a published novelist and the recipient of several awards obscure enough to be considered prestigious. For his classes he had more applicants than he could accept. For his socializing he had more friends than he could accommodate. He owned a floor-through apartment in a brownstone on Perry Street in Greenwich Village. And, more important, he had a trim and taut physique, not the product of a grueling vanity that required a personal trainer, but maintained by a native restlessnessâbordering, some said, on the manic. Also, he could cook.
Phila would be a pushover. Aaron's lovemaking would drive her to the edge of dementia, making rescue necessary, a rescue he would effect with reassuring kisses, a consoling embrace characterized by withheld strength, followed by the reviving ministrations of whispered invitations for yet another journey to the boundaries of madness. He would even, when the right moment came, confess that for her, and for her alone, he had decided to free his sexuality from the confines to which he'd committed it when the baritone had made off with Lucille, the soprano. For Phila, and for Phila alone, he had encouraged the resurgence of his heretofore disciplined carnality. Restored to the fullness of his manhood, ardent with awakened lust, aching with a resuscitated tenderness, he made his move.
But Phila Rambeaux was not about to be pushed over. When invited for coffee, then for a drink, then for dinner, she didn't so much refuse as convey her perplexity. She seemed not to have the least idea what he was talking about, as if he had introduced a subject so alien as to preclude intelligent comprehension. If he had asked her would she like to harvest cocoa beans in the Congo, she could not have given a more bewildered “No, thank you.” The offer of a movie, then a play, then an opera, was met by the same confused response, neither annoyed by his persistence nor curious about his intent. The very idea of his existence outside the classroom was so far beyond her powers of perception that her incomprehension was absolute. He was not so much dismissed as dissolved.
Aaron did, however, get her to come to a reading of his new novel by making it a class assignment. She attended but was gone before he could wade through the crush and distinguish her by his attentions. As a last resort he gave a party in his apartment, inviting all the students. Phila came, wearing a dress of black silk with orange and blue geometrics that looked like intergalactic debris left behind by a failed space probe. When he asked if she'd stay to help clean up, Aaron was given a perplexed shake of the head as if cleaning up were an idea foreign to her understanding. It was, however, when Ms. Rambeaux left, laughing, in the company of the single student in Aaron's class who could claim any talent, one Igor something-or-other, that Aaron was seized by the Furies and taken into torments never before visited upon the human psyche. And so the party ended.
Then the semester was over, and Phila Rambeaux was accepted at a writers' conference in Utah. The recommendation he had written for her specified that she had no talentâwhatsoeverâobviously the conference's most compelling prerequisite. And so she was offâgone for good. Aaron would not wait for her return. He would pack up his anguish and haul it off to Ireland. He would carry as well his resurgent unappeased sexuality; he would gently lay, alongside his comb, his toothbrush, and his deodorant, a determination never to repeat this folly. Women had had their chance. There were limits to his munificence, and from now on those limits would be strictly observed. All this he brought to Ireland, to County Kerry, to the shores of the Western Sea.
Aaron heard the taunt through the heavy glass windows of the bus. Two teenagers coming toward them on their bikes repeated the cry as they wheeled past the windows. “Pigs! Pigs!” Aaron didn't doubt that this was some social commentary aimed at those who sat passively and were carted comfortably from one place to another in adjustable, upholstered seats. “Pigs!” The shout faded in the distance. Aaron twisted in his seat to catch some final glimpse of the insolent bikers, but they were gone. The only other movement among the passengers was a general straining not in the direction of the hostile youths but toward the front of the bus. A man in a heavy tweed suit snorted, the sound not unlike that of the animal just mentioned. A young woman closed her book and studied her fingernails. Those in the aisle seats leaned sideways for a clearer view ahead. A tall skinny man got up and went to the front of the bus. His hair, whitened with what seemed to be zinc oxide, rose in stiff spikes from his scalp. He was wearing a leather vest over a red silk shirt, his pants a pair of baggy blue sweats, and his shoes the obligatory untied Reeboks. The youth peered through the windshield, blocking the view of anyone else who might want to take a look up ahead.