Slán Abhaile (Safely Home)

Slán Abhaile (Safely Home)

A Story by Kelley T

A traditional Irish wake, told from an unlikely perspective.

Ah, t'is so nice to see everyone again! Eyes bright an' smiles wide, wit' alcohol layin' so blatantly upon their breath… Just like the good ol' days, t'is! The only t'ing I ain' accustomed to is the smell'a these flowers, all strewn 'bout the place, an' all this boo-hooin'… So many tears from so many folks, ya'd think someone'd died!
On top'a all d'at, Margaret's gone an' gotten herself into another scrap with that James, the no-good hooligan of a boyfriend'a hers. She's threatenin' to leave him again an' I hope she does! 'bout time she goes through with it, finally! That lass needs to put up or shut up, as I've been tellin' her fer years! Since she went an' had that baby'a his though, I don' think that's gonna happen any time soon. Poor lass… If anyt'ing, she's likely to marry the chump.
Things aren't like they were in the old days; if some piece o' shite boy messed with one'a yers in the least, ya got yer lads together and messed right back! If ya went and did it proper, they'd think twice 'fore comin' to yer end'a town again, if they were able to go anywhere at'all, ever again, if ya know what I mean. Speakin'a hooligans…
Cousin Sean's hidin' behind the bar. Still owes me a bottle'a whiskey, that one. Been in my debt for twenty-some years, back when I stick up for him in that brawl. It was his fault o' course, but none of us would dare admit it, not then, not ever. We'd all take that one to the grave, we said. D'is is all on account'a him bein' married at the time an' all.
He went on that whole damn night, makin' eyes and cat calls at some tart 'cross the pub, at the Bell an' Whistle, some tart who just happen' to be on the arm of a real bruiser. A bruiser with a lotta close friends, just as big and feisty as hisself. That's a night we'll never forget. To this very day, Seany's still got a real nice reminder, a big ol' scar right across his… well, nevermind that. Suffice to say, never bring another man's manhood into question, lest he go after yers! Tommy, Connor and Bailey just happened to be the ones to save Sean's…
Those boys been runnin' together since they could crawl. Tommy an' Bailey are brothers, sons'a my father's second youngest sister, with Connor bein' born as their next door neighbor. Just the same, ya'd think they all came from the same woman, all at the same time; those boys always were as tight-knit as could be!
Then there's Josephine, my lovely bride of sixty-plus years (I can never remember quite how many, but we'll keep 'at li'l secret between us!) Sittin' by herself now in a lonely pew, fightin' hard against the tears, my poor Jo.
We met the summer I turned seven. She was a wee one, just five years-ol' herself. (Or was it six?) My mum an' hers joined a knittin' party. The knittin' part was a shame, o'course, though; all the ladies in our town just wanted an excuse to have their coffee an' gossip without any li'l tykes runnin' 'bout the place. Generally all the ladies'd leave their broods with the eldest child'a the bunch, 'cept for one day. My eldest brother is Seamus, that dog, hisself and he'd run off with some'a his boys, as did the rest'a my crew, leavin' me with mum. Aye, was she seein' red that day…!
Must'a been mid-June, not quite July, 'cause t'weren't too hot out yet. Mum dressed me in my finest: corduroy trousers and and a starched shirt with a stiff collar that gave me a rash on the back'a my neck. Oh, was I a devil that day! Didn't wanna be there, nor wear those sissy clothes; I griped and grumbled up a storm, 'til I saw her.
Jo's mum had her sittin' 'cross the table from her, all dolled up in her Sunday best, tryin' her darndest to handle her mum's big knittin' needles and havin' a hell of a time. After a while'a my pissin' an' moanin', my mum suggested Jo and I head outdoors. 'Some fresh air'll do ya good,' she said, which I can only imagine was code for 'gettin' the hell outta my hair'll ensure ya see the light'a 'nother day!' Itchin' to leave the cramped parlor full'a ladies with their fancy china cups an' saucers plus all that funny-smellin' perfume, I obliged.
Jo an' I wound up at a creek bed near their meetin' house. She sat there on the bank while I rolled up my trousers and started wadin' through the water. It took some real sly words, but I finally convinced her to splash 'round wit' me for a bit. Her stipulation was that I had'a hold her hand, in case she slipped an' fell; if she got that fancy dress'a hers wet, she said, her mother'd hang her out to dry!
She an' I walked for hours through that creek, 'til the sun was high up in the sky an' we could hear our names bein' shrieked by a rabble'a women who thought we'd gone and gotten ourselves drowned somehow. That whole time, I held her hand, an' knew from those first few moments that I never wanted'a let go. An' I never did.
The only one not in attendance is Seamus. Can't say I've seen him in quite a few years though… lost count'a just how many s'been here, too, truth be told. We had a falling out so long ago, I can't recall what it was that broke us up or when.
My only regret in life? All too easy! Losin' touch with my only surviving brother, Seamus.
Enough'a all this t'ough. Preacher's 'bout ta' speak!
“First of all, I'd like to thank all of you for being in attendance today, to honor the memory of our dear, departed friend, brother, cousin, uncle, father, and husband, Patrick Murphy.”
Hey, that's me!
“A wonderful, loving man who lived a wonderful, loving life; Patrick surely touched each and every one of us in some way, leaving a tender handprint upon our respective hearts "”
“I'll say so, Father!”
Abigail!? Aw, Christ, not now…!
“That man may have left his handprint, but it certainly wasn't upon anyone's heart! Have you any idea as to how many women this man's been wit',' Father? Any idea!? Quite a few, before and after his wife. I'm so sorry, Jo,” she bent at the hip to address my wife with her slander.
A b***h if there ever was one, Abby is. Mind ya, that's a word I never use to regard a female'a any kind! She's always had it out for me, even since I was a wee boy. She's me mother's second cousin from three counties over; in spite'a the distance, she's always found a way to stick her nose in my business! The worst part of it all? Half'a the time, the t'ings she spews from that wicked mouth'a hers ain't even true!
“Time and again, I've seen him! Oh, yes! Walking into and outta pubs, a different woman on his arm each time!”
Slander if I ever heard it! Since when's it improper for a gent to escort a lass to her car? Or her doorstep? Or her… bed…?
“He owes more money than he's ever seen in his life: betting on horses, dogs and the lottery. I can only imagine what matters poor Jo and dear Deborah have to tend to, in the face of his death… The debts in his name must be as high as the Mount'a Olives!”
D'is woman's one to talk 'bout the Mount'a Olives… It'd be a miracle in and of itself if she could even look upon a Bible without it burstin' int'a flames!
“And what little that man didn't squander on gamblin', he drank! I swear, never 'ave I seen a man consume so much of the Devil's drink as this one, layin' right here!”
“Aye! Pat could always drink any man, woman or chil' under the table! To Pat!” Sweet baby Jesus! Could it be…!
Standing 'cross the threshold'a the parlor, uncapped flask in hand, is Seamus! Saints be praised, he certainly is a sight for sore eyes! Well, those eyes which can be opened 'course.
“I knew Pat as good as any many, perhaps even better… which is half'a the reason why I the b*****d and I didn't speak for near' half a century. Truth be told, I kinda regret it now. Shame, too, 'cause I always t'ought the SOB would'a outlived us all.”
Steppin' int'a the room, Seamus places his hand upon a few shoulders, consolin' some'a the womenfolk in our presence, cousins an' sisters an' aunts. Aye, they all look just divine, even in spite'a all the black dressin' gowns an' veils. All the woman in this family are of the hard-workin' variety; rarely does one see any of 'em in anythin' but somethin' they don' mind gettin' least a li'l dirty.
Walkin' down the center aisle, 'tween the rows'a wooden pews, Seamus makes his way towards the preacher, towards my casket.
Noddin' at the father, Seamus kneels down 'fore me, placin' his hands 'long the smooth wood'a the last bed I'll ever lie in. I can hear in his voice, that regret he was talkin' 'bout; one might not see 'em in his eyes, but ya can certainly hear the tears in 'is voice.
“Patty,” he makes the Sign of the Cross over hisself, “brother. Heaven help me, weren't it for yer name on the door, I'd'a never known t'was you. I'm sorry, son… I'm sorry s'taken me so long to come back 'round.”
“Takes two to make a meetin', it does! Don't foot all the blame on yerself, Seamus!” Abby decides to pipe in again, stickin' her nose inta not only my business, but Seamus's as well. Now, you may not know him like I did, but this boy's one who never took nothin' from no one…
Risin', slowly, he turns to our dear cousin. Quickly closin' the distance between 'em, he gets as close as he can, and she knows she was in for it. Common blood or not, one doesn't cross someone's siblin' without feelin' some recourse.
“While we're airin' dirty laundry, Abigail, how'd ya like to set some'a yers out on the line?” Avertin' her eyes, her face flushes like she's just come down with an awful fever. “Care to share, eh?
“Perhaps ya'd like ta account for nabbin' money from the till at yer mother's shop? How many years'd that go on, ten? Fifteen? Thirty? S'at how ya fed that li'l habit'a yers?” As quickly as her eyes went to the floor, they come back up; her mouth's slack, makin' her look like a petrified goldfish. Lower lip quiverin', ya can tell she wants t'a speak but can find no words. “A lot'a folks in the family been smokers, but I don't think what ya put in yer pipe's the same as what Granddad did… An' how 'bout the li'l incident 'tween you an' the McCabe boy? Eh? Shall we delve int'a that one?”
“Seamus! Enough! I'll not stand for you defamin' me with this… these slanderous accusations!”
His eyes are as dark as the night an' fierce as a mad dog's, teeth clenched, he leans over her and delivers the finishin' blow. “Then perhaps you shouldn't be goin' 'round, doin' the same t'other people. 'If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone,' eh? Seems to me, dear Abby, you're far from immaculate yerself. Now, if you've said yer peace, I believe s'time fer you to go.”
Without another word spoken, Abigail picks up what few pieces'a her pride remain and makes for the exit.
“Patty may have had his vices; he may not'a walked on water, but he was still a damn good man if there ever was one!” Seamus, the ol' scallywag, addresses those who remain, tippin' back his flask for emphasis. The boys all give a nod and the lassies bow their heads an' kiss their rosaries.
In spite'a our misgivings an' trespasses towards one another, whatever they were, t'is a true blessin' to have 'im here now. Just a cryin' shame s'taken one of us to breathe our last in order to bring 'bout a reconciliation, I s'pose t'is better than it never happenin' t'all though.
The preacher finishes his pre-written sermon after Seamus takes a seat 'side my Jo, next'a Sean an' his boys. The words are simple an' sweet; he must use it for all'a his wakes. He prob'ly t'inks us Irish Catholics'll be so shitfaced by the time he opens his mouth, even if he repeats the same lines twenty times over, no one's gonna be the wiser. The funny t'ing's that he'd prob'ly be spot-on, if 'at's what he's thinkin'.
Peace spoken, everyone rises to finish the wake at my ol' abode. No doubt's Jo's prepared quite a feast for our kith an' kin, an' every spirit hauntin' that parlor seems to know it, the way they rush off. The only one who lags behind is Seamus.
Returnin' to me box, he leans down an smooths my hair, like he did when I's a lad. Removin' the flask from his breast pocket, he places it in mine, then rests his hand on the lid'a the casket.
“I never forgot'a 'bout ya, Patty. Missed ya dearly, lad. Ya did well though, kid! I'm proud'a ya. Wish I could'a known ya better, been there for ya… funny, t'is, how I never realized it 'til I got that call from Jo. S'hard to see t'ings, sometimes, when they're right in front'a yer face; guess this was one'a 'em. I s'pect ya ta meet me at those Pearly Gates though! I'll be sure an' make up for all this lost time then, fer sure, boy!”
Those tears I heard early started to slowly roll down his withered ol' cheeks'a his an' he closes my coffin, 'fore walkin' 'way to join the others. Surely, won't be long 'til we meet again. It'll be bittersweet, but I for one can't wait ta make up for that lost time.
Slán abhaile, Seamus. Goodbye.

© 2010 Kelley T

Author's Note

Kelley T
The narrator is s'pose to be speaking with an Irish brogue; it was brought up, while reading through this in my workshopping class, that some readers may find it difficult to get into the flow of the story because of this. If you feel similarly, or even oppositely, please let me know in the comment section. Thanks, guys!

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Added on September 3, 2010
Last Updated on September 3, 2010
Tags: Irish wake, gaelic, funeral, death, spirits


Kelley T
Kelley T

Pittsburgh, PA

If there's one thing in which I believe, it's following your dreams. And, that said, I try my damnedest to not be a hypocrite. : ) more..

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