All writers have their favorite piece, this is mine. I post it every year when Saint Patrick's Day rolls around. It is just something I do, like complaining about the catbox!
Poteen (Irish Moonshine)
Thirty years ago, I spent a rainy summer walking through Ireland.
For a couple weeks, I settled in a village so remote the nearest pub was three miles away. In Ireland that says a great deal.
The pub wasn't actually that far away. From the window of my inn, it was close enough to hear a dog bark, a rooster crow or a mother yell for her children. But between the inn and the pub lay a bog, rust colored and soaked through with brackish water. Cutting through it ran the ruled line of a ditch. In any other place, the road would follow the ditch directly into town but it didn't. Like so many things in Ireland, the road simply wandered off on a whim.
First it got curious about the trenches where the locals dug turf for their hearths then it ambled over to explore the shore of a lake where it dodged the spray of waves and stumbled to avoid collapsed embankments before scampering onto firmer ground at the end of a long timbered bridge.
The bridge is where the owner of my inn, Ian, spent his afternoons fishing and keeping a sharp eye on happenings out on the lake.
Once the road took its leave of Ian, it struggled briefly up the base of a mist shrouded mountain then losing heart for the climb, tumbled back across the bog and on into town.
In the weeks I was there, I got to know every curve, rut and washout along the road because I walked the length of it twice a day and always after the same ritual with Ian.
Every morning before he left to fish at the bridge, Ian would smoke a pipe and read the newspaper by the light of an open window. As I left for town, he waited until I squished to the edge of his rain soaked yard before calling out, "Mr. Schiller?"
Every day I would squish back across the lawn to talk.
"Do you carry a torch?", he always asked.
To which I always replied, "Yes, for a girl in Minneapolis."
It was our joke.
But then he got serious and wagged a finger until I produced a flashlight from the pocket of my raincoat.
"Mind the Kelpie on your way home", he warned.
I assured him I would.
"Then you'll be having no worries", he would say.
The Kelpie was a great and mythical beast, both hazardous and troublesome, that inhabited the lake beside the road. Those lucky enough to have seen it, describe the creature as the unholy union between an eel and a horse.
Ian claimed that the Kelpie frequently took his guests who could not hold their liquor yet insisted upon walking home in the dark without a torch.
I encountered the beast only once, on my first night at the inn.
That evening I put a pub between me and the way home. Staying later than I should, Ian came to escort me back to the inn. He did so by grabbing my arm and walking me out the door.
Now I am a friendly sort of fellow, a Midwesterner, and in the Midwest, men do not walk arm in arm with other men but the moment we stepped onto the road, I understood.
I have never experienced black - that black. The fog, the lack of street lights and the bog itself stole even the memory of light. I could have stood on the surface of the sun and still not counted my fingers through that darkness.
We walked along the road with only the muffled crunch of gravel as our guide. Just beyond town, before the run up the hill, we crossed an arm of the bog. There Ian stopped and said sternly, "Wait here".
An instant later, he stepped into the blackness, leaving me with nothing but his receding footsteps.
Squish, squish, squish, squish.
Silence - then clink-clink.
And squish, squish, squish, squish as he returned.
As his feet shuffled onto the gravel, a glass container touched my hand. I raised it to my lips and took a swig of what tasted like boiling rock.
We continued on, taking sips on the move until we reached the bridge. There we leaned against the railing to rest, talk and drink some more.
I asked him what the stuff was.
“Poteen,” he said, “or as you say moonshine. It's Irish white-lightning.”
The bottle went back and forth in the dark as we took short nips of liquid lava and drifted in and out of conversation, then we fell into silence to enjoy the heat of the liquor, the sound of the waves and a cool mist blowing in off the lake.
As I looked out across the water.... a cloud rolled in her sleep and dropped a veil off one shoulder, clearing the sky. Stars gathered about her and the moon stole a glance. In his excitement, he spilled silver droplets onto the lake that shimmered among the dancing waves.
Out beyond a small dark island, a shape appeared for no more than the beat of a heart. It rose undulating in the moonlight and reared its head above the flickering waves as it shook a spray of brackish water off its scaly mane.
Then it was gone. The cloud recovered her shroud and the moon plunged back into darkness.
I couldn't say a word. Alcohol had long since slurred my speech to babble and besides, seeing a monster on the lake was not something I wanted to admit.
We walked on.
Once again Ian stopped. Once more he instructed me to "Wait here".
Again he stepped into nothingness. Again I was left alone in the blackness with only his receding footsteps and the drizzle against my raincoat for company.
Squish, squish, squish, squish - then rummage-rummage, clink-clink, and squish, squish, squish, squish in return.
I surmised that Ian stashed moonshine on both ends of his journey to town. One for coming and one for going.
He walked me to the light of the inn before releasing my arm and turning to say, "When you go to town always carry a torch."
"Or,” he warned, “the Kelpie will have you at the bridge."
This week’s writing challenge: write on the theme of Ireland and heritage.
- Write about leprechauns and fairies, banshees and kelpies.
- Write about you and your German friends getting snookered on green beer.
- Write the magic and majesty of a place that only exists in myth.
- Write about your own heritage.
Post your article to Gather Writing Essentials.
BE SURE TO TAG your submission with MWE. Note: I search for articles using the tag "MWE" If you don't tag it right, I will not find it.
- Include "Monday Writing Essential" in your title.
Last week’s writing challenge: "write on the theme of: who we are depends on where we are and who we are with" drew the following responses:
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