Black Laces by Marcella O’Connor
Noel O’Donoghue is a popular Kerryman with a bright future ahead of him. He’s engaged to a beautiful woman, playing football for his county and has a stake in his father’s hotel to look forward to. But when Sean Roughty returns from Dublin, an old childhood friendship is rekindled and Noel finds himself developing dangerous feelings for Sean.
Read Chapter 1 of Black Laces below
A silence can mean everything. An entire history can be played out with no words.
Silence sifted through the gorse-engorged glen, then the wind rushed in to fill it. An illusion of stillness settled on Cumeenduvasig before a herd of red deer flurried down the mountainside. Somewhere a gate was clinking. The Reeks were unmoving, punctuating the sky like a smothered exclamation; they watched over without comment.
I had an excuse to be going up the mountain. Training was due to begin again. I couldn’t show my face in that session if I was a complete slob. I had a club social coming up, so this would be my last chance to get out for a hike. Yet I knew there was another reason I had snuck out so early. There was something rattling in my head that I couldn’t let go of.
The night before Cat had said, “I think we should set a date.”
We were both pissed and she was curled up in the crook of my arm. My alarm clock ticked for three beats. For a moment, air was missing from my lungs.
“Yeah?” I said finally.
“Yeah. I mean, don’t you think we should?”
The pause before my next answer was cinematic.
“We should, definitely. But we should figure out the cost and everything first, like.”
“I could borrow from my parents,” she said.
“Ugh, do you know, as much as I want to start out life in debt to your parents…”
“You know your parents would help us out,” she said.
“I just think we should have a bit more put aside. A house built. It would hardly turn out well if we rushed it.”
“It doesn’t have to be a big deal. We could do it in the registrar’s office.”
I laughed because I was bluffing.
“I know you don’t want that. I want you to have everything you want. A nice dress.
All of your friends and family,” I said, “And anyway like, what’s the rush?”
“I just don’t want to be engaged forever. It’s like being in limbo,” she said, “I just want to be with you.”
I twirled one of her blond curls round my finger.
“It won’t be forever. Another year maybe and then we’ll do it right.”
“OK,” she said and nuzzled into me. I slowly let out my breath feeling like I’d just won a game of cards against the devil.
I turned this conversation over in my head as I went up Mangerton. My track suit bottoms rustled in time. I was running now, each footstep jabbing into the mud and rock. The burning in my legs made sense.
“What do I want?” I asked myself.
I came to the place on the mountain where the steepness leveled off. The grass kicked in the wind, but other than that, I was the only thing that moved, tearing through the stillness.
To my right, the hunched shoulders of Torc Mountain. The Long Range River spread out at my feet, fog impaled by blue mountains just beyond. The Upper Lake, Muckross Lake, Davies Fields, the old road to Kenmare. I named the things off like they were my own, even the little pond four hundred metres below that no one had ever named. Shehy, Tomies, the Purple Mountain, Friar’s Glen, the Windy Gap. The path curved round and faced into the mountain and the Punchbowl loomed ahead of me like some great cathedral. Fog boiled out of it. The wind roared with more conviction. The Devil’s Cathedral.
Now the way was steep again and the wind began to scream. An icy rain started. The hail came battering down. I wondered how does everyone else have their lives so together? The wind belted me. It blew hail into my face. Hail seemed to be getting me from every angle. I pulled the hood of my jacket up, but hail came at me from below like an uppercut. This was the kind of wind that had a hag’s voice in it. If there was a hag, then clearly she was roaring at me to go away.
I held my hood in place with one hand and kept walking. I staggered against the wind and climbed up a small bit to a big pile of glacial boulders. Some old houses were built into the rock. This was where the friars used to flee from invaders. I sat into one of the ruins to wait.
I kneaded my hands together to warm them up. The mountain was supposed to clear my head up so I could sort things out. I tried to focus on Cat and instead started to wonder who would be in the local watching the soccer on the big screen. Yes. Brilliant. I was having a crisis and I was thinking about the pub. But then, I was practically reared in the local, so maybe it all made sense after all.
All along the walls of the local, there are photos of the Kerry teams from times past. Brian Fitzgerald is there and so is Mossy Moynihan and so is my grandfather and his teammates. All the Kerry team photos are there, the black and white ones and the fading colour ones where all the footballers have bushy hair. There’s one photo of my father holding the Sam Maguire, and if I look at it out the corner of my eye, I can trick myself into believing that it’s my own face rehashed behind the glass The black hair and the square chin could have been my own. It was only the severe eyebrows and old-fashioned hair cut that set us apart. Whenever things felt unsteady, that wall of photographs was there as proof that life could have some order to it.
“Jesus. Maybe I don’t know what I should want anymore,” I thought, “Maybe I’m just too young. Maybe I’m just not ready. Or maybe I just don’t know what I should want. I can’t get cold feet over marrying Cat. We’ve been going out for years. That’s the way it goes. What should I want from life? Besides a house and the hotel?”
With the same suddenness that it arrived with, the storm blew off and set out to torment some other place. My pants seemed frozen to the back of my legs as I stood up. I wanted to keep moving to get the blood flowing in my limbs again, so I walked around the punchbowl toward the Horse Glen, slapping my red hands together like two useless fish. A little black figure made its way along the cliffs. I watched him move wondering if he was real.
“Jesus. He’s more of a lunatic than I am,” I thought.
Who would be up Mangerton on a day like today, when the weather was in one of its more schizophrenic moods? The tourists didn’t usually appear until May. I watched him as he made his way down toward me. The blackness of him turned to dark blue and soon he was near enough that I could make out a pink face, a black hat and a blue jacket.
“Some storm,” he said when we were close enough to salute each other. There was something very familiar about him and I wondered if he was local.
He searched me again. Recognition blossomed on his face and he said, “Noel O’Donoghue, I don’t believe it.”
“Sean,” I said, “You’re back, you are?”
Just like that, my life began to unravel in my lap like a dodgy jumper.