Old Hag You Have Killed Me

 An explosion of sound hit young James full force almost freeing him from his perch behind the battered leather sofa. The notes flew from the fiddle as Sean sawed away crazily with the bow, his focus only broken for an occasional glance at his fellow musicians. James let the music wash over him, relishing each wave, allowing it to drip down deep inside him.

He had a perfect view of the fiddlers fingers and marvelled at their precise movements. How was it possible for grey haired Sean to remember such a consistent stream of notes. He set his heart on asking him again for lessons and hoped he wouldn’t refuse this time.

James loved to see the musicians approach the house and often waited in the front room head in hands, elbows planted firmly on the sill – a sentry on guard. He anxiously awaited Sean’s arrival, even though he never missed the Friday session, and as he appeared in the gateway, James would jump from his post and race out to meet him on the path. Ignoring his mother’s plea to ‘Leave Sean be.’ He would hound him to ‘Please, please can I carry the case Sean, please?’ And as usual the musician would give up his load and watch the proud boy stride off toward the house with his cutomary warning to ‘Take it easy, now.’

Bridget watched them from the doorway, moving aside slightly as her son flew past her, clutching the fiddle case tight. She waited until he had entered the front room before asking, ‘Do you think you could start him off with some lessons Sean?’

‘Sure, but will he sit still for more than two minutes?’ He scratched his head, wondering what am I letting myself in for here?

‘I’ll have a word with him,’ she said. ‘He’ll be grand.’

‘No doubt,’ his dulcet tones reassured her. ‘He’ll need a smaller fiddle though, probably a half size. You’d pick one up from Savins in Limerick.’

‘Is that the shop on O’Connell St?’

‘Aye, the very one.’

She began to fidget with the soggy dishcloth twisting and untwisting it, vaguely registering the notes from the rosewood flute floating out into the hallway.

He gazed directly into her soft green eyes but not for too long. A stone at his foot seemed to irritate him and he kicked it sharply off the path. ‘I should probably head on in so.’

James caught the waft of resin when Sean opened the case and plucked the violin from its resting place. This was his cue to retreat to his usual seat and Sean ruffled his dark hair as he passed by. Normally he didn’t like it when adults did that, but he didn’t mind if it was Sean.

He watched eagerly as Sean tightened the hair on the bow. He had told James last week that it was made with hair from a horse’s mane. The bow was dragged across the strings and satisfied with the tuning Sean asked, ‘Whose turn is it to call the set?’

‘Go on then Pat,’ cried Bridget

‘Right you are so. Let’s start with some jigs,’ Pat replied propping the flute vertically on his knee. ‘Sixpenny money, into Morrison’s and then Tripping up the stairs.’

James loved the names of some of the tunes, most of them were named after people but the odd one would stick out. His favourite was ‘Old hag you have killed me.’ He thought this was funny but only after he had asked what a hag was.

‘It’s like a witch,’ his mother said. ‘A nasty old witch with a big chin and a huge wart on the end of her nose.’

‘But why is there a tune named after someone like that?’

‘I couldn’t tell you son, that I don’t know. But I do know it’s time for you to go to bed.’

He was sorry he’d asked then, but the music didn’t go on too much longer that night. He hoped that he’d get to stay up until the end tonight. The lads were going full tilt now and every so often a wild whoop or a ‘Go on’ would be let loose to urge the music on. The room was filled with smiling faces, clapping hands and stomping feet. Sean looked over at Bridget and saw she was looking in his direction but not at him. He turned to look at James and the sheer joy on the young lad’s face settled it for him and when he returned to his normal position he realised that Bridget was staring at him now. He turned up the ends of his mouth and flashed her a sly wink. She dropped her eyes then but he could see she wasn’t too unhappy about it.

‘I think we’ll have to play a special tune for young James here.’ Sean announced to the room.

‘That wouldn’t be the one now about the auld hag would it?’ asked Pat.

‘It would of course. Are ye ready?’ And off they went hurtling headlong into the stream of notes. Sean could catch glimpses of the giddy child from the corner of his eye.

The music was finished for the night but there was still movement throughout the room as the musicians packed away their instruments. James was practically asleep standing up, leaning against his mother’s leg for support. Different conversations were being carried out in little pockets across the room.

‘Are ya heading down to the pub for a pint Sean?’

‘I will, but sure go on ahead of me and I’ll meet you down there.’

‘Would ya come on now Pat. How long does it take ye?’ a voice called from the doorway.

Sean approached Bridget, ‘I’m willing to give it a go.’ The colour of Bridget’s cheeks flushed. ‘What we spoke about earlier… with regards to the lad,’ he said, making sure his meaning was clear.

‘Of course. I’ll go to Limerick tomorrow and get that for him.’ Purposely keeping it cryptic so it would be a surprise for James. His head was drooping forward and then he would wake up with a start. ‘Time for you to go to bed young man. Go on. Up those stairs’

James was near the top of the stairs when he heard Sean say, ‘I was meaning to ask you Bridget if you like to go for a drink.’

‘I can’t tonight…’

‘Well, not necessarily tonight when the others would all be there.’

‘I’d have to get someone to keep an eye on James.’

‘Maybe Mrs. Phelan next door would?’

‘Thanks Sean, I’d love to. That would be nice.’

Sean went down the path heading towards the pub his heart battering away in his chest like a bodhran tapping out a hornpipe.

copyright © Francis Long 2010

This story cannot be lent, resold or circulated in any form, without the author’s prior consent.


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