The Deadline

The Deadline


Fast tread through the fog. Misty, moisty, fast, foggy breath mingling with the eerie fresh, moist fog, fog from the bog. It was the time. It was sixteen years.

The evening drifted down through the mist, through the fog. Scrunch-scrunch, scrunch-scrunch, running, breathing, then... the howling began. I wanted to be at the house before the howling. I never liked it. `Howwowwwowww` it went. Where did it come from? I could never be sure because of the fog. They used to tell me it was the Ban Seidh. The howling sound lingered in the air with the fog, the fog from the bog.

Then the house, away in the distance; lights were on. Who would it be? Mr. Hammond Junior? The son of the beast, the landlord who showed us no mercy? Sarah? Timid, cowering Sarah, that poor dear girl. What a sad and abused life she`d had: older than me, so I could not protect her. James? He left home when he was thirteen. Good for him -- he escaped. As for me I had to stay, for mammy was bad. Her chest flooded with fluid. That’s what took her. Everyone blamed the bog. I was fourteen then. I haven`t seen my brother since, but I met Sarah once in a cheap, dank part of Dublin. She gave me ten shillings to make my own way. She didn`t tell me where it came from. Now, scrunch-scrunch, I was at the door, then `Howwowwwowww` through the mist.

Everyone was there. Mr. Hammond Junior held an important piece of paper. It was the title deed for the house.

“You`ve come,” he snapped. “You`d better hurry. Your time is almost up.”

I ran upstairs. Sarah was in Mammy`s room. She held a small handbag all made of beads. “It was Mammy`s wedding bag,” she explained. I didn`t need an explanation. She went on, “Mammy said I could have it, if I wanted it.”

James was in another bedroom. He was reading a piece of paper. When he looked up he looked just like Da did when we were very young.

“She left this” he said. It was half a page of her writing on a piece of a jotter, ripped from the wire spiral. “Listen to this.”

He read it to us:

To James, Sarah and Dan. In our lifetime we owed a lot of money in debt to Mr Hammond. We were always behind with the rent. The house will go back to him and all of the contents to make up for the debts. He agreed you can all have one thing from the house. James, you will take your father`s Sunday suit. Sarah, you always loved my handbag, so it is yours. Dan you will have my fur coat. Leave everything else to the Hammond family. Know that I have always loved you.  Mammy.

We went downstairs with our legacies. Mr. Hammond Junior did not dispute the items, though he wanted to look in the handbag. Da`s suit was old, threadbare and dusty from age. Mr. Hammond Junior had no need of it.  Mum`s fur coat was a grey acrylic affair which the nuns had given to her to keep her chest warm.

Mr. Hammond Junior was pleased that everything had gone so smoothly. None of us contested the deeds of the house and we departed meekly, leaving him to his new estate. We had met his deadline.

He did not seem to know about the sixteen-year cycle of the bog. He did not seem to know that seven miles up the road the river swelled and caused the bogland around to flood. He did not know that the house would be filled with flood water up to ten feet before the end of the week. We knew, because we had lived there and experienced it. It’s what took Da all those years ago. Mr. Hammond Senior had no sympathy for us; we were just the tenants.

James had a car. He had somehow made his fortune. He smiled as he said,

“Do you remember old Mrs. Malone? We`re staying at hers tonight. Supper`s ready for us there. Tomorrow we`ll see what we`ll do.” We were happy with that. I wanted to talk to my sister and brother. It had been a long, long time.

Old Mrs. Malone was gone. There was a pretty young Miss Malone ready for us when we arrived.

“This is Mary,” said James. “We`ve been married for three years. We live here. I run the farm and Mary helps out in the Post Office.” We all remembered Mary Malone, with the curly hair.

After supper James said we were to look at our legacies from Mammy. He showed Sarah that Mammy had sewn some real pearls into the decoration of the bag. These had been her own mother’s. Now they were Sarah’s. He showed me the hem of the old coat. “Listen,” he said. It jangled. When we opened it, there were 4 gold sovereigns in the lining. He emptied the pockets of Da`s Sunday suit. It had a silver pocket watch that worked and Mammy`s wedding and engagement rings. They were in fine condition as Mammy never wore them.

We stayed up most of the night talking together and getting to know each other. I was happy that we had sorted everything out before the flood, before the sixteen-year catastrophe took place, before the deadline of doom.  Mr. Hammond Junior would have to deal with that.

As I left with my sovereigns there was still a mist, but a daylight mist. The howling had stopped. I would return in the summer with a happier tread; it would be to visit my brother and his wife and to meet a new member of the family, the first person of our next generation.


Marie Buonocore 

Maire Buonocore was born Ireland where she savoured the richness of the countryside, the freshness of the sea and the bustle of Dublin City. Now with her family grown in London, she has had books published with HarperCollins and Oxford University Press. Maire writes flash fiction, short stories and rhyming narratives. Maire enjoys wearing a big hat as she performs her stories to children of all ages.

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