Authors: Julie Parsons
I Saw You
To Harriet, Sarah and John,
as it was in the beginning
He lay slumped in the corner of the shed. His hands, cuffed behind his back, were chained to a ring set in the wall. Wide grey tape covered his face.
Only his eyes, pale blue, red-rimmed, were visible. He wanted to call out, to beg for help. But he could make no sound. He wanted to bang on the wall to attract attention. But he could not move his
hands and arms. He wanted to kick the heavy wooden door, to break through to the outside. But his feet would not reach that far. He needed to drink. But there was no water. He needed to eat. But
there was no food. There had been none for days. He had lost count of how many. He had tried to keep track by counting the number of times that the beam of sunlight had drilled through the small
crack in the wood that covered the window. One, two, three, four, five, six. He could hold on to six, but after that, pain, confusion, fear blotted everything else out.
And then he was blind.
And then he thought he was somewhere else, and there was a table laden with food, and a running tap, and he could turn his head and open his mouth and the silver dribble of water would drip
on to his tongue. His poor swollen tongue.
And then there was nothing more. Just the smell of his body rotting.
And then there wasn’t even that.
Ballyknockan, near Blessington, Co. Wicklow
It was a lovely day to get out of the office, the estate agent thought. A perfect spring day. A cloudless sky, and warm enough to have the car window
open as she drove from the city centre along the motorway towards Blessington. According to her information, the property was in Ballyknockan, a village of stone houses up towards the dark green
pines that clothed the flanks of the west Wicklow mountains. She slowed to get her bearings and turned the printed email on the passenger seat towards her so she could read it more easily. The
cottage had belonged to a German couple, Hans and Renate Becker. They had used it as a holiday home, but now they were both dead and their daughters wanted to sell. The email was from Petra Becker.
Her English was just about perfect.
I do not know the condition of the cottage. We have not been there for many years. My father had a caretaker for it once, but
we have had no contact with him for a long time. I will send to you by post the keys. Please put it on to the market as soon as possible. We understand that the value of houses in Ireland has
increased by a large amount. Please advise us as to its value now.
Fraülein Becker was right. These houses, even though they were small, were worth a lot of money. A twenty-mile commute was considered nothing these days, the estate agent
thought, as she bumped up the lane from the village and stopped at a five-barred gate by a stand of pines.
She got out of the car and fiddled with the gate’s rusty latch. It was stiff and resistant to the touch. She shivered. A breeze stirred the needles on the trees, and a wisp of mist drifted
down from the peak of the hill above. She got back into the car and drove slowly up the boreen towards the house. It looked fine from the outside, although the garden was overgrown and neglected.
Nothing that a boy with a strimmer wouldn’t put right in an afternoon.
She fumbled in her bag for the keys. Inside it was dark. She reached for the light switch, but the electricity must have been turned off. She walked quickly around the ground floor. A simple
layout. Large country-style kitchen to the left of the small front hall, and a sitting room with a big open fireplace to the right. Upstairs there was one double bedroom, two singles and a
bathroom, complete with freestanding tub. As far as she could see the roof wasn’t letting in the rain and the house felt dry. She’d get the electricity turned on and come back with a
photographer and by the high selling season in midsummer this would be a very saleable property.
She locked the front door and walked around to the back of the house. The email had said something about outhouses or a garage. Often a selling point with these old properties. Potential for
renovation or even development. Behind the house was a yard, cobbles overgrown with grass. And a row of sheds. She tried the doors. Nothing much here. The last was locked. A heavy padlock hung from
the bolt. She checked her keys but none fitted. A piece of wood had been hammered over the window. She tugged at it and it began to give. She picked up a stick from the ground and used it as a
lever. The wood swung away, revealing a broken pane. She put her face up to it and cupped her hands around her eyes. A beam of light shone from behind her head on to the floor. She could see
something. Another coal sack, maybe? Or a bag of rubbish? The kind of stuff that would need to be cleared out.
She pulled at the wood again and this time the whole piece came away. Light flooded the darkness. And now she could see clearly. The thing had a familiar shape. Round and smooth and the colour
of ivory. Two dark holes stared up at her. The rest was obscured by what looked like heavy-duty sticky tape. She craned her head to see more. A jacket, with a white shirt inside it, a pair of
trousers and shoes, lying as if flung there. And just visible the bones of a hand and fingers and the bright gleam of a chain.
July 2005. Such a beautiful summer, Michael McLoughlin thought, as he sat on the terrace outside his kitchen. He leaned back into the wooden slats of his old garden bench, and
turned his face to the late-afternoon sun. It had been almost too hot out here at midday, but it was almost perfect now. He looked out across Dublin’s sprawling suburbs towards the bay and
Howth Head beyond. The sea was so beautiful, striped like a piece of agate. Dark navy towards the horizon. Light green, almost turquoise closer to the shore. Every now and then a delicate stippling
of white as a breeze ruffled the glittering surface. He got out his binoculars and focused on the boats. A couple of cruisers flying French flags and three from Britain. There was even an American
boat out there, a big one, fifty feet or more in length, he reckoned, with that tough, buttoned-down look that deep-water yachts always have. And scattered across the bay, like a handful of
children’s toys, were the sailing dinghies. On the north side from the club in Clontarf, and closer to home from the clubs in Dun Laoghaire. Where he was headed this evening. For his
Retirement, already? He could hardly believe it. After twenty-seven years in the force they had told him he was ready to go. But he’d hung on for another ten years until it became obvious
that his time was up. Did he care? Only in as much as he wasn’t sure how he would live the rest of his life. That was assuming there would be a rest of his life. So he’d done the
sensible thing and gone to all the Preparation for Retirement courses that the welfare office laid on. And he’d tried to pay attention and not be one of the sniggering cynics in the back row.
And maybe he’d learned a few things because he’d got himself some class of a job for the rest of the summer. He was going to deliver boats to France and Spain – some for a cruise
hire company based in Brittany, returning boats that had been sailed to Ireland on holiday, and others for people who didn’t have the time to get their boats to the Med for their few
weeks’ cruising. The company belonged to a guy he’d crewed for over the years. There wasn’t much money in it. Just his keep and a few bob for drinking and a couple of weeks in one
of the company’s apartments or villas. And who knew where that might lead? There was very little to keep him in Dublin now. His mother was well looked after in the nursing-home. She’d
miss him, but she’d understand. She knew he was lonely. That there was little love in his life. She’d wish him well.
He stood up and walked inside. It was dark in comparison with all that light outside. He felt his way into the bathroom, undressed and got under the shower. He’d need to lose a few pounds.
Not much room below decks on most of those boats. And he had a sudden image of his ageing, flabby body in shorts. Not a pretty sight. He squatted down and let the water pour on to his neck and
shoulders. His thigh muscles quivered and he thought for a moment that he would lose balance and topple forward. He pressed his hands against the tiled walls and pushed himself upright again. His
breath was coming in short gasps. Jesus, he hadn’t realized how unfit he was. The last couple of years he’d been behind a desk most of the time, out at the airport working in
Immigration. Too much administration, not enough action. Well, it would stop now. He’d three weeks until his first cruise. If he exercised for an hour every day, cut back on the alcohol and
the fats he’d be in much better shape by then, he hoped.
He turned off the tap, picked up a towel and walked into his bedroom. He rummaged through his wardrobe and pulled out his linen jacket. He hadn’t worn it for years and he was sure the
dress code for tonight was sober suits. But what the hell? It was his party so he’d wear what he wanted. He’d always been a bit of an outsider. Didn’t play golf, wasn’t
interested in football, soccer or Gaelic, was a better cook than most of the Garda wives he knew. And he was a loner. No wife, not now. No kids, no family to speak of. That was why he’d
picked the yacht club for the party. At least there he was known. At least there someone would greet him like a friend. Make him feel he had a place in the world.
He dressed quickly. The jacket still fitted. And it didn’t look bad, even if the colour was more ivory than cream. Maybe when he hit the sun he’d get himself a proper linen suit,
trousers and a waistcoat to match. He turned away from the mirror and patted his pockets. Wallet, phone, keys, reading-glasses, all the essentials of middle-aged life. And for a special treat
tonight, some cigars. Cohibas, the best Cubans. Kept in their own wooden humidor for special occasions. The box had belonged to his father. He had been a lover of cigars too. Not that he could
afford them very often. So the function of the box had been subverted. His mother used to keep her favourite recipes in it, and a collection of treasures. A silver locket, a string of pearls. And
some black-and-white snaps of Michael and his sister, Clare, taken with his father’s Box Brownie. When she’d gone into the nursing-home the humidor had become McLoughlin’s. He had
cleaned it out and filled it with as many cigars as he could afford. And sometimes in the bottom section beneath the removable rosewood panel, he put his own treasures.
Now he picked out a dozen cigars. Enough to hand around to the lads and a few for himself. He filled his leather cigar case and slipped it into his pocket. He began to close the lid. Then he
stopped. This was such a beautiful summer. Like that other beautiful summer, ten years ago. The year that Mary Mitchell died. That he met her mother, Margaret. That he fell in love with her. That
he thought he would die from longing. He lifted out the tray that held the remaining cigars. Underneath was a brown envelope in a plastic bag. He picked it up and weighed it in his hand. He
smoothed his fingers over its shiny surface. He didn’t need to look inside. He could see all the images as clearly as he had seen them that night in the shed behind the cottage in
Ballyknockan. Mary Mitchell in the days before she died, her head shorn of its black curls, her body bruised and beaten. Humiliated and shamed. The moment of her death, her eyes half closed, her
pupils fixed and dilated, a smile frozen on her wide, generous mouth. The photographs had been spread out on the floor beside Jimmy Fitzsimons. He was lying there, helpless, chained to a ring on
the wall, his face covered with tape. Where Margaret had left him to die. And he had thought that McLoughlin would save him. That the guard would do the right thing. But instead he had wiped the
tape, the handcuffs, the chain clean of her fingerprints. He had picked up the photographs and put them into his pocket. He could not bear to think that Mary would be tainted by Jimmy’s
death. He had brought them home. He had put them into his mother’s treasure box. He had kept them and minded them. He had protected Mary’s memory as best he could and he had never
stopped loving her mother.