Thinking of James Emmerling and Margaret's family this Halloween, I offer up this yarn about an imagined trip to the Emerald Isle and the ancient folk who gave us Halloween and Jack-o-Lanterns:
JMac was unaware that they had arrived in Dublin at a liminal time, a period when the possibilities of all realms and entities were thrown open. After two weeks in England, Ireland was just another part of the book tour. Next came: Edinburgh, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Brussels, Paris and Lyon, Zurich and Geneva, Vienna, Munich, Berlin and Hamburg, Oslo, Stockholm, St. Petersburg, Warsaw, Prague, Budapest, Athens, Rome, Naples and Milan, Marseilles, Madrid and Barcelona and finally Lisbon - all in less than four months. Planes, trains and taxicabs, rushing to stay on schedule, it was not exactly his idea of the Grand Tour of Europe; but that was fine with him. Twenty-five years before on a flight from Los Angeles to Shanghai, JMac had experienced the epiphany that he felt most at home when he was on his way to someplace he’d never been - besides it was all expenses paid and so far James Emmerling had proved to be excellent company.
To his chagrin JMac wasn’t signing copies of his epic work The People of the Book, rather it was the ‘just for shits and grins’ collaboration with JME that got picked up by the Disney subsidiary Marvel Entertainment and NetFlix who turned it into graphic novel and an undreamed of cash cow. Heaven & Hell – Blake and Burroughs in the Interzone was a worldwide hit. Nothing on the order of Game of Thrones or Harry Potter, but JMac had to give the NetFlix/ Marvel people credit because when it came to promotion, they knew how to do it right. When they organized a press conference and book signing at the grave site of William Blake, Emmerling got so excited that JMac thought he might cum in his pants.
After the short flight from Manchester they deplaned in a downpour, caught a taxi and checked into a cozy bed and breakfast. There they enjoyed coffee and a light breakfast before they took another cab to the oldest bookstore in Dublin.
It was pure coincidence that the book signing at Hodges-Figgis was scheduled for the afternoon of October 31st. When they arrived they were greeted by a cue of fans that extended out the door and onto the sidewalk. Many were dressed as their favorite characters; there were a half dozen JMac purple Lobster Men with orange goggled eyes and wings, several Emmerlings wearing hipster black and sporting pork pie hats. Most of the women dressed as Lolita the Librarian, Debbie Harry and Ms. A, Tattooed Goddess and Mistress of Midnight; there were three Uncle Bill Burroughs, a couple of Ginsbergs, and eight William Blakes, a couple of women dressed as Ada Lovelace and even one Japanese fellow dressed as Haruki Murakami's, Johnnie Walker from Kafka on the Shore.
Under the guidance of the lovely Melissa Thompson and the staff of Hodges-Figgis, JMac and Emmerling sat down at a table surrounded by stacks of the graphic novel and DVD’s of the first season of the NetFlix series, where they dutifully autographed books, DVD covers and posters for their fans. They began shortly after noon and with the fortification of strong coffee, continued well into the evening. The manager extended the store hours to 8:00pm, but the line of fans still reached half way down the block. Finally Melissa agreed to a second signing appearance on the following day and with a hastily hand printed sign hung in the window, they closed the store.
Since the rain had lifted to a gentle drizzle, Emmerling and Melissa were up for a Halloween pub crawl and JMac joined them at The Temple Bar Pub for a tasty meal of oysters and smoked salmon with a couple of pints of Guinness. He begged off the rest of the evening from fatigue and Melissa offered to call him a cab, but he pointed to the crowds in the streets and said he could walk the short distance to the B&B faster than riding in a cab. Ever the efficient handler, Melissa Googled directions on her iphone and carefully wrote them down for JMac along with the address and phone number for the B&B. Directions in hand JMac set out to navigate his way through the Halloween merriment that crowded the labyrinth streets of Dublin.
He’d barely set foot on the stairs of the Ha PennyBridge when the liminal threshold opened in the form of a young Irish girl who gleefully snatched the paper from his hand and ran off yelling, “Join the party!”
Great, he thought, now I’m screwed. He tried to remember enough of the directions to the general vicinity of the B&B so that when he got near enough, he could ask passersby for what he thought he remembered as the street - Was it The Adelphia on Gardiner or The Gardiner on Adelphia? Anyway it was a few hundred yards north of the river and a bit more to the east so he continued to navigate from memory and dead reckoning.
There were bonfires and extemporaneous parades throughout Dublin. Bachelors Walk and the streets along the North Wall were actively involved with the carnival.
JMac smiled and waved at the celebrants as he tried to keep track of where he was headed and then he turned north onto what he thought was a street that might lead him to the B&B and unknowingly entered the antechamber to Samhain. He emerged to encounter a couple of costumed merrymakers, a young man decked out as the purple flying Lobster Man and his date who was dressed as Debbie Harry complete with a flashing Steely Dan IV. They recognized him and while he autographed their costumes they happily confirmed his reckonings about the location of the Adelphia B&B on Gardiner Street. They were giving him directions when three rambunctious young men dressed as Láir Bhán trotted around the corner.
The resulting collision was not so much a malicious prank as a random consequence of impaired vision and sobriety. JMac tried to catch the young woman as she fell to the sidewalk, when the one of the three, who was literally dressed as the horse’s ass, tripped and rolled into JMac’s infamous bionic knee. As he struggled to maintain his balance the joint collapsed and pain shot through his right thigh up into his balls. The last thing he felt and heard was the crack of bone as his jaw and skull crashed into the stone stairwell of the apartment building adjacent to the corner.
He woke up very wet in what appeared to be a sand trap on a golf course and asked out loud, “What the hell?”
He gingerly touched the right side of his head with his hand and was surprised that he felt no pain or saw any blood on his fingers. He reached down to lift his right knee from the sand and was more surprised that he felt no pain there. Absent any injury he got to his feet and found himself standing in the middle of a nine hole golf course surveying the lights of a small beach town in the distance. A single street lamp illuminated what appeared to be the entrance to a hotel to the east so he took the path of least resistance and walked through the drizzle across the fairways toward the closest light. There he found some corporate signage in the window of the double doors at the lobby that informed him that the establishment was closed for renovations. He pulled his cell phone out of the pocket of his trench coat and found that he had no signal. There was nothing for it but to hike to town.
To the northeast were a number of newer contemporary homes, cheap construction from the Irish real estate bubble. They were all empty with the same corporate signage taped to the front doors. And as the skies opened up in a deluge, he instinctively pulled his collar up around his neck and walked north on the main road only to find a bridge collapsed into a narrow river. There was a lightning strike to his left and he turned to see the flickering lights in the west facing windows of a much older home located on a terrace half way up the steep southern bank above the river bed.
There was a wide path that led down slope to the terrace and since it seemed much less treacherous than trying to cross the torrent pouring down the riverbed, JMac once more chose the path of least resistance. He arrived at the doorway and was about to reach for the green brass knocker when the door suddenly opened a crack and a wee Irish lass who looked to be about six years old smiled and asked, “Who are you?”
JMac was about to answer when the door swung wide and another Irish beauty appeared, “Good Lord child let this poor soul in out of the weather.”
“Thank you,” said JMac as he bowed to the little girl, “I’m called Mac and who is this lovely fairy princess?”
As two boys noisily chased one another around the flag stone floor, the little girl giggled from behind her mother’s skirt, smiled and loudly exclaimed, “My name’s Rachel.”
“Well my name is James and it’s my pleasure to meet you,” he said, then he turned to the mother and added, “Thank you for allowing me into your home.”
“You’re more than welcome,” she said, “I’m Erin and we’ve been waiting for you.”
“Waiting,” he asked. “Erin laughed, “There are a lot of Macs here but if your surname is Macaffry, then you’re home.”
JMac drank in the glowing room lit only by candles and the flickering coals in the hearth, grinned and replied, “In America we pronounce it Mahaffey, but down the line we’re probably related.”
“Oh, bless the Lord, did ya say ya come from America,” cried the old crone who sat in a rocker next to the hearth, “Have you met my son Aedan? He’s been gone for two years and we barely hear from him.”
“Can’t say that I’ve met the man, but there are a lot of Mahaffey’s and Macaffry’s in the states,” he said. Erin took his coat and said, “Please, pull up a chair, sit down and have a whiskey. We’re just starting Oíche Shamhna.”
JMac didn’t feel particularly hungry but the prospect of a glass of Power’s Gold Label whiskey appealed to him. As Erin uncorked the bottle and poured a generous splash into a cut crystal glass, he noticed that the remnants of the seal on the bottle and cork were black wax.
This was a very old bottle of whiskey. He savored the liquor and chatted with the crone, who was Erin’s grandmother, while they waited for the children to settle. A pot of colcannon came out of the hearth and was set on the table along with stewed lamb, freshly baked soda bread, butter and for dessert there was Barmbrack drizzled with warm honey and porter. JMac tasted and complimented every dish, the Barmbrack was genuinely delicious.
Over the course of the meal they discussed the festivities of Oíche Shamhna (Samhain) and the celebration of the Aos Sí, remnants of the old gods and nature spirits, to ensure that people and their livestock survived the winter. JMac learned that the place settings at the feast table beckoned the souls of missing and dead kin. He sipped some more whiskey and jokingly asked if his appearance at their table meant that he’d gone missing or finally met his Maker. “The otherworld has opened,” said the crone as she sipped her whiskey, “Spirits and the dead to come and go as they will. Tonight we douse the fire in the hearth and go out to the bonfire to gather brands so we can rekindle our fire from the sacred flames. Tomorrow the children will chase the crows and we divine what comes from the birds and in what the direction they fly.”
JMac watched the boys intently carving on turnips and beets, hollowing them out and sculpting goblin faces. When they finished they wrapped their creations with fishing net, placed short candles in the vegetables and carried them to the door. “Jack-o-Lanterns,” said JMac, but they paid him no mind. The rain had abated and there was a bonfire on a hill above the northern shore of the river. The women and their little fairy princess watched the trails of glimmering lights heading up the hill as their laughing boys scampered down the path to the river bed. JMac smiled and said, “Shall we join them?”
A sad smile passed over Grandmother Macaffry’s lips and with a dry chuckle, she said, “Would that we could.”
JMac looked to Erin who explained: “You and the boys live in different worlds at different times, which is why they paid you no mind. They weren’t being rude so much as they were unaware of your presence. We’re here at the threshold and we stand outside of time. Most people are unaware of our presence.”
He considered the possibilities and asked, “So am I alive or dead; or is this just some dream from a bad oyster?”
The old woman chuckled and replied, “Could be.”
He woke up with tubes up his nose and instinctively tried to pull them out. The nurses stopped him and called his doctor who was a lovely plump lady with a lilting Pakistani accent. She sweetly informed him that he was recovering from surgery, a week to ten more days in hospital until they could remove the shunt from his skull; brain trauma was an “iffy” thing… He chuckled and said, “Eighteen.”
“Eighteen,” she asked and he replied, “Eighteen times I could have or should have been dead. Must be some reason I’m still around.”
So he surrendered to the care of modern Irish medicine and counted his blessings. There were daily visits from Emmerling and Melissa. Kelton his step-son and his son Greyson had flown to Dublin and they were a great comfort as well. His recovery was extraordinary and within a day from waking up from surgery he was on his feet. Two weeks later while Melissa was in Edinburgh rescheduling the tour, JMac, Emmerling, Kelton and Greyson were exploring the northwest roads of County Donegal near the small town of Buncrana.
A Google search revealed that the nine hole golf course and the name Macaffry intersected in Inishowen. In the daylight JMac saw the giant windmills on the ridge above the river that generated electricity for the town. The Inishowen Gateway Hotel was there next to the Buncrana Golf Club and the bridge over the Owenkiller River was intact.
At the suggestion of the desk clerk they drove to up Cockhill Road to Saint Mary’s Catholic Church, where they consulted with Ballycarry’s Parish Priest. There they found three tombstones with the name Macaffry: Mary Elizabeth “an old woman”, Erin Beibhenn a woman age twenty-nine and Caitlin Rachel a child of six, who all died on October 31st, 1881. The priest took them to a pub and introduced them to oldest living man of the parish who, after a glass of whiskey, agreed to accompany them to the southern shore of the river.
Looking southwest from the bridge at Railway Road, he pointed to some rocks that were barely visible in the trees and brush. “A Whitehouse did you say,” he asked. JMac answered, “Yes, with a thatch roof and a flagstone floor.”
“When I was a wee boy those rocks were the last standing wall, all that remained of a ruin around a flagstone floor,” said the elder, “If I were to guess, I’d say that it was there that your Macaffry’s lived. They say it burned to the ground and the women died in the fire. The boys survived because they were away at the Samhain bonfire. The father sent for them and they sailed off to America. When did you say you visited them?”
“Samhain, three weeks ago,” JMac replied. The old man chuckled and grinned, “Makes sense, welcome to Ireland.”
Except for attributed photos and text, all content is copyrighted © 2014 JKM (an apparently ineffectual boilerplate joke?)