the log-bright night

by James Claffey

Dublin. The suburbs.

October 1978.

A rainy night, electricity strike. Power could go out any time.

Red-bricked house and a woman making bread at a Formica-topped table. Smoking.

A gray striped cat slinks along a wall.

BBC 4 on the wireless: “A Book at Bedtime.” Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. Not his best.

In the kitchen the woman slides the dough into the oven.

The kettle boils.

Another cigarette. The fag ends in the ashtray, dead soldiers.

Her husband away these six weeks on the Gannet Alpha oil rig in the North Sea.

Under soil tulip bulbs wait for spring. The windows rattle in the fierce east wind.

A garden shed. Rusted spade and rake. An abandoned wasps’ nest in a corner eave.

Patterned linoleum on the kitchen floor patched in spots.

The Aga range pulses heat from stacked wood.

Under the stairs last year’s plum pudding ferments in brandy.

At the top of the house a small boy kneels bedside, hands joined.

“O Angel of God, my guardian dear…”

Dad promised him a Celtic soccer jersey on the next trip home.

The boy’s feet tap the hot water bottle beneath the covers and he wishes his dad home.

The mother snaps off the wireless and checks the doors, front and back.

Bread cools on wire rack.

James Claffey hails from County Westmeath, Ireland, and lives on an avocado ranch in Carpinteria, CA, with his wife, the writer and artist, Maureen Foley, their daughter, Maisie, and Australian cattle-dog, Rua. His work appears in many places, including The New Orleans Review, Metazen, Elimae, Necessary Fiction, Revival Literary Journal, and Word Riot. His website is at www.jamesclaffey.com.

The opening of Dublin for me evokes James Joyce. Is he anywhere to be found in this piece?

    Strangely enough, we lived a few blocks from Joyce’s birthplace in Rathgar, where I grew up, and there’s a very distant connection to Joyce through his cousins, the Murrays, on my mother’s side of the family tree. Tangentially, Joyce is evoked by the images of the garden shed and the dead wasps nest, hearkening to the opening of Araby. Also, the plum pudding under the stairs might hint at the Dead and those fragments of the past that populate the story. And of course the boy in the back drawing room of the house in North Richmond Street, suggests again Araby. Somehow, Joyce’s writing has entered my subconsciousness and on rereading the piece I find him lurking in the language like a ghost in the wallpaper pattern.
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