Mark Mulholland

Mark Mulholland is not from the USA or Canada or the UK or even Australia or anywhere snazzy like that. Mark, through no fault of his own, was born and raised in Ireland. However, when fifteen, as luck would have it, he underwent a stroke of genius and left schooling to linger full-time around a second-hand book store perusing work chosen by cover or title or some indefinable inclination. The whole world was to be found in that book store, he says, and everything a boy needed to learn could be learned there. He has been educated in this way ever since.

Mark is the author of the novel A Mad and Wonderful Thing. His short fiction has been published in the USA and the UK and has been shortlisted for the Dorset Fiction Award. He lives in rural France.

 

The Gathering

‘How’s the Frenchman?’ One asks, entering the room and sitting on the couch.

‘Good, good,’ I answer from the armchair. I fold the newspaper and rest it on my lap.

‘A flying visit,’ he says, or asks. It’s hard to tell, he never really commits.

‘You or me?’ I reply.

‘Eh, you,’ he says. ‘I never left Ireland.’

‘Ah,’ I say, ‘It’s just, I thought you might not be stopping.’ I don’t think this at all, but I float it anyway.

Two arrives and joins One on the couch. ‘How’s France?’ she asks.

‘Good, good,’ I say.

‘He’s always talking about France,’ One says.

‘What about those terror attacks?’ Two asks.

‘Yes,’ I say. ‘Very sad. They are disturbed twisted bad people, very bad; what they do is evil. But that’s tribalism and indoctrination for you. It never works well with humans.’

‘Do you have much trouble your way?’ she asks, ignoring my insight and analysis.

‘Not regularly,’ I say. ‘We live in the middle of nowhere and are no obstruction to the pursuit of holy jihad. I mean, we’re not in the way. We’re not visible. We might as well be in Honolulu or Osaka. Or even Skibbereen.’

‘Lots of them Muslims over there,’ she presses, ignoring my reply again. ‘Isn’t there?’

‘Emm, no idea. About us is very quiet. Very Catholic. A Protestant would be unusual, never mind a Muslim. I’d have as much chance hearing the Kilfenora Ceili Band as I would Islamic prayer.’

But she ignores this too, so I unfold the newspaper and pick-up on my reading.

Three arrives and takes the single chair across from me.

‘How’s France?’ he asks.

I don’t give anything to the enquiry. I used to, but they don’t want that. The greeting isn’t a question. And, in any case, it would depend. Like, do they mean geologically, geographically, climatically? Or socially? Or politically? Or economically? Or how about emotionally? Can a country be emotional? Maybe, I don’t know; I’ve never thought about it. But, of course, they mean none of those and don’t really want detail. I could answer favourably; positively like. But that doesn’t work. Any enthusiasm for abroad is seen as blowing and as some slight on the homeland.

‘Good, good,’ I answer.

‘He’s always talking about France,’ One says.

‘Were you caught up in those riots?’ Three asks.

‘What riots?’ I ask.

‘There were big riots all over France.’

‘No,’ I say. ‘I must have missed them. The only crowd I’ve ever seen is the bunch at the school gate at quarter-to-four. But there is seldom any violence or stone throwing.’

‘Right,’ he says.

Four arrives and stands in the doorway. She greets me with an upward stroke of her head. ‘Well,’ she says to the gathering.

I wait, because sooner or later somebody’s going to mention Tuscany. I don’t know how or why they hold remote Italy in positive favour. Maybe those television relocation programmes have something to do with it; perhaps some episode tickled some notion or interest, or landed on sympathetic ground and took root; or, perhaps, that it just scratches the itch. But, whatever the case, it has sprouted into conviction. But it isn’t real. And without a rope anchored to known ground they’d struggle with a move to Tullamore, never mind Tuscany. But they don’t know that.

I look up to acknowledge the arrival.

‘How’s the Frenchman?’ Four asks.

‘Good, good,’ I answer.

‘He’s always talking about France,’ One says.

‘Are you still running that farm?’ Four asks.

‘We don’t have a farm,’ I tell her, ‘just fields.’

‘Ah, that wouldn’t be for us,’ she volunteers.

If I was to guess now, I’d guess the line is coming.

‘The French countryside,’ Four continues. ‘What would you do with yourself all day? You’d be lost there for something to do.’

I pause and wait for more, I give it space and air, but she adds nothing further.

‘There’s plenty to keep us busy,’ I offer. And she flicks her head to that.

Five arrives and squeezes herself onto the couch by the door.

‘How’s France?’ she asks.

‘Good, good,’ I answer.

‘He’s always talking about France,’ One says. ‘He’s just there telling us about the French countryside.’ And he shunts forward. There’s nothing like the console of numbers for the weak of heart.

‘There’s plenty of countryside over here,’ Five says. ‘And those French are always protesting. It’s a wonder they get any work done at all. No, France wouldn’t be for us. We’d much prefer Tuscany.’

© 2019 Mark Mulholland