“Christ, you gave me an awful fright,” I say, as I close the paper and shove it to the other end of the table.
“Did you not hear the car?” Martin asks as he walks into the kitchen, with Ryan hiding behind his leg the same way Martin used to do with me.
“Ryan, every time I see you, you’re getting bigger. You could hardly walk the last time you were here.”
“It hasn’t been that long since we’ve been down,” says Martin.
I don’t want to get into an argument now so I get up, root through the kitchen presses while trying to figure out in my head what brings them all the way from Dublin today. I eventually find some 7-Up.
“Here, Ryan, sit down and drink that.”
He doesn’t need to be told twice. I clear the table of the breakfast things for fear Martin will give out about the mess but he doesn’t seem to notice. Then I start to fill him in on some of the news as I put the kettle under the tap.
“Three sheepdogs died in the village last week. And the peculiar thing about it was not one of them smoked.”
“Dogs don’t smoke. I have to go pee,” says Ryan, as he pushes back his chair and runs to the toilet banging the door.
I put the kettle on the range’s hot plate. Martin sits and flicks through the paper. The back of my neck is wet with sweat.
“It’s fierce clammy today, there could be thunder yet,” I say.
Martin’s chair scrapes as he gets up and pushes the window open.
“The rose bushes need to be pruned,” he says.
“That was your mother’s job. God rest her soul. And I haven’t time for gardening.”
“I saw the advertisement.”
“Oh … I didn’t know you got the Mayo papers in Dublin.”
He doesn’t say anything, just sits down rubbing the tips of his fingers across his forehead.
“I’ve no choice but to sell. I can’t manage it on my own anymore and you never showed any interest in farming.”
The water in the kettle spits onto the range so I take it off. Ryan comes back into the kitchen, squeezing his bum into the seat of his jeans and starts on the remaining 7-Up. Then Martin’s mobile interrupts the slurp-filled silence.
“Sorry, but I have to answer this,” he says.
“Okay, I’ll take Ryan for a walk. We’ll have the tea later.”
I struggle to put my feet into wellingtons, my hip’s playing up and I’m beginning to feel a bit dizzy.
Outside the sun sieves its way through the dirty clouds and helps to clear my head. Ryan throws a stone into the muddied pothole beside his father’s car and laughs as muck splashes onto his runners. Then an inquisitive bray interrupts him and the donkey glares at us over the hawthorn hedge that separates the haggard from the farmyard.
“Grandad, can I say hello to Breeze?”
Ryan drags me towards the hedge and for a minute I think I see a smile cross over the donkey’s face.
“Let’s go check the sheep,” I say, once we’re done with Breeze.
We take the short walk to the hill-field. As we stand at the gate I count the sheep in my head. Ryan in his voice, he falters at fifteen.
“Do they not teach you to count at school?”
“I’m going to go to the school Dad went to when he was small, he’s going to be teaching there and when I get bigger I’m going to play for Mayo.”
I don’t know what to say to that piece of information. Some crows land on the branches of the mountain ash beside the gate. Ryan imitates their raspy caws and even though I hate crows and take great pleasure in shooting them when the corn ripens, I can’t help but laugh.
When he sees Martin approaching, Ryan jumps in excitement.
“Dad, are you coming to help us count the sheep?”
“That was a long phone call,” I say, when Martin reaches the gate.
“I was talking to an estate agent about renting our apartment in Dublin. We can’t afford the mortgage anymore on just my wage,” he says as he kicks at a stone.
“So you thought you could just come and live here, did you?”
“Well … I thought it would be nice for Ryan to grow up in the country too.”
“You couldn’t wait to get away after the Leaving Cert.”
Martin leans on the gate staring at the sheep.
“I know, but I always thought this place would be here for me if I ever wanted to … come home.”
His voice sounds different now and I think I can hear a bit of Ryan in it.
“Grandad. You forgot to show me the hens.”
We walk back to the farmyard, Martin and I, each holding one of Ryan’s hands and then we watch him hunt for eggs in the hen run. He finds two and puts one into each of his jacket pockets.
“He’s a born farmer,” I say. “I suppose ye could stay here, for a while anyway.”
Martin looks over at the house, dragging his fingers through his hair. The hens cluck like mad, enough to give anyone a headache.
“What about the advertisement?” He asks, as he turns towards me.
“There’s no rush in selling now. Not if you’re going to be here.”
There’s a look of pure relief on his face.
“I could give you a hand around the farm too, if you want.”
Before I can answer Ryan runs towards us, his whole face smiling.
“Look,” he says, opening his fist. “I found another egg, that’s one each.”
My palm lands on the roof of Martin’s hand as we both reach to take the egg. I let it rest there for a moment, then let go and the heaviness that was in the air disappears.