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Authors: Theresa Kishkan

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A Man in a Distant Field

BOOK: A Man in a Distant Field
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A MAN IN A DISTANT FIELD

A MAN IN A DISTANT FIELD

|A NOVEL|

THERESA KISHKAN

Copyright © Theresa Kishkan, 2004

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise (except for brief passages for purposes of review) without the prior permission of Dundurn Press. Permission to photocopy should be requested from Access Copyright.

Editor: Barry Jowett
Copy-editor: Andrea Pruss
Design: Jennifer Scott
Printer:Webcom

Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication

Kishkan,Theresa, 1955-
    A man in a distant field / Theresa Kishkan.

ISBN 1-55002-531-7

I. Title.

PS8571.I75M35 2004      C813'.54      C2004-905467-8

1    2    3    4    5    08    07    06    05    04

We acknowledge the support of the
Canada Council for the Arts
and the
Ontario Arts Council
for our publishing program. We also acknowledge the financial support of the
Government of Canada
through the
Book Publishing Industry Development Program
and
The Association for the Export of Canadian Books
, and the
Government of Ontario
through the
Ontario Book Publishers Tax Credit
program.

Care has been taken to trace the ownership of copyright material used in this book. The author and the publisher welcome any information enabling them to rectify any references or credits in subsequent editions.

J. Kirk Howard, President

Printed and bound in Canada.
Printed on recycled paper.
www.dundurn.com

Dundurn Press
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Toronto, Ontario, Canada
M5E 1M6

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Dundurn Press
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A MAN IN A DISTANT FIELD

Acknowledgements

Although this novel is a work of fiction, it is set in two actual places—Oyster Bay on B.C.'s Sechelt Peninsula and Delphi, in County Mayo, Ireland. I've tried to make the landscapes as accurate and real as possible, but the characters are products of my imagination, as are their stories, and any resemblance to those living or dead is pure coincidence.

The list of people who helped me with research and encouragement is too long to reproduce here, but I trust that they know who they are and I thank them all. Specific mention must be made of my husband and children, who provide love and good humour in necessary amounts. This book is for them. I would also like to thank Diana Davidson for reading the manuscript at a difficult time in its development and in turn her friend Gwyneth Evans for reading the passages about the harp and correcting a few errors. My editor, Barry Jowett, has been helpful but not intrusive,
and I am grateful for that. And I would like to acknowledge the Canada Council for the Arts and the B.C. Arts Council, whose generous support made much of the work of this novel possible.

I am not a Greek scholar but tried to figure out the kind of translation a passionate but amateur reader of the
Odyssey
in a late-nineteenth-century edition might come up with. I used the Loeb edition of the
Odyssey
as a model and the Liddell and Scott standard Greek-English lexicon as well as
Cunliffe's Lexicon of the Homeric Dialect
. Any mistakes of grammar and usage are mine entirely.

Nil aon tintean mar do thintean fein
.
There is no fireside like your own fireside.

(Irish proverb)

A man in a distant field, no hearthfires near, will hide a fresh brand in his bed of embers to keep a spark alive for the next day: so in the leaves Odysseus hid himself ...

(
The Odyssey
, Book Five, lines 487–90, trans. Robert Fitzgerald)

Part One

Oyster Bay, Sechelt Peninsula, British Columbia, Spring to Fall 1922

Chapter One

He was drifting on the tide, curled up small on the bottom of the skiff, feeling a chill through the thin slats of wood separating him from the waters of Oyster Bay. He could not rise to grasp the oars in their locks, to keep the skiff heading in the direction of his cabin, at ease in the current of strong water. Without lifting his head, he knew that the tides would take him back eventually because the bay ended at his steps, fed by the quick tea-coloured water of the creek that ran by his cabin and the other creeks that ran down off the mountain to the east and entered the chuck at the mud flats.

This was not the way he'd intended to return to the cabin, after a day and a night of hand-trolling out beyond the mouth of the bay. He'd sold his salmon to the pot scow—nice bluebacks that he'd wrapped in damp burlap potato sacks—and then begun the hard row home, feeling each pull of the oars right into
the muscles of his back. Once he'd come through into the bay, he'd felt he could row until tomorrow at that rate, his shoulder joints oiled by the sweat that dripped down from under his cap into the collar of his pullover. It was seeing the moon in the eastern sky, still visible, though it must've been nearly noon by the position of the sun, that had slowed him. A new moon, delicate in the watery spring sky. There had been just such a moon on that other morning, hanging in the western Connemara sky like a sailmaker's needle, and seeing this one, he was pierced with such intense pain that he had to gather his limbs into his body and rock himself, crying, on the bottom of the skiff.

He must have fallen asleep. He couldn't remember the craft being pushed onto the shingle, round stones rolling under it, but found himself looking up from the carvel planks into the branches of the apple tree that grew between World's End and the water. A bird—he'd have called it a thrush, but here they were robins—was singing for all it was worth. Declan O'Malley knew the song had everything to do with territory. The robin had a mate and a nest in the apple tree, a fine construction of sticks and soft moss, a single strand of red wool woven into the sides like a sign to all that this was home. He supposed the bird hadn't known the wool was so bright, but perhaps it had and had chosen it for that reason, plucking it from a bramble where a garment of someone passing had snagged and then been eased away, leaving a thread behind. After all, in a momentary fit of consolation at having arrived at Oyster Bay, having decided to get himself as far as reasonably possible from the bloody Delphi soil, Declan had scratched “World's End” on a piece of cedar shake with a bit of charcoal and hammered it over his door.

No one named their habitations here, no farm had the descriptive notion secured to it as in Ireland, where a place might be known by its weather, its placement on a hill, or by a deeper meaning, mostly lost to memory but traceable, as though
on a map, if one took the time. The cashels and bailes, the raths and crocs, piercing a place like a nail and fastening it to the long scan of history. His own farm, Tullaglas, named for its small green hill; the neighbouring Ardmor; the dark lake, Dhulough, below. A map of any Irish county would be busy with names, and not just for towns and villages—a countenance of promontories, rocks, wide space softened by sedges and hawthorns, ancient ground containing the remains of a fort, a battle.

And if a robin sang for territory, who could blame it, the poor bugger, because wasn't that what begetting and working your land and raising your children was about? Making a place for them in the world where they could be safe and grow like trees? He wished he'd done that in any country but the troubled one he'd been born in because he might yet be walking home to Tullaglas from the Bundorragha schoolhouse, a daughter on each side of him, looking forward to the thin plume of smoke in their chimney and Eilis greeting them with hot tea and a bit of barmbrack. It came again, the terrible sorrow, and he wept as he brought the skiff up above the high tide line, fastening its rope to the apple tree. He wept as he took the green cotton line from his boat to remove the strands of seaweed and to repair the breaks, took the little box of spinners to clean, took the oars, which he carefully leaned against the shake-clad wall of his cabin, along with the herring rake, and he was still weeping as he went in to start a fire so he could cook himself a meal, draping his sweat-damp pullover on a rock to dry. Some days were like this, the tears a river he could not for the life of him control.

In the distance, he could hear children, the children of the man who let him use the cabin; often they could be seen doing the work of men and women, ploughing a rough field behind a steady grey horse, washing clothing in the creek, leading a cow from one pasture to another. Encountered in this way, they looked to the ground or averted their eyes as they passed, a polite hello
coaxed from the older ones. But he could tell, this time, that they were playing, their voices sounding so far away in the weather, though he knew they were only around the cove, at the mouth of a quick creek, where long grass hid the nests of geese and the passing of deer in the morning. Their voices were full of joy and youth, and he wept as he listened, for himself and for all the children of the world who would learn that no amount of love could keep grief from the door.

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