(William Murray was born in Miltown Malbay
in 1928 and emigrated to the United States in 1949. He was a member
of the faculty of Iowa's Writers Workshop in the 1960's and later
acted as Associate Professor, Department of English, University
of Iowa. His short stories and poetry appeared in a number of
literary magazines and his novel "Michael Joe" was published
in 1965. The following extract is chapter ten of the novel).
Nell was at
the dance in Lahinch the following Sunday. Michael Joe arrived
a bit earlier at the dance than usual, after spending a few hours
of the early evening drinking with Larkin and a few more fellows
in Vaughan's pub. They wanted to stay in the pub until the dance
would be well under way. Michael Joe was anxious to leave. But
he could not show it. The fellows would get curious, and Michael
Joe had no wish to let the real extent of his interest in Nell
Cullen become known yet. He would have to take jokes and innuendoes.
And maybe even direct questions about Nell. Was she fast? Did
you get a tumble? Did she let you feel her up? All the way? In
the past he hadn't minded passing along information like that
about a girl he'd been out with. He would do it quietly. Drop
a hint. Leave a lot unsaid . But, as he sat in the pub, listening
to the fellows talk, and trying to think of a way to leave without
attracting too much notice, he realised that if he was asked these
questions about Nell, he might hit the asker.
Finally, he stopped drinking. Larkin asked
him what was up. Michael Joe complained about the taste of the
stout. Bottom of the barrel. Larkin himself thought he noticed
it too. They left for the dance.
Nell refused to dance every dance with him.
He got angry and made a play for an ugly-looking girl who could
only be flattered and jumping over herself with his attentions.
Nell saw what he was doing, but she did not bring it up when they
danced together. This made Michael Joe even madder. He accused
her of playing with him again.
"I'm nothing of the sort," she said.
"You're very possessive. And I don't want that . I've told
Michael Joe repented, and said he was sorry,
and that he couldn't help himself.
And so the dance went. Again, Nell would not
let him take her home. And he walked away from her in the middle
of the dance floor when she refused.
He picked up the ugly girl again, danced a
few times with her in his usual fashion, and got the going home
from her. He told Larkin that he wouldn't be bicycling home with
"You made out this time?" Larkin
said. "I didn't think she'd…"
"Mind your own bloody business,"
Michael Joe said.
He took the ugly one home, carrying her on
the bar of his bicycle. She lived out in the country. Halfway
out, Michael Joe stopped and told the girl to get off. He left
her standing in the middle of the road, and told her to walk home
the rest of the way; she was too fat, he was tired of carrying
her. The girl shrieked a stream of curses after him as he bicycled
Michael Joe wore himself out bicycling up the
long Rineen hill instead of walking it.
Next morning, Michael Joe did not even greet
his mother when he came downstairs for breakfast. He sat with
his arms folded on the table, and waited to be served.
His mother asked him a few of the usual questions.
Was the dance good? Was there anyone there she knew? Michael Joe
did not answer her. She tried to find out what was wrong with
him. He stood up from his unfinished breakfast and walked out
of the dining room, without answering.
Vin Scanlon had already opened the shop. Michael
Joe passed through and into the cubicle. Vin watched him writing,
tearing up sheets of paper, and looking in a dark mood.
He came out and handed Vin an envelope.
"Bicycle out to Nell Cullen with this,"
Michael Joe said. "And give it right into her hands. Mind
what I say now. And don't breathe a word of this to a sinner's
soul or you'll have no job."
"Will I wait for an answer?"
"Of course you will, you amaudaun. Didn't
I tell you that?"
"Hurry up with you, then."
The letter was simple and direct :
"Dear Nell, I want to meet you tonight
behind the chapel at eight o'clock. I have something important
to tell you. Michael Joe."
When Vin Scanlon came back he told Michael
Joe that Nell had said all right to what was in the letter.
"Did anyone see you talking to her?"
"No one that I know."
"What was she doing?"
"She was outside in the back feeding meal
to the pigs."
"Feeding the pigs!" Michael Joe said.
"Yes faith," Vin said cheerily. "She
had on an ould smock, and a dirty apron, and a pair of hobnailed
boots, and an ould straw hat on her head."
"You're giving me my money's worth, aren't
you?" Micheal Joe said sarcastically.
Vin did not understand. He thought he ought
to be praised.
That night, at the fall of dusk, Michael Joe
closed up the shop and went to meet Nell.
An old bog road began to the left of the chapel,
ran behind it and then twisted for a mile behind Corrigbeg, down
to the Clonboney River, a small stream fed from a lake in the
bog hills five miles away. The bog road was used only by town
farmers to bring home and drive out their cows to the fields beside
it. Since the cows were usually out before dusk, Michael Joe and
Nell would not be likely to meet anyone along the road but lovers,
who also wanted privacy and secrecy, and would not be likely to
spread any rumors.
Michael Joe shaved and put on a clean shirt
and tie to go out. His mother wondered, but said nothing after
his bad humor of the morning.
The night was warm. Late June. It had showered
a few times during the day, and a feeling of dampness and wetness
was still in the air.
Nell was waiting for him in the shadows beside
the chapel gate.
He went up to her.
"Do you want to go for a walk?" he
said. "I can't stand being inside an evening like this."
"I don't mind," she said. "I
wanted to be out myself."
They walked in silence down the bog road. On
either side of them the hawthorn bushes were budding with clusters
of green haws shining faintly in the dusk with falling dew. Nell
noticed them, said they were lovely. Silence again.
"Well, what do you want from me anyway?"
Michael Joe finally said.
" I want nothing from you," Nell
said. "Can't we just be friends?"
"Friends?" Michael Joe said. "
A man and a woman can't be friends."
"You'll have to try if you want me to
go out with you."
Nell did not answer. They walked on in silence
again until they came to the end of the bog road, and the stream.
A small bridge spanned it, leading across to a big grazing field
where cows were lying down chewing the cud. The couple stood on
the bridge and leaned over together watching the full stream gurgling
below. Trout splashed in the shallows. A few swallows flitted
through the air and over the surface. June nature was putting
on a show.
" I can't stand leading me on and shutting
me off," Michael Joe said. "I want you to go out with
"I can't. I can't. A thousand times I
have to tell you."
"And why not? Gimme one decent reason.
I haven't a disease, have I?"
"No. You're….well, I like you all
right. But only for company."
They went across the bridge and into the field,
Michael Joe walking slightly ahead of her, as if by plan. Then
they walked along the bank of the stream. It grew dark, a light
Suddenly Michael Joe turned and caught her
savagely in his arms.
"No, I don't want that," she whispered,
raising her arms as he tried to kiss her.
"I'm fed up of the talk," Michael
She kept twisting her head, so that he could
not kiss her on the lips.
"Stop, or I'll scream for help,"
Michael Joe kissed her neck, biting into it
savagely. She moaned.
"You're a beast. Let me go! Let me go!"
They tripped and fell. He crawled on top of
her, pinning her down on the wet grass.
Suddenly she lay completely still, and rigid.
The whiteness of her face, and the sudden frozen attitude registered
with Michael Joe, but did not stop him. He kissed her on the lips.
No response. They were tight and cold. He bit them. Still no response.
Her arms lay tight by her sides ; her eyes were closed.
"Jesus Christ, stop holding back from
me," Michael Joe said, driven to more brutal biting, trying
to arouse her from her coldness. Then a voice shouted to them
from across the stream.
"Go on home out of that, ye scamps ye!
Or ye'll hear about it from the altar."
Michael Joe scrambled to his feet. Across the
stream he made out the form of a priest, a dark, hatted form,
raising a stick in the air and shaking it.
"Go home yourself and say your prayers,
Michael Joe bellowed across at him in anger at being spied on,
and interrupted. Nell stood beside him, and hid herself behind
"Sinners! Ye pack of sinners! Violating
the Sixth Commandment!" the shaky voice of old Canon Lyons
screamed at them.
"Stop it, Michael Joe!" Nell whispered.
"Don't say anything to him. Come on."
She began to pull Michael Joe away.
"Ye'll hear about this from the altar!"
"Ah, will you shove it…"
Nell clapped a hand over Michael Joe's mouth.
She kept pulling him along the bank of the stream, he looking
back at the now shadowy figure, a stick high in the air, like
a figure of doom. When they were out of sight, around a bend of
the stream, Nell stopped and began to brush herself down; Michael
Joe stood by her panting.
"Blast him, anyway," Michael Joe
said. "Like an old hag spying. Withered balls on withered
"Don't add sacrilege to everything else."
"Sacrilege! I'd puck his bloody face out
if I got within an inch of him. Sacrilege! He committed the sacrilege!"
They began to walk. Nell did not complain about
Michael Joe's attack on her. Michael Joe panted beside her. He
ranted on about Canon Lyons. What sort of man would go poking
around the countryside looking for courting boys and girls? From
condemning Canon Lyons, Michael Joe went on and condemned all
the priests. All of them! They were all the same. They ran the
country, and frightened people with Hell and Confession. They
poked into everyone's business. God, 'twas a terrible state the
country was in with them. No wonder the lads and the girls wanted
to emigrate by the thousands. He'd emigrate himself if this kept
They walked through the dewy fields in the
light of a quarter moon, Nell not listening, Michael Joe raving
on. The land around had changed into a shadowy, shapeless mass,
and the sky had taken on a static quality, the clouds barely in
motion; and few stars could be seen. Nell grew afraid in the dark.
They had walked through the fields in a half
circle, in the opposite direction from which they had started
out, and found themselves in the Ennistymon Road, another road
leading into Corrigbeg. Michael Joe had run out of talk. They
stood on the road, neither one of them willing to make the decision
whether they should walk back into the town together, or not.
"I suppose you don't want to see me again,"
Michael Joe said.
"I'm tired," Nell said quietly. "And
"I'm not sorry. You had it coming."
"Walk me home. 'Tis dark. I'm ….
I'm not afraid of you anymore." She looked around and shivered.
Michael Joe softened. He took off his coat
and wanted her to put it on over her wool cardigan. She refused.
"I hope you don't catch cold," he
said as tenderly as he could.
It was late. They passed a few people on the
street. When they did, Nell hung her head, and Michael Joe looked
straight ahead pretending to ignore the people they passed.
"I suppose either you or the Canon will
have this all over the town by morning," he said sarcastically.
"I want to forget it," Nell said.
"And 'twas such a grand night for a walk. You spoiled it."
"Am I supposed to crawl on my knees and
ask your forgiveness? I'll never do that. I'm walking you home
and that's all there's to it."
They walked on in uncomfortable silence, side
by side, as if they were almost strangers to each other who happened
by accident to be walking together along the same sidewalk, on
the same dark night, and one of them could not walk past the other,
so they walked together. Michael Joe asked her, because he couldn't
bear the silence, if she was going back to England. She said she
didn't think so. She was going to stop home for a while and help
her mother around the house and the farm. But she didn't know
for sure what she was going to do. They were silent again.
As he was saying good-bye to her, at the gateway
leading up to her house, he said : "You're a strange one."
She laughed briefly. "Maybe I am."
As she turned away from him to go in home,
he was overcome with a sense of loss.
"Will you let me see you again?"
She turned around, surprised. And then she
"Yes," she said faintly.
"Are you sorry for me? Is that it?"
"Go home," she said.
"I won't touch you anymore," he said.
And then left.
(Michael Joe by William Cotter
Murray was first published by Appleton: Century in 1965)