At Barbara’s suggestion, I’ve decided to keep a journal.
I have never done so before, but she says that setting down my
feelings about our new home will be excellent therapy. As with
most things, she is probably right. I will not record daily entries.
Deadly little domestic listings such as “Today we baked
scones and mowed the back garden” would have no beneficial
bearing on my need for self-discipline. But when something interests
or moves me sufficiently, I’ll try to recount it accurately.
Accuracy and discipline - that’s what it’s all about,
We seem to be settling in. Barbara has done wonders with the cottage.
She hired a local girl on a temporary basis to help her with the
cleaning and sorting out and they spend hours daily, creating
order out of chaos. They buzz around like little bees, while I
squat on my toadstool, reading. Occasionally, I look up to see
the girl’s eyes on me, doubtless wondering how Barbara came
to be saddled with such a lazy lout for a husband. In a town this
size there are no secrets. I can hear the girl - Kathleen, I believe
her name is - reporting to her cronies at the market: “She
says he hasn’t been well, but he looks healthy enough to
Stop it, now.
imagination is the cause of most of your problems, Mr Ames.”
Dr Hanley said that. Or someone did. The girl is just curious.
Or perhaps she finds me attractive. That would be a laugh.
My first impressions of Ireland are painfully
trite, I’m afraid - a great deal of green and an impossible
amount of rain. Of course, we haven’t been out much yet.
Barbara has been too busy and I haven’t felt moved to go
for the long walks that she keeps assuring me I’ll enjoy
so much. Perhaps later in the summer. I have been reading a book
on local archæological attractions and it seems that we
have a number of them in the neighbourhood, including something
called a wedge tomb. The picture shows a sort of table affair,
made of large flat rocks. Not particularly impressive, but incredibly
old, like me. Barbara and I were once the same age, can you believe
that? And now she is 43 and I am 107.
What an amazing woman Barbara is. We have been here less than
a month and she has made friends everywhere in the village. All
the shopkeepers know her and recognize me as being her less-than-better
your missus,” they say, when I venture in to buy a paper.
Of course, she is that. No one knows it
better. I have rested on those strong, little shoulders for more
than a year now. She handles our correspondence, does the banking,
remembers my medication, and runs our household without a single
mis-step or a word of complaint. I watch her from the window,
digging in our tiny kitchen garden, and am overwhelmed by equal
parts of guilt and gratitude. She looks up and seeing me, smiles.
I must do something nice for Barbara. My Barbara. When she comes
in, I will ask her if she wants to go for a walk.
The summer is unusually mild so far, the villagers tell us. We
walk every day, covering miles in our new boots. Barbara says
she is very proud of me. As yet, we have not walked to the wedge
tomb, but it is on our list of things-to-do. Barbara’s list.
She adds to it every day. I don’t look at it. I have told
her that I prefer to be surprised.
An odd thing happened yesterday. I went
alone to the bakery and a man whom I’d never seen before
said something to me as we passed each other in the street. It
sounded like, “You will hear soon,” but I couldn’t
be sure. I turned to question him, but he was walking rapidly
away and I said nothing. Very peculiar. I didn’t mention
it to Barbara. No need to upset her. I’m sure that she remembers
those other messages all too well. Poor Barbara.
There can be no doubt of it, the messages have begun again. We
passed the library this afternoon and a word was white-washed
on the front window, one word, printed large - “Soon”.
When I looked again, it had disappeared, but it was there. Barbara
didn’t notice it, but then she never has.
I have examined my feelings assiduously
and they are, in ascending order, trepidation, nervous tension
We still haven’t been to the wedge tomb. I have taken to
visiting the library almost daily. Barbara is thrilled by my new
interest in research. And it is research, of a sort.
I must backtrack.
A week ago, I found a mesage in a library
book, Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea”,
I believe. It was written on the back of a business card, an advertisement
for some local tradesman. “Please listen,” it said.
The handwriting looked familiar, though I can’t be sure.
I kept it, thinking initially that the tradesman’s address
and phone number might have some importance. But, of course, that
was irrational of me. The writing is what’s important.
The next day, there was nothing. Then on
Wednesday, I found a second message in a copy of “Time”
magazine. It was the purest luck that I happened to find it. I
rarely read “Time”. “You are among strangers,
but you are constantly observed,” it said. Not very comforting.
Not for someone with my history.
On Thursday and Friday, there were two
more messages at the library, the first stuck under the cushion
of a chair.
“The woman is watching you,” it
The woman. I suppose that means Barbara. The second was pinned
to the public bulletin board where anyone could have seen it.
Of course, since it was intended only for me, no one else would
have understood it, but it still seemed injudicious. It said,
“The vitamins are really tranquilizers.” I take vitamins.
We both do. Barbara lays mine out for me when she takes hers.
I do not take tranquilizers of any kind and have not for over
six months. Dr Hanley said that there was no further need for
them. My blood pressure medication is sufficient to alleviate
the probability of either a stroke or a coronary. He assured me
of that. The woman was there when he told me. Barbara.
I must be very careful. Very appropriate
in my reactions.
We walked to the wedge tomb yesterday. It is larger than the picture
suggested and has a black hole of an entrance which resembles
a crooked mouth. Over-imaginative perhaps, but that’s what
it looked like to me. The B.P. took a snapshot of me standing
in front of it. B.P. is Barbara Person. I shall call her that
from now on, for the best of reasons. She is not Barbara. Looking
back, I am sure that I have not seen Barbara, the real Barbara,
since we left the States. Perhaps even before that. Once, when
we’d made our travel plans and begun to pack, I came upon
her crying. She tried to hide it from me, but she was crying and
I knew it. I am fairly convinced that it was Barbara that day.
Since then, I must assume that it has been the B.P.
We get on famously, the B.P. and I. I’m
sure she has no idea that I am aware of the deception. We laugh
a great deal and, just the other day, she said, “You are
so much better, aren’t you, darling?” Darling.
“Oh, yes,” I said, “ever
so much better.”
You can imagine how difficult it is for
me. But I am very accurate and disciplined in my thinking, and
I have stopped taking vitamins. She trusts me to remember them
myself, though she continues to administer my blood pressure medicine.
We spent over an hour at the wedge tomb
and walked home hand-in-hand, the B.P. and her hubby. The villagers
all smile at us now, that nice American couple. Jesus!
The messages have been appearing in such profusion that I can
hardly keep up with them. I am afraid to record them, for fear
the B.P. will discover the evidence in my own writing, but I remember
every word. My memory is crystal-clear, better than it has ever
been, I think. I am continually amazed by my ability to juggle
the messages and the B.P. so easily. Dr. Hanley would be proud
Just this morning, there was writing in
the steam on the bathroom mirror.
“You know what you must do,” it
said. And of course, I do. But I’m getting ahead of myself
On the evening of our visit to the wedge
tomb, there was a message on the margin of the newspaper - safe
enough, since the B.P. never reads it.
“Your blood pressure prescription is
worthless,” it said.
“You no longer require medication of
That night I told the B.P. that I wanted
to be fully responsible for myself, by taking my own medicine
from now on. The B.P. beamed and said that it showed how healthy
I was and she was so happy to see such a change in me. I could
have burst out laughing, but I just beamed back at her and have
not taken a pill since.
The next morning, a message was tucked
into the pocket of my robe. It said, “Go back to the wedge
tomb, alone.” I told the B.P. that I wanted to take really
long walk, knowing that she intended to make curtains and would
be occupied all day. I left about ten o’clock and fairly
sprinted. When I got there, a note was anchored under some pebbles
at the mouth of the tomb. Again, a tad risky, but no one was about.
“The answer to your problem is here,”
“The B.P. will kill you if you stay in
I was thoroughly taken aback. Up to that
point, I hadn’t thought ahead as I should have. Not only
had it never occurred to me that the B.P. might actually be dangerous,
but it had seemed enough to simply deal with each new bit of information
as it came. Undisciplined of me, I admit - but I’d been
enjoying the challenge of the present and giving no thought to
I sat for a while in the shade of the tomb,
letting myself relax and enjoy the quiet. A lovely place, really,
almost welcoming. I suppose “homelike” is the word
I’m looking for.
A course of action began to form in my
hand and as it took shape, I made certain plans which I will describe
later. I must be accurate, though for whose eyes, I can’t
imagine. No one will ever read this journal. Wasn’t it the
B.P. who thought that keeping a journal would be good therapy
for me. How ironic. I can’t keep from laughing out loud
and then cannot control the laughter.
I fell asleep briefly, lulled by the heat
and the silence and when I woke, a message was scrawled on the
side of the tomb. Shocking to desecrate an ancient monument with
graffiti but, as at the library, it disappeared as soon as I read
“Go home,” it said, “and
I went reluctantly, but secure in the knowledge that it was only
temporary. And I have returned every day between then and now,
taking with me such tools as I need to do what I must. I have
told the B.P. that I am studying rock formations, in preparation
for writing an article, perhaps a book. She accepts this as she
does everything, with a mindless smile and a quick little hug,
which I return, with effort.
The messages of the last few days have
been more or less repetitious, variations on “Hurry, time
is short,” “Take nothing with you. There is no need
for it,” and “Remember to act appropriately,”
which I felt smacked of Dr. Hanley.
Tonight is the last I shall spend with
Last night I watched the B.P. sleep. She lies on her back, although
she knows that it makes her snore. She looks like a little farm
animal, perhaps a donkey, with her legs drawn up and her mouth
open and slack. I watched her and listened to the soft rasp of
her breathing and checked my list of things-to-do.
I am stronger than I ever realized, for
with a crow-bar, a shovel, and a length of stout rope, I have
succeeded in moving a large flat stone into readiness at the entrance
of the wedge tomb. Difficult, but not impossible for someone who
used to be an engineer. And I was, I’m almost certain that
I was. I have enlarged the mouthlike opening just the smallest
fraction, so that it can be entered without any problem. Inside
it is much larger and deeper than it appears from the outside.
Quite comfortable, actually. I have disposed of my tools and the
rest of the rope in some thick gorse a mile from the tomb. The
bit of rope that remains will not be visible when I am finished.
Tonight I am physically dizzy and short
of breath with anticipation. I can feel the pulse beating in my
temples and my head aches from excitement. Over-stimulation can
have that affect. It won’t be long now. I can hardly wait.
In a short while, I shall tell the B.P.
that I want to work late on my notes and, when she is peacefully
asleep and snoring on her sturdy little back, I will go. I debated
leaving a note for her, but have decided against it. She is, after
all, nothing to me. Dr. Hanley would understand and so would Barbara.
I am taking nothing but my journal with
me. The messages are most explicit on that point.
The flat rock is ready, tilted and weighted
at exactly the correct angle and, when I am safely inside the
wedge tomb, I will pull the rope in after me, releasing the stone
and sealing the entrance permanently.
Taken from ‘‘Footprints on the
Limestone’ (1993), pages 87-95.