Francie, my neighbour

Saw the Michael Harding piece… this has been around for a long time. Another one lost from the Iron Mountains.

Francie was my neighbour, a farmer. He’d two brothers, pebble-pinched from the clay of the hillside, thumbed into copies. They lived in a cottage off the lane; asbestos roofed, net curtains, white render.

We’d meet on the lane, always the same greeting.

‘Nice morning…’

Francie never changed; wellies, green overalls, tweed jacket, flat cap. His skin was the colour of the bog; burnt ochre flushed with purple.

He liked fishing.

‘It was on sale for a long time… she must have been looking a fair bit of money?’

I’d dodge the bait and we’d talk of the weather and the reeds.

‘You should buy a donkey, keep them feckin reeds down… a mare in foal, make a few quid on the foal.’

‘Aye Francie…’ and we’d laugh.

The brothers had built a new bungalow for Francie and his wife, but the wife died young, no children. He moved back to the cottage and the bungalow sat empty; the wooden gate padlocked. They’d light the fire in winter to warm the place though, turf-smoke slanting through the still air.

I knew he’d had cancer. I didn’t know it had come back. Every time I’d see him then, he seemed to be shrinking into the earth; a sense of withdrawing, retreating into the bog cotton and heather; settling back down into the hammered-copper hillside, under the songs of larks.

It was October when he passed on in hospital, his brothers sweating into pale green leatherette, watching the last hours pass; the syringe driver whirring, counting down Francie’s life in millilitres of morphine.

The wake was in the bungalow; handshakes and ham sandwiches, tea and hot Powers, muttered comforts and stuttered silence; the casket, open.

Outside the men smoked and talked of the weather.

‘Nice morning… brighter later, we hope…’

The cars left crushed grass and broken hemlock on either side of the lane.

Francie was buried in the graveyard beyond the village, where blackbirds chatter in the thorn hedges and mists settle on March mornings.

The bungalow has shouldered the neglect, its paint peeling, the blinds dotted with mould. The brothers have less time to mind it now.

I still meet them on the lane or see them hurrying the cream-felt cows from field to orchid-spilt field. They don’t talk as much as Francie, but we always nod.

‘Nice morning.’

The wooden gate has rotted and the padlock fallen, grass has grown around the bungalow, but Francie’s wedding photo still stands on the mantelpiece.

I think of him now, every time I pass there. I mind the words he said to me years ago about a new car.

‘I see you have new power…’

‘Aye, Francie that’s what you gave to me.’



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