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. The three of them, 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 out walking, always the same greeting.

‘Nice morning.’

Francie, he was the talker and he never changed — wellies, green overalls, tweed jacket, flat cap.

His skin was the colour of the bog — burnt umber flushed with the bursted veins of heather.

He liked fishing.

‘That wee cottage of yours, it was on sale for a long time. She must have been looking a fair bit of money?’

‘Aye,’ I’d dodge the bait and we’d talk of the weather and the weeds.

‘You should buy a donkey, keep them fuckin’ rushes down. A mare in foal. You could make a few quid on the foal.’

‘Aye,’ I’d answer, and we’d laugh.

The brothers had built a new bungalow for Francie and his wife, way back when. But the wife died young, no children, so he moved back into the cottage and the bungalow sat empty, the metal gate padlocked. They’d still light the fire in winter to warm the place through. We’d see the 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 back then, he seemed to be shrinking into the earth — as though he was withdrawing, retreating into the bog 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 chairs, watching the last hours pass — counting down Francie’s life in millilitres of morphine.

The wake was in the bungalow. I missed it, but I know the rituals and rites.

Handshakes and ham sandwiches, tea and hot Powers, muttered comforts and stuttered silence, the casket, open. Outside the men smoking and talking of the weather.

‘Nice weather.’

‘Aye. Brighter later, I hope.’

The cars left crushed grass and broken hemlock on either side of the lane, that’s how I knew.

I still meet the brothers 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.’

And as for Francie, I think of him every time I pass that bungalow.

I remember the words he said to me years ago, about our new car.

‘I see you have new power.’

And I think, yeah, that’s what you gave to me, Francie.


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