When I drove up to the house next morning, my mother didn’t come out to greet me as she always did. I walked to the familiar door and bent my head to go through. The promised growth had come on me at last. She was sitting at the table, eyes downcast; her hands clasping and unclasping regularly.
‘Mam, what is it. What’s bothering you?’
She didn’t answer.
‘Is it the old stone above in the grove? Why would that worry you?’
She looked up at me with swollen, desolate eyes. Her voice seemed to come from a hollow place within her.
‘The story is that you arranged it. How could you do such a terrible thing, Joseph, to your own mother?’
‘I’m lost here, Mam. The fact is Fr Murphy asked me to arrange the removal of the old stone – the one called the Druids’ Stone. There was evidence of pagan rituals there. He wanted it done quickly and quietly, so I asked Martin Finlay. He owns the land now and was only too glad to clear it away.’
With that, she smacked her hand down flat on the table and shouted at me.
‘Who cares about an old rock? The grove is gone: scraped and levelled and gone forever to the four winds under that great digger machine of his.’
‘All right, Mam,’ I said reasonably, ‘that wasn’t part of the arrangement. He did that for his own purposes but what’s the difference. A half-acre eyesore is going to become good farmland. Why on earth does that bother you?’
‘My babies, my babies, scattered all over by that monster,’ she wailed at me.
We said nothing for a long time. Her forehead sagged down to the table as she sobbed with her arms outstretched along the scrubbed white boards. It seemed she lacked the strength or the will to hold her head up.
‘Mam,’ I whispered, ‘are you telling me you had other children?’
Very slowly, she raised her head and folded her hands on her lap. It seemed to take forever.
‘Two, Joe, two small babies. One still-born, a little boy and a frail little girl. She lived only a few minutes.’
‘And there’s where you buried them – in that pagan ground?’
She flashed with some of the old familiar anger.
‘Where else?’ she said, ‘that was the place. Your father took them from me in the dead of night and buried them in Derrynavrone. Well-called it is, the Oak-wood of the Sorrows. I never forgave him and now it’s happened again. You’ve taken their bones from me.’
‘Mam, why did you never tell me? How many times have I walked over their graves and never knew?’
She sighed and said, ‘We did as the priest told us. “Forget them,” he said, “you must thank God for the good things and put the bad out of your lives and out of your minds. Come to confession,” he said, “tell God of your acceptance of His Divine Will. You will get your reward”. We never talked about them again. Now you’re going to tell me the same all over again. Don’t bother, Joseph. I cannot keep healing over old wounds.’
‘What else can I say, Mam? How can I help you? I’ll pray and say a Mass for you. Would you say a prayer with me now?’
She didn’t answer but stood up stiffly from the table and walked to the door.
‘I think you should go, Joseph. It doesn’t help to have you here.’
‘But, Mam . . . .’
‘Go, Joe. I just said I hated your father. I realise now that I hated you too – for living. What right had you to live on and remind me every day of the dead? You’d best leave me alone for now.’
I was stunned by the turn of events. I could not think of anything to say as a son or as a priest. So I did as she asked, walked out and drove home to the lonely presbytery.