She was driving Ben to a friend’s house, and this added journey was the cause of some irritation in her day; she had too much else to do. Though she did like the privacy of the car, the feeling of his voice coming over her shoulder as she checked the mirror and slowed to make a turn. He was up on the booster seat—Ben was small for eight—and he looked out the window at suburban streets and parked cars, while she used his mobile phone to map the route. She had it down by the gearshift, propped up on the gray plastic fascia. It was hard to read the little arrow through the disaster of Ben’s cracked screen—the thing was rarely out of his hand, unless he dropped it. Now he looked out on the real world as though mildly surprised it was there.“I don’t like Barry McIntyre,” he said.
“No? Why not?”
They had their best chats in the car. If they’d been at home, he would have said, “Dunno,” or “Just . . .” In the car, he said things like “I like boys, though. I do like boys.”
“Of course you do.”
She wondered why he couldn’t speak when they were face to face. What was it about her eyes on him that made him shrug and shift under his clothes?
“You are a boy.”
“I know that,” he said.
Of course, she was his mother, so when she looked at him she was always checking him over to adjust or admire. Though she tried not to. She really tried not to turn into the kind of woman who said, “Sit up straight,” or “Leave your hair alone.”
She glanced at the rearview mirror and saw only the side of his head. His coarse hair was darkening through the winter. In a year or two, it would be fully brown.
“I just hate basketball.”
“I really do.”
Recently, he had used the word “gay” as an insult. “That’s so gay,” he’d said at dinner, and his little sister missed a beat.
“Of course you like basketball,” she said warmly. That lie.
He did not answer.
“Does Barry McIntyre play basketball?”
In the rearview mirror, she saw his hand move toward his hidden face.
“Leave your nose alone!” she said.
It was hard not to. They were so temporarily beautiful, her children. They were so perfect, and then they were not perfect. She loved them too much to let them be.
She drove on while he watched the Dublin suburbs: spring trees, semidetached houses, a bundled old citizen walking her dog. The phone app was taking her down a familiar street, though it was an unfamiliar route, one she would not have known to take herself. Ben’s friend was called Ava, and she was new. She lived in St. Clare Crescent, which was somewhere near the motorway, apparently. But they did not take the motorway; they took a network of small streets, some of which she had driven down before—this was the way to the garden center, that was the way to the dog groomer’s—without knowing that you could cross from one to the other if you turned at the right place.
“Would you rather?” Ben said, then he stopped.
If you did not let Ben know that you were listening, he would refuse to continue.
“What?” she said, finally.
And, now that he knew he had her full attention, he said, “Would you rather drink a cup of lava or be drowned in a lava lake?”
“Would you rather?”
“Not this again.”
“You can’t drink lava.”
“Yes, you can.”
“In a cup?”
“A stone cup.”
“I’ll take the lake.”
“Would you rather fall off a roof or have a tree fall on your head?”
He was obsessed with choices, especially impossible ones.
“Neither. I would rather neither of those things happened to me.”
“Would you rather fall off a roof,” he insisted, “or have a tree fall on your head?”
Maybe he was obsessed with death itself. There was no getting out of it, one way or the other.
“Roof,” she said.
“What about you?”
“Yeah, roof,” he admitted.
“Not your best,” she said.
He paused, took the challenge.
“Would you rather be stung to death by fire ants or strung up by your toes from a big crane until your head burst?”
He would keep going until she was completely stuck.
“Would you rather drown in the dark or be strangled in the dark?”
He would keep going until she was actually dead.
“A huge dark lake full of eels.”
“Really not. Absolutely not. I would not rather.”
She was taken, as she drove, by the memory of a night swim, many years before Ben was born. It was in a lake, in the Irish countryside; a gang of them coming back from the pub, no moon, no sex, at a guess—not that morning, or the night before, when they were supposed to have their holiday-cottage sex—and she pulled her dress up over her head as she made her way, in the darkness, toward the lake. Of course there was a man in the group who was not, actually, the man she was seeing at the time; he was some other, forbidden man. And neither of these men would later become the father of the boy now sitting in the back seat. Getting naked in the deserted woodland in the middle of the night was a taunt to both of them—either one would do. It was all a long time ago.
The dress was a blue linen shift, loose and practical, her underwear possibly quite fancy and impractical in those days before booster seats and children with sleepovers and phones that told you which way to turn. Her body also a finer thing, back then, if only she had known it. And she was drunk, so the pathway down to the little boardwalk was patchily remembered, her experience at the time also patchy, though it slowed and cleared when she dropped her dress onto the still-warm wood and looked out over the water. There were turf grains in the silk of it that turned the lake brown, even in daylight. Now, at midnight, it was darker than you could imagine, so it was like a sixth sense, the feeling of open space in front of her. When she looked down, she saw the blackness gleam, like oil. She sat at the dock’s edge to unclip her fancy bra and shrugged it off. A man’s voice telling her to stop. Another man saying nothing. A woman’s voice, saying, “No, really, Michelle.” And she was in. She pushed out from the wooden lip as she dropped down into it, was swallowed in a bang of water that turned to a liquid silence, then she struggled back up to where the air began. Black water into black air.
As she rose and turned, she could feel the alcohol swell under the surface of her skin, and the water was not so much cold as numb. Or she was numb. The water slipped past her as she hauled her way through it, in a long, reaching overarm that took her away from everyone, even as she seemed to stay in the same place. She could tell by their voices that she was moving—the fragments of sound she caught as she plowed along the surface, out toward the center of the lake.
If it was the center. If it was even the surface she was swimming along. It was so dark and wet that it was hard to know if her eyes were closed or open. She was afraid that she was not quite level, as she swam, that she was tilting downward, afraid that when she turned her face up to inhale she would find only water. The shouts from the bank were more sporadic now; it was as though they had given up on her as she circled or tried to circle back toward them, because the scraps of sound gave her a sense of horizon and it was important not to lose this. She needed to know which way was up. She pulled the water along the sides of her body, and though she twisted into it as she went, she was not sure that she was making the turn. She should just stop a moment and get her bearings, but she could not stop; she did not want to. It was—this was the secret, sudden thing—so delicious. Not knowing which way was which, or where the edges were. She was dissolved by it. She could drown right now and it would be a pleasure.
She caught a flash of her white arm, a sinewy gleam that she followed—her body its own compass—until she heard, on the bank, the voice of the man she was supposed to sleep with, saw the intermittent cigarette glow of the man she was not supposed to sleep with (and never did, for some reason; perhaps she had him fully spooked). Her big statement was a little undercut, in the shallows, by the sharpness of the stones in the silt under her feet as she made her way up out of the lake, toward recrimination and cold-skinned sex.
She woke up the next morning with a start, the previous night’s slightly watery consummation already forgotten, wasted. It had happened without her. She sat on the edge of the bed and pulled air into her lungs. She was alive. And she put this fact into her mind. Jammed it right in the center of her mind. She could never do that again. She was twenty-four years old, and she was giving up death. Drunk or sober, there would be no more lakes after dark.
“You know, Ben, you should never swim at night,” she said now, more than twenty years later, sitting in her Hyundai hybrid. Accelerator, brake, mirror, clutch.
“Would you rather?” Ben said.
“No, really, you have to promise me not to do that, ever. Not in a lake, because there is no salt in a lake to hold you up, and especially not in the sea. You must always respect the sea. It’s bigger than you. Do you hear me? And you must never, ever swim if you have taken alcohol, or even if your friends have. If a friend has had a couple of beers when you are a teen-ager and he says, ‘Come on, it’ll be fun!,’ what do you say?”
“Would you rather,” Ben said, patiently.
“No, I wouldn’t. I really would not rather. I would not rather die one way or the other way. What is your problem, Ben?”
They were in a street of newly built semidetached houses, depressingly small and endlessly the same. Tiny gardens: rowan tree, cherry tree, silver birch, ornamental willow—a horrible pompom on a stick. She did not know what she was doing in this place. It was coming to catch her, even here. It was coming to catch her children—her own foolishness; it had followed her out of the water. The night swim was not the end of it; she had been in thrall to death for some time afterward—months, a year. Because of course you could leave the lake but you could not leave desire itself, and all its impossibilities.
Though something was made possible. Something was made real. Something was resolved by the existence of the child in the back seat.
“Would you rather,” Ben said, “live in a turkey or have a turkey live inside you?”
“Would you rather,” he repeated, in a forbearing way, “live in a turkey or have a turkey live inside you?”
“That is a very good question,” she said.
“Would you rather?”
“That is a truly great question. That is the best one yet.” She reached to the car radio and switched it on, hoping to distract him.
“Is that the place?” The app told her to take a right. “Is that where Ava lives?”
“I don’t know.”
“She’s your friend.”
“No, she’s not. She’s not my friend. She’s just really, really pushy.” His hand rested, in anticipation, on the overnight bag beside him as she took the turn through large, open gates into a new development.
“Is this it?”
St. Clare Close, St. Clare Court. The little maze was set around an open green space, and in the center of the green was a grand, three-story building.
St. Clare’s itself.
There it was. All this time. She had lived five miles away from here, for a decade, and had never realized it was down this road, one she passed every so often, on her way somewhere else.
She had been driven here in a taxi nearly twenty years ago, when all around were green fields. She was terrified that the driver would know from the address that she was mad, though she wasn’t properly mad; she was just quite badly broken. She was sure he would know that there was a broken human being in his cab, that he would turn to sneer at her as they went through the gates, or as they were going up the driveway past tended gardens, to this large house, this facility.
The Sisters of St. Clare and St. Agnes. Private Nursing Home.
“Scraggy Aggy’s,” as it used to be known. The bin. She had typed the address into her son’s phone and thought nothing of it.
“Would you rather?” Ben said.
So that was why she had remembered the lake.
It was very strange, looking at the building from the outside. She had spent her time there in a small room and had seen the exterior perhaps twice: first in a skewed way, as she walked up the steps, and possibly once again in a backward glance when her father came to collect her. She had never gone into the gardens, which were now filled with smart new houses; it was possible that she had not been allowed. Or, more likely, she had not been supplied with clothes. She had slept a lot, or lain unmoving in her hospital-style bed. She did remember standing at a window—perhaps it was even that window on the third floor, where the building bulged out into a fat, round turret. She knew that the turret contained a flight of stairs and that she had looked out from the top of it, as a woman in a fairy tale might—though she was not in a fairy tale, she was in a fog of Mogadon, not to mention all the other junk she swallowed obediently, twice a day, wondering if she would ever, ever shit again. Nobody seemed to care about that. They cared about your feelings instead. Though “cared” was perhaps the wrong word. They observed your feelings.
“Mother,” Ben said—a word he used only when truly annoyed. She had forgotten to say “What?”
“What?” she said.
“Would you rather live in a turkey?”
“Is this the place?” she said. “Is this where she lives?”
She had slowed to a stop in the middle of the deserted street. A pair of tiny children, one of them just a toddler, were playing on the flight of broad granite steps that led up to the front door of the building that used to be Scraggy Aggy’s. The place had been turned into apartments—they probably cost a bomb. Other things came back to her as she looked at the façade: A foyer of sorts, where she had signed in. A large living room for the nuns, where her father had stood up from a chintz armchair as she walked through the door, ready to go home. It was the high-ceilinged room on the left, where the children’s mother had pinned the curtain back, to see that they did not wander far.
There had been a godforsaken day room where people went to smoke—she wondered where that was. They were all on twenty cigarettes a day, the broken ladies of the suburbs, with their trembling hands and their pretty dressing gowns. They’d sat in this stinking room, with its vinyl-covered armchairs, and looked at their wrists. She wondered who lived in that space now. Someone busy and young. Someone who put orchids on the sill of a window that had once been nailed shut. This person did not smoke. This person walked out of a lovely private flat into the public corridor where the sad people used to pace, all those years ago. Weeping, not weeping, silent, eying the pay phone.
“It’s No. 74.” Her son’s tone was one of bottomless contempt, and she saw that she had not moved, was stalled.
The toddler and the young child were actually contained by the steps, she realized. They stayed at the top, and peddled their tricycle on the flat surface. They did not approach the edge.
She had spent the past eight years of her life checking on the safety of small children.
The car rolled gently forward as Ben read out the numbers on the houses that faced onto the green: 67, 69, 71.
“Where are the evens?” she said, as they circled slowly around the back of the building as though driving into a trap. This is how her life had felt, just before it broke—everything had been too connected. And now it was happening again: the unwitting journey, the unfunny choices, the idea that her son knew, of course he did, you could smell it on her still: the brackish water of the lake.
She spotted the window of the day room, up on the second floor, and she was still up there, checking her wrists. Smoking away. Staring for weeks at a patch on the wall. Ben unknown to her. Her daughter unknown. They had not happened inside her body; they had not been born.
“There it is! Seventy-four, seventy-four!”
She stopped the car, pulled the hand brake, and twisted in her seat to look at her son, who was undoing his seat belt in the back. Ben glanced up at her, and he was beautiful. His hair needed a comb, and there was a gleam of something under his nose, but he was so very much himself. He looked at her from under long lashes, as though he had known her for a long time, and she was not inside the building. She was here now, on the outside, with him.
“Be good,” she said, as he grabbed the overnight bag and was gone. For a boy who didn’t like girls, he was quick getting to Ava’s front door.
“I’ll pick you up at eleven tomorrow.”
He came doubling back then. She thought for a moment that he wanted to kiss her goodbye, but he was just looking for his phone. She handed it through the window, then stuck her face out after it, for mischief.
“Mnnnnmm,” she said, puckering up. And he did kiss her, abruptly, before running back to the house, where Ava was now standing on the porch to welcome him in. A little blond pixie, with a sequinned heart on her T-shirt, jigging up and down at the sight of him.
The kiss was a clumsy thing. Fleshy. Swift. There was a dot of cold on her cheek, from the tip of his nose.
“Ben!” she shouted. “Hang on. Ben!”
“I would rather have the turkey live inside me.”
“O.K.!” He took her answer quite seriously.
It was just a question, she thought. And she checked the rearview mirror before pulling out.
Published in The New Yorker print edition of the March, 9 2020, issue.
Bhí sí ag tiomáint Ben chuig tígh a chara, agus do dhearna an turas seo breise beagánín anachain treas an lae mar bhí lán rudaí eile a dhéanamh aici. Cé gur thaitin príobháideacht an chairr léi, mhothaigh sí a glór ag teacht thar a gualainn agus í ag seiceáil an scáthán agus ag dul go mall chun seal a dhéanamh. Bhí sé suas ar shuíochán an linbh - bhí Ben beag le haghaidh ocht mbliana d'aois - agus d'fhéach sé amach ón bhfuinneog ar shráideanna fo-uirbeacha agus gluaisteáin pháirceáilte, agus d'úsáid sí a fón póca chun an bealach a mhapáil. Bhí sé síos aici ag an ngléasra, tacaithe suas ar an éadan plaisteach liath. Ba dheacair an tsaighead bheag a léamh trí thubaiste scáthlán scáinte Ben — is annamh a bhí an rud as a láimh mura scaoilfeadh sé é. Anois d'fhéach sé amach ar an saol fíor mar cé go réidh ionadh go raibh sé ann. “Ní maith liom Barry McIntyre,” a dúirt sé.
“Ní maith leat é? Cén fáth nach bhfuil?"
Bhí na comhráite is fearr acu sa ghluaisteán. Dá mbeidís sa bhaile déarfadh sé, “Ní fheadar,” nó “Díreach . . .” Sa ghluaisteán, dúirt sé rudaí cosúil le “Is maith liom buachaillí, áfach. Cinnte is maith liom buachaillí."
“Cinnte gur maith leat.”
D'fhiafraigh sí di féin cén fáth nach raibh sé in ann labhairt nuair a bhí siad duine le duine. Cad é faoina súile air a thug air a ghuaillí a ardú agus a bhogadh faoina chuid éadaí?
"Is buachaill tú."
“Tá a fhios agam,” ar seisean.
Cinnte, ba í a mháthair í, agus mar sin nuair a d'fhéach sí air bhí sí i gcónaí ag á seiceáil chun é a choigeartú nó a mheas. Cé go ndearna sí iarracht gan é sin a dhéanamh. Rinne sí iarracht i ndáiríre gan dul isteach sa chineál mná a dúirt, "Suigh suas díreach," nó "ligh do chuid gruaige."
"Maith go leor, mar sin."
Bhreathnaigh sí siar ar an scáthán agus ní fhaca sí ach taobh a chinn. Bhí a chuid gruaige garbh ag dorchadas tríd an gheimhreadh. I mbliain nó dhó, bheadh sé go hiomlán donn.
"Is fuath liom cispheil."
“An fuath leat é?”
“Is fuath liom i ndáiríre é.”
Le déanaí, d'úsáid sé an focal "gay" mar mhasla. “Tá sé sin gay,” a dúirt sé ag dinnéar, agus chaill a dheirfiúr beag buille.
“Cinnte is maith leat cispheil,” a dúirt sí go croíúil. An bréag sin.
Ní raibh aon fhreagra as dó.
“An imríonn Barry McIntyre cispheil?”
Sa scáthán ag breathnú siar, chonaic sí a lámh ag bogadh i dtreo a aghaidh i bhfolach.
"Fág do shrón ina aonar!" dúirt sí.
Ba dheacair gan é a rá. Bhí siad chomh hálainn go sealadach, a pháistí. Bhí siad chomh foirfe, agus ansin ní raibh siad foirfe. Thaitin sí an iomarca orthu gan cur isteach.
Thiomáin sí ar aghaidh agus é ag faire ar bhruachbhailte Bhaile Átha Cliath: crainn earraigh, tithe leathscoite, sean saoránach cuachta ag siúl a mhadra. Bhí an app gutháin á tabhairt síos sráid aithnidiúil í, cé gur bealach neamhaithnidiúil a bhí ann, ceann nach mbeadh ar eolas aici í féin a thógáil. Ava ab ainm do chara Ben, agus bhí sí nua. Bhí cónaí uirthi i gCorrán Naomh Clár, a bhí áit éigin in aice leis an mótarbhealach, de réir dealraimh. Ach níor thóg siad an mótarbhealach; ghlac siad gréasán de shráideanna beaga, cuid acu a thiomáin sí síos roimhe seo—b’é seo an bealach go dtí an t-ionad garraíodóireachta, sin an bealach chuig an gruagaire madraí—gan fhios a bheith agat go bhféadfá trasnú ó dhuine go chéile dá gcuirfeá isteach an áit cheart.
“An bh’fhearr leat?” A dúirt Ben, ansin stop sé.
Mura gcuirfeadh tú in iúl do Ben go raibh tú ag éisteacht, dhiúltaigh sé leanúint ar aghaidh.
"Cad?" a dúirt sí, faoi dheireadh.
Agus anois go raibh a fhios aige go raibh aird iomlán aige uirthi, dúirt sé, “An fearr leat cupán laibhe a ól nó a bheith báite i loch laibhe?”
“Ar mhaith leat?”
“Ní hé seo arís.”
"Ní féidir leat laibhe a ól."
"Is féidir leat."
"Tógfaidh mé an loch."
“An bh’fhearr leat titim den díon nó crann a bhfuil ceann ag titim ar do cheann?”
Ní fhéadfadh sé smaoineamh ar rud ar bith ach roghanna, go háirithe cinn dodhéanta.
“Níl ach an oiread. B’fhearr liom nach dtarlódh ceachtar de na rudaí sin dom.”
“An fearr leat titim den díon,” a dúirt sé, “ná go dtitfeadh crann ar do cheann?”
B'fhéidir go bhféadfadh sé smaoineamh ar rud ar bith ach bás féin. Ní raibh aon éirí as, ar aon nós.
“Díon,” adeir sí.
“Ceart go leor
“Cad mar gheall ortsa?”
“Sea, díon,” admhaigh sé.
“Ní hé do chuid is fearr,” ar sise.
Shos sé, ghlac sé an dúshlán.
“Ar mhaith leat a bheith dúnadh chun báis le seangáin tine nó do theannadh suas le do bharraicíní ó chraein mór go bpléascann do cheann?”
Leanfadh sé ar aghaidh go dtí go raibh sí go hiomlán i bhfostú.
"Craein, le do thoil."
“Ar mhaith leat bá sa dorchadas nó a bheith sáite sa dorchadas?”
Leanfadh sé ar aghaidh go dtí go raibh sí marbh.
“Loch mór dorcha lán d’eascanní.”
“Ní fíor. Cinnte nach bhfuil. Ní fearr liom.”
Tógadh í, agus í ag tiomáint, ag cuimhne snámha oíche, blianta fada sular rugadh Ben. Bhí sé i loch, i dtuath na hÉireann; buíon acu ag teacht ar ais ón teach tábhairne, gan ghealach, gan gnéas, le buille faoi thuairim — ní an mhaidin sin, nó an oíche roimhe sin, nuair a bhíothas ag ceapadh go mbeadh gnéas acu sa teachín saoire — agus tharraing sí a gúna suas thar a ceann mar a rinne sí a bealach, sa dorchadas, i dtreo an locha. Ar ndóigh bhí fear sa ghrúpa nach raibh, i ndáiríre, an fear a bhí á fheiceáil aici ag an am; fear éigin eile, toirmiscthe a bhí ann. Agus ní thiocfadh le ceachtar den dá fhear seo a bheith ina athair don bhuachaill atá anois ina shuí sa chúl-shuíochán. Ba mhór an mhaise don bheirt acu é bheith nocht sa choillearnach thréigthe i lár na hoíche — dhéanfadh ceachtar acu. Bhí sé ar fad i bhfad ó shin.
Léine fhada línéadach ghorm a bhí sa gúna, scaoilte agus praiticiúil, a cuid fo-éadaí b’fhéidir an-mhaisiúil agus neamhphraiticiúil sna laethanta sin roimh na suíocháin teanndáileog agus leanaí le trasnáin agus gutháin a d’inis duit cén bealach le casadh. Rud níos míne freisin a corp, ar ais ansin, dá mbeadh a fhios aici é. Agus bhí sí ar meisce, agus mar sin bhí cuimhne fánach ar an gcosán síos go dtí an clárchosán beag, a cuid taithí ag an am fánach freisin, cé gur mhoilligh agus gur ghlan sí nuair a scaoil sí a gúna ar an adhmad te fós agus d'fhéach sí amach thar an uisce. Bhí gráinní móna ina shíoda a rinne an loch donn, fiú i solas an lae. Anois, ag meán oíche, bhí sé níos dorcha ná mar a d'fhéadfá a shamhlú, agus mar sin bhí sé cosúil le séú chiall, an mothú ar spás oscailte os a comhair. Nuair a d'fhéach sí síos, chonaic sí an solas dubh, cosúil le ola. Shuigh sí ar imeall an duga chun a criochbheart maisiúil a oscailt agus chroith sí é. Guth fir ag rá léi stopadh. Fear eile ag rá rud ar bith. Guth mná, ag rá, "Níl, i ndáiríre, Michelle." Agus bhí sí istigh. Bhrúigh sí amach as an liopa adhmaid agus í ag titim síos isteach ann, shlogtar í béim uisce a d'iompaigh ina tost leachta, ansin rinne sí streachailt ar ais go dtí an áit a thosaigh an t-aer. Uisce dubh isteach san aer dubh.
De réir mar a d'ardaigh sí agus a d'iompaigh sí, d'fhéadfadh sí an t-alcól a mhothú ag dul faoi dhromchla a craiceann, agus ní raibh an t-uisce chomh fuar agus gan mothú ar bith. Nó bhí sí gan mothú ar bith. Shleamhnaigh an t-uisce anuas uirthi agus í ag tarraingt a bealach tríd, i gcuibhreann fada sroichte a thóg ó gach duine í, fiú agus an chuma uirthi go bhfanfadh sí san áit chéanna. D’fhéadfadh sí a rá lena nglór go raibh sí ag gluaiseacht—na blúirí fuaime a ghabh sí agus í ag treabhadh feadh an dromchla, amach i lár an locha.
Dá mba é an t-ionad é. Má é fiú an dromchla a bhí sí ag snámh feadh. B’é chomh dorcha agus fliuch go raibh sé deacair a fhios an raibh a súile dúnta nó oscailte. Bhí eagla uirthi nach raibh sí sách leibhéalta, agus í ag snámh, go raibh sí ag claonadh anuas, eagla uirthi nach bhfaigheadh sí ach uisce nuair a d’iompódh sí a aghaidh suas chun análú. Bhí na scairteanna ón mbruach níos tréine anois; bhí sé mar go raibh siad tar éis éirí as a cuid agus í ag ciorcaláil nó ag iarraidh ciorcal a dhéanamh ar ais ina dtreo, mar thug na blúirí fuaime braistint spéire di agus bhí sé tábhachtach gan é seo a chailleadh. Bhí a fhios aici cén bealach a bhí suas. Tharraing sí an t-uisce ar thaobh a corp, agus cé go casadh sí isteach ann mar a chuaigh sí, ní raibh sí cinnte go raibh sí ag déanamh an seal. Ba chóir dí díreach nóiméad a fanacht agus a fháil ar a imthacaí, ach ní fhéadfadh sí a stopadh; níor theastaigh uaithi. Bhí sé - ba é seo an rún, rud tobann - chomh blasta. Ní fios cén bealach a bhí, nó cá raibh na himill. Bhí sí díscaoilte aige. Is féidir leí báthadh ceart anois agus bheadh sé in ann lán taitneamh a bhaint as.
Rug sí splanc dá lámh bhán, gleam sínte a lean sí — a corp a chompáis féin — go dtí gur chuala sí, ar an mbruach, glór an fhir a raibh sí ceaptha codladh leis, chonaic sé gliondar toitíní uaineach an fhir nach raibh sí ceaptha a chodladh leis (agus ní raibh riamh, ar chúis éigin; b'fhéidir go raibh sí scanraithe go hiomlán air). Bhí a ráiteas mór beagán foghearrtha, sna héadomhain, ag géire na gcloch sa siolta faoina cosa agus í ag déanamh a bealach suas as an loch, i dtreo aithrise agus marcaíocht le craiceann fuar.
Dhúisigh sí an mhaidin dár gcionn le tús, caitheamh beagán uisceach na hoíche roimhe sin i ndearmad cheana féin, curtha amú. Tharla sé gan í. Shuigh sí ar imeall na leapa agus tharraing aer isteach ina scamhóga. Bhí sí beo. Agus chuir sí an fhíric seo isteach ina aigne. Jammed sé ceart i lár a aigne. Ní fhéadfadh sí é sin a dhéanamh arís. Bhí sí ceithre bliana fichead d'aois, agus bhí sí ag tabhairt suas chun báis. Ar meisce nó sobr, ní bheadh lochanna níos mó tar éis dorcha.
“Tá a fhios agat, a Ben, nár cheart duit snámh san oíche choíche,” a dúirt sí anois, níos mó ná fiche bliain ina dhiaidh sin, agus í ina suí ina hibrideach Hyundai. Luasaire, coscán, scáthán, clutch.
“Ar mhaith leat?” A dúirt Ben.
“I ndáiríre, caithfidh tú geallúint a thabhairt dom nach ndéanfaidh tú é sin go deo. Ní i loch, mar níl aon salann i loch chun tú a choinneáil suas, agus go háirithe nach bhfuil san fharraige. Caithfidh tú meas a bheith agat ar an bhfarraige i gcónaí. Tá sé níos mó ná tú. An gcloiseann tú mé? Agus ní féidir leat snámh a dhéanamh riamh má ghlac tú alcól, nó fiú má ghlac do chairde leis. Má bhí cúpla beoir ag cara agus tú i do dhéagóir agus go ndeir sé, ‘Tair liom, beidh spraoi againn!,’ cad a déarfá?”
“An b'fhearr leat?,” a dúirt Ben, go foighneach.
“Ní fearr liom. Ní fearr liom i ndáiríre ar chor ar bith. Ní b'fhearr liom bás bealach amháin nó bealach eile. Cad é do fhadhb, a Ben?"
Bhí siad i sráid de tithe leathscoite nuathógtha, gruama beag agus gan deireadh mar an gcéanna. Gairdíní bídeacha: crann caorthainn, crann silíní, crann beithe airgid, saileach ornáideach - pompom uafásach ar mhaide. Ní raibh a fhios aici cad a bhí á dhéanamh aici san áit seo. Bhí sé ag teacht a ghabháil léi, fiú anseo. Bhí sé ag teacht a ghabháil a leanaí - a h-amaideacht féin; lean sé amach as an uisce í. Ní raibh an snámh oíche deireadh leis; do bhí sí i mbraighdeanas báis ar feadh tamaill 'na dhiaidh sin—míonna, bliain. Ar ndóigh, d'fhéadfá an loch a fhágáil ach ní fhéadfá dúil a fhágáil ann féin, agus a neamhfhéidearthachtaí go léir.
Cé go raibh rud éigin indéanta. Rinneadh rud éigin fíor. Réitíodh rud éigin nuair a bhí an leanbh sa suíochán cúil.
“Ar mhaith leat,” arsa Ben, “cónaí i turcaí nó turcaí a bheith istigh ionat?”
"Cad tá tú ag iarraidh?"
“An bh’fhearr leat,” adeir sé arís, go suarach, “beo ar turcaí nó turcaí bheith istigh ionat?”
“Is ceist an-mhaith í sin,” a dúirt sí.
“An bh’fhearr leat?”
“Is ceist iontach í sin. Sin é an ceann is fearr fós.” Shroich sí chuig raidió an ghluaisteáin agus chuir sí ar siúl é, ag súil le haird a tharraingt air.
“An é sin an áit?” Dúirt an aip léi ceart a ghlacadh. “An é sin an áit a bhfuil cónaí ar Ava?”
"Níl a fhios agam."
"Is í do chara."
“Ní hea, níl sí. Níl mo chara í. Tá sí díreach i ndáiríre, i ndáiríre pushy.” Shuigh a lámh, le súil, ar an mála thar oíche in aice leis agus í ag dul trí gheataí móra oscailte isteach i bhforbairt tithíochta nua.
“An é seo é?”
St. Clare Close, St. Clare Court. Bhí an lúbra beag suite timpeall ar spás oscailte glas, agus i lár an fhaiche bhí foirgneamh mór trí scéal.
St. Clare’s féin
Is ann a raibh sé. An uair seo ar fad. Bhí cónaí uirthi cúig mhíle uaidh seo, le deich mbliana anuas, agus níor thuig sí riamh go raibh sé síos an bóthar seo, ceann a rith sí chomh minic, ar a bealach áit éigin eile.
Bhí sí tiomáinte anseo i dtacsaí beagnach fiche bliain ó shin, nuair a bhí páirceanna glasa timpeall uirthi. Bhí faitíos uirthi go mbeadh a fhios ag an tiománaí ón seoladh go raibh sí as a meabhair, cé nach raibh sí as a meabhair; bhí sí díreach briste go dona. Bhí sí cinnte go mbeadh a fhios aige go raibh duine briste ina chábán, go n-iompódh sé sneering uirthi agus iad ag dul trí na geataí, nó agus iad ag dul suas an cabhsa anuas gairdíní claonta, go dtí an teach mór, an áis seo.
Mná rialta naofa Naomh Clár agus San Agnes. Teach Altranais Príobháideach.
“Scraggy Aggy’s,” mar a bhíodh sé. An teach meabhrach. Bhí an seoladh clóscríofa aici ar ghuthán a mic agus níor smaoinigh sí air.
“Ar mhaith leat?” A dúirt Ben.
Sin é an fáth gur chuimhnigh sí ar an loch.
Bhí sé an-aisteach, ag féachaint ar an bhfoirgneamh ón taobh amuigh. Bhí a cuid ama caite aici ansin i seomra beag agus bhí an taobh amuigh feicthe aici b'fhéidir faoi dhó: ar dtús ar bhealach sceabhach, mar a shiúil sí suas na céimeanna, agus b'fhéidir arís le breathnú siar nuair a tháinig a hathair chun í a bhailiú. Ní raibh sí imithe isteach sna gairdíní, a bhí líonta anois le tithe nua cliste; b’fhéidir nach raibh cead aici. Nó, níos dóichí, nár tugadh aon éadaí di. Chodail sí go leor, nó lain gan bogadh ina leaba ar nós ospidéal. Ba chuimhin léi seasamh ag fuinneog – b’fhéidir gurbh í an fhuinneog sin ar an tríú hurlár, b’fhéidir, áit ar sleamhnaigh an foirgneamh amach ina thuiréad cruinn ramhar. Bhí fhios aici go raibh scata staighrí sa túr is gur bhreathnaigh sí amach óna bharr, mar a d’fhéadfadh bean i scéal sióg—cé nach raibh sí i scéal sióg, bhí sí i gceo Mogadon, ní luaigh an bruscar eile go léir a shlog sí go géilliúil, dhá uair sa lá, ag iarraidh a fháil amach an ndéanfadh sí cac arís. Is cosúil go raibh cúram ar éinne faoi sin. Ina ionad sin, bhí siad buartha faoi do mhothúcháin. Cé gurbh é “cúram” an focal mícheart b’fhéidir. Thug siad faoi deara do mhothúcháin.
“Máthair,” a dúirt Ben—focal a d’úsáid sé nuair a bhí sé feargach. Bhí dearmad déanta aici "Cad?" a rá.
"Cad" a dúirt sí
“Ar mhaith leat cónaí i turcaí in ionad?”
“An é seo an áit?” dúirt sí. "An é seo an áit a bhfuil sí ina cónaí?"
Moill sí chun stop i lár na sráide tréigthe. Bhí beirt páistí bídeacha, duine acu ina leanbh, ag súgradh ar eitilt céimeanna leathana eibhir a chuaigh suas go doras tosaigh an fhoirgnimh a bhíodh ina Scraggy Aggy's. Rinneadh árasáin den áit—is dócha gur chosain ualach. Tháinig rudaí eile ar ais chuici agus í ag féachaint ar an aghaidh: Foyer de gach sórt, áit a raibh sí sínithe isteach. Seomra suí mór do na mná rialta, áit ar sheas a hathair suas ó chathaoir uilleach chintz agus í ag siúl tríd an doras, réidh le dul abhaile. Ba é an seomra ard-uasteorainn ar thaobh na láimhe clé é, áit ar phinn máthair na bpáistí an cuirtín siar, féachaint nár imigh siad i bhfad.
Bhí seomra lae tréigthe ann ina ndeachaigh daoine ag caitheamh tobac – d’fhiafraigh sí cá raibh sé sin anois. Bhíodar go léir ar fiche toitín in aghaidh an lae, mná briste na bruachbhailte, lena lámha crith agus a ngúna deasa gléasta. Shuigh siad sa seomra stinking seo, lena cathaoireacha uilleacha clúdaithe vinil, agus d'fhéach siad ar a chaol na láimhe. N’fheadar cé a chónaigh san áit sin anois. Duine gnóthach agus óg. D'iarr duine éigin a chuir magairlíní ar leac fuinneoige a bhí dúnta le tairní uair amháin. Níor chaith an duine seo tobac. Shiúil an duine seo amach as árasán álainn príobháideach isteach sa dorchla poiblí mar a bhíodh na daoine brónacha ag luascadh, na blianta ó shin. Ag gol, gan ag gol, ciuin, ag breathnú ar an bhfón íoc.
"Uimh. 74 atá ann." Díspeagadh gan íochtar a bhí ar thón a mic, agus chonaic sí nár bhog sí, bhí stop tagtha uirthi.
Bhí an naíonán agus an leanbh óg srianta i ndáiríre ag na céimeanna, thuig sí. D'fhan siad ag an mbarr, agus peddled a trírothach ar an dromchla cothrom. Ní raibh siad ag druidim leis an imeall.
Chaith sí ocht mbliana anuas dá saol ag seiceáil ar shábháilteacht leanaí beaga.
Chuaigh an carr ar aghaidh go réidh agus Ben ag léamh amach na huimhreacha ar na tithe a bhí a n-aghaidh ar an bhfaiche: 67, 69, 71.
“Cá bhfuil na h-uimhreacha cothrom?” a dúirt sí, agus iad ag ciorcal timpeall go mall ar chúl an fhoirgnimh amhail is go raibh siad ag tiomáint isteach i ngaiste. Seo mar a mhothaigh a saol, díreach sular bhris sé - bhí gach rud ró-cheangailte. Agus anois bhí sé ag tarlú arís: an turas gan aithne, na roghanna gan ghreann, an smaoineamh go raibh a fhios ag a mac, ar ndóigh rinne sé, d'fhéadfá boladh a dhéanamh uirthi fós: uisce goirt an locha.
Chonaic sí fuinneog an tseomra lae, suas ar an dara hurlár, agus bhí sí fós suas ansin, ag seiceáil a chaol na láimhe. Caitheamh tobac. Ag stánadh ar feadh seachtainí ar láthair ar an mballa. Ben anaithnid di. A iníon anaithnid. Ní raibh siad a tharla laistigh dá corp; níor rugadh iad.
“Tá! Seachtó a ceathair, seachtó a ceathair!”
Stop sí an carr, tharraing sí an coscán láimhe, agus chas sí ina suíochán féachaint ar a mac, a bhí ag baint a chrios sábhála sa chúl. Ben spléach suas ar uirthi, agus bhí sé go hálainn. Bhí cíor de dhíth ar a chuid gruaige, agus bhí gleam de rud éigin faoina shrón, ach bhí sé féin go mór. Bhreathnaigh sé uirthi faoi lashes fada, mar go raibh aithne aige uirthi le fada an lá, agus ní raibh sí istigh san fhoirgneamh. Bhí sí anseo anois, ar an taobh amuigh, leis.
“Bí go maith,” a dúirt sí, mar rug sé ar an mála thar oíche agus bhí sé imithe. Maidir le buachaill nár thaitin le cailíní, bhí sé ag dul go doras tosaigh Ava go tapa.
" Priocfaidh mé suas tú ag a haon déag amárach."
Tháinig sé ar ais arís ansin. Shíl sí ar feadh nóiméad go raibh sé ag iarraidh slán a fhágáil léi, ach ní raibh sé ach ag lorg a ghutháin. Thug sí tríd an bhfuinneog é, ansin greamaíodh a aghaidh amach ina diaidh, mar gheall ar ainnise.
“Mnnnnmm,” a dúirt sí, agus í ag magadh. Agus phóg sé í, go tobann, sular rith sé ar ais go dtí an teach, mar a raibh Ava ina seasamh anois ar an póirse chun fáilte a chur roimh dó. Pixie beag fionn, le croí sequin ar a T-léine, ag léim suas agus síos ar a radharc.
Rud ciotach a bhí sa phóg. Feolmhar. Tapaidh. Bhí pointe fuar ar a leiceann, ó bharr a shrón.
"Ben!" a scairt sí. "Fan nóiméad. Ben!"
“B’fhearr liom an turcaí a bheith beo istigh ionam.”
"O.K.!" Thóg sé a freagra an-dáiríre.
Ní raibh ann ach ceist, shíl sí. Agus sheiceáil sí an scáthán siar sular tharraing sé amach.
Translation of a literary text could be compared to the translation of a computer program. A program in C++ could be translated to Python and generate exactly the same output although the new program would potentially have some mind bending convolutions to achieve that and use several times the number of characters than the original. The comparison ends there however. The output of a literary text is generated inside the mind of the reader and that mind also contributes in large measure to that. Nobody truly understands how this is so and it certainly is not measurable in any formal way. Therefore the task of the translator is to mimic the scaffold that is the original text in a way that makes it the same in a new language. Impossible but we must try and get close.
If you walk and talk in one language on a daily basis and do or have done the same in the past for a reasonable period of time in a second language (to the extent that you dream or have dreamt in that language), you will have gained a feeling for what reperes easily to the new language from the original. It is an instinct that can never be measured or calibrated scientifically. A few speed bumps occured along the way in this translation such as “There it was” which on the face of it is a simple expression but it becomes “Is ann a raibh sé” that is to say “It is there [that] it was”. “Hang on” would literally translate as “crochadh ar” which casts an image of hanging off a cliff or the branch of a tree, thus we try “fan nóimead” which is “wait a minute” but does not mean wait a literal minute, it could be a moment or a spell which might as long as for a kettle to boil, a shoelace to be tied or a lawnmower to be put into the back of a car that is almost too small for it. “Spooked” was one of the most difficult ones to translate and we landed on “scanraithe” which is less than satisfactory as it means “frightened” but doesn’t capture the American aspect of the word which brings in an element of a nervous horse which somehow knows an earthquake is about to occur.
“Nuns” simply becomes “Mná rialta” or “women of the rule”, this is the term commonly used in Irish and despite its literal meaning, it simply casts the image of nuns into the mind. “He came doubling back” goes straight to “Tháinig sé ar ais arís” which is simply “he came back again”.