It is a beautiful thing, isn’t it? Would you like to know how I came by it? It’s a strange tale.
I was down at the Causeway on the North Antrim coast. Did you know that it’s a steep walk down? Well, it is. And when I got there my knees were sore from holding back on the slope. It’s a terrific place if you ever get the chance to go. The rock formations are… well, you’ll have seen photographs, I’m sure. Anyway it seemed at first I had the place all to myself, and it being late in the day I decided to sit on one of the columns and fill a pipe with tobacco. I looked around for a seat without a dimple of sea water in it. I didn’t notice I had company until he spoke.
“It’s been a quare oul’ day.”
I didn’t know what he meant by that but out of politeness I agreed.
“The Sun’s goin’ down now, so it is.”
I couldn’t argue with that either. He was dressed peculiarly. His green waistcoat had a bright gold chain across it and the Ulster Tartan jacket clashed horribly with his blue trousers. I said I was sorry to have disturbed him and I tried to move away.
“Not at all, not a bit of it. Would you like a wee nip?”
He produced a flask and by the colour I thought there was whiskey in it. I was reluctant.
“Augh, go on,” he urged. “Sure, just wipe it first.”
If this was the legendary hospitality of the Irish, I could’ve done with it a bit more refined. The flask was remarkably heavy for its size and I could see now that it was not transparent as I’d first expected but really golden. I put it to my lips and recognized the local beverage at once.
“It’s the ten year malt,” he confirmed, “Bushmills’ water.”
I handed the flask back and he took a mouthful and replaced the stopper.
“Do you like our wee Causeway?” he asked. “I knew the architect.”
I said I thought it was breathtaking, which was the plain truth. As to the architect… a lot of the Irish claim to be on intimate terms with the Creator and I got ready to flee a sermon.
“Aye, Finn — McCool. Now there was a giant of a man and clever too. A bit bad tempered but we got on okay. Sure wouldn’t he have looked a gipe picking a fight with somebody my size…?” He laughed so heartily his belly wobbled. “He beat oul’ Fingal though, out-witted him — as if anyone would take thon for a baby! Then one day he just lay down on the mountain across from Warren Point and he’s still there to this day. You should go and take a look.”
It was only as he was speaking that I noticed, for he had been sitting down, that he was particularly short. Not more that four feet five, I thought. He was clearly retarded. Why did the local nutter always head straight for me? A bit annoyed that I’d been cornered like this I made my excuses to leave.
“Sure, I’ll walk up with you. You’ll be parked at the top.”
As fast as I walked he kept up, blathering on about Finn and Fingal and King Brian and how his people had been sidelined and trivialized by the modern media, mocked by Hollywood. I was puffing and blowing — he didn’t even get out of breath.
Imagine my relief when near the top, I saw two men in white coats approaching from the car park.
“Have you seen anybody down there?” they asked.
Looking round I saw I was alone. “I was just with somebody,” I said. “Little chap,” I indicated the height, “blue trousers, green waistcoat and brownish jacket. You must have seen him.”
“Didn’t see another soul,” said one of them, sniffing my breath. “Maybe you shouldn’t drive, you know. There’s a bus every half an hour.”
They left me bewildered. There was no sign of my companion anywhere. But as I returned to my car, I felt something weighting down my pocket. It was this flask.
Oonah V Joslin taught students with special needs for almost thirty years. Then she decided she had needs too and left. She writes to fulfill some of those needs.