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Sunday, December 11, 2016

Nowhere Man- A True Story

Saturday ritual saw the old man pushing his creaking wheelbarrow towards home with his usual milk, bread, and 5 lbs of left over unwanted mincemeat from the local butcher; the rest of his needs came from his field. The older stone and thatched home was a shrine to his past, the stove was a window to it, and life itself pretty much started and ended at the little boreen that was an appendage to it. What was beyond, he had no interest or cared, yet, someone still cared a little about him.

The young girl living down the road had watched sadly the old man come and go for most of her 14 years. One Sunday, in pity, she left as much coal as her bicycle could carry outside his front door when he was not there, and that was the only proof that she had been there at all.

When the old man came home that evening he was happy at the anonymous gift. Less money for him he thought to spend on such luxuries, and was one of the reasons why he had so much of it left. He soon fired up the creaking stove, which had known only damp turf and scrap kindling before, and that had only ever barely warmed its metal casing and not much else. He then sat on it, which was his habit, and dozed wearing an army coat that was his seven day suit. That coat was also the safety deposit box for all the money that he had ever saved in his entire life, and it’s pockets were full of it and the lining too.  

Dampness steamed from the old coat slowly at first as the old man snored and joined what was coming from the stove, the rising heat cutting through the deep layers of coat, dirt, cloth and damp money at it's base. This was a different heat, strong coal heat, but the old man had not noticed, not at first. The second burn got through to his skin and woke him up a bit, the third sent panic to his head that made him desperate, while the fourth burn sent him to the ground. 

Clawing at pockets and it’s lining, he pushed any money onto the stone floor to save it; the coat was sticking to him now like a straitjacket and he could not peel that away. Panic was paralyzing him. In less than a minute it had become his deathbed for he did not know anymore how to save himself. What was left the next morning when they found him was blackened bone and skin and all that he left behind. There was more coat left than what was left of him.

Within a couple of days, his two sisters in England arrived and buried him before Friday for the cost of a pauper’s grave. The following week, his money, that what was left, was divided between them and the farmstead was sold for considerably more to add to their fortune. 

By summer, there stood on the land new glasshouses for mushrooms separated by concrete pathways. What was there before carried no proof now that there once lived here a nowhere man living in a nowhere land. 

Barry Clifford