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Maeve Mulrennan

"The Stag"

 

I wish Richard wouldn’t get up on that roof. If I don’t watch him, he’ll fall, I know it. And then what will happen to us? I’ll have to look after him forever, he wouldn’t be nice enough to die, he’d outlive me.
This house will never be finished. It’s decaying faster than he is.
At least its getting dark now. Richard can’t go on the roof in the dark.
I wish Richard would move that Stag.  I hate that Stag the most. When the sun shines through the big window and onto the stairs, it vibrates around him, I’ve seen it. The stuffed fox perched on the stairs needs to go too. He was stuffed to make him look like he’s climbing through a hollow log. At night he sighs and stretches. He fumbles down the stairs, sideways like a crab. He creeps out the back door and goes out to the lambs. Our dog Sydney sees him so I know its true. Sydney is afraid to do anything about it in case he ends up in a log on the staircase aswell. The fox has a dry throat from all the dust, he wheezes from the exertion.
Nothing changes around here. Buildings remain half built, both decaying and new. He goes up on that bloody roof. The light moves through the house. When can we actually start living here? The children have grown and moved far away; Singapore, Hong Kong, Longford. They grew up amongst decay. Trying to fix up this house is like trying to dig a hole under water. Now we only have Sydney. Maybe one morning I’ll wake up with the sun on my back: encased in a log on the stairs. I’ll worry at first, my throat will be dry. Then I’ll figure out how to waddle down through the front hall and turn right out the back door, past Sydney. He won’t do anything. I’ll go to the lambs. They’re the only things worth anything here. Their fleece feels like it goes right through their bones: like they are only warm wool and hot nerves.
Let’s take a walk Sydney, I can’t stand the waiting. We trace the perimeter, keep disturbing the same finch over and over again.
That bird skeleton needs to go aswell. Some nights I hear it’s claws scratching through the house. It sounds like a pestle and mortar grinding dust. I feel the cold bones of its wings on my neck. They tangle my hair. He is cold and always dry, like chalk under your fingernails. I pretend I’m not scared. He tries to whisper in my ear but I refuse to listen. I listen to the fire in the grate instead.  He tries to tell me about this place, about things that have gone one here. Uncle John contracting rabies and being chained to the wall. The illegitimate Barbara. The bonfire on St. John’s Eve, where every love letter, legal document, birth, marraige and death certificate of a certain Philbin St. John Moriarty were burned. This place has never been happy. What were we thinking moving here? The bird follows my thoughts around my brain. One of these days I’ll be quick enough –I’ll reach around, grab his hollow bones and smash him on the tiles in the Front Hall.
Walking into the kitchen I feel the bird behind my head tapping the base of my skull, making me remember the flood in 1987 when all the lambs were drowned while we slept. He laughs, should have listened to me, he says. Should’ve woken up when I tapped at your fingernails.
I force myself to look at the silhouette of the Stag for 15 seconds today. He is always in silhouette.  Him at the top of the stairs, the fox at the bottom , all the birds on the steps in between. The birds and the Stag taunt me. Fox understands me, he knows that it hasn’t been easy for me, and I understand what it must be like to be trapped like he is.
After staring at him I realise that I have to get rid of the Stag now. If I got rid of him the others would follow and I could breathe again. Inhaling, I stride over to the front door, throw it open and then I kick my way up the stairs, wrap my arms around the Stag and lift him up. The bird behind my brain is shrieking, he finds my sudden assertiveness hilarious. Is this a joke he says, are you going to faint or vomit? He says
I worry that the Stag will crumble to dust, leaving just four hooves. My arms could stick to him, and I would eventually die embracing him. I feel him inhale and sigh. I knew he wasn’t dead. The bird behind my brain stops shrieking and hides in the shadow of the stairwell. The Stag’s ear twitches and I freeze as he stiffly turns his head to consider me. He breathes in and snorts. He sees me crying. He sees what I cannot. All this time I thought it was the Stag that was keeping me here, but he feels the same way I do. His muscles are getting warmer now. One by one he pulls each hoof out of its wire pin. Bits get stuck in the moldings and rip but he is finally free. A door slams upstairs, in Uncle John’s mad room. The Stag starts and shies, pulling me with him.  He crashes down the stairs, the bird skeletons smashing on the tiles below. Where will he take me? I  sit astride his back, holding onto the fur that is quickly turning to dust. He begins to gallop, escaping out through the front door. The bird in my brain has come out from his hiding place and is flying after us, his bone wings sounding like chalk being grated.
As we gallop I look around and see Fox standing awkwardly at the door. He stretches in his hollow log and sighs. He waddles sidways, looks at me one last time, and closes the door gently.