Tinker’s Damn — Chapter 2

© Copyright Jessica Allegra Seigel 2003.  All rights reserved.



The devil fly away with you Oisín, for leaving me.  The devil take you as sorrow has taken me.  I said, don’t go.  But go you would.  No fights, I said.  You are so far above them, don’t light, I said.  But light you would, and stand your ground.  And what pay have you for it now?  Prisons and priests.  And me deprived of you.

I saw you first in the town, as you came, leading caravan and horse.  A man all sinew and blue-black eyes.  Bronzed you were, from traveling the roads.  Sandy-haired and silent.  You gave me a long stare, and I turned away.  But I turned back, and my eyes followed you as you passed on and sought you when you came again.

I was but a bit of a girl then.  A Mary Margaret Kelliher.  A tame thing from County Cork who did as I was bid.  Who washed the pots and made the beds and went to Mass.  Who clapped my knees together when I sat.  Obeyed my elders and betters–parents, teacher, priest.  Took the singing lessons and the dancing, to tame my voice and feet.

But inside,  Inside, a wild thing ever wanted to come out.  And only lacked the key to let it come.

Then the day of the spring fair came.  The musicians played “Hedigan’s Fancy,” “Make Haste to the Wedding,” “Round the House and Mind the Dresser.”  All the dancers came to try their luck qualifying for the national competitions.  I sat on a folding chair to wait my turn and watched those that danced before me.  Robbie Mahoney did the hornpipe, and Claire a reel in soft shoes.  Some fella danced a hard-heeled jig.  But they were all the same.  They danced each dance as we’d been taught it:  the knees bending, the feet quick and disciplined, the legs kicking out in a straight line.  Steps to the right.  Steps to the left.  Turn, slide, step again.  Each back straight as a rod, jaws clenched, arms held fast at the side.  It’s said the folk used to dance with their whole bodies until the priests put a stop to it.  Waving of the arms was sinful, they said.  The movement of the shoulders suggestive, the swaying at the waist a temptation.  So we dance this stiff-backed stuff, all life cut off above the thighs.

I watched them dance.  Each time I saw a rising step, rebellion rose in me.  I was fair choking with it.

Then my turn came.

I stood in the center of the stage, a low platform of wooden boards.  The bodhrán began, setting a martial beat.  My feet obediently followed.  A flute came in and softened the pace, and then the fiddles, first livening it, then stretching it.  I set my jaw and raised my chin.  My eyes stared out into the crowd and found you.  Oisín O’Finn.  Standing at the edge, behind the rest.  Come to the fair on foot leading two horses to auction.  Your eyes held my own calmly, as if I were to dance for you alone.  My feet kept their three-step.  But my arms.  My arms opened to embrace the world.  I turned and stepped and turned again.  I swayed from the waist, to the left, to the right; my left arm rising, my right lowering, like the wings of a bird in flight.  I swayed back, the left arm floating over my head and out to the world.  My eyes followed the grace of my own plam as it passed over me and opened again.  Then the right arm opened, stretched out to the world as well.  Seeking.  Beseeching.

The crowd was filled, suddenly, with frowning men and pinch-faced women who shook their heads and pursed their lips and loudly clicked their tongues.  What was this girl doing, they said.  Unheard of, uncalled for behavior.  An assault to tradition.  To form.  They called on me to halt.  Disqualified, they said.  I would not stop dancing.  Even after their noise drowned out the music.

The musicians stilled their instruments.

Then, I stopped.

The officials came at me, haranguing me to leave the stage.  I turned, and there you stood at the end of it, silently waiting.  Holding the horses’ reins loose and easy in one hand.  I stepped to the edge of the stage.  It was such an easy step.  As was the next, with my sole in your palm as you gave me a boost to the back of the white horse.  Then you turned our backs to the noise and led me, your Niamh transformed, away.

Oisín O’Finn, why could you not listen?  Two years without you is an eternity.  I dance my dance now, in burren and bog, leap wildly from hillock to tussock.  And wait in vain.  For you.  Oisín.

©  Jessica Allegra Seigel 2003 All Rights Reserved.