Blight

He surveyed his domain from the hillock behind his family’s one-room, thatched cottage. The landlord’s domain to be precise, but for the four generations preceding this year of Our Lord, 1845, his forefathers had paid the rent that made it theirs to call home. All three acres and only half of it rock and stone.

He pulled his knit cap down to shelter his immaturely balding pate against the mountain wind and focused his steady grey eyes on the troop of Redcoats on the shore road far below. He released his breath when he realised they would not bother the family today.

He set off to the potato patch, his smock flapping noisily in the wind, his legs kept dry from the mist by coarse leggings. His bare feet found purchase on clod and stone with a dexterity that told of familiarity with the exercise. He moved neither quickly nor slowly, just with the efficiency required by the task in relation to the sinking sun.

He stopped at the spring and drank handfuls of the sweet clear water then drenched his face. His hand ran across the peaks and valleys of his features, the red misshapen nose and the hirsute black brows that joined above. His was a thin, pale, angular face with all features accentuated, even the outsized and protruding ears.

As he approached the plot his nose twitched and his facial muscles clenched in response to a strange odour. His heart missed several beats as he stepped closer but calmed when he saw the healthy green leafy heads of the family’s staple diet. To confirm normalcy, he tore one from the earth with a huge weathered hand and froze. The rotting, black, weeping tuber in the place of a potato emitted a fetid gas that caused him to drop the vile thing and spring backwards, falling on the wet sod.

The tears that came to his eyes were not caused by the smell or the sight. Their well was in his vision of death. His voice expelled itself from deep in his stomach, as a hoarse whisper, the quavering hesitancy adding syllables that weren’t there, “’the blight.”

Around the hearth that night, the family absorbed the news. Finally his father spoke, his eyes not leaving the glowing turf, “There’s nothing for it Liam, but for you to cross over, work, and send us what little you can”. His mother wailed instinctively until a glance from her husband reduced her to shaking, silent sobs. The other children listened with a mixture of loss and envy.

The American Wake was held that weekend. The neighbours pooled flour to bake and half barrel of the dangerously strong and illicit Poitín was produced from the hidden still. The neighbours came offering succour to the old ones and hope to the traveller. It was a sombre, depressing affair. All knew he would never return. The parents were mourning the loss of their eldest son. For the son it was the living funeral of his parents. He departed quietly before dawn as the hovel slept.

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