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The Little Red Chairs

Edna O'Brien



The dirt of his travels, Gilgamesh washed from his hair, all the soiled garments he cast them off, clean new clothes he put on, about him now wrapped, clinging to him was a cloak with a fringe, his sparkling sash fastened to it.

The town takes its name from the river. The current, swift and dangerous, surges with a manic glee, chunks of wood and logs of ice borne along in its trail. In the small sidings where water is trapped, stones, blue, black and purple, shine up out of the river bed, perfectly smoothed and rounded and it is as though seeing a clutch of good-sized eggs in a bucket of water. The noise is deafening.

From the slenderest twigs of the overhanging trees in the Folk Park, the melting ice drips, with the soft, susurrus sound and the hooped metal sculpture, an eyesore to many locals, is improved by a straggling necklace of icicles, bluish in that frosted night. Had he ventured in further, the stranger would have seen the flags of several countries, an indication of how cosmopolitan the place has become and in a bow to nostalgia there is old farm machinery, a combine harvester, a mill wheel and a replica of an Irish cottage, when the peasants lived in hovels and ate nettles to survive.

He stays by the water's edge, apparently mesmerised by it. Bearded and in a long dark coat and white gloves, he stands on the narrow bridge, looks down at the roaring current, then looks around, seemingly a little lost, his presence the single curi­osity in the monotony of a winter evening in a freezing back­water that passes for a town and is named Cloonoila.

Long afterwards there would be those who reported strange occurrences on that same winter evening; dogs barking crazily, as if there was thunder, and the sound of the nightingale, whose song and warblings were never heard so far west. The child of a gipsy family, who lived in a caravan by the sea, swore she saw the Pooka Man coming through the window at her, pointing a hatchet.