GOWANUS Summer 2002
I Could Take You to a Place
by James Jay Egan
descended into Woodenbridge village from the west as the rain began letting
up. His glasses were beaded with rainwater, hair matted, raincoat dripping,
and shoes heavy with water. He walked down the road along the river into
He crossed the Aughrim River on the stone bridge and, alone, scrambled down the bank on the downstream side, inside the thick green undergrowth of raspberries and false raspberries, and wood-vines like wild grapes but with smaller leaves. The river lay hidden beneath a canopy of box elders and green ash.
Below, the stone bridge had two semicircular runs. The near run was shallow and pebbly. At and below the bridge foundation between the two runs was a shoal of pebbles. The far run was deep, dark, and swift. In the morning he had caught his only trout there, casting far up under the bridge, a German brown, on a number-twenty black ant with light hackles. He remembered the trout and smiled to himself. He knew he would write a postcard to his grandfather tomorrow: Caught a tiny, silver trout. 7”. On the fly. In the Old World. No. 20 jointed black ant. Water cool, not cold. Rivers read the same. Overfished. No mosquitoes. Send love. Tell grandma. Studies not interfering with education. J. Paul.
Paul stepped in the shallow water over the gray and blue-green pebbles to the shoal. Standing there, he lit a cigarette with a damp match, and the smoke was heavy and thick in the wet air. The smoke did not disperse in the hidden spot below the bridge. He sat with his back to the bridge footing and took apart his reel and rod, separating the rod into five pieces. He wrapped the reel in a sock and lay it in his canvas pack. The rod he wrapped in a woman’s sock. He took out his antique aluminum pocket book of flies. He replaced the black ant alongside the other terrestrials and selected the other flies he had used during the day, the streamers, nymphs and dries. He blew on each one to dry them and stiffen the hackles and replaced them carefully in their respective places.
He sat still while a car drove over the bridge above him. He put the cigarette butt with the other butts from the day in a plastic bag in his front shirt pocket.
He had fished in the morning upstream from this bridge, having caught the very small German brown trout in the deep run below the bridge. He had fished upstream to the village of Aughrim and then in the afternoon walked the road between the hedgerows and through the pastureland from Aughrim back to Woodenbridge.
After resting there awhile and smoking again, he got up and joined the road over the bridge. He left the bridge and started up to the front of the Woodenbridge Hotel, a white, wealthy looking Victorian place having that mansion-on-a-hill quality.
The bar menu stood posted outside the door. Paul read the items and prices. He leaned back and took off his pack, set it on the walkway, then took off his raincoat. He shook the jacket free of the rain. He folded the raincoat and put it, wet, inside his pack. Then he took off his glasses and dried them clean with his dry handkerchief from his shirt pocket. The front of his thighs and lower part of his pants were soaked and his shoes were muddy, but he grabbed his pack and went in.
The hotel's reception chamber was a rich reddish room with dark wood trim. A man stood behind the desk. Paul guessed he'd been eyeing him from the time he had scrambled up from the place below the bridge.
"Sir," the man said with a straight-faced English accent. "May I help you?" He looked at Paul through his glasses.
Paul asked for the bar. The Englishman walked him through curtained French doors into another red room, darker yet, and empty.
"Will you be needing a room?" The man stood hunched and leaned forward.
"No. I'm just going to eat. I'll start out with a pint of Guinness." Paul sat down at the bar.
"I'll fetch a menu," the man said after he'd poured half the pint.
"I know what I want," Paul said. He asked for the seafood chowder.
When the chowder came he finished it quickly. The gentleman had been back and forth through the glass doors joining the reception room with the bar. Paul drank another pint. His legs were tired, but began to feel loose and light. He got up, setting a five pound note on the bar. The hotel man watched him, then took the note and said thank you, ringing up the check.
"What river is this out here?" Paul asked, pointing.
"Ah, the Aughrim."
"No, the other one that spills into the Aughrim and runs over there."
"Oh, yes, the Avoca River."
"What's the next village up that way?"
"Avoca Village is three miles up river."
Paul picked up his pack and walked out of the bar room, through the glass doors to the reception room. It was raining outside again. The hotel man followed him, and stood behind the front desk while Paul put on his raincoat.
"What’s the time?" Paul asked.
"The time?" the man said. "Yes, almost six."
Paul nodded and walked out. Outside in the rain he turned left, away from the stone bridge over the Aughrim River, leaving the vale and Woodenbridge Hotel behind him.
The rain was light but he was wet again quickly. He walked toward Avoca Village on the road that followed the Avoca River. He heard a car coming up behind him, turned around and put his thumb out. The car didn't stop. He looked at the three people inside as they drove by.
He walked while drying his glasses. The sky was gray and low, and the Wicklows were light and dark greens. White sheep and brown cows grazed on the sides of the hills, and hedges divided the grass, clover, and alfalfa fields. Dark green conifer forests of tall spruces and balsams stood far up on the rounded summits.
Another car came along. Paul turned, walking backwards, and put his arm out. The car had two women. The women didn't stop, and he turned back up the road.
The hedge along the narrow road was high and well-trimmed. He noticed dark, waxy-leafed holly, light green raspberries, and five-leaved wood-vine. Sometimes he could see over the hedge down into the valley, across a pasture, to the river. The riverbed and water were discolored with rust from the mining operations upstream. The Aughrim River had been clear and clean. This river was a reddish-brown. It looked like it had been a good trout river. The river looked classically fishable, with open banks, some pools and a lot of shallow riffles.
He heard another car coming up behind him, and Paul looked over his shoulder. A man sat in the driver’s seat. Paul turned around fully and walked backwards, putting his arm and thumb out far. The car drove by, and Paul looked at the driver. Ahead he saw the brake lights come on. The car came to a stop thirty yards up and Paul jogged up to it and opened the door on the left side.
"Thanks," he said, climbing in.
"Sure. Where you going?" The man spoke American.
"Don't know." He took off his glasses to dry them again, looked over, smiled, and said, "The next village?"
The man next to him looked straight ahead, nodded, and shifted. He was tall and cramped inside the car, over forty and graying. He had glasses, too. He was an American driving in Ireland.
"Where you from?" the man asked.
"Milwaukee. The good land. Been there?"
“Sure," the man nodded. And then said, "Need somewhere to stay?"
"No." Paul looked out his window, the one on the left, at the hedge.
They sat in silence, Paul looking at the beads of rain dancing by on his window, then looking through them at the hedge. Then he looked straight ahead, and up at the clouds.
They drove over a lip, passed a ruined church, and then started down into a valley. A sign on the left read "Abhoca--Avoca." They passed a farm house, a craftshop, an estate, and then a housing project. They drove down to and alongside the river, then turned sharply onto a skewed bridge. With the high stone walls of the bridge, Paul couldn't see the river below.
"Want a beer?" the man asked as they passed over the bridge and into town.
"I'll buy," the man said, almost stopping, pointing to his right at Nagle's Pub.
They parked alongside the road and Paul took his pack, and they crossed the street and went into Nagle's. The place was part pub, restaurant and hotel, situated along the river. Inside it was bright and quiet, with half a dozen silent Irishmen scattered through the room. The American pointed to a table by the window, and Paul went over and sat down in his raincoat. The man nodded to a few chaps beside the fireplace, shook the hand of a fellow at the bar, and talked with the barmen while they poured and settled a pint of Guinness and poured a lager.
The American came over with the pints.
"Guinness or Bud?" he asked.
Paul watched the Guinness settle in front of him in the Harp glass, with its cream rising to the top. Finally, when it had settled, he drank.
"Thanks for the beer."
The American nodded.
"You're American," Paul said finally, watching his pint.
"American-Irish," the man said. "Irish until they kick me out."
"How long you been here?"
"About twenty-four years. Came over in 'seventy."
"I was born in 'seventy. How old were you then?"
"About nineteen or twenty I suppose."
"Where'd you come from?"
They drank off and on. Two short codgers came into the pub and sat at the bar.
"I had a dream," the American started, "a nightmare, that my friends and I were at a party, smoking grass, being cool. And the draft board came to the door, and the police and MPs and Army were behind these old geezers and bitches in suits. And they lined me and my friends up and the Army men started potting us off. I woke up and decided I had to get the hell out of America. I didn't know what I’d do, but I knew I couldn't stay any longer. I wasn’t going over there."
Paul didn't say anything. He looked at his pint, then ahead at the bar. The American was looking at the table, then looked behind Paul out the window.
"A week later I got my draft notice and the next day I was gone to Portugal.”
”Ever been back?"
Paul said, "My old man was over there when I was born. I didn't meet him until I was six months old, and we visited him on leave in Hawaii. They’ve got photos." He lifted up his glass. He finished the pint, leaving a layer of foam at the bottom.
"Need a place to stay?" the man asked. "My wife runs a bed and breakfast a mile up the road."
"No. Thanks." Paul stood and shouldered his pack. "Thanks for the beer. Take it easy." The man nodded and continued his beer.
Outside the rain had let up. An old lady walked by and Paul asked her about the next town.
(James Jay Egan grew up in Minnesota
and Wisconsin, and received his education at the University of Minnesota
and the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis. He now lives in Vietnam,
where he teaches college composition and English as a foreign language
and writes in his spare time. Other stories of his are appearing this summer
in The Circle Magazine
and Scrivener's Pen, both online, with more to come in the upcoming
Fall/Winter Westview and issue #130 of The Antigonish Review.)