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Conda Douglas blogs at Conda's Creative Center. Her story “Blood Tells” comes from a summer she spent in Dublin. It was an interesting time…

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“I need a drink,” Maud said.

I refrained from mentioning she had already drunk too much. “If we don’t go now, we’ll miss the bus to the airport,” I said instead.

“Don’t be so practical, Wren,” Maud scolded. She signaled the pub man. He saw her gesture, shook his head, and turned away.

“It’s because we’re Americans,” I said.

Despite Maud’s classic Irish beauty, her red hair and green eyes, the Irish always recognized us as Americans. They always spotted the way we moved through the world, proud, arrogant and afraid.

We’d spent the early part of the afternoon pub crawling and music hunting. We’d followed the strains of Irish songs from one location to another, the music more intoxicating than the pints of Guinness stout ale.

This place was Irish Traditional, cheap linoleum flooring with scarred, rickety tables and benches scattered about, the smell of stale meat pies, ale and old-cigarettes-before-the-ban in the hazy air. Overheated, it was stuffed with the warmth and crush of human bodies. The windows were misted over, obscuring the rainy September day outside.

“They’re starting another tune,” Maud complained. “So why can’t I get another drink?” She ran her hands through her short cropped hair, hacked away after the accident. Even in the fluorescent light of the pub, her dark red hair glowed, an aura of blood around her head.

I reached out to stroke a curl and she jerked her head away, our rhythm ruined.

“Your hair looks like a halo,” I said.

“Saint Maud,” she said, “the patron saint of losers.”

The tables were pushed close together, so that the drinkers sat claustrophobic elbow to elbow. In the cleared space, a fiddler sat upon a bar stool. While he fiddled, patrons took turns dancing jigs. They earned applause and sometimes a drink, for their ability to go through the ancient dance steps. Steps I once knew well.

“Join in this time, Maud,” I suggested.

When she played, she stopped thinking about drinking. She stopped thinking about the harp. I believed that she even stopped thinking about Aoife.

“No, I’ve not been asked.”

“They don’t know that’s a harp you’ve got, and they never ask.” I wanted to kick the wrapped canvas bundle at her feet, an addiction worse than the alcohol. If I could only get her home, back to America.

“Quiet, Wren, they’re starting,” Maud said.

During this last jig, an old man danced. He held his pint in one hand as he leapt around the room and never spilled a drop. He wore glasses with thick lenses that obscured his eyes. How could he see to dance?

My legs quivered with the need to join him, until a sharp jab of pain around my damaged knee stilled them, but not my desire.

The last of the notes died. The old man received a fresh pint for his dance. Everyone turned back to the business of finishing the last pint.

“You should have played, Maud,” I said.

“Why didn’t you dance then?”

I winced.

Maud touched my bad knee. “Never mind. I can’t play well enough. In a year, then maybe. If we stay.”

“We can’t stay. We’re due back tomorrow.”

“It’d be easy enough for them to find somebody else to teach Music 101 and Modern Dance.”

“And what would we live on?” I said. Our old argument, often repeated in this final week in Ireland, as both our time and money grew short.

“You never used to ask that before.”

“Before is dead and gone.”

Maud dropped her hand.

The old man appeared at our table. “It’s Americans you are then?” he said. He grinned, with black stumps instead of teeth. A musty smell of old damp wool permeated his being. Old wool and worse, I caught the effluvium of rotted teeth and aged shoe leather, too long worn.

“So what is it you’ve have wrapped there, swaddled like it was your own wee babe?”

Maud unwrapped the harp from its blanket and carrying straps. She’d never been able to find a suitable carrying case. She cradled Aoife’s legacy, a small Irish harp. Centuries of hands had worn the wood in several places, diminishing the deep cut grooves of Celtic swirls decorating the harp. Aoife died in the accident, but her harp survived, a memento of death, a reminder of despair.

Since she wouldn’t play it, I wanted Maud to put away the dirty thing. I wished that she had never inherited it and Aoife’s obsession.

She ran her hand over the strings. The string cut into her palm and left a trail of blood.

(Complete story available in Big Pulp Fall 2011 issue)


Blood Tells by Conda Douglas
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Big Pulp Fall 2011!

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