22. A Normal Day

Normal days were a rarity these days on Inishbog. On a normal day, Sean Kelly was up at the crack of dawn every day to let the cat out and get dressed then he’d make a cup of tea and open the store,rain, snow, wind or blow. Siobhan never got out of bed until around nine. Con Brady, providing the sea was fair, would arrive with provisions and post from the mainland around 7-ish. Sean would have to fetch it all whilst Brady invariably sat in the boat puffing on one of his beloved Sweet Afton cigarettes.

Gimpy rose about seven. He usually went onto Blacks strand to look for anything useful that might have been washed up. It had been a gentle sea last night and the sand had a ripple effect running over it from an ebbing tide being blown by a stiff Atlantic breeze. He walked from the headland along the strand until he got to the footpath up to the bog and then made his way home.

The island’s farmer’s would get up when they felt like it. All their milk was for island consumption, they’d deliver it to Kelly’s store over the course of the day where he’d bottle it and sell it, unpasteurised and unsterilised. O’Driscoll was always up at the crack of dawn but invariably had to rouse his cattle. They preferred a lie in and wouldn’t move until it was fully light so he usually had a cup of tea and a doorstep of bread and at around 8 o’clock he’d have a stroll down to the barn and at exactly 7 minutes past 8 he’d flip the rusty hook off the barn door and let the cows out. At about 25 past 7 the first of the cows would slowly make it’s way toward the door to see what the weather was like.

Joe stretched, inadvertently kicking Nora on the ankle. “What time is is Joe?” she asked. He rolled over and looked at the clock. “Ten past eight” he replied.
There was a gentle bump from across the hallway.
“Sounds like one of the Germans is up” mumbled Nora stifling a yawn.
“Which one?”
“How the hell do I know, we’re now the proud owners of two Germans” announced Nora not without a hint of sarcasm.
“I’m not sure the second German is what he says he is” said Joe.
Nora had a sudden thought “Devlin’s still around so he’ll sort it all out, won’t he?”
“Devlin’s a waste of space. He’s got a sweat on over the dead body, now he’s got to sort out why two German’s have arrived on the island on boats” said Joe, putting his underpants on the wrong way round.
“You need to lose some weight” volunteered Nora as she observed his body from under the blanket.
“Thanks for the vote of confidence” snapped Joe.
“Oh, it’s alright, anytime. Oh and you’ve got your underclacks on the wrong way round” she managed to squeak, stifling a high pitched laugh.

Brian stretched his limbs before he got out of bed, first his legs until he felt a pain in his left hip, then his arms until he felt a pain in his right shoulder. It was probably the onset of arthritis but he wasn’t unduly worried. He was happy. Happier than he had been for years. And now, there was this Jens bloke and a dead man, a mystery going on around him. These were exciting times. He slowly got dressed. Now which one of my two shirts shall I put on, he thought, and laughed at the meagre choice of clothes he had these days. As he arrived in the kitchen he suddenly realised he wasn’t alone. There was a total stranger sitting upright in the chair nearest the kitchen door. He was dressed like the other stranger; woolen fisherman’s sweater, dark green trousers, short blond hair, clean shaven and a wary look in his iron blue eyes.

“Hello” said Brian cheerily. He greeted everyone the same these days since he’d shaken off the shackles of a failing marriage.
There was a nod but no verbal reply.
Brian went to the fridge and got out a bottle of milk. He filled the kettle up with water, turned the gas on and put two cups on the table.
“Want a cuppa?” asked Brian in his best Black Country accent pointing to the cup.
The stranger nodded and managed a smile of sorts.
“Morning Brian” boomed Joe, taking him by surprise as he breezed into the kitchen in his work clothes. The stranger was totally dispassionate and never flinched. “Make me one as well will you” he motioned over to Brian. “Want one?” he asked the stranger.
“I’ve already asked him”, he informed Joe, “He nodded to me”.
“He’s German” said Joe in a matter of fact way.
“Where are they all coming from?” Brian asked.
“I don’t know but I have a feeling the feller taken away in the coffin was also a German so there is something very wrong somewhere” said Joe.

The meeting between Jens and the stranger had been frosty. Judging by the reaction from the stranger when Jens’ name was mentioned it was obvious they knew each other. No words were exchanged between them. They both sat looking at the floor between their feet. Nobody thought it was worth prompting them or asking them any questions.

Brian had just sat down with his cup of tea when Jens wandered into the kitchen. Joe decided it wasn’t the place for him and made his excuses about work to do and having to clean the ashtrays and wipe the tables.

Suddenly without warning Jens said in a quiet measured voice “Where is Karl?”
Stefan continued staring into space and didn’t reply.
“I thought you fell over board, I never thought I’d see you again” said Jens.
Brian looked at Jens wondering what he was saying. He took French at school and had to learn a few Latin words like “cave” and “anno domini” and various phrases which he never knew the meaning of but didn’t understand any German whatsoever apart from “hilfe”, “Donner und Blitzen” and “Gott in Himmel” from his Commando war comics.

Stefan looked squarely at Jens, picked up his cup and took a sip. It was English tea, he’d only heard about it, never tasted it. It had milk in it which he wasn’t used to but it was hot and something he’d waited a long time to experience. He preferred coffee. He looked at Brian, then looked at Jens and calmly said,
“I did but my arm got caught behind the rope fender and I couldn’t break free.” Stefan said. He rolled his sleeve up and his arm was deep blue and yellow with bruising”.
“What happened that you didn’t stay with the boat when it washed me into the harbour?” asked Jens sharply.
“I don’t know. The first thing I remember is my knees dragging on something with waves breaking over me, there was lots of seaweed around me and I couldn’t swim. Someone pulled me up the beach. I never saw them” said Stefan quietly.
“Why did you take the boat?” said Jens in a matter of fact way.
“Well I figured that whoever it was who pulled me out of the sea had gone to get reinforcements and I panicked, I couldn’t face being captured” stuttered Stefan.
“Captured?” snapped Jens, “Is that how you see it? On the ship you talked about liberation and escape”. “And where did you think you were going, all the way to Canada in a little rowing boat?”
“I must remind you that if we get sent back to the DDR they’ll believe me as a Stasi officer” hissed Stefan.

Jens clammed up for a while, the natural instinct of being afraid or at least wary of anyone in authority.
After collecting his thoughts for twenty minutes, during which time Stefan just stared into his mug of tea, Jens then ventured across the kitchen and poured himself a glass of water. It was slightly brown against the white mug due to the peat pigmentation but it tasted so much better than what he had been used to in Berlin.

“You really are stupid” ventured Jens after sipping the water, “The ship didn’t explode like you told me it would, so it’s going to dock in somewhere in Canada and the captain is going to contact a DDR agent there as soon as he can and report your and Karl’s disappearance. Nobody even knows I was on the ship.” It was a statement more than any sort of answer to Stefan’s recent threatening comment.

What do you think they are talking about Joe?” asked Brian in the bar. Joe had finished clearing the previous night’s dirty glasses from the tables and Nora was rinsing them, Joe himself had cleaned the ashtrays and had stacked them neatly at the edge of the bar. “Do you understand German Joe?” asked Nora busily hand drying each glass individually.
“No” replied Joe curtly, carefully changing the Bushmills optic.
“Well Brian, there’s your answer, he doesn’t know” said Nora.
The Germans continued their increasingly animated conversation.

“So where is Karl, what happened to him” enquired Jens.
“I don’t know. I thought he’d still be in the boat”, said Stefan.
“He was, I must have fallen asleep exhausted, the next thing I knew I was being helped from the boat by these people” said Jens gesturing towards the two men in the adjoining room.