The Fields of Evening
(c) by the author
‘He has a beautiful voice.’
The two men sat on canvas chairs at the edge of the patio behind the house. Beyond them the green lawn was contained within rows of rhododendrons as it sloped down to the dark river. In the twilight, their scarlet blooms were still visible, heavy and drooping down. A gigantic old oak tree spread its canopy over the lower half of the garden. The sun had set, leaving only a faint glow in the sky. The ground below was already shadowed and black. Lights shone behind them in the house but did not quite reach them. Through the open windows came the sound of Patrick singing.
The snatches of song floated through the night. Patrick would sing a verse or two and then would come the sounds of the fridge opening and closing, the whirring of some machine, the sound of metal striking metal as a pot lid was lowered into place. Then the song would repeat, or another melody would start.
C.S. stood and walked over to the drinks cart. He brought the bottle of whiskey back and held it out toward Allen. Allen shook his head, and C.S. poured an inch into his glass. He set the bottle on the table between them and sat down again. ‘He sings all the time. Sometimes I think it’s his way of communicating with the world. He’s not connected with life in the same way you or I am.’
‘What language is it?’
‘Irish. That much I know. Gaeilge, as he would have it.’
‘His voice is so clear and pure. It has no blemishes.’
‘Everything about him is clear and pure.’
‘He has made you happy.’
‘Yes, he has. But it’s not really a question of being happy, although I am. It’s more … I don’t know how to explain it. I suppose it’s love. Being surrounded by love, I mean.’
‘Now I’m jealous. He doesn’t have a brother, does he?’
‘He does, but the brother’s nothing like him. The brother’s all ego, and Patrick’s no ego at all.’
‘Oh, that’s a beautiful bit there. Do you know what the words mean?’
‘No, I’ve never asked.’
‘Never? Aren’t you curious?’
‘No, there’s his songs. If he wanted me to know what they mean, he would tell me. And he isn’t singing for me. He’s singing for the world, with the world.’
‘You’re becoming poetic. I wouldn’t have suspected that of you.’
‘When I was eight, nine, somewhere in there, my father had a one-year appointment at the University of Michigan in the States. We lived outside Ann Arbor in a small town, in this big house at the end of the street. Beyond us, there was a narrow strip of woods and beyond that there were fields. We were close enough to the farm that we could hear the cows mooing in the morning. The nearest streetlamp was a block away. It was the darkest place I’ve ever lived. In the spring, it turned hot early, and we slept with the windows open.
‘I used to lie there awake listening to the night. It was so quiet there. Every house had screen doors—wire mesh that would let in the air. People would leave them open to let in the cooler air. That was in the days before air conditioning. They had springs that kept them pulled shut, and they made a very distinctive noise when they closed. They never shut fully the first time. They would bounce and then open again and then settle in place. One would hear a flap of wood hitting wood and then a creak and then another, quieter flap.
‘The sound carried so far on those nights. You could hear people talking a block away. Hollow voices in the night. Or the sound of radios or televisions. Televisions were just coming in then, and not everyone had one. There would be the sound of laughter or applause. And occasionally one would hear an animal out in the fields. A late bird calling or the snorting of cattle.’
‘It sounds magical.’
‘It was. But that’s what Patrick’s singing reminds me of. The fields of evening. So quiet, yet so filled with sound. And sometimes in the morning, I would wake up early, just as it was getting light, and I would dress and go downstairs and sit outside. They had what they call a swing on the porch—the veranda. The swing was like a bench, but it was suspended by chains from the ceiling of the porch. One could sit it in and rock back and forth, and the only sound would be the creaking of the swing.
‘I loved to do that. I was safe but all alone. I didn’t have to worry about the rules and being what other people wanted me to be. I could just sit them and rock back and forth in the air and just exist. I didn’t have to be anything. And the mornings were so calm. Even when it was raining, it was as if the air were humming to itself. And when the sun came up, the grass would glisten with the dew. The house was surrounded by lilac bushes. I remember these purple cones of flowers in the dawn against those dark green leaves and that grass and the trees with their new leaves. There were so many shades of green, and all of it was new and fresh, as if the world had just been made, and nothing was wrong with it yet. It was filled with the wonders of creation, and I was the first person to be allowed to see it.
‘I never expected to again be as contented as I was then. But that’s what Patrick has given me. So no, I don’t ask him what the songs mean. The words might mean the wrong thing or they might mean too little. He’s totally undemanding of meaning. And I’ve become afraid of meaning, that I might mean the wrong thing in his world. He doesn’t expect me to be anything but here, in his present.’
‘You’re romanticising him now.’
‘Perhaps. He’s like a gift that demands no repayment.’
‘I don’t understand.’
‘Most gifts come with an expectation that something will be given back in return. He’s not like that.’
‘All gifts have to be repaid in some form. Even the absence of payment is a form of payment. What does Patrick think of all this?’
‘I don’t know. You would have to ask him. But I don’t think he would answer you. It’s just what he is. He doesn’t know how to be anything else.’
‘He is happy with you?’
‘Again, it’s not a question of happiness. He is content, I think. But I don’t think he devotes much thought to being happy. He doesn’t seem to want more the minimum possessions. He enjoys cooking, as you can see. He enjoys teaching. He enjoys living here with me. But if he lost all of those things, he would still sing his songs. That might make him unhappy, if he couldn’t sing. But that might be the only thing that would.’
‘He is a saint, then.’
‘No. Not a saint, nor a sinner. The rules don’t apply to him.’
‘The rules apply to everyone.’
‘He is free of the rules. At least here, in this house. That I can give to him. A place where the rules do not apply.’
‘It is a beautiful picture. But I don’t believe it.’
‘I do. I must. I couldn’t go on now if I didn’t believe in it. I can’t go back. I have to believe in at least the possibility of Patrick.’
‘This song is so sad. One doesn’t have to know the words to know that.’
‘It would be sad only if he stopped.’