Mr Carnovan's Little Shop of Dreams

Mr Carnovan’s Little Shop of Dreams, Part 1

(c) by the author 2008-2011

Three years ago one of my youngest relatives saw me with a book and asked me to read him a story. The book wouldn’t have entertained him, and I pretended to read from it while making up a story about a boy who shared not only his name but many characteristics. The following is an expanded version of the story.

‘Daaaaaaaa . . .’ The little boy flew out the door and over all three steps, landing with a tremendous thump as both feet hit the walkway. He rocked back and forth until he regained his balance and then ran through the front garden to the street and threw his arms around the legs of the man who had just stepped out of a taxi. ‘You’re back.’

‘And who are you?’ The man sat his suitcase down on the pavement. He stared at the boy with bewilderment and stroked his chin. ‘Do I know you?’

The child giggled, ‘It’s me, it’s me, Michael.’

‘No, you can’t be. My son is only this tall.’ The man bent forward at the waist and held his palm flat at the level of the child’s shoulders. ‘He’s nowhere near as tall as you are.’

‘I’ve grown.’ Michael stretched his arms up, asking to be picked up.

‘Hmm, you’re sure you’re Michael, and not some impostor who’s taking my son’s place?’

‘No, no! I’m not a pasta. . . . But are you sure you’re my father? He’s much taller than you.’ Michael held his hand up as high as he could reach and danced around his father.

‘Hmm, it’s a problem, isn’t it? Well, there’s only one way to find out.’ His father reached down and put his hands under the child’s arms. He grunted and groaned, as though straining to lift a heavy weight. ‘All right, let go of the ground. How can I pick you up and hug you if won’t let go of the ground?’

‘I’m not. I’m not. See.’ The child hopped around, raising one knee and then the other high into the air to show that his feet were not stuck to the ground.

The man tried again, screwing his face up with exertion. ‘What have you been eating, Michael? Dinosaur eggs? You’re getting so big.’

Michael gleefully adopted that suggestion. ‘Yes! Every morning for breakfast. Two! I eat two dinosaur eggs for breakfast.’ He screamed with laughter.

‘Well, since you’ve gotten too big to lift, I’ll have to bend down to you.’ The man knelt down and hugged his son. Then he wrapped one arm around Michael’s waist and stood up suddenly, so that the child’s legs hung down behind him and his chest and arms drooped down in front. With his other hand, Michael’s father picked up his suitcase and then walked towards the open door of his house, where his wife leaned against the door regarding the two of them with affection. It would be hard to choose who was enjoying the joke more, her husband or their son.

When the man reached the door, he set his son down and then he and his wife embraced. Michael briefly watched the two of them kissing and then looked away. He began twisting his body back and forth at the waist and punching the air with his small fists. He hummed one of the wordless songs he had made up. His father turned back to him and said, ‘Michael, can you take my bag upstairs?’

Michael nodded his head vigorously. He grabbed the handle of the bag with both hands and lifted it up. He put his right knee under the bag and pushed it up towards his chest until he was able to put both arms under it. He had to shift from side to side and place each foot down carefully as he climbed the steps. As he started up the staircase to the upper floor, he heard his father say, ‘He’s growing up so fast.’ That made him feel very proud. He tried to stand a bit taller and to carry the suitcase as if it were light as a feather. And he found that it wasn’t heavy at all, not for a boy who eats two dinosaur eggs for breakfast every day.


‘Would you like me to tell you a story?’ Michael’s father waited to speak until his son had finished his prayers and stood up.

‘Yes, please.’ Michael climbed into his bed and pushed his feet under the sheet all the way down to the bottom and pulled the covers up to his chin. There had been a special dinner to mark his father’s return. There had even been one of his favourite treats, chocolate ice cream. His father had praised him for eating everything on his plate, even the peas, which he really didn’t like very much, and he received a much larger serving of ice cream than he was usually given. After watching the half-hour of television he was allowed on weekday nights, he had then bathed himself and put on his pyjamas. Bathing himself was a recent change, one that he took as proof that he was growing up. The privilege had been part of a bargain with his mother. He had to hang his clothes up and keep his own bedroom neat, and he had to remember to say his prayers without being prompted.

‘Your mother says that you’ve been having nightmares.’

Michael instantly felt guilty. He knew that big boys didn’t have nightmares, but he did have them, frightening dreams about being chased by ogres who wanted to gobble him up in one bite and about falling from the roofs of tall buildings and about being lost and alone. The only way he could escape was to wake himself up, and then he would lie there trembling and trying not to cry. The nightmares felt so real. The Murphy would come into his bedroom and hop up on his bed and try to comfort him, but even the cat’s purring couldn’t drown out his sobbing, no matter how quiet he tried to be. And then his mother would push the door all the way open so that the light from the hallway shone into every corner, and she would pull the chair up and sit beside his bed and hold his hand and stroke his head, and tell him that it was just a dream. Nothing to worry about, it wasn’t real. It was all in his mind.

But the dreams were real. He would have liked to deny that he was having nightmares, so that his father wouldn’t think that he was being a coward and a little boy. But even the sound of the word made the breath freeze in his chest and his stomach lurch. As soon as his father said the word, the bad dreams crept into the room and hid in the dark corners, waiting in the shadows for his father to leave and Michael to fall asleep so that they could come out and crawl into Michael’s mind, where they were all too real.

But Michael also knew that good boys didn’t lie. ‘Sometimes,’ he admitted. He plucked a bit of the sheet between his fingers and worried at it. He hoped that his admission would not bring one of his father’s lectures.

‘I brought you a present from Dunfanaghy that will cure those nightmares. You grandmother bought it for you. So tomorrow you must write her a thank-you letter. I’ll help you write it and address the envelope for you.’

Michael shook his head yes and sat up a bit in bed. His father wasn’t holding anything that looked like a present.

His father stepped outside the door to Michael’s bedroom and picked a box off the hall table. It was a small box, a cube about three inches on a side. It was a dark shiny blue in colour, with a lighter blue ribbon tied around it. Large silver stars pasted on the sides of the box held the ribbon in place. ‘You can hold it for now, but you can’t open it. First you must listen to the story that comes with the box.’

Michael nodded and held out his hand for the box. ‘But it’s light. There’s nothing in it.’

‘Would your grandmother give you an empty box? Shame on you, Michael Orrin, for thinking such a thing.’

Michael nodded. ‘I’m sorry.’ He knew his father wasn’t really angry with him. He was just teasing, like earlier when he had pretended not to recognise Michael. It was just a game they were playing. He quietly hefted the box again, moving it only just enough to test the weight. It was empty, he was certain of that, but he didn’t say anything.

‘Turn it over. There’s a message for you on the bottom.’

Michael twisted the box around until the writing on the label was upright. He stumbled over most of the words, sounding out as many of the letters as he could. ‘Made Just for Master Míchaél Odhrán at Mr Carnoughbhain’s Little Shop of Dreams. Lansboighy, Dún Na nGall, Éire.’

His father took the box and tilted it so that he could read it. ‘Made Just for Master Michael Orrin at Mr Carnovan’s Little Shop of Dreams, Lansby, Donegal, Ireland.’

‘The words are spelt all funny.’

‘That’s because they’re the proper Irish spellings. It’s filled with Irish magic, and it wouldn’t work half as well if Mr Carnovan used those cut-off, unimaginative spellings we favour nowadays, would it?’

Michael shook his head no. He had great respect for magic, especially Irish magic. ‘Where is Lansby?’

‘Well, that’s part of the story you have to listen to.’ His father handed him back the box. ‘Now, don’t open it. You can hold it, but don’t open it. You’ll soon understand why.’ His father pulled the chair away from the wall and sat down next to Michael’s bed.

‘Now, you asked where Lansby is. Well, many people have asked that same question, Michael, for Lansby is a difficult place to find. The village appears on no map. You could take the biggest map of Donegal you could find and take out the strongest magnifying glass in all the world and look and look and look and still you would be no wiser how to get to Lansby. And the locals like it that way. They want to be left alone, and they long ago switched all the fingerposts that should point to Lansby so that they direct the ignorant to Maghum instead. And since as a destination Maghum is much superior to Lansby, few travellers complain of the deception. Or for that matter, either care or know that they have been deceived. “Oh,” they say to their friends, “we had ever so lovely a time at Lansby, or, as the locals call it, Maghum. And it’s such an easy drive. Just take the N56 east out of Dunfanaghy and drive straight into Sheephaven Bay and just follow the road along the bottom of the Bay until you come out the other side, and there you are in Lansby.” Of course, the Maghumies are quite happy to go along with the trick. As long as the tourists spend their money in their village, the inhabitants of that seaside resort care not one skittle, not a jot or a tittle, not even a fine blue tiddlywink, that the visitors believe themselves to be in Lansby.

‘Not even the postman can find Lansby. You remember Mrs Gilsenan who runs the post office at Dunfanaghy. Some day you must ask her to show you all the letters she has for people in Lansby. Every morning Mr Nugent, the postman, goes out in his van with a stack of letters for Lansby, and every evening he returns. And when he does, he dumps all the letters for Lansby in a special bin. There are so many letters that they spill out of the bin and pile up on the floor. There are so many that it’s been years since Mrs Gilsenan last saw the back door to the post office. A mountain of letters like a great pyramid. All the letters that never get answered, all the postcards with their pretty pictures of white sand beaches and palm trees and their “wish you were here, having a lovely time” that never get read. All of them end up in that bin of undelivered mail for Lansby.

‘ “Not found it again, Mr Nugent?” Mrs Gilsenan asks.

‘ “No, Mrs Gilsenan, I have not,” replies Mr Nugent, “I am thinking that none but the devil knows the road to Lansby. And as far as I am concerned, he may keep that knowledge to his self.”

‘Now, only those with great courage and persistence ever find Lansby. I know you know what courage is, Michael, but do you know what persistence is?’

‘It means to keep at something until you are finished.’

‘Yes, precisely.’ His father nodded in approval and continued with his story. ‘Now, even the inhabitants of Lansby sometimes forget where it is. Indeed, I have seen this with my own eyes, Michael. Sometimes a man from Lansby comes to Dunfanaghy to go shopping, for Lansby is but a small place and it lacks many things. And when he gets finished with his shopping and all his bags are overflowing with big yellow cheeses and sardines in red tins and good strong brown rope to hang the washing from and pens that never run out of black and green and blue ink and a bone with a bit of meat on it that he got from the butcher for the soup pot, he will stand there in the market square at Dunfanaghy looking first to the east, and then to the west, and then to the south and perhaps even to the north, although everyone knows that there’s only your grandmother’s house north of Dunfanaghy. The poor befuddled man scratches his noggin and stares in every direction for a hint of the road that leads to Lansby. Many an unfortunate Lansbian wanders the hills of Donegal for days searching for his home, asking every man, woman, or child he meets to point out the road.

‘And if that were all the story to be told, it would be quite a minor tale indeed. But Lansby is where Mr Carnovan has made his home and where he has his Little Shop of Dreams. How Mr Carnovan came to settle in Lansby is a long story, and I shall tell it to you another time. For now he is there, and that is all that needs to be said at this point.

 ‘Now Mr Carnovan is quite short, and there are those who unwisely refer to him as one of the “wee folk”. They never make that remark twice, at least not in Mr Carnovan’s hearing. It’s not that Mr Carnovan has anything against the wee folk. Indeed not. He has been seen sharing a friendly pint with many a garden gnome, the two of them laughing and joking long into the night, until the stars disappear into the west. And a special chair is reserved in a warm spot beside his fireplace for any of the Old Ones passing through the neighbourhood. No, he has nothing against the wee folk. It’s rather that he has too much respect for them to claim to be a wee folk himself. He is short, not wee, and he’ll thank you to remember the difference, Mr Michael Orrin.’

Michael father’s pinched Michael’s nose between his thumb and forefinger. ‘Oww,’ giggled Michael, ‘that hurts.’

‘It’s to help you remember the difference. You’ll thank me for it one day. Now, back to the story. Mr Carnovan has inherited most of the features of the Carnovans, although his nose lacks the impressive dimensions that have given us the proverb ‘As plain as the nose on a Carnovan’. The present Mr Carnovan’s nose is more reasonable in size. I believe his mother contributed that feature to his face, for his father boasted a truly enormous nose, a veritable elephant’s snout it was. Like most of his clan, the present Mr Carnovan is pleasingly formed. Indeed, he is accounted a handsome man by most. He is, moreover, a most friendly man, genial when geniality is called for and sober when sobriety is needed. I have always enjoyed his company when he has consented to grace me with his presence. He is a man of great charm. And he shares his house with a brindled cat named The Murphy.’

‘Like me!’

‘Indeed, just like you, Michael. I am glad to see that you are paying attention. And Mr Carnovan’s Murphy is just like your Murphy, a cat wise beyond his years. For it is well known that brindled cats are the wisest of cats, and they choose their companions carefully. It speaks highly of Mr Carnovan, and of young Master Michael Orrin, that cats of such intelligence have chosen them as friends.

‘Now there is nothing about the Little Shop of Dreams to catch the eye, not so that you would notice. From outside, there is no hint of the wonders to be found within. In the window there are only a few blue boxes like the one you’re holding. They are stacked up in a pyramid. But truth to tell, the pyramid has become a bit lopsided over time, and the boxes are in need of a good dusting. There is so much dust that if you walked into his shop, you would start sneezing—enormous explosions that would send the little blue boxes flying about the shop. Mr Carnovan would rush about trying to catch them as they tumbled through the air, mumbling “Oh dear, my goodness, who would have thought young Michael Orrin could sneeze like that!”

‘Now, Mr Carnovan and his family have been in the business of providing dreams for generations. He is too modest a man to record the year in which the firm was founded over the doorway to his establishment. I have no such hesitation. The first Little Shop of Dreams was started in 1642. It is rumoured, and I admit that I do not know if this is true, that one of Mr Carnovan’s younger brothers bestirred his self and sailed off to America and founded a branch of the shop there, in Los Angeles, I believe. We will wish him every success and allow him to enjoy the California sunshine.

‘Mr Carnovan is now a bit older than your granddas. He has, as the saying goes, earned his rest and is enjoying his life of semi-retirement in Lansby. If a customer walks in, Mr Carnovan attends to their needs with admirable thoughtfulness. But he does not put himself out to attract patrons. Perhaps twice, sometimes three times, a day, the bell over the front door to the Little Shop will jangle, and Mr Carnovan will emerge from the back room where he smokes his white pipe and reads his books, all of which have red covers. There are, of course, more customers during the Christmas season, when Mr Carnovan follows the family tradition of offering a special sale on Christmas dreams. But since Christmas is several months off, we will tell the story of the Christmas sales at the Little Shop of Dreams some other time.

‘The present Mr Carnovan never married and has no children. He sometimes talks about retiring and turning the Little Shop of Dreams over to one of his nephews. But I am getting ahead of my story. Time enough for the future in the future.’

‘But if it’s so hard to get to Lansby, how did Grandmother get there?’

‘As I said, only those with courage and persistence ever reach Lansby, Michael. Now everyone knows that your Grandmother Orrin has both in abundance, doesn’t she?’


‘Well, then, do you doubt your grandmother could find Lansby? It would take more than a few mischievous Lansbians and their misdirecting fingerposts to send your grandmother astray. No, for those that need to find it, the Little Shop of Dreams is easy to find. All one has to do is set one’s right foot down on the proper path, and the rest of the steps follow. Now, where was I in my story?’

‘You were about to tell me how Grandmother found Lansby.’

‘Was I? Well, I suppose I should tell you then. One bright sunny morning, just after the rains had ended and the clouds had drifted off towards the east, your grandmother wrapped her best shawl, the one that’s as blue as the grass, around her shoulders and picked up her special carrying bag made of string as green as the clouds. She chose a walking stick made of dark elderberry wood from the stand beside the door and put on that Red Sox baseball cap your Uncle Brendan sent her from Boston in America. She put it on backwards, like all the young men do, and stomped her left foot three times before she opened the door to let Old Woman Edná, the spirit that protects her home, know that she was leaving and that Edná was to watch over the house while she was away. Then she stepped outside and put the cap on straight and stomped her right foot three times. She gave three mighty stomps of her right foot—one, two, three—just to wake the guardian spirits of the land and let them know that Nora Kathryn Orrin, O’Connor that was, was stepping forth, and they’d better behave and watch over her as she travelled. And a guardian spirit would have to be a very foolish spirit indeed not to tend to your grandmother.’

‘But you still haven’t said how Grandmother found the road to Lansby.’

‘Patience, Michael, patience,’ Michael’s father said with mock severity. ‘Surely you know that the penalty for interrupting a storyteller is never to learn the ending of the story. Now you don’t want that, do you?’

Michael giggled and shook his head no.

‘Good. Let us get back to your grandmother and not leave her standing on her own doorstep because her impatient grandson keeps interrupting the storyteller. Now, your grandmother looked to the east and then to the west and then to the south. But she didn’t bother to look to the north, because the only thing north of Dunfanaghy is your grandmother’s house. She knew that it would be useless to look north, and your grandmother never wastes time doing what is useless. Still, no matter where she looked, she saw not the slightest sign of the road to Lansby. For, as everyone knows, the road to Lansby is hard to find. Finally, she closed her eyes and felt in her pocket for her agate stone, the special wishing stone that her mother had before her and her mother’s mother before her mother. And she held it in her hand. And the stone felt smooth and warm in her hand. She thought about her grandson who was troubled by the nightmares and how she needed to get to Lansby and Mr Carnovan’s Little Shop of Dreams.

‘The thing about wishing stones is that you mustn’t ever make a wish. You only think about what you want. And if the wishing stone favours you, it sends a sign. So your grandmother thought and thought about you. And when she looked to the south, she could see a place far away, high, high up in the hills below Muckish Mountain, where there was one blade of grass that was bent over as if someone had stepped on it. She looked a bit further on, and she could see another blade of grass that had been trampled. And she knew that was the sign she had been waiting for.

‘So she closed her gate and stepped out on the road. For the longest journey begins when you put your right foot down in the proper place. Then all the steps follow one after the other until you arrive where you are going and there you are.

‘Now, it would be a very long story to tell you all the dangers your grandmother had to brave on the road to Lansby. The telling of it would keep you up long past your bedtime. So I’ll save the stories about your grandmother’s meeting the ogre and the three tuneless tenors or how she tricked the giant into helping her cross the deep waters of the Black Torrent. No, I think that tonight I will not even tell you how she persuaded the knight who guards the pass to give her a ride over the mountain on his roan horse. Those will be stories for other nights.

‘In fact, Michael, I can see that you are having a hard time keeping your eyes open. Even an ogre would be forced to admit that those yawns you’re yawning are very big yawns. So, my lad, let’s put the box from Mr Carnovan’s Little Shop of Dreams up here on the top shelf of your bookcase, for that is where it will do the most good. Tomorrow I will tell you how your grandmother bought the box. But you must promise me one thing.’

Michael nodded eagerly.

‘You must not open the box. All its magic would escape if you opened it. Tonight all you have to know is that it will send you only good dreams. And if the devil comes at you with a nightmare, you tell him that you are sorry but you have a box bought by your grandmother at Mr Carnovan’s Little Shop of Dreams, and he will go away and not trouble you further. Can you do that for me, Michael?’

Michael nodded and then yawned again. He rolled over onto his side, and his father tucked the covers around him and then switched off the light and pulled the door most of the way closed so that only a little light came into the room from the hallway. Just before Michael’s eyes closed, he looked up and saw the blue box gleaming from the edge of the top shelf of the bookcase.


The Murphy spotted the box the moment he entered the room. Lú na Micniai, the guardian spirit of the house, was sitting on the top shelf and tossing the box from hand to hand. Even in the dim light, it glowed with colour as it tumbled through the air. When Lú saw The Murphy, he stood on the toes of one foot, stuck his other leg out straight behind himself, and twirled the box around on the tip of his right thumb so quickly that the box looked like a whirlwind that The Murphy had once seen.

‘What do you think’s in the box, Mr Murphy?’

‘I know what it is the box, Lú, and you are to put it down. My cousin in Lansby in Donegal, also named The Murphy, makes those. Those are not for the likes of you.’

‘And why might that be, Mr Murphy?’

‘Because they are filled with dreams, and why would a house guard like yourself be needing a dream? You never sleep.’ The Murphy checked over his shoulder that the boy was asleep. Then he levitated. Now, cats never levitate when humans are watching. But if you ever wonder how the cat made his way atop the refrigerator to sample the cream-filled brandy cornets you left there for safety while you went to answer the telephone or how he got up on the roof, the answer is levitation. One moment The Murphy was standing with all four of his paws on the floor and the next second, he was on the top shelf sitting next to Lú, his tail wrapped around his body and one of his front paws hanging elegantly over the edge of the shelf. In the dark at the top of the bookcase, he was nearly invisible.

Lú shifted a few inches away, not so far as to be rude and imply that he didn’t want to sit near The Murphy but far enough to allow The Murphy more room. Experience had taught Lú that the cat was not above punctuating his assertions with his claws. Not two weeks before, Lú had had to replace his second-best pair of gold trousers because the beast has taken a mind to mayhem and snagged a claw on them while they were chatting. And the cat had refused to own up and reimburse Lú for the cost of a new pair. And as everyone knows, gold trousers of the sort every self-respecting house guardian wears cost a galleon full of moonbeams. Now, The Murphy was the house cat and Lú was the house guardian, and the both of them together were responsible for the safety and well-being of the Orrin family. And Lú was willing to cooperate with the cat in carrying out their duties. But, as he said to the lads down to the pub, that didn’t mean that he had to like the furry monster. No, that was why manners had been invented—to allow you to deal with difficult creatures without resorting to magic spells. And The Murphy—and if you wanted his opinion of the animal, Lú na Micniai would be only too happy to give it to you—The Murphy was a difficult creature.

‘And it’s your cousin, the aforementioned Murphy, who makes these boxes of dreams?’ Lú had been raised to be a proper, polite house guard, and he thought it only decent to show an interest in The Murphy’s family, even though, truth be told, there were more than enough brindled cats named The Murphy in Ireland to make a regiment in the devil’s army as far as Lú was concerned. But in the interests of domestic harmony, the house guard was willing to try to get along with the cat, not that it was easy, mind you. And The Murphy always rubbing up against the boy and purring. That shameless, the feline was. It wasn’t fair. Just because house guardians were too quick to be seen by humans, even the ones with the sharpest eyes, and just because they didn’t have soft, silky fur, and just because they couldn’t purr, didn’t mean they weren’t the real protectors of the house. The cat was asleep half the time, not that Lú would ever complain that he had to do most of the work. No, he was only too happy to shoulder more than his fair share. Of course, it made no difference in his pay. It was his nightmare that one day the monster would eat him and then claim afterwards that he thought the house guard had been a mouse. Well, Lú had his magic ready if the cat ever tried that out. It would be the last time The Murphy trifled with him. And just let The Murphy try to shred Lú’s trousers again. There was now a small magic spell in the left back pocket of each pair of his trousers that would take care of that. Lú grinned at The Murphy. The cat could make of that what he would.

‘Yes. But he’s a well-brought-up cat, and he lets the human take the credit—this Mr Carnovan of Lansby that the man was telling Michael about.’

‘For a human, the man tells a good story.’

‘Yes. He’s almost as good as my cousin Murphy who owns a cottage in Gouldamher near Luimneach. Have I told you his story about the cat who saved . . .’

Both the cat and the house guard sat up, alert. ‘Did you hear that, Mr Murphy? It sounds like one of them nasty snarflies that have been sneaking about the neighbourhood at night and snarfling up leftover chocolate ice cream and leaving not a lick for anyone else.’

The cat and the house guard leapt off the top shelf and ran out the door to Michael’s room. The house guard skied down the banister, his bright green hat flying off his head as he bounced off the end of the railing. He grabbed it just before it flew out of reach and pulled it on securely, folding the tops of his ears over it to hold it in place, as he headed into the kitchen to confront the snarfly. Murphy bounded down the steps, taking three at a time. He skittered a bit on the pestiferous rug at the bottom of the stairs. Why the woman insisted on having these rugs, he would never understand. But he quickly righted himself and galloped into the kitchen on Lú’s heels.

In his bedroom, Michael stirred and turned over as his dream ended, and then went back to sleep.


Mr Carnovan’s Little Shop of Dreams, Part 2

‘Tonight I will tell you what happened in Lansby when your grandmother opened the door to Mr Carnovan’s shop,’ Michael’s father said as he tucked the covers under his son’s chin.

‘But what about the ogre and the three tuneless tenors? Grandmother had to pass them to get to Lansby.’

‘You remember them, do you?’

‘And then there’s the giant and the raging waters of the Black Torrent. And the knight who gave Grandmother a ride over the mountain on his roan horse. You can’t leave them out, Da.’

‘That will be several nights’ stories, Michael.’

‘Yes.’ Michael smiled at the thought of the many stories his father would have to tell him.

‘Well, I suppose it is only right to tell all of the story in the order in which it happened. We mustn’t get ahead of the words or leave any of them out, for all the words in a story belong to it, and it wouldn’t be the same story if we left any of them out.’ Michael’s father settled into his chair. He didn’t see The Murphy creep into the room and crawl under the bed, moving silently with his belly against the rug, his tail held low to the floor. Nor a few seconds later did he see a faint shadow flit across the wall of the room behind him. If the father’s eyes had been such that could see a house guard, he would have seen Lú climb up on Michael’s small desk and seat himself, with his legs crossed at the knee and dangling over the edge. As is only polite when listening to a storyteller—for storytellers deserve our complete attention—Lú took his hat off and sat it beside him, with the shiny gold buckle on the front facing forward, because that is the proper way to display a hat. Nor would it surprise me if a few of other benevolent spirits in the neighbourhood weren’t present in the room or floating in the air outside the window of Michael’s bedroom, for Michael’s father was known for the excellence of his stories. But since I have no proof that they were there, I will omit them from this tale.

‘It was on the way to Lansby that your grandmother ran into the ogre and the three tuneless tenors,’ Michael’s father began. ‘You will remember that after shutting her door and closing her gate, your grandmother found the path to Lansby with the help of the wishing stone. With her string bag in her left hand and her purse full of golden coins deep in the right-hand pocket of her coat, your grandmother walked steadily up the long hill south of Dunfanaghy until she reached the point where the first blade of grass was bent. The trail was faint, but she could see that it led up over the hill and down. Your grandmother pulled her blue shawl tightly around her shoulders, for the breeze blowing up there in the hills chilled her, and she fixed the Red Sox baseball cap your Uncle Brendan sent her firmly on her head lest some stray wind decide to have a bit of fun and tumble it off her head.

‘For there are impish winds that like nothing better than to watch a human being chase after a hat. Just as the poor person catches up and is reaching out to snatch the cap back, the wind gives a puff and the hat goes scrumbling away. There are many fearsome stories I could tell you, Michael, about people who have spent their lives chasing hats forever scrumbled just beyond their fingertips by the wind. But those must wait until another day, after we have finished the story of your grandmother’s visit to Mr Carnovan’s shop to buy you that fine blue box that sits atop your bookcase.

‘Now, the hat forced her hair out into a circle of lovely white locks that stood out several inches around the sides and back of her head. And the sun looked down from the sky, and it caught sight of your grandmother’s blue shawl against the golden hills of Donegal, and it quite liked the shape of her head and the colour of her locks as they flared out beneath that bright red Red Sox cap. So the sun said to itself, “Ah, now there is a sight to improve the day. Nora Kathryn Orrin, O’Connor that was, striding forth on this fine morning and adding to the pleasure of every creature both visible and invisible that sees her. But why is she headed towards Lansby? Does she not know of the ogre and the three tuneless tenors that lie in wait as the path to Lansby crosses over the little arched bridge above the stream that runs between the hills? Has she not heard of the mighty torrent guarded by the giant and its sharp rocks hidden by the raging waters? And what of the knight with the roan horse who guards the pass over the mountain?”

‘The sun thought for a bit and then it said, “I will do what I can to ease Nora Kathryn Orrin’s way, for she is a fine woman and doubtless she has a good reason to be on the path to Lansby, although for the life of me I can shine no light on why she is headed there.” And the sun warmed the air so the breeze was no longer chilly, and it chased away a cloud that was floating overhead. And having done what it could to make your grandmother’s journey pleasant, the sun sailed on west through the blue sky, for it had much to do before it set for the night.

‘The path wound on and on, for no path likes to run in a straight line. If left to themselves, paths visit groves of trees and linger in the cool shade, and they veer off to the left or to the right so that they can pass by the yellow and red flowers that grow in out-of-the-way places. They love to follow streams and gaze at the mysteries that sleep in the slow, dark pools. And they climb up tall rocks so that they can look down on the deep valleys or across the mountains to the sea. No, every path likes to wander about. It’s only humans that want a path to march in a straight line.

‘Now, the path to Lansby has been there for a long time, long before there were humans in Donegal, which is to say for a very long time indeed. There are some who say that it was built by the ancient kings of the Tuatha Dé Danann and been kept in repair by the Micniai and the Iníonneachtanna, the guardian spirits of our houses and our land, ever since.’

The Murphy raised his head from between his paws in disgust, and his tail whipped back and forth, disturbing the dust bunnies that had moved in beneath Michael’s bed immediately after his mother had finished pushing the nozzle of the vacuum cleaner under there. The man was taking unpardonable liberties with the story of the making of the path to Lansby.

‘There are others who says that the brindled cats built the road.’

The Murphy smiled to himself under the bed and licked his right front paw so that his hairy tongue made a rasping sound, for that is a cat’s way of saying ‘You got that right, mate’. ‘Ah, the man was just building suspense and delaying the story before telling the truth of the matter,’ thought The Murphy. ‘It is an old technique and he used it to good effect, exactly what one would expect from a man trained by my father and grandfather.’ And The Murphy rested his chin on his front paws again.

Lú na Micniai’s eyes blazed with indignation at the suggestion that the brindled cats had built the road to Lansby. ‘And tall tales they would be that they were telling then,’ he squeaked in his high-pitched voice.

‘Did you hear a noise, Michael?’ The man turned his head and looked about the room. For a fraction of a second he thought he saw something sitting on the edge of Michael’s desk, but when he took a closer look, there was nothing there.

Michael shook his head no. ‘Perhaps both the guardian spirits and the brindled cats built the path to Lansby.’

‘Now that is a good thought, Michael,’ and the father nodded in satisfaction at his son’s remark. ‘An excellent thought. For everyone who uses a path helps build it. And so it was the day your grandmother journeyed to Lansby. For so few people use the path she was following that some days the path forgets where it leads. It lies there on the earth and rests in the warm sun, and the wind blowing through the tall grasses bends them over the path and almost covers it so that the traveller has to look twice to see where the path is. Or it watches as a leaf breaks free from its tree and drifts through the air, rising and falling in the breeze. And it listens to the songs of thanksgiving the bees sing as they visit the flowers. Oh, the path to Lansby has an easy life, Michael. Sometimes for days on end it has nothing to do. But your grandmother woke it up and helped it remember that it runs from the hills south of Dunfanaghy to the village of Lansby, where Mr Carnovan has his Little Shop of Dreams. And the path was only too happy to help your grandmother along. But it was in no hurry, and it could not imagine that your grandmother was. So the path delighted in showing her all the glories that lie along the road to Lansby.

‘And your grandmother followed the path as it wound beneath the trees and lingered in the cool shade. She gazed with pleasure at the red and yellow flowers as the path veered first to the left and then to the right. And she paused for not a few moments to ponder the mysteries that sleep in the dark, still pools of the stream that flows beside the path for a time. And she looked with joy upon the deep valleys and across the mountains to where the ocean sings its song to the land.

‘But your grandmother was not the only being to be enchanted by the path to Lansby. Many a creature, both human and not human, has travelled the path to Lansby and found pleasure in it. And many a creature makes his home beside it. Now some of them are quite harmless. The path to Lansby makes no objection to the field mouse that builds his little house beside it. And the rabbits have long loved the meadows to either side of the path. But others are a bit more dangerous.

‘As the path wandered out of yet another grove of trees and down a long slope into a deep valley, your grandmother saw that a stream ran down the bottom of the valley, and there, where the road crossed the stream, was a stout bridge built of emeralds and sapphires. Now this was a proper bridge, Michael. It arched high over the stream so that in the spring when the streams flood, no traveller would get his feet wet. And the emeralds and sapphires of which it was built were so large that no flood could sweep them away. And those rocks were so tightly fit together that even if you took the smallest, sharpest knife you could find, you could not insert the tip of the blade between two of them. And the bridge shone green and blue in the light.

‘Your grandmother walked down the long hill into the deep valley, but as she got closer and closer to the bridge, she began hearing the strangest noise. When she was still far away, it sounded like the cawing of all the birds nesting on Horn Head when you’re a mile off. When she got a little closer, it sounded more like a thousand pieces of chalk screeching against a slate. Had it not been bright daylight and were your grandmother a superstitious woman, she might have wondered if a banshee were not waiting beside the bridge over the little stream at the bottom of the valley to steal her soul. As it was, when she was a half-mile off, she had to cover her ears with her hands to keep out the noise.

‘There was something else, something very strange next to the bridge. At first your grandmother thought it was a misshapen pile of mud that a thoughtless person had left to ruin the pleasure the weary traveller would find in such a well-made bridge. For, sad to say, there are those who delight in despoiling beauty when they see it. And your grandmother was troubled by the sight. She wished for her broom and her dustpan that she might clean the mess up.

‘But when she got close, no further from where you are now to the corner of the street, the pile of mud moved and looked up. A pair of sad brown eyes looked out at your grandmother from deep within a craggy face. The ogre, for an ogre it was, was covering his ears with his hands. His face was filled with misery, and his eyes were red from all the crying he had been doing.

‘Now, you mustn’t believe everything you read in the newspapers about ogres or hear on the telly. They do not eat people, not even tender little children. No, give an ogre a big bowl of mashed potatoes with a slab of butter melting on top and a great glass of cold milk, and you will make him very happy. Ogres are really very kind creatures. An ogre fell asleep one fine spring day in our garden at Dunfanaghy, and while he was sleeping a pair of birds came by and built a nest in his hair. And when the ogre woke up, he started to stand up. The father bird came flying up to him in great distress and said, “Oh, begging your pardon, Mister Ogre, but we thought you were a tall tree. We have built our nest in your hair, and my lady wife has laid three bright purple eggs with red spots in it. What are we to do? If you move, the nest will fall off, and the eggs will break.”

‘Well the ogre didn’t hesitate for an instant. He stood still and didn’t move for six weeks until the eggs had hatched and the baby birds had grown and could fly away. Of course, the grateful birds named all three of their children after him. There was young Master Ogrebird, the beautiful Miss Ougrabhiard and the youngest one, Oggie the Bird, who, it pains me to say, was not always as good a bird as he should have been. But that’s a story for another day.

‘Now, your grandmother could see that the ogre beside the beautiful bridge was in distress. There is nothing sadder that a grown ogre blubbering away, the tears gushing out of his eyes and running down the wrinkles in his face and falling on his brown clothes and into his big brown wooden clogs. “What is the matter, my dear Mr Ogre?” asked your grandmother. She had to shout very loudly to make herself heard over the racket that was coming from under the bridge. It was painful to listen to it, and your grandmother stuck her fingers tightly into her ears.

‘The ogre bent down and stuck his head under the bridge, or rather he stuck the tip of his nose under the bridge, for that was all that could fit. “Can you not be quiet for a moment? We have a visitor. It’s Nora Kathryn Orrin from Dunfanaghy come to visit us on her way to Lansby to buy a box full of good dreams at Mr Carnovan’s Little Shop of Dreams for her grandson Michael in Dublin whose sleep is troubled by the nightmares.”

‘Your grandmother didn’t have to ask how the ogre knew why she was travelling on the road to Lansby, for ogres have a way of knowing such things. I think it’s those big ears of theirs. They can hear the birds gossiping with the winds from miles away, or the mice whispering in the meadows as they pause in their search for seeds to nibble.

‘The noise stopped. “Oh, that’s much better,” said your grandmother. “But whatever was making that din? It quite drove the thought from my mind.”

‘ “It’s enough to drive anyone mad,” said the ogre. “They’ve been living under the bridge for three hundred years now, and I can’t get rid of them.” The ogre stuck his head under the bridge again and shouted, “Will you not come out and introduce yourselves then? Nora Kathryn Orrin is wanting to meet you, although why she would want to meet such a sorry lot of troubadours, I cannot say. She is too kind for her own good.”

‘Out from under the bridge came the strangest trio you would ever want to see, Michael. Their clothes were all tattered and made of patches, star-shaped patches of pink sewn on square patches of black sewn on circles of puce. Their shoes were cracked and torn, so that their toes hung out. The first man, for men they were, was wearing a broad-brimmed hat with an ostrich feather in it. At least, it had once been an ostrich feather. Now all that remained was the bare naked quill. The hat had a great many holes in it, and the man’s hair, which needed to be washed, poked out through the holes. The second man had a very dirty handkerchief wrapped round his head. And the third wore a newspaper folded into a tricorne hat. It was a very old newspaper, and the ink had run into the yellow paper.

‘ “Good morning to you, Mrs Orrin,” said the first man. “We welcome you to the bridge over the little stream at the bottom of the valley that lies beneath the road to Lansby.” And the three man bowed at their waists, as they took the hats from their heads and swept the ground with them.

‘ “Well, I am glad to see that you are a polite trio of men, but why are you living beneath the bridge and why are you making that infernal noise?” asked your grandmother.

‘The leader of the band drew himself up to his full height. “I beg your pardon, Mrs Orrin.” Your grandmother knew instantly that her question had insulted the man. “But we were practicing our singing. We are the three tuneless tenors. Are we to blame that we were never taught to sing properly? Is it our fault that no one can give us a song to sing? We were cursed by a wicked ballymhough who thought we were trying to steal his sheep and set us down here. And here we must remain until someone teaches us a tune.”

‘ “They won’t leave until I teach them a song. I keep telling them that ogres can’t sing and that I know no songs. They keep making that din in the hope that someday they will find a song by good luck. And only time they stop is when they are eating. The only way I can get any peace and quiet is to feed them. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner—for three centuries. My life is a misery, Mrs Orrin, and I don’t know what to do,” said the ogre.

‘ “Is that all that is wanted? A tune? And then they will leave?” asked your grandmother.

‘She looked at the ogre, and the ogre nodded his head yes. She looked at the three tuneless tenors, and each in turn nodded his head yes. “Well, I can teach them a tune. I will teach them the same tune I taught my darling grandson Michael last summer when he visited me in Dunfanaghy.”

‘ “Oh, can you? If you can do that, Fair Lady, I will bless your name forever,” exclaimed the ogre. And he hopped about in a happy jig that made the ground shake, for although ogres cannot sing and know no songs, they are great dancers (as long as they don’t step on you with their great big feet).

‘ “Oh can you, Mrs Orrin?” cried the three tuneless tenors. “If you can do that, Fair Lady, we will sing your praises the length and breadth of Ireland.” And they danced about in joy, with the soles of their shoes flapping against the ground.

‘ “Of course, this song is properly sung with two fiddlers, one drummer, and a tin whistler. But we will have to do without,” said your grandmother.

‘ “Oh, I can help with that,” said the ogre. And he stood up to his full height and stuck one of his enormous hands deep into the right front pocket of his shirt, and he pulled out a fiddler and sat him on the ground. Then he reached into his left front pocket and pulled out another fiddler. The two fiddlers stretched and yawned, because they had been sleeping in the ogre’s pockets for years. Then they bowed to everyone and took their places off to one side.

‘The ogre then started rummaging through his knapsack. He unzipped the top zipper and pulled out a candlestick and his teddy bear and the cap he wore when he was sleeping, which he placed carefully on the ground. “I know I have a drummer in here somewhere,” he said, as he unzipped zipper after zipper. Soon there was a mound of goods lying beside the road that was taller than you are, Michael, but no drummer. “Ah, I am so stupid,” said the ogre as he struck his forehead with a tremendous slap of his palm. “I forgot I was using him to drown out the three tenors.” And he reached into his left ear and pulled out the drummer and sat him on the ground beside the two fiddlers. The drummer shook himself out and bowed to everyone. I won’t describe what he looked like, Michael, because after being in the ogre’s ear, he was not a pleasant sight. You can imagine that he was in need of a bath.

‘Then the ogre reached into the thatch of hair on his head and pulled out a tin whistle. He bowed to everyone and said, “You might not think it to look at me, but I play the tin whistle.” And he put the tin whistle to his mouth and blew a little tune, with notes both high and low. And the tin whistle was so small in his fist, Michael, that it would be like me or you holding a toothpick to our mouth. But, I must admit, the ogre could play that tin whistle quite well.

‘ “So what song will you teach us, Mrs Orrin,” asked the leader of the three tenors.

‘ “It is called ‘Báidín Fheilimí’, Feilim’s Little Boat.” Your grandmother turned to the musicians and asked, “Do you know it?”

‘ “We do,” all of them said.

‘She leaned back on her heels and looked way up into the sky towards the ogre. “And do you know it,” she asked.

‘ “I do indeed. It is a great favourite.”

Michael’s father put his hand to his chin and rubbed it with his fingers. He put on a very sad face. ‘Oh, this is a nuisance, Michael, but I’ve forgotten the words to “Báidín Fheilimí”. I’m afraid I won’t be able to tell you the end of the story.’

‘I know them,’ cried Michael, and he sat up in his bed and began singing. ‘Báidín Fheilimí d’imigh go Gabhla, Báidín Fheilimí ’s Feilimí ann.’

‘Yes, that’s it,’ shouted his father and he joined in for the second half of the first verse, which is the same as the first half.

Both father and son sang all three verses of the song and all three choruses happily together. Lú’s feet began to twitch as soon as Michael started singing, and before the second line was half over, he had risen to his feet and began dancing, the golden bells on the ends of his shoes ringing in time with the rocking of Feilim’s little boat on its way to Gola Island. Beneath the bed, the tip of The Murphy’s tail swayed back and forth with the music. The tune and the verses had been written by one of his ancestors—luckily, thought The Murphy, an ancestor who had travelled with Feilim only as far as Gola Island. The ancestral Murphy had declined to accompany that foolish sailor on the second stage of his voyage, the fatal trip to Tory Island, and instead had signed on as the ship’s cat on a boat headed for Dunfanaghy, where he settled down and begat the line of brindled cats named The Murphy.

‘Ah,’ said Michael’s father when they had finished. ‘Now that is what I would call a good song. It is no wonder that your grandmother thought to teach it to the three tuneless tenors.’ And he stopped there and lost himself in his thoughts, thinking of the years when he had been Michael’s age and first learned the song about Feilim, with some of the very waters that Feilim had sailed outside the windows.

Michael waited for a minute or so for the story to begin again. When his father showed no inclination to resume the story, he cleared his throat and said, ‘And did Grandmother teach the three tuneless tenors the song?’

‘Ah, you’ll be wanting to hear the rest of the story.’

‘Please.’ And Michael settled back down into his bed and pulled the covers up.

‘Well,’ said Michael’s father resuming the story, ‘Your grandmother arranged the musicians to her liking, with the fiddlers to her right, and the drummer to her left and the ogre sitting on the ground behind her. “Now listen carefully,” she said to the tenors. “I will sing the first verse slowly.”

‘And she sang the first verse very slowly. “But what do the words mean?” asked the second singer. He had a most peculiar accent.

‘The first singer took off his hat again and bowed low to your grandmother. “You’ll have to pardon him, Mrs Orrin. You’ll have heard of the Spanish Armada, and how after the English sunk most of that fleet, the few remaining ships sailed northward around Scotland and passed the shores of Donegal, where several of them came to grief on the rocks. Esteban was part of the crew, and he swam ashore. We found him, nearly dead, lying on the sands near Donegal harbour and took him with us. It was an act of charity, and we have never regretted it. But he has never lost his accent.”

‘Your grandmother bowed to the singers. “We are told that acts of mercy towards strangers never go unrewarded. I hope that you will find your way home, Esteban.” Esteban looked very sad and sighed so unhappily that your grandmother didn’t know what to say. There are some who never find their way home, and she feared that Esteban might be one of those. So she told him the story of Feilim and his voyage. “The song is about a man named Feilim, who sails his boat to Gola Island. The first verse means, ‘Feilim’s little boat sailed to Gola, Feilim’s little boat and Feilim in it.’ ” And then she told him what the words in the chorus mean, but she stopped there, because she didn’t think she should tell him what happened when Feilim sailed to Tory Island, those events being so close to Esteban’s own experiences off the shores of Donegal. And Esteban thanked her politely and thought it was just a merry song about a little boat. And since no one ever told him any different, he went on happily singing the song about Feilim the rest of his life. But I am running away from the story.

‘Now it took but an hour for the three tenors to master the song. From here on, we can no longer call them the three tuneless tenors, because they now had a tune—although, truth to tell, they never did learn to sing in tune. Everyone was quite happy. The three tenors were happy because the curse had been lifted, and they could continue on their way after three centuries. The ogre was happy because the three tenors could now leave and he would be able to enjoy his home by the bridge, with the only sounds those of the water flowing gently over the stones and the birds singing in the trees. The musicians were happy because they were no longer stuffed in the ogre’s pockets or into his ear. And your grandmother was happy because she enjoys teaching people the old songs.

‘The ogre reached into his knapsack and brought out three new suits of clothes for the tenors. They retired behind a bush, out of your grandmother’s sight, and changed into their new clothes. You would not have recognised them for the same men, Michael, they were so splendid in their new finery of red velvet trousers and golden waistcoats embroidered with fine silk threads and bright green boots with silver bells on their heels. And each of them had a fine new hat of soft leather with a broad brim and a fine feather on the left side sticking up high into the air.

‘The ogre cut thick pieces of ham and sliced his finest loaf of white bread. He buttered each slice of bread and made sandwiches with the ham and put them in a brown paper bag. He added some apples to the bag and gave it to the tenors. Then he shook the hand of each of the three tenors, and your grandmother shook the hand of each of the three tenors. And each of the musicians shook the hand of each of the three tenors. The last that was seen of them they were headed towards Dunfanaghy in their new clothes, but I have not heard if they ever reached it.

‘The ogre waited until the tenors had disappeared from view. And then he pulled a large table from his knapsack and spread it with a cloth so white that even your grandmother would be proud to put it on her table. He sat out silver candlesticks and fine china plates and forks and knives and spoons made of gold and crystal. And then he pulled more hams and roast chickens and chops and chicken tikla and fish and chips and pizza and beets and potatoes and turnips and cabbages and both white and brown bread and butter and marmalade and green salad and red salad and oranges and apples and bananas and peaches and cherries and figs and chocolate cakes and many different flavours of ice cream from his knapsack and sat them on the table, and he asked your grandmother and the musicians to eat. For himself, he prepared a washtub full of mashed potatoes and a barrel of cold buttermilk. And everyone sat down and ate and ate till not a scrap of food remained on the table, for it is only polite to eat all of a feast that has been spread for you. And when they had finished, the first fiddler asked your grandmother if she would not sing another song.

‘And your grandmother thought for a moment, and then she sang “Caoine Cill Chais,” The Lament for Kilcash, which, as you know, Michael, is a very sad song. And the fiddlers cried as they fiddled and the drummer sobbed as he beat the drum. Even the ogre shed a tear or two, although, not being human, he had no reason to share the sorrows of the people of Kilcash and what passes away never to come again. But like many sad songs, it leaves you feeling a bit happier when you’ve finished singing it. And then your grandmother sang “Trasna na dTonnta,” Over the Waves. And the fiddlers fiddled and the drummer drummed and the ogre played the tin whistle and did a little dance, because the song brought back so many memories of places he had visited when he was a young ogre and given to roaming the world.

‘And the strangest thing happened while your grandmother was singing, Michael. The three tenors had made such a racket all those years that the birds had left that valley. Not one bird remained. Even the little stream had ceased to make any noise. And all the creatures both visible and invisible that could leave had run far, far away to escape that din. Now, just as your grandmother started singing “Cill Chais”, a little sparrow that made his home in the next valley happened to be flying by.

‘As was his habit in flying over the valley with the little bridge, he flew very quickly so that he wouldn’t have to listen to the three tuneless tenors for long. But when he flew over the stream, he realised that there was no more noise. Indeed someone with a beautiful voice was singing, and fiddles and a tin whistle were being played sweetly, and a mellow drum was beating out the rhythm. The sparrow was so astonished that he stopped and circled overhead. When he saw that the three tenors were gone, he flew down to take a closer look. And the closer he got, the sweeter the music became.

‘Finally the sparrow landed on the far end of the bridge and listened carefully. It certainly didn’t sound like the three tenors, and he hopped a bit closer to take a look. He stretched himself up on his legs and peeked over the top of the bridge, and he saw the ogre and the musicians and your grandmother all seated around the table and singing. And he rose up into the air and he flew all around telling everyone that the three tenors were gone and that a queen with a silver voice was singing in the valley with the little bridge. He told all the songbirds he met. And he told all the guardian spirits he met. And he told all the winds and the trees and the flowers.

‘And all the songbirds flew off to see for themselves that the three tenors had left and to hear the queen with the silver voice who was singing in the valley with the little bridge. And all the guardian spirits took their harps and their fiddles and their drums down from the pegs where they hung on the walls of their cottages, and they ran as fast as they could through the woods to the little bridge. When the trees and the flowers complained that they could not draw closer, the winds gently blew the songs towards them so they could share in the music making by the bridge over the stream.

‘And when the songbirds arrived, they perched on the bridge over the little stream and joined in the singing. And when the guardian spirits caught their breath after running through the woods, they began plucking the strings of their harps and drawing the bows across the strings of their fiddles, and playing their drums. And even the little stream joined in, adding its babbling and its gurgling as it flowed over the pebbles and beneath the bridge.

‘And they sang all the old songs, some of which had not been heard for many years. And when they had sung all the old songs, their throats were quite dry and they could not sing any more. So the ogre pulled a big teapot from his knapsack and a lot of cups and poured everyone a cup a tea (although I think that when no one was looking, some of the guardian spirits may have poured the tea on the ground and put something stronger in those teacups, for they became very frisky later).

‘And when everyone had rested their throats and soothed them with the tea, one of the musicians said, “And could you sing a new song for us, Mrs Orrin? We have been here for many years, and we have not heard the new songs, for surely they are still after making new songs in Ireland.”

‘Your grandmother thought for a bit and then she smiled with satisfaction. “I have just the tune for you.” And she sang “Mná na h’Éirann,” The Women of Ireland, which the ogre and the musicians and the songbirds and the guardian spirits liked very much and made her repeat over and over until they had learned it, which they did very quickly. But they pretended to be having trouble getting the words and the tune right just for the pleasure of listening to your grandmother sing it again and again.

‘And when she was finished, it was very late, far too late for her to continue on her journey to Lansby and Mr Carnovan’s Little Shop of Dreams. The moon was already showing above the trees and the stars were filling the sky with their twinkling. And so the ogre escorted your grandmother to the tallest oak tree in the valley, where he had built a small cottage in the tree for any visitor who had to stay the night, not that anyone had been able to sleep while the three tenors were around. The songbirds settled in for the night in the tree so that they could wake your grandmother with their singing as soon as the light grew in the east. And your grandmother slept beneath sheets of the finest ruby-coloured linen and blankets woven from the eider’s down. The ogre and the musicians and the guardian spirits moved off a bit, so as not to disturb your grandmother’s sleep, and built a big fire. The musicians played all the songs they could remember, and perhaps they drank a bit more than they should. But if you had spent a few centuries in an ogre’s pocket, you would be thirsty too.

‘And in the morning when your grandmother awoke, the ogre made breakfast for everyone. When everyone had finished eating and could eat no more, your grandmother said that she’d best be on the road if she wanted to make it to Lansby that day. So she said goodbye to everyone and walked over the bridge made of emeralds and sapphires and into the grove of trees at the other side. She turned around just before the path led her out of sight and waved to the ogre and the musicians and all the songbirds and the guardian spirits. And all of them waved back to her.

‘And now, Michael, it is past time for your bed. We will continue with the story tomorrow. Now, remember, you are not to open the box from Mr Carnovan’s Little Shop of Dreams for any reason. Not even if the devil comes in your sleep and promises to give you all the wealth of the Indies if you will open it for him. Thank him politely and tell him to go to hell. Will you do that for me?’

‘But I’m not supposed to say that word.’

‘You can say hell to the devil, for it is his home and it is where he belongs.’

Michael promised that he would, even though he was puzzled again by the words one could say only in certain circumstances or only if one was an adult. Why could he tell the devil to go to hell and not say the same to Mr Adams, who lived next door and was always shouting at him to stop making that infernal noise whenever Michael sang? If ever a man had the devil in him, that man Adams had. But he knew that if he told Mr Adams to go to hell, his mother and his father would get very angry and scold him.

His father closed the door almost all the way, so that only a little crack of light came into the room. Michael rolled over onto his side and pulled the covers up under his chin. He decided he would think about the mystery of words that could be said to the devil and not to human beings tomorrow. And he went to sleep.

‘Well, that was a nice story,’ said Lú. He was quite happy to note that no cat had been present at the singing by the little bridge, but of course he didn’t say so to The Murphy.

As soon as Michael fell asleep, The Murphy jumped on his bed and curled up beside him. ‘It was a decent enough story, although there were more than a few inaccuracies in it,’ he remarked to Lú, and he flicked the end of his tail twice to show his opinion of the story.

Lú smiled to himself, for he knew from that remark that the cat had noted the absence of cats at the music making by the little bridge. But in the interests of preserving domestic harmony, he asked, “And have you ever told the devil to go to hell, Mr Murphy?’

‘I have indeed, Lú, many a time.’

Now everyone knows it is unwise to mention the devil, for, if he is not busy, he comes when his name is mentioned. And he’ll often make time to come even if he is busy. As soon as The Murphy finished speaking, the devil himself appeared in the room. The very hat on Lú’s head shrunk in fright and squeezed his skull tight, and all the fur on The Murphy’s body stood straight out so that he doubled in size. Michael trembled in his sleep, for the devil is the worst nightmare that can come into your head.

But Michael remembered his father’s words, and in his dream he drew himself up to his full height and thrust out his chest and shook his fist at the devil and said, ‘Go to hell.’ Lú took heart from Michael’s example, and he stood up and shook his fist at the devil and said, ‘Go to hell.’ The Murphy stood up and arched his back and spat out ‘Go to hell.’ Then he licked his left paw and brushed it over his left ear to show that he wasn’t afraid and had nothing to fear from the devil. And the devil looked at the three of them, and he shrugged his shoulders and went back to hell.

Of course, the next morning, The Murphy bragged that he had single-handedly (or single-pawedly in his case) chased the devil away.


Mr Carnovan’s Little Shop of Dreams, Part 3

‘Now, where were we in our story?’ Michael’s father pulled a chair up to his son’s bed and sat down.

‘Grandmother had just waved goodbye to the ogre. But I’ve been thinking, Da. The ogre couldn’t sing and so he couldn’t teach the three tenors a song, but why didn’t the Guardian Spirits teach them? They put up with that noise for three centuries, and some of them even moved out of the valley with the bridge just to get away. It doesn’t make sense. And besides, there had to have been someone in all that time who walked along the path to Lansby who knew a song and could have taught it to the tenors. And why didn’t the ogre warn Grandmother about the giant and the knight? He let her walk off without telling her. That wasn’t very nice after all the help she gave him.’

From his perch on Michael’s desk, Lú leaned forward. ‘Good questions, lad,’ he thought. Beneath the bed, The Murphy smiled to himself. ‘Exactly what I was thinking. Those were gaping holes in the story, as any proper storyteller would have seen. Let’s see how the man gets out of this.’ And he twitched both of his ears forward.

‘Michael, you are forgetting that the Guardian Spirits allow only certain humans like your grandmother and Mr Carnovan to see them. They hide away from most of us. So they couldn’t have taught the three tenors. Besides, the Guardian Spirits are notoriously reluctant to teach humans their songs.’

‘And quite rightfully so,’ thought Lú. ‘The humans can’t sing our songs, and all their attempts to do so are so painful that it makes all the hair in one’s ears jump out and run away just to escape their howling.’

‘Thank heavens,’ thought The Murphy. ‘Otherwise we cats would have to listen not only to that out-of-tune caterwauling that humans think of as singing but also to humans attempting to reproduce the awful cries of the Guardians. Could there be anything worse?’ The thought so distressed The Murphy that his whiskers quivered and his fur on his back rippled and shook two or three times.

‘And you are right,’ Michael’s father continued, ‘that many people passed by the bridge who could have taught them a song, but the noise was so loud that every person who came near covered his ears and ran over the bridge as quickly as he could. As difficult as it may be to believe, not once in three centuries did one person stop and offer to help. It took someone as kind-hearted as your grandmother to put an end to everyone’s misery.’

Michael folded his arms across his chest and looked out the side of his eyes at his father. ‘Not one?’

‘Not one.’

‘Perhaps the ogre frightened them as well. They thought he might eat them.’

‘Now that is good thinking, Michael. I must admit that that thought had not occurred to me. But, now that I consider the matter, I think you must be right. Between the awful din of the singers and their fear of the ogre, all the passers-by probably ran as fast as they could and never stopped to ask if they could help. But why do you suppose the ogre didn’t tell your grandmother about the giant and the knight that lay ahead on the path to Lansby? You are right in saying that it was poor payment for all the help your grandmother gave him. Perhaps he was so happy that he simply forgot.’

‘No. He didn’t forget. He didn’t know. And why didn’t he know? Because, Da, his job is to guard the bridge and make sure that no one steals the emeralds and sapphires, and so he can’t leave. He’s been there for years and years. He’s never followed the path all the way to Lansby. So he doesn’t know what’s waiting for the traveller. And all the other people ran by the ogre so fast that they didn’t stop to tell him about the giant and the knight. So he never heard of them, and he doesn’t know that they exist. That’s why he didn’t warn grandmother. That’s what I think.’ And Michael uncrossed his arms and smoothed out the blankets. He ran the tips of his big toes back and forth under the covers so that they traced a straight line under the blankets near the bottom of the bed and looked at his father out of the corner of his eyes because he knew that sometimes storytellers didn’t like it when you told their story for them, especially when your version was better.

The Murphy pranced out from underneath the bed and jumped up beside the boy. This was unexpected. It was as delightful as having your own piece of juicy roast chicken to eat and not having to share it with anyone else. The Murphy seldom if ever found as much reason to be delighted as he found that night. Not even his cousin in Gouldamher near Luimneach was half that clever. To reward Michael for his ingenuity, The Murphy arched his back and allowed Michael to pet him. He even blinked his eyes open and shut slowly several times and purred to show his appreciation. The Murphy was so proud of his success in educating the lad that he waltzed back and forth, putting his left paws in front of his right paws and then turning around in a circle with his tail curled forward in pleasure, up and down the bed, before coiling himself near the pillow, where he looked at the man out the corners of his eyes.

Lú na Micniai was so surprised and delighted that he jumped up and danced a jig so that the bells on the tips of his shoes rang. He resolved that as soon as the story had ended and everyone in the house had gone to sleep, he would step quietly downstairs and put a charm on all the food in the kitchen so that everything Michael ate tomorrow would taste like chocolate.

From outside the window came the sound of applause as the trees put their leaves together and clapped. Mr Adams next door, who was not always as nice to his neighbours as he should have been, looked away from his telly and out his window, and wondered if a storm was coming, what with all the noise the wind blowing through the trees was making.

And what of Michael’s father? Well, to say that he was delighted would be to tell a lie. The man was thunderstruck, gobsmackerelled, thrilled, and astonished, not to mention tickled purple and pink. His lips quivered with pride. ‘Michael, me lad, you have the makings in you of fine storyteller. You are right. You are absolutely right. That’s just what happened.’

Michael glowed within to think that he had pleased his father and The Murphy and everyone else who might be listening. But there were more important matters to be settled that night. ‘But what happened after Grandmother waved good-bye to the ogre followed the path into the next grove of trees?’

‘Well, now, that is the subject of tonight’s tale.’ And everyone, both visible and invisible, settled back and held his or her or its breath.

‘Now, the birds had awoken your grandmother as soon as the light was a hint in the east. And the ogre had fed her a fine breakfast of brown bread and butter and orange marmalade and then a big dish of red strawberries so sweet they needed no sugar. After your grandmother had turned down the ogre’s offer of more strawberries for the third time (for ogres always think we humans don’t eat enough), he unzipped one of the pockets in his knapsack and pulled out a smaller knapsack, which he proceeded to pack full of food in case your grandmother felt in need of a snack on her way to Lansby. He put in a chicken roasted dark brown until its skin was crisp and the meat was all juicy, a whole ham with the white knuckle sticking out the small end, and a glass bowl of beet salad and then a big loaf of white bread and a smaller one of brown bread and a ball of golden cheese covered in red wax, and an apple or two in case she needed a nibble of something mid-morning. Then he thought some more, and he added a bunch of green grapes and some purple plums and a tin of shortbread and a thermos of coffee and a thermos of tea. But no matter how much he put in the knapsack, there was always room for more. So he threw in three extra-large bars of chocolate wrapped in gold foil and a sack of peppermints with red and white stripes. Then he held the knapsack up so that your grandmother could put her arms through the carrying straps. She thought it would weigh a ton what with everything the ogre had put in it. But strange to tell, Michael, the knapsack didn’t weigh anything. It was as light as a kind word, and your grandmother soon forgot it was on her back.

‘She crossed the bridge and when she got to the first grove of trees, she looked back and waved. And the ogre waved back. It was still quite early in the day, and your grandmother was confident that she would be in Lansby by noon and back in her own house before tea time. She walked along the path and enjoyed the pattern the sunlight made on the ground as it shone through the leaves of the trees, which quivered just to make the shadows dance.

‘After a bit the path started up a hill. It zigged to the left and then it zagged to the right until it reached the top of the hill. And just over the crest of the hill, the path did the oddest thing. What do you think that might be?’

Michael thought and thought and then he shook his head. ‘I don’t know.’ It was hard to imagine what a path might get up to.

‘It split in two. One path led to the right into a dark grove of trees, and one path led to the left through a meadow bright with flowers and butterflies. And there, where the path split was a fingerpost. The sign pointing to the right to the path through the dark grove of trees said “The Longer Path to Lansby”. Underneath was something written in much smaller print, so small in fact that your grandmother had to take her reading glasses out of her pocket and put them on. “In other respects, this is the shorter path to Lansby, although it is dreadfully dull.” And the sign pointing to the path on the left, the one through the meadow bright with flowers and butterflies, read “The Shorter Path to Lansby”. Beneath this was something written in much, much smaller print in very faint letters. So small and faint that it was almost impossible to read. Your grandmother had to squint to make it out. “In other respects, this is the longer path to Lansby, but it is filled with adventure, and you will enjoy your walk to Lansby much, much more if you take this path.”

‘Your grandmother looked down the path to the right that led through the dark grove. Right before it entered the grove there was a large puddle of water, and the ground was all black and muddy. Your grandmother glanced at her shoes, which to her mind were far too dusty from all the walking she had been doing. She didn’t much care for the thought of getting them muddy as well. Just at that moment a raven flew overhead and it croaked, “This is the right path.” Then it did what ravens often do, and it deposited a big white dropping right there on the path.

‘Now, the path to the left that crossed the sunny meadow bright with flowers and butterflies was covered with a fine coating of small brown and white pebbles that sparkled in the sunlight and kept it dry. Just at that moment a little yellow bird like a canary flew overhead and it chirped, “Totheleft-eft-ef. Totheleft-eft-ef”. And it hopped onto one twig and then another a bit further on and then still another still further on until it had hopped out of sight.

‘Well, your grandmother thought and thought. She knew that the inhabitants of Lansby were not above playing tricks with the fingerposts to misdirect people. Both of the paths might lead to Lansby. Or the path to the right might lead to Lansby and the path to left lead to somewhere else. Or vice versa. Or it might even be that neither path led to Lansby.

‘When your grandmother has closed the door to her house and walked out to the road and closed her gate, she had planned to be in Lansby by 10:00 in the morning, finish her shopping, and be back home in time for the Late Mid-Afternoon Show on the telly. Now she had already spent a day trying to reach Lansby, and she wasn’t even there yet. It had been a pleasant evening, a most pleasant evening, with the ogre and his friends, but she wanted to get to Lansby and get back home so that she could eat the cold supper she had left in the fridge yesterday morning.

‘ “Well, I am not getting anywhere just standing here,” she thought. And she looked at the path to the right that led through the dark grove of trees, and it did look right nasty. And she looked at the path to the left that led through the meadow, and she smelled the fragrance of the flowers and the grasses. She looked at the sign that read “The Shorter Path to Lansby” and without thinking about it, her right foot stepped onto the path to the left and she started walking through the bright meadow.

‘About a hundred yards further on, she came to another sign. You know the signs you see when a road is being repaired?’

Michael nodded his head yes. And The Murphy closed his eyes and then opened them again to show that he too was acquainted with these signs.

‘This was one of those signs. A big yellow sign with large black letters that read “Traffic Advisory: It’s not too late to turn back and take the path to the left. Although longer, it is also shorter”. But once you make a commitment to a path, it’s hard to turn back. And your grandmother can be stubborn some times, as you no doubt know, Michael. So she ignored the sign and went on. A bit further on when the path rounded a curve, there was another sign and your grandmother hardly gave it a glance. She looked at it only long enough to see that it said, “Too late. You can’t turn back now. Now you’re in for it. Don’t say we didn’t warn you. You’ve no one to blame but yourself.”

‘So, having made her choice, your grandmother walked on, and the path wound on, up over a hill and then down into another valley. And in the distance, at the bottom of the valley, a broad ribbon of silver water glistened through the leaves of the trees and between their trunks. To the left, the ground dropped away in a pile of mammoth rocks, as big as big houses. And the path went down and down until it reached the river and then followed along its banks until it reached the point where the river flowed between the rocks as big as big houses. Your grandmother could hear the sound of rushing water, and the closer she drew to the river, the louder the river became.

‘As she rounded the final bend in the path and stood on the banks of the river, she saw that this was no ordinary river, no quiet river that flowed gently over pebbles and was only a few inches deep. Not a river where you could take your shoes and socks off and fold the legs of your trousers up to your knees or lift up the hems of your skirts to keep them dry and then wade across. Not a river where you could let your tired feet cool off in the clear water and then step out on the other bank and put your socks and shoes back on and continue on your way refreshed.

‘No, this was a river that went crashing over giant rocks and flew skyward in a rush of white water. A river that made you all wet just as you stood by it. A river that would sweep you away if you were unwise enough to step into it. A river that would drag you down and toss you about and twirl you every which way until you didn’t know what was down and what was up.

‘But that is where the path led. It led to the bank of the raging torrent and there it stopped. And across the river, on the other bank, the path started up again. And your grandmother looked up and down the river for a bridge that crossed over it. But there was no bridge. And she looked up and down the river to see if there was a quiet place where there were stepping stones that she could hop across and get to the other side. But there was no quiet place with stepping stones.

‘Your grandmother sat on a rock beside the river and took off the knapsack the ogre had given her and set it to one side. She thought and thought about how to get across that river. But no answer came. She knew that there had to be some way to get across because the path started up on the other side right across from where she sat. And a bit further on, there was a very nice lawn all neatly mown, with beds of flowers nicely laid out with straight rows and crooked rows and rows that hopped and skipped and went nowhere in particular. So someone or something lived near the river. But the more she thought, the more hopeless it seemed. Finally, she decided that it would be better to go back and take the path to the right. For the path to the left may have been shorter, but it was turning out to be much longer.

‘Your grandmother stood up and put the knapsack back on, ready to trudge back to the fork in the road and follow the right path. To put her arms through the straps, she had to twist her body about and shrug her shoulders. That was when she saw it—the little brown sign. It was attached to a brown tree trunk. It was so close in colour to the tree trunk that it was almost invisible. And the sign had been there so long that there was moss growing over it and it was quite dirty. But it was most definitely a sign.

‘Your grandmother reached into a pocket and pulled out her handkerchief and scrubbed the sign clean. It was filthy, and when she was through, the handkerchief was so soiled that she knew she would never put that handkerchief to her nose again. So she tossed it in the Help Keep Ireland Green and Litter Free bin that stood a few feet off beside the river. Then she walked back to the sign and examined it closely. The letters were very worn and very faint, and she had to put on her glasses and stick her nose right up against the sign to read it. “Ring bell to summon ferry. Operated by Fomor Ferries, a division of Fomor Enterprises, Ltd.” Well, you can imagine how happy your grandmother was to read that sign and discover there was a ferry that crossed the river.

‘So she stepped back and looked around for the bell. Now, Michael, if you or I or The Murphy were to put a sign up saying “Ring bell to summon ferry,” we would put the sign beside the bell and to make it extra clear so that even a numbskull would understand, we would draw an arrow from the sign pointing towards the bell that had to be rung to summon the ferry. But nothing on the path to Lansby is ever simple. There was no bell, at least no bell on that tree trunk. To make sure, your grandmother walked all around it and looked high and low. No bell. She walked around all the other trees. Still no bell.

‘She was so discouraged, Michael. She thought she had found a way across that river and now she couldn’t summon the ferry because she couldn’t find the bell. In despair, she sat down with a thump on a rock. And that’s when she heard it. A single muffled clang behind her. The sound was quite quiet, so quiet that it could barely be heard, but it was definitely the clang of a bell. She jumped up and whirled around to see where the bell was. Then came another clang, also behind her. She whirled around again, and the bell rang several times, still from behind her.

‘No matter how often she turned around, the bell was always behind her. She was becoming very frustrated. So she turned around very slowly to discover the bell’s hiding place. She tried to look as if she didn’t have a care in the world and the thought of a bell was the furthest thought from her mind. For sometimes things hide themselves only because we want to find them. But still she could not find the bell.

‘Well, all that spinning about was making your grandmother thirsty, and she remembered that thermos of tea the ogre had put in the knapsack. She pulled her left arm out of the strap of the knapsack and eased it off her back and sat it down on the rock. She unzipped the top zipper and reached for the thermos labelled “tea”, and there it was. A silver hand bell with an ebony handle. It was the most beautiful bell your grandmother had ever seen. And then she understood. The sign said “Ring Bell to Summon Ferry.” It didn’t say which bell. Any bell would do.

‘Your grandmother commenced ringing that bell. It had a silvery peal and it was quite pleasant to listen to, but it wasn’t very loud. Certainly not loud enough to be heard over the noise of the river. You can guess how disgusted your grandmother was. She was so disgusted that she tossed that silver hand bell with the ebony handle back into the knapsack. As it fell to the bottom of the knapsack, there was loud clang. Your grandmother spread the knapsack open further and peered in. There, in a dark corner of the knapsack was a larger bell. It hung from a stand and it had a large clapper. On one side was a handle that you pushed and pulled so that the bell swung back and forth and started the clapper in motion until it too was swinging back and forth and would strike the sides of the bell.

‘Your grandmother pulled the larger bell out of the knapsack and set it up. But you know what, Michael? Even that larger bell wasn’t loud enough to be heard over the noise of the river. In fact, just to spite your grandmother, the river just got louder and louder so that no one could hear the bell ringing.

‘Your grandmother was becoming more than a bit angry now. She looked in the knapsack again. There are the bottom was a CD labelled “All the Bells of Ireland”. She took it out and laid it on the rock. Then she looked in the knapsack again, and she saw a CD player. She took that out and put the CD in it and pressed “Play”. Well it was very pretty music, and at any other time, your grandmother would have been quite pleased to listen to it, but it wasn’t very loud. Certainly not loud enough to be heard above the sound of the river. The river just laughed merrily at the sound. It was beginning to enjoy frustrating your grandmother.

‘So she checked the knapsack again and discovered a pair of amplifiers—the big kind that rock singers use when they are giving concerts in huge stadiums and want to be heard miles away. She also found lots of leads to attach to the amplifiers and a wiring diagram that showed how to attach them. Your grandmother followed the diagram exactly. She put the red end of Lead A in the red socket on Amplifier A and the green end of Lead B into the green socket on Amplifier B, and then she attached the leads to the CD player. Finally she picked up the plug and looked around.

‘Well, of course, she was out in the woods beside a raging river, and there was no electrical socket anywhere. She stood there holding the plug in one hand and she turned to the right and then she turned to the left. She looked behind herself and she looked under the rock. She even leaned over the riverbank to see if there might be a socket there. No socket.

‘Your grandmother sat down again on the rock with a thump. She was so disgusted that she gave the knapsack a shove and it fell over on its side. And there on the bottom was an electrical socket. Your grandmother jumped up and did a jig of joy. She plugged the plug in. The lights on the amps glowed red and then yellow. They blinked several times, and then they turned green.

‘By now, your grandmother was expecting the worst, so much had gone wrong. She crossed her fingers and then closed her eyes. She pressed the play button and out of those amps came the sounds of all the bells in Ireland. Little bells, big bells, hand bells, church bells, school bells, southern bells, northern bells. But most of all LOUD BELLS. VERY LOUD BELLS. The river fretted and fumed. It was very put out that the bells were louder than it was. So it doubled its efforts. But to no avail. It just could not be louder than the sounds produced by those amps.

‘ “Who’s making that infernal racket? I am trying to sleep and you’ve woken me up.” The voice came from deep in the pile of rocks large as houses. “I suppose you’ll be wanting the ferry. Just give me a moment until I put me trousers on and find me shoes and I’ll be there.”

‘To say the least, your grandmother was overjoyed. “I suppose you’ll be wanting the ferry.” That sounded promising. The man would hardly have supposed that she wanted the ferry unless there was a ferry to be wanted. His words clearly meant that a ferry existed. And such a deep voice. He must be a very big man indeed to make himself heard over the torrent.

‘That’s when the ground started to shake. At first, your grandmother thought that she was becoming too excited and was feeling a bit faint. She put a hand against a tree to steady herself. Boom. Boom. Boom. The ground shook even more. It sounded like someone taking giant steps. The booms came closer and closer. Suddenly the shade closed in around your grandmother.

‘She looked up to see what was blocking the sun, and up, and up. And there towering at the edge of the glade was a giant. He was easily twenty-eight feet tall. “Fomor Ferries, at your service, madam.” The giant was dressed in the Fomor Ferries uniform. His shirt was so white it outdazzled the sun. His blue pilot’s cap was so large that all of your clothes could have been made from the cloth that went into it. And his shoes were the size of this bed.

‘The giant bowed low and looked your grandmother in the face. “What a mess you have made. What is all this junk?” The giant pointed towards the amps and electrical wiring on the rock.

‘Now, your grandmother is brave, but even she felt frightened. It isn’t every day that a giant accuses your grandmother of making a mess. And, truth be told, she had made a bit of a mess.

“I, I,” your grandmother was at a loss for words. “The smaller bells couldn’t be heard over the sound of the river. So I had to rev up the amps. Just give me a minute, and I’ll put these things away.” And your grandmother started stuffing everything back in the knapsack. She didn’t know if all of it would fit, but she felt, just to keep on the giant’s good side (if he had one), that she had to make an effort. She unhooked the leads and coiled them up and then placed them in the knapsack. She spread the sides of the knapsack and then lifted one of the amplifiers into it. The knapsack opened its mouth wide and said “aaah” as it swallowed the large box.

The giant watched with great interest as your grandmother picked up the second amplifier. When it disappeared into the knapsack, he exclaimed in admiration, “That is a very roomy bag. Indeed, we could say that it is a most commodious bag, madam, most commodious indeed. But why does it smell like roast chicken?”

‘ “That’s my lunch. It’s in there somewhere. I do apologise if I made too much noise, but I couldn’t make myself heard. And the sign says to ring a bell.”

‘ “But why didn’t you just ring the Fomor Ferries bell?”

‘ “What bell?”

‘ “There beside the sign.” The giant pointed towards the tree with the sign. And your grandmother looked, and there on the tree beside the sign was a large red button. Written clearly on it in white letters was “Push to ring bell.” “If you will ring the bell, madam, I will come,” said the giant.

‘Now, your grandmother was quite sure that the red button hadn’t been there earlier, but she didn’t want to argue with the giant. So she pushed the button. Far off, among the rocks, a loud bell tolled once.

‘ “There, you see, Madam, the bell. And here am I. Now, you’ll be wanting the ferry.”

‘Your grandmother nodded her head. “Yes, I must get to Lansby.”

‘ “Half a tic. No need to be impatient, Madam. Let me open the ticket office, and then you can purchase a ticket, for you must purchase your ticket before boarding the ferry. Fomor Enterprises has established this regulation for its own safety and well-being. We can’t have anyone riding the ferry for free.”

‘The giant stepped over to a large oak tree. He took a ring of keys from his pocket and looked through them. There must have been a hundred keys on that ring. From time to time, the giant would hold a key up and gaze at it and then at the hole in the tree. He even tried out several keys, but none of them worked. Finally he held up a key and said, “I think this may be the right one.” He inserted it into the keyhole in the tree and turned it. Snap came the sound of a bolt unlocking, and the outline of a door appeared in the side of the tree.

‘The giant pulled the door opened and disappeared inside, closing the door behind him. The sounds of someone thumping about came from within the tree, and the trunk shook as the giant stumbled about inside. To your grandmother’s amazement, the giant raised a window sash and an opening appeared in the tree. A grill covered most of it, and there was a little shelf at the front with a shallow trough in it so that money could be passed in and out. The giant placed a sign reading “Open” on the shelf. “Now, Madam,” he said. “Will you be wanting a ticket for a coach seat or for a deluxe seat in the lounge?”

‘ “What is the difference? The river isn’t that wide. It can’t take so long to cross that I need a special seat, do I?”

‘ “Please yourself, Madam. The coach seating is our basic plan. Lounge seating entitles you to our food and beverage service.”

‘ “Well, I have my own food. I won’t be needing the food and beverage service.”

‘ “No eating or drinking allowed on the ferry, Madam.”

‘ “But . . .” Your grandmother thought better of pursuing that line of conversation and pointing out that the giant had just told her that lounge seating had a food service. “Thank you, but I’ll just take a ticket for coach seating.”

‘ “One?”

‘ “Yes, just one.”

‘ “You’re travelling alone?”

‘ “Yes, there’s just me,” said your grandmother.

‘ “That will be 5 euros.”

‘That seemed a lot to your grandmother, but she was becoming desperate. So she searched through her pockets until she found a 10 euro note.

‘The giant took the money and turned away from the window. “Please wait a moment until the computer boots up.” From inside the tree came several beepings and buzzings and the sound of the giant tapping at the keys. While he was waiting, the giant picked up a rubber stamp and inked it and then loudly stamped several sheets of paper. He filled out several forms and then he stamped them. Then he typed for several minutes into his computer. “You’re in luck, madam. There is one coach seat still available on next ferry. You can upgrade to lounge seating if you like.”

‘Your grandmother shook her head no. The giant typed for several more minutes, and then the printer began churning out sheet after sheet of paper. The giant stamped them all firmly and filed them away. He pulled open file drawers and then shut them with a bang. Finally he turned back to the window and pushed a small red ticket through the slot and 5 euros in change. Even before your grandmother could say “thank you”, he closed the window. After much banging around from inside the tree, the door finally opened and he stepped out. He pulled out his ring of keys and began searching for the right one to lock the door.

‘ “When does the next ferry leave?” asked your grandmother.

‘The giant looked up in surprise. “The schedule is posted there, Madam.” And he pointed to a large sign that hadn’t been there before. To her horror, your grandmother read, “One trip per day, leaving at 4:37 am in the very early morning.”

‘ “Does this mean that there is only one ferry a day, and it only leaves early in the morning? But I must get to Lansby today.”

‘ “There is only one ferry a day from this side, Madam. If you were on the other side, the south side, there would be a ferry every hour, but there isn’t enough traffic from this side to justify more than one trip a day. I swear I can smell roast beef now.” And the giant licked his lips. He looked very hungry. “And is that the fragrance of a warm apple tart made with lots of cinnamon and cloves and allspice wafting through the air?”

‘Now your grandmother could tell that the giant was hungry, and that gave her an idea. She looked across the river and saw that pleasant meadow with its new-mown lawn. “Well, I shall just have to wait for the next ferry then,” said your grandmother. “And it’s too bad because that meadow on the other side of the river would have made the perfect spot for a picnic. And I have so much food, much more than I can eat by myself. But, I guess I won’t be able to have a picnic after all. Now, I mustn’t keep you from your nap. I shall just sit here on this rock and wait for the ferry.” And your grandmother sat down on the rock.

‘The giant looked at her and then sniffed the air. “Is that beet salad? I love beet salad.”

‘ “Yes, it is an old family recipe. Although I shouldn’t say so myself, it is one of the best beet salads in Ireland. The beets are sliced thinly and then tossed with small pickled onions. It looks so pretty with the dark red beets and the white onions stained pink by the beets. Now, I do insist that you not wait upon me anymore. I’m sure that you have better things to do than to keep an old woman company.” Now your grandmother knew that she hadn’t made the beet salad, but she was getting desperate. She was sure that in the ogre’s family it was an old family recipe, and so she wasn’t really telling a lie, she told herself.

‘ “Aren’t you going to eat?”

‘ “No, I had my heart set on a picnic in that sunny meadow across the river, and if I can’t eat my lunch in that meadow, I won’t eat it at all. It will be too dark to eat there tomorrow morning when the ferry arrives on the other side, and I shall just have to wait until I find a nice spot to eat further on. It is too bad, because I have so much food. It would have been a pleasure to share it with someone and have a bit of a chat.”

‘The giant was torn. On one hand, the regulations of Fomor Enterprises specified only one ferry trip per day from the north shore of the river. On the other hand, he was very hungry, and he had been eating his own cooking for many years now, and he wasn’t a very good cook, and the smells coming from the knapsack were getting stronger and stronger and more and more delicious. His mouth watered at the thought of that beet salad, with its slices of dark red beets, nestled among little pickled onions. It was just the way his mother had made it, and it had been many years since he had had such a splendid dish. And the outside of the onions would become stained pink by the beets, but the inside would still be pure white. They would look so pretty when you sliced them open. Well, the giant decided he just had to have some of that food.

‘ “There might be a way. Regulations permit me to make trips in cases of emergencies,” the giant said.

‘ “I’m sure I can’t ask you to make an exception for me, although it would be a shame to see all this food go to waste for want of a proper picnic spot. Those shrimp will be spoiled by tomorrow and the brown bread will be stale,” said your grandmother. “And my errand today is of utmost importance. I need to get to Mr Carnovan’s Little Shop of Dreams in Lansby. My grandson Michael in Dublin is having the nightmares and only Mr Carnovan’s blue boxes can cure him of them.”

‘ “I think that qualifies as a medical emergency, then, Madam.”

‘ “I’m sure you know best, Sir,” said your grandmother. And she looked around as if she hadn’t a thought in the world of getting across the river that day.

‘The giant stepped over to a tree and opened a door. Inside was a mammoth wheel, like the wheels attached to the water taps in the garden, Michael, only much bigger. “To be operated only by an authorised employee of Fomor Ferries, a division of Fomor Enterprises, Ltd.” read the warning sign above the wheel. The giant began turning the wheel. He grunted and groaned with the effort. It was very difficult even for someone as large as the giant to turn the wheel. It screeched and complained.

‘Now, as the wheel turned, the river began to slow and the level of the water began to drop. Gradually, the tops of the rocks emerged from the river, and the river became first a gurgling stream and then a thin rivulet of water. Your grandmother stared in amazement, as the giant invited her to step on the rocks and cross the river. “You mean, this isn’t really a raging torrent?”

‘ “Well, it is a raging torrent when you need a ferry, but it’s just a quiet little brook when it’s time for the ferry to cross. It’s much safer that way. Surely you don’t expect me to risk my life in the raging torrent just to ferry you to the other side. Now, if you will just step across the causeway, Madam, you will soon be on the other side.”

‘Your grandmother thought to herself that she had better get across that fake river before the giant changed his mind. So she threw on the knapsack and hopped from stone to stone until she was safely on the other side. The giant followed her across. “Perhaps you should go ahead to the meadow, madam. I’ll just restart the raging torrent while you’re unpacking the picnic lunch.”

‘The giant was as good as his word. As your grandmother walked up the path to the meadow, he unlocked a door in another tree and began turning the wheel inside it. As your grandmother reached the meadow, she could hear the sound of the river raging behind her.

‘Your grandmother found a perfect spot for a picnic. Her only worry was that the ogre might not have packed enough food to satisfy a hungry giant. She unzipped the top zipper on the knapsack, and there inside was a snowy white tablecloth. Your grandmother pulled it out and spread it on the ground. It took her a very long time to do so because it was a very large tablecloth. Then she found two sets of dishes and silverware inside the knapsack and brought those out. One of them was a normal size set for humans, and she sat those out for herself. The other set was truly gigantic. The plate was large enough to hold an ostrich, and the fork was big enough to lift a turkey. And the knife—well, your grandmother had to lift it with both hands it was so heavy.

‘But your grandmother persevered and finally had the table properly set. Then she reached into the knapsack again and pulled out a platter with four roast chickens on it, another platter with two hams with the meat nicely sliced from the bone and piled in an attractive mound, a large plate with the biggest, juiciest beef roast on it she had ever seen, a huge glass bowl full of beet salad, and an apple tart as big as cartwheel. But I’d better stop there. I would be here all night, Michael, if I were to tell you all the food that came out of that knapsack.

‘ “Oh, now this is what I call a proper meal,” said the giant. He picked up his knife and cut a wing off one of the chickens and put it on your grandmother’s plate and added a small spoonful of beet salad. Then he tied his napkin around his neck so that he shirt wouldn’t get stained, and he proceeded to eat everything else, all the chickens, all the sliced ham, all the beef, all the beet salad, and all of everything else on the tablecloth, which I could not list because we would be here all night, there was so much food. When he had finished eating, every plate was clean. But, I regret to say, the tablecloth was a mess. The giant was not a neat eater. He ate so fast that the food dribbled out of chin and fell off his fork. A lot of it dropped onto his clothes. His napkin was stained, his white shirt was red with beet juice, and his hands needed to be washed, as did his face. If you were ever to make such a mess, Michael, your mother and I would never let you eat at the table again. And I hesitate to say what either of your grandmothers would do.

‘When the giant had finished eating, he placed his hand over his mouth and burped. He tried to be quiet about it, but of course what’s a quiet belch for a giant is a very loud belch for a human being. “Thank you, Madam,” he said to your grandmother. “I hope you enjoyed your meal. You are always welcome to use the ferry service here.” And then he yawned. All that eating had made him very tired. He yawned again. “I don’t know why I am so sleepy,” he said.

‘ “I do, you big pig,” thought your grandmother, but she didn’t speak her thoughts aloud. “Perhaps you should lie down and take a nap,” she said. “Just to help all that food digest.”

‘ “That is a very good idea, Madam,” said the giant, and he stretched himself out on that grass meadow and soon he was snoring away. Now you’ve heard Mr Adams next door snoring in his back garden, and you know how loud he is. Well, he was nothing next to the giant.

‘Your grandmother stood up and looked at all the dirty plates and dishes on the cloth. Now, you know how quickly she does the washing up in her own kitchen.’

Michael nodded.

‘Well, that day, she just left everything. She was that disgusted with the giant and Fomor Ferries and Fomor Enterprises. Since the giant had made the mess, she decided he could clean it up himself. So she reached into the knapsack and took out one of the chocolate bars wrapped in gold foil that the ogre had thoughtfully packed for her in case she got hungry while walking on the path to Lansby, and she put that in her left pocket. And she picked out an apple and put that in her right pocket. Then she zipped up all the zippers and put the knapsack on and stepped on to the path for Lansby. At the end of the meadow was a glade of trees. There she found a fingerpost pointing down the path. It read: “Lansby, 2.5 km and only one more adventure away.” She pulled the apple out of her pocket and began eating it as she started down the path through the trees. And when she had finished, she gave the core to a squirrel that was sitting in a tree beside the path.

‘And that, Michael, will have to be the end of the story for tonight. Now remember, you are not to open the little blue box. Just let it sit on the top shelf, and if you start having a nightmare, just think about the little blue box, and the nightmare will go away and you will have a good dream in its place.’


‘Have you ever met a giant, Mr Murphy?’

The Murphy opened one eye and regarded the House Guardian. Lú had to raise himself up on his feet to see over the edge of the bed. The Murphy could not understand Lú’s repeated failure to understand that he, The Murphy, had indeed experienced everything there was to be experienced on this earth. But in the interests of domestic harmony, he chose to reply politely and not bite the silly creature’s big ears off—for now. ‘I have, Lú. They are quite common in the hills south of Dunfanaghy. Many the times I’ve been escorting one of my lady friends to watch me catching mice, and we’ve met up with a giant. Of course, as is well known, they are frightened of cats . . .’

Michael moaned in his sleep and trembled slightly. Above him, on the top shelf of the bookcase, the little blue box shook and spun around two times. Michael smiled and rolled over, pulling the covers tighter under his chin.

‘Perhaps we should continue this conversation at another time and not disturb the boy, Mr Murphy.’

The Murphy licked his right front paw by way of answer and closed his eyes. When he heard Lú leave the room, he sat up quietly and examined Michael to make sure that the boy was sleeping peacefully. When he was satisfied that all was well, he curled himself up beside Michael and stretched out his right leg and touched the boy’s shoulder so that he would sense any disturbance in Michael’s sleep. Then he laid his head down and closed his eyes.

Mr Carnovan’s Little Shop of Dreams, Part 4

‘So, last night, your grandmother had just passed the sign indicating that Lansby was two and a half kilometres away—a half-hour’s stroll for your grandmother. The day seemed much more pleasant now that she was almost there. The sun was warm on her shoulders, and gentle breeze was stirring the leaves in the trees. Birds and butterflies flitted through the grasses growing beside the path. And overhead the squirrels jumped through the trees and chattered at one another. Your grandmother was in such a good mood that she forget that the sign had read “2.5 km and only one more adventure away”.’

‘This is where she meets the knight with the roan horse.’

‘Well, if you already know the story, I won’t have to tell it to you. I’ll say goodnight, then, Michael.’ Michael’s father stood up and lifted the chair back towards its spot against the wall.

‘No, no. I don’t know the story. You told me that she met a knight with a roan horse. That’s all I know.’ Michael was giggling at his father’s joke.

‘Well, if you’re sure that you don’t know the story. I don’t want to bore you.’ The man put the chair back beside Michael’s bed and sat down.

Lú had been holding his breath, worried that the man would leave without finishing the story. He never knew when humans were teasing each other. Sometimes the same words could be used to mean something quite different.

‘Now, where was I?’

‘Grandmother forgot about the adventure.’

‘Oh, yes. Now, the ground gradually became much more stony. The path wound its way up a gentle slope between rock walls taller than your grandmother. As the path rounded a corner, it opened up into a wider space carpeted in grass and surrounded on three sides by rock walls. Your grandmother gasped in wonder. There spread out before her was a magnificent, lush valley, with the distant hills covered in a blue haze. Far below her were the crowns of great green trees. Here and there were houses and fields. If she hadn’t been in such a hurry to get to Lansby, she would have liked to stop and sit for an hour and just enjoy that view.

‘But, alas, she had to complete her errands. So she took her eyes away from the sights and turned back to continue her journey. And discovered to her horror that she was standing at the end of the path. There on the grass was another fingerpost. “Lansby, 1 km” it read. The sign extended out over the edge, and the finger pointed straight down, over the edge of the cliff.

‘Your grandmother crept forward to the edge and looked down. Perhaps there was a staircase, she thought, or a path cut into the side of the hill. The cliff fell straight down, and there was no staircase, no path cut into the side of the hill. Directly below the sign were the roofs and streets of Lansby.

‘Your grandmother could see people walking along the streets and stopping to chat. She cupped her hands around her mouth and shouted, “Hello, hello. How do I get down there?” and then she waved her arms and jumped up and down. Not one of the people walking the streets of Lansby looked up no matter how loudly she called out or how much she waved.

‘Now, Michael, you mustn’t think any less of your grandmother. She is a brave woman. But that day, standing up there on that cliff, she almost burst into tears she was so frustrated. I say almost, because, as you know, your grandmother always says that tears never solve anything. So she did what she usually does. She stuck out her chin and scowled with determination, and a great wave of stubbornness came over her. She resolved that she would find a way down that cliff. She just needed was a little ingenuity.

‘So she sat down on a rock and pulled the chocolate bar out of her pocket and unwrapped the foil. Your grandmother is a firm believer in the powers of chocolate, Michael. But although the ogre’s chocolate was excellent chocolate, it gave her no ideas. She was no closer to getting to the bottom of that cliff.’

‘I know what she did.’

Everyone in the room sat up and listened carefully. The Murphy had given over sneaking about and listening from under Michael’s bed. He had claimed the best spot on the pillows even before Michael had come upstairs and had waited, not without some impatient tapping of his tail, for the storytelling to resume. Lú had retold the previous evenings’ stories to several of his mates, and they had clamoured so loudly to be allowed to listen in person (well, I suppose we should say ‘in creature’ since they were guardian spirits) that Lú had relented and let several occupy places about the room. The Murphy had looked them over to let them know that their identity had been noted and then he ignored the invasion and pretended they weren’t present. Lú had taken the place of honour on the right post at the head of the bed, safely on the other side of Michael from The Murphy.

‘And what might that be, Michael?’

‘She had another bar of chocolate.’

‘I am a firm believer in the powers of chocolate, Michael, but I don’t see how eating more would help your grandmother solve the problem.’ Michael’s father scratched his head and looked perplexed.

‘Because, Da, the rest of the chocolate is in the knapsack. Grandmother only took one bar from the knapsack when she left the giant snoring on the ground. She would have to open the knapsack to get another bar.’

‘And then what?’

‘She would find something that would help get down the cliff. The ogre’s knapsack has everything. She just has to open the right zipper. And it has to be something with a knight and a roan horse. But it can’t be a real horse. A real horse couldn’t get down that cliff.’

‘Perhaps it could be a horse with wings, like in your storybook.’

‘That’s just a myth, Da. Those horses don’t exist.’

Michael’s father looked at his son thoughtfully and then smiled. ‘And what would she find in the knapsack, a parachute perhaps?’

‘Grandmother doesn’t know how to use a parachute. That would be too dangerous.’ Michael didn’t like the idea of falling through the air, even if attached to a parachute. Heights were one of his nightmares. ‘Maybe a balloon.’

‘A bunch of helium-filled balloons? Like the ones Jimmy had at his birthday?’

‘No, like that big coloured balloon we saw that time we were going north. Over the fields. With the basket below for people to ride in.’

‘Oh, a hot-air balloon. That would do, I think. Shall I continue with the story?’

‘Yes, please.’ Having helped his grandmother off that cliff, Michael settled back into bed and patted the covers smooth.

‘Well, your grandmother sat on that rock and thought and thought, but she could think of no way to get to the bottom of that cliff unless she just jumped off, and she didn’t think that would end very pleasantly for her. Now, the giant had eaten all but a bit of the food, and your grandmother was beginning to get hungry, what with all that walking about and thinking. She was sure that the ogre had packed several bars of chocolate. The more she thought about it, the hungrier she became. The thought of that chocolate bar, sweet and bitter and smooth and crunchy, made her stomach growl. For as we all know, there’s no such thing as a bad bit of chocolate. Finally, she decided that she had to eat another bar—just to keep her strength up.

‘She pulled the knapsack off her shoulders and set it on a rock. The bag had ever so many zippers. She couldn’t remember which pocket the ogre had put the chocolate in. But she did recall that they were very large slabs of chocolate and they wouldn’t have fit in one of the smaller pockets. So she unzipped the biggest pocket. There on top was a large neatly folded heavy canvas, and she took that out and sat it to one side on the rock. It looked rather like a tent that had been folded up into a rectangle. Beneath that was a wicker picnic basket that was somewhat squished and crushed flat from everything else in the knapsack. She put that on the rock next to the canvas. Finally she found the chocolate. She took it out of the bag and began unwrapping it.

‘ “Oh, that’s where I left it. I’ve been looking all over for it.” A loud voice boomed from the path between the rocks.

‘Your grandmother was so startled that she jumped up and almost dropped the bar of chocolate, which would have been a true disaster. She whirled about to confront the stranger. Standing there was a man. He was dressed in a khaki flight suit, like all the airmen wear, and had a motorcycle helmet on his head and sunglasses with a shiny coating that reflected everything he looked at. “Oh, you frightened me. Who are you? And what are you looking for?”

‘ “I am no longer looking, madam. I have found it.” The man pointed to the picnic basket and the canvas. “As to who I am, I am Bert Knight, the proprietor of Knight’s Taxi Service, at your service.” And Mr Knight bowed low.

‘ “Well, if your taxi can get to Lansby from here, I will hire you. But where is it?” Your grandmother looked about. She couldn’t imagine that anyone could drive a car along that path.

‘ “Right here. Just as soon as I get it set up.” Mr Knight picked up the canvas and began unfolding it. When he had finished, the canvas had become a long, flat, paddle-shaped object, narrow at the bottom and a wide circle at the top. Mr Knight then took the picnic basket and pushed the sides out until it became a wide wicker basket capable of holding two or three people. The bottom end of the canvas has several ropes hanging down from it, and Mr Knight attached these to the basket. “You see, my taxi is a hot air balloon named the Roan Horse. It’s much more interesting to ride in a hot air balloon than to ride in an automobile.”

‘ “My goodness,” said your grandmother, “that is most impressive. And we will be able to get to Lansby in this?”

‘ “Of course. That’s a very short trip. But I don’t see the machine to make the hot air that will inflate the balloon. If I can’t inflate it, we aren’t going anywhere. I don’t suppose you’ve seen a larger metal heater with a fan in one end and several gas canisters lying about, have you?”

‘ “Oh, no, I haven’t. You mean we can’t get to Lansby if you don’t have those?”

‘The man shook his head no.

‘ “Hmmm,” said your grandmother. “Perhaps I have something in my knapsack that would serve.”

‘ “Hmpff,” said Mr Knight. “It’s quite a large machine, madam. That small knapsack of yours couldn’t begin to hold it.”

‘ “Well, let me take a look,” said your grandmother. And she reached into the knapsack again. Her hand closed around a cold metal rod. “I think I may have what you need. I’ll hold the sides apart, and you can lift it out.”

‘The look on Mr Knight’s face said plain enough that he thought your grandmother was barmy. In the same sort of voice that some adults use when speaking to children they think can’t understand them, he said very carefully and slowly, “I will take a look, Madam, but it really is a very large machine, and it could not fit in that bag.”

‘Mr Knight stepped over to the knapsack and reached in. He grabbed hold of the metal rod and pulled. Whatever it was, was quite heavy, for he became very red in the face as he struggled to pull it out of the knapsack. Now, Mr Knight was a proud man, and he was not about to admit that your grandmother could carry something on her back that he couldn’t lift. So he dug his feet into the ground and flexed his muscles. He took a deep breath and reached into the knapsack and shouted “kiiiiiiiiiiiiai” and gave a prodigious heave. Out popped a large, shiny heater with a fan attached. Mr Knight nearly fell on his back.

‘ “But, Madam, this is precisely what I need. But why were you carrying it about? And how did you get it into that bag?”

‘ “I like to be prepared for anything,” said your grandmother as she pulled out several fuel canisters and sat them on the ground. “One never knows what one might need along the road to Lansby. And as for the packing, it’s all a matter of experience. When you get to my age, young man, perhaps you’ll know the secrets of packing too. Would you like part of my chocolate bar? Or an apple perhaps? My name is Nora Kathryn Orrin, by the way.”

‘ “I could do with a cup of tea, but I don’t suppose you have that, Mrs Orrin.”

‘ “And why would you suppose that, Mr Knight? How do you take yours? Milk and sugar? Lemon? And could I interest you in a slice of gooseberry tart while the balloon is inflating? Or walnut cake? Why don’t you start getting it ready, and I’ll just set out the tea.”

‘Mr Knight went right to work. He set the machine under the opening in the bottom of the balloon and soon it was pumping hot air into the balloon. At first nothing much happened. The balloon sack just quivered a bit as the air flowed into it. Soon, however, as it began to fill with more air, it rose up slightly and bobbed about.

‘While Mr Knight’s back was turned, your grandmother reached into the knapsack and pulled out two cups, two plates, two spoons, two forks, a large teapot, a tea kettle, a small paraffin stove, a bottle of clear, cold spring water, a canister of green tea, a small pitcher of milk, a blue bowl of sugar cubes, sugar tongs, a gooseberry tart, a walnut cake, and a dish of clotted cream, all of which she sat out on the rock as the water heated up. By the time everything was ready, the balloon was beginning to rise upright off the ground.

‘On the side of the balloon was painted a reddish-brown horse with small patches of silver and white in its hair. Near the top a broad white stripe ran around the balloon. On this were printed the words “The Roan Horse Taxi. Bert Knight, Prop. Reasonable Rates. 24-hour service.” The balloon continued to inflate as your grandmother and Mr Knight drank their tea. The gooseberry tart must have been good, because Mr Knight ate all of it, and he almost finished the clotted cream. He apologised to your grandmother because he had room left for only two slices of the walnut cake, but she covered the plate with cling film and gave the rest to him to eat later. By the time they had finished eating and done the washing up and stowed everything back in the knapsack, the balloon was pulling at the ropes that Mr Knight had secured to large steel hooks in the rocks.

‘ “We are almost ready, Mrs Orrin. Now, you want to go to Lansby. Let’s see. That’s one kilometre straight down. It will be a fifteen-minute ride. Ordinarily, that would cost 25 euros, but since you fed me such a splendid tea and supplied the hot-air machine, I will lower the fee and charge you only 24 euros.”

‘Now your grandmother hadn’t expected to be on the road so long. She thought she would be back in her own house in time to have a late lunch. So she hadn’t taken much cash with her, just ten euros and the gold coins that Mr Carnovan insisted on being paid in. The giant at the river had charged her five euros to cross the river. So she had only five euros left. And if she gave Mr Knight any of the gold coins, she might not have enough left to buy the dreams to cure your nightmares, Michael.

‘ “24 euros? But that’s airway robbery. I could go from Dunfanaghy to Killkarnock and back for that on the bus.” Your grandmother was so upset that she took off the baseball cap that your uncle Brendan had sent her from Boston and ran her fingers through her hair, which, as you know, she does only when she is very disturbed.

‘ “It’s expensive to operate a balloon.,” said Mr Knight. “Hot air is in short supply these days, and the price has gone up. I couldn’t do it for less than 20 euros. And only because you’re an old-age pensioner and that’s my special discount for pensioners, Mrs Orrin. That’s an interesting hat you have there, by the way. May I ask where you got it?”

‘Now your grandmother didn’t like being called a pensioner or Mr Knight’s implication that she needed his charity. She reminded herself that the balloon, the basket, and the hot-air machine had come out of her knapsack, and by rights they were her balloon, basket, and hot-air machine. But the balloon was tugging at the ropes and straining to lift up into the sky, and your grandmother wanted to get to Lansby, and she didn’t have time to argue with Mr Knight.

‘ “My younger son sent it to me from Boston in America. It’s the official cap of their baseball team, the Red Stockings. It’s a very expensive cap, and very rare. My son was able to get one of the few manufactured the year they won the flag and swept the international matches. It’s a special commemorative cap.” And your grandmother brushed an imaginary speck of dirt from the cap.

‘ “It is a splendid cap. I wish I had one myself.”

‘ “Yes, you would look very jaunty and handsome wearing one of these and flying the Roan Horse about. Any young woman who saw you would remember you and then call you the next time she needed a taxi. Perhaps even when she didn’t need a taxi.”

‘ “Expensive you said?”

‘Your grandmother didn’t say anything. She just nodded her head and then looked around to make sure that she had picked up all the trash and thrown it into the Help Keep Ireland Green and Litter Free bin.

‘Mr Knight wanted that cap. “What if I were to give you a free ride to Lansby in exchange for the cap?”

‘ “Mr Knight, this is a gift from one of my children. I couldn’t possibly part with it.”

‘ “What if in addition to the free ride to Lansby, I gave you 10 euros for the cap.”

‘ “Mr Knight. I really must beg you to stop.”

‘ “15 euros.”

‘ “Never.”

‘ “25 euros. Please. I must have that hat.”

‘Eventually your grandmother took pity on Mr Knight and handed over the hat—for a free ride to Lansby and 100 euros. She was sure that she would find another cap just like it in the knapsack later, and she had no intention of keeping the money. She had just been curious how much Mr Knight was willing to pay for the privilege of impressing the young women. After she had taken a seat in the basket, Mr. Knight began unhooking all the ropes that kept the balloon tethered to the ground. Finally only one rope was left. The balloon tugged at it and tossed about in the air, anxious to be away. Mr Knight leaped into the basket and untied the rope. The balloon was free at last, and it sprung into the air and with a great hop rose above the treetops and floated out over the cliff.

‘The view was magnificent, Michael. The valley of Lansby is one of the greenest places in all of Ireland, which is to say that it is very green indeed. It is thick with a great forest of old trees. The roads are paved with white cobblestones with flecks of mica that glint in the sun and they run between yellow stone walls covered with green moss so dark that it’s almost black. The silver streams flow between banks of blue flowers and beneath tall oak trees filled with brown acorns. It is not to be wondered at that Mr Carnovan settled there so many years ago. Some day we will take a balloon ride ourselves. But I don’t think we will ever see such beautiful scenery as your grandmother saw that day. It was enough to make one believe in magic.

‘The balloon floated slowly down beside the cliff wall and then settled gently on the ground. Your grandmother had wanted to get to Lansby as soon as she could, but even so she felt the trip was too short. As she stepped out of the basket, she thanked Mr Knight. He looked so handsome in his new cap and his fine uniform. It was time to put an end to the game. “Here, Mr Knight,” she said, “That ride was worth 100 euros.” And she handed him his money back. She closed the gate on the basket and stepped away. Mr Knight was so surprised that he pulled the lever on the hot air machine, and the Roan Horse rose into the air and floated away. And ever after he always wore that red baseball cap. He said it brought him good luck because the most splendid woman in all of Donegal had made a gift of it to him. But what happened to Mr Knight is a story for another day.

‘And now, Michael, it is time for you to go to sleep. Your grandmother has finally arrived in Lansby, and that will be tomorrow’s story.’


‘I should like to go on a balloon ride someday,’ said Lú as he and The Murphy sat on the window sill discussing the finer points of the story with everyone else in the audience (except for Michael, who was sleeping).

‘Not I,’ said The Murphy. ‘It can’t be much different from walking on roofs and climbing trees. I mean, once you’re off the ground, it’s doesn’t matter how you got there.’ Several of the others present disputed that view, and the discussion continued until late in the night.

And Michael dreamt of riding in a balloon floating above the trees. And strange to say, heights didn’t bother him anymore.

Mr Carnovan’s Little Shop of Dreams, Part 5

The next day, The Murphy, who was a most practical cat, set Lú to work preparing extra seating along the walls of Michael’s bedroom to accommodate everyone who was begging to attend the storytelling. Of course, the benches had to be invisible to the humans, but that was not a problem for Lú. His kind have been hiding things in plain view for centuries. By mid-afternoon all the seats had been booked, and there was only standing room left. Soon even that was gone. Lú wired Michael’s bedroom for sound and set up loudspeakers in the back garden. By Michael’s bedtime, the garden was crowded. The Murphy brought in a few of his cousins from the Garda station down the road to keep things orderly, and they strutted about in their uniforms with their tails held high, but in the event they were not needed. It was a most well behaved gathering.

‘It was good of Grandmother to give the money back to Mr Knight, wasn’t it, Da?’

‘Yes, Michael, it was. And I am glad to hear you say so.’

The Murphy rested his head on Michael’s shoulders and briefly pressed his nose against Michael’s neck to show his approval.

‘So, Michael, we have reached the final section of our story. I had better get to it and make an end of it.

‘When your grandmother stepped out of Mr Knight’s balloon, she found herself at the end of the main street in Lansby. To her right, a path followed the base of the cliff and disappeared into a grove of trees. On the wall of the first house were two arrows. One arrow pointed straight up. Beside it was printed in bright black letters: “The shorter path to Dunfanaghy. It is also the longer path in some ways.” Another arrow pointed to the right to the other path: beneath it was written: “The longer path to Dunfanaghy. But it is the shorter path in other ways.” A big sign on the wall read: “A few words of explanation. The longer path to Dunfanaghy is longer in distance but it takes a shorter time to walk. The shorter path to Dunfanaghy is shorter in distance but it takes a longer time to walk. The long and short of it is that one path will get you there more quickly but the time will pass heavily, and you will be so bored that you will yawn for days and be cross-eyed with weariness. If you follow the other path, your journey will take longer but the time will pass more quickly, and you will have many adventures and will soon be whistling and dancing.”

‘ “Now they tell me,” thought your grandmother. At first she was a bit upset to find that she could have been in Lansby many hours before. When she thought about it some more, however, she decided that the shorter but longer path had after all been the better path to Lansby.

‘As I have said, Lansby is a small village. There are only twenty-two houses in the village itself and another four along the road that leads out of the valley. Besides Mr Carnovan’s Little Shop of Dreams, there is only one other commercial establishment in the village, a paint shop. Now, by all rights, in a little village like Lansby, a paint shop should not be able to stay in business. But Mr Doyle, the owner of the paint shop, is a very clever man. “Oh, Mr Innly,” he will say, “I just received a shipment of paint in many new and exciting colours. Your neighbours the Mitchums heard about it and stopped in. They are planning to paint the outside of their house in our new colour ‘old rose’ with the trim around the windows in ‘marsh mallow’ and the door done up in ‘briar’. It will look ever so smart.”

‘And Mr Innly will think to himself that his loden green house with the periwinkle trim and kelp door will look very shabby next to the Mitchums’ house after they have repainted. So after examining all the colour charts, he buys enough mandarin orange paint to cover over the loden green paint he put on two months earlier when he last repainted his house. Finally, after much dithering and many suggestions from Mr Doyle, he settles for banana trim and a plum door. Mr Innly is no sooner out the door than Mr Doyle is on the phone ringing up Mr Innly’s neighbour on the other side and telling them about the Mitchums’ and the Innlys’ repainting plans.

‘So the inhabitants of Lansby keep very busy painting and repainting their houses. Lansby is a very colourful village as a result, but it can get very confusing. Mrs Ryan leaves her turquoise home with beryl trim and an amethyst door in the morning to do a bit of shopping in Letterkenny and comes back in the afternoon unable to find it because Mr Ryan has repainted it fern with bracken trim and a lichen door.

‘The only exception to this is Mr Carnovan. He whitewashed his house when he moved into it, and he whitewashes it twice a year. His neighbours think he is eccentric to leave his house white. Mr Carnovan stands out in still another way. Every other household in Lansby has a shaggy dog. And I could tell you many shaggy dog stories about Lansby, Michael, but they would take a long time to tell. So they will have to wait for another day.’

The Murphy frowned in disapproval. Michael had enough nightmares as it was, and the man was proposing to tell him horror stories. Several other members of the audience, those more fond of dogs, made a mental note to book seats for the shaggy dog stories.

‘Now, Mr Carnovan, does not have a dog.’

‘He has a cat named The Murphy like me.’

‘That is right, Michael. He is a cousin to our Murphy. I may be a bit biased in the matter, but I think ours is the better cat.’ The Murphy rotated his head to the left and stared at the painting of sailboats that hung on the wall. He tried to look as if he cared not a whit what Michael’s father thought of him, but the tip of his tail quivered with delight and he fooled no one. ‘Now, let’s get back to your grandmother. We mustn’t leave her standing on the streets of Lansby, because I fear it has begun to rain. Not a heavy rain, more a misty drizzle, but still she has been on her feet for a long time, and she probably wants to be inside and sit down for a time where it is warm and dry.

‘Your grandmother’s descent into Lansby did not go unnoticed. The Roan Horse was not halfway down the cliff face before window curtains began twitching. The telephones in Lansby were soon busy. When she stepped out of the balloon and bid Mr Knight good day, a great many Lansbians remembered that they had to walk the dog or water the roses in their front garden, even though it had begun to rain.

‘Your grandmother looked down the street for Mr Carnovan’s shop. Mr Malachy, the owner of the first house on the street, was pruning his prize topiaries and trying to guess why your grandmother was visiting Lansby. He almost cut the trunk off his topiary elephant when your grandmother looked over his privet hedge and asked, “Could you please tell me where I can find Mr Carnovan’s Little Shop of Dreams?” She had to stand on her toes because the shrubs had been trimmed to look like geese with long necks raised up high and their wings spread as if they were about to take flight from the ground.

‘Mr Malachy tried to pretend that he hadn’t known your grandmother was there. “Oh, you startled me. I didn’t see you. Mr Carnovan’s shop, you say? That’s easy to find. It on the right just past the Nolans’ house. That’s the one painted . . .” Mr Malachy had to stop and look down the street to see what colour the Nolans’ house was today. “The one painted aubergine with the tomato trim and the vegetable marrow door. You can’t miss Carnovan’s shop. It’s white.” Mr Malachy shuddered. “It’s horrid. The man has no taste.”

‘Your grandmother thanked Mr Malachy for the information and continued on her way. She had to dodge Mrs Shannon’s broom, because that good woman was so intent on sweeping the dust off the road that she hardly had time to relay the details of how your grandmother was dressed over her mobile phone to her sister who lived on the next street over. “She headed towards Carnovan’s shop,” said Mrs Shannon as your grandmother passed her. And Mrs Shannon swept extra hard and sent a broomful of dirt flying just to show what she thought of that Carnovan man and his shop.

‘It took your grandmother but a minute to reach Mr Carnovan’s Shop. She was looking forward to completing her errand and perhaps having a cup of tea before she started back to Dunfanaghy. In her mind, she could already picture her own chair and the supper that was waiting for her in the fridge. She had her hand on the door to open it when she saw the sign hanging on the inside of the shop door.

‘ “Shopping in Dunfanaghy. Back this afternoon by the two o’clock bus.” The sign was quite yellow and tattered, and the ink was faded and hard to read. It gave no clue as to what afternoon was meant. It could have been that afternoon or tomorrow afternoon or yesterday afternoon or the afternoon of last Wednesday. For all your grandmother knew, it might have been hanging there for years, and Mr Carnovan wandering about trying to find the road back to Lansby.

‘Your grandmother put her face to the shop window and tried to peer into the shop. The window was quite dirty, and she couldn’t see anything except the pyramid of dusty blue boxes on the ledge just inside the window. The shop was quite dark inside. She put her hands to either side of her face to block the light and pressed her eyes close to the window.

‘But nothing was visible except a pair of glowing yellow spots. That blinked. That blinked and drew closer to the window. A pair of grey paws appeared on the window ledge and a brindled cat looked up at your grandmother. It was The Murphy of Mr Carnovan. Now, your grandmother claims that the cat smiled at her and said, “Wait a minute. Don’t go away.” I’m not saying that the cat spoke, but it definitely turned around and pranced away, its paws barely touching the floor.

‘Your grandmother stepped back and looked up and down the street to see if there were someone other than a cat whom she could ask when Mr Carnovan might be coming back. She really didn’t know what she was going to do. Lansby didn’t look large enough to have a hotel and in any case she had no money to rent a room in a hotel. But all the Lansbians who had been so curious about your grandmother had lost interest when she revealed that she was looking for Mr Carnovan’s Shop, and they had gone back into their houses to watch the telly.

‘Your grandmother decided then and there that it had been a fool’s errand. It would have been better to boot up her O’PC® and log onto the internet and order a box of dreams from that shop with the ads in all the magazines, Fat Amorgana’s Mirages or whatever it was called. The dreams were not as good or as long-lasting as those that came from Mr Carnovan’s Shop, but at least Fat Amorgana was always open and the clerks not off shopping in Dunfanaghy instead of waiting on customers when they were wanted, and the dreams could be downloaded directly to Michael’s IPaddy® machine. She was disappointed that she wouldn’t be able to buy you the best dreams available, but she shrugged and pulled herself together for the walk back. There was no help for it. Mr Carnovan’s Shop was closed and that was that. It was no use crying over soured milk. All the tears in the world wouldn’t turn it sweet again. So she turned around and started back towards the path to Dunfanaghy. So she didn’t see the lights come on in the shop behind her. Not until the door clicked open and the bell over the shop door rang did she realise that there was someone standing there.

‘ “Oh, I’m so sorry. But I was having a nap to help digest my breakfast. I didn’t notice how the time had flown. My cat woke me up to tell me that a customer was waiting outside.”

‘Your grandmother turned about. At first she didn’t see who was speaking, but then she lowered her eyes and saw a wee man standing in the doorway. “Loughlin Carnovan, at your service.” The man was wearing a brown duster covered with old food stains. The trouser legs visible beneath the bottom of the duster needed a good pressing, and he was wearing carpet slippers that had seen better days. In fact, they had seen a good many days, and not all of them of the best, as the saying goes. “Would you join me in a cup of tea?”

‘ “But the sign,” your grandmother pointed to the door. “It says you’re in Dunfanaghy shopping.”

‘ “Oh that was years ago. Pay no attention to it. I must get the ladder out some day and take it down. I suppose I’ve gotten used to it. I hardly give it a thought anymore. You should do the same.” And Mr Carnovan held the door open wide and invited your grandmother to enter.

‘Now Mr Carnovan’s shop is not like any other shop you have ever seen, Michael. It has no shelves. There is nothing on display. Just two easy chairs on either side of a cheery fireplace. A bit of carpet on the floor. Mr Carnovan motioned your grandmother to sit in one of the chairs. “Take that one,” he said. “It’s the more comfortable one.”

‘And it was a very comfortable chair, but it had been a long time since it had last been cleaned. When your grandmother sat down, a cloud of dust rose into the air, and a few moths fluttered about sneezing and coughing. “Oh dear,” said Mr Carnovan. “I suppose I had better vacuum in here. I wonder where I left it.” He scratched his chin and looked about as if the machine would appear by itself. “But I’ll do that later. You’ll be wanting your tea.” Mr Carnovan left your grandmother sitting there as he went into the back of the shop. Your grandmother could hear the sound of water running into a kettle and Mr Carnovan muttering, “Now where did I put those clean cups.”

‘When Mr Carnovan came back, he put one of those magic teacups on the table beside your grandmother’s chair. One of those “just add hot water and get a cup of tea” cups. One of those cups that hadn’t been washed in so long that the inside was coated with old tea stains. When you pour hot water into one of those cups, it turns brown instantly and immediately looks like a cup of tea, although it tastes like the water that sour pickles have been boiled in.

‘Your grandmother thanked him politely. Now Mr Carnovan doesn’t have many customers and he likes to chat. So he asked your grandmother to tell him the latest news about all his friends in Dunfanaghy, of whom he has a great many. Then he asked about the state of the path to Lansby. By the time your grandmother finished telling him about her adventures, that cup of tea had grown quite cold and your grandmother had managed not to drink any of the horrid brew. And all the while, Mr Carnovan’s Murphy sat on Mr Carnovan’s lap and stared at your grandmother.

‘Finally, Mr Carnovan asked her why she had come to his shop. Your grandmother explained that she had come to buy a box full of good dreams for you. Even before she finished speaking, Mr Carnovan’s Murphy jumped up and ran to a cupboard. He pawed at the door until it opened just wide enough for him and disappeared inside. A light blinked on inside. Then your grandmother heard the click of a switch. There was a mighty rumbling and creaking and screeching as some invisible machine started up. Wheels creaked as they began turning. Pipes hissed and pistons clanged. Puffs of steam circled out from behind the door and floated towards the ceiling of the shop. From inside the cupboard came flashes of bright blue light. A warning bell sounded, and there was a prodigious burp.

‘Mr Carnovan’s Murphy put his head around the door and winked. His whiskers were a bit singed, and his fur was covered in soot. But he looked as satisfied as only a cat can look. Mr Carnovan jumped up and exclaimed, “I have just what you need, Mrs Orrin.” And he reached behind the half-open door and pulled out a small shiny blue box, tied with a lighter blue ribbon and with silver stickers shaped like stars on the side to hold the ribbon in place. “This little box contains all the pleasant dreams your grandson Michael will need. But you must warn him never to open the box. Because dreams are made of nothing, and they are quite light. If anyone opens the box, they will float away. Just put the box near his bed, and he will have only good dreams and no more nightmares. But he is never ever ever to open it.”

Mr Carnovan bowed and handed the box to your grandmother. It was so light that it was almost as if there were nothing in it. So light that the mildest breeze could pick it up and float it about in the air. But it was filled with the best dreams.

‘ “Well,” said your grandmother as she gathered her things together. “I had better start walking back to Dunfanaghy if I want to reach it before sunset.” And she reached down and petted Mr Carnovan’s Murphy, who was circling about her legs.

‘ “But Mrs Orrin, the afternoon bus for Dunfanaghy leaves in ten minutes. You can catch it at the end of the street. It will have you back home in half an hour. And it’s only 5 euros.”

‘ “Are you saying that there is a bus to Dunfanaghy? That I didn’t need to walk?”

‘ “Why, yes, Mrs Orrin. We’ve had the bus service for several years now. Didn’t you know? It’s made such a big difference. I suspect that’s why you found the path to Dunfanaghy so overgrown. No one walks that way anymore. But you’d better hurry. There aren’t many seats and this is the last bus of the day.”

‘So your grandmother quickly said goodbye to Mr Carnovan and she petted his Murphy one final time. She made it to the bus on time and found a good seat. It was a very comfortable seat and the bus had good springs, so it didn’t bounce too much. Your grandmother was back in her own house in time for her tea. And she was very glad to be there.

‘Now, you heard Mr Carnovan’s warning, Michael. You must never open the box. For even though it feels as if there is nothing in it, it is filled with good dreams. And if you open the box, all of them will fly away. So promise me that you will never open it.’

And Michael promised. His father tucked the covers around his son and then turned out the light and closed the door almost all the way shut.


Now if this were a proper Irish story and I were a proper Irishman, something terrible would happen at this point, just to make sure that you know that nothing in life ever comes right in the end. A meteor would come tumbling out of the sky without warning and obliterate the lot of them. Or a bhaleigh cailín would rampage down the street wreaking mayhem and bringing misery. That would be a proper Irish story and indisputably true. I am, however, a most improper Irishman (or so many have told me), and this tale, unlike a proper Irish story, never happened. So neither I nor it need be faithful to life as it really is. Just this once, Feilim’s little boat is not going to come to grief on Tory Island, and Feilim in it. So here is the real ending to the story.

After Michael’s father left, everyone stood up and stretched. They began putting on their coats and hats and gloves and winding their scarves around their necks. If it hadn’t been for the NO SMOKING signs, not a few of them might have lit a pipe. As it was, they patted their pockets to reassure themselves that they had brought their pipes and tobacco and matches and could start smoking as soon as they reached the street. High-pitched voices that no human could hear filled the bedroom and the back garden as the audience began discussing the tale.

Michael reached out a hand and scratched The Murphy’s chin. The cat purred so loudly that Michael’s whisper almost went unheard. ‘But that’s not what happened.’ The Murphy immediately stopped his purring and sat up. He meowed in amazement and called for silence. Those who heard started shushing those who were talking. A wave of silence swept through the crowd, and everyone turned back towards the bed, with ears perked up. ‘Grandmother wouldn’t have taken the bus.’

Now a great many of those who had listened to Michael’s father’s tale happened to be of the same mind as Michael. The bus had seemed far too convenient a way of ending the story, and all agreed that the tale of Mr Carnovan’s Little Shop of Dreams had finished much too soon. For, as everyone knows, stories should take their time, and the shorter path that is really the longer path is always the better path for a story. So everyone rushed to reclaim their seats to hear Michael out. The Murphy had to scowl at a couple of creatures who had almost reached the door and came scurrying noisily back to their seats, stepping on everyone’s toes and saying ‘Beggin’ your pardon, I’m sure’ over and over. When everyone was quiet, he meowed at Michael to continue.

Michael sat up in bed and whispered so that his parents would not hear him. ‘This is what really happened. Grandmother not only bought a box of dreams for me but also boxes for the ogre and the two fiddlers and the drummer and for her friend Mrs Donovan in Dunfanaghy and for Uncle Brendan in Boston and for everyone she could think of who might be in need of a dream. And each time she ordered another box, Mr Carnovan’s Murphy would disappear behind the cupboard door and the machine would grumble and wheeze and clouds of steam would come from the cupboard and then there would be a loud belch as the machine burped out another box. And Mr Carnovan would reach behind the door and pull it out. Because, you see, he didn’t really make the boxes himself. It was his Murphy, but Mr Carnovan pretended that he made them because no dog owner ever understands how clever a cat can be.

‘When Grandmother had all the dreams she wanted for all her friends, she said that she had best start back if she wanted to be home in time for supper. That’s when Mr Carnovan said, “But, Mrs Orrin, why don’t you take the bus back? It’s only a half-hour’s ride to Dunfanaghy.”

‘Grandmother replied, “Oh, it would be a shame to waste a fine day like today by riding on a bus, when I can be walking through the hills with the warm sun shining on my head and the breeze fanning my face and ruffling my hair. Why would I want to be cooped up on a bus like a bird in a cage and bouncing about every time the bus rolls over a rock in the road, when I can be enjoying the fresh air and the scenery? Besides, the bus won’t be nearly as much fun as the path that leads from Lansby to Dunfanaghy. I want to explore the longer path that is really the shorter path. For I think the signs lie, and I do not believe that there are no adventures at all to be found on any road that leaves Lansby.”

‘And so Grandmother waved goodbye to Mr Carnovan and petted his Murphy one final time. Then she walked up the street past all the brightly painted houses and stepped on to the longer path from Lansby to Dunfanaghy. The path ran beneath the cliff for a short time and then it jogged to one side to enter a grove of trees. As Grandmother walked beneath the tall trees, she was so happy that she began singing a tune just to herself. “Thios i lár an ghleanna,” she sang. “Deep in the valley.”

‘Over her head a leaf heard her singing. And it began humming to itself. Now one leaf doesn’t make very much noise. But the other leaves on the branch heard it, and they began swaying in time with the music and singing. And the song spread from branch to branch and then from tree to tree on a wave of music sweeping through the forest. Soon all the trees along the longer path were singing. The music flowed up the hills and followed the streams as they ran down the valleys to the sea. The rocks joined in with their deep voices, and then the rivers and the birds and all the animals and grasses and flowers and butterflies and bees along the way. Even the people, who couldn’t hear them singing, felt the music and began singing too.

‘Far off in Gweedore, Mount Errigal woke up from its long sleep and heard the singing, and it joined in with its deep bass voice. And then the great blue ocean began singing too. All the little boats danced across the surface of the water before the wind because of the joy in the air.

‘And that was just the start of Grandmother’s adventures on the way back to Dunfanaghy. For the signs told less than the truth, and the longer path was not as boring nor as quick as they promised. But it’s past your bedtime, Mr Murphy, and I can see that you’re yawning. So the other adventures will have to wait another day to be told.’

And Michael pulled the covers up under his chin and closed his eyes. Everyone tiptoed out very quietly so as not to disturb Michael’s slumbers. They didn’t start talking until they reached the street. They were very excited, and everyone made plans to come back the next night to hear the rest of Michael’s story. Lú and The Murphy were kept very busy handing out free tickets and deciding who should have the good seats in Michael’s bedroom and who would have to sit at the back of the garden.

Later, after all the tickets had been given out and everyone had left, The Murphy and Lú sat on the window sill in Michael’s bedroom and watched him sleeping. Above them the little blue box began to wobble and then to whirl. Lú na Micniai put his arm around The Murphy’s shoulder and said, ‘I think Michael may turn out to be an even better storyteller than his father.’

The Murphy nodded. Now, The Murphy has always denied this, but I saw tears of pride glisten in the corners of his eyes. He swiped at them quickly with a paw and pretended that he was just washing his whiskers.

Michael stirred in his sleep. In his dream he was an older man sitting in a chair beside a fireplace. Around him on the floor sat a circle of children, their faces lit by the flickering flames and beyond them a circle of adults sitting in the dark on chairs and benches along the walls and pretending not to be listening. And he was saying, ‘But you have to put in all the words that belong to the story. You can’t leave any of them out. For there are wonders in words and in the stories you make from them. If you change the words, it becomes another story. So there can never be an end to the making of stories, because each is as different as the words that create it. And that’s the real magic. For you can search the wide world over as far as Australia in the west and New Zealand in the east and never find the magic that lies in a tale told by a warm fire on a dark cold night.’

Codladh sámh! / Pleasant Dreams!

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