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Differences by Andrew Merrill



Andrew Merrill 

Eamon's eyes are tired from the long flight over from America.  He sits on the whiskey and flower-print loveseat his grandmother picked up off the streets of Dublin; back when she was attending Trinity College.  Eamon scratches away at a stain on the right pant leg of his jeans.  The stain is crusted over yellow, like mustard, from a week's wear and no washing. 

He turns his head to a door creaking and opening a few inches less than shoulders width. His mother and her two sisters compress their organs as they try and squeeze through the gap. Blood gargling coughs echo through the doorway and out into the rest of the house.  The boy hears a glass shatter and his grandfather's ear wrenching old Irish scream, "Go fuck yourselves ya fucking whores.  Don't come near me with that bloody poison!  Ya hear me?  Where's me wife?" 

His mother cries, "Dad, stop.  Please!" 

Fighting erupts- between an old man whose history erases itself every time the sun rises- and the rest of the family.  The door slams shut again and their voices dissipate through the walls.  Eamon lets out a sigh of relief seeing the door close.  He does not wish to get any closer to his grandfather than he already is. 

Eamon turns his eyes away from the door and towards the coffee table where hours ago his mother and her sisters were shuffling through old photos; laughing the laughs of the little girls who once grew up together on this farm.  He reaches down to the coffee table and opens up the photo album.  Aged photos capturing more than familiar faces: the farm flourishing; his mother, a mere child of six, riding a horse through the lush rolling hills of Coolie; his grandmother by the barn reading, smiling, under the ancient Fairy Tree; his aunts swimming with the Sullivan boys; and his grandfather, always with a drink in his hand and blood in his eyes. 

Eamon stands up and looks out the window.  His eyes glaze over as his lids slant to half open stances.  Straight ahead, a splintered junk shed with three walls and half a roof balances like a house of cards. Broken down, time rusted farm equipment and a fire red tractor are scattered across the dirt floor.  It is all that remains of the barn.  He looks to the left.  The luscious crop fields have turned into burnt out dust bowls guarded over by a dilapidated scarecrow.  He looks back past the barn; stumps of trees cut to the bone and a river of rocks and mud. 

Eamon sits back down.  He flips to the back of the album where a pile a newer photos are tucked away.  He starts going through them.  He stops on one and smiles.  It is of him, sitting on his grandfather's lap at his fifth birthday party.  That was right after his dad went away. 

In the photo, his grandfather's left hand is wrapped around Eamon's waist holding him tight.  The other hand, of course, is being seduced by a glass of Jameson.  They are both smiling that big Cheshire cat grin all McConnells have.  He thinks back to his grandfather's words that he whispered in his ear right after the photo was taken.

"Someday you'll be the only one strong enough to run this farm me lad.  And you'll do a better job than anyone ever could, that's for sure"

As a child, he wanted nothing more than to work on his grandfather's farm.  He spent afternoons during the spring helping him plant crops.  But, shortly after that birthday party he and his mother had to leave for the states.  They left everything behind, barely packing a suitcase full.  The move had something to do with his father's old drinking buddies coming around and asking his mother for some favors.  They were never very friendly about it and whenever he would ask his mother what they wanted she would break down crying.  He gave up trying to ask about his father a few years ago.  It seemed to be for the best.   

The boy slides the photo album back onto the table as the door to his grandfather's room opens.  His aunt Joanne, the oldest of the sisters, emerges from the blinding bright white room.  She slowly walks up to him, wiping tears from her eyes.  She stands above him, her silver hair reflecting in the sun.  Her defined brow gives away that there is something on her mind.

"Eamon, how are you holding up?" his aunt asks.

"Fine Aunt Joanne, how about yourself?"

Aunt Joanne lets out a sigh that weighs more than her sick father.

"I'm ok Eamon, thanks for asking.  Eamon, how old are ya now?  Fourteen?    Fifteen?"

"I'm seventeen Aunt Joanne"

Aunt Joanne's eyes dilate as a look of surprise hits her face.  She motions for Eamon to scoot over on the couch.  He does so and she sits next to him.

"Wow... Seventeen years old... Almost a man now are ya?  I can't believe it's been so long since you and mother left Ireland." Joanne starts, "When I was seventeen years old I met your uncle Allen.  He was a good man.  He always helped your grandfather with the farm.  No matter what nasty names your grandfather would call him for being Protestant, he would always be over here the next day with me working the farm.  Your grandfather was always too proud to accept help from anyone, never mind a Protestant."

Aunt Joanne pauses and looks out the window.

"Allen was a good man.  I just can't do it on my own.  With your mother in America and our sister Mary living in Dublin, it's all too much."

She looks back to Eamon who sits in silence.  A smile crosses her face.

"That's enough about that though.  How have you been?  Do you have a pretty Irish girl back home?"  Eamon laughs at the smirk he feels on his face.

"Well... I have a pretty girl back home...  But, she isn't a drop of Irish.  She is from Nigeria. She moved to America when she was-"

"Nigeria?" Aunt Joanne raises her voice alarmed.  The room goes silent for a minute.  Eamon plays with his hands and Aunt Joanne looks at her father's door.  She turns back to Eamon with sorry eyes and cheeks blushing red.

"Well... well that's wonderful... I'm sure she is a lovely lady.  I would love to meet her sometime."

Aunt Joanne stands up and looks back out the window.

"Listen Eamon... I need your help with something.  There are a few chickens outside by the coop.  I went out this morning to feed them and one is clearly on her way out.  If she doesn't get put down tonight, well, the rest are sure to catch ill also." 

Eamon looks at her confused as she continues, "There is a shovel by the backdoor and a hatchet by the wood pile.  Would you take care of it for me?  Allen normally tends to this kind of business."

Eamon's eyes widen the lengths of wooden whiskey barrels and his brow quickly flairs.  He looks over to the backdoor and then to his aunt.  His aunt stands brittle with swollen eyes teetering over him.  Tears start running down her cheeks.  Looking down, Eamon thinks back on his grandfather's words.  He swallows and mumbles, "Sure Aunt Joanne... Anything for you."

He stands up, now towering over his aunt.  She looks up at him smiling.  She wipes her eyes again and grabs his shoulders.

"You're growing into such a fine man Eamon," Joanne puts her hand on Eamon's left cheek, "I'm so proud of you...  I'll make you a cup of tea when you get back."

Aunt Joanne hugs Eamon then turns and walks down the hallway to her father's door.  She pauses at the door and looks over her shoulder into Eamon's eyes.  She looks back at the door, sighs, opens it and enters the room.  The door quickly shuts behind her and she disappears.   Eamon stares at the wooden door of his grandfather's room for a few seconds then shakes his head and turns towards the back door.

As Eamon slowly turns the handle of the back door, a gust of wind throws it open.  The door collides with the shovel throwing it down onto the cement porch.  Eamon jumps from the loud commotion.  Eamon looks back at his grandfather's door again.  While turning his head towards the backdoor, he spots his grandfather's liquor cabinet and walks over to it.  Through the glass window he sees a bunch of bottles filled with half finished business and broken promises.  He pushes aside a few of the finer bottles of scotches and whiskies and finally finds an unopened flask of Jameson.  His lips curl in devilish delight.  He reaches for it cautiously in fear of clinking bottles.  With the Jameson freed from the castle walls, he looks back at his Grandfather's door.

"Fuck it," Eamon protests under his breath.  He puts the flask into the back pocket of his jeans and heads for the backdoor.  As he steps out onto the porch he closes the shoddy door; rusted to a golden brown and barely on its hinges.  With the obstacle removed, he bends down and picks up the shovel and swings it up onto his shoulder.

From the porch, Eamon scans the horizon for the woodpile.  Off in the distance he spots an outline that looks like a small dog house.  As he squints his eyes, the dog house turns into an under-populated, under-worked woodpile.  Eamon slowly paces towards it.  At about the half-way mark, Eamon becomes coated with a fresh mist.  He stops and holds out his hand.  He looks up to watch the rain fall.  He is puzzled.  He cannot see the rain drops falling like in America.  It is if he has stumbled his way into a clear cloud.

By the time he reaches the woodpile, the mist has ended and the sun is back out, peeking through the clouds.  Eamon looks along the base of it for the hatchet to no avail.  He circles it a few times and then stops.  He turns around and there the hatchet is, buried into the stump of the chopping block.  The hatchet's blade shines gold; reflecting sunlight off the moisture left behind from the mist.  Eamon reaches for the handle of the hatchet.  In his palm the wet wooden handle feels slippery with some give every time he squeezes.  He gives a yank but, the hatchet sits still, laughing in his face.  He lets go of the hatchet and puts the shovel down onto the ground.  He wipes his hands off on his jeans and grabs the handle of the hatchet one more time.  With one foot pushing against the chopping block, he rips the hatchet out with all his might and stumbles backwards.  He looks down and touches the blade.  The cool metal sends chills down each vertebrate of his spine.  He bends down and reaches for the shovel.  Out of the corner of his eye, Eamon spots the chicken coop and shuffles towards it; barely moving forward with each step.  It feels like eternity as Eamon takes his time, stumbling over each step staring down at the blade.  Barely glancing away from the blade for a second, he spots the sick chicken his aunt spoke of and heads towards it.

The chicken sits half erect in between Eamon's legs, with its head wobbling in circles resembling that of an Irish drunkard.  Its neck constantly shakes as it turns its head as if to look at Eamon.  Eamon quickly turns away slamming his eyes shut.  He throws the shovel and hatchet onto the ground next to his feet and fiercely grabs for the Jameson as if it was water and he was stranded in a desert.  He takes a massive swig and puts the cap back on to the flask.  As he exhales the fumes, his hands stop trembling.  Looking down at the chicken, he puts the Jameson back in his pocket and reaches for the shovel.

The shovel cuts into the dirt a little less than a foot away from the chicken's head.  As he lifts with his knees to move the dirt aside, the ground makes a crunch.  The chicken's posture and dead daze do not stutter.  Eamon shoves the shovel into the dirt again and again, removing more and more dirt every time.  With each violent blow, the Earth's crunches echo louder and louder throughout Eamon's head.  The whole time the chicken just sits there wobbling in the wind, staring at him. 

Now, with the hole big enough for ten chickens, Eamon throws the shovel and sits down next to the chicken; hatchet in one hand, Jameson in the other.  Eamon opens the flask and takes another long swig.  Eamon looks up at the sky.  The clouds have completely blocked the sun out again as they whip around in the sky like the tri-color in the off the flimsy flag pole his father hung proudly.  Eamon looks back down at the chicken.  The chicken looks at Eamon one last time before folding in half, stretching its neck out along the dirt.  The chicken makes a noise.    

"Holy shit, did that chicken just cough?" Eamon blurts out loud startled by the noise. 

Drops of blood sloth out of its mouth and falls onto the ground.  It lays there.  Heavy deep breaths slowly expand and collapse its diaphragm.

Eamon has his arms wrapped around his knees as he stares at the chicken lying there.  The wind slams around him and picks up more and more as time goes on.  Eamon takes one last sip of Jameson before twisting the cap back onto the flask and dropping it on the ground.   He elevates himself to one knee never taking his eyes off the chicken.  Eamon raises the hatchet above his head.  He pauses for a second as he looks over at the other chickens.  They remain pecking away at the dirt by the coop; still living out their normal chicken lives.     

Eamon looks back at his target and comes down with the hatchet.  It cuts through the air and into the back of the chicken's neck like a guillotine.  Unfortunately for Eamon even perfected killing mechanisms have their off days.  Eamon gags as the chicken's body flops around like a bowling pin; its neck squirting out blood in all directions.

"FUCK! FUCK! FUCK!" Eamon panics repeatedly as he comes down with the hatchet again and again until the neck is severed from the body and a canyon forms two inches deep in the packed dirt.

The wind stops howling.  He looks back over at the other chickens; still pecking, unfazed by the departing, by the hack-job funeral.  The headless body no longer twitches at the base of Eamon's feet.  Eamon sits down and lets out a deep breath.  He reaches over for the flask of Jameson.  His eyes derail from the chicken to the flask as he checks to see how much is left.  The liquor level is just below that half way point.  As he unscrews the cap and takes a swig, he pushes the lifeless body with his feet.  It lands in the mass grave for one he dug out. 

He looks down at his pants.  He is covered in blood and dirt and feathers and scattered fragments of RNA and DNA and God knows what.  Standing up, he brushes off little pieces of matter from his shirt and pants.  He grabs the shovel and starts to bury the chicken.  Every shovelful of dirt helps the chicken disappear from his mind until it is all erased.  He slams the shovel into the ground as a marker incase his aunt wishes to know where it was buried. 

As he returns to his grandfather's, an older man carrying a doctors' bag walks out of the house with a blank stare on his face.  The man stares at Eamon for a second then gets into his car and drives away.  Eamon walks up to the front door and pauses before entering the house.  Off in another room, Eamon hears his mother and her two sisters cry and argue.  He makes his way to the kitchen and sits down at the table waiting for his cup of tea.  He takes out a picture of his girl friend and stares at it.  His grandfather's words roll around through his head.