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Woman Who Had No Story by Leanne Johnson

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I never used to tell stories. That was before I went to Ireland . I went there to take a class in storytelling. My plane landed at Shannon Airport , just outside of Limerick , on the River Shannon. I took a bus to my hotel and checked in. My roommate hadn’t arrived, and I was too excited to stay inside and wait. Instead, I decided to take a walk around.

There was a large garden behind the hotel, sweeping back into a wood. It was a hot, sunny afternoon, and the shade looked so inviting. I could see a little dirt path pattering beneath the trees. I could hear the sound of water trickling down that way, and decided to go exploring.

Nobody warned me about the fog. When conditions are just right, fog rolls quickly up the Shannon from the sea. I saw a few wisps floating through the branches, and just as I realized what it was, I was completely surrounded by a white blindness.

I should have just sat down and waited for it to clear, but I didn’t. Instead, I panicked. I ran back toward the hotel – or at least, where I thought the hotel should be. But it wasn’t there. The trees grew thicker, the path disappeared beneath my feet, and I kept stumbling forward, pushing my way through bushes and tripping over rocks. Without the sun, it was cold and damp. I couldn’t stop shaking.

The ground started tilting, and I felt myself walking uphill. Suddenly I burst out from the fog, and found myself at the top. It was like an island; complete surrounded by the fog. At the summit was a small cottage. Smoke was rising from the chimney. I went up to the door and knocked.

An old woman opened the door. “What do you want?”

“I’m sorry, I’m lost – I was at the hotel and I came exploring…and the fog…do you think I could come inside, get warm, and stay until the fog lifts?”

The woman beckoned me in, and sat me down on a small 3-legged stool by the small fire. It was a turf fire, made from blocks of earth harvested from the bogs. The smell was unusual, but not unpleasant. The woman sat down in a chair facing me. “Now,” she said, “tell me a story.”

I started to apologize. “Oh, I’m so sorry. I came to Ireland to take a class to learn how to tell stories. But the class doesn’t start until tomorrow. I don’t know any stories yet.”

“No stories? Are you sure?”

I felt kind of foolish. “Uh, no, ma’am.”

“Well, you can’t stay here for nothing. If you don’t have a story to share, you’ll have to work to earn your keep. Take that bucket out to the well and fill it.” She pointed to a bucket along the wall. I picked it up, and opened the door. I had no idea where the well was, or what a well even looked like, but I could tell she already didn’t think much of me, and I didn’t want her kick me out completely.

The door closed behind me and WHOOSH! A great wind swept me up into the sky! I lost the bucket, and I lost my bearings. CRASH! The wind dropped me down into a valley. I checked my arms and legs, but nothing felt broken. I stood up and looked around. There was a little house, not far from where I stood, and a light was glowing in the window. How strange – it was night!

I went up to the house, walked in through the door. There were people sitting around in chairs, and a corpse lay out on a table. I had walked right into a wake. “Oh, I’m so sorry,” I started to say as I tried to back out the door. But it was too late. “Come, come, we’ve been waiting for you!” said a red-haired man, and he pushed a hammer and nails into my hands. “Here’s Brian O’Brian laid out to rest, and we’ve nobody to build him a coffin! You’ll have to do it.”

“Me? I don’t know how to build a coffin!” I protested, but he hustled me out back to a pile of wood. That hammer came to life in my hands and started in to work. I couldn’t stop it. It danced and skittered and pounded across the planks until a coffin sat ready to be filled.

“Hurry along, now,” called the red-haired man, and he dragged me back into the house, took away the hammer, and pushed a fiddle & bow into my sore hands. “Here’s Brian O’Brian laid out to rest, and nobody to play music for the wake!”

“Music? I don’t play the fiddle,” I tried to tell him, but one hand stuck that fiddle under my chin, the other grabbed the bow and I started to play one jig after another. I couldn’t stop. And all the folks got up from their chairs and began to dance around.

“Enough music,” commanded the red-haired man, and he took the fiddle and bow from me. “Now it’s time for you to say the Mass for good Brian O’Brian”

“I can’t say Mass!” I tried to tell him, “I’m a girl! And I’m not even Catholic!” But in a flash I was dressed in vestments saying the Mass. In Latin, mind you. Or at least, I think it was Latin. The words just came pouring out of my mouth, and I couldn’t stop.

“Enough church,” declared the red-haired man. “Now it’s time to take Brian O’Brian to the cemetery.”

Guess who got to put Brian O’Brian into his coffin?

Three pallbearers stepped up to the coffin when I had nailed the lid shut. Two of them were my height, and one was seven feet tall. “You’ll need to shorten that one,” said the red-haired man, handing me a saw.

“I can’t cut off his legs!” I said, but the giant sat down, stuck out his legs and that saw cut him off at the knee. I couldn’t stop it! With the surgery done, the man got up and we took our places at the coffin. Out we walked into the cemetery, following the red-haired man.

“Quickly,” called the red-haired man, “we’ve no one to dig a grave for Brian O’Brian,” and he handed me a shovel.

“I can’t dig a grave,” I moaned, as the shovel bent me over and started to work. Faster and faster it dug, until the dirt was flying all around and the hole was six feet deep.

“That’s good enough,” said the red-haired man, “Catch!” He swung the coffin at me and I jumped out of the way and started to run.

WHOOSH! A great wind swept me up into the sky! I lost the shovel, and I lost my bearings. CRASH! The wind dropped me down at the door of the cottage at the top of the hill. I opened the door, looked at the old woman and said, “Have I got a story to tell you!”

And I did! She fed me a grand dinner in exchange for my tale. Then she lit a lantern and walked me back to the hotel through the clearing fog.

The next morning, as our bus was leaving the hotel, I asked the driver if he knew of the old cottage on the hill on the other side of the forest. He drove for a few miles, then pointed. “There’s the hill, miss.”

There it was, indeed. And that tumbled ruin of rock hadn’t been lived in for many, many years. End

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