The Wild Man
“Are they happy?”
“How could you tell?”
“They have a dog.”
“Does having a dog mean you’re happy?”
I try to think of how to explain to him what I saw. A family strolling down to the beach, a lovely golden dog bounding around their legs. They were happy, I could tell even from far away although I can’t explain exactly how I could tell this. They looked happy in the way that a lot of families look when they’re here on their holidays and spending their time at the beach or going for walks or cycles and enjoying life on the island because it’s not their normal world.
“Maybe they were happy because they were a family together,” I tell him. “Because they were big kids with a mam and a dad and they were going to the beach and they were on their holidays. It looked like they loved each other.”
He sighs and looks somewhat satisfied.
I’m glad he didn’t get angry with my answer.
Dad used to get angry sometimes when I couldn’t answer questions properly. That was a little bit scary but this man getting angry would have been even scarier. He’s a little bit scary already with his wild long matted hair and his worn tattered clothes and he smells slightly and I can see a long stick with a very sharp rock tied to the end of it in his little hut. He told me the last time that it was for catching fish but I’m still a little bit scared of it and I can’t even tell mam or anyone about being scared because I’m not supposed to be here. Mam always used to tell me I’m not allowed to go this far away from the house on my own and especially not all the way to this side of the island which is a long and slightly dangerous climb and it’s where the wild mad man lives. Usually I wouldn’t dare disobey her but ever since the funeral, mam gets long migraines a lot and can’t leave her bed so I can go wherever I want. I feel a little bad wandering off while she’s lying in a dark room and trusting me to occupy myself but I wanted to see for myself if the stories were true because I didn’t really believe the girls and boys in school when they talked about the wild man living out here.
They said he moved here when I was very little, came from the mainland and there were lots of stories about where he had come from and who he was and he didn’t look wild or mad on the ferry over, Séan said, because his dad worked on the ferry and saw him when he arrived and said he didn’t have any big bags coming over but he looked like he came from a city, had that “air of sophistication,” but I wasn’t really sure what Séan meant by that.
Séan would be so jealous if he knew that I was here, talking to him, not for the first but the second time. I can’t tell Séan about it though because he’s big now and goes to school on the mainland, like I will have to one day, even though I don’t want to leave my island. Instead of feeling sad about that I think about the look of disbelief and jealously there would be on Séan’s face if I told him I went on a super secret spy mission for the wild man. I had told him before about the Scottish family who was renting the cottage near ours. He was very interested and asked a lot of questions about them and I promised I’d find out all the answers that I didn’t know and come back and tell him but I really just wanted an excuse to visit him again, the strange and mysterious man with his funny hair.
I think maybe he’s interested in the couple and their kids because he’s Scottish too, and we haven’t gotten many Scottish people on the island with their nice but strange accents.
But now that I have told him about the Andersons and that they looked happy, he looks like he doesn’t want to talk to me anymore, so before he can turn away I try quickly to think of a question.
“What do you eat?”
He looks very skinny and his face is narrow so I wonder if maybe he doesn’t eat anything at all and might actually be a ghost. But he tells me again about his fishing and he shows me another little hut, a bit away from his hut, with chickens in it.
“Don’t you get bored of eating eggs and fish all the time?”
“I’d miss yummy things, like chocolate. I could bring you some chocolate if you like?”
He stops for a moment to think.
“Well, maybe not chocolate, but there are some things you could bring me if you didn’t mind?”
“I don’t mind at all.”
Another secret spy mission!
I think of the fun of loading my school bag up with supplies and heading back over here, picking my way carefully over the rocky and hilly land, making sure not to go too fast so I don’t trip and go tumbling into the sea.
I like walking and climbing and exploring and on the way here I saw a dead sheep. He was in a big pool of water so he must have drowned. His body was floating at the top of the pool and it was cool because the half of him that was in the air was all just a sheep skeleton now and I could see his ribs and his skull but the half of him that was in the water was still covered in the wool, with the wool all splayed out floating around him, and it was both eerie and fascinating because he looked as if he was half dead and half alive. I thought it funny that the sheep was just lying in the pool of water because when people die you put them in a wooden box and bury it in the ground, you don’t just leave them where they drowned. I’m about to ask the man if he’s seen the sheep himself but he speaks before me, his face suddenly flickering, as if he just remembered something.
“Do your parents know you’re here?”
“My mam’s in bed and my dad’s dead. He drowned.”
The man looks very sad about this, even though he never knew my dad.
“I’m sorry.” He looks out at the sea, where the waves are breaking against the cliffs with big white foamy splashes, “The sea is a beautiful but terrible thing.”
I don’t tell him that dad didn’t drown at sea because I wish that he did. When people drown at sea they get plaques put up and poems written for them and sometimes even songs. Ben’s dad died in a fishing accident and there was a mass and all people from the island got together and said prayers and they unveiled the plaque they made for him which was shiny black marble with gold letters and it was very nice and everyone said it was tragic that he had died so young. But my dad was on the way home late at night and fell into the ditch and drowned in the few inches of water. That mustn’t be a good way to drown because he didn’t get a plaque and I heard people whispering about how he had been on the way back from the pub and I heard the word “careless” a lot and I could tell from the funeral that people didn’t like my dad as much as they had liked Ben’s dad, even the priest didn’t say as many nice things and I didn’t know why and I didn’t want to ask mam about it because she was really sad, maybe even sadder than me and I was very, very sad. Because even though people didn’t say as many nice things about my dad as they did about Ben’s dad and even though he drowned in a ditch and not at sea I still really loved him. I didn’t like it when he shouted and it made mam flinch but I loved it when he used to whoosh me up onto his shoulders and I’d be on top of the world, taller than he even was, and I loved it when he brought me to the beach and we’d dig big holes, and he’d let me bury him lying down in the sand with just his head sticking out, and he’d shout that he’d lost his body somewhere on the beach and it made me laugh and laugh. And I loved it when he told me about the different birds and the different plants and he knew everything there was to know about anything and I think that Ben’s dad only really knew about fish.
He was a really good dad.
I can imagine that this man would be a good dad too, if he cut his hair and got some new clothes because he’s good at talking to me and he explained all about his chickens and his fishing and he’s got gentle eyes. I could maybe even bring him some of dad’s old clothes because they’re just sitting in his wardrobe anyway and it’ll be a long time before I’m big enough to wear them and I don’t think mam has looked in the wardrobe since he died and I’d rather this man wearing them then the moths eating them.
“Are you a dad?”
“I used to be.”
“How can you stop being a dad?”
“I left my family.”
“My dad left to go to heaven but he’s still my dad, that’s what granny said.”
“They don’t need me anymore. They’ve got a new dad.”
“Their mother married someone new when they were still little and I think he’s a better dad than I ever was.”
“Because they’re all happy.”
“How do you know they’re happy?”
“They have a dog.”
Robyn Gill (20) is from Dublin, Ireland and loves writing short stories and plays. Her short stories have been published in The Irish Times supplements edited by Fighting Words. She was an Irish delegate at the inaugural International Congress of Youth Voices in August 2018. She is currently in her second year of English Literature and Drama Studies in Trinity College Dublin.