The Barracks

The Barracks by John McGahern Read Free Book Online

Book: The Barracks by John McGahern Read Free Book Online
Authors: John McGahern
into their candlelight.

    â€˜ Good night ,  Sleep tight ,                          And mind the fleas don’t bite ,”
    he recited.
    They smiled with polite servility, but it was the end of the night, and his pleasantness went through them like a shiver of cold. They watched him cruelly as he shaped sideways to manœuvre his load of blankets through the dayroom door. They took his place on the stairs, the paint completely worn away in the centre of the steps, and even the wood shredding and a little hollowed by years of feet. They climbed without speaking a word. When they got near the top they could see their images with candles and bricks mounting into the night on the black shine of the window. It was directly at the head of the stairs, facing out on the huge sycamore between the house and the river. There was no sign of moon or star, only two children with candles reflected out of its black depth, raindrops slipping down the glass without, where the masses of wind struggled and reeled in the night.
    Willie went with Sheila into her room. On nights like these they were never at ease with each other.
    â€œWill you be afraid now, Sheila?” he asked.
    â€œI’ll leave the candle lit,” she said.
    â€œAnd do you want the door open?”
    He knew by the way she said “Aye” that she was almost dumb with fear.
    â€œWell, you want nothing else so?”
    An importance had crept into his voice, the situation making him feel and act like a grown person.
    â€œNo,” Sheila said. “Nothing.”
    â€œWell, good night so, Sheila.”
    â€œGood night, Willie.”
    Â Â Â 
    Downstairs Elizabeth strained Reegan’s barley water into a mug with a little blue circle above its handle. He drank it sitting before the dying fire, blowing at it sometimes, for it was hot. He loved drawing out these last minutes. The thought of Quirke didn’t trouble him any more than thethought of his own life and death. All things became remote and far away, speculations that might involve him one day, but they had no power over him now, and these minutes were his rest of peace.
    â€œIs the cat out?” he asked.
    â€œShe didn’t come in at all tonight,” Elizabeth answered.
    â€œAre the hens shut in?”
    â€œThey are.”
    â€œDo you want me to go out for anything?”
    â€œNo. There’s nothing wanting.”
    He rose, put the mug down on the table, and went and bolted the scullery door. She was setting the table for the morning when he came in.
    â€œDon’t stay long now,” he said on his way to bed, because she’d found it hard to sleep since she grew uneasy about her breasts, and often sat reading for hours in the stillness after he’d go, books Willie brought her from the lending library in the school, a few books she’d brought with her from London and kept always locked in her trunk upstairs, books that’d grown in her life as if they’d been grafted there, that she’d sometimes only to handle again to experience blindingly.
    â€œNo. I won’t be a minute after you. When I rake the fire.”
    At the hall door he noticed the intense strained look on her face.
    â€œYou look tired out. You’re killin’ yourself workin’ too hard.”
    And then he asked as if he had been given vision, “Are you sure you’re feelin’ well, girl?”
    â€œDon’t be foolish,” she tried to laugh. “How could I work too hard with the few things that’d have to be done in this house! When I rake the fire I’ll be in bed.”
    â€œDon’t be long so, that readin’ at night’d drive a person crackers,” he said and left for his bed.
    She put a few wet sods of turf on the fire, then covered it with ashes. She heard Casey noisily shifting his bed down in the dayroom, soon Reegan’s boots

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