A neighbour died last night. I didn’t know him. I’d wave when he passed in the tractor. And yes I knew his name, and I knew who he was related to on the island naturally, and I knew how some people from the island viewed him. But I didn’t know him. But I knew he had a dog. Her name is Sally.
Sally has really short legs. When she wags her tail (which is all the time) her white and black body wiggles right along with it. She always smells of tractor oil. But its in her eyes that the magic lies. One dark eye, one bright blue, one for seeing in this world, and one for seeing into the next.
I talked for the first time to this neighbour in the local pub around Christmas last year. As much as I knew about him, he knew probably as much about me. But he knew who I was alright and when I greeted him as gaeilge, he roared laughing and said ” so you can speak the Irish now” to which I had replied, “I’ve always been able to, you’ve just never spoken to me”. He sang a song for us. And drank my drink. And before he left, we had a chat about the dog. I said how much I loved her but that she was going to kill me one of the days if she keeps trying to knot herself around my ankles when I’m walking. He laughed. “Sally” he said, “She’s great company for you”, I answered….”sure she’s the only Sally that has never left me” he laughed. He sang one more song and then he was gone.
Earlier this year, in the Spring, I drove to one of the old piers after just dropping the kids to school and buying a coffee. It was sunny, but cool. I liked doing this, as it was generally quiet and peaceful there and I’d sit there and soak up some much needed headspace time. As I got out of the car I was nearly upended by a very excited Sally. I greeted her enthusiatically, obviously asked her what she was doing out here and then looked around to see if I could see my neighbour and his tractor. Once I’d located him off over the rocks collecting seaweed for the potato crop, I knew she wasn’t alone. “I hope you don’t plan on ruining my quiet time this morning miss” I said to her. With that some seagulls landed on some rocks and she took off like a bullet to give chase. “Bye Sally” I thought, and found my own rock. Two minutes later she was back. So we sat for a few minutes. Another seagull. Another chase. After a little while she started wandering off, obviously bored with the lack of belly rubs that occur in meditation. So I sat there a while longer. I was looking out to the end of the pier when about six big seagulls came in to land. Split second later, Sally straight out of the traps makes a beeline for the seagulls, and as fast as lightning she’s almost on them, but of course they fly away, because wings, and Sally tries to stop, but the pier is slippy with seaweed jelly and she flys off over the end into the air and was gone. “OH JESUS” I shouted, and started making my way across the rocks towards the pier. All I could think about was all the jagged rocks that jutted out from under and around where she fell. But as I got closer my feet started to give from under me. It was wicked slippy and very dangerous. I called her and something caught my eye. It was Sally. She was ok, very wet but was stuck out on a rock crag and couldn’t jump across. She was crying. So I made my way up to where I could see my neighbour bent over the bag of seaweed. I called out his name. No response. I called him again. He stood up for a second his head slightly turned as if he may have heard me. Nope. Called again. This time hands on his hips looking around. I could almost imagine him scratching his head thinking what in the name of god is that shrill noise I keep hearing. But alas he looked up and saw me jumping and waving and as he walked towards me in his waterproofs and wellies, I told him that Sally had gone off the end of the pier chasing seagulls. “Jaysus she hates them seagulls” he mused. “She’ll be alright” he said. “No she’s stuck and crying and can’t get her footing” I told him. I’m sure he was rolling his eyes to heaven in his mind but he jumped up the rocks that led to the pier. I asked him did he want me to help. “You stay where you are it’s too dangerous” he said and made his way down. Sally saw him and got excited and cried more. He looked over the end and assessed the rocks. He sat down on the end of the pier. Then he jumped. Then he was gone. “OH GOD I’VE TO RESCUE BOTH OF THEM” I panicked. I started to walk down very slowly when I saw his hand grabbing up onto the pier. Next moment Sally comes hurtling through the air onto safety and finally he himself started climbing up. “Do you need help?” “No!”. Grand. Sally ran up to me and I informed her that she is not allowed join me for quiet time ever again because she is anything but. As my neighbour walked back up passed me towards his seaweed patch he says “It’s a lovely day isn’t it”. “Yeah, tá sé gleoite”
So, my neighbour died last night and it turns out, in that moment, I did know him. And I liked him.