Long Time, No See
The funny, moving, long-awaited masterwork from "Ireland's finest living novelist" (Roddy Doyle).
Celebrated Irish author Dermot Healy's first novel in more than ten years is a rich, beguiling, compassionate, and wonderfully funny story about community, family, love, and bonds across generations.
Set in an isolated coastal town in northwest Ireland, Long Time, No See centers around an unforgettable cast of innocents and wounded, broken misfits. The story is narrated by a young man known as Mister Psyche who takes up with and is then drawn into a series of bemusing and unsettling misadventures with two men some fifty years his senior—his grand uncle Joejoe and Joejoe's neighbor The Blackbird—wonderful, eccentric characters full of ancient jealousies and grudges and holding some very dark secrets.
Written with great lyrical power and a vivid sense of place and published to rapturous reviews in England and Ireland, Long Time, No See is a sad-comic tapestry of life and death that celebrates the incredibly rich lives of ordinary people.
Dermot Healy is the author of three novels (including A Goat's Song), a memoir, a collection of stories, and five volumes of poetry. His prizes include the Hennessey Award for Short Stories, the Tom Gallon Award, and the Encore Award. He was the winner of the 2002 America Ireland Literary Award, which was funded by the America Ireland Fund and given in recognition of his contribution to Irish letters.
I headed down the townland of Ballintra in a Force 8 to light the fire towards the beginning of August.
Ah hah! said Joejoe, opening the door a fraction.
She's windy, I said.
Oh it's you, he said.
It is Uncle Joejoe, I said. He was my granduncle but sometimes I called him just Uncle and some times Grandda.
I have it.
OK , go! Tar isteach, he shouted.
I took the handle and slid through with a couple of newspapers under my arm. He stepped back as I stepped in, the table cloth rose, Timmy the dog done a turn and I swung the door shut. Joejoe studied me with his back against the shaking panels.
I was expecting my dear neighbour Mister Blackbird.
Sorry about that.
And I said to myself that's him.
And it was me.
It was you, but it was his knock, you see a knock can carry anyone's signature on a day like that. I could have sworn. You know what it is son—memory is a stranger who comes to call less and less.
And sometimes he's not welcome, if you know what I mean.
He could be anyone.
But not you.
He turned the key, let down the latch, pulled back the curtain on the window and looked out.
Is it the north-west?
The worst! But not as bad as February ninth in eighty-seven, he said as he came back from the misty, drenched window to the table. I don't like the look of it. The worst is at the filling-in of the moon, he said, handing me the leather-handled knife and then he put a plate of un-boiled bacon before me. You're just in time. The Bird will not stir that day, I'll warrant you, he'll stop above in the bodience, that sorry auld bed of his.
I began to saw off some of the raw fat and he threw the first slice to Timmy who nursed it up against the bedroom door, then Joejoe brought the remainder of the bacon joint into the kitchen and set it into a pot of boiling water filled with parsley and chives. He put the small slices of fat onto a saucer on the middle shelf of the dresser, out of the reach of Timmy, and alongside the Wayward Lad.
They were for his rat trap that he would set last thing that night.
Now, he said, how is the form Mister Psyche?
Not so bad Grandda.
Are you fit for dealing with a bad-tempered cratur like me?
He stood back and looked at the dresser, then lifted down one of his prayer books and handed it to me. Read mister, he said, from the Psalms. The Bible he always called the Psalms.
I picked a page at random, and, as always, it fell open at one of the texts where he had turned down the corner of a page from past readings.
And, behold, I said, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind.
He was not, he said.
And after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake; And after the earthquake a fire: but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a small voice.
Amen, he said, quietly. We're in this together, Mister Psyche.
He blessed himself; prayed washing his teeth and studying the dresser, then he came to a decision and replaced the Psalms by the picture of the thrush, lifted the pink shoehorn and sat it on a green tin of Old Virginia. He stroked the copy of Moby Dick, shook the rusted bell from the drapers to summon the spirits and Timmy barked, rolled in a circle onto his back and bared his stomach. Then Joejoe sat next the window and began to clean the oil lamp. He cleaned the wick. The oil lamp was his main source of light despite the fact that he had electricity. This was done very carefully. The globe, he'd say, should be bright as day. Did you ever see a gypsy face, he asked me, in candlelight? No, I said. They have very fine features, he said, and he turned to watch me as we moved on from prayer to yesterday's daily news. I read out the headlines, then rolled the sheets of newspaper into crisp tight logs and started to build the fire.
I lit it every morning, that was my job ever since I left college, to read the prayers, then the news, and light the fire, and then go on wherever I was going.
The newspapers I collected from all the houses where I had started doing jobs this summer. The timber came from trees felled in Dromod estate. The turf came from above on the mountain and up the Bog Road. And every day for the work I did, I got paid. This was my day-to-day life since college ended—cutting lawns, and hedges, driving tractors, digging gardens and building walls, and looking after Joejoe and taking in his lobsters from his pots out the rocks.
I struck the match, she took.
How is the beautiful Anna?
She is fine.
You're a lucky man.
All the news—the traffic congestion, business and financial affairs, houses for sale, wage and pension increases, obituaries, racing and soccer pages Ð shot up the chimney. We sat back and watched the flames, and then when the fire was at full tempo, he set the oil lamp on the window and studied the storm. He sang the song of the dog. Rain pounded the asbestos roof. We stepped out, slamming the door behind us, and he took the rusted spade to dig up some onions. The stalks were bent low and swinging in a frenzy of wind.
Let me, I said.
No. The one good thing is Mister, is that when there's a storm coming a body gets a build-up of energy, he said. The man that sleeps in beyond a certain hour suffers. You get a pain just here—and he tapped his skull—and you can see it in their eye. Yes, indeed.
He pulled a head of a blue cabbage and shook the earth from the roots. We stepped against the gable. The sea was leaping like a suicide over the lava rocks then scattering across fields of foam. A Mitsubishi Carisma drove by the gate, pulled in back of the beach, and a few souls went over the bank with cameras. Then a van, marked Sky TV, slowed to a stop, and the two men in the front sat eating sandwiches as they watched the waves. Lastly came the Mercedes, same as usual, with the little teddy bear, stuck fast to the back window.
We waved to them.
They did not acknowledge us, just a nod, but sat there watching the ocean; then seeing the height of the waves they drove away.
Two girls on the pier stood looking out, one behind the other and we went back through the door and he trimmed the cabbage and I cut the onions. Then all of a sudden Joejoe stood up straight, and shot a hand round the back of his neck, leaned forward, and scratched ferociously. He squeezed his shoulders together, and blew out of his lips a sense of burning.
Nothing, he said. He looked at me a moment then he went over and leaned forward with his elbows on the window sill each side of the lamp.
I often wonder is it possible to see the world through new eyes, he said, but l have my doubts. That's the story. You go on, you do.
from Long Time, No See