The sound of the front door closing and keys jangling carry an ominous weight this night. Shuffling uneven steps. A coat being hung on a hook. Footsteps recede down the hall in to the kitchen. A cupboard is opened. Glass clinks. Liquid is poured.
A young woman with fiery red hair in a blue bathrobe comes to the door of the kitchen and stands watching her husband draining a tumbler of amber fluid.
“You’re home late, Alistair.”
He sets the glass down. “I know. I’m sorry.”
“We were worried.”
“You shouldn’t. I was just at Danny’s.”
“That’s what worries me. You can’t keep doing this. It’s been three months now.”
“T’ree months! Fuck. T’ree days. T’ree years. It doesn’t matter how long it’s been. I can’t get it out of me mind. I killed a man. Do you know what dat’s like?”
“Alistair, he was attacking another boy, a teenager, with a crowbar!”
“A boy who probably raped his daughter! Would I be any different if someone hurt our girls? De fact is dat he might have been as much of a victim as a criminal. A father. His daughter will have to grow up without him and I have to live with dat.”
“Yes, but we have to live with you! Your daughters need their father too.”
Alistair is silent for a while staring into his empty glass. In the dark we cannot see the tear that courses down his cheek.
“Fuck! I promised dem a story tonight.” Suddenly he starts moving, pushing past his wife and further down the hall.
“They’re sleeping, Alistair. Don’t go in there.”
Ignoring her he keeps walking hurriedly. “I promised.”
“They’re asleep. Do not go in there. Don’t go in there!”
He throws open a door with two small crosses hanging on it. Each with a name inscribed on the transept ‘Molly’ and ‘Mae’. He flips on the light and walks across the room to a dark wood crib. A blonde girl of 3 or 4 sits up suddenly from a small bed with daisies printed on it as he passes.
“Girls. Yer father’s home. He promised ye a story. So, he’s gonna tell ye a story.”
He reaches into the crib and grabs his younger daughter, whose hair is so fair that she nearly appears bald. She is no older than two years of age and when he picks her up she immediately starts howling.
“Shh… shh… quiet now, Mae. Yer daddy’s come to tell ye a story.” The child keeps screaming.
“Alistair, she was sleeping. For Christ’s sake put her down, it’s almost midnight.” His wife is palpably unnerved, wanting to yell at him, but worried she’ll scare the girls.
He ignores her and keeps talking over the toddler’s wailing. “It’s okay. Daddy’s just going to tell ye a story isn’t he. Shh… shh… isn’t he Mae. You want to hear daddy’s story. Molly come over here and sit by yer dad.”
Molly obeys, sleepily rubbing her eyes. She sits on a bean bag chair next to Alistair who is rocking Mae back and forth as he starts his tale.
“Ye remember the man I told ye about many times before, Cuchulain – the hound of Cullan? Have I told ye yet how he died?”
Molly shakes her head no and Mae begins to quiet down.
“Well, dere were many people dat wanted to kill him because he was such a famous warrior and had killed so many of his enemies. Dey plotted against him, and dey fed him de thigh of a hound, de very animal for which he was named. De instant he ate it de strength went out of his left side because he had been holding it in his left hand. Den, while he was weak dey led a great army out to kill him, because dey were still afraid of him. Dere was a prophecy dat in his final battle each of his t’ree magical spears would kill a king.
“Riding in his chariot Cuchulain killed hundreds and hundreds of men dat day, but de battle was very long and wit’out his left arm he couldn’t fight as well as he usually did. So he threw his first magical spear, Cairbre, and it went straight t’rough 10 men. But den de leader of his enemies picked it up and threw it back, and he killed Laeg, de king of de charioteers.
“So now Cuchulain was driving his own chariot and fighting at de same time. De villains were all around him so he threw his second magical spear, Morghe, and it went straight t’rough 20 men. But den de leader of his enemies picked it up and threw it back, and he killed de Grey of Macha, de king of de horses.
“Now Cuchulain was on foot and surrounded he fought fiercely, but only with one arm. Finally he threw his t’ird magical spear, Gae Bolge, and it went straight t’rough 50 men. But den de leader of his enemies picked it up and threw it back, and he hit Cuchulain.”
“Cuchulain was mortally wounded, but he asked his enemies if he could go to de nearby lake to have a drink before he died. Dey agreed because dey were still too afraid to get close to him and finish him off. So he gathered up his bowels and carried Gae Bolge to de lake where he had a drink. Den he said to himself, ‘I want to meet my death standing, but I am too weak to stay on my feet’. So he lashed himself to a tall stone with his belt and he waited.
“De army of his enemies approached him, but dey did not get close for fear he might still be alive. Dey waited for t’ree days, but den de leader of de army said, ‘I will cut off Cuchulain’s head.’ So he walked up and cut it off, but as Gae Bolge fell from Cuchulain’s hand it cut off de leader’s leg and he died too.”
Before Alistair finished the tale, Mae had fallen back to sleep and Molly was fighting to keep her head up. So he tucked his girls in and went out to face the wrath of his wife…