A skinny man with long dreadlocks dozed on a bog in the west of Ireland, his black skin warmed by a late autumn sun. He was interrupted by the sound of an engine, followed by the distant clatter of scraping and grinding metal.
‘Irish John’ Prentice had been happy to be away from Sheffield, removed from his birthplace, his songs and guitars, finding space. He’d sought his flown mother’s people out—trying to get to grips with her O’Malleys. It was good cover for what he was really looking for: some spark to light up his head again. And the light was good—might be good enough to beam him back to the City of Steel. There were loads of O’Malleys but they weren’t for much talking and there was no recall of his mother. Not a surprise, as names slipped easily from mothers of mothers. And some sort of an O’Malley she may well be, from somewhere else. He was happy to let her go. It was not really why he was here. Either way, the place had put on its blank face, however well it was lit: nothing to see here but yourself.
About ten miles into the mountains he’d thrown himself and his bicycle onto the heather. He’d been thinking of the pirate queen they’d told him about: Grace O’Malley. Could he put her to music he wondered. Gracie? Gracie meets Calypso? Ska? Nah. He smiled at the idea. There had of course been a fucking hymn to soften his head, a Stabat Mater—an echo of a concert he’d been at in an abbey a few nights previously. That had rightly cheered him up. So, he wondered, with all this good humour, maybe he was ready to go home.
He shifted himself to the top of the bank to see down the fifty yards or so to the twisty tar. There it was, a heap of metal, wheels up and still turning, smoking he thought. A goldy-brown blur of an animal rolled out of sight over a hillock beyond the ditch. ‘Bugger this.’ He set off, hopping the dry hummocks among the sphagnum, feeling the spiky grass against his bare feet. He clambered over a sheep fence and arched a path across the road, never taking his eyes off the inverted red car and a grey horsebox, now detached and thrown on its side. The windows of the car were dipping in the ditch water like they were on a sinking ship. He stooped in to look. There was straw hanging behind the glass. Hair. Rusty straw-coloured hair. Blood.
A heap of metal, a machine flung down, half-drowned in a drain, was a regular feature in that valley, but Prentice had never seen anything like this before. The bog sucking hard on the terrible iron blew off any remnants of his reveries. He had shaped iron once, back in Sheffield. A foundryman. Before he had swapped those scars for the callouses from steel guitar strings. Now, in this wild and eerie place, the name of a lad from Rotherham came to his lips: Wilson, whose head he had seen crushed by an axle falling from a faulty gantry crane. He’d buried that image a long time ago.