THE KILKENNY OBSERVER CHRISTMAS SHORT STORY SERIES
Celebrating writers in our community ’23
The Kilkenny Observer Newspaper is delighted to present our ‘2023 Christmas short story series’. We have invited four writers from Kilkenny to submit a short story over the coming weeks, which we hope you will enjoy. This week we welcome Joseph Kearney
By Dr. Joseph Kearney
It was Christmas Eve and excitement, an emotion old as the feast itself, robbed me of sleep. I remember lying there, eyes wired and mind racing, impatiently following the slow track of grid-patterned moonlight as it inched along the wall opposite my bed. It was as if the moon, all white as bleached bone, was projecting the sags and wrinkles of its face onto the bruised distemper of the room. The runnels and craters of the uneven wall surface assuming a nighttime significance out of all proportion to its daytime monotony. The house was shrouded and quiet; it settled its bulk and creaked an occasional sigh as if from the weight of loneliness. Outside, ear cocked to the sounds of traffic along the roadway, I could hear the last stragglers and shoppers returning to their homes and travelling in the opposite direction could make out those who were drawn towards midnight Mass in the Big Chapel. Passing cars crunched the face of frozen puddles and, in so doing, rearranged the reflection of the splintered moon beneath the passage of their wheels. This was in a time when the rarity of mechanised transport made it possible to identify and associate engine noises with their car owners and to follow the doings of neighbours without having to raise a head from the pillow. I could differentiate between Morris Minors and Ford Cortinas and between Austins and Hillmans and confidently attribute ownership to each stuttering piston and each rumbling exhaust.
I believe I would have remained in bed waiting the inevitable arrival of slumber had the Chapel bells not summoned me to them. They seemed to reach out to me through the window. They drew me shivering to the drawn blinds. They made me inscribe a hawed circle of melting breath upon the forest of frosted flowers that bespangled the inside of the windowpane and made me gaze with eyes of wonder upon the miracle of that Christmas Eve night. I looked upwards at the glittering field of stars and instinctively knew that this was a night unlike any other.
Those stars elbowed and crowded one another’s brilliance so much that they blinded me with their greatness and in so doing rendered my childish self insignificant. I trembled with cold and awe but remained transfixed. The bells of the Big Chapel intoned to me in long bellowing peals that twined themselves through the town-lands, that bounced across the bogs and that hurled over hedges with such momentous clamour, they awakened the sleeping dogs. In the far distance I listened to the howls of Mikey Maher’s greyhounds. And on this holy of holy nights when animals are said to be given the power of human speech, it caused them to lift their muzzles to the heavens as they attempted to shepherd the stars into new patterns of divine tapestry. For one brief instant, visible only to the innocent and the pure of heart, in the weft and weave of this celestial fabric, could be divined the annunciation of the birth of kings.
In farm and town and cottage, into the shell of sleeping ears, sang the echoing peals, across the moonlit open spaces, through the tangle of woodlands, into haggards and hay-sheds, up lanes and pot-holed paths, in ditches and dykes and into all our breathless hearts came the scattering notes of the bells, dropping sweetly as petals of white roses, or like softly falling snowflakes.
There was a silvery splash of stardust above my head and I saw, through a hole in the mesh of the world, that the moon was a cracked mirror, as wafer white as a communion host and that the plough had reassembled itself into a thorny crown that sparkled as diamonds against the indigo night. It was as if the very sky had spread itself wide above the earth, laid out its goodness upon a fold of velvet all the better to display the glory of its gifts for us to see on this Christmas Eve night.
Now that boy has become a man who so often forgets more than he remembers, nonetheless, I have carried the light of that particular night inside me like a silver signpost inscribed along the path of memory. It is an image of the purest essence, when for the briefest of moments the world held its innocence; the moon held its breath and across the white frozen fields, the Christmas bells, blasted, bellowed and boomed out their message of joy and the stars spelled out the most wondrous tale of all for a shivering boy too tired and too astonished to sleep.
Joseph Kearney is originally a Callan native and a regular voice on RTE’s Sunday Miscellany where he features in their latest anthology. He is a multi-award winning documentary maker and holds a PhD in creative writing from UCD. His latest short story collection The Beekeeper and the River is available from local bookshops, online and directly from the author by contacting 087 2633041.