UNA and Maeve were mad for getting themselves another pet. For some months, the old sisters had done little else but talk about it, relish the future and entertain themselves with just the thought that they might bring one home.
Una, seven years on Maeve, said that she would be glad of the company while she waited for Maeve to return from her work. It would be good for the exercise.
Home hadn’t been the same since Candy died and they had thought long and hard about bearing that same loss again in the future.
Home had become an empty place, true to the nature of its remoteness. The walls of the old house were fatigued; peeling. There was a sense of abandonment, of an age long gone.
The farm would once have been thriving. Now, it was just the two of them.
Una kept the house as best she could, washing at the tub and forever trying to get a better signal on the failing TV set that only caught RTE 1 on the best of days.
Her hands were gone purple from the scrubbing. Her nose and mole on her bottom lip, purple too. Maeve, practical to the last, had sold the lower fields and found herself a little job in a cake shop in the city.
Every morning, Una drove Maeve to the bus stop in time for the 8.15am Rambler. There wasn’t a morning that passed that they were late, come rain or foul weather. Maeve always had the right change and she waited, a towering figure of black stretched over black.
When the steps to the bus were icy, no one put out a hand to steady her. She had the bulk of a farm woman, her calves like the old oak legs on their kitchen table. The only other person waiting, a tiny elf of a young woman would be helped and in her soft voice, thank the driver for his kindness.
She was used to seeing the sisters, a dying breed, with their farm clothes; the tall, thinner one in the coat her father must have worn to herd the cattle in years past, and the heavy work boots on her feet over men’s socks.
They were harmless, but she preferred to keep a well-groomed distance while she waited.
“We are mad for getting another pet, me and the sister,” said Maeve.
Not wishing to engage, but mindful of her manners, she half smiled back, shielding her eyes from the low sun.
“We do be talking about it every night. Sure, we’ve been lost without Candy.”
The woman smiled again, looking away slightly.
“Ah, t’was sad at the end. Didn’t it fall to me to take the Daddy’s gun from his days in the Flying Column and put the poor bitch out of her misery? I dug her grave meself, the sister not being able for it. Down by the chicken house. Her favourite spot.”
The woman felt slightly moved. She noticed tears lodged in the creases of Maeve’s crumpled eyes.
“That’s so sad.” She extended her small hand, but could not quite bring herself to touch Maeve’s sleeve.
“Deed it was. Didn’t we have her at her best, let of her leash by the cliffs and giving her a good awl run?”
“She didn’t suffer?”
“Nothing could be done for her. She faded, slowly at first and then at the last, a husk, curled up on her blanket in the barn.”
“So sad. And would you get another bitch?”
“I’d say we will. We will, so.”
The bus drew up. Maeve and the woman boarded. There were no seats together. The woman was slightly relieved.
Bright that spring morning, Una started up their little car and exchanged gleeful glances with Maeve as they started out for the bus-stop. There was a jig playing on the car radio and they hummed along, bobbing their shoulders in time to the music.
Today they would get a pet.
The car drew up at the bus-stop and for a change, Una waited with her sister. The jig had finished but they were still caught up in the merriment when the woman came into sight.
She walked in slight heels from the opposite direction, wrapped in a winter coat that would be too warm come lunch-time. Her hair was neatly tied back; her handbag a squared-off formal affair. Una looked at her watch.
The bus would be along in seven minutes, visible a good way off as it reached the top of a nearby hill, before spending another three minutes in a valley, only to rise up on the road beside them. The woman shuffled her feet in the chilly morning, taking in the spread of daffodils by the road-side.
They were newly flowering and their yellow trumpets danced bright against the grass. She reached down to pick one, a little trophy to grace her desk.
She turned in the direction of the hill, for the first sight of the bus. Maeve often did this too, searching the horizon for the glint of chrome and CIE livery.
Always, there was the reward of that first sighting, familiar even before she could make out the number. Instead, this morning, in cheery anticipation, she walked a little past the bus-stop, leaving Una to wait with the woman.
Una smiled, and many a tooth missing.
“Today we are going to get a pith. Me and the sister are getting a pith.”
“Yes, she told me. Another bitch?”
Her answer came from behind. Before she could turn, the sack that Maeve had shoved into her shopping-bag was over the woman’s head and they had bundled her into their car.
She knew nothing of the journey, her whole body doubled up inside the sack and tied with baling twine at the feet.
On the radio, another jig had started up and the sisters da-dummed the old tune while their car, bobbed up and down the hills back to the farm.