“(un)Even Roads Have Feelings,” by Graham Tugwell

Aug 20th, 2011 | By | Category: Prose

Out by Feargal Lawlor’s!

Down by the pump near Mixie’s Well!

Round by the broken crannóg at Loughool!

There it goes—the Ballybothar Road!

Once, the High King Feargus Óg MacAoanaidhe, bewitched into a salmon, was shot here by his son! 

Once, croppy boys cowered in its mossy ditches, knotting lithe and little lynchropes!

Once, jackbooted seamen, demobbed from the Thunderchylde, trooped along it, searching for the warehouse where The McCarthy hid! 

Once, Papal Nuncio Fr. Pascal Gather declared it “A grand road altogether!”

And so it goes in lazy oldman loops and shallow long-contented curves—the Ballybothar Road, older than the fields it holds together!

A grand road altogether, all agreed.


He wore a lovely pair of knickerbocks, spun from bolts of mock-tan serge, and on his wheaty sulphur locks a tip-top tam o’shanter with a puggareel run round (drowned-baby blue) and he ran abouts from bank to bank, along the length of the Ballybothar Road, and he held an alder switch, which he whipped through the air with a whistling whip.

Little Chester Fettingsley, over from Bishop’s Stortford, out in the sun with Aunt Bridie on the last day of his holiday—such fun! They’d caught eleven pinkeens; they’d stopped to watched Pat Toher gelding; he’d even whacked a cow on the shoulder with a stone from really quite a distance!

Such fun indeed—and now down the road to the Creamery for an Ashbourne berry floater!

“Ha ha! Ha ha!” laughed Chester, kicking a bit of tarmac far into the ditch. “I say, Aunty Bridie—do look at the sorry state of this road! Look at all of these potholes— why, one could lose the HMS Redoubtable in one of those blighters!” and Chester bounded across, the lip crumbling under his moccasins.

Aunt Bridie sighed, fumbling in her bag for the—for the—

“And that curb! It’s a jolly disgrace—why, that grass bank is as unkempt as Cunningham-Smythe’s gardener’s beard!” And Chester whipped at the recalcitrant foliage—whish—whish—whish! “Down, you rotten plants! Make way! Make way—my Uncle is in the Admiralty!”

Flinching, Aunt Bridie reached out— “Come away, Chester, there’s a good man—we’ve to keep going if we’re to have Ashbourne berry floaters at the Creamery. Leave that shrub be—sure, it’s done nothing to you.”

But Chester shrugged loose— “Why does the blasted road go round in all these foolish curves? Why can’t it just bully on through? I ask you; who cares if a hedge or two is ripped out and burned? I want my Ashbourne berry floater—now!

“Calm down, Chester—” cried Aunt Bridie, shielding her face from the whistling alder—“Dr. Proufot said you mustn’t—”

“Oi’m de King of Paddy Road!” screamed Chester, rushing up and down the Ballybothar Road— “Bijaysus! Bijaysus! Do dis! Do dat! Paddy paddy paddy! TAKE OUT DE HEDGE AND BURN IT! BURN IT BIJAYSUS!”

And he dashed to and fro, striking the foliage, kicking the crumbling tarmac, jigging about the potholes and calling the road every name under the sun— “Prick road! Arse road!”

“Oh come away, Chester,” moaned Aunt Bridie, dabbing her split lip— “Mother of Christ, please come away…”

And an hour later he came away and they went and had their Ashbourne berry floaters but Chester didn’t like his and threw it at a cow—



The next morning was bright, and crisp, and cool, and all across the village sleepers woke softly from soft and lovely dreams to stretch, yawning-angled, fist-clenched, in the butterlight warmth between curtains.

And there was no Chester Fettingsley about to bother anyone—no; he’d been safely bundled into the ferry during the night, back to Bishop’s Stortford!


Good riddance!

And all the villagers out of bed then, to buy rashers and milk and to pick up the newspaper and maybe toddle over to the church for a bit of a prayer and—

Sweet merciful Baby Jesus on the Cross would you look at that?!

The Ballybothar Road is gone!

Gone! The lazy swan-neck curves from vets’ to funeral home; the straight bit by the broken monument; the wonky junction with the Old Stone Road; all gone, and in their place, a swathe of wild and waving grass!

(The steward was right. The ferry was riding very low in the water.

Captain John McGovern narrowed his eyes. What could be causing that?

He turned to Dave Crozier.

“Put a few cars over the side, Dave. Anyone asks, they left their handbrake off.”

A dozen thunderous splashes in the Irish Sea.)


“Help,” shouted Fat Paddy Flinter. “Sure, I can’t get out of my gate! Someone’s after taking the road away!” And there he stood at the end of the garden path, gaping at the new grass, his fat mouth flapping uselessly, his belly resting on the unopened, indeed, unopenable gate. “What am I supposed to do?” he wailed, “How can I get to the bookies if there’s no road?”

He gave the gate a petulant shove.

And down the street there came a voice, raised in anguish. Brave with the drink, Peader Hynes had ventured out amidst the waving grass, but had soon come a cropper— “Oooh,” he moaned, rocking on his back, his hands wrapped around a scuffed shin, “The surface was very, very slightly uneven and—Jaysus—didn’t I trip!”

A shocked chorus of “Oh No!” rippled through the gathering crowd and Patsy McGuire ran to the wall outside the chipper. “I’m coming for you Peader,” he shouted, “Try not to move—”

“No—No!” cried Peader Hynes, “The ground—it’s too very slightly uneven all around me— you could fall over, chip a tooth or something. Then there’d be two of us out here in the grass instead of one!”

His voice was barely more than a whisper. “Just go—Forget about me,” and he laid his head amongst the sweet, treacherous grass, singing: “The stars begin to fade…”

Another shocked chorus of “Oh No!” did the rounds.

“Is no-one going to help me at all?” shouted Fat Paddy Flinter slamming his pudgy impotent hands on his worthless gate. “Jaysus Christ altogether! Why won’t no-one pay attention?”


(Now what’s the matter?

Again the sliding door caught on something, made a gritty grinding squeak and jammed in the groove.

Always something.

Cursing and sweating, ticket inspector Gordon Stanchild heaved against the door until— suddenly—it flew across and he fell into the carriage.






“That’s it!” roared Patsy McGuire punching the air, “If we can’t get to him, we’ll bring him to us!”

“What?” shouted the crowd.

“A rope!” yelled Patsy McGuire.

So they threw Peader Hynes a rope, and on the third attempt he caught it, tying it awkwardly under his chin and grunting blue with the discomfort. From the wall by the chipper the villagers saw him give a sluggish thumbs up.

“Quickly, everyone,” cried Patsy McGuire, “He’s turning a strange colour! Heave!”

And working together, they pulled Peader Hynes out of the treacherous grass, although he banged his head something dreadful on the side of Patty Darby’s Audi and lost a dozen teeth.

“To hell with the lot of yis,” spat Fat Paddy Flinter, and he went inside and had another breakfast.


(Wurl, wot a foin noight it is! Paradin’ arahnd the tahhhn, not a soul abaht, not a sahnd to bovver the ‘appiness of Bishop’s Stortford! Moon shining dahn, ouwls ‘ootin’ in the frees, a bootiful noight, jes’ bootiful for perahmbyoolayshuns!

Makes wan ‘appy to be aloive!

‘Old on a—

Strike a light, guv! Izzat? Bloomin’ ‘eck, it is! Where’s me whizzul gorn? Oh no—git your ‘ands orf me—oh no! Fink of moi woif—moi litturl wans! Aaaaaaargh aaaargh no—


And the day dragged on and the villagers did their best to cope without the helpful presence of the Ballybothar Road—ropes slung between rooftops; eggs and milk exchanged with the aid of long poles; a small child pulped when a ladder folded wrong.

And they all went to bed thinking:

What happened to our lovely road?

What did we do to make it leave?

Will it… will it ever come back to us?


(And Dr. Donovan Slane is taken up the stairs, into the child’s bedroom.

Chaos—window burst inwards, bed smashed to splinters, tears in the ceiling and the child himself, smashed burgermeat against the wall by a tide of grit and broken stone; the face purple, the gaping mouth filled with gravel, the wheaty sulphur locks thick with clay.

Scratched into the plaster over the pulverized head:


“What is this?” sobs Mrs Fettingsley, “What’s all this stuff on my poor little Chester?”

And Dr. Donovan Slane takes the pipe from his mouth, locks grey eyes upon the wretched woman and says—

“Madam, your son has learned, to his cost, that even roads have feelings.

He put the pipe back in his mouth.

“Or something.”



Graham Tugwell is a PhD student with the School of English, Trinity College Dublin, where he teaches Popular and Modernist Fiction. The recipient of the College Green Literary Prize 2010, he has been published by Anobium, Write From Wrong, Jersey Devil Press, Red Ochre Lit, The Quotable, Sein und Werden, Thoughtsmith, THIS Literary Magazine and L’Allure Des Mots. He has work forthcoming in Kerouac’s Dog Magazine, Anemone Sidecar, Plain Spoke, Pyrta, Battered Suitcase, Lost Souls, Rotten Leaves, Red Lightbulbs, and FuseLit. He has lived his whole life in the village where his stories take place. His website is grahamtugwell.com.

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