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Fields of Athenry
It was as good of a day as any. The smell of salt hung in the damp air. Crisp dark waves crashed against the wharf and the sky was stone gray. Michael was being shuffled down the muddy road along with the other prisoners. Most of those in the line were large brutes, hardened criminals. Not Michael. He was lean and scrawny, with a 5 o’clock shadow and a mop of shaggy red hair. He was not hunched over. He was not yet broken. Beside him walked Bridget, his wife, with a pair of young children in tow. The younger, a girl was wrapped in the mother’s ragged skirts. The boy, who could not have been older than ten, walked proudly alongside her.
Bridget was weeping into a rag and attracting glares from the guards that marched along the prisoners. Michael chewed on the corner of his lip, an old nervous habit. Within moments the line would reach the dock and he would see the last of Ireland, the last of Bridget. Michael began to comfort her, “Don’t worry-“
He was broken off by a glare from one of the guards.
“-it will be okay. I’ve talked to Francis, he’ll look after you,” he finished in a whisper.
“It-it’s just… wrong!” Bridget sobbed. “Y-you were just trying… trying… to k-keep your daught…daughter from starving… Michael… they’re taking you away…”
Michael sighed, indeed they were. They were taking him halfway around the world.
The men at the front halted. A dark, decaying prison boat loomed over Michael. He cringed and shifted back and forth on the creaking dock. The waves were riding over the wood and sloshing against his boots. Bridget’s skirt was soaking.
“Final goodbyes,” a guard shouted over the crash of the waves.
“I have Brian,” he motioned to the old man next to him, “you’ll have Francis, things will work out. Times won’t be tough forever.”
Bridget nodded but continued to sob loudly.
“Come here kid. Michael opened his arms and his son jumped into them, climbing up Michael until his head rested firmly on his father’s shoulder. He was shivering. “Take care of yourself. Look after your mom for me,” Michael forced a laugh and set the boy down, ruffling his hair. “You’re the man of the house now. Help Mr. O’Conner, and remember, I’ll always miss you…”
He give his son one last quick hug and turned to embrace Bridget and his daughter. “I’m so sorry,” he whispered into his wife’s ear, “this never should have happened…”
“You did what you must. Not even God can change the past.”
“Wrap it up!” the guard was becoming agitated.
Michael looked up at the dank gray sky then down to his daughter, who stared up at him quizzically, “She won’t remember me. I-“ he choked on his words for a moment, “I want you to raise our child with liberty. Don’t let her forget what they did to her father. Please.”
Bridget nodded. “I’ll never let them forget you. They will fight for Ireland one day. For you.”
Michael closed his eyes. “I love you. I love you so much. Never forget that.”
Before Bridget could respond the line began moving and Michael was whisked into the bowels of the ship. He was gone. She stood on the wave worn dock, with a drenched skirt and a young child in either hand as her husband disappeared. As she watched the line slowly recede a feeble old man was yanked away from his daughter. As he was dragged towards the prison boat Bridget could hear the echo of his last sentence.
“… Nothing matters when you’re free…”