Called One Summer In Cork, this story was written by Christine Kannapel, from the MA in Creative Writing Programme at UCC. You can catch up with previous episodes at www.echolive.ie. In this seventh episode, the main character, Julia, resolves to get Rory out of jail
THE street outside was raucous with the sound of horse hooves and morning chatter. My head throbbed. Hadn’t I just fallen asleep?
“About time ye woke, madam,” Kate said, entering the room and flinging the curtains open.
“Kate, where is the jailhouse?”
“There’s the prison sure, just by South Gate Bridge. My lady will take ye there if ye need.”
I jumped from the bed and tried to dress as quickly as possible, but my fingers were shaking.
“Ah here, madam,” Kate said, coming to the rescue by tightening my corset. “This corset’s a bit small for ye, madam.”
I grumbled. Small or not, the ribs of the thing dug into my skin and something about the fabric made my skin itch.
“I have to go to the prison, now. Where is Sarah?”
“My lady is in the drawing room, madam. I’ll take ye there now.”
Sarah was sitting on a blue sofa, embroidering the hem of a skirt. She sat in the sunlight, elegant and poised. She looked up at me, one eyebrow raised. Her expression struck me. It was all too familiar — the sofa, the way the light hit her cheekbones.
“Sarah, can we go to the prison?” I asked, pleadingly.
“We can,” she said hesitantly, “But there’s really no point until Rory goes on trial. Ye can try to plead his innocence now, but ye may not succeed.”
“A trail? It was an accident. He didn’t mean to be publicly indecent and we weren’t on a pilgrimage. Which, since when was making pilgrimage illegal?”
Kate and Rosie exchanged looks and then gazed at me as if I was talking nonsense.
“The Irish Parliament ruled that pilgrimages caused unruliness, but I assume ye wouldn’t know that, being from America,” Sarah said, standing. “I’ll fetch my things and take ye.”
“They won’t kill Rory or anything, will they, Sarah?”
“I don’t think so, and if ye make a case for him, they might let him go.”
I wasn’t sure what to say. I could lie as Sarah suggested when we first met her, by saying that we were robbed of all our belongings and stripped of our clothes. I could say that we were swimming and didn’t realise we were swimming in a holy well.
Sarah and I hurried through the streets. Ben made a comment once about how stinky the old world was, and that sentiment was not a lie. Stench sifted through the air from the open sewage, the horses, and the people — the latter I discovered as we pushed our way through market goers.
The buildings were hardly like the buildings of the Cork I knew. Which was to be expected, but I was still surprised at how fragile their bone work seemed.
The prison was at the end of Grand Parade. It was brick and faced towards Elizabeth Fort, on which stood men with guns, just like the replicas I had seen on display in my time.
“We would like admittance to visit a prisoner. He was only taken in last night and we would like to plead his innocence,” Sarah announced to the guards in front of the prison’s entrance.
The guards smiled at one another and chuckled. The burlier one of the two cocked his head.
“The lad accused of nakedness, ye mean? Right this way, missus,” he said.
Sarah nodded and the burly man led us inside.
Torches lined the hallways and water dripped down from the ceiling and walls. The air was rancid with the scents of urine and mildew.
The guard stopped us in front of a door, which was only three quarters of my height and was guarded by two other men. The door had a little gated window in its centre, through which, the guard called:
“Two ladies to see ye, Warden!”
Usually, from what I observed in movies and books, it seemed like getting into prisons and seeing a warden was more difficult. I decided that the laxity was a good sign.
“In!” a gruff voice shouted.
“In ye go, then,” our guide, said, opening the door for us.
The warden was busy scribbling with a quill and nodded at us to have a seat in front of his desk.
“Let me guess,” he said, resting his quill and locking his hands together. “Ye belong to that young man seen traipsing about hardly dressed on pilgrimage. And ye have come to claim his innocence. Well, ladies, the truth is, is that he is written up. His case was very suspicious, since he was seen so close to the holy well, and only the mayor can pardon him anyway. Unless he is ill. Then he may be allowed to claim madness.”
A brief silence ensued. Right as I opened my mouth to rebuke the warden, Sarah spoke.
“What if he is not mad, but is simply ill?”
“Explain further, missus.”
“What if he was delusional? And his behaviour is an isolated case.”
“If ye can prove it to the mayor, then it is worth a go.”
“How would we prove it?”
“Well, does this young man have a doctor?”
Sarah’s lips tightened and she nodded.
“I suppose then that ye ought to fetch him and bring him here for an examination of your man. If your man was ill yesterday, then he will be today. The longer ye wait, the less innocent he will appear.”
“Julia,” Sarah said turning to me, “why don’t ye stay with Rory while I fetch a doctor.”
When I was taken to Rory, he was sitting cross-legged in a patch of hay.
“Julia!” he said, seeing me through the shadowy, candle lit shadows that his cell bars cast.
His prison mate flinched from the other corner of the cell.
“Rory! I’m so sorry, so sorry!”
“Hell, it’s not your fault.”
I could feel the heat of frustrated tears.
“I’ll be out soon, like.”
“Rory, the warden said that the only way you’ll make it out of here, is if we say you’re ill or mad.”
“Did he say what the punishment was?”
“I didn’t ask.”
Rory’s cellmate groaned, glaring at us, gesturing at us to be quiet.
“I’m so sorry you’re here,” I whispered.
“Julia, it’s not your fault.”
“I still don’t know how this all even happened. How are we going to go back?”
“Maybe the way we came? Like you said.”
“Yeah, like if we follow what Maeve did and if it’s on the summer solstice, maybe. What a mess.”
Rory reached his hand between the bars, touching mine.
“Did you sleep at all?” I asked.
“No, too many rats and the hay is full of lice. My scalp’s been itching pretty bad, like.”
I dropped his hand and yelped.