Prose Header

Spancil Hill

by Noel Denvir

Sam missed the small entrance that led to the farm. Even after all these years no sign had been put up to mark it. So he had to make a three-point-turn about fifty yards later. It reminded him of his driving test, a long time ago. He hoped to God that no truck or sporty teenager would come barreling over the hill while he was manoeuvring his oversized BMW on this winding country road.

The big car crunched slowly over the narrow gravelled lane. He didn't recognise much; there wasn't much to recognise, just plain fields with cows staring vacantly. Yet he had that warm comforting feeling that nothing had altered here. The countryside doesn't spoil your expectations.

He remembered that the farmhouse was on the other side of the approaching incline and provided no landmark. This was why he had missed the entrance — just like all those years ago.

* * *

Sam was on a visit to May McGiven. whom he hadn't seen in forty years. Two days before, a stranger had accosted him in the town marketplace. Sam saw him only as an old man who looked just like any old man.

The white-haired stranger was smiling and peering at him through thick spectacles. “It's Sam Downey, isn't it?”

“Erm... yes.”

“Remember me? Peter McGiven?”

It was good that he had said his name. The words “McGiven” were carved on Sam's soul. It was the name of his first great love; the farmer's daughter, May McGiven.

Sam enthusiastically shook hands with the man who could once have been his brother-in-law.

Upon enquiry, Sam explained his long absence from the town. Career, travel, failed marriage, grown-up children, early retirement and now the time and money to look for a wee place to settle down.

“Back to square one?” chided Peter.

“Square one revisited!” replied Sam, smiling.

Peter then gave Sam the important news that his sister, May, was now living in the old home house in the country. She was “ill.”

The intonation of this word left Sam with no illusions as to its meaning. He had made a career around this word.

“So, she'd appreciate a visit, especially from you.”

“Of course,” he whispered.

“Oh, another thing, Sam.”


“May and I had a bit of a falling-out some time back, so could you just leave me out of the picture... for the moment?”

“No problem, Peter.”

“You still know where it is?”

Sam just raised his eyebrows and tilted his head with a smile.

* * *

May looked up from her book when she heard the sound of a motor on the track. A sleek black car emerged over the hill and then coasted down, eventually coming softly to a halt in the disused farmyard.

“Mmm... somebody's got money” she hoped it wouldn't be one of those awful estate agents trying to talk her into letting go of the old place. No way. If her time had come then she would spend it here in the house where she had been born and brought up.

The elegant, well-groomed man who got out of the car looked like an estate agent, but his familiar smile certainly didn't. She felt her heart thud. What did she look like? Loose straggly hair, and she had lost a lot of weight in the last year. The gaunt widow rose slowly and leaned heavily on the balustrade.

Sam saw simply a slightly tired version of his teenage sweetheart. Amazing how she had stayed so slim. Same straggly hair.

“I was just passing this way and—”

“You missed the entrance, right?”

“When are you going to get a sign?”

“What for? The only people who want to come here know where it is, right?”

Enough of the banter. He stepped up and put his arms around her. “Great to see you.”

“Same here.”

Sam then took her by the arm and invited her to go for a walk

“Oh, I can't walk far these days, after what happened.”

“What happened?”

“It all seems such a blur now. I just blacked out one day in the classroom. Woke up days later in a hospital bed surrounded by other senior staff. They were having no nonsense; early retirement. Take it easy. Paradise really. What about you, Sam?”

“Similar. I was a medication consultant. Lots of travelling, meetings, advising seriously ill people. Then one day I took it a step further: I was the one who became seriously ill. I was actually in a coma for a while. After that it was simply a case of no alternative being great for focusing the mind. It was time to come home.”

Sam and May took the old path that led to the fields. She resisted a little, but he took her hand firmly. He had dealt with ill people before. Some said he was a miracle worker.

To May's surprise she felt her energy and spirits rising. She even started humming a tune. “We used to hum together, remember? Just for fun?”

Sam nodded and smiled, “What's that tune again?”

“Spancil Hill”

“Yes, of course. Still your favourite?”

“Oh yes.”

So they hummed a tune together and eventually completed an impressive one-hour walk.

Over the next few weeks they often went walking, talking, and humming. May seemed to be recovering, as Sam knew she would.

He was convinced of his healing powers just as he was convinced that much of the medicine he had dispensed in the past was just so much quack elixir.

May wasn't very surprised to hear this.

“What? You knew?”

“Well yes, Peter — God rest him — used to say that the ill cows got better after you visited the place!”

Sam thought quickly. “May, what happened... erm... with Peter?”

“We got too close, we... ”

“It's alright, May.”

“Anyway, I had wanted to patch things up with him, then it was too late. A heart attack.”

Sam remained still. He looked at this woman who had aged so little. The landscape that hadn't changed. The sign that had never been put up.

Of course.

May started to hum, and he to sing:

Last night as I lay dreaming
Of pleasant days gone by
My mind being bent on rambling
To Ireland I did fly.

Copyright © 2012 by Noel Denvir

Proceed to Challenge 495...

Home Page