Bann held Saint Oliver Plunkett close to his chest. They squatted on a tuft of grass. The grass sent long shadows away from the conflagration, as though it were red day and not some minutes before midnight. Their mother was keening and walking toward the house, and then back when the heat of the flames drove her away. She keened as you do when one is dead. Bann kept counting in his head, trying to determine if they’d left somebody behind in the fire.
Saint Oliver Plunkett, Ollie his brother, was simple. He was three and had not spoken yet. His great long name redressed that evil, or made it worse, depending on how you looked at it. Ollie alone of them had no fear. He held his translucent hands out to the flame saying “Ooooo. . . Oooooo.” Bann felt himself saying Oooo along with his brother. It was somehow comforting. He was trying to figure it out, what was happening.
The other voices spoke English. They read something official from wrinkly paper, but no one understood a word of it. Nevertheless, they knew it was an eviction. Cen Fath? Jaime kept asking, Cen Fath? Mother saved the money; Jamie had stayed out of the Peelers’ way. They gave no warning. It didn’t matter. The English could do what they pleased. After an eviction, the landlord made sure the tenants would never come back by burning the house behind them. They had heard of it, but somehow never imagined it would come upon them. Bann and Saint Oliver Plunkett and the rest were given just enough time to get out before the torches were laid against the straw roof. The mother stood as near the door as the heat would let her, so that as the flames grew she had to be pulled back. Embers settled on her shawl and smoked a moment before Aoife could brush them out. The sister Aoife stood beside the mother murmuring “mammy. . . mammy. . .” You knew by her lips she was saying that, though nothing could be heard above the roar of flames gobbling the thatch roof and the five small beds and the cupboard with the dishes her mother had got from her mother when there was money in the family.
The landlord’s man struck Jamie Keenan with the butt of a rifle when he tried to stand between them and the doorway. He was the oldest brother, and he thought he had to defend them, but now he lay in the dirt with his collarbone broken. He was crying, “I can’t do it. . . I can’t do it,” as though anyone expected him to stop the event now in its flow.