This article is taken from Stand 234, 20(2) July - September 2022.

David Butler Scorched Earth
Months after, the smell persisted. The particular odour of ashes – bitter, caustic. It lay on the tongue, mingled into other tastes and smells: nettles and burdock, mud, a whiff of urine. The smell of rubbish that clings to human habitation long after it’s been abandoned. There was a sweet oily undertone, as if diesel had been spilt, or cooking fat. It was there long after the white feathers of ash had been scattered to the four winds, and the remains pulled away.

Three days, the police tape had kept the crime scene out of bounds. After school we’d watch the forensics teams go in and out, suited up like spacemen. There was much media interest –vans with satellite dishes and thick umbilical cables. Faces we knew from television, talking into cameras under microphones like giant catkins. Interviews with our neighbours the Gowans, with a Garda Commissioner, with the local TD. Never once asking the right question.

Which link, tracing back, is the first link in a chain?

When my father bought the site there’d been nothing here for miles round. Stone walls. Whitethorn hedges. Sheep looked on our comings and goings with ancient apathy. The old lane that ran up as far as the field was barely more than a twin set of wheel ruts, a spine of grass down the stony middle.

He’d laid out the chalk-lines for the foundations. Mother lent a hand. I was too young to be of much help beyond keeping an eye on ...
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