Richard paid for his coffees and paper and made his way out of the shop through the mill of people. The petrol station was packed with pilgrims like himself on the way to the beach. Like everyone else, he had heard about the events in the rowing boat. It had been all over the news. A fishing trawler had spotted a shadow in the morning fog and watched as a wizened and extremely confused man steered an ancient rowboat towards them. The fishermen had hauled him aboard, shaking and freezing as he was and asked him his name. He didn’t understand English but somehow had a remedial understanding of Irish. The phrases and questions had to be repeated louder and louder each time. Brendan was his name and he had come from America.
People weren’t flocking to the beach to catch a glimpse of an eccentric old man who had rowed himself into a stupor across the Atlantic Ocean. No, they believed he was something else. ‘Brendan’ was covered in tattoos of ancient runes and old Irish Druid markings. Some historians on social media pointed out the similarities between his marks and those of some Irish people from the Middle Ages. A boatmaker from Dingle appeared on afternoon radio and swore that the boat that ‘Brendan’ had sailed in upon was of the same make and shape as the one used by our most famous explorer over a thousand years ago. People were making the journey to see a piece of living history.
A strange fog had crept in from the ocean and rivers of Ireland for almost a fortnight. Richard had noticed that the fog had stayed far longer than any previous instance, tracing the first day of fog back to when the intrepid elderly rower had been saved by the fishermen. He would normally avoid such things of this nature. He had pulled a sickie when the whole family went to see Pope John Paul II in ’78. He had left his wife go and see the Obamas in Moneygall and scoffed at the idea of going to greet the Queen in Cork City or Trump in Doonbeg. However, something drew him towards Dingle now. Or else the fog was pushing him, he wasn’t quite sure.
He hopped back in his car. Rosie was listening to the history podcast about Brendan the Navigator. She paused it as he handed her her coffee.
“Jesus, there’s a lot of people here Rich,” she said. Her forehead was creased with worried wrinkles.
“Are you all right, darlin’?” he asked her.
“I just have a bad feeling about something,” she replied. “I’m not sure what it is but all these people and this fog and this..”
Her voice trailed off. Richard took her hand in his, raised it to his mouth and gave it a kiss. They smiled.
“There shouldn’t be anything to worry about,” he reassured her. “If the auld bastard tries anything with you I’ll take a deep breath and blow him back to the 6th century!”
Rosie laughed at her husband’s lame attempts at humour.
“It’s probably some performance artist from an independent acting troupe or something,” Richard continued. “It’ll all come out in a few days once everybody sees the spectacle. But it’s worth a look.”
Richard couldn’t deny to himself that he had the same trepidation as his wife. There was something larger at play here pushing and pulling the majority of the nation towards an old, illiterate man in the south of Ireland. They listened to the rest of the podcast on the patron saint of boatmen and tried to keep their worries stifled for the others benefit.
Cars were parked and abandoned on the winding roads coming out of the tourist town so Richard and Rosie were forced to walk the last leg of the journey. They spotted the beach in the distance. It was heaving with people, the only visible spot of darkness through the fog which had grown thick. They held each other’s hands tight, first out of fear and love and eventually out of necessity. The fog had become claustrophobic, encasing each pilgrim in their own billowy cage. Richard held onto Rosie’s hand for dear life. He couldn’t see where he was going but had an unnerving sense of being willed on by some higher power.
They arrived on the beach, taking their place behind the other people in their gigantic circle. At its epicentre was an ancient man covered in tribal tattoos. Though the fog was impenetrable everybody could see him. He held his oar in one hand, the handle planted in the ground. His beard and hair shone a brilliant white and his markings began to glow. They came off his body and rearranged themselves before reattaching to his wrinkly skin. Richard felt Rosie’s hand pull upwards away from him. He made to cry out but saw that the fog had cleared and that Rosie was ascending towards the sky. She looked down as she rose, a tear dropping from her cheek before she looked skyward for the final time, ready to reap the rewards of her faith. Richard looked forlornly up at the sky full of people leaving this earthly pane. He looked around at the sinners that he was left with, all ordinary people such as himself, doomed to stay and face whatever consequences his God saw fit for him not going to see the Pope in Phoenix Park or for not going to mass since he left home at eighteen.
The fog was completely gone now. In the distance the remaining people saw the small shadow of a man rowing back out to sea, hunched over with age and judgement.