From the seashore cave, they traversed through the wet night over dunes and dales that gave way to manmade lanes lined by rickety walls of stones, some of which The Mad Monk knocked over for the lark, having no respect of boundary lines, taking a whack with a plunge of his makeshift umbrella to make the stones come tumbling down, which damage was later supposed by the locals to have been wrought by the culprit gale, that howled through the chinks and down the byways. Skipping the lanes, they bounded over fields of pasture dotted like grids all over the land, saluting the sheep huddling together in their tight flock, shivering in the dwindling drizzle, stopping awhile to converse with a company of cattle, to ask for directions to where they were going (for the Hare, giddy at the prospect of his impotent love at last requited, had quite forgotten the way).
And one particular Cow, a handsome heifer with a dungbrown hide that looked lovely in the grey light of impending dawn, proved especially knowledgeable of the terrain’s topography, though she lacked the requisite eloquence (‘… is over there where you is going… like, not that there, but the other there, there is where is where…’) to express coherently in words the direction they might best take. So The Mad Monk said:
‘Madam, allow me to interject if I may. Since you cannot tell so well, perhaps you can show better. To which end, might you be good enough to take us there? And furthermore, would you be good enough—Lordy knows we are weary travelers full shagged with our strain—to let us ride you?’
And the Cow was very agreeable to be ridden by two such gallants as The Mad Monk and the lovesick Hare. So The Mad Monk, with the Hare on his shoulder, gave a leer, and hopped atop her back and mounted her, and the Cow, sagging a little under the weight of the ogre for all that she was plump, began to waddle along majestically, away from the little field where she spent her days in grazing, passing by her sole calf who drank from their water trough, the little calf who lifted up his goggling baby’s long lashed eyes to gawk upon his mother as she left him behind alone, his mother being rode by a rare specimen of extravagant manhood, a bigger bull than ever whoever his father was.
‘Don’t worry, son!’ The Mad Monk yelled at the doleful calf, ‘I’ll look after her! Shan’t be too long before ye get a chance to suckle again that glorious udder you love!’
And the Cow, a respectable lady, blushed brown to hear such coarse gallantry and boor’s bonhomie, but refrained from comment, lumbering on. This queer trio, of riders and ridden, left the field by means of a gate that the farmer, a son of Peadar Lamb, had just opened, and neglected to shut, having gone off to a wetted ditch to take a dump in the soft morning light. Thus defecating, squatting low to the ground and riffling through yesterday’s paper, close to nature and near to his roots, he was too preoccupied to notice his favourite Cow depart from her habitation, and sidle away down the lane, lined by nettles and blackberries, some of which were picked and eaten by The Mad Monk astride her, his appetite insatiable, some of which blackberries he shared with the melancholy Hare on his shoulder, to alleviate his pining.
Having eaten, The Mad Monk made kindly conversation with the Cow whom he rode, asking her about her son, who, it transpired, had been born a fortnight ago. The Mad Monk was fond of children, and plied her with questions about the boy’s upbringing not long in the offing, asking her how varied was his diet, how crystalline was the water in the trough that he drunk, what were his interests, what were his hobbies, to all of which such questions she responded warmly, the theme rousing her mother’s pride to heights of eloquence of which she had never before thought herself capable. Then The Mad Monk, prying deeper, made bold to ask about the boy’s father, a matter about which she was cagey until with skill he drew it out of her, as it slowly emerged that there was doubt as to the sire’s identity. Doubt, for the Cow could not pinpoint with any precision when the boy had been begat, nor for sure could she identify with whom she coupled and by whom she was ploughed, when the act of begetting took place. The most likely candidate among the local brood of bulls was a doddery and wilting old fogey, to whom the chiseler bore a superficial resemblance. But the Cow was unconvinced, for there was something fishy in the air, as she outlined:
‘…you see, sah, it will strange seem to say maybe, but you know better than me lots not known nor can be. See, I remember rape. Only dream could be, true, just is not sure. It is night, dark very deep, I is alone by myself in my field, like. And this bull then come to me. But he no bull like any bull I ever seen, sah, not this bull I seen then. Or I have, I mean, such a bull like him seen, but never such a bull as was moving, like, like as was living, like me, or you, or him on your shoulder. What I mean is he was as is a dead bull, sah, I seen lots of dead bulls lying on the ground, but this bull, no, he seemed alive, like, but looked dead. But how? Has no flesh, like, no fat nor nothing—this bull’s all bones, sah. So how’s he do what he do then? Like one of them bulls of bone those peoples don’t even like to eat, him’s got no meat, so how does he do it, he took me then, got up on me, felt like, maybe was only what you call bad dreaming, maybe only, nightmare like, that I was raped by this bull of bones like dead bull’s ghost, I dunno…’
The Mad Monk needed no more to hear. ‘He’s getting round quite a bit,’ he muttered, ‘throwing his skeletal weight all over the shop.’ And he thought with a pang of poor Peadar who had cut off his leg, whose remaining days could not be many.
Turning aside from the troubling question of paternity, the business of birthing was a torment, and The Mad Monk tutting sighed in sympathy to hear the Cow expand upon her period of pregnancy and labour, bemoaning her plight and pain, describing graphically how she had swelled with the seed planted by whomsoever, and the fatal day her waters broke with the flooding tide, and the strain and suffering, the pushing and heaving, the gore and blood of birth, that galled and raked the fires of her anguish, until her son popped finally free. And the Hare, listening intently on The Mad Monk’s shoulder, marveled to hear of all that was new to him, a naïf unschooled in the world’s ways, a novice who never before now gave pause to ponder on the woes of womanhood and the fatigue of the feminine of which he was blissfully ignorant, his eyes widening to discover the laws that moved the world, how every one that walked was begat through throes of the eternal maternal agony, and he was moved to new sympathy for his lady love, for all that she was fickle, who lay now pregnant and heavy with babes begat by brutes, the birthing of whom might rent and crush her, poor thing! And The Mad Monk made further seedy inquiries—‘Is your boy a good boy? Does he like his mama’s milk? Does he bite too hard as he sucks her treats of teats?’
The Cow blushed again, and for answer made only a noncommittal mumble, which was not enough for The Mad Monk. Barking, he slapped her back to halt their progress by side of the winding lane. Thereupon, he got off her back, took the Hare from his shoulder, and set him on the dirt path, and bade him attend to every detail of what he would do, for this was part of the Hare’s lesson in life, and love too, or love of a kind, to a degree. The Hare, puzzled, stood and saw. And the Cow, sensing trouble, trembled. And then The Mad Monk got down on his hands and knees and crawled under, the tip of his sharp skull and tufts of his devil’s hair tickling her belly gently, crawled beneath the Cow’s underside to inspect her udder, large and undulant and fleshy pink, pertly jelly dangling, through her legs a shaft of sunlight illumining the sloping side, and The Mad Monk smiled to see the primal pumps to sing of mamas everywhere, and he took the thick teats in his hairy palms, and stroked them with his fingers, fingering and massaging until they came to be moist and began to leak their load, heavy with mother’s kindling milk they swelling bore, and the Cow felt his horny fin- gers, and gave a start and made to move, but he hushed her with a whistle, and told her to be still, and when she was calmer and her full teats rousing to dripping, The Mad Monk bent forward his shaggy lion’s head, and carefully wrapped his lips around her udder’s teats, and began slowly to suckle, and the Cow heaved a sigh to feel her load begin to leave her draining, her eyes widening to unveil the whites, the balls of her pupils in their bliss rolling round, as The Mad Monk softly gently suckled of her milk, sucked and drunk as her calf, on the leak of her load, and the Cow shut her eyes as she was drained, and her heavy head dipped and swayed, and up above the sun shone down on the suckling scene, a calf on his knees by his mama’s undulant udder, as The Mad Monk sucked up his milky drink in the morning, as the mother Cow mooed and lowed and moaned in her pleasure.
The Hare, standing to the side, beheld the preceding, stupefied.
And when The Mad Monk had swallowed his swill and fill of morning’s milk, he detached his stuck lips from her bounteous bovine teats, and sat back down on the dirt with a sigh, giving a parting stroke of affection to her udder, a light pat of his careless palm. And the ravished Cow turned around her huge head to look upon him who had sucked her, and saw him on the ground by her side, squatting on his haunches in his mucky robe, licking clean his wet lips, a moustache of her milk in a ring around his mouth, sprinkling droplets nestling in the shining thickets of his beard. And his yellow eyes met her ebony orbs, and he winked like the rogue he was, and gave her a smile to show off his shark’s teeth (that had not bit at her teats), and she shyly responded in kind. And thus did god and cow commune, and come to an understanding. The Hare stood there aghast, very small and young, looking on appalled, shivering faintly in his fear though the day was warm, having a mind to flee and hop away to safety far from the strange sights to which he was witless witness. But The Mad Monk turned, and he was caught again in the glowing jaundiced gaze that held him down.
And the old man said, very quietly: ‘That’s how you do it, me boy.’
Thereupon, he picked back up the paralysed Hare and cradled him warmly, sat again on the mount’s back, and then their journey resumed, the delighted Cow’s wet nose glistening as nostrils sucked up the damp sunny air, mooing gently in a dulcet drone.
So then did they come to their destination, a Connemara Golf Course, home to a thriving haring community, who nestled in roomy burrows dug in the lees of the dipping hillocks, who scampered in gay abandon under the leafy bowers, planted to give golfing men some eye candy to ogle, hares daily hit at by prodigal golfballs, that they stole and bore underground, setting them up on earthen altars to worship as pockmarked gods. The Mad Monk and his companions made entry through the car-park, where heaving automobiles were stacked in sardine rows, out of one of which was getting: I—C—C and Isolde Lovelace, distinguished academics in the capital’s college, up for a midterm round of golf, unloading their clubs from the boot of their swish Lexus. And I—C—C breathed the air, and thought about Sterne.
The Mad Monk and company avoided these worthies, hopping over the picket grounds onto the course where they ambled, but broke into a run when a dry official spotted them, hailing them with a cry to get out, at which they narrowly dodged away into thicker undergrowth. Once safe, The Mad Monk stationed his adoring Cow under a tree by a pond, told her tenderly that he would not be long, and then set off with his Hare in his hand to seek and find the love interest long sought. They found her bathing her feet on the other side of the little pond. She was fat for sure, with her brown belly bulging with the babies she was carrying, their birthing soon impending. Her girth was being mocked by a cluster of cheeky ducks who swum by her feet, quacking in derisive chorus. In her eyes was a vacant look, and The Mad Monk, seeing her for the first time, thought her nothing very much to write home about.
‘That’s your lady love? Bejaysus, son, you might have done better.‘
The Hare heard him not, hopping from his hand to scurry over to salute her, all agog, heart fit to burst, feeling courage on the threshold of consummation. But when she turned her vacuous eyes upon him, he faltered impotently, and halted, and stood before her dumbly, grinning weakly, newly nervous, beset by the same shyness, seeing no love there in her empty stare, feeling again his former despair. He turned back appealingly to The Mad Monk, who had sat down on the pond’s bank to bathe his crusty soles.
‘You see how it is, sir!’ the Hare whined, ‘Do I delude myself ? Where in this wretch is the beatific being methought I saw? Is love such a delirium as this, an illusory bubble so brutally pricked? Wherefore does she seem to me now as so much nothing?’
The Mad Monk, for answer, kicked splashing water at the young fool. I—C—C and Isolde Lovelace arrived with clubs by the pond to take potshots, discussing what Toby and Trim would have done were they then them. While nearby the damp Hare dithered. So The Mad Monk wearily dispensed his cryptic advice:
‘Do but tickle her in the proper place.’
But the Hare knew not what place. And The Mad Monk sighed, and so condescended to do the job on his behalf, stretching out a long finger across the pond’s narrow radius to tickle the pregnant lady in the proper place. And to be thus tickled, in such a place, in such a way, she snapped of a sudden from her stupor, gasping and panting, hot for it anew, and fell then upon the nearest male by her side, upon the addled Hare who loved her best, and threw out her chest and straddled him, her flopping weight upon him, the babies jostling around her insides, as The Mad Monk tenderly withdrew his finger and sat across to behold. And the Hare barely knew what hit him as he was mounted, panting for dear breath as her belly crushed him, and she rolled and scratched and pawed him, unquenchable appetite awoken by The Mad Monk’s deft tickling.
And then the lady hare fell from straddling, landing heavily in the pond, kicking the air and howling, thrashing in the wet, startling the retreating ducks, her labour begun.
And The Mad Monk said, ‘Get down there and help her deliver, boy.’
Gingerly, still shaking, the Hare slid from the grass into the pond water with a shudder, and stood over the quailing mass she had become, unsure of what to do, then bent to administer deliverance as best he could, paws on her belly exerting gentle pressure, vaguely sensing her need to push. Push she did, and heave also, as she howled, blood shedding to stain the clear water darkly, bubbling blood from her aperture. The Mad Monk sat sedately and watched, a mild smile brightening through his beard.
And the Hare grew more confident in his task, instinct kicking in to take over from his crippling intellect, made at last subordinate, finding the ropes as he went along, and she too soon ceased to shriek, coming to be calmer, beginning to feel safe in his hands as the pond water became warmer, bloodied by birthing, in the heat of the noonday sun. And, in good time, in short order, they came, a quartet of them, four babes of four fathers, and though none of them were his own, he treated each of them as if they were, as they came one by one slowly popping finally free, and he took the mewling mass of each as they came, a bloodied newborn bundle, and bathed them in the pond’s warm waters, to wash off the blood in which they came encased, and set them floating on the pond, bobbing parcels of new life, having passed down the channel from one liquid element to another, to water warm as was the womb, and so they floated, mewling, the four of them. And soon they were all ejected, and the sated mother, emptied, could relax, and feed upon the afterbirth he thought to offer her, and so she sat, nipple-deep in pond water, chewing in content, languidly eyeing her bobbing babies, loving the lot of them, as any mother would. And her deliverer sat in the soup by her side, scarcely believing he ever had it in him to do as he had done, teeth chattering in his giddy elation of disbelief. Then she turned to look upon him at last, a long look upon him she cast, she who had known him all her life; he who had come back to help her at her most agonized ebb, more than ever had any of the brutes and bounders done, hunks of hares nearby in the neighborhood, who rode her and ditched her thereafter, and would not stick around to see their seed flower. But here was he—the weedy one, yet the kindest one—and he would be her husband—for this was nothing if not a marriage. And he felt her gaze, and looked again upon her—and saw then, with a surging joy in his lovesick soul, that she finally at long last loved him as he did her. And The Mad Monk sighed to see the couple cuddling in the warm water, their bobbing batch of babes floating in a little ring around them, mewling softly.
I—C—C dropped his clubs, and Isolde Lovelace mocked his waning virility, rolling her eyes as the hapless professor fumbled with the balls, gruffly mumbling.
The Mad Monk looked up from the happy hares in the pond to the squabbling couple with their clubs nearby, and his smile faded. And The Mad Monk stole away sheepish from their sight—with not a pause to say goodbye to the Hare he had helped (who in any case saw not his master leaving, the coupling with his love so enthralling)—away from the pond he loped to shade of the tree, where the faithful Cow still stood, her eyes adoring that beheld him approach. He nuzzled her, planted a sloppy kiss on her wet nose, murmured nonsense in her dipping ear, from which he flicked a few fleas on her behalf, and then mounted her saddle, and rode away on her, out of the Connemara Golf Course back to the lanes that led to her field, back home to her pining calf, her sole son, begat by a bony bull. And The Mad Monk lay with her that night, and felt a mild content.
So he did not stay to see the dread end met with by the loving hares.
I—C—C, feeling tetchy, riled by Isolde Lovelace’s background lament, took a furious swing at a golfball. The golfball flew, but not where he intended, not to the goal of the hole beyond the pond. It flew far from there where he was aiming, lopsided through crisp air it soared, and did not make it past the pond, where it fell down dropping on the head of a hare, and broke open a hole in her skull, and left a deadly dent. I—C—C did not see the damage he had done; heard only the low splash of a golfball, rolling from a skull with a plop to the pond where it sunk.
‘Ah, fuck!’ said I—C—C.
‘Language!’ said Isolde Lovelace. ‘What side of the bed did you get up from? Try again, we’re not playing to win are we, and don’t be so bloody babyish about it…’
So I—C—C took up again his golfing stance, cursing, and swung his club and hit another ball, but his luck was no better; it did not pass the pond.
And that second misaimed golfball found a lodging stuck in the skull of the other Hare in the pond that was there, who had only just begun to comprehend the foul wrong Fate had done him, only just begun to admit that she was gone, scooping her by her shoulders to cradle her dead weight in his paws, admiring the cranium’s crater the falling rock had dealt her, beholding streaming blood that bespoke not of the birthing of before, but rather of her dying now, gone away beyond his grasp never more the sun to see, lifeless and limp in his hands, her life leaked and her love lost for eternity to him now—all this he had scant time to take in, before he too was struck down blind in his turn by a bolt from the blue, felled and killed by a falling golfball that knocked him down dead.
‘Bollocks!’ shouted I—C—C to see his second hit go awry.
‘Not your day, is it, dear?’ Isolde Lovelace purred. ‘But you’d better go collect them, the keepers will complain, won’t they, they’ll charge us for any missing balls…’
‘O let it all go to deuce anyway, let them charge!’ I—C—C barked, throwing down his clubs, and storming off in a huff away (this really wasn’t his day).
Isolde Lovelace considered the wisdom of gingerly picking them out herself, eyeing the murk of the lukewarm pond into which she proposed to stick fingers, to grope amid grime to find balls, but quickly discarded this notion. For it would mean getting her fingers wet. A grisly chore beneath the dignity of a senior professor. And besides, she had heard all kinds of horror stories about silly golfers who came to bad ends in suchlike manners, like that fool with a cut on his finger, who stuck in his whole hand into such a filthy pond as this one, full of the piss of rats and sundry vile bile, the cut that got infected with some deadly disease, that thereafter killed him stone dead two weeks later. No, it was best to let the balls lie where they were. Let them be lost. And so with a sigh, and a roll of baleful eyes, Isolde Lovelace, academic, gathered up clubs, and sauntered away, following her angry buck back to the Lexus, their unhappy outing at an end.
So neither I—C—C nor Isolde Lovelace went near the pond; so neither saw the two dead hares floating in the bloodied water, a couple as were they, floating lovers bonded by their swift extinction, entwined and entangled, their fresh corpses that would shortly draw the flies, their ears flopping limply, both their heads bleeding freely from the craters in their skulls, broken by misfired falling balls, pockmarked instruments of death, that others of their kind may some day find, and worship as angry vengeful gods, a pair of hares floating dead in the warm waters where it was they wed, and their batch of newly born babies bobbing on the pond in a little ring around their bodies, mewling quietly: four babes of four fathers, missing their mother.