I walked the dog today. Or, to be precise, I embarked today upon my state-mandated two kilometre exercise route with my government-approved quarantine companion animal. Her name is Rolo. She doesn’t know about the pandemic, but she knows for sure that things aren’t how they were. She knows this because every time she looks up from her basket, someone in the family brings her for a walk. We’re all home, all the time. I’m sure she thinks it’s getting ridiculous at this point; what probably seemed like a wonderful canine fantasy a month ago has turned into an athletic nightmare. She’s barely fit to wag.
Most of us, on the other hand, are quite fit to wag. We’d do a lot more wagging given the opportunity, but all we’re allowed do is walk. Out in west Mayo, where I come from, Rolo the aging Labrador and I usually take the same route. We go down past Bourke’s and Morrison’s, then past the hotel until we reach the beach. We walk along the strand and loop back up by Cloonlaura, turning right at the church and then up the bóithrín to the house. The paths are filled with fuchsia and contented livestock and clean country air, all made ordinary through overexposure. But the first time the two of us headed out post-lockdown, we both noticed something strange. The roads were ditch-to-ditch with people. In our small village, everyone was walking.
We, the Irish, are walking like we have never walked before. People I’ve only seen at Mass and passing in their cars are trooping wilfully up and down their respective townlands as though there was gold to be found on the tarmac. This country is going to have better cardiac health than it’s ever had before. Between the weather and the walking, by the time we all emerge from our respective lockdowns to rejoin society, we’ll look like the cast of Love Island.
When my cousin and I brought our Labradors down to the Clapper for a socially-distant swim, we were approached by a new, white, unmarked jeep. The Clapper is a ruined bridge. There’s only enough of it left for one person with dainty feet to walk single file. Jake noticed the jeep through the leaves of a small tree we were standing beneath and gestured to it.
“That fella is wearing hi-vis.”
“That’s never a guard, is it?”
It was, in fact, two guards. They had gotten out of the jeep scratching their heads at the stream when the hi-vis one spotted us and raised a hand.
“Are ye local, lads?”
We were. Jake said as much, and the guard nodded and stood looking at the water.
“How deep is that, lads? Would we make it across?”
“That depends,” said Jake philosophically. I threw a stick for Rolo into the middle of it, and she was able to keep four paws on the ground at all times. The hi-vis guard was satisfied, but before they returned to the jeep, he asked us suddenly: “What does the ‘Clapper’ mean, anyway?”
We answered honestly that we had no idea. He took one last vaguely suspicious look at us and got back into the unmarked jeep. They drove slowly but successfully through the stream and were gone. Jake and I looked at each other. Guards patrolling the backroads of the backroads. What was next?
“We’d hardly have said ‘no’ when he asked us are we local,” Jake pointed out quite fairly. We decided the heavy presence of the law was to do with Easter weekend, and was necessary. There was something uncomfortable about it nevertheless.
Anyways, of course we didn’t know what the Clapper means. We’re locals, not tourists.
I’ve been taking a different route. The increased frequency with which I took the old route has rendered it boring. Besides, it’s just not cool now that everyone is doing it. We’re each of us taking different routes in a general sense, I think; we’ve been knocked off kilter and pushed off the rails we live on day to day. I imagine some good must come of it. I hope that everyone is writing now that we have the time. I also hope that two years down the line, there are novels coming out other than ones exclusively about some kind of pandemic. After all, how else will mine sell?
The dog is really very happy though. She doesn’t know that when we walk now, no longer could we go as far as the valley on a whim. We are constrained. Our wings have been clipped. Not that we’d ever gone as far as the valley before, but we could have. Rolo is perhaps the main one to benefit from all this. Her, and anyone who had invested in teleconferencing software. We’re all Zooming and existing in Houseparty and Hangouts. Though I miss my friends, I haven’t truly lost contact with any of them, and there has honestly never been a better time to be in the most serious health emergency of our lifetimes. I do hope the lockdown lifts soon though; I want to get back to my favourite cafe, Le Petit Délice, so I can drink the best cappuccino in Galway and do all that writing that I don’t have time for just now.
Procrastinating everything else by writing his way through the pandemic, Luke’s work can be found in Sonder Magazine and ROPES 2019. Find his irregular updates here on twitter.