I slide off and we walk down the hill together. It's getting dark, and Mam will be worried about us. We walk side by side, Aran and me, and when we get down to the gate, Mam is there, ready to whisk Aran into the barn and then me into the house for dinner. Everyone says Mam has a way with donkeys. She can speak their language and get them to do anything she wants.
Outside my dream a donkey brays in one of the barns, and Jacksie stirs next to me, rustling around in the straw and wriggling a little closer. His back makes a warm spot against my side and his breathing slows again as he falls back asleep.
This time I stay awake but go into some kind of a dream state—half awake and half asleep—and this dream is a darker one. I'm in a city, all concrete and paved roads and cars roaring by.
The air is stale and sour, no breeze or smell of grass. People pass by me but don't look my way; I feel invisible. I keep walking, and everything looks the same. I'm hemmed in by dingy old buildings and nothing ever changes.
I stop and look at my reflection in a big window.
'Who are you?'
The carefree lad from the rock is gone. Instead, a man with flat black eyes looks back.
'What is wrong with you?! Why is everything so messed up?'
I shake my head and run my hand over my face, then look again as the pain begins to build inside.
'Why can't you get your life straight?'
I want to shout and cry, but I know that if I start, I'll never stop. I barely recognize the face in the window anymore. I've lost who I once was and become a man infused with darkness and wreathed in shadows.
I can't stand to look at him anymore, so I make a fist with my right hand, draw it back, then put all my strength behind it and punch my hand straight through the massive window, breaking the glass and shattering the reflection of the man with the shadow eyes. Then baby Jacksie stirs again, rolling over and rubbing his forehead against my arm. I reach down and stroke his neck and ears.
I'm fully awake now, ready to get back to the house and crawl into my own bed.
I pull a bit of straw over his long gangly legs and leave him snoring peacefully in his warm nest, dreaming of scampering around green pastures with the herd. Then I'm off to rejoin my own.
ARAN THE ESCAPE ARTIST
"A good friend is like a four-leaf clover, hard to find and lucky to have." —Irish Proverb
I didn't know I was going to meet my first and best friend when I rode along with Dad to pick up Aran. I was seven years old, and not only did I love going to work with my dad, but bumping along the roads of Ireland in our green Jeep towing a Rolls-Royce trailer that had been donated to the sanctuary was an adventure all in itself.
The roads of Ireland are lined with ancient stone walls covered in vines and flowers—daisies, wild roses, foxgloves, and bluebells— with green fields full of sunny yellow bunches of ragwort stretching out beyond. In some places, thick forests grow up along the walls and meet overhead, causing your car to go dark as it shoots into leafy tunnels. In other places bright moss, and sometimes even thick grass, grows right on the surface of the road and you're rolling along over a brilliant ribbon of green.
Everyone drives fast, dodging massive rumbling tractors with big wheels, lorries belching smoke, and hedge trimmers clipping the overgrowth with long arms. People walk the roads with their kids and dogs, and sometimes you need to squeeze by horses and riders, bicycles, or sheep. You have to slow down in the villages and watch out for older people and more dogs, and on top of that the signs aren't always good (and are often in old Irish, what some call Gaelic).
But that doesn't matter, because when you grow up in Ireland you have the roads in your head. You know who runs which shop or pub, because they and their families have been there for hun- dreds of years (and you're related to some of them). You know the old stone barns, cottages, and the ruined towers, monasteries, and castles. They're all just part of the landscape, like the trees.
People have lived in Ireland for many thousands of years and have left parts of themselves and their stories behind, but that was my normal. So was tagging along on Dad's rescue missions to save the donkeys. That was one of my favorite things to do—much better than sitting in school listening to my teachers drone on while I looked out the window and dreamed of being out in the fields with the donkeys.