My Beautiful Joe
This was my first Joe story. I felt compelled to write it after my first visit to Joe's grave in Benalla in January 2006. Little did I know where it would all lead... Reading it now I can see how it would benefit from editing but I don't want to change it because the emotion when I was writing it was heartfelt and genuine and I was fulfilling a promise made a long time ago. I did however find it hard to finish the story with the ending that it had to have, so before I got there, I had to find something to help me continue and that's how I came to write 'The Rose' which is a sequel of sorts.
I want to thank my friend Nuit, this story would not exist if it weren't for her.
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Banners by Erendira
I come here as often
as I can. It’s the only place where I feel close to him and I
need that, I need to feel he hasn’t gone completely. I sit
here and I talk to him, like I used to, except of course he
doesn’t answer. But I can feel his presence and it comforts
me even though I’m aching to feel his arms around me, just
one more time. I decided to write all this down in the hope that
somehow it will help keep alive the flame, so that maybe when
I’m long gone someone else will come here, bring him flowers
and talk to him. So that he knows people remember. So that others will
know about him, how his life was like a flame that burned brightly and
for much too short a time. It won’t matter to them that
someone like me loved him but maybe the part he played in the events
that will change this country of ours will make them take notice.
I still cry when I think about him, I never knew there were so many tears in me. They slip down my cheeks unchecked but it doesn’t matter, there’s no one here to see them. The horses grazing in the paddock over the fence, the magpies with their melodious song somewhere in the trees, even the cemetery caretaker all ignore me now, they are so used to my presence here I might as well be a statue. There’s no stone to mark his grave, nothing to tell you that this is where he lies. I only found my way here when one of the coppers took pity on me and told me he was here. Far away from everyone else, in a pauper’s grave. My beautiful Joe.
There was something about him that caught my attention the first time I saw him. Men came and went, and I was used to them trying to get familiar with me but he was not like that at all. He was tall and slim, neatly dressed in a waistcoat and jacket, wearing those boots they call larrikin heels but despite all that there was nothing flashy about him. He’d sit at a table in the back corner, sometimes alone, quietly observing things around him, other times with men he seemed on friendly terms with, talking animatedly, his hands gesturing, emphasizing a point, laughing at a joke. There were times when I heard him sing, he had a lovely baritone and the familiar Irish songs would bring a tear to my eye. On occasion he would get stuck into the whiskey so that his mates had to help him out and onto his horse but he never got into any fights or made a nuisance of himself. I had been told that he had a reputation for being a ladies’ man and I could easily understand women being drawn to him; he was good-looking but he also looked like he would treat you decent.
One unusually quiet night he didn’t move away from the bar after I served him the whiskey he asked for.
“I come here often enough but I don’t have the honour of your acquaintance – my name is Joe Byrne,” he said and I took a proper look at his face for the first time. Longish hair curling around his ears, a moustache covering his upper lip, strong jaw and serious eyes looking deep into mine. Something in me responded to him and I had to busy myself with drying some glasses to give myself time to recover.
“I’m Eileen,” I said, throwing him a quick smile.
“Pleased to meet you, Eileen.” His voice was soft, clearly Irish but with the sounds of our new homeland evident.
And that’s how it all started. That night he stayed there at the bar, talking to me and when closing time came, it seemed natural that he should walk me home. It was a calm cool night, the sky bright with stars. His horse walked next to us, and every once in a while he would give her a pat and murmur something into her ear. I was starting to get jealous of that damn horse and in my annoyance tripped and nearly fell. Joe’s arm was around me in an instant, steadying me, and even after there was no need for it, there it stayed. I was aware of every point where his body touched mine and it was becoming hard to concentrate on walking so I stopped. He looked down into my face, there was a smile in his eyes and I smiled back. His hand found its way into my hair at the back of my neck, pulling me close and I draped my arms around his waist under his jacket.
“Eileen,” he breathed and then his lips were on mine. I didn’t know it then but at that moment my path was chosen and there was no turning back.
I have no idea how we made it into my humble lodgings across the valley and certainly the horse now had reason to be jealous of me as Joe’s hands were on me instead of her but she may not have cared that much after all. I know I had never been so pleased to see the shack I called home and I hurried to light a candle while Joe closed the door behind him. I was eighteen years old then and far from innocent, having worked as a barmaid I had seen too much to even waste my time by dreaming of a handsome prince on a white horse but I was hoping that one day I would meet a man who would genuinely care what I was about. I had had my heart broken a time or two but no one was courting me then and Joe… well he just had that way about him. Like I said, he looked like he would treat you decent. And I guess I was feeling lonely.
I pulled the shabby curtain in front of the little window and Joe was looking at me like I was something precious and his hands were gentle when he started to undress me. He must have taken his jacket off while I was lighting the candle, so I focused on the buttons of his waistcoat, my fingers eager to remove it and his shirt and find his skin underneath. My dress was half off and he was kissing my shoulder and I had to close my eyes to savour the feel of his lips on my bare skin. He grazed me lightly with his teeth and then his mouth was on mine and I forgot about everything else. My knees were buckling but he caught me in his arms and I was struggling to get that damn dress off me at the same time. It was like he had set me on fire, and his hands were everywhere at once and at long last both our clothes were off and I could have cried with relief when I felt his skin against mine. He lay me down on the bed and settled himself beside me, his fingers exploring me while his mouth closed over my breast and all I could do was moan and thread my fingers in his hair. He stopped for a moment to look into my eyes and I swear no one has ever in my life looked at me like that. I know now that it was at that moment that I fell in love with Joe Byrne.
That first time with him was like nothing I had ever experienced. The men I had lain with before had seemed intent on getting inside me and had then almost forgotten about me in their haste to find relief. I had always enjoyed the kissing more and had thought the rest more an inevitable part to put up with. But Joe changed all that for me, he took his time and made sure I was ready for him and when we finally came together I was desperate to feel all of him. He took everything I offered but he gave me himself too. Afterwards I lay there in his arms and he was gently running his hands up and down my back, his chin resting on the top of my head. I can still remember the feel of his chest under my cheek and hear his soft voice in my ear as we talked. I felt overwhelmed but safe at the same time. He loved me again as the darkness was starting to lift and the magpies started their morning song, our eyes locked and bodies entwined and he was whispering my name. I couldn’t stop smiling and while he was getting dressed he stopped several times to kiss me. There were no promises given or asked for but when I was standing at my door, watching him ride away as the sun was climbing over the mountains in the distance, I knew he would come back.
Banner by MsErupt