Home > The Last Crossing

The Last Crossing
Author: Brian McGilloway

Chapter One

Martin Kelly cried for his mother before he died.

His face was glazed with tears, his mouth a grotesque O as first he pleaded for his life and, when it became clear that they would not listen to him, called for his mother. Stripped naked, he knelt in the grave they had already dug for him. The light of the torch Tony held caught the shiny skin of the scar on his lower abdomen where he’d had his appendix out, standing out against the lividity of the bruising he carried there, his phallus shrivelled amongst the dark of his pubis at the outer edges of the glare.

Tony had wanted to cover him up, give him his coat to offer him some dignity, but Hugh had refused. He was aware of Karen next to him, her breathing quick and shallow as she watched, the black plastic bag of Martin’s clothes, which they had stripped from him, twisted in her grip.

Martin held out his bound hands in supplication, looking from one face to the next. ‘It wasn’t me,’ he said. ‘I didn’t do it.’


‘You’re a liar,’ Hugh spat.

‘I’m not,’ Martin sobbed. ‘I swear on me mother, I’m not.’


‘And you knew what would happen.’


It was then that Martin broke down, his body wracked with sobs that turned to retching. He vomited onto himself, half choking on it, the bile and saliva hanging in a lace from his chin to his chest. He made no effort to wipe it away.

‘Fuck this,’ Hugh said, moving forward, raising his pistol.

‘Tell me mother–’


The shot reverberated through the trees, which came instantly alive, cacophonous as a murder of crows took wing against the evening sky.

Martin twisted with the shot, his body thudding against the edge of the grave they had dug. Hugh moved across and, with his toe, pushed him down into the gaping space, before firing three more shots in quick succession, each one momentarily illuminating the still white body where it lay, the red wounds flowering as the blood unfurled with each shot.

‘Get those clothes burned,’ Hugh ordered, glancing at Karen. ‘You,’ he added, looking at Tony, ‘grab a spade and get shovelling.’


It took them twenty minutes to fill in the grave, Hugh and Tony quickly shifting into an alternating rhythm while, in the distance, through the uniform ranks of the spruce trees, they could see Karen, her face illuminated by the flickering flames, burning Martin’s clothes. The air, acrid with the smell of the fabric as it burnt, splintered with the crackle and hiss of the needles Karen had gathered up from the forest floor to kindle the blaze. When she was finished, they saw her dance on the embers, which sparked once more at her feet as she put the fire out and kicked a covering of leaves over the scorching.

In the distance, a low rumbling resolved itself into the roar of a plane taking off from Glasgow Airport and traversing the sky overhead, just above the clouds; the whine of its jet engines rising in pitch as the aircraft rose, building to a crescendo, before dissipating slowly into silence.

Tony wondered if any of those on board, glancing down, might see them about their business in the gloom. He felt his pulse throbbing in his ears, felt his own stomach twist and churn at the thought of what they had just done.

‘Are you sure–?’ he started, the first words either of them had spoken since taking up the shovels.

‘We never talk of this again,’ Hugh said. ‘We never come back here again.’


Tony motioned to protest, but Hugh raised the spade in front of him. ‘I’ll fucking cleave your head in two if you don’t stop. We did what we had to do. I’m no happier than you are about it, but he got what he deserved.’


As they gathered their stuff and left the clearing, Tony looked back once at the spot, the slight rise of the earth just visible, in the dying light of Hugh’s retreating torch beam, through the fork of an oak, twisted with ivy. It took them almost an hour to pick their way back to the car, the journey through the trees made in silence.

Only once, as they crossed a stream that ran down through the woodland, bridged by a fallen tree trunk, did Tony stop and reach out a hand for Karen to help her across. She took his hand in hers, squeezed it a little in reassurance, held it a second longer than necessary after she reached the other bank.

They drove back to Glasgow that evening and dropped Hugh at the train station.

‘I’ll be in touch,’ he said, as he left them. ‘Go home and forget about the whole bloody business.’


They watched him shuffle his way into the station, sticking a hand in his pocket and pawing out a few coins to pass to the young fella squatted at the station entrance, a paper coffee cup his begging bowl.

‘Where do you want me to leave you?’ Tony asked.

‘How about we get a bottle of something?’ Karen suggested. ‘There’s an offie across the street.’


She arrived back with a bottle of Southern Comfort and two litres of Diet Coke. They drove to Karen’s flat in Paisley. Once inside, they stripped off their clothes as Hugh had instructed and put them in a hot wash. They sat in front of the fire, wrapped in bed sheets, and drank half the Southern Comfort before Karen moved across and straddled Tony, her mouth sweet, her tongue cold in his mouth as she kissed him with an urgency, a hunger, which surprised him, even as she pulled the sheet off him and pushed him back onto the floor.

They made love there. Tony had the sense he was discovering her body anew in that moment, as if their proximity to death had somehow enflamed their desire to live, to breath, to feel. He tried to dispel from his mind the vision of Martin Kelly, kneeling in his grave, the thought that his body was cooling beneath the earth even as theirs blazed in a moment of climax.

They lay together, Tony’s head resting on her chest, his hand on her stomach. He could hear the rapid beating of her heart begin to slow, and felt his own breathing synchronise with its rhythm. He imagined himself happy, imagined them together like this, somewhere at home, a Donegal winter wind blowing outside.

That was what he would remember in years to come, when he was both alone and lonely. This last time together. The heat of her body, the scent of her perfume, of her skin, the gentle lift and fall of her breast beneath him with each breath, the saltiness in his mouth as he raised his own head and kissed her, the light of the flames dancing across her flesh.

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