بخش 02

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بخش 02

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Then what does Mrs Nugent say only please go away. Mrs Nugent I said, if you think I’ve come to rob Philip of his comics that’s where you’re wrong, I wouldn’t do that. I just wouldn’t do it. That’s all over. That was supposed to be just a joke Mrs Nugent. Look – I really am going to give Philip my Commandoes. Philip, I called. Then I said it yet again Dandy Beano and all that. What was Philip doing in there? Mrs Nugent’s cheeks were all wet and her voice was shaky. I thought I’d cheer her up for she really thought I was going to rob Philip Nugent. Look Mrs Nugent I said I’m not going to rob him! I said it loud and clear so she would believe me. He can have every comic I ever collected. I’m serious Mrs Nugent. He can. The whole lot. I didn’t care about comics any more. What did I care about comics? But Mrs Nugent still didn’t believe me. She just sniffled and wouldn’t look at me. Look Mrs Nugent I said and I got down on all fours on the tarmac. I made sure to get a bit inside the hall in case she shut the door on me and then I stuck out my face and scrunched up my nose and made my eyes as small as I could then I gave a big grunt. I thought that would cheer Mrs Nugent up. I looked up at her again. Snort. Then I laughed. What do you think of that Mrs Nooge? What a laugh it was. The more I snorted the more I laughed I really did think it was the best laugh ever especially when Philip appeared with his what’s going on here face on. Detective Inspector Philip Nooge of the Yard here!

At first Philip didn’t know what to do you don’t usually expect to come out of your kitchen and see a pig wearing a jacket and trousers crawling round your front step. He was standing there with a pencil behind his ear. There was a joke but I didn’t say it. Did you hear about the constipated professor? He worked it out with a pencil. I was too busy watching Philip trying to work out a professor plan. Snort! And then Philip’s face. I looked right up at him. A game of football. Me and you against the rest Philip what do you say? Then I gave another snort and poor Philip didn’t know what end of him was up. Snort. Then off I went laughing again. Then what did Philip do only try to push me out of the hall. Ow, Philip I said, you’re getting your fingers in my eyes. I could hear his heart beating from where I was. He stuck the sole of his shoe against my shoulder. Ow I said get your big boots off me, that hurt me Philip! Then ha ha again. You’re too rough I’m not playing with you! I’m only joking. Mrs Nugent kept saying Philip Philip I don’t know if she knew what she was trying to say. Which would you say is the best Philip I said. Denis Law or Tommy Taylor? Philip was down on his hunkers trying to shoulder me out the door and he was as red as a beetroot huffing and puffing away there. His pencil fell on the ground. I never saw such pushing and shoving. Philip would push one way then I’d push the other. Then it’d all start again. Mrs Nugent didn’t do anything, all she did was stand there fiddling with the pegs in her apron pocket and I could see that Philip was on the verge of saying will you help me ma for God’s sake but he had such good manners he didn’t and what happened then whatever way he turned didn’t he knock the wedding photo off the wall and crack down on the floor it with bits of glass all over the hall. Now look at what you did, she said, blaming Philip whatever she was blaming him for. Sure he couldn’t help it if I was snorting around the place. Then he didn’t know what he was at he starts to pick it up and she shrieks mind the glass mind the glass you’ll cut yourself no I won’t he says you will she says and then Philip starts getting all excited standing there with a handful of broken bits of glass. I gave a snort. That’s pig language for watch yourself with the glass there Philip I said. Philip’s forehead was wet with sweat and his eyes were more sad than frightened now.

I think it was him looking at me with them sad eyes that made me get up and say that was a good laugh but I think its about time I was back at the farmyard what do you say Mrs Nugent? But she said nothing only stood there twisting a clothes peg and saying please stop this please! Right you be now Mrs Nooge I said and hopskipped down the lane, I’ll call back another day I said and I did.

And the reason I did that was because when I got to thinking about it back in the house I thought what am I worrying about Philip Nugent’s sad eyes for? I had probably imagined it, he might even have been putting it on. The more I thought about it the more I said yes that’s right he was just putting it on. Philip Nugent, I said to myself, you are a crafty devil, the way they say it in the comics. That old Philip Nugent, the trickster! So a couple of days later, back I went except this time I made sure they weren’t in. I waited until I saw the car heading off down the lane I knew they were going to visit Buttsy up the mountains.

In I went through the back window hello Francie welcome to Nugents! Oh hello there nobody I said.

Dant-a dan! Welcome to Nugents Mr Francie Brady! Thank you I said, thank you very much. It gives me great pleasure to be here standing on these black and white tiles in the scullery, Mrs Nugent. Oh no not at all Francis we’re delighted to have you. Now you must meet everyone. This is my husband and this is my son Philip but of course you know him. Except that really there’d be no fear of Mrs Nugent saying any of that she’d be on the phone to the sergeant straight away but oh no she wouldn’t for she was up the mountains drinking tin mugs of tea with carrot-head Buttsy the brother in a cottage that stank of turf-smoke and horsedung. But Nugents didn’t smell like that. Oh no. It smelt of freshly baked scones, that’s what it smelt of. Scones just taken out of the oven that very minute. I went on the hunt for them but I could find them nowhere. I think it was just the smell of old baking days that had stuck to the place and she hadn’t been making scones at all. No matter. Sniff sniff. Polish too there was plenty of that. Mrs Nugent polished everything till you could see your face in it. The kitchen table, the floor. You name it if you looked at it you were in it. You had to hand it to Mrs Nugent when it came to the polishing. Flies? Oh no, not in Mrs Nugents! And any cakes there were were all under lock and key where Mr Fly and his cronies couldn’t get at them. You could see them in the glass case under plastic domes and there was a three-tiered stand with two pink ones and a half-eaten birthday cake on it. Those flies they must have been driven daft – looking in at them beautiful cakes and not being able to get at them. I was myself so I knew what they must have felt like. I could have broken it open but I didn’t want to spoil it they looked so good in there. I’d say she made all them herself. There was a photo on the wall of Mrs Nugent lying on the grass in a park somewhere. What came into my mind was that I never knew that Mrs Nugent had been young once as young as me. For a long time I thought she had been born the same age as she was now but of course that was stupid. In that photo she was about five. She was lying there with a big gap between her teeth and freckles all over her face like Buttsy. Hee hee she was saying to the camera. Good old Mrs Baby Nooge I thought. How many years ago was that I wondered. Could have been a hundred for all I knew. Mr Nugent’s briefcase was sitting in the corner and his tweed overcoat was hanging up behind the door. I helped myself to some bread and jam and turned on the television. What was on only Voyage to The Bottom of The Sea, Admiral Nelson and his submarine gang they were getting a bad doing off a giant octopus that was hiding inside a cave where they couldn’t get at him. He was a cute bastard sending out these big curling tentacles with suckers on them knocking the sub against rocks upside down and everything. All you could see was these two eyes shining away in the darkness of the cave as much as to say I have you now Mr smart alec navy men, let’s see you work your way out of this one. Dive! Dive! snapped the admiral into a microphone but she wouldn’t go down. The music was going mad. Kill the bastard! I shouted, I was getting excited too, harpoon him that’ll shut him up! But the admiral wasn’t as stupid as the octopus thought he was. Right that’s it all systems are go! and the next thing these depth charges start hitting the octopus smack between the eyes boom and the squeals of him then. Pop pop out go the two eyes like lights and the tentacles flapping around like wasted elastic and the sub away up to the surface with the whole crew cheering and the admiral wiping the sweat off his face smiling OK everybody that’s enough back to work. Then beep beep goes the echo sounder and away off they go happy as Larry and back to normal. Fair play to you admiral, I said, that shut him up. And it sure did, the octopus was lying at the back of the cave like a busted cushion and it would be a long time before he was suckering or tentacling again. I made myself a big mug of tea and another doorstep of bread and jam to celebrate. It was hard to beat it sitting there eating and enjoying myself. It was a grand day outside. There were a few skittery bits of cloud lying about the sky but they didn’t care if they ever got anywhere. Birds, crows mostly, hanging about Nugents window sill to see what they could see. Well well look who’s in there Francie Brady. He’s not supposed to be in there. Hey crows I said, fu k off and that shifted them. Ah this is the life I said I wonder have we any cheese or pickle. We certainly had – there it was in the brown jar in the fridge! And did it taste nice! It certainly did! Make no mistake – I would definitely be staying at Nugents Hotel on my next trip to town.

When I had finished my snack I went upstairs to see if I could find Philip’s room. No problem. Comics and a big sucker arrow lying on the bed, dunk went the arrow into the back of the door and dangled there. Then I opened the wardrobe and what did I find only Philip’s school uniform the one he wore at private school in England. There it was, the navy blue cap with the crest and the braided blazer with the silver buttons. There was a pair of grey trousers with a razor crease and black polished shoes could you see your face in them you certainly could. I thought to myself, this could be a good laugh and so I put it on. I looked at myself in the mirror. I say Frawncis would you be a sport and wun down to the tuck shop for meah pleath? I did a twirl and said abtholootely old boy. I say boy what is your name pleath? Oo, I said, my name ith Philip Nuahgent!

Then I went round the house like Philip. I walked like him and everything. Mrs Nugent called up the stairs to me are you up there Philip? I said I was and she told me to come down for my tea. Down I came and she had made me a big feed of rashers and eggs and tea and the whole lot. What were you at upstairs Philip dear she said. Oh I was playing with my chemistry set mother I said. I hope you’re not making any stink bombs she said. Oh no mother I said, I wouldn’t do that – its naughty! Mr Nugent lowered his spectacles and looked at me over the top of the paper. That’s correct son, indeed it is. I’m glad to hear you saying that. Well it thrilled me no end to hear Mr Nooge saying that. Then when I looked again he was back reading his paper.

I felt good about all this. When I was finished I said I was going back upstairs to finish my experiments but I didn’t, I waltzed around the landing singing one of the Emerald Gems to myself O the days of the Kerry Dances O the ring of the piper’s tune! and then into Mr and Mrs Nugent’s room. I lay on the bed and sighed. Then I heard Philip Nugent’s voice. But it was different now, all soft and calm. He said: You know what he’s doing here don’t you mother? He wants to be one of us. He wants his name to be Francis Nugent. That’s what he’s wanted all along! We know that – don’t we mother?

Mrs Nugent was standing over me. Yes, Philip, she said. I know that. I’ve known it for a long time.

Then slowly she unbuttoned her blouse and took out her breast.

Then she said: This is for you Francis.

She put her hand behind my head and firmly pressed my face forward. Philip was still at the bottom of the bed smiling. I cried out: Ma! It’s not true! Mrs Nugent shook her head and said: I’m sorry Francis its too late for all that now. You should have thought of that when you made up your mind to come and live with us!

I thought I was going to choke on the fat, lukewarm flesh.

No!

I drew out and tried to catch Nugent on the side of the face.

I heeled over the dressing table and the mirror broke into pieces. Mrs Nugent stumbled backwards with her breast hanging. Now Philip I said and laughed. Philip had changed his tune now he was back to please Francie. I said: Are you talking to me Mr Pig?

When he didn’t answer I said: Did you not hear me Philip Pig? Hmm?

He was twisting his fingers and so was his mother.

Or maybe you didn’t know you were a pig. Is that it? Well then, I’ll have to teach you. I’ll make sure you won’t forget again in a hurry. You too Mrs Nugent! Come on now! Come on now come on now and none of your nonsense. That was a good laugh, I said it just like the master in the school. Right today we are going to do pigs. I want you all to stick out your faces and scrunch up your noses just like snouts. That’s very good Philip. I found a lipstick in one of the drawers and I wrote in big letters across the wallpaper PHILIP IS A PIG. Now, I said, isn’t that good? Yes Francie said Philip. And now you Mrs Nugent. I don’t think you’re putting enough effort into it. Down you get now and no slacking. So Mrs Nugent got down and she looked every inch the best pig in the farmyard with the pink rump cocked in the air. Mrs Nugent, I said, astonished, that is absolutely wonderful! Thank you Francie said Mrs Nugent. So that was the pig school. I told them I didn’t want to catch them walking upright anymore and if I did they would be in very serious trouble. Do you understand Philip? Yes he said. And you too Mrs Nugent. Its your responsibility as a sow to see that Philip behaves as a good pig should. I’m leaving it up to you. She nodded. Then we went over it one more time I got them to say it after me. I am a pig said Philip. I am a sow said Mrs Nooge. Just to recap then I said. What do pigs do? They eat pig nuts said Philip. Yes that’s very good I said but what else do they do? They run around the farmyard Philip said. Yes indeed they do but what else? I tossed the lipstick up and down in my hand. Any takers at the back? Yes Mrs Nugent? They give us rashers! Yes that’s very true but its not the answer I’m looking for. I waited for a long time but I could see the answer wasn’t going to come. No, I said, the answer I’m looking for is – they do poo! Yes, pigs are forever doing poo all over the farmyard, they have the poor farmer’s heart broken. They’ll tell you that pigs are the cleanest animals going. Don’t believe a word of it. Ask any farmer! Yes, pigs are poo animals I’m afraid and they simply will cover the place in it no matter what you do. So then, who’s going to be the best pig in the pig school and show us what we’re talking about then, hmm? Come on now, any takers? Oh now surely you can do better than that! That’s very disappointing, nobody at all! Well I’m afraid I’ll just have to volunteer someone. Right come on up here Philip and show the class. That’s the boy. Good lad Philip. Watch carefully now everyone. Philip got red as a beetroot and twisted up his face as he went to work. Now, class! What would you call someone that does that? Not a boy at all – a pig! Say it everyone! Come on! Pig! Pig! Pig!

That’s very good. Come on now Philip you can try even harder!

What do you think Mrs Nugent? Isn’t Philip a credit?

At first Mrs Nugent was shy about what he was doing but when she saw the great effort he was making she said she was proud of him. And so you should be I said. Harder Philip harder!

He went at it then for all he was worth and then there it sat proud as punch on the carpet of the bedroom, the best poo ever.

It really was a big one, shaped like a submarine, tapered at the end so your hole won’t close with a bang, studded with currants with a little question mark of steam curling upwards.

Well done, Philip, I cried, you did it! I clapped him on the back and we all stood round admiring it. It was like a rocket that had just made it back from space and we were waiting for a little brown astronaut to open a door in the side and step out waving. Philip, I said, congratulations! I was beaming with pride at Philip’s performance. I wouldn’t have believed he had it in him. Philip was proud as punch too. I turned to the class. Boys, I said, who’s the best pig in the whole pig school? Can you tell me? Philip they all cried without a moment’s hesitation. Hip hip hooray. Clap clap the class lifted the roof. Very good easy now steady I said. Now its time for Mrs Nugent to show us how well she can perform. Can she do poo as well as her son Philip? We’ll soon find out! Are you ready Mrs Nugent? I was waiting for her to say yes Francis indeed I am then away she’d go hoisting up her nightdress and scrunching up her red face trying to beat Philip but I’m afraid that wasn’t what happened at all.

Mrs Nugent was there all right but she wasn’t in her nightdress. She was wearing her day clothes and carrying a bag of stuff she had brought back from Buttsy’s.

Her mouth was hanging open and she was crying again pointing to the broken mirror and the writing on the blackboard I mean wall. I looked at Philip he was white as a ghost too what was wrong with him now, hadn’t he got the prize for the pig poo what more did he want? But Mr Nugent said he was in charge now. I’ll deal with this!, he said in his Maltan Ready Rubbed voice. Philip and Mrs Nugent went downstairs and then there was only me and him. He looked good Mr Nugent you had to say that for him. His hair was neatly combed across his high forehead in a jaunty wave and he had shiny leather patches on the sleeves of his jacket. He sported a pioneer pin too – that was a metal badge the Sacred Heart gave to you and it meant you were saying: I’ve never taken a drink in my life and I have no intention of ever taking one either! He stared me right in the eye he didn’t flinch once. He didn’t even raise his voice. He said: You won’t get away with it this time! This time I’ll see to it you’re put where you belong. And you’ll clean up that before you leave here with the police and the walls too for my wife’s not going to do it. You’ve put her through enough. Well, that Mr Nugent, I thought. How was I supposed to run a proper pig school with these kind of interruptions? Mm? That’s what I want to know I said. But not to Mr Nooge to myself. What I said to him was: Tell me Mr Nugent how’s Buttsy getting along? He didn’t answer me so I just went on talking away to him about all sorts of other stuff. He was standing with his back to the door in case I might make a run for it. But I couldn’t be bothered running anywhere. The rocket had cooled now and the tail of steam was gone. I was thinking about the small astronaut appearing out of the door saluting with a grin on his face reporting for duty sir when this smack hits me right on the side of the face and there’s the sergeant standing there rubbing his knuckles and saying: Don’t, don’t! Or you’ll be the sorry man. Don’t don’t what was he talking about don’t what? You’ll clean it up, he seethed, make no mistake about that. Of course I’d clean it up if he wanted me to I don’t know what he was getting all hot and bothered about. I brought it off down the garden in a bit of newspaper and broke it up with a stick behind the nettles. I was whistling. If there was a small astronaut inside it he’d had it now. Mrs Nugent was still crying when I left but Mr Nooge put his arm around her and led her inside. When the silent films are over sometimes this hand comes out of nowhere and hangs up a sign with the end on it. That’s what it was like when we were driving away in the car. The Nooges’ house standing there and the hand hanging up the sign on the doorknob as phut phut off we went.

So that was the end of Nugents, for the time being anyway.

The sergeant was going on about ma in the front seat how he’d courted her years ago when she was one of the nicest women in the town only for the tribe she had to get herself in with. Thank God she’s not here to see the like of this he said.

No, I said, she’s in the lake, and it was me put her there.

By Christ if you were mine I’d break every bone in your body, he said. Then he wiped his mouth and muttered: Not that you could be any different.

We sped by the convent. There was a few of the lads from the school kicking a ball up against the wall. I gave them a big wave through the window and they waved back for a minute until they seen it was me. Then what did they do only pick the ball up as if I was going to get at it or something. I waved again but they pretended not to see me. They weren’t so keen on me after the time they had me on the school team that played Carrick. Oh now says the master you’re a wiry wee buck you’ll make a good winger. I’ve seen you you can move as fast as a March hare when you want to. I even scored two goals I don’t know what they were talking about. It was this big galoot on the other team. He says to me half-way through the match right you you shifty little fu ker you’re going to get it and what does he do only cut the legs from under me I did nothing he says to the ref and gets away with it. I was all twisted up with pain and I was limping for a good twenty minutes to look at me you’d think poor Francie Brady will never play again. That must have been what he thought for the next time I had the ball he comes strolling over to me as if he’s just going to pluck it off my toe. Well he could if he wanted to he could do what he liked all I was interested in was getting him back for what he did on me so soon as he comes over I lifted the boot from behind and bang right in under between the legs and he goes down like a sack of spuds agh agh and all this. Just before the ref came over I managed to get another dig in at the butt of his back, studs and all. I was going to try the same trick what did I do but the ref took my name and put me off. The master gave out to me and wouldn’t listen to my side of the story so I says fu k youse and your football after that. But I don’t think they wanted me on the team anyway. I’d say that big Carrick bastard would be glad to hear that. He was so big I could nearly run in between his legs. Before I kicked the crigs off him that is.

The sergeant reminded me of the clown in Duffy’s circus not the way he looked but when he talked. Especially when he was telling you all the terrible things were going to happen to you now. H’ho! he’d say. And H’haw! Just the same as Sausage the clown. H’ho yewer an awfill man altogedder, Sausage’d say and away off round the ring with his stripey legs flying. Him and the sergeant must have been born in the same town or something.

He was off again. H’ho when a the priests get their hands on you there won’t be so much guff outa ye h’ho. I said I’m sorry Sergeant Sausage but he stubbed the fag excitedly in the ashtray and said its too late for that me buck you shoulda thoughta that when you were in Nugents up to your tricks! H’ho aye!

Boo hoo, Sergeant Sausage, I said.

He was so excited he didn’t even notice I had called him Sergeant Sausage. There were laurel bushes all along the avenue and a gardener forking manure and muttering to himself. When we went past in the car he stood looking after us with one hand on his hip and tipping his cap back. I made a face at him through the back window and he nearly fell into the manure heap. Up she rose out of nowhere the house of a hundred windows. This is a grand spot I said. H’ho says the sergeant we’ll see if you say that in six months time! H’ha.

A man made of bubbles in charge of a school for bad boys it was hard to believe but it was true for there he was at the window his big bubble head and out he comes bouncing bounce bounce ah Howareye! he says to the sergeant, I never saw such a big bright white polished head as that old Father Bubble had. Howareye at all! he says again and the sergeant starts to huff and puff and try to dicky up his uniform. Oh not too bad now Father did ye have a nice trip not too bad eh Father thanks.

Ah that’s grand said Bubble.

Then he looks over at me. So this is the famous Francie Brady, he says, doing tricks with his fingers and saying hmm hmm.

Yes Father, I said, Its the one and only Francie Brady.

You speak when you’re spoken to says Sausage but Bubble raised his hand and said no problem Father.

I gave Bubble a big wink good man yourself Father I said and next thing his face goes all cloudy. He’s a bad article says the sergeant and I thought he was going to make a go at me.

Bubble was staring at me with these two eyes like a pair of screwdrivers. You’d do well to keep a civil tongue in your head, Mr Brady, that’s what I’d say to you now. The sergeant liked that he started rubbing his hands and going six months time six months time!

Then the two of them just stood there glaring at me for a minute I thought they were going to light on me and start kicking me down the avenue with these mad lets batter Francie Brady! eyes on them. But they didn’t. You just heed my advice, says Bubble, and then he sank his arms deep into these slits in his soutane and smiled at Sausage and away off talking then about football and the weather. Sausage thought the town might win the county championship oh I don’t know about that says Bubble. Neither did I but I thought a good result would be: The other team – 100 goals. The town – 0. I was going to say that to see what they’d say but then I says ah I’ll not bother my arse. They went on jabbering for over half an hour and left me standing there like a gawk. Then Sausage says: Well I’ll be off so. He looked over at me: I’ll be keeping tabs on you, he says.

Yes, Sergeant, I said.

He backed off slowly as if I was going to pull out a revolver blam blam him and Bubble one in the head apiece but I wasn’t then brrm brrm phut phut and h’ho that was the end of him.

Now, says Bubble stroking his chin and staring right at me, maybe we understand each other a little bit better. What do you make of your new home, Mr Brady?

Its grand says I, good enough for pigs.

What did you say?, says Bubble and he didn’t like that either.

He gave my jumper a chuck.

You’ll find no pigs here!, he says. But he could say what he liked I knew well it was a school for pigs.

The Incredible School for Pigs!, I said in my telly voice.

Did you hear what I said says Bubble there’s no pigs! This is a school.

Indeed it is, I said – A school for pigs!

There’s no pigs! he said and his voice squeaked a bit at the end it was a good laugh.

Welcome to the school for pigs, I said and pulled away from him.

Don’t worry, he says, you’re not the first and you won’t be the last!

He was rolling up his sleeves. He didn’t say the first what. I cupped my hand and the echo glided in low under the laurels.

Little pigs! Little pigs! Open up! I cried.

He tried to get a hold of me but I was too slippery for him and when I went down on all fours he couldn’t manage it at all. I crawled around him and that near drove him mad. I let a few snorts out of me. There was an old priest above at a window. I went up on my hind legs and begged a bit for him. Snort I said and a big grin.

Then Bubble caught me a rap on the side of the head and I saw stars. That’s nothing to what you’ll get, he said. I was glad he did it. I wanted him to give me a proper hiding.

I said all sorts of things to get him to do it. I said welcome to the pig school. I stuck my face right up to his and scrunched it up into a snout. I snorted. Go on, I said and I stuck my chin out. But instead of laying into me he backed off and just looked at me with the screwdriver eyes. He wasn’t afraid or anything. He was just looking and taking it all in so then I stopped. Are you quite finished now he said and I said I was. I was exhausted and I had a headache. All these crows on the telephone wires. What are you looking at cunts, I thought. Then he says get inside out of that and no more of your lip. I went upstairs to the dormitory where there was a saint on every window-sill, such a shower of dying-looking bastards I never seen. Bubble was right behind me as I humped the case. I pointed to Our Lady. She’s in a bad way I said to him, she needs to suck a zube. He said nothing only to be down at Benediction in half an hour and up at six the next morning for footing turf in the bog. There was a little Jesus over on the window across from my bed. He was looking over at me. Poor poor Francie Brady he was saying: Isn’t it a terrible pity too? I went over to him and says: Isn’t what a terrible pity?

Oh oh er er I’m only saying he says. No, I says, you didn’t answer me – Isn’t what a terrible pity?

All right then I says have it your way so crack, off the side of the washbasin and down into the plughole goes his little head just sitting there sideways looking up glug glug. There was a gaping hole in my stomach for I knew Joe would have heard all about Nugents by now. I had let him down. I had nobody now that was for sure and it was all my own fault. I wouldn’t blame him for not writing to me, why should he after what I’d done on him? I broke my promise and that was that. I tried to get at my wrists with the jaggy bit of the statue. I managed to get at bits but it was doing no damage you could still be at it in a hundred years time the way it was going. Then over comes this bogman fellow here’s my head and my arse is coming. What are you doing oh my God luck he’s broke Our Lord if the priest sees you with that he’ll kill you! I looked at him with the statue in my hand. There was a little red Elizabethan collar round the neck of it where I’d been hacking with it. I never seen the like of that bogman. He had this big tuft of hair sticking up and two other bits like indicators on either side. O you’re goanta bee in terrible trubble he says. His scarecrow trousers stopped at the ankles and he stood there hunched up with his bony arse cocked in the air like he was carrying an invisible bag of spuds on his back. I wouldn’t like to be you he said again but I was fed up of him by then so I made a go at him with what was left of the statue and off he went as white as a ghost nearly skittering himself. Then I threw No-Head in the bin and lay down on the bed.

Whee – hoo said Joe and the toboggan came thundering down the white blanket of the fairgreen. Them was the days, I said to Joe, we had peace then. The coloured orb of the marble sat in the cradle of his thumb. He looked at me puzzled. Whose turn is it Francie? Is it my turn? I said it was, even if it wasn’t.

The marble rolled along the hard clay in a trail of light.

That old Joe. I didn’t know what to do when the letter came. I told everyone about it. All they said was: Huh? but I didn’t care. I was speechless. But one thing was for sure. I wasn’t going to be getting in trouble ever again. From now on I would be studying for the Francie Brady Not a Bad Bastard Any More Diploma so I could get out of the school for pigs and bogmen. Me and Joe would ride out to the river and there we’d stay. I had found a good place for myself when I wanted to be away from the bony arses following you around and asking questions, it was the boilerhouse down behind the kitchens, and I went in there and read the letter over and over. Whumph!, went the big stove, glowing away with a carnival of sparks going hell for leather in the pit of its big belly. I sat on a pile of bags, old sacks and read: Dear Frantie you eejit what are you doing. I told you about Mrs Nugent but you wouldn’t listen what were you doing in their house? Were you trying to burn it down there’s all sorts of stories Francie. I asked Philip but he won’t tell me. Philip is OK Francie if you ever touch him again you’ll put yourself in trouble bad trouble. He really is OK. He doesn’t want any trouble with anyone. He told me. We shouldn’t have robbed the comics Francie it was wrong. There’s a carnival here now it stays open till twelve. You can win all sorts of things. Bears, anything. Did you ever see Laramie Shoot-Out? You aim the rifle and up comes the sherriff. He’s made of cardboard. He draws first but if you hit him you get five more goes. We were round there last Saturday. The rifle range – its brilliant! Philip Nugent got two bullseyes so he won a goldfish. He gave it to me because they have one already. I put it in the window. We’re going round again next weekend. If I win anything I will send it on. Philip says he has a special plan to work on the slot machines so I might. Write soon Joe.

I kept thinking about the goldfish. What did Philip Nugent think he was doing? I just couldn’t believe it. He was nothing to do with us. I wished I could get the goldfish back off Joe. But what did Joe take it for? Why didn’t he say: Sorry Philip you’re nothing to do with us.

Then it came to me: he was only doing it to make peace between us all so that there would be no trouble and when I came home me and Joe would just carry on the way we always had. I just hoped that Philip Nugent didn’t think he was going to be hanging round with us just because Joe took a goldfish off him. Because if he did he was going to be sorely disappointed. Me and Joe had things to do. Tracking in the mountains, huts to build. If Philip Nugent wanted to pray to the Manitou he would have to form his own blood brother gang. For his own sake I hoped he didn’t think that he was all in with us now. But he wouldn’t. I knew Joe would put him right and there would be no problem. It was just as well it was Joe, I thought, instead of someone who would just tell him to shove off or something soon as I appeared home and make him feel real bad about it. That was the kind of Joe. He would explain it all gently and clearly to him so that he wouldn’t be hurt. He was good at that Joe, taking things easy and explaining them, just like the way he did with me after the chickenhouse and all that.

The main thing was for me to get out of this School For Pigs so we could get back into action. I was as light as a feather when I had all that thought out. I said hello to the bogmen and everything. That night I wrote to Joe and told him that it was all changed now. There was going to be no more trouble with Francie Brady. It was all over. I was glad to hear that he had taken the goldfish off Philip I said there was no point in us being enemies. From now on the Nugents can go where they like I said. We were going to have too many things to do and places to be. If I met them on the street I would salute them and say hello but that would be it. I would go on ahead about my business from now on. The Francie Brady trouble days with Nugent and all that, they were over. Kaput. Trouble days – all over Joe, I said.

Then I licked the envelope and sealed it. I smiled and left it on the window-sill for posting in the morning.

But the minute I left it down, I thought: But what about the goldfish? What did he have to take it for?

I woke up m the middle of the night. I had been dreaming about Mrs Nugent. She was out in the scullery baking scones. The house was full of baking smells. She called in: Is anybody ready for some more scones?

Yes I am said Philip and then he said what about you Joseph?

I felt the blood draining from my face when I saw Joe looking up. He was doing his lessons with Philip. He smiled and said: Yes please. They’re quite beautiful Mrs Nugent.

Thank you Joseph, called Mrs Nugent.

That was the end of the sleep for that night I couldn’t sleep any more thinking of what Philip was saying to Joe. It wasn’t that they were talking about me or anything. That was the funny part. In the dream they didn’t even know who I was. The next day I said to myself: I never want to dream that dream again.

In the nights I would lie there hatching all my plans and schemes for when I got out. It was hard to hatch anything with all them bogmen around me. Soon as the lights went out, wheeze wheeze. Quit breathing youse bastards!, I wanted to say but you never knew when Bubbles was lurking down below with his torch. I’d build a raft that was the first thing and send her sailing down the river. Off we’d go, who knew where we’d wind up? A tree house, what about that? That was good. Joe above pacing up and down on guard blam with the Winchester Die dogs of crows! There was a warehouse up at the old railway, we could make a Nazi Headquarters there. I was as bad as the sparks in the boilerhouse stove with all these notions tearing about in my head. You’d only be half-finished with one idea and the next thing here would come along another one, no I’m a better idea what about me it would say. One thing for sure, it would be a long time before I bothered Philip Nugent again. I was glad now that Joe had taken the goldfish. It cleared everything up and now we could all start from the beginning again. Philip could live his life and we could live ours. The beautiful things of the world, I had been wrong about them. They meant everything. They were the only things that meant anything. That was what I thought now. I fell asleep and dreamed I was Bird Who Soars gliding through the snow-covered mountains of Winter.

Every day after that off we’d tramp to the bogs with Bubble at the head throwing big cheery smiles at the people of the town standing there gawping after us like we’d marched through the streets without our trousers. The women whispered there they go the poor orphans. I had a mind to turn round and shout hey fu kface I’m no orphan but then I remembered I was studying hard to get the Francie Brady Not a Bad Bastard Any More Diploma at the end of the year so I clammed up and gave her a sad, ashamed look instead. As soon as we got out into the open countryside Bubble relaxed and started swinging his arms and singing Michael Row The Boat Ashore and the bogmen sang Alleloo-yah! all delighted trying to get Bubble to look at them. They said to me isn’t Father such and such great. I forget his real name now but it was Bubble they were talking about. Oh yes I said he’s an absolutely wonderful singer. Yes, said the bogs, he’s my favourite priest in the whole school. Then off they’d go trying to get up to the front to talk to him. But Bubble was all right. I liked the way he always gripped the sleeve of his soutane as he jaunted on alleloooo-ya!, with a red country face on him like a Beauty of Bath apple from all the walking. We’d dig all day long and Bubble would tell us stories about the old days when he was young and the English were killing everybody and the old people used to tell stories around the fire and you were lucky if you got one slice of soda bread to feed the whole family. But what harm did it do us? That’s right, says one of the bogmen, being killed did nobody any harm. For fu k’s sake!

Ah no I was talking about the soda bread says Bubble ha ha. There’s nothing like a nice big slice of soda bread Father I said, wiping my brow and heeling a few sods onto the stack. He paused for a minute and licked his lips. He looked at me with his eyes all misty. Running with butter he said. Now you said it Father, I said and went back to my work, whistling away. I could see the bogmen giving me dirty looks because I was talking to Bubble. I smiled at them. Do you know what a good big slice of soda bread is good for I was going to say. Oh we know, they’d say. For making hardy men out of young country fellows like ourselves? No, for driving up your big bogman arses I’d say. But I didn’t say it at all. I just smiled again and made out I had a pain in my back. Gosh, my dear fellows, I said, this is hard work indeed. The look on their boggy faces. They didn’t know what to say. Oo-er, yes, they said, or something like that. As if they could pretend they were posh, the dirty bog-trotters!

One day Bubble took me up to his study and said to me: I’m glad you’re learning manners.

Yes Father, I said.

Then what does he do he goes all misty-eyed again and stares off out the window making a speech about all the boys who had passed through the school in his time there. I’ve seen them come and go he said, since the first day I came in here as a fresh young curate myself. I remember that day well, Francis, it was all so new to me then. Then he starts into another story about tyres burning the day of his ordination and his mother weeping with happiness. Ah, yes, he said, shaking his head and away off into some other story. Ah yes but I wasn’t listening to a word he said I was too busy watching a Flash Bar wrapper that was flapping about over the ambulatory and thinking to myself I wouldn’t mind sinking my choppers into a Flash Bar right this minute. In we’d go with a half crown to the shop. Thirty Flash Bars please. Eh? your man would say. Then off we’d go hardly able to walk with all these bars and eat the whole lot one after the other out the railway lines, me and Joe. Big strings of toffee and a beard of chocolate all over your face. Bubble was on about your man who had founded the school. That’s his picture there he said. He had a big breeze block of a head and a pair of eyebrows like two slugs trying to stand up. I wouldn’t have fancied a scrap with him. You could tell he was a bogman too. It was him founded the school for bogmen with bony arses then was it, I said. I did like fu k. When the speech was over Bubble smiled again and said it was nice to talk to you Francie, keep up the good work, Oh yes, I thought to myself, I certainly will, after all I have to walk out of here with that Francie Brady Not a Bad Bastard any more Diploma, Father Bubble.

After that they put me serving Mass. What a laugh that was. Me and Father Sullivan up before the birds getting into all these starchy togs inside in the sacristy, they’d freeze the goolies off you. Black as pitch outside and not a soul stirring. I’d carry the cruets and stuff and off we’d go me and Father Sullivan like two big whispers moving along the corridor to the chapel rustle rustle. Domine, exaudi orationem meam, he’d say with the hands outspread. I was supposed to say Et clamor meus ad te veniat. Et fu ky wucky ticky tocky that was what I said instead. But it didn’t matter as long as you muttered something. Father Sull never listened anyway. They said he wasn’t right since he was on the missions. I don’t know what happened some Balubas put him in a pot or something and ever since he’d been walking round with a face on him the colour of stir about never slept a wink roaming around the corridors at night in his soft shoes all you’d see at the window was this yellow face looking out.

It was around that time I started the long walks and the holy voices. Bubble says to me what are you doing going on all these long walks down to the low field by yourself?

I told him I thought Our Lady was talking to me. I read that in a book about this holy Italian boy. He was out in a field looking after the sheep next thing what does he hear only this soft voice coming out of nowhere you are my chosen messenger the world is going to end and all this. One minute he’s an Italian bogman with nothing on him only one of his father’s coats the next he’s a famous priest going round the world writing books and being carried around in a sedan chair saying the Queen of Angels chose me. Well I thought – you’ve had your turn Father Italian Sheep man so fu k off now about your business here comes Francie Brady hello Our Lady I said. Well Francie she says how’s things. Not so bad I said.

Lord be praised, said Bubble and I thought he was going to take off into heaven on the spot. I could feel his eyes on me as I floated down to the low field.

I knelt on the soggy turf for penance. I looked up and there she was over by the handball alley. I wasn’t sure what to say to her ah its yourself or did you have a nice trip or something like that. I didn’t know so I said nothing at all. She had some voice, that Blessed Virgin Mary. You could listen to it all night. It was like all the softest women in the world mixed up in a huge big baking bowl and there you have Our Lady at the end of it.

She had a rosary entwined around her pearly white hands and she said that it gladdened her that I had chosen to be good.

I said no problem, Our Lady.

I told Father Sullivan all about it and he said I had unlocked something very precious.

The next day I got talking to a few more, St Joseph and the Angel Gabriel and a few others I don’t know the name of. The more the merrier. I went through Father Sullivan’s books and found out dozens of the fu kers. St Barnabas, St Philomena. We could have had six matches going at once in the low field there was that many.

The bogmen were raging. I don’t see why she’s appearing to you, they said, what’s so special about you?

I told them to fu k off, what did they think she had nothing better to do than appear to a bunch of mucksavage bastards like them.

It was hard to beat that old sacristy and the chapel in the mornings, the twirl of candle smoke and the secret echo of the pews, all the sounds of the morning not born right yet.

It wasn’t very long after that that Father Tiddly arrived at the school. But of course that’s the joke for he had been there all along. Yes – Father Sullivan! We were in the sacristy and if there was one thing Father Sull loved to hear it was my stories of the saints in the low field. But there were two saints he adored most of all and they were St Catherine and St Teresa of the Roses who came down from heaven on a cloud of pink flowers. Any time you mentioned them he got all weepy and joined his hands praying. They had never come to the low field at all but he kept asking me about them so I had to make up a few yarns about them and all the things they said to me. I was in the middle of one of these stories when I look up and what’s old Sull doing only smoothing my hair back from my eyes and stroking away at my forehead with his pale cold hand. Look at you, he said, my serving boy. Introibo ad Altare Dei I said I don’t know why and the next thing what does Sull do only plant this big slobbery wet kiss right on my lips. Then he said please, tell me the story of St Teresa of the Roses again. So I did, all about the petals falling out of the sky and the smell of perfume what was the perfume like he kept saying. I nearly said look Father do you want me to tell the story or not because if you do will you please stop interrupting? But I didn’t for you never knew with Father Tiddly he might start crying or anything. When I told the story sweatbeads as big as berries popped out on his forehead and when it was over he started muttering and fumbling around the place going this way and going that way and going nowhere at the same time. It wasn’t until the third or fourth time I told this story about the roses that he began the Tiddly Show. I thought it was a great laugh with all the prizes you could win out of it. Are you all right Francis he’d say. Oh I’m grand Father and dropped my eyelids shyly like Our Lady did. Sit up here he said and slapped his knees. So up I went. What does Tiddly do then only take out his mickey and start rubbing it up and down and jogging me on his knee. Then his whole body vibrates and he bends away over I thought he was going to break off in two halves. I’d be in a right fix if that happened. What would Bubble have to say about that? Just what is going on here? Why is one half of Father Sullivan lying over by the bookcase and the other half still in the chair? Have you something to do with this Mr Brady? Back to your old ways are you? I might have known! But it didn’t happen like that lucky enough. Tiddly just crumpled up like a paper bag and lay there hiding his eyes and saying no. I told him not to be worrying his head but he wouldn’t come out from behind those hands. Sob sob that was old Sull I mean Tiddly. I read a book while I was waiting for him to come out. Once or twice I caught him peeping through the cage of his fingers but he was in again just as quick. What a book that was! Your man going about the streets of Dublin all tied up with chains under his coat and saying I’m sorry Jesus for all the bad things I done. Matt Talbot, that was his name. The things he got up to in that book. He goes out to the butcher’s and buys a kipper. Boils it up in the kettle. And then what does he do? Gives the fish to the cat and drinks the water himself all because of his past sins. What a headcase! He used to buy all the timbermen drink in the pub. Oh here comes Talbot, they’d say, now we’re right for a few jars. And sure enough Matt would fork out for the lot. Good man Matt they’d say you’re a good one. Then the foreman says to Matt: fu k off Talbot there’s no more work for you around this yard. Poor old Matt. Off he goes to the pub and they’re all in there drinking. Any chance of a drink says Matt. No, I’m sorry, haven’t a bob. Sorry Matt. That’s what they all said. So poor old Matt, off he went in the rain and then back to his dingy old room just him and the cat and not a tosser between them. I know what I’ll do he says. I’ll start sleeping on floorboards and wearing chains. Then God will forgive me for all the drinking and bad things I done. Will you God? Oh yes says God as long as the planks are good and hard. So out with the planks and on with the chains and away goes Matt through the rainy streets until one day he drops down dead and who finds him only the nuns eek sister! Look here’s a man its a holy martyr all chains! I was chortling away at this when Tiddly says dear God I’m sorry Francis. I said it was all right have you any fags? I think if I had said you ought to be ashamed of yourself Tiddly would have gone up through the skylight on the spot and pegged himself off the roof. So I said nothing and just sat there with my mickey snoozing on my thigh smoking fags and reading about Matt and all the saints. Blessed Oliver Plunkett! Chopped in quarters! For fu k’s sake!

You’re my best little girl says Tiddly and went away off spluttering at his desk.

He said he could see the beautiful things of the world shining through my eyes.

Is that where they are now, I said. I told him about the children in the lane and the sky the colour of oranges. I should have kept my mouth shut about them. I was only halfway through and when I looked up there he is with the tears running down his face. He kissed me on the hand over and over. Tell me again tell me about them again – please Francis! I thought his eyes were going to come right out, plop on the carpet oh for fu k’s sake now what what we we going to do – if Bubble finds these!

He gave me three fags for that was all he had left. I knew he would have give me all the fags in Carroll’s factory if he had them. The way he looked at you that old Tiddly with his big sad squiggle of a mouth. It was like the coyote after the road runner has made a complete cod out of him.

But he wasn’t that much of a cod. He told Bubble he was almost one hundred per cent sure I had a vocation for the priesthood and he was giving me guidance. Bubble was over the moon. He stopped me in the ambulatory and says: Look at Saint Augustine!

Yes, Father, I said and bowed my head. Yes Father, I said softly, whoever St Augustine was, there was nothing about him in my saint book. If God does call you it is your duty not to be afraid. Remember that we are here at all times. That is what we priests are for after all. We’re not ogres Francis! Yes Father I said, I know that. I could feel him staring after me purring away happily to himself as I headed off to the low field to talk to the saints and smoke a fag and get stuck into the packet of Rolo that Tiddly had given me.

Then the next time he starts this breathing into my ear. He said I smelt like St Teresa’s roses and he’d give me as many Rolos as I wanted if I told him the worst bad thing I ever did. I told him things about the town but he kept saying no no worse than that and I could feel his hand trembling under me. No matter what I told him it still wasn’t bad enough. No he says you must have something worse than that something you are afraid to tell anyone something you are so ashamed of you don’t want anyone in the wide world to know about. I told him to stop I didn’t want him to do it I didn’t want him to say it anymore. But he wouldn’t stop. I could barely hear him but he was still saying something you could never forgive yourself for a terrible thing Francis a terrible thing please tell me I said stop it! But he wouldn’t then I heard ma again it wasn’t your fault Francie I got a grip of him by the wrist I just grabbed on to it and sank my teeth in he went white and cried out No Francie!, I said stop it don’t ever say it again!

I didn’t go near him after that. I never wanted to see him again him and his smells and his breathing and his terrible things. But the bite only made Tiddly more mad for me than ever. He took me out to a cafe in his car and he says I love you.

OK Tiddly, I said but no more questions ever again yes Francis he says anything you say.

Da arrived one day bumbling up the avenue in his greatcoat like Al Capone. I knew by him that the sight of the place put the fear of God in him it reminded him of the Belfast school for pigs. He had a half-bottle of Jameson in the pocket of his coat. I could see the neck of it sticking out. His eyes wouldn’t settle in his head, they kept darting about. I knew it was the priests looking down at him. They were saying to him: Well Mr Pig, are you back again? I thought we got rid of you forty years ago!

That was what they were saying to him and why he lowered his eyes and reached in his pocket to get a grip of the whiskey bottle he pulled it out helplessly like a child’s rattle. There was a smell of wax polish in the reception room, and a big oaken table with short fat legs like a wooden elephant. Bubble arrived in he hid the whiskey just in time. He stood beside me smiling with his soft hands crossed over his stomach and looked down at me with that stupid face he put on when parents or policemen or anyone came round. It was half-priest, half-cow. O he’s coming along grand he said even though nobody asked him. All da was worried about was he’d be caught red handed with the whiskey and get kicked out into the laurel bushes and told never to come back. Up at seven every morning saying Mass, never gives back answers, O he’s a credit Mr Brady. Then he dropped his voice and said you know Mr Brady I’ve seen them come and go and then he was away off again. I stood at the window and watched the bony arse brigade circling the walk. A crow squatted on top of the goalpost uprights worm-spotting in the churned turf of the playing field. A radio was playing thinly somewhere. See the pyramids along the Nile, the song drifted, watch the sun rise on a tropic isle. I was standing there on the sunlit sand looking up at the pyramids and thinking how small I was when I heard the door click shut softly the way it did the night Alo left and the room seemed to swell to three times its normal size. He was at the whiskey again. It didn’t seem to even matter now if there was anyone else in the room or not. He was following the trail of his own words as if he had no idea where it would take him, pausing only every so often to swig the whiskey out of the bottle. There was a coach trip all those years ago, to the seaside town of Bundoran in County Donegal. The war was over and everybody was happy. Every time the bus went down a hill they cheered and clapped and sang. She had fallen against his shoulder by accident. Oh dear God!, they shouted, would you look at this!

A camera clicked. We’re the talk of the place!, ma cried but what did da do only put his arm around her.

They held hands along the strand and they talked about the brass band he’d started in the town and a book he was reading, the life and times of Michael Collins the revolutionary hero. Oh now what would I know about the like of that, said ma. I don’t know where you get all these brains, she laughed. There was no row that day no whiskey, nothing. Three times after that they met in the same town, strolling through the dappled bedlam of the carnival to a boarding house called Over The Waves where there was music in the evenings. He was asked to sing and was she proud when he closed his eyes and gave his rendition of I dreamt that I dwelt in Marble Halls. They all knew us there, he said. The woman of the house, every night: I wonder could we persuade Mr Brady to give us another rendition? That’s what she used to say. You’re my special guests! The lovebirds! Benny and Annie Brady. Below the bedroom window the hush of the sea and ma I could see her lying there on the bed with him but it was a different woman, it was the ghost of what could have been ma. I didn’t know how I felt when he kept going on like that, part of me wanted to turn on him and say its no good now why didn’t you say that all those nights when you were down on your knees in front of her with your speeches May the curse of Christ light on you this night you lazy good for nothing tramp that was all you had to say then! But anything I was going to say like that withered as soon as it reached my lips for whatever way it happened it seemed now as if the flabby flesh had somehow slowly melted from his bones, fallen invisibly off him as he spoke. He wasn’t in the room, there were no craggy priests glaring down at him, all he could see was her standing at the water’s edge as he called to her, his voice tumbling across the years and the salt breeze, Annie Annie. And afterwards on the esplanade he held her in his arms and said to her are you prepared to live on potatoes and salt for the rest of your days and what did ma do she tossed back her wavy hair and laughed is that all you can offer a good-looking girl like me Benny Brady?

Then they both got down on their knees and said the rosary together on the rocks and I wondered how it could ever have been, that moment, with its half-heard prayers carried away and the carnival swirling in the distance, the waves lapping on the shore and da fingering the beads and looking longingly into her eyes just as he did now. You could almost hear the whisper of the dead afternoon as we stood there in the empty, lost silence of that huge room.

Shut up I said, shut up about it, something rose in me and I wanted it over. She was a good woman your mother he said, he was starting to slobber. It wasn’t always like this you’ll never know how much I loved that woman. I got it into my head that a couple of the bony arses were coming over to the window to gawp I told him again to shut up it was no good now, none of it. He said not to talk like that to him he had his dignity. I got down on my knees like he used to when he rolled home after a skite with his clenched fist up and one eye closed may the curse of Christ light on you this night you bitch the day I took you out of that hole of a shop in Derry was a bitter one for me. He said no son should say the like of that to his own father. Every time I thought of them standing there at the water’s edge I said worse things to him and in the end he cried. I came here to see you, son, he said if you only knew. I said you have no son you put ma in a mental home. Maybe I’m better off then to have no son how could you call yourself a son after what you did. After what I did what did I do I had him by the lapel and I knew by his eyes he was afraid of me whatever way I was looking at him. What did I do? It was hard for him to say it, I could barely hear him I loved you like no father ever loved a son Francie that was what he said it would have been better if he drew out to hit me I just let go of his lapel and stood there with my back to him fu k off I said fu k off and I knew I’d been alone for a long time when I heard Bubble’s soft lisp well Francis wasn’t that a nice surprise?

Swish swish off we went across the quadrangle together. I didn’t know your father was a musician said Bubble. Oh indeed he is Father, I said, it was him set up the brass band at home and there’s no better man to play a trumpet. Really, said Bubble, isn’t that wonderful! Yes, it wasn’t long after they got married he set up the band. They got married in Bundoran you know. Is that so?, said Bubble all ears. Yes, I said, there was a boarding house there called Over the Waves, that was where they spent their honeymoon. They were always talking about going back there but they never got round to it. Everyone knew them there, all the guests. He used to sing for them in the evenings. Its a pity they never managed to go back. Perhaps they will yet Francis, he says, there’s still plenty of time. Indeed there is, I said, its not often you see a singing skeleton she’ll bring the house down.

Tiddly said wouldn’t it be lovely if we could get married. I said it would be great. I could buy you flowers and chocolates and you could have dinner ready when I come home he says. Ha ha I laughed, like a girl, and did Tiddly like that! Little Miss Snowdrop, I said, Queen of All The Beautiful things in the world!, and that nearly drove him astray in the head altogether. The sweat hopped off him. Flip, in went the Rolos.

One day I was down in the boilerhouse watching the circus of sparks putting on a show inside the big stove. I was puffing away on a Park Drive Tiddly had given me. Then I heard the voice: I know you’re in there, you can’t fool me! You needn’t think I’m afraid of you, Mr Head-The-Ball Brady. I’ll take you! I’m the man will take you! Your trick-acting’ll not annoy me! Come on! Come on out you snakey bastard!

I heard the keys rattling and when I looked up who was it only the gardener with a big graip pointed at me and his eyes mad in his head, I have you now my buck what’ll the priests have to say about this!

I went white and I said well I suppose that’s me fu ked but then what does he do only start chuckling to himself and lock the doors, give me a light he says. Effing sky pilots, what do I care about them! What one of them was ever any good? They wouldn’t give you the steam of their piss. He said they owed him five shillings since nineteen forty. All of a sudden the whole boilerhouse smelt of weeds and fertiliser. We stood there watching the sparks circus inside the little door of the stove. There was a touch of the bogman in that gardener too. Hate, he called it. There’s great hate off that stove, he said. O, I says, powerful hate! Powerful hate altogether!

I’m afraid you appear to have missed this part of the grass verge, the sky pilot says to me. I had the shears in me hand! I had! He was a lucky man that day I can tell you. He was within that of getting it with the shears!, he says, and showed me a bit of his thumb squeezed between two fingers.

He bit away at the butt of the cigarette. Me, he said, who fought for this country. O yes, he says, I was in the GPO in Easter Week. All I cared about in the GPO was Michael Collins and that was only because da was reading a book about him when they were in Bundoran. Did you know Michael Collins, I says to him. He nearly had a stroke. Did I know him? Didn’t he stay in our house!

He stared at me with the eyes dancing, flicking away at the fag. I said da knew about him. O aye but not as much as me, oho I knew him all right he said and hunched down looking right at me. You don’t believe me?, he said and gave me a thump on the arm it nearly knocked me into the fire. I do believe you I said. You want to see the amount of rashers and black puddings that man’d eat, he said, small wonder he was a good soldier!

Then he leaned back and folded his arms with the butt stuck in the corner of his mouth. His foot was tapping away waiting for me to say something. I landed a big farmer spit in the middle of my hand. By Christ!, I said, there’s not many men can say that! Stayed in your house! He looked at me proud as a dog with two cocks.

Now you said it he says and dragged happily on the butt.

And I’ll tell you another thing he said – I was one of the best lads with a rifle he ever seen.

Be the hokey Jasus!, I said with my mouth open.

There you have it, he said and closed one eye: But don’t breathe a word. I wouldn’t please the bastards.

It was nearly dark by the time he was finished blowing up Crossley Tenders and plugging Tans.

The red eye of the cigarette glowed as he pulled on it through the pink claw of his clay-caked fingers.

I’ll meet you here tomorrow he says and I wondered was he another Tiddly. But I knew he wasn’t. All he wanted was a Black and Tan to sit on his knee so he could shoot him in the head. Jasus he shouts there’s the priest get down get down and the two of us hunkered down. When I looked at him he had his arms wrapped around his head like an octopus. All you could hear was mumble mumble oh yes indeed and the squeak of the leather shoes as they went past. O yes, I could hear them saying, he certainly came into his own in the county final! Its all right I said they’re gone now. The bastards he said, peeping out through a crack in the door, if they catch me here its more than my job’s worth!

So that was the way it went. Between being Tiddly’s wife and keeping an eye out for the Black and Tans for the gardener I was doing all right in that old school for pigs only for Tiddly had to go and fu king spoil it didn’t he.

Sit up here now, he says and took me on his knee. O he says you’re a picture. Ha ha I says the way he liked it and he says you’ll never guess what I got for you.

I stuck my finger in my mouth and rolled my eyes mischievously.

Guess, he says. Go on, guess.

Sweets, I said.

No, its not sweets.

A book, I said, its a book.

No, he said, its not a book.

I tried all sorts of things but it was none of them. I could hear Tiddly rooting about behind the big armchair and the crackling paper of a parcel. His fingers were all over the place as he fumbled with the twine and tried to open it.

Let me, I said.

O, said Tiddly.

Tiddly’s eyes were the size of jampot lids. I swooned.

O father it’s lovely!

It was a woman’s bonnet with a long white ribbon dangling down.

I felt like laughing my arse off but poor old Tiddly wouldn’t have liked that biting away at the skin of his mouth oh Francis.

What do you think says I putting it on and doing a twirl for him in front of the mirror. I went spinning round the room and Tiddly got so weak he had to steady himself against the arm of the chair.

Oo do you think – ah I’m beautiful – ah!, I says.

His bottom lip was trembling. Sit up here now I says so up I went. He puts his arm around me you’ve no idea how much I love you Francis he says in the nights I even dream about you. I want to know everything about you. Ten Rolos, says I. Tell me all about yourself. I told him a heap of lies and true stuff mixed in. That was a good laugh, all about the football match and the town and the drunk lad and all the things that went on but that wasn’t what he wanted to know. Yes yes he says but I want to know about you Francis. I’ll bet you live in a nice house do you? Do you live in a nice house?

He gave me a big uncle smile and that was the first time I thought to myself: I don’t like you any more Tiddly.

He chucked at the ribbon of the bonnet and crinkled up his eyes. Go on, he says you can tell me. I was going to tell him nothing but he kept at it go on go on and all this. I told him we had black and white tiles in the scullery and a twenty three inch television but that wasn’t enough for him he still kept at it. The more he made me say things the redder my face was getting I had said so much now I could never go back and say that I wasn’t telling him about our house at all but Nugents I had to keep going if he had stopped then it might have been all right but he didn’t, he kept making me saying more and more. And that’s what Mrs Nugent wanted. I saw her standing there beneath a tree in the lane behind the houses not far from me and Joe’s puddle. Ma came out into the yard to take in the washing. When she seen her Mrs Nugent smiled through her thin lips. Then she went over to her and leaned over the wall. Ma stumbled with the washing piled under her arm. She just kept smiling at ma. With her eyes she was saying: I’ll speak when I’m ready.

And when she was, she said: Do you know what he did? He asked me to be his mother. He said he’d give anything not to be a pig. That’s what he did on you Mrs Brady. That’s why he came to our house! Her breast was choking me again, lukewarm in my throat. I think I hit him first he fell back and I heard him shout Don’t hurt me Francie I love you!

There was a paper knife on his desk I seen it there plenty of times I just felt around for it and tried to cut him but I couldn’t get at him please please I love you! was all I could hear. Put it down!, I heard I wasn’t sure who it was I think it was Bubble and someone else I couldn’t see their faces right my head swum, all I could see was ma smiling and saying to me over and over again don’t worry Francie no matter what she says about you I’ll never believe it I’ll never disown you ever ever not the way I did you ma I said no son no! she said I said its’s true ma no she says but it was and it always would be no matter what I did.

Roast pig in the dark that was what I was when I awoke, they’d locked me in the boilerhouse. I could hear whispering outside it took me a while to make it out. You’re an awful man. It took four of them to hold you. I hear it was like trying to wrassle a weasel. Do you hear me, eh? You showed the fu kers! Hee hee!

The circus sparks put on a show me for me. Look Francie they said but I couldn’t see them right I think they must have given me the needle one minute Joe and me would be standing in the lane getting ready to throw the marble, the next Bubble would be floating by like a black parachute in the wind. I could hear the music of the carnival Joe was there on his own just walking in and out of the sideshows. The big wheel turned and yellow balls bounced on watersprays. Pop went the rifles and old targets were thrown away. Beside the gallery the goldfish swam in a big glass tank. There were plastic bags for taking them home in. Then the boy doing the shooting turned around and pushed the hair back from his eyes. It was Philip Nugent, smiling and counting the number of holes in his target. He was going to say something but it wasn’t his voice that came out of his mouth: Hi! Hi! Are you in there? Ha! Ha! Do you want a fag?

Then this fag comes rolling in under the door. I don’t know how many I smoked when I was in there. Hundreds maybe. The doors opened and there’s Bubble standing in the light but he wasn’t his usual self tugging away at his sleeve and looking away from you when he was speaking. You didn’t often see him doing that. Well my fine fellow are you ready to behave yourself yet?, he says.

I knew by him he was afraid I was going to say no. For he had no idea what he was going to do then. But I didn’t. I liked old Bubble. But Tiddly he was a different story. It’d be God help him if he ever came near me again.

Its not my job to cut effing grass verges, says the gardener. If he says it to me one more time, that’s it. I’m out.

What do you say?

I didn’t say anything, just looked at him advancing on the inch of ash with one eye closed.

Or have you quit talking altogether?

The way he said it I thought I’d be as well to say something before he took into me with the graip.

Cut no verges, I said. No verges now and that’s all’s about it!

He nearly burst open with excitement. He whacked his corduroys with the battered cap.

Now you said it!, he cried.

Not a one! I said.

Not a shaggin’ one he says with the fag shaking, by Christ you’re a good one, here have a fag he said and shook a few of them, a fag for every fu ker of a sky pilot that gets his arse kicked! Go on!

He chuckled away as a ballerina of sparks did a twirl. Did I ever tell you about the time I sprung Michael Collins from the Bridewell jail? he says.

No, I says.

I didn’t?

He licked his lips and little infantrymen ran from one eye to the other. And what would your business be says the officer? Oh I’m a Holy Ghost Father officer, I says. Very well he says, proceed padre. So off I went and not half an hour later there’s me and the head of the Irish Republican Army rattling through the streets of Dublin in a horse and cart! Good man says Collins from under a pile of turnips you’ll be remembered for this!

The light was failing outside and they were all heading towards the refectory for tea.

The more I tried to get the goldfish out of my head the more it kept coming back.

One wet day I seen Tiddly climbing into a car and he was never seen again, probably away off to the garage to rub some bogman with his mickey good luck and good fu king riddance. Bubble called me up to his study and I could see he was on for a bit of detective work. Every time he thought I wasn’t looking he’d look at me over the rim of the teacup. If I turned he’d look away again quick as a flash. He was trying to think of the right words for he knew if he got the wrong ones I’d tell him nothing and maybe if he did I’d tell him nothing anyway. I sank into the big leather chair and he says do you like Scots Clan I do indeed I says. He asked me a few questions about how I was getting on now. I said OK and yes and no to them all. His face was all creased up trying to find the right way of saying things it was like trying to turn the corner on two wheels. Sometimes I just shrugged my shoulders and looked out the window. Then Bubble stands there staring out knotting the fingers together behind his back wondering what way would he start his speech. It was a different speech this time there was no jokes or any of that for he knew what I thought fu k the jokes and he was right. He said life was difficult, people had their troubles. Some of the things people did were hard to understand. A soggy football went sailing past the window and a clatter of bogmen chasing after it. He said Father Sullivan was a good man. I said nothing. He starts to tell me this story then about him going off to Dublin to visit his sister. He’s been working hard lately too hard if you ask me, he says with a watery laugh. His sister will look after him I said and sipped the tea. She will, he says, she’s very good to him. He’s lucky has her. I didn’t mean to laugh but I just had to when he said that. I was chuckling away to myself. Sister, for fu k’s sake! Poor old Tiddly was probably climbing up the walls of the garage by now shouting I love you bogman! to some young farmer lad.

Bubble knew I was laughing but there wasn’t much he could do about it. If he said: Stop laughing, I’d only go and do it worse. I’d push him out of the way and shout out the window: Hey bogmen! Did youse hear about Father Tiddly the Rolo man!

That was what Bubble was afraid of. That everybody would hear. But he didn’t have to worry about that. As long as he left me alone and minded his own business I wouldn’t say anything about old Father Big-Mickey I mean Tiddly. Now he was gone I didn’t give a fu k. I just wanted to be left alone. I hope you’re happy here says Bubble. I said I am. Then I said: I’m going now.

Yes Francis, said Bubble holding the cup with one finger up in the air. I wasn’t going to tell about Tiddly. But he didn’t know that. All he knew was he’d seen him lying whinging in the corner saying I love you to me. I don’t think poor old Bubble was used to seeing things like that. The last thing I seen as I went out the door was him standing there all helpless and pained-looking. He was thinking: Why can’t all these bad terrible things be over so as I can sing a little happy song. Like Michael Row The Boat Ashore maybe!

After that the days were all the same, they just drizzled past, days without Joe without da without anything. I didn’t have to worry much about getting the Francie Brady Not a Bastard Any More Diploma anymore after the Tiddly business for I knew they were going to let me go the first chance they got I was like a fungus growing on the walls they wanted them washed clean again.

The day I left Bubble gripped my hand and said it did his heart good. I gave him a big smile. But it was all different now it wasn’t like the old days when me and him used to have jokes. He knew why I was smiling. If it did his heart good he wasn’t long about letting go of the hand.

I said good luck to the gardener. He said: Its just as well you caught me for I won’t be here tomorrow. I’ve had it with them and their verges. He looked right into my eyes and tapped his chest. Its not my job, he hissed. The last thing I seen was the soggy ball sailing up into the air.

House of a hundred windows, goodbye and good fu king riddance, I said.

I called straight down to Joe’s but he wasn’t there. Where is he, I said. Mr Purcell looked me up and down. I have no idea, he said and closed the door. I wondered what was eating him.

I called down to the house a few more times but there was never any answer they must have been away, at the uncle’s or someplace. In the end I waited at the bottom of Church Hill and met Joe coming home from school. He was in the second year in secondary now. He was carrying a big bulging bag of books. There’s some amount of books in that bag, Joe, I says laughing. There was some other lad with him I don’t know who he was I told him to run on ahead. What? he says. I said: Run on ahead – are you deaf?

I’m back Joe, I said, back from the house of a hundred windows. I laughed myself when I said that it just sounded funny saying it there walking round the road with Joe. I didn’t know where to start telling him about all these things. I told him it made no odds about the goldfish or any of that that was all in the past now. Then he looks at me and says: What goldfish? I hit him a thump on the shoulder. What goldfish! I says, for fu k’s sake Joe!

It was the first good laugh I had had in I don’t know how long. I asked Joe how things were out at the hide. He said he hadn’t been out there. Is it still covered over, I said. He said he wasn’t sure it was so long since he’d been out there. I said we’ll have to make sure its covered over. If the rain gets in it’ll ruin it. He said it would. When will we go out and check on it then I said, this evening? He said he couldn’t go out that evening. OK, I said tomorrow is fine. But he said he couldn’t go out then either so it had to be at the weekend. I had a pain in my stomach waiting for that weekend to come.

Joe made a wind at a gnat, lay back on the bank of the river and I told him more about it, everything I could think of. I told him about the gardener and the Black and Tans and the bogmen and their bony arses and being locked in the boilerhouse and puffing fags and talking to the saints and St Teresa. It sure is some laugh said Joe, what did they lock you in the boilerhouse for? I says oh nothing just messing around, you know. That was all I was going to say but then he says it again but what did they lock you in the boilerhouse for? Then I thought the best thing about friends is you can tell them anything in the whole world and once I thought that I didn’t care. As soon as I started the story it ran away with itself. There were tears in my eyes and I couldn’t stop laughing the bonnet and Tiddly, I love you! and the whole lot. You want to see the Rolos he gave me I said, I must have ate about two thousand fu king Rolos Joe. Rolos said Joe, he gave you Rolos but what did he give you Rolos for? As far as I could see that was all Joe wanted to hear about. Anytime I went on with the story he kept bringing me back to that part what for, what for? I wanted him to stop going back to that. I wanted to stop talking about the whole thing. I wanted to talk about the hide and the old days and hacking at the ice and whose turn it was to toss the marble and all that, that was what I wanted to talk about. They were the best days. You could see through them days, clear as polished glass. But Joe didn’t want to. He kept going back to the other thing so in the end I told him and what does he say then he says Francie he didn’t really do that did he? I said what are you talking about Joe he did didn’t I just tell you?

The next thing I knew I was in a cold sweat because of the way Joe was looking at me. I could see the flattened spot of the grass where he’d been lying he had moved back from it. He was sitting in a different place now. He hadn’t moved back too far in case I’d notice it. But I did. It was only for a split second our eyes met but he knew and I knew. Then I said: I fairly fooled you there Joe. Tiddly! Imagine someone doing the like of that! Tiddly! Rolos – for fu k’s sake!

I laughed till the tears ran down my face. I fooled you, I cried out. I had a headache and my face was all flushed. Then Joe said it was time he was getting back he had extra homework to do for the weekend. I said OK, I would see him tomorrow and we’d go to the carnival. Sure, he said, I’ll try and I watched him running back into town. I was coming in the road when I seen your man coming with the black bicycle. I says to him: There you are. How are you getting on?

He tugs down the cap and says: I’m in a bit of a hurry. I have to see about the calves.

Then off he goes with the head down. I waited there to see what he’d do and sure enough when he was about fifty yards away he stops and turns to look back. I just stood there with my legs spread like Kirk Douglas. When he saw me staring back at him what does he do only let go of the bike and down it went clattering on the road. I didn’t stir I just stood there watching him trying to pick it up. He didn’t make much of a fist of it once he knew I was watching. Then the shopping bag came loose off the carrier and something fell out of it I think it was potatoes. What does he do then only try to pick them up too. He was a right-looking sketch with one hand holding the handlebars and the other the spuds. I cupped my hand over my mouth: Don’t forget the calves! I says and off he goes with the potatoes another few of them fell and rolled into the ditch.

Then off I went up the street but there was no one around only Grouse and papers sailing like boats down the gutters of Fermanagh Street.

But that didn’t last long for soon as Buttsy and Devlin heard I was home from the school for pigs they were round to the house to interrogate me about doing the poo in Nugent’s. I heard them forcing the front door the stupid bastards couldn’t break into an egg. I was thinking will I tackle these bastards yet or not then I says no not yet so up the chimney I went with an old jackdaw looking down at me as much as to say what are you doing here this our property. Come on now Brady we know you’re in here, says Buttsy. If you come out it won’t be so bad. Jesus what a stink in this place said Devlin what do you expect when pigs live here says Buttsy. Look at this says Devlin rotten fish in the sink, there’s rats in here there’s sure to be rats. No says Buttsy only pigs. Ha ha laughs Devlin. Ha ha, that was a good laugh. When I didn’t come out they lost the rag. Buttsy swore and broke something. Burn the place says Devlin. He must be here somewhere they said and then I heard them rooting about outside. They came back in and wrecked the kitchen, cursing. Then they went off, fit to be tied, we’ll get the bastard sooner or later. I didn’t bother coming out and the next morning there was a huge pale sun sitting in the window. That did my heart good. Ah, I says, this is going to be a good day.

Off I went down the fresh, crunchy lane. I stopped just outside the chickenhouse to see if the puddle was frozen over and sure enough it was. I felt warm all over when I seen that. There was hard twisty paper growing out of the white misted ice. I tried to dig it out with my toe but it wouldn’t come so I broke off a bit of a twig and hacked away at it. When I looked up there was this young lad standing there like something off a Christmas card with a big stripey scarf round his neck and a hat with tassels on it. What are you doing here Mister he says, that’s our puddle. Its your puddle? I says, Yes, he says, we’re in charge of it me and Brendy. OK, I says and handed him the stick I won’t touch it anymore. All right then mister he says, I won’t tell Brendy. All of a sudden I looked at him with his rosy cheeks and the two silver snots at his nose and what did I want to do I wanted to kiss him. Not the way Tiddly did it any of that but just because all of a sudden everything seemed so good. I said to myself: Just being here is so good I could stand here for ever.

Its your puddle now, I says to him but do you know who it used to belong to? He rubbed his face with a mitten and says no – who?

Me and Joe Purcell, I said.

Oh, he says, well youse don’t own it now and goes down on one knee and starts hacking away at the bit of paper.

I went into Mickey Traynor’s shop. There was a big picture of Our Lord hanging on the wall. It said; Buy a television or else you bastard! No it didn’t it said Our Saviour looks after us all.

His daughter was on her knees saying the rosary with a whole load of saint pictures spread out on top of a radio cabinet. I met her on the street one day and she told me she hated Romans because they killed Thaddeus the Christian boy whoever the fu k Thaddeus was. Mm mm mm she says the next sorrowful mystery of the holy rosary Jesus prays in the garden. Good man Jesus but you daren’t say that or Mickey’d throw you out on the street on the spot. Well Mickey I said will you ever forget the days of the old television? He stuck the pencil behind his ear what television would that be now he says. Oh the one that got broke, I says, the one da gave out yards about. Did he not come up to you about it? Naw, says Mickey, I don’t remember your da coming in at all now he says and goes back to his work, hoking away at the inside of another telly. Without the back on it looked like one of these cities of the future you’d see in Dan Dare. Sure bring it up and we’ll have a look at it, he says. Ah no, never mind about it Mickey, says I, that was all in the old days. I’m far too busy these times to be bothered worrying my head about televisions. Well, whatever you think yourself now, says Mickey as this fart comes out of the loudspeaker. Bejasus! he says then I laughed and off I went. It sure was good to be back in the old town. Into the shop I went and who was there only Mrs Connolly and the women but they weren’t expecting me this time you could tell that all right the way they were looking at me: But we thought you were away in the industrial school!

H’ho no ladies, I’m back in action yes indeed a puff of smoke and here he is again the incredible Francie Brady – How are you ladies?

They couldn’t make up their minds who was going to speak. Little coughs and all this and one looking at the other – you say hello to him. No – you do! It went on like that for a minute or two. I think they thought I was going to pull a machine gun out from under my coat drrr die you dogs.

I had a good laugh thinking that. When I started laughing so did they and before we knew it we were all talking away about the old days and the pigs and all that. Anything I could think of we talked about it there was so many things in my head after the school for pigs. The laughs we had in those days, I says. Oh now they said, don’t be talking! You’re back for good now Francis is that right says one of them and the other two gave her a look – Don’t ask him that! For the love of God don’t ask him that!

Why not? Them old women could ask me anything they liked. I am indeed, back in the old home town. That’s what Audie Murphy says on the horse looking down on the sleeping western village from the hill – it shore is good to be back in the old home town. Yup! I says. All you could see was these three smiles just hanging there in mid-air. The shopgirl never opened her mouth. No, that’s not true, she did. That was all she did, open her mouth. She just stood there behind the counter looking at us with her mouth open. It was nice talking to them there beside the cornflakes shelf, it was as if they hadn’t moved an inch since I left still saying President Kennedy was a lovely man and something would have to be done about the price of butter. It would but I had more important things to talk about than that, the old days the old pig days we could have talked for hours about all that. Will you ever forget them old pig days I says. Oh now Francie, says Mrs Connolly, don’t be talking! Ha ha they said, they were good days all right. Ah well, I said, that’s all over, you can’t be a pig all your life isn’t that right ladies?

They said it was.

I said to Mrs Connolly: Isn’t that right Mrs Connolly.

That’s right Francis she says, that’s very true.

It is indeed I says.

Ha ha says Mrs Connolly.

Ha ha says the other women.

Oh now says I.

We could have gone on talking there for hours there was so much to say but it was getting near time for me to move on and see what else I could discover on my travels. Well good day now ladies, I said, I guess I gotta mosey on. Ha ha mosey on!

Mrs Connolly was saying to herself I wonder was it all right to laugh at mosey on. Of course it was. I didn’t care. They could laugh themselves stupid if they wanted to. Then I says well ladies I’d best be on my way. Yes Francis, says Mrs Connolly, you have to see all your pals. I have indeed I said. The smiles I had to laugh at them too – they weren’t like smiles at all more like elastic bands pulled tight. Twang! and back they’d go. But sure no matter – they could smile whatever way they liked, I wasn’t going to stop them. Right so ladies, I guess ah’ll jest mosey along I says we’ll see you soon please God says Mrs Connolly. Yup I says. When I was going by the window I gave it a rap Jesus! says one of them I think it was Mrs Connolly twang! goes the smile and the other women – are you all right Mrs Connolly? I says to myself: I never knew there was so many things in this town would make you laugh.

There was a tin can lying there. Flip, over the hedge it went. You never know, I might play for the town yet I thought.

The fountain wasn’t frozen it was spraying away goodo on the Diamond so I sat down beside it for a while. There was one thing I knew about that fountain. They had put it there for Queen Victoria the same time as they built the Jubilee Road in honour of her visit to the town that year. Except for one thing – she never came. It was a beautiful fountain well it was then. But a lorry backed into it one night and knocked all the angels and that off it and now there was a big plaster crack running up the side of it like a cut. I dropped a spit onto a fag box and thought of all the school kids and old folks Hooray for Queen Victoria! Except for one thing – where the fu k is she?

I couldn’t stop chuckling the more I thought of it and them all going home in a huff – we’ve gone and built a fountain and a new road for fu k all!

But of course that wasn’t true – I could sit on it couldn’t I?

And the drunk lad could piss into it on his way home from the Tower. He sure could. So well done town and Queen Victoria I said to myself.

The big wheel of the carnival turned at the far end of the town, tossing hysterical people across the sky, people pretending to be hysterical that is. Well would you believe it – who comes along then only himself, old Father Dom, flap in his skirts and the shoes like little black paws peeping out. You got on well, at the em industrial school he says, I did indeed I said and who does he know it turns out, only our old friend Tiddly. Ah yes, he says, Father Sullivan, a very good friend of mine. How is he at all at all? Oh he’s the best, I said, never better. An awful man for the books!, laughed Dom. A terror!, I says, a holy terror for the books! Matt Talbot, I said. Ah yes, poor Matt Talbot, sighed Father Dom and crossed himself. He was delighted at all this me knowing Tiddly and Matt Talbot and everything so we stayed there for a long time talking drum drum on the missal the weather has got very cold now and how’s your father and I wonder what we can talk about now? I never seen you looking as well Francis he said, you’ve got so tall! I’m glad things have worked out for you. I must drop down and say hello one of these days. Do indeed Father, I said and saluted and off he went. I was wondering did he ever sit on Tiddly’s knee? Are you comfortable there Dommie? Yes Father I am are you? Ah I am, I’m grand, grand now altogether. But I knew old Dom wouldn’t do that. I’d say the worst thing Dom ever did in his whole life was say to his mother: No ma – I won’t go to the shop for you!

I closed my eyes and breathed in it was like breathing in the whole cold fresh and crunchy town. I could hear the chickenhouse fan droning away steady as ever down in our lane behind the houses. One day Joe said to me: Its the best sound in the world, that fan. I said why. He said: Because you always know its there.

And he was right. If you weren’t thinking of it you wouldn’t hear it. But once you listened, it was always there humming away softly like a quiet machine that kept the town going.

The baker was unloading trays of bread steaming from his van. Grouse Armstrong was huddled in the library doorway and off goes the drunk across the Diamond singing into his beer bottle I wonder who’s kissing her now? Then he stops and starts into Grouse do you know me do you? Uh! Uh! Grouse just opened one eye for a second and then went back to sleep. You’re only a baaaastard! says your man and then tumbles away off round the Jubilee Road on rubber legs. I wasn’t expecting Roche so I got a bit of a shock when I looked up and seen him standing there staring at me. Who the fu k did he think he was – Count Dracula?

Ah hello there Doctor, I said, and how are things?

He didn’t say anything just looked and that was what I didn’t like about Roche the way he looked at you. He was saying: I know something about you. You knew by him he’d stand there for as long as he liked without saying a word.

I don’t know why the fu k I did it for he didn’t ask me anything but I started into telling him everything, driving to the school with the sergeant and what a laugh it was and then the bogmen and all that. I could feel his eyes all over me making notes. I went back over a few of the stories, the gardener and that, and then I said yes doctor its changed times now. The old days is all finished. I kept waiting for him to say I’m glad to hear that Francie or that’s great news, like the priest, but he didn’t say anything. He said nothing and just wiped his lips with a hankie and then looked at it. What do you think of that, doc, all the old days being finished? I gave him a big grin even though my head was hurting me, it was hard no matter what you were talking about not to think about the business with Joe and all that and wondering could you fix it some way or blank it out so that it hadn’t happened. He lowered his voice and I had to strain to hear what he said. He said yes, yes that’s good but I could tell by the sound of it that he didn’t believe me. I told him more then, about the boilerhouse and the fags but he just tapped the leather of his black bag and sucked his teeth saying mm. All of a sudden it came into my head what the hell do I care if he believes me or not who the fu k is he, doctor, some doctor, he couldn’t even keep ma out of the garage, could he? I didn’t care about him. He could say anything he liked. I’d tell him that – fu k him! You know nothing I said you know nothing about my ma, what the the fu k do you know about her she should never have gone near you it was you put her in there in the first place what the fu k would you know Roche what would you know about anything! I was wondering would he go so far as to make a wind at me after all that but when I looked up all I seen was the door of the hotel closing and him chatting away to the receptionist through the glass. All of a sudden I thought I heard someone calling: Francie!

I thought it was Joe whee-hoo I said but it was someone I didn’t know who it was. I wasn’t sure what to do then or where to go then I says what am I on about I’ll go down to Joe’s where else would I go. I blew my nail hopping about on the step then out comes Mr Purcell. Well Mr Purcell I said is the man himself there. He looked at me for a minute then he looked over my shoulder and waved at somebody some neighbour getting out of a car with a box of groceries. No, he says, Joe isn’t here. The neighbour called something and Mr Purcell laughed. Oh now, he says. They went on yapping there for a while, about the weather and all this. Ah sure the farmers will never be pleased says your man. No, says Mr Purcell, now you said it. There was a fair crowd at the match Sunday. There was. Marty Dowds had a good game. He had. Marty’s shaping up to be a right wee player. He is.

I just stood there on the step waiting for your man to go in. Right he says I’ll see you and then he’d start into something else cars or some other shite. Then he says right so good luck now. He waved and next thing Mr Purcell smiles and closes the door behind him it just happened he didn’t slam it or anything. I’d been waiting so long I forgot what I wanted to say and when I remembered it was too late and the door was closed. I waited there on the step for a minute then I just went away.

I went round to Roche’s house a few times and waited for him but he never appeared I think he must have went on holidays.

They said I had to stay at the primary school even if I was older than the rest. I didn’t know any of them. My class had gone on ahead to the secondary school along with Joe. I sat at the back and did nothing. No – that’s not true. I played Oxo and wrote Francis Brady was here with a penknife. The master says to me who put the Vikings back into the sea I says Daniel O’Connell come out here he says and gave me a crack of the stair rod across the arm. I’ll give it to you, he says, you needn’t think you’ll try any of your tricks with me Brady! Leddy’s the man for you, that’s the only place you’ll ever be any good for!

I knew why he was doing that, he heard them saying in the jakes Brady was going to batter the master. I don’t how they got that into their heads I had more to do than batter doddery old masters with whiskey noses and hands that wouldn’t stop shaking so I thought the best thing to do was quit going to school altogether. They were all getting fond of this fellow Leddy. Da looks at me and says: Its either school or Leddy’s! You’d be as well to make up your mind!

Leddy was the butcher who owned the slaughterhouse. There was always jobs there for no one wanted to do it. To hell with Leddy and his pigs, I said. Its good enough for the likes of you da said lying about here morning noon and night! and went off mumbling to the Tower.

Sometimes I’d just lie there on the sofa until Joe got out of school. After a while you didn’t even notice the smell only if someone else mentioned it. There was an old chicken da took home out of the Tower after a do one night. It was all flies and maggots so I fu ked that out. I think Grouse got it out of the bin the crafty bastard.

I always met Joe at the bottom of Church Hill. There was no more talk about the school for pigs or anything that went on there, that was all finished now and soon it would be all back the way it used to be. I got things for him, not comics he didn’t read them much anymore, fags or sweets maybe. I got the fags from behind the bar in the hotel I knew the barman went out to change the barrel at the same time every day. I got the sweets in Mary’s but I paid for them I’d never lift anything on her. Then we’d head off out to the river. I told him I could get him anything he wanted. We had some laughs out there. It was no different to the old days. It was just the same only better. Isn’t it Joe? I’d say. He said it was. I says its better than the school and exams and all that shit isn’t it Joe. I asked him to put on the cowboy voices like he used to. He said he couldn’t do them any more. Go on, try Joe I said. I can’t do them, he said, that’s a long time ago. I know it is Joe I said but I’ll bet you can still do them. No he says I can’t. But I knew he could. Try it Joe I says. Then he said it – OK fellas we’re ridin’ out!

You see Joe, I said, you can do it!

It was just like John Wayne. You’d swear it was him. I was over the moon when he did that voice. He used to spin his silver colt and say it just like that – OK fellas we’re ridin’ out! Say it again Joe I said, say it again! I couldn’t stop asking him to say it again. But I had to in the end for I could see him getting red under the eyes and I didn’t want to annoy him anyway he’d said it enough he was tired he said he had to get back. I left him in town and then I came back out myself. I’d try doing the voice but I could never get it as good as Joe. I’d lie there on flattened yellow grass where he had been but no matter how I tried it I always got it arseways. It didn’t sound like John Wayne at all. It sounded more like the bird what do you call him – I taught I taw a puddytat.

I kept at Joe to come tracking in the mountains. We’ll pray to the Manitou like we used to – it’ll be a good laugh I said. Oh come on Francie – for god’s sake! Joe said.

The Manitou, I said – yamma yamma yamma death to all dogs who enter here! For fu k’s sake Joe!

He laughed when I said that and then he said OK it was the best day yet you’d think Nugents or the school for pigs or Tiddly and all that had never happened. We spun stones across the lake and when I looked at Joe doing that I nearly wanted to cry the feeling I got was so good. Everything was so clear and glittering and polished I said to myself: Those days in the lane. We didn’t imagine them. They were just like this.

I was thinking that with my eyes closed when I heard Buttsy’s voice. He was standing in front of me with his thumbs hooked in his belt.

Devlin was chewing a match and carrying a fishing rod. Well well. If it isn’t our lucky day, says Buttsy. Devlin was rubbing away at the hands like he’d won the sweep. Buttsy looked at Joe.

I want no trouble with you, Purcell, he says. Its him we want, says Devlin. You’re going to be sorry now. You’re going to be sorry for what you done, Brady.

Who’s going to make me sorry I says. Buttsy got all pale when I said that.

Joe says: Don’t Francie. Don’t start any trouble.

We’ll make you sorry, says Devlin and took a swing at me. When I was ducking I twisted my ankle on a rock.

Then Buttsy drew a kick at me and knocked me to the ground.

Devlin says Come on! and got stuck in with his big farmer’s boots. Next thing Buttsy has the hunting knife out it was trembling away in his hand. You’ve had it now, Brady, said Devlin, we’ll gut you like a pig.

What you done on my sister, Buttsy says. Her nerves have never been the same since.

He was as white as a sheet and I could see the sweat gleaming on his forehead. Do you hear me! he says. She had to go to the doctor after what you done! Roche has her on three different kinds of tablets – three different kinds of tablets!

Devlin kicked me on the bad ankle. You fu king cunt, he says. When he said that I started to to cry.

Ha! says Buttsy, and he got all excited then. . .

Look at him now, says Devlin.

That’s more like it, says Buttsy.

You see, Devlin, I told you, says Buttsy, slipping the knife back into his pocket, coming back to himself, he can dish it out but he can’t take it. I said: I know what I done was wrong Buttsy. I know! I was trying to catch Joe’s eye to give him the signal but he couldn’t see me he was all on edge.

Women, says Devlin, that’s all he’s able for, women, he can give it to the women all right but when it comes to you and me its a different story, eh Buttsy?

Then they started whispering between themselves, what they were going to do with me.

I’ll do anything I said. You should have thought of that before you broke into people’s houses says Devlin and hit me another dig.

For fu k’s sake, would you look at him! Look at him now! There’s your buddy now Purcell. There’s your buddy from the Terrace!

Buttsy took out a fag and lit it.

Then he goes over to Joe and says to him: What are you doing hanging about with him? What does your old man say?

Then Joe said it: I’m not hanging around with him. I used to hang around with him!

All I could see was the lit fag going up to Buttsy’s mouth and his head nodding as he said something else to Joe. He was blowing out the smoke and tapping the ash then he ran his arm across his forehead and that gave me my chance bumph! he didn’t know what hit him. I don’t know how many times I clocked him with the rock if Devlin and Joe hadn’t managed to get me off I’d have finished him off it wouldn’t have cost me a thought he made Joe say it Joe wouldn’t have said it only he goaded him into it. I tried to get another kick at him but they pulled me back no no! Francie! Devlin says Francie its gone far enough he was scared shitless I was going to start into him but I didn’t give a fu k about Devlin I wanted to talk to Joe. I threw the rock over the ditch Joe I says what do you mean why did you say that?

The way Joe looked at me then I couldn’t think at first who it reminded me of then I knew, it was Doctor Roche, looking right through you. Joe, please, I said but he wouldn’t let me talk. I could feel my knees going and I had to drag the words up out of my stomach, please Joe!

But he still wouldn’t listen he was backing away with his palms pressing a glass wall, No Francie, not this time, not after this!

Any time I tried to say anything he just put up his hand: No!, he said. I shouted after him Joe – come back, please! I’ll do anything. Anything you want! But all I could see was him climbing the railway gate and when I looked again he was gone. Devlin looked at me with the lip trembling: Please Francie!

I was going to but then I said what’s the use what’s the fu king use I just left him there please Francie and Buttsy crawling along the ground uh! uh! help me yeah sure.

I went round to the carnival you’d think the swingboats were going to take off into the sky altogether. I never heard so many screeches, girls holding on to their boyfriends Save me! and all this. There was Jim Reeves and big pink teddybears and dodgems sparking but I didn’t want to see any of that I went over to the shooting gallery to see the goldfish. I don’t know how many there was in the tank. Fifty maybe. Every time they swerved there was a little flash of silver. I watched them for a good while just swimming away there. I could see these girls over by the dodgems they were just sitting there swinging their legs and giggling behind their hands. They’d look over at me and nudge each other then they’d start giggling again. There was a small blondie one and they were trying to push her over to say something to me. The older one says go on and blows this pink gumbubble the blondie one says no I won’t!

They kept at this for a good while then in the end what did they do didn’t the three of them come over. They stood there linking each other and you say it no you say it I didn’t know where to look I was as red as a beetroot, I didn’t know what they were doing or what to say to them. They knew my face was going red and I knew they were laughing at that too. Look at him, he’s going all red. What’s he going all red for? I thought that’s what they were thinking but I think now maybe they weren’t thinking it at all. All they wanted to talk about was Joe.

They said: You’re a friend of Joe Purcell’s aren’t you? Do you want to know something? She likes him!

They pushed the blondie one again and she fell against me. I tried to say watch or are you OK or something but I started stuttering but it didn’t matter they were away off again chuckling and giggling about Joe.

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