بخش 03کتاب: شاگرد قصاب / فصل 3
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The house was littered with bottles when I got home. Da was asleep on the sofa with the trumpet beside him and there was some old lad with a cap sitting in a chair. We had a great chat tonight about the old days, all the old Tower bar crowd he says tell your father not to be worrying his head what Roche says the Bradys are tough men, hard men. It takes more than a pain in the chest to annoy them. Am I right Francie? he says. I said he was. I didn’t know what the fu k he was talking about, him and Roche I wanted to hear no more about Roche. Then he fell asleep with his head hanging on his chest like a cloth doll. I wanted to sleep now too. I knew that in a couple of days everything would be all right again. We’d have some laughs then me and Joe. I couldn’t wait to see him taking off Buttsy. Uh! Uh! Help me!
There sure is some laughs in this town Joe I’d say. Then we’d stick our faces into the water and tell the fish what they could do with themselves. I didn’t think I’d sleep with all the things that had been going on. But I did. I slept like a top. I went curving through my dreams yamma yamma yamma right over the rooftops of the town and when I got back to the lake Joe was hunched there smiling and he looks at me and says: So what if we had an argument? We’re still blood brothers ain’t we?
Yup, I said, and we always will. That’s the way it was meant to be Francie boy!
I left it for a few days so that it would all be forgotten then I called to the house and says to Mr Purcell is Joe there. No, he says, he’s gone away to his uncle’s for the weekend he won’t be back till Monday. O I says I’ll call back Monday then even though I was nearly sure I seen him at the curtain upstairs. I didn’t say that because there was no sense in causing any trouble. Very well says Mr Purcell I’ll tell him. Thank you I said then off I went. But the thing was I didn’t see him on Monday either because now Mr Purcell took him home in the car and all I could see was him going past behind the steamed-up glass I never saw him looking out to see if I was at the corner or anything.
Da said to me: I was talking to Leddy this morning then starts spluttering into this big hankie the size of a sheet.
I didn’t bother waiting to hear what he was talking to him about.
Another day I met Leddy himself coming flopping down the street in his wellies you could smell the pig dung half an hour before you saw him at all. I believe you might be coming round to give me a bit of a hand he says. Look at Leddy I thought, talk about pigs! Whatever about us, he was one for sure. He’d been working with them that long he’d turned into one. He had a big pink face and a scrunched-up snout. There was enough pigs round there without me I said. I’d had it with pigs. But I said thanks anyway. Right says Leddy suit yourself and off he goes flop flop flop down the street.
I called round to Joe’s again. There you are Mr Purcell I says, I was wondering would the man himself be about? Mr Purcell didn’t say anything for a minute or two just stood there biting the inside of his lip and then he says: Didn’t you call here this morning? I did I says. And what did my wife tell you? O she said Joe was busy helping her in the kitchen I think. Well you think right he said and he’ll be busy all evening now if you don’t mind. And what does he start to do then only close the door. It was the first time Mr Purcell had ever spoke like that to me. I was just standing there staring at the blue paint of this door and I didn’t know what to think about it all. The next time I called Mrs Purcell answered it and when I asked her was Joe coming out to the river she said he was at music. Music, I said, I didn’t know he did music where is he at music? Up at the convent she said, where they all go to music. The convent I said, I didn’t know he went to music Mrs Purcell. He never went to music before did he? No, she says, he didn’t. She was starting to close the door now too. There was a petrol truck trying to turn at the end of the lane. I watched it for a minute and then I says to Mrs Purcell OK then Mrs Purcell I must call down after and maybe he’ll be here then. Very well Francis she says looking out through crack then the door closed softly with a click. I stood there standing back from the way she said very well Francis and looking at it like the way you’d hold an envelope up to the light to see if there was anything in it. When I thought to myself: What she means is I hope he doesn’t call down here ever again. I felt like I’d swallowed a chicken bone it kept moving around in my throat and I couldn’t get it out. I looked up at the bedroom windows to see if there was anybody looking down. But there wasn’t of course. That was just rubbish, me thinking that. Just because I thought I saw him there one other time didn’t mean he’d be there again if he was there the first time that is. I went off down the lane I was going to go for a walk but then I doubled back because I couldn’t figure out how Joe was doing music if he hadn’t a piano he must be doing guitar. But the nuns don’t teach guitar. I shone the glass of the sitting room window with the sleeve of my jumper and sure enough there it was, a new mahogany piano and sitting there on the music stand the music book with the ass and cart on the front going off into misty green mountains. I couldn’t read it but I knew what it was – Emerald Gems of Ireland.
Philip was swinging the music case as he went by Mrs Connolly’s hedge singing to himself. I just came out from behind the gate and says well Philip. He starts the twisting again only this time at the handle of the music case and I think he said hello Francis. I said Francie, not Francis. Francie, he said, and then he got all red. I wasn’t sure how to start I thought of a couple of different things to say but none of them sounded right. In the end I just said: You gave Joe Purcell your music book, didn’t you?
He said what and raised his eyebrows so I said it again. No I didn’t he said. Well, I said, I’m afraid you did but all he would say then was I didn’t. If you didn’t I said, it would be in the music case then wouldn’t it? Yes he says but he wasn’t really listening to me. He was twisting the handle and looking past me again. Let me look in the case then and we’ll see, I said and then we’ll know for sure. Can I have it then Philip? He handed the case to me and looked away. I ran my fingers over its polished flakes I loved the way they peeled off and stuck to your fingers the way old paint does. He had a good lot of books in there, songs you’d never heard of before. There was one of a man singing to the moon with two palm trees behind him and another Bluebells in Spring with all these flowers swaying in the breeze and a girl in a blue dress la dee dee through the fields. Study in F, that was another one. There was a pen at the bottom of the case too. I spread them all out on the ground to make sure. Oh fu k I said I’m sorry Philip. There was a patch of water I didn’t see and one of them got a bit wet. It was the Study in F. I told Philip I was sorry over and over but he kept saying it was all right. I don’t want to get you in trouble I said. No no, he said, no. I checked them a good few times after that and then I said: Its not here Philip. He said I don’t know maybe its at home Francie I don’t know. I said no Philip it isn’t at home and you know it isn’t because you gave it to Joe Purcell maybe for a lend but you still gave it to him. Oh Francie please he said. I said all you have to do is tell me you might as well for I seen it in his house its on the piano. I don’t know Francie he starts again he could have bought his own, or maybe I did give it to him I don’t know. You don’t know now if you gave it to him or not I said. He said again maybe but I said look there’s no sense in saying maybe Philip. That’s the book you gave him for I seen it in this very case there’s an ass and cart on the front of it and mountains. And you gave it to Joe Purcell and now you’re saying you didn’t. You gave it to him didn’t you? Maybe it was only for a lend but you still gave it to him didn’t you? All you have to do is tell me Philip that’s all I want to know. Then he splutters yes yes yes and sniffles a bit. I had wanted him to say it all right but then when he did I didn’t like it. What I was going to say at first was well there we are that’s all that over, all you had to do was say that in the first place. But that wasn’t what I said in the end. I said: What did you do that for? He says I just gave it to him Francie the music teacher said. Then it came into my head, Joe and Francie standing there in the music teacher’s room. There you are Joe said Philip handing him the book. Thank you very much said Joe. And Philip smiling away. I said to Philip: This is all to do with the goldfish isn’t it? Then what does he say only: What goldfish? I don’t know what you mean Francie.
When I looked at him saying that straight into my face, I thought: Please, Philip. Don’t go like your mother. I explained everything to him. It was all right him giving Joe the goldfish when I was away in the school. But that was all over now. It’s no use thinking by giving music books to Joe that you can get in with us, Philip. It wouldn’t be fair to tell you lies. I asked him did he understand what I meant? He said he did and although he was disappointed I knew it was better for him to know.
I’ll tell you what Philip, I said. Some day we’re going tracking in the mountains you can come, OK? Only don’t tell her. You know what she’ll do. He said yes. I gathered up the books and put them in the case. Then I walked along a bit of the way with him. I said goodbye to him at the street corner and said I would see him soon. Then I went home.
When I got home there wasn’t a whisper in the house only for the flies, nothing only da in the armchair by the radio. I was talking away to him about Philip and how it was better to be straight with people and not keep them hanging on. I made tea and I asked him did he want some. I said: What are you doing there? Looking out at the snowdrop? I said even if Philip wants to come out to the river with me and Joe, as long as he understands that its always going to be me and Joe in the end. I thought maybe da’d had a Tower bar do you remember the old days party for the house was littered with bottles and the trumpet lying over by the skirting board so I reckoned he just wasn’t fit to answer me. I gave his shoulder a bit of a shake and when the hankie fell out of his pocket I saw that it was all dried blood. Oh da, I said, I didn’t know and I felt his forehead it was cold as ice. I said: Don’t worry da. I’ll look after you. I’ll see that you’re all right. I might have let you down before but not this time! Oh no – not this time! Us Bradys – we’ll show them! We’ll show them we stick together!
I saw him smiling when I said that. I pulled his chair into the fire and said sit in there da go on now. I built it up good and high I used anything I could find in the yard it was the first time there had been a fire in the house for as long as I could remember. It was good, flickering away there and the shadows swarming all over the ceiling. I rooted about and found bread and toasted it on a fork then we had tea all we did was just sit there that was all we wanted to do. Da looked at me and when I seen those eyes so sad and hurt I wanted to say: I love you da.
They said to me: You won’t leave me son.
I said: I won’t da. I’ll never leave you.
This time its going to be all right – isn’t it son?
I said it was. We’re going to be a happy family son. I knew we would be in the end. I said we were. I’d make sure we were, I said. It was all up to me now. Me and nobody else. Then he said to me the trumpet find the trumpet. I lifted it and polished it up until it was shining just like it used to. Then I put it away in its felted case just like he did, laying it to rest like an infant after a long day. Don’t let them touch my trumpet Francie! he said.
I told him he didn’t have to worry, his worrying days were over. Your worrying days are over, da, I said.
I touched the back of his hand.
Thanks Francie, he said and I was so happy that we were able to say these things to one another that I cried, the tears just came streaming down as I sat there with my head resting on his shoulder.
The next day I says its up to me now its all up to me and nobody else they’ll soon see what the Bradys are made of!
I went up the town and into the shop, shopping basket and all. I could see Mrs Connolly pointing to it and the other women crinkling up their foreheads its not too often you see Francie Brady with a shopping basket. Indeed it isn’t ladies I said but you’ll be seeing it plenty from now on, I’m going to be a busy man! I don’t know where to start with all these jobs Mrs Connolly, I says.
I think she thought I was joking for a minute but when she seen I wasn’t laughing her face changed and she went all serious oh yes she says no one likes doing them but they have to be done ha ha. That’s right says the other women that’s very true. When I got my things I said well ladies I can’t delay have to get back to the grindstone oh now Francie they said its near time we went home ourselves we’d stand here gossiping half the day if we were let. Ha ha I said.
When I was cleaning out the coalhouse what did I find only the old television. I put it sitting on the table in the same place it used to be. By the time I was finished the shed was spotless. Now what will I do I said. I made da tea and tidied the upstairs. I always made sure never to miss Friday Night Is Music Night!
That was da’s favourite programme. He used always come home from the Tower to listen to it and dare you talk while it was on. Ladies and gentlemen – here is your host, Mr Ian-Priestly Mitchell!
No matter what I did Jeyes Fluid or anything there was still a bit of a stink and flies about after the pilchards so I went back up the street and got flypapers they were supposed to be better than the sprays and as well as that you could see how many you got.
Every so often I checked the flypapers and counted them. It didn’t take long. In no time at all I had eleven. I went up to get another paper just in case that one got full up too quick. Well well says Father Dom. Francis he says you’re a man with things to do I think that’s the fifth time I’ve seen you go up and down that street today. Who did Dom think he was – Fabian of the Yard? Oh yes Father I’m doing a bit of Spring cleaning below in the house I need this and that you know yourself. What’s that you have there he says don’t tell me you’re smoking. Oh no says I its a flypaper that’s all you won’t catch me at the smoking Father. Not yet anyhow he says. Mm mm he says you’ve quit going to school altogether I see, would that be right Francis? Yes I said I’ve quit the school now and that’s it. Isn’t that a pity now, he says, for they’ll tell you the schooling stands to you. I suppose it does ah well that’s the way then I said I had to go into the Tower for a few bottles of stout. You’re not at the drinking Francis, don’t tell me you’re at the drinking. Ah no, Father, I says, just a few bottles for the boss. Oh I see he says all relieved, they’re for the man himself. Indeed they are I said and said good luck to him and off he floated till he met some woman Father come here till I tell you. After the stout that was the end of the money. There was none left in da’s pockets and nothing in the bin only a crust. I sat with da thinking was there anything I could do then in the end I went round to Leddy. Don’t worry da, I said, I’ll start early in the mornings and get home early in the evening. It’ll be OK, you’ll see.
He looked at me and he said: You won’t leave me son?
But he didn’t have to worry. I wasn’t going to leave him. I wasn’t going to let ma and da or anyone down ever again.
There’s the man that wants no more truck with pigs, he says. I’d like a job Mr Leddy I said. The smell of piss and shit and dirty guts you never seen the like of it. At the side of the slaughterhouse there was a concrete pit where they just threw out the manure and the guts and the offal and let it pile away up. The Pit of Guts, that’s what I called that place. Grouse Armstrong was trailing a big sheet of white skin with innards attached to it across the yard stopping the odd time to tear and paw at it. There was steam coming up out of the pit and it was crawling with bluebottles. It was moving, you’d think it’d get up and just walk across the yard and away. Every two seconds Leddy’d draw in this big deep breath with the sound of snots like paper tearing. I dare say you weren’t in too many places like this he says then I could see by him he was thinking so this is the famous Francie Brady well we’ll soon see how tough he is we’ll soon see how tough he is when he’s inside Leddy’s slaughterhouse. But I smiled away and every time he told me something about it I said that’s very interesting and the worse he got about all the things I’d have to do in the place, the better I said it was. You’ll have to be up and out at the crack of dawn he says, what do you think of that? I said that’s fine Mr Leddy. Any man thinks this work is easy needs his head examined – you want to be tough to work here! Indeed you do Mr Leddy I said and I could see he liked me calling him that so I kept on doing it. It wouldn’t have been a good idea to say I suppose you should know all these things considering you are a pig yourself with your big pink pig head but I would have liked to say it the way he was going on. Like he was some kind of visiting professor down from the Cutting Up Pigs University. The more he talked the more he wanted to talk. Pigs, by Mr Leddy. That was what I thought but I kept on nodding away. O yes. And Hmm. If you don’t pull your weight he says its down that road straight away I’ve no time for wasters. O you’ll have no trouble with me Mr Leddy I says. Good he says for I daresay they’re not falling over themselves giving you jobs about this town. Now he says what about this fellow and this little pig looks out at me through the bars, what do you think of him? I says O he’s lovely but I forgot myself for that wasn’t what Leddy wanted me to say. Lovely he says, you think he’s lovely. Good he says and scoops him up in his arms. Now he says take a good look at him. He was as pink as a baby’s bottom and he said to me with his big eyes: I’m not a big pig yet I don’t understand anything. Please – will you not let any harm come to me? And his front trotters dangling over Leddy’s tattoo it was a snaked sword. Isn’t he lovely says Leddy again he sure is he sure is and next thing what has he in his hand only a gun not a real gun it was a captive bolt pistol and what does he do only stick it into the baby pig’s head and bid-dunk!, right into his skull goes the bolt and such a squeal. Then down on the concrete plop and not a squeak out of him all you could see was him saying you said you’d mind me and you didn’t. Then Leddy looks at me haw haw haw and all this as much as to say whaddya think John Wayne huh betcha didn’t expect that! Huh! he says, huh? He was all excited and the bottom lip was starting to go I knew he wasn’t as tough as he let on, all he was saying was don’t try any of your tricks on me Brady, just the same as the master. But it was a good one all the same. What d’you think now, eh? he says. Very good, top marks Mr Leddy, top marks from the Shooting Piglets University. Or I could say why oh why did you have to do such a terrible thing to him he never harmed anyone in his whole life you’re a cruel cruel man Mr Leddy! and throw myself down on top of the poor little dead little baby pig lying there with his mouth open.
But I didn’t bother with that, instead I went over to the pen and caught another fellow by the trotters he was even younger than the first. He was in a bad way altogether for he’d seen the whole thing. His eyes, please please don’t kill me I’ll do anything! What about this lad I said, he’s a chancy-looking customer. Give me the pistol there Mr Leddy and I’ll put a bit of manners on him. Leddy stood back with his hand on his hip and laughed. You’re a good one Brady if you think I’ll fall for that he says. But fair fu ks to you for trying. You’ve a while to do here yet before you’ll be able to face the like of that ha ha. Ah no, I says, Mr Leddy, not at all. It wouldn’t be fair on this little fellow to leave him all alone now that his poor old friend is gone. So give me over the gun now and we’ll see what we can do for him. You must think I came up the Shannon in a bubble laughs Leddy. I heard about your carry-on he says but you won’t put one over on Jimmy Leddy. I was in Bangkok he says when Benny Brady hadn’t even plucked your mother. I didn’t like him saying that I didn’t like it one bit watch what you’re saying about my mother Leddy but I had promised da so I said nothing about it I just said I know, you’ve seen it all, you’ve been all over the world but let me have a look at it anyway. The piglet wouldn’t sit at rest, twisting and wriggling please Francie Francie please let me go. He hands me the pistol, here he says have a look at it but be careful, I says don’t worry Mr Leddy. I looked at it for a while there wasn’t much to it the baby pig was still looking up at me with the ear flapping over one eye please Francie? Well any other time I would have let him down or put him back in but I wanted Leddy to take me on straight away and I had things to buy for the house and everything so I just shrugged and I don’t know what all Leddy’s huffing and puffing was about. One squeal and a buck as the bolt went in and I just threw him down on the floor beside the other fellow. Leddy was rubbing his tattoo, biting his lip and staring at me. Behind him a row of pigs in muslin shirts. And a lump of a cow on a table with ribs like a half-built boat. Just you and me get one thing straight he says as I handed the pistol back to him. Then he stared me out of it and said: You’ll do what I tell you, Brady.
Whatever you say Captain Pig I said. No I didn’t I said can I start now Mr Leddy?
Be in here nine o’clock tomorrow he says and eyes me up and down still rubbing the tattoo. Good luck now Mr Leddy I said and kick started in the air whee hoo away off like the clappers down the street. I was well and truly in charge now. I felt good. I’ve got a job da I said. Fair play to you, son, he said, I knew you were a good one. I was in business now I thought. I felt like I owned the whole town.
I met the women and I said did you hear did you hear I got a job in Leddy’s! They said it was great news. Indeed it is ladies, I said, wait till you see one of these days I’ll be changing my name to Mr Algernon Carruthers Brady. They didn’t know what I was talking about but they laughed anyway. Oh now they says, you’re an awful character, Mr Algernon Carruthers Brady! Did you ever hear the like of it!
There you are now ladies, I said, can’t stop to talk have to be off now I don’t know what end of me’s up with all the things I have to do.
You’ll be a busy man from now on with all this working, they said.
I sure will, I said, but you know yourselves it has to be done!
And you’re the man to do it Francie!
Now you have it ladies – its all up to me now!
Goodbye now Francie and the three hands waving like leaves in the breeze.
Every day I’d collect my brock cart from the farmyard and off I’d go round the houses and hotels gathering scraps of potato skins and rotten food. Brock they called that and Francie the brock man collected it. When Leddy wasn’t there I said to the swinging pigs: OK Porky its the end of the road. Then I’d say blam! and take the fat head off them with the captive bolt pistol. Take ‘em to Missouri men, I’d shout. O please don’t kill me I’m too fat to run away! Too bad, Piggy! Blam! Pinky and Perky – eat lead! Next thing what does Leddy say only you’re not the worst of them you can give me a hand behind the counter in the shop. So there you are! The way things turn out! Francie Brady The Butcher Boy! Oho but this time it was different, this old Butcher Boy was happy as Larry and you wouldn’t find him letting people down, no sir! Now, there you are missus! There’s just over a pound and a half there is that all right? Oh yes that’s fine Francis thank you very much. The next thing then was the deliveries, off I’d go on my messenger bike with J. Leddy Victualler painted on the side. Away off out the mountains and the bogs and the country lanes ting-a-ling here he comes The Butcher Boy whistling away in his stripey blue apron always in good humour. Not a bad day now, ma’am. Not too bad Francie thank God. Hello there you old bogman I mean Mr Farmer. Have you got the hay in yet? You’re hard at it! Indeed I am!
Goodbye now! Ting-a-ling! Whistle whistle bark bark – clear off dog! Morning guv! Same again next week? Wot’s that then? Two pounds of pork chops, a couple of kidneys and a sirloin roast. Oh and a couple of bones for Bonzo! No problem no problem at all guv! Ta-ra then!
And off he goes bump bump bump. Cor strike a light darlin’ I says to this woman hanging out her washing.
She screws up her face: Eh? she says.
There you are again, Francie, Lord bless us you’re all over the place! the women’d say. Indeed I am I’d say and twirl the meat parcels across the marble top.
There you are says the amazing Father Dom sorry father can’t stop to talk it was a different story now I reckoned with all these jobs I was important now and I had no time to waste gossiping. But especially to the likes of Roche who stopped me one day with the black bag and just stands there looking at me, out of nowhere again of course. Look Roche, I wanted to say to him, if you want to spoil things go off and spoil them on somebody else. I’m a busy man and I have things to do. I’m in charge and I have no time for fooling about and talking shite to the likes of you so go on now about your business and leave people to do their work in peace. That was what I wanted to say to black eyebrows Roche.
I was fed up of him and everything to do with him and I’d tell him that too. But I didn’t and what the fu k does he do then only come over and I got a big red face on me I don’t know why he just stands there. I heard you were working for Leddy.
I am, I says, what’s wrong with that?
I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with it I’m only asking he said.
I wanted to say: Well don’t ask Roche, Don’t ask!
Do you like it down there he says, twirl twirl the timer on his watch.
Yes I says, ten bob a week.
And what do you do with that?
I knew he was trying to trick me into saying I buy bottles of stout for da so I said: I put it in the post office Doctor.
Very wise he says.
What I wanted to talk to you about was your father – he was supposed to come up and see me and he never did.
O I says, was he?
Will you tell him to drop in this evening maybe or tomorrow?
Oh I will I says, I’ll tell him that.
You won’t forget?
No, I says. I won’t and then he says it again you won’t forget and I could see him looking me up and down the worst thing about that is you start thinking ah there’s nothing no sweat on my forehead and that’s what makes the sweat come. There was beads on my forehead. I could feel them and the more I felt them the bigger they got they felt as big as berries and that was what made me blurt out O no doctor I forgot he’s gone over to England to visit Uncle Alo.
What? he says and frowns, he’s what?
It was too late for me to take it back or turn it into a joke so I had to go on ahead with it I had to make up a whole story.
I see, he says, and he was looking me up and down twice as much now. I had to put my hand in my pocket to stop it shaking for I knew if it started he’d see it he saw fu king everything didn’t he?
Then he rubs his chin and says: Right so. Well – when he gets back tell him I want to see him straight away. Its very important.
OK, doctor I said and saluted as much as to say: There’s not a bother on me. But I knew by Roche that it didn’t look like there wasn’t a bother on me. It didn’t look like that at all.
I said to myself I won’t go back to Leddy’s yet I’ll take the cart out the road a bit and sit down and have a think about things then I’ll be all right and I would have been if I hadn’t of seen Joe just as I was going by the cafe. The window was open and the music was blaring out. He was sitting in between the blondie one and some other one laughing away and who was on the other side of her only Philip Nugent. He was explaining something to her, drawing away in the air with his hands. Joe was smoking a fag, nodding when the blondie one said something. She shook the hair back out of her eyes and went ha ha at something he said. Then she rested her chin on her hand and tapped her cigarette. Philip Nugent was drumming in time to the music on the formica table. I just stood there staring in the window and the song kept going round and round in my head: When you move in right up close to me, that’s when I get the shakes all over me!
Then I saw Joe’s lips move he said I’ll put on another song will I and the blondie one nodded. I knew no matter what Joe said she’d have agreed O yes that’s right Joe. When he stood up we were looking at one another face to face through the window. If it had been anybody else I would have given them my butcher boy wink and a big grin but it wasn’t anybody else it was Joe and for the first time in my life I didn’t know what to say to him. He sort of jerked his head the way you would to someone you half-knew or someone you didn’t even know at all then he walked up to the jukebox and bent over it drumming on the sides with his fingers. I kept waiting for him to look back down and say come on in or something but he didn’t he just kept on drumming and mouthing the words of the songs to himself. The only thing that happened was the blondie one looked up and seen me and what does she do then only cover her face with her hand and say something to the other girl and Philip Nugent. The other girl looked up to get a look at me but I was gone.
At the weekend Leddy said to me I’ll say this for you Brady you’re a fair man to work whatever else they may say about you here’s a ten bob note and whee-hoo, off I went like a bullet to the Tower and bought some bottles of stout and then I went into the shop and got a whole pound of corned beef. All da used to ask me to get was a quarter at a time and would his eyes light up when he saw all this. I was going to give it all to him! Why wouldn’t I? I still had plenty of money left. I could buy the whole tin if I wanted to. I could say to the shopgirl: See that tin of corned beef? Give me it all!
And she’d have to give it to me. On the way up the street I seen Joe and the blondie one coming across the Diamond on their way down to the carnival. I went in behind a car in case I’d have to pass them but I needn’t have worried for they met the other girl and some of her friends hi! shouts the other one and then they all went off together let them what did I care about them I had my own business to take care of right Francie I said lets mosey and in I went to the shop, I was just wondering what Joe was saying to her, maybe he was talking to her about music he was hardly talking to her about John Wayne. John Wayne – for fu k’s sake!
I says to the shopgirl I wanted corned beef. You must be going to make a fair few sandwiches says the shopgirl no I said no! I’m not making any sandwiches. What are you talking about – sandwiches?, I said. The shopgirl was red and she said I was only saying you don’t have to shout at me. It made me all nervy and I dropped the corned beef on the way out of the shop. What were they looking at? Mrs Connolly was pretending not to but I could see her turning away at the last minute pretending to squeeze a pan loaf saying is this fresh? What are you looking at Connolly I wanted to say to her if you’ve got something to say why don’t you say it. But just in time I said to myself no don’t say that its all right maybe she wasn’t looking at you after all. I knew I shouldn’t have said anything to the shopgirl either. But I could hardly go back in and say I didn’t mean to say any of that about the sandwiches. I am going to make sandwiches. But they mustn’t have noticed or forgot all about it for it was OK the next time I seen them they said nothing about it. I cut them all up into triangles and put them on a plate and everything. What do you think of the sandwiches da?, I said. Will I make more? I will I’ll make some more. I was humming away happily as I spread the butter on the bread. There was a snowdrop on the ditch. I said to da about the snowdrop and the children playing in the lane; They do make a difference these beautiful things da. It is good having them. I stared at the snowdrop for hours and listened to the radio. Friday Night is Music Night. Here it is again da I said and he smiled. Sometimes I’d go into the shop and get thirty Flash Bars. Thirty for half a crown. It was good value. I stuffed them all into my mouth one after the other. Anytime me and Joe got a half crown. Straight into Mary’s – thirty Flash Bars please. Mary could hardly carry them all. I looked at myself in the mirror after it. A chocolate beard. For fu k’s sake! Sometimes I went round the lane to see if the children were playing near the puddle. You see that puddle?, I’d say then I’d tell them all about Joe and me.
Your man with the scarf and the tassels says: You told us all about that before. Quit telling us the same story!
I climbed in the back of the chickenhouse and just stood in there in that woodchip world listening to the scrabbling of the claws on tin and the fan purring away keeping the town going. When we were in there me and Joe used to think: Nothing can ever go wrong.
But it wasn’t like that any more.
I HAD FIVE FLYPAPERS ALTOGETHER NOW. I KEPT THEM IN THE cupboard where all the old clothes were. The best of all was the brass band da I’d say, playing in the chapel yard at Christmas what do you say? He said it sure was. All the things people would say to you. Please God we’ll all be here this time next year and all this. We had some good laughs too about ma and the things she used to say. There he is again this year she’d say, my snowdrop. I’d sit there in the dark and all you could see was the green bead of light twinging in the radio and hear the drone of the fan outside in the lane. You could hear the carnival music at the far end of the town it must have been the same for them all those years ago in Bundoran, standing there with the smell of chips all along the strand. The music was different in them days On The Sunny Side of The Street that was the one they played as the wheel turned and ma cried save me Benny save me we play that one with the town band said da as he twined his fingers round hers. They were just standing there now listening to the hush of the sea. There was nothing else to listen to now that the carnival was all locked up. Ssh, said the sea. That was all it said. Ssh. We’re going to be happy Benny aren’t we? she said. Yes, he said, we’re going to be the two happiest people in the whole world. He held her then and they kissed. You wouldn’t really think of ma and da kissing but they did and the moon was so close to ma as she lay back in his arms that she could have reached up and put it in her pocket.
They went back to the boarding house where the woman had left the key under the mat for them. She said: For the man who sang my favourite song for me – I dreamt that I dwelt in marble halls!
Did you sing that for the landlady da, I asked.
I did he says, do you know what she used to call us?
What da?, I says.
The lovebirds, says da.
I thought of them lying there together on the pink candlewick bedspread and I knew they were both thinking of the same things, all the beautiful things in the world.
WHAT ELSE HAD CHANGED SINCE I STARTED WORKING WITH Leddy, the town.
It had turned into a big ocean liner that had been lying sunk at the bottom of the ocean and now was rising up out of the waves all glittering with lights and flags ready to sail wherever I wanted to go. If I could have gone down to Joe’s house to tell him all about this it would have been good it would have been the best ever. Anything you want Joe I’d say to myself on the way to his house you can have it now because I’m going to buy it for you. We could go up on the deck and I’d show it to him, all spread out before him and say whatever you want Joe its all yours. You could see the lights of far off cities from it even. Where do you want to go Joe? You’re the boss. I’d swoop away off over the roofs with bundles of ten bob notes and drop them all over the town like confetti. It would be good if it could have happened like that with Joe but it wouldn’t so it was no use thinking about it.
I was going into the Tower to get some stout to go with the sandwiches and when I was coming out I seen Mr Purcell getting out of his car. The bottles wouldn’t stop clinking quit clinking bottles I said I stood there in the alleyway where I couldn’t be seen. Mr Purcell closed the car door and folded his raincoat. Then Joe was standing there beside him just looking up and down the street. Then who gets out the other side only Philip Nugent, I went cold all over when I saw him, the hair down over his eyes. Then he goes over and stands beside Joe, opens a book and starts showing him something in it and the two of them laughing away. Mr Nugent opened the other door and then Mrs Nugent got out. He says let me help you there we are. After that they all went inside Purcell’s house and closed the door. It was starting to rain. I crossed the street and hunkered down at the window. I could see the grey glow of the television as it was turned on in the sitting room. Joe was pointing at something. Then Philip Nugent appeared, tossing back his hair. Look look Joe was saying, its Johnny Kidd and The Pirates. All I could see were the shadowy shapes but I could hear the twanging guitars. I felt bad because I didn’t know about them or songs or any of that. I said to myself: All you know about is John Wayne Francie. It was hard to make out the other voices with the noise of the telly. Mr Nugent and Mr Purcell were talking about gardening and setting seed potatoes. Very true very true indeed said Mr Nugent. Then he said something about grubs on his potatoes. Mrs Purcell was in great humour, talking away to Mrs Nugent. For a minute I didn’t catch on that it was me and Joe she was talking about at all, I got it mixed up with the woman on the telly. It was the best thing ever happened to our Joe said Mrs Purcell he had us worried sick running about with that other fellow. O Joseph is a grand lad now said Mrs Nugent, the best, we’re very fond of him. They’re mad into this music says Mrs Purcell but sure I suppose aren’t all the teenagers?
Indeed they are says Mrs Nugent. Well let them enjoy their freedom now, that’s what I say, weren’t we young once ourselves Mrs?
We were, we were indeed Mrs now you said it. Let them enjoy it now for they won’t have the time next year. Next year is when the serious study starts. There’ll be no gallivanting then!
Mrs Purcell folded her arms.
O that reminds me, says Mrs Nugent, do you remember I was telling you about St Vincent’s College?
Then Joe and Philip left the room and went upstairs and the song starts again when you move in right up close to me, I think it was a real guitar. I think Philip was playing it. Then I seen Mrs Nugent coming in with a plate. She stood in the middle of the room and said: Would you like some scones Mrs Purcell?
It was only when I got home I realized I had forgot the bottles and when I went back they were gone. The Purcell’s car was gone too and the street was black and deserted, all you could hear was the wind blowing a tin can across the Diamond.
The next day I asked Leddy about it but he said to fu k up and quit raving what did he know about snowdrops and orange skies. After that I thought maybe he was right fu k snowdrops and skies and the children and fu king everything. So that night I said to da I won’t be home till late you’ll be all right won’t you then off I went to the Tower Bar and I says to the ten bob note we’re not going home until every penny’s gone then off up on the deck of the ocean liner we’re off I says and I don’t care where we’re going. Whee-hoo! I shouted as I stumbled and fell up the street full to the gills with whiskey. The drunk lad let a few roars at me – Do you know me do you?
I swayed there for a bit with my shoulder up and shouts back at him Do you know me do you?
No he says do you know me? and we went on like that for a good while until the pair of us were falling across the Diamond singing I wonder who’s kissing her now?
I stood on the steps of the bank and shouted Brady the Pig Man up she flew and the cock flattened her!
Fair dues said the drunk lad you’re a good one Brady! We went into every pub in the town. The pig men are here I shouts and got down on all fours with the drunk riding on my back singing I wonder who’s kissing her now. They gave us plenty of cheers when we did that. I didn’t know pigs could sing says this lad laughing. Well you know now I says, and they can drink whiskey too so come on. Snort, says I, and down the hatch.
If the drunk lad wasn’t around I’d lie in the doorway of the Tower singing into the neck of the beer bottle.
I went to the dances but I knew they wouldn’t dance with me. I’m sorry but I don’t dance with pigs they’d say. What did I care? Did they think I cared? There was this one in a pink cardigan holding her twenty fags and looking away when she seen me coming. The drunk lad kept saying go on go on ask her I says I will will you get out of my way for fu k’s sake he kept pulling at me. Excuse me I says to her would you like to dance? She was wearing a black hairband and she made on to fix it then she says no I’m with my friends. I could see the drunk lad laughing away look at Brady would you look at Brady he says. I knew he was still looking at me so I says to her: Why didn’t you bring your knitting? and she got as red as a beetroot. I went away laughing my arse off. The drunk lad thought this was the best yet. Jesus, he says, you’re the best man in this town – did you bring your knitting! He told this to everyone he saw. After that there was no end to what I said to the women. They wouldn’t say no thanks to me again for I wouldn’t give them the chance. The drunk lad told me all about women. They’re all the one when they’re on the flat of their back! he says. H’ho would ye look at that he says, I’d give her the johnny and no mistake! I’m the man would slip the boy in there double quick! Sometimes we sat on the stage and shouted up at the musicians: Youse can play fu k all! The bands wore white suits and sang I Love My Mother and Take Me Back to Dixie. They didn’t sell drink in the hall so me and the drunk lad brought our own. The bouncer says you can’t drink here but I says why not. Because I say so that’s why he says. I looked at him and laughed. He had a broken nose and a face like a scalded prawn. I don’t like people laughing he says. Out! No, says I, then the drunk lad says Jesus don’t say that to him he was in the army. He got a hold of me and threw me round the hall, he kicked me along like a ball of newspaper and the women going ee ee. He got me outside and lay into me with kicks. I’d fly this way and that all I could see was a blur of lights and the guitars twanging away at the national anthem. He got me against the boot of a car spits on his lip and his pudgy fist up against my chin. If you show your face round here again Brady this’ll be nothing to what you’ll get. Yes, I said, boo hoo. But I always went back the week after and there we’d be again slugging the Johnny Walker and the bouncer on his way over hey hey and what the fu k did I tell you last week Brady? Leddy used to say to me where did you get all them bruises for the love of Christ look at you. Oh I’d say, I tripped over a straw and a hen kicked me. Other times I’d go off to different dancehalls round the place and hang about at the back till I saw someone that thought he was a good man in a row. He’d be dancing away with his girlfriend shouting into her ear about liking Cliff Richard or saying the guitar player in the band was his cousin or some other pack of lies then I’d dunt against him and he’d say watch where you’re going. I might say nothing at all or I might just look at him with a big stupid face on me you’d think I was going to burst out laughing. What are you looking at he’d say again then but I’d still say nothing just scratch my nose or pick it, anything at all. Then he’d lose the rag because he thought the girl was saying to him well are you going to let him say that to you or are you going to do something about it then he’d tear into me. But it wasn’t like with the bouncer, I wouldn’t let him kick me around. By the time the fight was over they were always on the floor crawling round help me and the women losing their minds. Come on you fu ker I’d say again standing over them with my fist clenched but they’d just lie there. It’d be nearly bright by the time I got home and there was no sense in going to sleep so I’d just sit there with da thinking about things one thing I thought was dumb people must have black holes in their stomachs from not being able to cry out.
Every weekend now me and the drunk lad went off up the town da didn’t mind I always made sure to put a blanket round him and make sure and tell him where I was going he said if you see any of the Tower Bar crowd tell them I was asking for them. I said I would then off I went. We went up to the Diamond Bar and he says I know you and you know me with his arm round me. Dink donk went the music take me back to Mayo the land where I was born. You’re only a pack of baaastaaards! shouts the drunk lad. There was darts and this government is the worst yet and will you have another ah I won’t ah you will and here is the news crisis in Cuba it all twisted in and out of itself till I got a pain in my head on top of everything else where are you going he shouts come back! I went out to the river and in the backroads. I went up to the cafe to see if there was anyone in there but it was all locked up with the lights out. I wanted to stand on the Diamond and cry out: Can you hear me? but I didn’t know what it was I wanted them to hear. Then I went round the back of the chemist’s shop and got in. It was good in there. I said to myself: What are all these cameras doing in here? Cameras – why aren’t you in a camera shop not a chemists!
I had a good laugh at that. I laughed so much I thought I’d better see if a few of these tablets can help me to stop laughing. There were all kinds in little fat brown jars. They were like little footballers in two-tone jerseys. What were they called? I don’t know. Flip, in they went faster than Tiddly’s Rolos. Next thing you’d be all woozy as if you were turning into treacle. There was this girl in the photograph something to do with sun tan oil, walking across the white powder sand with a towel in her hand. She smiled at me and said: Francie, then her lips made a soft silent pop. I could feel the heat of the sun coming through the waving palm trees behind her. I felt so sleepy. She said: Its a pity you can’t stay.
Yes, I said that’s the thing I’d like to do most in the world is stay with you.
I know, she said, only for your Uncle Alo’s coming home. If she hadn’t said it I don’t think I’d have remembered at all. You’d better hurry Francie! she says. Go on! Go on now! Quickly! You don’t want to let him down do you? I was skating about the shop like a spit on a range getting nowhere. I’ll have to think, I said. Then it dawned on me that there wasn’t a thing in the house. I climbed back out the window and for a minute I didn’t know whether it was a street at all or what it was I’d lost the name for it. But then it was all right its OK Francie down the street you go. Whiz, away I went. I knocked up the home bakery but not a sound so in I went round the back. I filled my arms with cakes as many as I could carry. I searched up and down for butterfly buns but not a sign. The best I could find was creamy cones. I thought: He’ll like them so I’ll get a dozen.
I got into the shed at the back of the Tower for some whiskey. I was glowing with all this excitement. For fu k’s sake! Imagine me forgetting that! The hundreds and thousands! So I had to go back to the bakery to get them! I took down the flypaper and put up a new one. There was no shortage of flypapers. There was a smell the dogs must have been in again so I had to go back up to the chemists now too. I took anything I could lay my hands on. I got perfume and air freshener and talcum powder and that got rid of it. You couldn’t have people coming into a house with a smell the like of that. The perfume and powder made a big difference. I stacked up all the cakes into a big castle ready to topple. House of Cakes. I squeezed da’s arm. Not long now, I says, whizzing up and down the kitchen and looking out the window down the lane. Still no sign. I drank some whiskey. Next thing what did I hear only the sound of a car door closing. Da! I shouted. I was all hot and red and bothered but it was great. There you are! I says as they all trooped in. They were all red-cheeked too with the snow speckled on their overcoats and their arms out will you look who it is they says Francie Brady a happy Christmas to all in this house! And who’s there at the front only Mary all smiles. Any sign of Alo? she says. She had a half pound bag of dolly mixtures with her. No, not yet Mary, I says but it won’t be long now. Do you know what Francie I just can’t wait to see him she says, I’ll bet you didn’t know I was in love with him. I’ll bet you didn’t know that!
That’s where you’re wrong, Mary, I said. I did know – I knew all along!
Twenty years in Camden this Winter now who’d have believed it the corks popped and we all got round the piano and waited for him. Just where has that brother of mine got to says da, dear oh dear but he’s an awful man! Give us a song Mary while we’re waiting he said right she says and flexed her fingers then away off into Tyrone Among The Bushes. I sang a bit of it then whiz away off to get another drink. I was just opening the bottle when who’s there in the doorway only Alo in his blue suit and the red handkerchief in his breast pocket. Alo, says da, the man himself and threw his arms around him. Let me look at you he says and then they were off into their stories. I’ll tell you a better one says Da, will you ever forget the time we robbed the presbytery orchard? Do you remember that Alo? Do I remember says Alo, will I ever forget? More tea, says I, and help yourselves to the cakes there’s plenty more. Alo put his hands on Mary’s shoulders and sang When you were sweet sixteen. Then what does Mary do only stand up and throw her arms around him. Oh, Alo, she says, I love you. I want you to marry me. Hooray and they all cheered and clapped. Is everyone all right for cakes I called from the scullery. That’s Alo! said da. Alo stood there holding Mary and looking into her eyes. I looked outside and the snow was coming down. I thought I heard the children playing outside but they couldn’t be it was too late. Right who’s for another song says Alo and cleared his throat. I was going to say more cakes anyone but I’d said that already. I wondered was the puddle in the lane frozen over. Of course it was. Mary was sitting on Alo’s knee stroking his face as he sang. The hum of the voices filled the kitchen. I flew round the place chatting to them all and saying more cakes are you enjoying yourselves isn’t it great to see Alo home? Ten men under him, I said. I clapped and clapped and cried hooray.
I didn’t know who the sergeant was at first. I just looked out and he was standing in the yard with his long raincoat on. He was staring in at me too. His face was kind of fuzzed like he was underwater. I just about knew it was him and no more.
Alo said to Mary: Just a minute and came over to me. He reached out and said: Its all right Francie.
I said Please Alo, can you help me?
But he couldn’t help me because it wasn’t Alo. It was Doctor Roche.
Oh Alo, I said. I didn’t see the others leave. They had gone without saying goodbye. I looked around for da but he was gone too. The flies were at the cakes on the piano.
I cold feel a cold hand touching me. It was cold as Da’s forehead. There were all kind of voices they went by like strands of smoke.
Alo, I said.
The sergeant was saying something to another policeman. He said: Maggots – they’re right through him.
The other policeman said: Sweet Mother of Christ.
Its all Francie said Doctor Roche. I didn’t mean to do any harm, I said. I know he said and he rolled up my sleeve. It was only a tiny pinprick and then I was lying back on a bed of snowdrops.
There you are said Joe, I was looking for you. I could hear the whisper of water close by.
Its the river, I said. Joe didn’t even turn around.
Of course its the river he says. What did you expect – the Rio Grande?
That fu king bastard Sergeant Sausage! He did it again! Had he nothing better to do than drive around the county dropping me in these skips? I think – ah I’ll just get out the car and durr-ive Francie Brady off to another kiphouse with a hundred windows how do you like it now, Francie? H’ho! H’ha! They’ll put manners on you there!
There was a stench of musty drawers and Jeyes Fluid mixed. The last thing I seen was Bubble standing by the window at the bottom of a long line of beds. He was flicking his fingers behind his back. Then he turned slowly and stared right at me. On his shoulders a huge alien’s head like a wasp. The funny thing was – it still looked like Bubble. You would know it was him even though it was a wasp with these furred tentacles coming out of it. Oh fu k! I cried out. I didn’t know whether to be afraid or not. He wasn’t moving. He was just standing there looking. I looked around to see if anyone else was afraid. But there was only me and Bubble I mean Father Alien. Then I fell asleep again. When I woke up he was gone and there was only a shaft of the most brilliant sunlight slanting in the same window. I could see the sharp edges and the outline of everything clear as crystal. Then I heard music. It was a song I knew. Whee-hoo! I couldn’t make it out right but I knew it was something to do with the snowdrop and the cries of the children playing in the lane. It kind of said: you might be wrong about all that Francie. Maybe all these things are beautiful and worth having. Listen to the music and you’ll see what I mean. It surged, it was music with wings. Bird Who Soars Music and what it said was nothing bad would ever happen again. It filled me with such ecstasy I skimmed the chimney pots over the town crying out for da and ma to tell them. Its going to be all right after all I cried. I could see the snowdrop on the ditch with my bird’s eye. The children were blobs of colour clumping about in enormous shoes below in the lane, setting the toy tea-things on a wooden crate. Tassels was hacking away at the ice on the frozen puddle. I spun sideways and the black hole that had been in the pit of my stomach was full of light. I landed on a branch and watched him for a minute. Then I says: Any sign of your pal Brendy? The man who’s in charge of the puddle?
He got some land when I said that. What does he do only drop stick and all and tear off down the lane. Hi! Hi! boys, he shouts do youse know what I seen up in that tree? A talking bird!
For fu k’s sake!
Another day him and Brendy were there and I says to them, What would you do if you won a hundred million trillion dollars?
Hmm says the other lad and puts his finger to his lips. They weren’t bothered now about me being a talking bird because they were used to me. I wanted to cheer. I lit off the branch and away off again into the sky and what colour was it?
It was the colour of oranges.
The next time I woke up the alien or the wasp or whatever it was was back again only this time with Leddy’s face. Well fu k this for a racket I said but it went on for a good while and there was nothing I could do about it.
One time I tried to get up out of the bed I was fed up with the way things were going but this big lad in a white coat and arms like tree trunks says ah ah not so fast and stuck me back in.
I was lying there for hundreds of weeks. Or maybe months. In the end the doctor came over to me and says: You can get up and move about now for a while now if you like. I went down to the window to see about this wasp-alien but there was no sign of him or it or whatever the fu k you’d call it. This old lad in a dressing gown comes over to me and closes one eye; You needn’t think you’ll pull the wool over my eyes you Cavan cunt he says. Before I had a chance to say I’m not from Cavan or sweet fu k all to him whiz he’s away off down the other end of the ward pointing at me and whispering behind his hand to this fellow with hair sticking up like burnt twigs. He was nodding away to beat the band. Oh yes. Yes indeed. That’s very true he was saying or something like that.
Some days I went off with the doctors to this room with two pictures in it John F. Kennedy and Our Lady. Well well we meet again I says and gave her the wink. You’re a long way now from the low field in the old school for pigs I says and she started laughing. They were all interested to hear about his. And who else did you see? Oh the whole shooting match I says. St Teresa of the Roses the lot. There was this specky lad looked like Walter the swot out of Dennis the Menace in the Beano he was mad to get information to write down. Scribble scribble away with his tongue stuck in the corner of his mouth. They couldn’t get enough of all these saints. Have you got a fag says I and I told them more. Me and Our Lady we go back a long way I said. Its not every shitehawk she’ll appear to you know. Yes yes indeed scribble scribble. Then they asked me about dreams. Did you have any dreams they said. O I did I says, I did indeed. More fags. And what did you dream about. Wasps says I, with Bubble’s face. Or Bubble with wasps’ faces. Then they started on about Bubble so I had to give them a whole lot about him. The worse it was the better they liked it so I put in a whole lot about Bubble stinging me and biting my head off Father Alien says you must die earthling dog! And then he laughed and all this. It was a good laugh. I know what I’d give Bubble if he tried that. fu k off Bubble you waspy bastard! I’d say. Just let him try it.
Let’s see you conquer the world now Father! That was a good one. I thought Walter was going to go off the edge of the table he was writing so fast. They asked me about Tiddly but I always brought them back to the funny bits about Bubble and the gardener. I started on him. I told them he had dead bodies in the boilerhouse but I don’t know if they investigated him. Maybe they sent Fabian of the Yard around. I thought that was good too so I told them more about it, young people from the town were mysteriously disappearing in the town and that it was him he was cutting them up with his graip and stacking them behind the boiler. But I must have made a hames of that for they didn’t want to hear any more about him all they wanted to do now was talk about Tiddly. O yes Father Sullivan is a very nice man, I says, its just a pity the Balubas put him in the pot. You liked the industrial school did you they said. Indeed I did, especially on Thursdays because we got two sausages each for dinner. You used to say Mass for Father Sullivan isn’t that right it is indeed. You liked him? I certainly did. A very holy man, I said, he prays to St Teresa of the Roses. Very good then they’d say well that will do for today. Other days they took me off to other garages and stuck me in a big chair with this helmet on my head and wires coming out all over the place. I liked that. That was the best of the lot sitting in that chair. And all these starchy bastards of students with clipboards gawking at you I hope he doesn’t leap up out of the chair and chop us up!
But I paid no heed to them I was too busy being Adam Eterno The Time Lord in that big chair. They could scribble all they liked I was away off through hyperspace. Hello there Egyptians I’d say pyramids and all. Adam can’t come today so its me instead – Francie from the Terrace. Good man Francie they’d say with these wee hats and snakes on them. Or Romans. Leave that Christian alone, lion, I’d say. Oh thanks thanks Francie says the Christian. No problem, pal then off I’d go to see how the cowboys were getting on.
Where do they be taking you says the old fellow with the eyebrow up. You needn’t think you’re not seen. Then he looks down to the other end of the ward and the other fellows there nodding away. I told him to travel through the wastes of space and time like in Dan Dare thats where they’re taking me and he looks at me. What? he says so I told him again and that didn’t please him at all. He got a grip of me by the jumper and he says: I knew it. I knew you were a Cavan cunt from the minute I set eyes on you. You needn’t think you’ll come in here to make a cod out of me. Go on you cur! he shouts, I took better men then you!
The tree trunks had to haul him off me. I dusted myself down and complained to them. This is a disgrace, I said, a person can’t walk around without being attacked.
Another day he comes over: So its a disgrace is it! Being attack-did is a disgrace.
Well – I heard, he says. They’re going to give you the treatment. There won’t be so much lip out of you when they take you off and put the holes in your head. Know what they do then? They take your brains out. I know! I’ve been here long enough. I seen the last fellow. He used to stand at the window all day long eating bits of paper. Do you like paper? Well you better start getting to like it. He won’t be so smart then he shouts down to Twighead at the bottom of the ward. He rubbed his hands with glee.
I had a good laugh at that. Taking your brains out, for fu k’s sake. But that was before I woke up one day and there’s Walter at the end of the bed talking away in whispers about me but I heard: Its best for him in the end! I knew it was no use saying anything to him. I ran out of the ward and went straight to the office. There was a meeting going on but I didn’t care. I told them: You can’t touch me! I said. You can’t lay a finger on me! I want out of here!
I made a run for it but it was no use. Now Francis and another jab in the arse it must have been a big jab this time all I could say was mm mm as they carried me down the stairs.
We can do it now says the doctor and holds up the syringe to the light. Yes indeed says Walter and looks at me then I look down and what has he got in his hand only a drill you’d use to put up shelves.
Can you move your head a little please Francis?
There. That’s better he said in a soft voice. Hand me the cotton wool please doctor.
Then there was a knock at the door and who pops his head in only Joe.
Is Francie here? C’mon Francie we’re ridin’ out. We’ve got to move fast!
A pony whinnied.
OK Joe I said and threw the white sheet off me.
That’s what you think says Joe and I could hear the blondie one laughing outside the door.
Joe, I called, Joe!
So you’re the Time Lord says the Roman, prepare to die and I swung away up hanging by the heel.
Joe I called again but the room was empty.
I could hear the hush of the sea.
I looked down and saw Mrs Connolly. She watched me swinging to and fro smiling away with her arms folded. Come on down out of that she says so down I got. The other women looked at me from the bottom of the shop. How are you today Francie Mrs Connolly said.
I’m fine I said.
Mrs Connolly folded her arms. Ah, she said and the women smiled.
I’ll bet you didn’t know Francie – I’ll bet you didn’t know I had something for you.
No Mrs Connolly I didn’t I said.
Aha but I have! she says. What do you think of that!
It’s good Mrs Connolly I said.
Ah isn’t he lovely she said again.
Are you going to sing a little song for me? Is he going to sing a little song for us ladies?
They said: Are you Francis?
A little song and the special prize is all yours! says Mrs Connolly.
She was hiding it behind her back.
Well – what are you going to sing? Will you sing my favourite for me? You know how much I like that one. Mm?
Yes Mrs Connolly I said.
I was just standing there with my knees together and my head down all shy. I was like something you’d see on a snakes and ladders board.
Horray!, said Mrs Connolly. Quiet now ladies! Away you go Francis!
I did a few Irish dancing steps that the nuns taught us hopperty skip round the shop and singing:
I am a little Baby Pig I’ll have you all to know
With the pinkest little floppy ears and a tail that curls up so
I like to trot around the town and have myself some fun
And I’ll be a little porky pig till my trotting days are done!
When I was finished I was all hot and out of breath thank you thank you says Mrs Connolly and the women clapping away: He’s better than the London Palladium!
Then Mrs Connolly put up her hand. Ssh, she says and out of nowhere a fat red polished apple.
Oh! the women gasped.
It just sat in the middle of Mrs Connolly’s palm.
What-do-you-think-of-that! she says with her eyes twinkling.
Its lovely, I said.
Would you like to have a bite of it? she said.
Yes Mrs Connolly I said, I sure would and nodding away I could taste it in my mouth already.
What do you say ladies? Will I give him a bite of it?
Then the women started mm mm well and all this and had a big discussion.
Yes, they said then – if he picks it up like a pig!
Mrs Connolly rubbed it on her sleeve and said: Well Francis – will you pick it up like a pig?
I said I would and she went down on one knee and rolled it slowly along the rubber mat. I tried to grip it with my teeth but down on all fours like that it was too hard to get at it. You’d think you had it then down it’d go again and every time it did the women cheered. Oh! they said, he’s dropped it again. Then they clapped and cheered and said: Come on Francie you can do it! But I couldn’t do it. It was too hard. Can I use one hand? I said. One trotter you mean, they said. Uh-uh, sorry. That’s against the rules. I don’t know how many times I dropped it. Ten or eleven maybe. In the end Mrs Connolly took pity on me and handed me the apple.
Ah you poor little pig, she says, God love you. Can you not even pick up an apple?
Don’t worry Francie!, the women said, its all yours now! Go on – eat it!
I didn’t want to eat it while they were looking at me but I had to. They kept saying: And another bite now!
They did that until I was down to the core. Then Mrs Connolly went over to the window and looked out. Here they come! she said and they all started talking together again about the weather and how hard it was to manage with the price of everything. I didn’t know who it was they were waiting for I just stood there watching the flesh of the apple browning in my hand. Then I looked up and saw who it was Ma and Da Pig standing there. The women went quiet when they came in and Mrs Connolly smiled over at ma. Then she coughed and dabbed her nose with a tissue. She leaned over to the woman beside her and whispered: We should see the father and mother of a row between these two in a minute!
They waited there looking them up and down. They were saying: Come on! Say something we want to see a row!
But there was no row. Ma and Da Pig didn’t say anything just stood there roast red, afraid to speak or look anyone in the eye. Oh please! Let there be a row! Mrs Connolly was thinking. She squeezed the tissue up in her hand.
We’ve waited here all this time for nothing – there isn’t going to be a row after all!
And there wasn’t. The row didn’t start until we got outside. Ma Pig was near to tears.
Why didn’t you do something? Why didn’t you say something? she cried.
Me? Da Pig snapped, why is it always me? He went hoarse arguing and he went from red to pure white. Then the two of them turned on me.
Why did you take the apple you stupid little pig? they said. I stuttered and stammered. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know why I had taken the stupid apple. The whole town was out to watch us going up Church Hill. Hello there Pigs, called Doctor Roche, that’s not a bad day!
He locked his car and went into the hotel saying: They’re a grand family those pigs!
There were so many people waving and calling to us that we were exhausted by the time we got to the Tower. There was nobody in the bar only us. There was a smell of old porter and a whiff coming from the men’s toilets, it was a bar of dead years. The barman knew it was us without even looking up he rubbed his hands with a cloth and said well pigs what can I get you?
Da Pig told him and he poured the drinks. He said it was a cold enough day. Da Pig said it was and nobody said anything more after that. There was a picture of a whiskery sealion balancing a bottle of stout on its nose I looked at that for a long time. Ma just sat there with her chin in on her chest afraid to look up. Every time Da Pig raised his little finger the barman filled up his glass. It was dark outside when he came back from the toilet. He clattered against the stool and the barman said: You’d be as well to get him home.
Yes, said ma, and the barman kept his eyes on us until we got up and took him out. Ma said try your best son then she put one of his arms around her shoulders and I took the other then off we went with his legs trailing and the two wee piggy eyes set away back in a ball of pink skin, and them all standing at their doors with their arms folded look there they go that’s them crossing the Diamond. Hey! Hey! Hullo! Pigs! Pigs! Yoo-hoo!
Ah look aren’t they great, the Mammy Pig, the Daddy Pig and Baby Pig, three little piggies huffing and puffing all the way home!
Will you forgive me I was going to say yes da but I was away off swinging by the heel again and the Roman soldier with the sword who was it only Leddy he flicked away the butt of his cigarette and said something to me but I couldn’t make out what it was then he just raised the sword and brought it down and cut me in two halves.
One half could see the other but they were both just dangling there on the meat rack.
Then who comes out of the shadows only Joe but he didn’t see me just walked on out through the doorway of the slaughterhouse into the light.
When I woke there’s Walter you’re going to be all right Francie he says and the nurse holds out more tablets. Doc, I said, that bastard down there says you’re going to put holes in my head. Your man must have heard me for I seen him away out the door like a light. There was no more Time Lord or any of that stuff after they gave me tablets. An odd time they’d take me down to the room and hand me bits of paper all blotted with ink. What do you think about that says the doc. You won’t be writing any more messages on that paper I says. Why not says the doc lifting the specs. Its destroyed I says, look at it. Hmm hmm. In the school for docs that’s what they taught them. Lift your specs and repeat after me – hmm hmm!
For a while I was all jiggy, stuffed up inside with hedgehog needles but the tablets must have done the trick for one day when I seen your man outside in the grounds I went after him. Hey, I shouts, cunthooks! He let on he didn’t hear me and starts walking real fast in behind the kitchens. But I went round the far side and what a land he got when he seen me in front of him. I’ll give you fu king holes in the head now you bastard! I said. I was only taking a hand at him I wouldn’t have done anything but what does he start then only all this stuff about Cavan people. There’s not one of them he says wouldn’t give you the last halfpenny out of their pocket. The best men ever walked in this hospital he says are the Cavan men! Then he looks up at me with these big eyes, you’re not going to batter me are you? But I wasn’t. I wasn’t going to do anything I was off to make baskets and paint pictures for that was what they had me at now. Only what I made, I don’t know whether you’d call them baskets or not. That’s a good basket says this fellow beside me not a screed of hair on his head. Then out of nowhere he starts on about women. What do they do he says they take you down a long garden path and away in behind a tree. Then they say do you remember the day you rang me on the telephone and I laughed and you laughed and then ma laughed and we were all laughing. That was a good day! That’s women for you!
It is, I says. Some basket it was he was making, I thought mine was bad. All bits of sticks stuck out of it all over the place. When we went to Mass what does he do when the priest is holding up the Eucharist. He stands up and shouts at the top of his voice – Good man yourself! Now you have it – run! Into the back of the net with her! By Christ this year’s team is the best yet!
You’ll have to take these says Walter then there won’t be a bother on you. It was like when the warden shakes hands with the prisoner and says goodbye at the gates and goes back in smiling thinking how great his job is until he hears the next day the prisoner has just chopped up a few more people. But it wasn’t like that at all for I had no intention of chopping up anyone. I was off home and no more about Cavan bastards or baskets or holes in the head or any of that stuff. I’d had it with all that carry-on. Me and Walter were shaking hands and for a minute I forgot myself and says in a deep Yank voice waal Doc I guess this is goodbye. I quit that fairly sharpish when I seen Walter looking at me and wondering should he change his mind and whip me back in for more tablets and maybe the drill this time. No thanks Walter. Well goodbye Francie, we’ll see you again soon. He said they’d be over to see me every month or so to see what I was up to. He said I’d be having a good few visitors over the next while to see what was going to happen. What, off to the school for pigs again I says, out to fu k with that Doc, I mean no thanks Doc. Ah no he says you won’t be going back there. Best thing to do is wait and see Francis. Right so Doc and off I went down the hill in the coach. Whee! I shouts, Take ‘ern to Missouri men and this old crab looks at me out from behind her Woman’s Weekly.
Go and shave your tache Missus I shouts and what a face! But what did I care! Wheee away down the hill and your mickey going man that’s great keep doing that.
Well I just couldn’t believe it. Pilchards? Not one to be seen. Flies? Gone forever. Tiles – you could see your face in them. And the smell of polish! The whole house had been cleaned, a million times cleaner than ever I could have made it! I went away off up the street and who did I meet only Mrs Connolly with a grin swinging between her ears like a skipping rope. Well Francis did you see the house? I certainly did Mrs Connolly I said. She touched me on the forearm and says don’t you worry your head now Francis, I’ll be in and out to give it the odd dusting for you.
I said thank you very much Mrs Connolly and what did she say then only ah God love you sure who have you now they’re all gone I thought what did she have to say that for what did you have to say that for?
I looked at her for a minute but then I said no I’ll say nothing I just said thanks again Mrs Connolly its very good of you to be so kind. Ah sure wouldn’t any decent neighbour do the same? she said and gives me this look you’d think she was dying for a shite but was holding it in. Once I seen her and the women talking to Mrs Cleary from the Terrace after she came home from hospital with the baby that looked like something out of a horror film. It had a claw instead of a hand. She was saying ah God love you to her too and tickling the baby inside the blanket saying sure isn’t she a lovely little baba altogether I’ll be down to the house this evening with them bits of clothes and odds and ends of our Sheila’s I promised you. All you could hear was Mrs Cleary saying thanks oh thank you very much I don’t know how many times she said thank you and Mrs Connolly ah sure not at all its the least we can do when Mrs Cleary went I heard her saying poor Mrs Cleary God love her I don’t think she knows what end of her is up half the time, I seen two of her other wains running about the street last night at eight o’clock and them with hardly a stitch on them!
She’s just not able, God love her, the other women said.
They all stood there looking after her as she went down the street then Mrs Connolly said its not right God forgive me I dread to think what my Sean would say if I came home from hospital with a thing the like of that!
And they just stood there, the three heads nodding away.
Hey! Hey! shouts the drunk lad when he seen me. He was counting change at the door of the Diamond Bar. He comes running over: All I need is three halfpence.
Sorry, I says, the Francie Brady Bank is closed. Eh? he says blinking in the light.
Closed for business I says and walked off.
Go on he shouts after me you’re only a baaaaaastard!
I walked round the house I don’t know how many times I liked the smell of the polish that much. Flowers and everything on the mantelpiece. I could see my face in the sink too. H’ho I thought, It’ll be a long time before there’ll be pilchards in that sink again! Yes sir! There’s gonna be a lot of changes round here!
Then what did I do only get myself all dressed up there was a white jacket in the window of the drapery shop like what you’d see Cliff Richard wearing and a shirt with one of these bootlace ties. I looked at myself in the mirror. The tie was real John Wayne style but I says there’s to be no more about John Wayne or any of that, that’s all over. Everything’s changed now its all new things. Then I brushed the jacket and headed down to the cafe.
I was going to go right in and say hello to Joe and them all sitting there and if they wanted me to sit beside them then all the better I would and I’d tell them and Joe everything that had happened in the garage and everything if they wanted me to that is. I’d say: Hello Philip – how are you getting on with the music?
He’d say fine.
Then I’d smile and sing a bit of the song: When you move in right up close to me!
I knew a good bit of it now from hearing it on the radio.
Then I’d get up and walk down to the jukebox. I’d lean over it for a minute and drum my fingers on the sides thinking over what I was going to put on. If the blondie one or the other one looked down at me I’d grin at her or maybe wink. Then the record would be selected and on it would come. I bought fags so that I would be able to flip one out for her when I sat back down again. You could just sit there thinking and looking at everybody passing outside on the street as the smoke curled up to the ceiling. You could mouth the words as you were sitting there. Shaking all over!, and then the guitar bit.
I didn’t even have to think about it, I just pushed the door it swung right open and in I went. I thought they’d be sitting over by the window under the Elvis Presley poster but there was just the owner in a nylon coat reading a newspaper there was nobody else there, all you could hear was the hissing of the coffee machine and someone rattling pans in the kitchen. Yes please says your man without even looking up. What?, I said I didn’t hear him at first then I said it’s all right I was just looking for somebody I don’t think he heard me either. I closed the door behind me and went back down the street. I went round to the carnival but there was no sign of them there either, there wasn’t a sinner about and nearly half the sideshows had been closed or moved on. They were playing the same Jim Reeves record over and over again and you could hardly hear it it was so scratched. I hung about the streets until nearly midnight but there was no one around. The only thing I seen was the drunk lad being thrown out of the Tower. He hammered on the door to try and get back in you could hear him all over the town. I turned and went home before he seen me but I didn’t sleep I just sat at the window looking out.
I went round to Leddy the next day. Where do you think you’re going in that get-up he says, you can clear off from about here. But I didn’t clear off I told him all about the garage and everything I couldn’t quit talking and in the end he got fed up he says go on then take that brock barrow and go off round to the hotel and collect what they have they must have plenty by now. Right Mr Leddy I says thanks for taking me back. There’s thousands wouldn’t he says and went off inside then off I went down the street whistling and wheeling my cart Francie Brady the Brock King of the Town. Hello there I’d say. Ah good man Francie. And not a bad day now. No thank God. And Francie you’re home. I am indeed. Ting-a-ling a-ling. Stone the crows its our old mate Francie! ‘Ello dearies! Pound o’mince, there you go! Cor luvaduck!
Who’s that gone by on the bike? What’s he talking about – ducks?
The next day I got dressed up again and went back down to the cafe I knew they’d have to be in sooner or later. I sat in their place and put the song on. I lit a fag and then I lit another one. It was good looking at the street through the twisty horns of smoke. I put the song over and over but there was still no sign of them. I smoked a good few fags. I smoked maybe twenty or thirty. I came back the next day and did the same again. And I came back the day after that. It was dark when I was going home. The owner was sweeping up. He was an Italian. He said: Ees quiet now. Not so much people around now. I said there wasn’t. He said it was no good in the town in the winter. I said Joe and the girls and Philip why are they not coming in?
He didn’t know who I was talking about for a minute. Then he breaks into a big smile. Ah, Joseph!, he says – and Philip! Yes yes yes!
Then he starts shaking his head and trying to poke a Kit Kat wrapper out from under the seat with the brush.
No, he says, I am afraid we have not seen them for a long time. They are away. They were good customers of mine. I miss them.
I said: What are you talking about, away? I don’t know, he says, away, that is all I know. I went to light up a fag but there was none left only an empty box. I said to him have you any fags no he says I do not sell cigarettes we are closing now please. I must have asked him for fags again.
He says: I told you! Cigarettes, I do not sell them! Now please! He opened the door.
One fag then, I says, I’ll give you a tanner.
Please! he says.
I kept thinking I was going to meet Joe or the blondie one or some of them on the street so I didn’t want to take the jacket off just in case. Leddy started into me over it – for the love of Christ he says and all this but I says what do you care what I wear all you care about is me collecting the brock as long as I do that what do you care if I come in in a cowboy hat! Oh for fu k’s sake! he says and in the end he just threw the fag into the gutter and says: Do it then do what you fu king well like I’m past talking to you God’s curse the day I took you in in the first place!
I said: Don’t worry, I’ll work twice as hard now that I’m back you won’t have any complaints about me Mr Leddy!
After that I didn’t wait for him to tell me to do anything. I was cleaning and hosing and chopping and sawing and packing, anything there was to be done it was done hours before Leddy knew it had to be done. I worked until the sweat ran out of me. Then when I was finished I’d be away off to see if I could see Joe for I said to myself that the cafe man was talking through his arse go back to Italy I said. A couple of times I thought I saw them but it was just some other girl with blonde hair. Every night I left the brock cart back in the slaughterhouse yard beside the Pit of Guts and locked up. There was one thing Leddy was right about and that was I had ruined my good jacket all right for when I was heeling a bin into the cart stew or some stuff went all over me. I was wondering should I go back down and clean it before I went near Joe’s for that was what I had decided to do I couldn’t stick the empty streets and the waiting any more. Then I thought: What would you want to clean it for – do you think Joe cares if your coat is a bit dirty? What are you talking about Francie – Joe Purcell? He’s your friend for God’s sake! He’s your best friend! I says what the hell am I at at all, thinking that about the jacket. You think some stupid things. It must have been my time in the garage I said. Then I went off down to Joe’s house.
There was a light on in the front room I thought Joe was probably at his books we could listen to records after what records do you want Joe I’ll get them. Cliff Richard! He was the only one I knew. But Joe would know plenty more it wouldn’t be long before I knew the whole lot. When you move in right up close to me! I says and pasted back my hair. I scraped off as much of the stew as I could then I knocked on the door grinning from ear to ear like I’d won the Sweep hello there Mr Purcell I said I was wondering if the man himself was in. Mr Purcell looked straight at me and jerked back a little bit then he said what? So I had to go and say it all over again. And he began to smile as if I was telling him a joke or something. He scratched his forehead and stared past me like he was trying to catch the attention of somebody passing on the other side of the street. Then he says: Sure Joe is away at boarding school he’s away in Bundoran at Saint Vincent’s College this past six months. I was going to say O of course that’s right I forgot about that but I couldn’t for this brr was starting in my head like the noise the telly used to make if you fell asleep at night watching it. So I didn’t say that at all and then the door clicked shut real soft, all these doors clicking shut and it was starting to rain.
I was still standing there watching the gutters fill up and wondering what I was going to do when I seen Mrs Connolly going by on the far side of the street with Mrs Nugent. She was carrying the umbrella and giving Mrs Nugent a good share of it so she didn’t get wet. They stopped at the hotel corner and I seen Mrs Connolly’s hand going up over her mouth. Mrs Nugent nodded away. She was saying: That’s right. Oh you don’t have to tell me Mrs Connolly! You don’t have to tell me!
Then they parted and there was nothing only the rain sweeping over the town and the fires glowing in the sitting rooms and the smell of frying and the grey jumpy rays of television screens behind the curtains.
I went out to the river it was bulging nearly ready to burst its banks you could be eyeball to eyeball with the fish. I was shivering with the cold and the wet. I pulled at the grass along the edge of the bank and counted all the people that were gone on me now.
When I said Joe’s name all of a sudden I burst out laughing. For fu k’s sake! I said, Joe gone! How the fu k would Joe be gone!
That was the best yet.
It was still raining when I called at Mrs Connolly’s house. The rain was dribbling into my mouth. When she opened the door I could smell rashers and I think chips. I could see them all inside sitting by the fire and they were eating scones I heard one of them saying anybody for scones? Me! I’ll have the whole plate if you don’t mind. But I didn’t say that I said nothing of the sort for I had business with Connolly. There was a barometer too, like Nugents. Mild weather it said, some barometer that was. She smiled at me and wiped her hands on her apron ah hello there Francie she said. Then up goes the what do you want eyebrow? I put my foot in against the door in case she’d try to close it before I was finished. The rain was all salty now it was in my eyes and it was getting on my nerves she says what can I do for you Francie and I says oh its just about my father ah yes your poor father she says may the Lord have mercy on his soul. She starts fiddling with her fingers and looking down when she said that so I said no no Have Mercy or any of that Mrs Connolly why did you not mind your own business this is the thing and she looks at me and starts stuttering. Mind my own business? What do you mean what are you talking about? I said you know very well what I’m talking about and she tries the Mrs Nugent trick pushing a tear out into the eye nobody did more for your poor father than me Francie I made all the arrangements for the funeral when nobody else would I cleaned and scrubbed God knows I did and my husband says what were you doing that for and I did it because I had pity on your dear departed father God rest him nobody knows the work that I put into that house. Then she starts sniffling and I says who asked you to clean that’s the trouble with the people in this town they can’t mind their own business can they they can’t mind their own fu king business!
I raised my voice when I said that and then who’s standing there only some lad with a moustache I don’t know who he was what does he say you he says the best thing you can do is get away from this house as fast as you can before I do this before I do that all these things he was going to do. I told Connolly to keep away from our house if I seen her back near it it wouldn’t be good for her and I meant it. Moustache took a swipe at me when I said that but I managed to get a hold of his wrist and I held it good and hard until I was finished saying what I had to say to say you just stay out of my way Connolly its nothing to do with you and it never was and I’ll tell you another thing I says I’ll tell you another thing! There was snots on her nose and she was blubbering please please. Moustache was half-bent over, I never saw anyone look so stupid with his hair hanging down in his eyes he didn’t know what to say fu k off or I beg you to leave me alone, so in the end he said nothing just hung there like a halfwit all red because of his big talk. I’ll tell you another thing Connolly I said I don’t want any of your apples either! Do you hear me – I don’t want any of your apples! I don’t need any of your fu king apples!
Then I let go of his wrist and said you remember that and I left the pair of them standing I wanted no more to do with them. I went off through the town. I wasn’t too sure what I was at, I kept thinking that’s Connolly dealt with what will I do now. But there was nothing much else I could do so I went off and bought some fags. I lit one and stood there smoking it. Then all of a sudden I heard Joe calling me from the alley near the cinema. Joe! I said and dropped the fag Joe I says is that you? Francie c’mere a minute he said but when I went over there was no sign of him. Then what did I see only the Nugents car going by skitting water onto the footpath and Mr Nugent leaning over to wipe the windscreen holding the pipe in the other hand. Mrs Nugent was driving. I didn’t know she could drive. Next thing the car slows and pulls up outside Purcells. I went round the back and stood on the far side of the road behind a parked lorry to see what was going on. Before Mrs Nugent got out she rooted around in the back and took something out a box or something. Then Mr Nugent rang the bell.
Philip wasn’t there. Where was he? Then there’s Mr Purcell and Mrs Purcell looking over his shoulder ah hello there this is a surprise. After that what does Nugent do only hold up the box I could see it better now it was all wrapped up it wasn’t a box at all it was a present. When I looked again the door was closed and the light was on in the front room. I could see Mr Nugent handing glasses around and throwing back his head someone was telling a funny story. Oh now, he said, I couldn’t hear him but I knew by his face that was what he was saying. All I could hear was rain gurgling from a broken downpipe behind me and in the end I could stick it no longer. When Mr Purcell opened the door he was bleary-eyed and rubbing them and he was in his pyjamas and dressing gown whatever he was at now. I could hear Nugent inside who is it who is it. Someone had turned the light off in the front room I don’t know which of them it was. There wasn’t a sound in the place. I said to him what’s the party for Mr Purcell and he says party what party. The party, I says, the present and all. Party he says I don’t know what you’re talking about. I said to him look Mr Purcell I just wish you’d stop all this I just want to know if its something to do with Joe that’s all is it a coming home party is that what it is? But he wouldn’t tell me he just kept saying what party and what are you talking about or what is wrong with you. I think that was it I knew then that he wasn’t going to tell me anything and when I heard Mrs Purcell who is it who is it or what on earth is going on its one o’clock in the morning and I just said I’m sorry Mr Purcell I’m fed up with people interfering and not telling me things all I asked you was to tell me about the party and you won’t tell me well that’s all right Mr Purcell its your house but you didn’t have to tell me lies. He says I didn’t tell you lies!, but I didn’t want to hear any more of it I said you did Mr Purcell I’m sorry but you did. I said you never used to do that Mr Purcell I used to be able to call down for Joe and you would say sure he can come out and play with you Francie why couldn’t he? You never told me lies or anything like that in them days its true isn’t it?
His face changed it got all sort of pained and I liked him then it was like the old Mr Purcell he was trying to tell me something but he didn’t know how. But it didn’t matter for I knew what it was he was trying to say. It was all OK until she came along wasn’t it Mr Purcell? It was fine until Mrs Nugent started interfering and causing trouble. That’s the only reason she’s giving you presents – isn’t it Mr Purcell?
I looked him straight in the eye and I said: Its true isn’t it?
His eyes looked kind of sad and he said: Francie.
I knew he wanted to say something else to me but couldn’t because he knew Mrs Nugent was listening inside the sitting room.
I put my finger to my lips. I wanted him to know that I understood. He rubbed over his eye as if he had a headache and I knew by the way he looked at me it was his way of saying sorry. I smiled. It was good of Mr Purcell to do that. I had known all along the Purcells hadn’t meant it to happen the way it did.
If only the Nugents hadn’t come to the town, if only they had left us alone, that was all they had to do.
I didn’t go home I walked around all night thinking what I was going to do. I slept for a while in the chickenhouse a thousand eyes wondered who’s this sleeping in our woodchip world chick chicks I was going to say its me Francie but I was too tired.
When I woke up would you believe it the flies were at me now. fu k off away from that stew I said and bam, got three of the bastards, two black splats on the lapel of my jacket, what do you think of that boys, I mean flies.
I HAD TEN BOB SO I WENT ROUND TO THE CARNIVAL TO THE shooting gallery. All you had to do was get three bullseyes in a row and you got the goldfish. There was a whole bunch of them swimming around with their bony mouths going here we are here we are. I steadied the butt against my shoulder and pulled the trigger ping!, I missed with the first one but everybody does, I thought the rifle range man was looking at me and thinking: That wasn’t much of a shot. I turned around to give him a dirty look but he had his back to me and was talking away to some woman. Now I’m right I said, here wo go, three bullseyes in a row. I wonder how long it took Nugent to get them probably spent a fortune. Here we go I said but I missed again. I don’t know what was wrong. I got a fifty but that was no good. I said to the rifle man: You have these guns rigged haven’t you?
I knew that was what they did. They bent the barrel a tiny bit off so you would never hit the bullseye. You made sure to give Philip one of the good ones didn’t you, I said. What? he says and starts laughing. I was going to go round to Leddy and ask him for another ten bob but then I thought: Why the fu k should I? Joe Purcell doesn’t care if I bring him a goldfish. I said to myself: What the fu k are you at Francie – goldfish?
The rifle man had his hands spread on the counter staring at me: Well do you want another go or don’t you?
I started laughing. No, I don’t. You and your goldfish, I said. You and Philip Nugent are well met.
I must be going soft in the head I thought, worrying about goldfish. When I walked into that old school in Bundoran to see Francie, what was he going to say? Oh hello Francie – I hope you brought the goldfish!
He was. He was in his eyeball! Me and Joe had better things to do with our time than worry about goldfish.
Goldfish! we said, fu k off!
I went up to the convent school and took a bike from the shed the girls always left them behind. I lit a fag and hopped up on the saddle. I says to myself: So the John Wayne stuff is over is it? We’ll soon see about that! Indeed we will! Puff puff and the fag goes flying over the ditch. Freewheel freewheel tick tick tick and away off down Church Hill. Take ‘em to Missouri, men! Ting-a-ling-a-ling! Ting-a-ling-a-ling!
Off into the wind puffing fags and whistling away – My old man’s a dustman he wears a dustman’s hat! Hello there dandelions, fu k off! Chop go the heads with a cut of the stick excuse me just what do you think you’re doing clip clip chop chop aaargh! what the fu k is going on where’s our heads? Hee-yup!, I said and away again. An old woman emptying tea leaves into a drain hello there young fellow did you hear any more news she says. Any more news I says more news about what? Ach!, she says and scratches her backside, the communists ah says I what would I know about communists h’ho you won’t be saying that when Mr Baldy Khruschev presses the button. And he’s going to press it. Make no mistake!
She closed one eye. You think he won’t?
She started laughing away to herself oho yes but I’m afraid its too late them that hasn’t their peace made its no use them running whinging now. I told them that below in the shop get out the beads now says I for this time next week it’ll be too late. We’re not afraid of Khruschev they says. But be Christ they’re afraid now! Its no joke now me son! she says. Come on in and we’ll say the rosary and then you’ll have a mug of tea before you set off on your travels!
Right missus I said and down we went on our knees. Thou O Lord wilt open my lips she says please dear Jesus save us from all harm don’t let the world come to an end. She had her eyes closed she passed no remarks on me all I said was mm mm and icky backy wacky talk like what I used to do for Tiddly. In the name of the father and of the son and of the Holy Ghost Amen she says and says you’re a very holy boy son now sit up there till I stick on this kettle right ma’am says I. This is a grand house I says to myself. Black kettle on the hob and a settle bed in the corner and looking out from under it Mr Chinese Eyes the cat glaring what are you doing here who the hell asked you in fu k off from about here this is my house! Here you are now she says man dear I said that’s the best cut of bread ever and sank my teeth into it, gurgle more tea into the cup. Come on now she says there’s more where that came from and maybe something a wee bit stronger when you’ve finished that if you’re able for it. Then off she goes chuckling under the stairs and comes back with a bottle in a brown paper bag. You’ll have a drop she says the cat was in a bad way when he heard that. When we had that drank we took more. Where are you off to she says Bundoran says I. Bundoran, she says, where the fleas ate the missioner!
Have another drop me son, its not the first time a sup of John Jameson passed your lips.
Then she throws open the window and shouts out: Go on Khruschev you baldy fu ker! JFK is the man for you!
She told me she had six daughters and a son called Packy in England. He did well says I, he has a big job, hasn’t he? He has, she says, oh our Packy did well for himself but how did you know that? Ten men under him says I and off she went looking for more whiskey all delighted and banging into things. I’m off to see Joe Purcell says I, Joe Purcell she says and who would he be. You can’t beat a good friend she says, that was the first day I met him the day at the ice says I. You’re the lucky man she says, there’s not many of us in this world has friends the like of that. I know says I. Well there you are so you’re off to see him now well more luck to you I wish I had a friend the like of that instead of that humpy get there standing at the door. What? says I and when I looked round who was standing there only this farmer in turned-down Wellingtons pulling at his cap well he says that’s that they’ve said no by this time next week there won’t be a bullock left standing in that field we’ve had it every man woman child and beast in this townland!
It was just as well he turned up for when I looked out it was starting to get dark be the fu k says I its time I was off. The farmer looks at me and her with his mouth open. Good luck now ma’am says I all you could hear was indeed I did have aglasheen of whiskey and neither you nor Baldy Khruschev nor anyone else’ll stop me!
I nearly ran into the ditch three or four times look out says I but there wasn’t a sinner to be seen Khrushchev hasn’t much work to do about this place its done already I said next thing down the hill whee and off out into the open country again cows looking over ditches, where are you off to Francie mind your own business you nosey heifer bastards, watch out dandelions here I come! I couldn’t stop laughing with all the whiskey inside me and the wind in my face and the pebbles skitting on all sides end of the world I says what are they talking about this is the beginning of the world, not the end.
Am I right Joe?
Yup! Francie boy says Joe.
Khruschev hadn’t much work to do in Bundoran either all you could see was two bits of newspaper wrestling in the middle of the main street, one boat in the harbour and nothing in the carnival park only a caravan with no wheels and a skinny mongrel tied to a fence. The houses were grey and blue and wet and in a sulk for the winter. Boo hoo nobody comes to stay in us any more. I wondered where it was they said the rosary. I dropped a spit into a rock pool, spidery tentacles and all these coral colours shifting in there. Are you prepared to live on potatoes and salt for the rest of your days, Annie? Is that the best you can offer a girl Benny Brady?
They were lying there on the candlewick bedspread and they could hear people drifting home from the dancehall until it got bright. Outside the window the sea ssh ssh was all you could hear. I knew what the boarding house was called. Over the Waves. I didn’t know where it was but did that matter? Ting-a-ling! It wouldn’t take old Mr Snort long to find a boarding house, no sir. Excuse me sir I need your assistance with a small matter. Yes my dear fellow how can I help you?
Algernon Carruthers. Tick tick tick whee along the beach shingle clattering against the spokes. Frawnthith my boy I do believe its time we ate.
I went into the hotel and sat down all plink plonk xylophone sounds and cutlery rattling far away. Well says the girl what would you like everything I says. What do you mean everything I says rashers eggs sausages beans and tea all that. She scribbles in the notebook. You’re a hungry customer she says. I am, I said, sticking the napkin into my collar, I could eat a live hen.
There was a businessman with a bald head and glasses sitting down the other end. He looked like Humpty Dumpty’s brother. I thought maybe he was in town leading the investigation. I know who did it! I seen them pushing your brother! I’d tell him. But he was leading no investigation. He was just reading the Irish Times. I could see what was on the front of it from where I was sitting. Crisis in Cuba – New Fears. New Fears? That was a laugh. I never felt better. If they said to me: Go on out and shoot all the communists for us Francie! I would have said: Sure bud. I says to Humpty: I’m the man to do it! I’ll knock a bit of sense into them. Oho yes! Make no mistake about that! He lifted his glasses and looked down at me. I think I must have looked a bit of a sketch with the stew and all on my good jacket and the smell of brock I don’t know if he could get that or not. But I could get it myself so I’d say he could. But what did I care? Brock? What has that got to do with it now? fu k Brock!
I wanted to leap into the air like Green Lantern or the Human Torch and land at Humpty’s table. OK Humpty let’s talk about your brother! I want the lowdown on these communists and I want it now!
But that was time enough. I didn’t want to give old Humpty a heart attack. I stuffed the napkin into my collar and says: Oho but they’re the curs, they’re the bad wicked animals but Humpty never let on he heard me. But they’ve met their match this time. Oh yes, yes indeed. They’ve gone too far this time! John F. Kennedy. I said it like John Wayne, John Ayuff Kennedy. Yup! I said, they shore hay-yuv!
He gave the newspaper a stiff shake and up goes the glasses will you please keep quiet can’t you see I’m trying to read.
The girl brought his breakfast and he folded up the newspaper what does he do then only lick his lips. Ah! he says, all delighted now. Then I pointed to it and laughed I says a good feed you can’t beat it but he didn’t say anything all I could hear was the clink of his fork munch munch.
Then I said: This is the place! This is it!
He looks at me with a rasher wobbling in front of his nose.
This is the place what? he says.
Where they spent their honeymoon of course!
What do you mean, honeymoon? Where who spent their honeymoon?
He hadn’t a clue what I was talking about so I had to tell him the whole story right from the start.
I see he says and kept on looking at me but I knew he wasn’t listening to the story half the time. So there you are, I says. Now I have to find the boarding house where they stayed. Over the Waves it was called. Do you know where it is?
No, he says I know nothing about this town I’m only here on business.
I was going to say all right all right there’s no need to lose the head Humpty but I didn’t get a chance for next thing up he gets and wipes his mouth and away off muttering with half the breakfast still lying there on the plate after him. That was a lot of use. Then the girl came back so I asked her. She said she didn’t know but she could find out. I suppose you’ll be here for a while she says looking at the big pile of stuff on the plate. Now you said it I said and started into it with the fork. I was scraping up the last bit of egg when she comes back with the manager. I understand you’re looking for someplace I know Bundoran like the back of my hand. Where’s Over the Waves I says bedad now and you have me there he says and scrunches up his face and starts all this scratching. I’ll tell you what though, I could find out for you. I got more tea and then back he comes with this old lad he must have been about a hundred years of age. This man knows every mountain in Donegal, he says and your man looks at me with a face on him: I’m famous!
Yes! he says, Its true I do know every mountain in Donegal! whatever good that was, knowing mountains. But I didn’t care he could know about any mountains he wanted all I wanted was the boarding house. When I said Over the Waves his face lit up aha! he says don’t I know it well, I pass it every day on me way down from the post office. There you are! beams the manager, what did I tell you and the girl in behind him saying don’t forget me now like a magician’s assistant.
The old lad hobbled along beside me on the esplanade he was a bit like the gardener in the school for pigs for he was all talk about Michael Collins too except that he said he was the worst bastard ever was put on this earth because he sold out the country. Now you said it I said, and what about De Valera? When I said that he was away off again but I wasn’t listening to a word he said.
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