But everything else was fucking torture. I had pain pills in hospital to keep the daggers from coming back, but once I was sent home it was up to me to keep myself clean and packed with gauze, changed twice daily, and each time I removed the gauze it was like pulling my flesh away, again. Mam had to buy me some y-fronts to keep everything in place. It was another week before I could return to school and four before I could walk like a normal lad, again. Naturally, I fell behind in my coursework, even with Father Pat dropping it by on a daily basis and picking up what assignments I’d finished.
But when the neighbor ladies heard I was at home and available, they began dropping by their appliances for fixing -- toasters and waffle griddles and clocks and vacuum cleaners and old radios and the like -- and I focused on those instead of history, and I made near ten pounds the first week. In fact, when I had my two-week examination and the doctor said I could return to school, I popped off with, “What for, when I’m making a fine living now?”
Mam flicked me in the back of head and snapped, “You’ll do as you’re told, and that is that.” And so it was.
But from that point, I did only the minimum necessary to get by till I was sixteen and could decide for myself. I’d seen the course of my future, and it wasn’t taking the “A” levels and going to Oxford, that was a certainty. And surely enough, word got around at how my hands were poetry with the electronics, and that a transistor radio sounded better after I’d worked on it than it did when it was new, and that when I replaced the tubes in a telly, they stayed replaced. And it made me feel good to know people were happy with what I could do.
I even began working on cars. I started with Willie Pringle’s A35 van. The handbrake assembly broke but I was able to rebuild it with parts from a wrecked one to the point it never broke, again. Only took me one evening, and I shrugged off studying for an algebra exam to do it. Still got a decent grade, but had I studied I’d have done better...and Mam let me know it for days.
But Willie, the first time he set the handbrake, he busted a smile and kept resetting it and releasing it, over and over till I said to him, “Have a care, Willie; you’ll need it fixed again.”
“No, Bren,” he said. “It feels solid and strong, better’n when I bought this pile of shite ten year ago, and new at the time.”
I patted the bonnet -- uh, the hood -- and said, “Now you see, there’s your problem. You treat the van like it’s worthless. Speak kindly to it and you’ll never have troubles, again.”
He gave me a wary look and said, “That spell in hospital -- are ya sure it wasn’t for the head on your shoulders?”
So -- that was the craic around the neighbors over Brendan Kinsella, and I wasn’t the least surprised, the old cows. Well, if that's how it's to be -- I widened my eyes and said, “You should hear what I say to the toaster as I’m about to make a soldering. ‘This’ll hurt only a moment, and then you’ll be all better’.” And I laughed.
Willie hesitated then saw I was making sport of him and joined in. “You’re daft.”
He paid me five quid and drove off, and I hid three of ‘em in my y-fronts. Sure enough, when I went inside, Mam asked, “How much did you charge him?”
“Just a couple quid, Mam. He’s a mate.”
“You know nothing about money. Hand ‘em over.” I gave her the two pounds in my hand and she dropped them into her purse then looked out the kitchen window into our tiny square back yard, and it was a stretch to call it that. “Now set the table for supper. Mairead!” she called out. “Get the wains and come on in, now!”
“Eamonn’s not home, yet, Mam!” she called back.
“And won’t be until late, so he’ll make do with it warmed over.”
Eamonn had been out much, lately, running with a pack of lads from Creggan and thereabouts. And not the ones you’d think. These lads were clean and neat in their latest fashions, but not silly like the London crowd. Seemed more university-bound than anything. In fact, it was because he’d taken up with them that he’d been talking of moving on to Sixth Form and trying for his “A” levels then off for his degree in Belfast. Much as I’d thought him as big a slug as Da, he’d gone and achieved marks good enough to make him eligible, while I’d be lucky to make it through Fifth form. Struck me as odd, but I figured if he was happy with it, fair play to him.
So that night, after everyone was a-bed I heard him sneaking in. I was tinkering with Mrs. McDermott’s alarm clock -- she’d wound it too tight, again, which was easy to repair, but I didn’t want Mam to know about it so I could keep the full shilling I’d been promised -- but it was near midnight when he came creeping into the room. He saw me at the window and froze. I showed him the clock and my screwdriver so he relaxed and set into removing his clothes. “Mam know you’re up?”
I snorted at him and turned back to the clock. “Your supper’s in the oven, probably very dry.”
“I put it away. We had fish and chips brought in.”
“How’d you pay for it?”
“John Hume did.”
“Aw -- he’s a teacher. Helped set up the Derry Citizens’ Action Committee.”
“I hear they’re IRA.”
“Everything geared at civil rights is, if you listen to the RUC and -- . Aw, fuck it. But I talked with him, told him I’d applied for Queen’s; he thinks I should try for Trinity College, in Dublin.”
“I hear they’re good.”
“One of the best.”
“Mam won’t like that, you being off to university so far away.”
“Won’t she?” He sat beside me to watch as I fastened the last bit and checked the winder; it was just right. He shook his head, pulled out this beauty of an apple and his knife and started cutting off chunks to eat. “You’re bloody good at that.”
“Dunno why people make such a fuss,” I said as I screwed its back plate on, actually feeling very proud, deep within. “It’s like a, b and c.”
“Not for everyone.” He gave me a slice of the apple. It was bright and sweet and juicy, near perfect. “Who’s teachin’ you all this?”
“Nobody. I just see how it comes apart, see how it goes back together, and then it works.”
“And you’d be happy doing this, wouldn’t ya?”
“There’s a future to it. Things’ll always need fixing.”
“What about when computers take over? What then?”
“They’ll need fixing, too, at times.”
He wrapped an arm around my head and hugged me close, chuckling, then popped another bite of apple into my mouth. “C’mon, son, let’s to bed.”