I'm sort of written out, today. I was inputting changes and notes I'd made when this started popping out...and I almost think it's in the wrong chapter but at the same time, I like the free-association aspect that's behind it. This is late Spring in 1970, when Brendan's 14 and has begun to shift his direction away from that followed by his friends.
Since there was nothing left in the shop to do, I was let off early to give me time to run some errands for Mam and be home for curfew -- at least, that was the excuse I gave Mr. Green. In fact, I’d been promised a bob if I could fix Mrs. Farrell’s telly and I wanted to stop off at her place to give it a look, for from the sound of it the picture tube was gone and she’d not like the cost of replacing it.
“Dr. Wells is the only one set to pick up his car this evening, sir,” I said to Mr. Green as I washed up. “And you might mention to him, if he wouldn’t ride the brake with his left foot, the pads would last much longer.”
“It’s that or the clutch,” he shrugged back, meaning he’d not say a word and in a year we’d be working on the brakes, again. I made a note to speak to the doctor, myself.
Then I ran up the street to Mrs. Farrell’s flat. Halfway there, I noticed Father Pat’s car in front of St. Agnes and thought it odd, since he was supposed to be in Dublin. That's what he'd told me when I'd prepared his car for the drive down -- changing the oil, testing the brakes and all the lamps, making sure the tyres were at their proper pressure. It may have been an old Ford but it was well-kept. Anyway, I shrugged it off and headed on.
Mrs. Farrell’s one of those older ladies who smells of flowers and has four cats, only one of which liked me -- this little black tom with a white patch under his left eye. As I sat in the back of the telly, testing everything, he curled himself in my lap and watched with rapt attention, purring happily in exchange for the occasional scratch behind an ear. The others just glared at me from under the settee. She gave me tea and a couple biscuits that were hard as rock, they were so old, but dipping them in the tea made 'em soft enough to eat and they turned out to be quite tasty. Still, I made a note to have Mairead bring her some fresh ones when next she made them. That’s all she did was cook, now she was expecting, and I smiled at the thought that Terry’s had to have his pants let out a bit.
I had a bit of luck with that telly; all it needed was a couple new tubes and a touch of solder to reattach a connector.
“Are you certain, Brendan?” she asked in her slightly shaky voice. “I won’t have to buy a new one, will I?”
“I doubt it, Mrs. Farrell,” I said, the little tom climbing across my shoulders, his nails digging in just enough to hang on while not enough to hurt. “Fixed, it’s good for another year.”
“Excellent. That will give me time to save up some money. Perhaps you’ll be able to find me a good one, second hand.”
“I’ll start keeping an eye out, after Twelfth Night.”
She smiled and then trusted me with a tenner to buy the tubes and I told her if McClatchey’s had them, I’d come back straight off to replace them.
But the McClatchey’s being themselves, they said they’d have to order the tubes, so I considered hopping over to Spencer’s on Irish Street since I knew they’d be in stock there...and it would give me excuse to see Joanna...but it was getting dark from a threat of storm so I put it off till the next day and headed home. I had no interest in dealing with the Paras or the RUC in the middle of a rain, and there was a strong possibility if any of them found that tenner on me, it’d vanish into their pocket and I didn’t want the responsibility of having to replace it. Tomorrow I’d have my school satchel with me and could hide it, in there.
Halfway back, I ran into Colm and Paidrig headed for the pitch with a football.
“Oy, me China,” Paidrig called, and I grinned and waved. He was the only one who still called us by that, now Davey was gone to the Waterside and since it’d been his book we’d read what seemed like so many years ago. The name conjured up too many memories for us all, all but Paidrig, who still thought it cool. He always was a bit simple in things like that. “Ya coming?”
I shrugged and nodded, and jogged over to join them. My shirt and trousers were messed with grime from the shop, but f I got them wet and muddy at football, Mam wouldn’t mind nearly so much. She was funny about that. If I come home filthy from working on a car, she’d go on to no end about how much of a bother I was to her; but from football or hurling, she’d query me on how the game went. Yet she wouldn’t listen to any of the football games on the transistor.
“They talk too fast and I can’t picture what they’re doing,” she’d snapped at me when I’d bothered her about it.
“Then let’s see a game at Brandywell, Mam,” I’d said in answer. It's where Derry City played.
“And who’s going to pay for it?” she’d huffed back. “You can’t get in for free -- .” Then she’d stopped and looked at me. “Or have you?”
I kept silent, for I’d suddenly realized I was close to offering to buy her a ticket when I’m not supposed to have any scratch on me. Better she thought me a sneak.
What had surprised me was, she’d smiled. Oh, she tried to keep it hid but I saw it, clear as day, and then she’d said, “Well, nice to know you’ve some of me in you, after all.”
Of course, that set my mind to wondering, so I’d written Aunt Mari asking about it, but first swearing both her and myself to secrecy, forever. I didn’t want Mam to think I was off finding stories to tell about her; that would really kill her momentary good opinion of me. Didn’t matter; all Aunt Mari wrote back was, “Let’s just say neither of us was a perfect angel, not like you.”
That was a month prior to Mam nearly kissing me when she thought I kiped the Johnstons album from Wellworth’s, and since then anytime she had the notion I’d done no good, she was happiest with me. I never understood it, but I never let on different.
It was only recently that I’d begun to see, living with Da had been difficult, at best. Having to figure out how to feed a growing brood of wains while dealing with the condescending bastards in the Corporation, who ran everything with the utmost sanctimony while doing all they could to prove Catholics were no better than vermin so worth nothing in the way of human treatment -- it would have made a saint spit. Thanks to Da’s habit of having a binge the day the dole came through, the only reason we’d all grown up without hunger affecting our abilities was through Mam grabbing half the money and refusing to let go of it in the face of Da’s fists, and the kindness of Father Demian. It was little enough the Catholic Church gave us, to be sure, but was still better than starving.
Of course, with Da gone and Mam having the full dole in her possession, the church stopped her assistance and we were as close to disaster as before, so more than once I’d gotten the impression Mam had gone to market and come home with a few more potatoes or carrots than she’d actually paid for. That's when I'd begun handing over half what I made while telling her it was everything.
I think I was a bit brassed off at how Mam let Eamonn quit working to focus on qualifying for A-Levels, so what he'd made on the harbor ended and I was expected to take up the slack, as it were. But then I'd seen how well Eamonn was doing...and seen how unlike Da he was becoming...and when he'd headed off to Queen's, I'd quietly handed him fifty quid. He'd just shaken his head in wonder at me and said not a word to Mam. I was proud to have been able to do it.
Now he was due home from Queen's College within the week, and the impression I was getting was that he would not return. He'd stuck out the attitudes and harassments but lately had begun to speak of Trinity in Dublin, and I knew things had to be getting bad for him to be giving up.
But these thoughts were mere flashes in my mind as I joined Colm and Paidrig and we headed for what was left of the cricket pitch. Mere flashes till I saw Father Pat drive past us on Creegan, looking grim. And I thought I caught a glimpse of Father Demian with him, but that couldn't be. He was supposed to be in America, though I'd also heard he was really in England.
And then I saw Danny up the road, standing by a lamp post, smoking in quick jerky puffs, and the first thought that hit was, "Jesus, he looks like he's seen a ghost."
PS -- I'm now at 100,839 words, 447 pages...and that's with me cutting some. Kewl.