Derry, Northern Ireland

Derry, Northern Ireland
A book I'm working on is set in this town.

Monday, January 23, 2012


This immediately follows the section I posted in the previous post.
In January, we were all caught playing rugby on a torn up lot by a sheeting rain so had run up to my home since it was closest. Mam was off to light a candle for Da’s soul (as she’d told me, Mairead, Eamonn, our neighbors, the Raffertys, and every other person she’d seen as she left). Eamonn was out with his mates, Mai had popped down to Henshaw’s to shop for supper, Maeve with her, and Kieran was sleeping, so the only part of my family I had to contend with was Rhuari, who sat on a chair, shivering and saying nothing. We were all a sight, wet and muddy, but I knew how to light the gas range, so we laid out in the kitchen to dry off. Then I made tea and shared a tin of biscuits.

As it was, Colm had a paper book in his back pocket; his brother’d sent it to him from Boston. It was wet and a bit torn but not too badly so. The title was “Borstal Boy”, about an IRA lad’s time in a boys’ jail, and he read the first pages to us as we shared a smoke off Gerry (he’d slipped some fags, cigarettes, from one of his Da’s packs). He was doing fine, just stumbling over the odder words, but he stopped when Paddy was taken off to jail.

“Starts out well enough,” I said. “Keep on.”

“You read it,” he said, “The writer’s got your name.” Then he added with a wicked grin, “But he pronounces it Br-br-br-brendan when he’s scairt.”

“I don’t stutter,” I snapped back at him.


“You make a nice cuppa, Bren,” said Eammon, cutting in. “Thanks.”

I just nodded to him.

"Go on readin'," said Danny. "Sounds like an IRA tale."

“Naw, it just keeps on and on,” said Colm. “He goes to borstal and gets to be friends with this Brit named Charlie and they call each other China, after a bit. You know why, Bren?”

“No,” I said. “Why?”

“No, I’m askin’,” Colm said.

Which got Paidrig in on the confusion. “Why would they call each other that?” he asked.

“How’s it written?” asked Danny. “Is he angry when he says it?”

“Fine, here,” Colm said, flipping through the pages. “He says...uh, here – ‘sticking up for your china’.”

“Away on, Colm,” I said. “Sounds like just another word for mate.”

Which made Paidrig even more confused. “But one’s English, the other’s Irish; they ain’t from China. Are they?”

I laughed as Colm rolled his eyes and said, “That’s why I’m askin’ Bren. Maybe he can figure it.”

“Why me?”

“You read.”

“Not that much.”

“Then ask your brother if he would. Maybe he can tell if Charlie’s Chinese.”

“Sounds bloody stupid to me,” said Paidrig.

“Peter Rabbit more your speed, lad?” I asked as I helped myself to another cup of tea and felt very grand in doing so, especially since I’d found I liked it with a sugar and splash of milk.

Eammon had another biscuit and asked, “Does anybody else call anybody that?”
“Dunno,” said Colm. “That’s as far as I got. Dunno if I’ll finish.”

"I like the idea of it, though," said Eammon. "Nobody here does that."

Danny grinned and motioned to me, “Oi, me China, give us a biscuit!”

I laughed and shied over to him -- and he caught it just as Mam come in the door, shaking the rain off her coat. She was in the kitchen before we had a chance to even think of moving, snapping, “What’re you boys doing? Why are the burners on?”

“Nothing, Mam,” I said, scampering to put myself between her and the rest of us. “Just come in from the rain to dry off and get warm. Have some tea.”

“And leave mud all over my clean floor!?” And I must admit, there was a lot of it smeared about. She also saw the mess of tea and milk and the biscuit tin on the table, and her eyes cut into me; I knew I was for it. She quietly said, “Away home, boys; the rain’s let up, and Brendan has much to do before supper.”

Paidrig, Danny, and Gerry gathered their things and slipped out without a word. Eammon stopped by the door and said, “Yours was the closest home, Mrs. Kinsella. That’s why we come here.”

Mam just nodded and said, “Off with you.”

Colm left the book on the table and smiled at me. “See you in school. Me China.”

“Me what?” Mam snapped at him.

“Nothin’, Mrs. Kinsella. Thanks for the use of your kitchen.”

He left. Mam glared after him then took off her coat, saying, “Rhuari, go upstairs and change your clothes.”

“But I’m fine here, Mam,” he said.

She cast him a look and off he went.

I put the milk back in the cooler and pushed the lid back on the tin, feeling a little afraid. Mam’s rages could come from nowhere over nothing, so the fact I’d dirtied her kitchen made it certain she would not be in a good humor. Then she sat on a chair by the table and motioned me over and looked at me.

“We can barely feed ourselves, but you give those boys half of what we have?”

“It was just tea, Mam. The biscuits I bought on my own.”

“With what?”

“A shilling I got for fixing Mrs. McKittrick’s radio.”

She shook me, angry. “You wasted good money on such an extravagance?”

“At least I earned it, not like Da -- .”

She slapped me, twice.

“Don’t ever talk to me like that, again. And never will you speak of your father in that way! Don’t you forget, he was murdered by two Protestant bastards, merely because he wanted to care for his family, but they he wouldn’t even allow him that much dignity. So you will not spit on his name, again, master Kinsella. Do you understand me?!” I nodded. She stood up. “Now clean the mud off everything, including yourself, or there’s no supper for you.”

So I did...well, as good as a lad of near eleven can be expected to, but it still warranted me nothing but a piece of bread and mug of water in my room as the others ate.

And for a week I heard nothing but how much trouble it had been for Mam to clean the floor and walls and cabinets and windows of mud after me and my mates had dirtied her kitchen, all without a thought for anyone but ourselves. And the sympathies she got were enormous.

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