Derry, Northern Ireland

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

Friday, January 27, 2012

Dead of brain...

...After a rough day at work and a couple of screw ups on my part. I guess I'll just share more of "Place of Safety" for now. Brendan's twelve and this is in mid-September 1968.
Finally, we cut down this road that curled around and up a hill, and after a bit I could make out a round shape at the top of it, to our right. There wasn’t a tree near it and the wind was brisk and bit at my cheeks. I had my parka on tight, then, but Danny was in just a jacket and seemed untouched by the chill.

“Is that it?” I asked, my voice sudden and sharp against the quiet.

“Yeah,” said Danny. “I think it was a fort, once. It’s got walkways going up, inside.”

“How long you been coming here?”

“A year.”

“Bloody hell, Danny, you keep your own counsel, don’t you?”

“I like being alone.”

“Then why’d you show it to your mates?”

“I didn’t,” he said with a sigh. “They found me there. We hit it off.”

Then a Schwinn bicycle raced up the gravel road and whipped past us, its pilot laughing. Another boy was on the handlebars. A moment behind them was a Huffy Penguin, with a second lad seated on the rear of the banana seat. They stopped a bit ahead of us and jumped off their bikes, waving at Danny.

“Hey, Danny-boy, who’s the lad!” shouted the one who’d piloted the Penguin.

“It’s Brendan,” he called back. “I told you of him!”

They came down the hill a bit to meet us, one tall, two my height, one smaller than Maeve, all dark and slim and looking a lot like brothers. It was the same group who’d been chased by the peelers. Their clothes were flashy, something I hadn’t noticed when they ran past, and their faces were all grins as the tall one grabbed my hand, saying, “So you’re the famous fix anything lad.”

“Can you work on the gears on me bike? They rattle something awful,” said one my size, who was the darkest. The other one my size was fairer and freckled.

I shrugged and said, “Won’t know till I see it.”

“I’m Tommy,” said the tall one, “and this is Aiden.” He pointed to the one with the Schwinn then to his mate in size, who’d piloted the Huffy. “That’s Sean. And last is Brian.”

“Boru to yous,” said the smallest lad.

“And Saint Brendan to you,” said I, in return.

They laughed and we cut through the shrubbery up the last of the hill to the fort.

“I think I know your brother, Eamonn,” Said Tommy. “He’s at university, inn’t he?”

“First term,” I said, nodding, suddenly remembering what I’d seen in the window. “I -- I don’t recall you being around.”

“I met him on the march to Dungiven. He’s a passionate one. When things threatened to get hard between us and the peelers, he helped convince us to back down.”

“You should’ve torn the bloody bastards apart,” snapped Brian.

“Plenty of time for that.”

“Eamonn thinks O’Neill will work with us,” I said.

“Give the country over?” laughed Sean.

“That bastard, Paisley, wouldn’t let him,” said Aiden.

“Not after Antrim,” said Tommy.

“Were you there?” I asked.

“Torched one of the RUC’s tenders,” he said, proudly. “News crews snapped photos of it for the papers.”

“He’s got a bloody scrapbook,” said Brian.

“For history, me lad!”

We reached the base of the fort and circled around to a tiny opening covered with a grate. Tommy undid a couple of bolts and pulled it partway off, then held it up as we scampered through this cave-like passageway to the middle of the circle.

Danny wasn’t kidding; it did used to be a fort, with stone steps leading up to three levels of walkways. The uppermost one was only a few feet under the top so you could lean on its walls and look out over what I was sure would be the whole of Ireland. It was only later I learned we were in Grianan Aileach.

Before I could say a word, Tommy’d slipped a stone away from the base of the walls to let Brian dive into it, and moments later, out popped a bottle of whiskey and a fat bag of tobacco. “Still here,” he said, happily.

Brian vanished back inside the hole and brought out another bottle and laughed, “Bourbon!”

“Have a care, lads,” said Danny. “If too much is gone, it’ll be noticed and then it’ll all vanish.”

“Danny,” I said, “this isn’t your stash.”

He shook his head.

Tommy finished taking a swig of the whiskey and offered us the bottle, saying, “Finders keepers, you know.”

Danny downed some then handed it to me. I didn’t want anyone to think I wasn’t as much a man as them, so I took a swallow...and near choked on the sudden sharpness of it.

Brian smirked at me. “Can’t hold his liquor.”

“I’m holding it fine,” I snapped back. “I just -- I don’t drink out of a bottle.”

Tommy winked at me and said, “You’ll learn.”

I noticed Aiden and Sean were busy rolling ciggies, so I took the moment to ask Danny, “What is this?”

He shrugged. “I was up here lying on the top walk, just looking at the stars, and some men snuck in. I stayed hidden and watched them pull that stone away. After they left, I looked into it. They’d hollowed out part of the wall and used it to hide things in. I guess it’s stuff they’re smuggling into Derry. Not paying taxes on it. Making a bundle.”

“But all this way, so far from everything. It doesn’t make sense.” I looked around the rocks, the whiskey building a nice warmth in my belly. “This place is kept up, Danny. Eventually someone’s gonna find that loose rock and brick it over.”

Danny shrugged in answer.

Brian fired up a fag and inhaled, but then didn’t exhale. Tommy did the same thing, after him, then he offered it to me. It didn’t smell like any cigarette I’d ever had, but I still took a puff and Tommy laughed at me.

“His first drink and his first smoke,” he chuckled.

“I’ve smoked before,” I said, irritated.

Danny took the fag, saying, “Like this, Bren.” Then he inhaled and held his breath...and held it and held it until I thought he’d pass out before he exhaled and choked out, “Here,” as he handed it back to me.

I took the smoke in and held it as long as I could, handing the fag off to Tommy, who carted it over to Sean. When I finally let it explode from my lungs, I was starting to feel dizzy.

“It’s best to lie back, Bren,” said Danny. “Look at the stars.”

I lay on the grass and gazed upwards, and it was as if I'd never seen the heavens before, the diamonds captured in the sky were so gloriously brilliant. A billion of them, it must be. Then they moved...and I had to hold onto the earth as it spun.

“Christ, Danny,” I whispered, “what is this?”

“Something to make the world a better place,” he whispered back, and I’d say he was only half talking to me.


Michael said...

Seems to be a great departure from your usual works but it's very well written and I look forward to reading it in full.

JamTheCat said...

Yeah, this is my big, serious Irish novel that started out as an idea for a screenplay and expanded into something as big as "War and Peace".

Michael said...

I'm really curious about it. It's the kind of story that I wouldn't even know how to begin to write because it's so far from anything I know from personal experience.
In fact everything I know about Ireland would barely fill a post-it note. What was your inspiration for this story?

JamTheCat said...

To be honest, I don't know. It's a story that just sort of began building in my head, and I've been wrestling with it for so damned long. In fact, it was April 2002, when I was visiting Derry, that I finally started seeing what the story was about...and got so spooked by the demands of it, I didn't work on it, again, until 2006.

But since then it's been slowly going forward, despite my best efforts to drop it...and I keep finding out more and more just how wrong I am for this project. But the main character, Brendan, has latched onto me and won't let go, no matter how many fights we have and how angry I make him by trying to dump it.'s like an Irish-Catholic marriage with no divorce allowed.

Ha! Brendan's laughing at that one!

(And you thought I was writing fiction when I wrote "The Lyons' Den".)

Michael said...

I figured Lyon's Den was at least partially auto-biographical ;)
It sounds like this is a story that really wants to be told and I'm sure you'll do it justice. Lyon's Den was certainly a departure from your normal style and in some ways it's my favorite of yours and I'm sure the final, revised version is even better. I must admit that I do hope you haven't completely shifted away from the more traditional KMS style though. Are Jake, Antony, and Matt still in your head priming for future crazy adventures?

JamTheCat said...

Absolutely. Idea marbles are rolling about in my head for a story told by Jake as he's investigating the disappearance of his uncle in Palm Springs. I just hope I don't lose my marbles anytime soon.

JamTheCat said...

Michael posted the following comment --

"Sounds like a good story. You know I love me some Jake. If I ever find a guy like that in real life I'm going to marry him. Against his will if I must."

-- and my hand slipped and hit delet instead of publish. And does a PC allow you to change your mind once that's done? Nope.

I know Steve Jobs was an asshole, but I HATE PCs.

And Michael, I ditto your comment. Who knew how true Matt would be to you?