Derry, Northern Ireland

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

Sunday, July 31, 2016

All plotted out...

Now comes the writing. Nothing much to do there, oh no. Just major sections to connect and consistency to maintain. I've already found some problems with parts of the story and a bit too much repetition, so what I'm doing next is going through the outline I worked up and smooth that out so it flows better.

I also changed some plot points to mess with Brendan, and to complete his journey in this tale. That may be part of the cause for the repetition, but I'll deal with that once I'm back to writing. The nice thing is, I can focus on whatever part grabs me at that moment; I don't have to worry about wasting effort, anymore since I have both the opening and the ending done.

Today was a good day to finish this step. It's my birthday and as I go through to take stock of where I am and what I have, achieving this small goal was needed. Well, not exactly a small goal; having a full outline of the story was pretty major, considering how long I've been working on it without one.

But still...I'm so screwed financially. I spent so much money the last few years on publishing books and trying to get my screenplays going, I'll never get out of debt. I'll be working till I die, if the job's still there. No guarantees on that. And if Trump gets in, there goes Social Security and Medicare.

This was probably not a good thing to do, today. I've had a headache going since Friday and it's been hot, which I do not like...and it's pretty pathetic to see that you're in the same situation, today, that you were 40 years ago -- living in a small apartment with an old car and owing more than you make.

Whining over. I've got a lot of reading to do. And it's time to pay my bills and face a week in the office, dealing with computer work and considering what to do about making PS read like it was written by an Irish-Catholic boy who lived in Derry, Northern Ireland between 1966 and 1981...and hope I can do right by it.

No wonder my eyes ache.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

20 pages left to go through

I'd have pushed and done the last 20 pages of what I have written but my eyes hurt and my head is pounding, so I wouldn't like what I did, anyway. But I almost have Place of Safety completely plotted out. Not like a generic plotting of the general story, but what goes where, how and when, and links between parts that matter or inform on each other. I think. I don't know.

I still wonder if I'm doing right by the story. So much of it seems simple and flows too easily. I want it to be intense -- but it may wind up just being a pleasant stroll through some Irish tales. Who can say?

I did reverse a couple of aspects of the story, to mess with Brendan's mind. They worked fairly easily and probably were meant to be that way. And there's a part where Brendan is arrested by the British after he's returned to Derry that i can just picture, like it's a movie. that's usually a sign things are going the right direction but might be a bit shallow. I'll deal with it, tomorrow.

Hasn't helped that I've been battling allergies all evening. They started up about 4pm and I've been sneezing and snorting since. My eyes are driving me nuts. Claritin isn't helping, much, so I my hit the Zyrtek, again. That's half the reason for the pain in my eyes and head.

In two hours I'll be 64 years old. This year's been okay for the writing. Carli's Kills got 3rd place in screenplays at The Indie Gathering, and hit the 1/4 finals at Page, Screencraft, and Storypros. I finally finished and published The Vanishing of Owen Taylor. And I'm back solid on PS. It's progress.

Be nice if there was some money behind all of this instead of it just costing me so damned much.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Worked it through...I hope

I've got that section between Brendan and Colm in enough order to where I can now go past it. I think I'm trying to drag in too many references, still, even though I cut out several and did a fair amount of shifting about. But it's letting me move on to something that is close to blasphemous. I just hope this doesn't turn out to be too shocking.

I'm pretty much alone at work so there's a lot to do. A couple of jobs need to be priced up for quotes -- one from Ireland, one in LA, neither of which I will get to be a direct part of. It's like the fates are teasing me. The bitches. They've done this to me my whole life...led me close to what I want then snatched it away. Made sure I can never have some of the things I dreamed of.

I think that's why I like Russian novels so much -- they acknowledge that sometimes...hell, most times events are out of our control. This year's election for president is an example. If Hillary gets in, it means more of the same crap that lets bankers rip people off and gives billions in subsidies to oil companies and lets billionaires not pay a dime more in taxes than they absolutely must while I get ripped for more than 20% of my pathetic income, to name a few things I so disliked about Obama's terms. Even the ACA is not what I wanted (my ideal was single-payer)...but I can get Medicare a year from now so I guess I can handle the crap till then.

However, if Trump manages to get in...and that is too damned fucking possible,'s the end of America. We will be set back a hundred years, minimum. Social Security will be handed over to the scum who ripped off trillions from middle America. He'll pack the court with right wing fanatics and pass laws to help himself get rich as the country collapses around him. He's a non-stop failure as a businessman and human being, but there are still too damned many people who think he's the next coming of Jesus.

What can a guy like me do in that except try to ride it out? Hope his source of income remains long enough for him to get the hell out of debt and find another world to live in. Like Brendan does.

I think maybe this story's more autobiographical than I'd like to admit.

Monday, July 25, 2016


There's a moment in Place of Safety where Brendan meets back up with Colm, his boyhood buddy who's become part of the Provisional IRA, and they have a frank, brutal discussion about the situation in Derry in April 1981. And I'm having one hell of a time with it.
It takes place at GrianĂ¡n Ailigh, the circle fort atop a hill in Donegal, just across the Irish border. The fort's 5000 years old, by some estimates, and overlooks Lough Swilly and Lough Foyle. Derry is visible from its southeastern edge, being but 6 miles away. This is where Brendan gets stoned, for the first time, with Danny at the age of 13. He brings Joanna here to discuss leaving Derry's troubles behind, at the age of 16. And now, at 25, he comes here to...well, I'm not sure what's going on, yet.

In the first pass, he came to tell Colm he wanted to join up and fight back against the British and RUC. But that just lay there. It's too typical. In the next draft, he points out the futility of fighting the British, who have vastly superior firepower and are too stubborn to give in unless there is a way for them to pretend to save face. But that's preachy and too laden with 20/20 hindsight.

I've tried another version where it's almost like him coming full circle in his life...but from what to what? A child to a man? He does that in Houston, and much more powerfully. At the moment, it's like even he doesn't know what's going on in his life, just now. I know one line is out of place, but I'm not sure how to shift it to the right spot and still work in its buildup. The rest is like lines of cooked spaghetti laid out and twisting around when I want to make everything neat and straight.

I don't know what I'm missing...what I'm not seeing...because I know this moment has to come now, in the story. It has to quake the reader like a 9.5, where the ground under them becomes like Jello and the world shifts into full danger. I need honesty in this moment...and betrayal...and understanding...and history...and reality...

That's not asking for much, is it?

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Closing a bit more of "Place of Safety"...

I'm winding my way down to the end of this restructuring...and my head's letting me know it's ready to be done. Nasty aches, the last two days, barely controlled by Advil. Maybe it's tension-related because I'm pushing to keep the story as honest and brutal as it wants.

This bit is after Brendan was grabbed off the street in Derry, one night, by constables and taken to a hidden location to interrogate. One of the constables is a former friend, Billy Corrie, who's Protestant.  Then they dumped him near his mother's home. Brendan's grabbed a pistol he hid for his brother, Eamonn, years ago, and despite his injuries is headed off to kill the men who tortured him. It's well into darkness, and is at the height of the hunger strikes, in 1981.


I headed back up the hill and took a long way around the Bishop Gate to avoid the checkpoint, aiming for The Fountain. I could easily get to the Craigavon checkpoint from there and cared not whether I was seen by them. I knew Max, Pug, Slim and Billy would be chatting up the Paras, trying to prove themselves as hard and cold as any ever were. Telling them all about the stupid Taig they'd learned about, and weren't they the bright lads for finding him out before the Brits did? I had only seven shots in the clip -- I hadn’t slipped one in the chamber -- but that would be enough. Jeremy had shown me well how to fire a pistol and be accurate.

The streets were deserted, of course, there being a curfew with plenty of patrols running about. I’d hear the Saracens and jeeps roaring up and have plenty of time to find a shadow to cover me, but most of them seemed to keep back from the Bogside and down Cityside. My only real problem was walking.

My adrenalin was abating and every step had turned back into pure torture from the shooting pains in my balls. They were swollen and getting worse. I had to walk like I was bandy-legged and hold my briefs in a way to cradle my testicles so they wouldn't be rubbed. With it came the deep dull ache in my sides and with my nose being so brutalized, I could breathe only through my mouth. My lungs began to fight for air from the exertion of my strides first up a small hill then down a short road then up another small rise and I began to feel dizzy. I stopped, now and then, to lean against a wall and let my lungs catch up to me and give my stomach the time not to spew whatever was left in it.

I finally noticed my hands shook from the pain and emotional turmoil building up inside. The realization I’d just been snatched off the street, taken to a secret location and tortured into giving up information, as though I were a criminal well known to all, was finally taking hold. Just like in Houston. That what I gave them meant nothing to anyone but me and Joanna was beside the point. A sense of brutal shame swept over me mixed with a horrible understanding of just how powerless I’d been to do anything about it. And how like a mad dog I’d been treated.

My mind exploded into a thousand directions as I tried to fight my way back into control. But the pain between my legs and in my sides and about my face mixed into memories of what had been done to me in Deer Park and I felt madness taking over and welcomed it, if it would just end the screaming in my heart and head. End the pointless fury filling my soul. Show me a way back to a life I’d once hoped for and dreamed of away from this diseased circle of hell.

Yet somehow I still kept on and drew closer and closer to where I could put a bullet in the limited brain of Max or Pug or even Slim, and the thought gave me strength and brought a low chuckle to my breathing ... until I heard whispers from misty shadows in an alleyway and I turned to face down whoever it was ... 

And it was Danny.

Standing there, half in shadow, almost glowing.

Goddamned fucking Danny.

I froze as he floated up to me and put his hand on mine and took the pistol away, as gentle as with a child, and slipped his other hand around my neck and led me into his shadows and I had to remind myself to breathe.

"Am I dead, Danny? Were you sent for me?"

He put his fingers to my lips, his eyes tender and filled with hurt, and brought out a handkerchief to dab at the blood on me. And he smiled. An honest smile. First I'd seen from him in ten years.

I tried to smile back. "You're my second ghost."

His expression went quizzical then he nodded. Put a hand on my left shoulder. Right over Joanna's name. His eyes deep and dark and filled with sadness and sorrow.

Another car approached. He listened then put a finger to my lips and nudged me out of the shadows.

A Renault zipped up the street, lights off, and pulled to a halt before me -- and out popped Colm, looking around like a wild man, choking his voice to keep it soft. “Brendan, what the hell d’you think you’re doin'?! You round the next corner and you’re into a fuckin’ Army checkpoint! Holdin’ that pistol!?"

I looked down to see the Colt was still gripped by me. And the shadows were silent and motionless. I hadn't moved, not one bit.

Colm grabbed the pistol away. "You'd try to shoot up a checkpoint now? When we’ve got the world on our side? You’ll hurt everything we’re trying for and -- and -- ”

I looked at him. Gave him a clear view of my face. He couldn’t help but gasp, “Jesus Christ, Bren.”

“This -- just what -- you can see -- ” And I began to shake.

He took my arm. “C'mon, me china, you're in no condition to be out, like this. Not physically or mentally. Let me take you home. Maeve’s there, with Gina. They’ll tend to you till I get a doctor over.”

That's when the pain rolled in, again. Sharper. Larger. Shot down my legs and across my chest and wrapped itself around my spine and gripped me even tighter than before. I could not breathe, it controlled me so. Tears filled my eyes and gasps escaped me mixed with whimpers of grief and confusion and simple physical hurt. At that moment, I didn’t care what happened, if I lived or died. I couldn’t think or move -- hell, it was all I could do just to keep standing on my feet, even with naught but shadows against my back.

Colm drew me close and wrapped an arm around me and two more lads joined him as he whispered, “Come along. You’ll be all right. You’re me China, Bren. Remember? Come along.”

And like a child, I let them lead me over to the car.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Almost an oops...

The good thing about going through PS and noting characters and places and happenings is sometimes it makes you double-check things. Which I did for Brendan's journey home. And found that he can't get there by least, it doesn't seem like it. I knew Avian Air was flying from Dublin to Derry but it turns out they didn't get everything finally set up, with massive government subsidies, until early 1982. That's too late; Brendan needs to return about the middle of April 1981.

But that's what this is make sure the book is as accurate as possible before I start asking people who lived through that time to give me feedback. I'm still freaked out at what I'm trying to do, but I'm doing it, dammit. I'm flying to Derry on the 30th to arrive on the 31st. Then I'm headed back to Buffalo on the 4th. That only gives me two full days -- Thursday, and Friday, with me returning to Dublin on Saturday to leave on a morning flight Sunday -- but I can't afford more.

So no sight-seeing. Library and museums, only, and extra money for taxis to get around faster. The city's been changed so much from that time period, thanks to redevelopment, dealing with the old areas would seem pointless. I may see about getting a car for a day to drive to Claudy instead of taking the time to walk. Or maybe there's a bus...I'll have to check.
That Facebook page is also still helping me with how things were in Derry, when Brendan lived there and when he returns. Things commenters say about photos being posted and the way they say them. I've barely tried to get a conversation going with them...but can do more of that when I return. If they'll let me.

Still so much to go...

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Houston is plotted and ready to go...

I know what I need where in the middle section to make the story progress, thanks to work I did on section 3 -- the return to Derry. I still have to work out the last of the plotting on the return, but I'm getting there. I even added some bits to connect a couple of sections, bumping the story up by about 3000 words.

What this all did was bring me to do something stupid, financially, but necessary for the story. I'm going to Derry at the end of August. Just for a few days, so I can scan the papers in the library and check into a couple museums to see if I can get some info that I cannot find online...and maybe walk from Derry towards Claudy, like Brendan did. Not sure about that part...but it would help me work out what the terrain's like. I've tried doing it on Google map and via videos, but they just don't hack it.

I was able to get a round-trip ticket from Toronto to Dublin for under $600US on Air Canada. That and a hotel and round-trip bus fare and spending money should work out to about $1200, total. Meaning in reality I'll probably spend $1350 for it. And my wallet's, it's screaming because I'm using my tax money to pay for it, but it's set.

My second trip to Ireland, this year.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Progress is progress, no matter how slow...

I'm still working out the full storyline for Place of Safety...but so long as it's moving forward, I'm happy. Ish. I still fall into the self-critique of "This isn't really doing anything," and "How am I ever going to tie all these lines together to make sense?" I guess it's unavoidable. I had it hard, last night after work, so watched a couple of Charlie Chan movies on YouTube. Two of the best -- ...At the Opera and ...In Egypt. I used to have the full set but sold it years ago when I needed some money.

The one in Egypt is really dated in a lot of ways (especially in how they use the old Stepinfetchit character for racist comedy relief) but it also has some great shots of the pyramids and the Sphinx, from 1935. And the mystery's fun.

The other one is really the best. Oscar Levant wrote some of an original opera for it, and almost the entire movie is set in an opera house. What's even better is, Boris Karloff's in it, playing an escaped madman seeking revenge. In this one, everyone treats Charlie like he's a regular guy, and this time the comedy relief is a bumbling racist cop who gets put in his place...something atypical of the period.

Those helped clear my brain, a little, and I'm getting a better idea of the theme of the story -- that we make heroes of monsters, people who crush others and spread pain and suffering on those they hate. Take fathers from sons and daughters. Make widows and orphans. Steal children from their families. Slaughter is fine so long as it's done against those we dislike, but it is never acceptable when done against us.

Brendan just wants to live his life in peace, but others will not let him. They buy into the mythology of heroism, not seeing that our heroes are the other side's demons, just as their heroes are those whom we declare to be less than human.

I don't know how I'm going to weave this in without it being a sermon...but it is helping me find sense in the story. Understand why I'm letting it grow and expand and build with more and more characters. And I've noticed some aspects of that have already begun to work themselves in.

Looks like I'm writing a story that's not mine...but still telling it.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Hitting into a rough section of Place of Safety...after Brendan returns to Derry.
This photo is of The Maze prison, with her H-block cells. This is where the hunger strikes took place.

I haven't decided on the exact timing, yet -- March or April 1981 -- but this is the beginning of that part.

A friend of Aunt Mari’s worked at American Express in The Galleria, so she found me the best way home. I flew out of Intercontinental on a TWA flight to Dublin via New York, where I caught a short-hopper to Derry’s Airport via Avair. It wasn’t cheap, but I had savings enough to cover it. Uncle Sean told me he’d pay the ticket, but I wanted nothing from him. He called me independent to a fault and I knew he meant it gentle, but only because he hadn’t noticed how I spoke to him only when necessary, how I was never around to work on that old Volvo, again. I simply wanted nothing to do with a man who’d let family be abused in such a way.

Perhaps I should have told him why, but I never did because he was Aunt Mari’s husband and she’d done backflips for me. To have caused them all that disruption would have been a cruel way to repay her for all her kindness and generosity, not merely since I’d come there but in the years before. So I cashed all my savings into pounds with a few punt should I need them and when I said goodbye at the airport. I knew I’d not return.

None of them asked me how I was getting back into Derry, what with me not having legal papers, and I offered no explanations. The less known by all, the better...except for Jeremy.

Since he’d returned from Hong Kong, his position at Garrison Petrol had settled into Houston. His knowledge of the expanding Chinese market for oil and the secret (but widely known) discussions underway between London and Peking to hand the territory back at the end of the Brit’s lease made him too important to let go. So he handed me his passport and said, “With that moustache and sideburns, you look a lot like my photo.”

“I dunno, Jeremy; I can’t see it.”

“Sure, just lighten up your hair, cut it a bit shorter so it’s not so curly.”

“Without hair to hide me, I’ll look even less like you.”

“Fine -- Everett’ll slip your photo in for mine. I know they look for stuff like that, at immigration, but he’s an artist; he can pull it off.”

“But will he?”

“I’ve already talked to him.”

“You’ll need it again, sometime,” I said, looking it over, already knowing exactly what I’d do.

“How long do you think you’ll be gone?”

I shrugged. “Mairead says she’s fadin’ fast, then there’ll be the wake and family to settle. A month, maybe. Six weeks.” Forever.

“Don’t stay any longer; it’s due for replacement in a couple months and I have to send it in, so I’ll need to get it fixed, first.”

“I dunno, Jeremy -- really, do I look the part of a Jew?” I said it smiling.

“What does a Jew look like, bitch? And your dick sure as hell is Jewish. You’ll pass, so long as you don’t talk with that brogue.”

I snapped into a Texas twang, “Yor right a-bout tha-yat, little feller. Better if’n Ah talk lahk a fo-ohl.”

“Shit, don’t talk much at all. And when you do, whisper.”

I chuckled and slipped the passport into my back pocket. He also gave me use of his Master Charge card since it was slated for renewal the following month and had but five hundred left on its limit. “I’ll not use it,” I said, “unless absolutely necessary.”

He swatted me arse and sent me out the door with, “I want post cards!”

I didn’t look around but waved my hand back at him, as if in agreement.

Everett helped me shift my looks to better suit Jeremy’s description -- first coloring my hair a couple shades lighter then adding red highlights, and he worked his magic on my moustache and sideburns, as well. Then once my hair was cut back, we got a couple Polaroids snapped at a photo shop and he set to work. And he had no end of trouble exchanging out Jeremy’s photo for mine but once done, to my eye it looked damn good -- and I looked damn strange.

“This isn’t a good look for you,” he said, “but that should help. By the time they get to you, they’ll be so sick of dealing with Americans, they’ll probably just give it a glance, stamp it and tell you to fuck off.”

“In true Irish fashion.”

“What’d you have to give Jeremy for this?”

“Promise to give it back when I return.”

“What’re you giving me?”

“Well...I could go to Rocky Horror in a gold Speedo.”

He smiled, almost sweetly. “You -- you’d really do that?”

“I enjoy it, well enough. Susan Sarandon’s got a nice set on her.”

He laughed. “Shit, you’d make the perfect Rocky. So, they keeping your stuff in the pool house?”

No, I sold what I could and gave away the rest. “I got a storage unit. There’s too much of it.”

His expression froze and he looked at me, hard, as if he knew I wasn’t planning to return, then grabbed the back of my hair and pulled me close to kiss me, long and deep and French in style. I let him.

When he finally pulled back, his eyes were filled with hurt. “Is that how you kissed her?”

“Vangie? Yes.”

“But not -- ?”

Joanna? “No. It would’ve put her off, and I’d do anything to keep that from happening.”

He nodded. “Like what I just did.”

“Have I run screaming down the street, yet?”

He stroked a thumb over my right eyebrow. “Considering your luck with girls, maybe you oughta try a walk on the wild side.”

Been there and tried that; didn't turn out well. “With you?”

He laughed to himself. “Me as Frankenfurter, you as Rocky?” He was hurting and he’d been such a mate to me, I couldn’t help but nod. He took in a deep breath. “Keep the dream alive. Okay. I’m gonna hold you to it, Pug.”

I yapped at him in answer and we parted with him laughing. And two days later I was on a plane for home.

I took a window seat, and flying across the water I watched out the window at the passing clouds, peaceful and soft in the nighttime sky and --

Father Pat was sitting next to me, sipping a brandy and casting me furtive glances as he pretended to read his missal. He checked his watch then signaled for the stewardess and a water appeared before me along with a pill and I accepted both, obedient, and turned to watch the clouds gleam in the sun like fire and --

Jolted as lightning flashed between two huge banks of thick black cotton. Twisting. Turning. Highlighting the billowing nothingness and making it seem real. Glimmers of life dancing like the furies and giving meaning to things that could never truly live. The heavens were warning me, Don’t go, don’t go, don’t go. I merely lay my head against the plastic and sighed, I must.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Lack of posting...

I haven't been doing any posting, lately, because I'm so deep into working on Place of Safety, by the end of the day I'm tapped out. Got nothing to say. It's hard even to get my brain to shut down...though going on Facebook and reading some of the inane and idiotic comments on it does give me a good laugh and lessen the madness in my head. I even chime in and get angry and dismissive and enjoy myself for a while. I need that.

As of now, I have the first section of PS completely plotted out, knowing what needs to go where and changing the ending section a bit to make the flow better. My next goal is to finalize the Houston section, then comes the return to Derry. I'm fighting to figure out spots to add in humor and keep the humanity of the piece even as I reference the events that occur.

Aspects of the story keep expanding...especially as concerns Brendan's best mates -- Colm, Danny, Paidrig, and wee Eammon, with a couple of friends who are Protestant...Gerry and Billy -- and going in ways that I hope deepen the meaning. Like it matters, at this point? OT was up to 150,000+ words before I began honing it down to 120K. And truth is, I could have cut it another 10K if I'd taken another pass at it. I think.

That all said, this was a rough week for writing. Not only due to the job I had Wednesday that damn near wrecked me, but the events in Dallas, Baton Rouge, and a small town in Minnesota. It reminded me of experiments done on rats and overcrowding, by John B. Calhoun. He claimed that the bleak effects of overpopulation on rodents were a grim model for the future of the human race. I'm stealing this from Wikipedia, about his Mouse Universe experiment --

In July 1968 four pairs of mice were introduced into the Utopian universe. The universe was a 9-foot (2.7 m) square metal pen with 4.5-foot-high (1.4 m) sides. Each side had four groups of four vertical, wire mesh “tunnels.” The “tunnels” gave access to nesting boxes, food hoppers, and water dispensers. There was no shortage of food or water or nesting material. There were no predators. The only adversity was the limit on space.

Initially the population grew rapidly, doubling every 55 days. The population reached 620 by day 315, after which the population growth dropped markedly, doubling only every 145 days. The last surviving birth was on day 600, bringing the total population to a mere 2200 mice, even though the experiment setup allowed for as many as 3840 mice in terms of nesting space. This period between day 315 and day 600 saw a breakdown in social structure and in normal social behavior. Among the aberrations in behavior were the following: expulsion of young before weaning was complete, wounding of young, increase in homosexual behavior, inability of dominant males to maintain the defense of their territory and females, aggressive behavior of females, passivity of non-dominant males with increased attacks on each other which were not defended against.

After day 600, the social breakdown continued and the population declined toward extinction. During this period females ceased to reproduce. Their male counterparts withdrew completely, never engaging in courtship or fighting. They ate, drank, slept, and groomed themselves – all solitary pursuits. Sleek, healthy coats and an absence of scars characterized these males. They were dubbed “the beautiful ones.” Breeding never resumed and behavior patterns were permanently changed.

The conclusions drawn from this experiment were that when all available space is taken and all social roles filled, competition and the stresses experienced by the individuals will result in a total breakdown in complex social behaviors, ultimately resulting in the demise of the population.

Calhoun saw the fate of the population of mice as a metaphor for the potential fate of man. He characterized the social breakdown as a “second death”. His study has been cited by writers such as Bill Perkins as a warning of the dangers of the living in an "increasingly crowded and impersonal world."

Which also reminded me of stories about the Japanese not having sex...proof of the whole hypothesis that it's the end of the world.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Middle section -- Brendan in Houston

This part is April-May 1973, at Aunt Mari's home near River Oaks. She married a sailor stationed at the US Naval Base near Derry and has lived in Houston for 20 years. She has a son and two daughters, and her husband owns a couple of bars in the city. Brendan's had a nervous collapse and been sent there to keep him out of the hands of the British Army.

I fixed a sandwich from the wealth of food available in the fridge -- cheeses and luncheon meats and lettuce so crisp it could cut you and rich red tomatoes and something called Sandwich Spread all piled high on some white bread that felt as light as a feather -- and found only a couple of Dr. Peppers chilled in the fridge’s door. I took one, opened it and returned to my room. I sat on the bed and ate, feeling very luxurious, and thoroughly enjoyed the Dr. Pepper; it wasn’t as sharp and biting as Coke. Then I dozed a little before rising, again, and deciding I was weary of having nothing on me but pyjamas.

I took a long scalding-hot shower, letting the steam boil before me, catching the light from the window and looking like clouds of gentleness come to fill my lungs and wipe away the world long past and the stickiness of the air. Then I toweled off...and had to towel off twice more, thanks to the combination of steam and humidity bringing out my sweat. No wonder they bathe every day and layer on deodorant, I said to myself; if they didn’t they’d reek.

I dug through a large set of drawers to find y-fronts and socks and undershirts and athletic shorts -- of course, I was in Scott’s room and they’d left me some of his things to wear. I was surprised they fit, seeing as how he’s taller than me and thinner, but then reminded myself I’d lost a fair bit of weight and was only just beginning to regain it. When I was back the way I used to be, I’d need a size larger -- and shorter.

I found my jeans hanging in a closet with some Levis. My boots sat on a shelf in the back, nicks in the leather and still covered with mud and dust and --

-- I slipped from the mud on my boots and the car vanished and I tumbled back as dust and filth and bits and pieces of metal and engine rained down on me and --

I stepped back. Saw a pair of sandals and took those. They were a bit on the large side, but an extra pair of socks helped them fit just right.

Of course, I was beginning to near weariness, again, but I decided not to give in, this time. I headed downstairs.

No one was about, yet, so I went back in the yard to find the Volvo gone. Uncle Sean must have left while I showered, for I’d not heard him drive off. It felt odd being alone and out of doors, especially in the heat with the damp air carrying the overpowering scent of those little white and yellow flowers. I went to the vines covering the fences and touched them, found they were thick with velvety leaves and fragrance that smelled like it should be off a jar of jam. It surrounded me and filled me and brought to mind laziness and gentle meanderings. Shafts of light dashed between the branches of the trees to happily land on bits of the foliage, flickering as if to remind me there was such a thing as the sun. I looked up. Saw it winking at me beyond the tree’s shadow. And under it, I was soon sweating, again.

I took in the back of the house. It’s odd, but while the inside felt large, outside it seemed smaller. It was two levels but also had windows cut into the roof, indicating a third level was available. It was done in a hard, gray brick of many tones and softened by vines climbing up its corners. A chimneystack jutted to the sky from one end and trees shaded the sides and front of the place.

I wandered over to the pool house’s covered area to find shades drawn behind the building’s windows and doors. Complete privacy here with a “Don’t bother” attitude about it. The pool’s water had neither wave nor ripple to it...and it bothered me so much, I crouched down to slap the water into motion. Tiny waves rippled away from me and sent the shadows criss-crossing along its basin, and the chaos of them felt right.

Then I noticed the dustbins resting under a canopy of vines. Atop one’s lid sat a steam iron with its cord frayed and nearly off. I slipped over and picked it up to look at it. Most of the cord was good; it was just one section where it had been burned by accident, looked like. It would be easy to mend, so I kept it.

I headed down the drive to the front of the house, gravel crunching under my sandals and filling the oppressive silence, steam iron still in hand. The fence ended at the middle of the house with a long gate opened by motor to let vehicles through and a smaller gate between it and the house for foot traffic. I slipped through the smaller gate.

The front yard was just as wide and spacious as the back, with a straight concrete walkway leading from a small entry to a wide street, thick green grass framing it. Bushes crouched against the house and trees, laced with more flowers I’d never seen before, and angled bricks lined their beds as well as the walk while the gravel of the drive ran right up to the grass. All so neat and proper and like a grand manor, I wondered at how Aunt Mari and Uncle Sean had the time to tend it all.

I walked all the way down to the end and looked about. The street curved around and there were a number of other homes in the same general style lining it, all of them thick with shrubbery and trees and green, green grass. And none of it seemed real. An estate car passed, huge and so obviously American and I finally understood I was in a whole new world.

And I couldn’t move.

I mean, it’s not like I didn’t know where I was. I’d seen Aunt Mari get in her massive car -- a Chevy Impala Station Wagon, she called it -- and drive off. I’d seen Scott roar up and leave in his six years old GTO. I’d seen how green everything was and known the house I was staying in was massive and watched programs like “The Partridge Family” and “The Brady Bunch” on the telly...and listened to the girls argue over whether David Cassidy or Barry Williams was the cutest...but also noticed they all lived in fine homes and also drove massive cars. Of course, I’d also laughed at “All In The Family” when Uncle Sean filled me in on what the jokes were and enjoyed “MASH” with Scott, who sagely informed me it was the coolest show, now that “Laugh-In” was going downhill. And the uncoolest was one Aunt Mari loved, “Lawrence Welk.” And all of them had this sense of richness to them, subtly filling me with the absolute certainty that America was the wealthiest of nations. But actually standing out there and seeing the reality of it with my own two eyes -- I felt as if I’d been taken from hell and been given to heaven, and I feared if I even so much as moved, now that I knew where I was, it would all vanish and I’d be back to the cutting dreariness of Derry.

Finally, Aunt Mari drove up and honked at me -- and I realized I was standing dead in the middle of the drive. I stepped aside to let her pass and followed the estate -- no, station wagon back to the garage. The gate closed itself behind me and I trotted up to her like a pet dog.

“Look who’s out and about,” she said as she opened the door.

“Aunt Mari,” I croaked, “this neighborhood -- the space of it all -- ”

“Oh, this is nothing, Brendan. If you want, after your appointment, I’ll take you for a drive around the town. Show you River Oaks. What’re you doing with that?” She motioned to the iron.

“Thought I’d mend it,” I said. “Spare you the need of a new one.”

“I already have one -- but if you’d like to fix it, that’d be nice. I could take the new one back.” She lowered the rear of the car and pulled out bags of groceries. “Take these in, will you?”

I nodded and carried two full bags into the kitchen, along with the iron. She followed with two more. “Now you sit, lad. I’ll put these away.”

“But I could help you.”

“No, it’s faster if I do it. I know where everything goes. Would you like to ride around some? See the city?”

“No,” busted out of me so fast. “No, not yet. I -- I still have to get used to being here. Wait -- appointment?”

“The doctor’s. Isn’t that why you’re dressed?”

I had no idea why I’d put on clothes. I just wanted to, but thinking about it, I remembered her mentioning there was to be a visit. So I shrugged. “Will this be all right, what I’m wearing?”

“Sure it will. He’s very informal, this man.”

“You say I’ve seen him before,” I said and --

-- The round blond lady dressed in white with a kind face caressed my cheek with the backs of her fingers and said to Aunt Mari, “Lord, his eyes -- so big and hurt, they cut right to your heart and --“

I jolted. Began inspecting the iron, carefully.

Aunt Mari was putting vegetables into the fridge so didn’t notice. “He came here, a few times, and I took you to him, a few times. He told us to be patient; seems he was right.” She looked straight at me. “Don’t you remember anything since you got here, Brendan? Any of it?”

I shook my head and focused on dismantling the iron, not yet willing to share the snippets of memory that I’d catch. It wasn’t easy to take apart, but I managed to get the body off to reveal the connections. “Have you a knife I can use?”

She handed me a strip of metal that held a razor’s blade. “This do?”

“Aye.” I got to work on cutting the wire and stripping off the casing material so I’d have bald wire to reconnect to the iron. I undid the old bit of cord and slipped the newly stripped part into its holder then tightened everything down with the edge of the blade and looked around for an outlet to test it -- and realized Aunt Mari was just looking at me. “What is it?”

“You haven’t heard a word I’ve said,” she replied, a bit confused.


“For the last five minutes. I’ve been talking along and you’ve been offering up occasional grunts to suggest you’re listening, but you’ve been so focused on that iron, you haven’t heard a thing, have you?”

Oh, shite. “Sorry. I -- get like that, at times. On occasion, Ma had to flick me with her finger to snap me from it, but it’s only ‘cause she’d go on and on and on and I’d just stop listening.”

“And you think I go on and on like your mother?”

“No!” Now I felt awful, letting myself do that to her. “I just -- I have the habit of it, when I’m working. I don’t mean anything by it.”

“Don’t worry about it,” she said and rubbed my hair. “God, your hair’s thick and long. You up for a cut, soon?”

I nodded. “I think I’d prefer it in this heat. Christ, I already feel the need of another bath.”

“Oh, this is nothing, Brendan. Wait till August.”

I jolted. “August?” I’m to be here till then?

“That’s usually the worst month for heat and humidity, with September not much better.”

I felt like I was floating, all of a sudden. I set the iron down and made myself ask, “Aunt Mari, am I not to go home, now I’m better?”

And the look on her face told me all.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

A bit of "Place of Safety"

Today I worked on section 3 of the book, early 1981 just as the hunger strikes were on. Brendan was close to being arrested, the night before, but convinced the British soldiers he was someone else. However, he knows that was a temporary ruse and is waiting for a message from Colm, his best mate and who's high in the IRA.

Early the morning of the next day, I was in the kitchen sharing a pot of tea with Daria, and she was handling it in a very proper manner, too. Across from us sat Jimmy and Caera’s Sean, fascinated with us to the point of total silence, as was the feral cat sitting at the back door waiting for his morning milk. Why Caera gave it to him was beyond me; he was hardly a beauty nor had he a genial temperament, but it was money out of her pocket, not mine.

“White or dark?” Daria asked with deep seriousness. She was exceedingly pleased I’d stopped pacing to join her.

“White, please.”

“Milk first or after?”

“After,” I replied.

“Sweet?” she continued in the same manner as she poured.

“Lightly so,” I smiled.

She put in half a teaspoon. Less than I was used to, but I was so enjoying the innocence of the moment, I didn’t care. I’d begun to feel confident because if the Paras or RUC were still interested in me, they'd have busted in by 4 am, so as to cause as much disruption as possible. Now it was just becoming light out and I was still here, wearing naught but my sturdiest jeans and a flannel shirt, socks on but no shoes, yet, and playing homemaker with a girl who so reminded me of Mairead, as a child, you’d have thought we’d gone back twenty years.

Christ, the times I’d sat there as a wain, quietly letting Mairead feed me tea made from bags well-used, already, and bits of toasted bread to act as biscuits. Even after Ma was done with dinner and we’d, yet again, had not quite enough to fill us. How old would I have been? Three? Four? And already just as aware as Sean of the limitations of the adults in the world.

I think then’s when I got to where I preferred my tea light and on the weak side. Aunt Mari’d told me when she finally got some down me, not long after I’d come over, it’d been strong enough to set off a bout of diarrhea in me. She’d made it weak from that point on, and I’d absently sip it, myself, holding it like it was gold. I remember none of it, but it sounded true.

Daria offered me neatly-toasted bread with butter and jam off a chipped plate -- my, but weren’t we doing better, now? -- and I took half a piece so she and Sean could enjoy the three left. Then I sipped, and the tea was strong enough to pull out your teeth if it so chose, but a taste of the jam settled it on my tongue. It was just us three down there; Jimmy was off to his job and Caera had run up two doors to fetch an egg for breakfast. Marc and Lorinda, Mairead’s youngest, were still a-bed and I thought it well they be let sleep. As for me, I was just hoping I could be fed before Colm arrived.

I’d no idea what would happen with me after this point, but then I’d never had much of a plan for my life. Just work and marry and grow some wains of my own and treat them better than Da and Ma had treated theirs. True, it wasn’t a very ambitious goal for myself, but it had pleased me to aim for it. To just accept that I was never the type who’d cure cancer or write great books or even stand for office. When Father Pat and I had been talking, he’d said more than once I was not living up to my potential, as though it were my duty to become better than I wanted to be. Such ideas made little sense to me and seemed at odds with the notion of self-determination we all supposedly have. Apparently that was only if you did what those who considered themselves your betters felt you should do. And so my focus on my own path, with disregard for the opinions of people like Father Pat, had set me into the little box of weakling and coward, so far as they were concerned. And I hadn’t cared, for if things had not gone so horribly wrong with Joanna, one day I’d have asked her to marry me...and live with me in a whole new world away from these biting, clawing, vicious animals who claimed to be men. And I saw nothing wrong with that being all there was to me.

I absently touched the scar that had once been her name. A brand I’d sworn I’d never remove, and yet away it went as soon as I could stand it. And I’d done nothing like it for Evangelyne, for fear that would jinx us. And look at what good that did.

I sighed, finally accepting the reality that there is no corner of the world safe from the howling mad dogs of self-righteousness. And people with dreams like mine were little more than meat for them to gnaw upon and feed to the just-as-vicious young they were breeding and --

Pounding on the door jolted me. Sean jumped, terrified, but Daria instantly turned to him and said, “Now Sean, don’t be such a baby. It’s just the Paras come looking and they’ll be gone again, shortly.”

Sean huffed and looked at me with accusation, and it cut into me. A child of seven comforting a child of three, and both knowing what a knock at the door meant. That was not right. That was perfect evil. And all because of me. So I smiled at them, in comfort, and quickly rose.

“It’s all right,” I said, grinning to hide the sinking of my heart. “I’ll answer it.”

As I strode down the hall to the door, another pounding began so I called, “Hold on, hold on,” in my best twang. That voice gave the Haggertys at least a little cover against knowing who I truly was.

I opened the door just as a stocky Para was about to use his rifle butt, and I slipped into to Todd’s attitude and snapped, “What the hell’s wrong with you? I said I’s comin’!”

I thought for a second he was going to shift the butt to my head, but another man stepped forward, one I’d not seen before.

“Are you Jeremy Landau?” he said, another true Brit.

“That’s me.”

“Let me see your passport.”

Already a crowd was growing and this was giving off the feel of ugliness, with the hate in their eyes, so I handed it over without hesitation, knowing that’s the last time I’d have my hands on it. I hoped Jeremy had the sense to tell them he hadn’t seen it in weeks -- but then he was no fool; the second he was called he’d know something had happened and would step back long enough to find out what was going on. As for Aunt Mari and Uncle Sean, surely they must have had a story in place, if ever the day came that I was found out. So right now my one concern was for minimizing the Haggertys’ troubles.

“I’d invite you in,” I said, keeping the twang, “but this ain’t my place so -- ”

“No need. You’ll come with us.”

“Wait, Mrs. Haggerty’s not home, so I gotta wait till she gets back and -- ”

“What’s this?” It was herself bolting from the house two doors down, a cloth holding eggs in one hand, another woman right behind her and just as angry. “Mr. Landau, what’s this?”

“It’s nothin’, Mizz Haggerty,” I said. “These gentlemen just want me to go clear somethin' up -- ”

“You bloody bastards,” she snarled, “he’s a wee American. Just because you think you can treat us like this doesn’t mean you can the whole world!”

“By the saints,” someone added, “he’s American?!”

“The fuckin’ English!”

More women and children were coming out, and I began to wonder if this was another method of pushing back against the Paras -- surround them with loud angry females to confuse the issue and dare them to raise their weapons. But this time, even a quick look at the Paras showed me we’d not have a repeat of the night at Ma’s, for the riots of the last two weeks had put them too much on edge to be willing to back down peacefully.

So I turned to Mrs. Haggerty and her mates and said, “Ladies, it’s all right. Thanks. I don’t mind goin’ with ‘em. I’ll just call the ‘Merican consulate from their office and get everything straightened out in two shakes of a lamb’s tail. It’ll be fine.” I turned back to the man in charge with a smile and added, “It’s just a little misunderstandin’, right? Don’t want no trouble here.”

I honestly couldn’t tell if he was a commander or captain or just a top sergeant -- but at least he was smart enough to look around at the noisy seething crowd, hold his tongue and nod. He pointed to the closest of two Saracens and said, “In here,” then begrudgingly added, “Please.”

I was about to ask if I could get my boots but the look in his eyes warned me not to do a damned thing more but what he’d asked, so I let two of them lead me around to the back of the first beast, in tandem, and one opened the rear door as three others kept close watch on me and the rest made for the second Saracen, the women still calling all of God’s curses down on them.

But as I was about to get in I noticed movement from above, like an arm waving from behind a chimney, and looked up to see a single, dark, perfectly-shaped brick softly hurtle over the roof top to slowly...slowly...slowly curl downward...downward...downward, spinning like it weighed nothing as it whispered closer and closer and I gasped and turned away because I thought it might hit me but instead saw it slam onto the chest of a Para that was keeping watch on me. He cried out and collapsed and his mates swung into full battle mode and the once-growing crowd of women burst apart like petals falling off an open rose and scrambled back to their homes, dragging their children behind them as more stones pelted down on the Brits.

And on me.

I was clipped in the back and hit full on my left hand as I scurried away from the Saracens to find a place of safety and saw the Paras take cover behind the vehicles and a corner house, rifles prepped ready to fire, and --

Tommy was running to my left and I looked back and saw the Para cock his weapon up and fire and Tommy crashed to the dirt and --

I cried out, “They got real bullets!” with no hint of Texas in my voice then. That’s when the Brit commander grabbed me and slammed me into a doorway, snarling, “Right, you’re from bloody America.”

I couldn’t help but burst into laughter at the comical anger in his face. He punched me with his pistol, cutting open my left eye, yet still I laughed. It was insane -- the chaos a few rocks can bring and the stupidity of the anger these bastards dared show against those they occupied and futility of it all in the face of the world’s disinterest and the fact that Ma would never get to see any of this finally crush the spirit of those who lived here and no one would learn the lessons of the place because we were now a template on how to fight back against the oppressor and none of them could see it, and this stupid bastard thought he could beat me into ending my laughter when it was beyond my control, all of it, all of it.

I heard gunfire from the Paras’ rifles and laughed even harder as I choked out, “You stupid bastards -- you’re shootin' at ghosts!”