Derry, Northern Ireland

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

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!”

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