Derry, Northern Ireland

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

Saturday, August 6, 2016

A bit more from Place of Safety...

I worked on this, today. It's summer 1970. The fragile peace between the British Army and Catholics in Northern Ireland is beginning to fray, and the IRA has broken into two factions -- Official, those who seek a political solution to the situation developing, and Provisional, those who want to drive the British out and join the 6 counties of Northern Ireland with the rest of the island.


Two months after we'd moved to ClĂ­odhna Place, Eamonn came home from Belfast. And announced he was not returning to Queens.

"Everyone's mad, there," he said, his voice holding a quiver in it I'd never heard before. "It's naught but abuse and anger from all in control, and the Army listens only to them. I can't get to me classes without being rousted five times, each way, and all but spat upon for being Catholic."

Mairead was home from Tilly's and asked, "Couldn't you go on to Trinity?"

"Be run off from the country, thanks to their abuse?" he snapped at her. "I think not."

"True," Ma said. "You've never been the sort to back down ... or work those who hate us." Then she shot me a glance, and it seems I was the only one to see it. I paid no attention. By now, I was used to her disdain for me, though not the money it brought in.

Rhuari asked him, "Then what're you gonna do?"

"I ... I have some possibilities," he said, then ended the discussion by wondering about dinner.

Mairead hopped down to McClosky's for some fish as I peeled potatoes to boil, and Eamonn marveled over how easy it was to fix meals with the new kitchen. Ma fussed about him and made him sit at the table with a cup of tea as she worked, as if he were man of the house. Finally he noticed I'd yet to say a word to him beyond hello.

"You're quiet, Bren," he murmured to me, smiling.

I gave him a shrug and focused on the spuds. And for some reason, my bloody cough started up. Not major just ... just enough to irritate me. I finished and set them to cooking, then went back to the parlor to work on an ancient Royal typewriter Mr. Connelly had brought to me. He was having problems with the keys sticking, but it was just him not doing a good job of removing the oil-dabbled dust between the levers, over the years. A mere toothpick drops of fresh oil did wonders. As a courtesy, I was also checking the teeth on the tab key and cleaning the ink tape's fibers from the letters. For this, I'd make a pound ... and all would go to Ma, since she knew of it from the start. I was not happy, but that's no reason not to do a decent job of it.

I'd laid a cloth across the bottom steps of the staircase, giving me a room enough to both work and sit. Eamonn brought his tea in along with another cup and sat on the floor next to me, his eyes soft and careful. He put the second cup on the step. We could hear Ma jostling about in the kitchen.

"You didn't get any tea," he whispered.

I shrugged ... but I took the second cup, and it was done as I like it. I smiled at him.

He smiled back, and struck me so much as someone so much older, at the moment, I had to focus on the tea to keep from gasping.

"Don't you like my decision?" he asked.

I thought about not replying, but then whispered, "There's more 'n what you're tellin' us."

He nodded and was about to say something, but Mairead bolted in with the fish and nearly knocked him aside.

"Jesus, Eamonn, what're you sitting in the door, for?" she snapped.

"Sharing a cuppa with Bren."

"You could put yourself up three steps to do that and be out of the way, if you gave it a moment's thought!" Damn, she sounded so like Ma, just then. She headed on to the kitchen.

He chuckled, rose, and followed her into the kitchen, saying, "Does Terry know he's getting a girl who's nothing if not always in a rush?"

We didn't speak again till I was in bed and he joined me, freshly washed. "What a joy to have hot water in the tap, eh?" he murmured as he joined me in the bed. "You mind sharing your bed with me?"

I shook my head and looked out the window, at the back of Mr. Carroway's. "The view was better on Nailors Row," I said.

He lay opposite to me, almost in shadows. "What's the trouble, Bren?"

I looked at him. He was back to seeming like good old Eamonn, again. I coughed.

"I ... I read the papers," I said, soft and easy so as not to wake Rhuari and Kirean. "Mr. Hennessy -- he's the clerk at the news agent's on Carlisle Road -- he lets me for having fixed the chain on his bike The bloody thing's older than me and ... " My voice trailed off.

"And?" whispered from Eamonn as he sat up on one arm.

I took a deep breath. "There were fires in the Ardoyne and Short Strand, in Belfast. Businesses and Catholics burned out. People on both sides shot. The army, how'd they put it? Too busy elsewhere. All that ... and nothing near to Queens. But I can smell it all in your coat. And I hear PIRA's been -- "

He held up his hand to stop me. Looked away from me. His voice was tight as he said, "I have never known you to be one to spread gossip."

"I only say this to you 'cause I'm scared for you." He noticed my words quivered and turned his gaze back to me. "I feel like I did when you were goin' on that long walk and ... and I don't want you hurt, again. Seein' you in hospital, like that ... like you were that time ... I'm scared for you."

He sat up. Laid his arms across his knees and rested his chin on them to eye me. He seemed surprised. Unsure. "I've always wondered what you really think about us. You're so quiet. So focused on what you do. Sometimes it feels as if you're looking down on the rest of the family."

"Eamonn!" It jolted me that he said such a thing.

"I know better, Bren. I'm sorry for having ever thought it. I can't tell you anything more than ... than I did not return to Queens in January. The IRA's cowardice in the face of what's been happening ... it had to be remedied. And so ... it is."

Oh, Holy Mary. "Can ... can I help you in some way?"

He seemed to go deep into thought. His face took on the expression of someone far older, again. Then he said, "Do you ... have you already built some fresh hiding spaces in this place? For to keep your stash?"

I nodded. "It wasn't easy. Ma kept a sharp eye on me, expecting it."

"Is one big enough for this?"

He shifted off the bed and dug into his bag to pull out a felt wrapper ... and inside it was an automatic pistol.

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