Warning: This story contains swearing, but I feel only enough as is required by the subject matter. It also contains some pretty graphic(non-sexual) content
As always, comments are awesome
Tommy Flannigan was screaming. His hands were covered in blood and plaster, and he was screaming for his mother. In an instant, the world turned upside down. There was a ringing in my ears, a high-pitched pinging that refused to cease. The world seemed muffled, and Tommy’s shouting came into my ears as a faint whisper. A cloud of dust and debris hung in the air, a white fog permeated in parts by the orange glow of fire. The faint but piercing sound of sirens cut through the haze.
“Just start from the beginning.”
“I’ve told you before, I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Look, this is your third visit, and the second without throwing a punch at me, I think we’re making progress.”
He was right, I hated that about him, he always had to be right. I was staring him down from across the room, me in a worn canvas chair, he on a leather couch. I wanted to open up, just not to him. He was an arrogant prick, sitting there with his blue sweater vest and his blue-striped tie pushed down sloppily, suggesting to me that the patient before me, a 20-something blond with legs to Avalon, was quite a handful. I wanted to knock his plastered smile through the wall, but it hadn’t worked out for me the last
time, so I shoved that thought aside. Even if I wanted to tell him, he wouldn’t really understand. Sure, he’d say it, but he could never do it. I wanted a shrink who would, someone who experienced this firsthand, someone else who woke up in a cold sweat, screaming.
It had started out like any other day in August. I had gone with my ma into town, school would be starting soon, and I had outgrown my uniform pants. My ma was always fussing over things like that, God help me if my pants were a little short. She had woken me up early that morning, in order to “beat the hordes”, whatever that meant. I remember thinking, is there really a mad rush on pants at Kells?
Kells was the town draper, and the local schools supplied their uniforms through them. We had arrived in town around 10, my ma walking five feet in front of me, dragging with all of her might. My feet skidded across the sidewalk, kicking up dust. What I really wanted to do was hang out with the guys, leaving a wake of destruction wherever we went.
We passed by the towering buildings in the town proper, remnants from another time far in the past. Their white plaster was beginning to peel and flake off, falling into the cracks of the cobblestones in the street.
“If you don’t stop right now, your da’ll be givin you a clatterin’ you won’t be forgettin”
That always got me to straighten up, not that my da would actually beat me, he would always say, “If you do it right, you’ll only need to do it once, the rest is fear”.
I corrected myself and continued on, and with much luck, as Lorraine was on her way towards me. She was in grade 8, and I would have seemed immature to her, with me kicking and flailing, and
for what? Because I didn’t want to go shopping? No, that wouldn’t do. She was civilized.
Our house was 3 houses down from Lorraine’s, and I would often see her on my way to school. Even though nothing was said, I knew she was someone special. Her eyes were disarming, her smile lit up the dull gray morning skies. The short walks to school were all the better by her mere presence. We were never alone on our way to school, but it almost seemed as if we were. I never said anything either, my knotted stomach saw to that. My nerves were always holding me back from expressing my feelings, but this day they would be a dam no more.
Today I had a plan, I would cooperate with my ma, do everything right, and then go for it. Today was the day I would suppress me feelings no longer and tell Lorraine how I felt about her. There were so many things I wanted to say, so many things I wanted to do with her. Rejection was nowhere to be found in my plans.
Ma yanked me into the store. I told her I would be good, and that I realized the ‘err of my ways’, that always got her. Most of the time she just wanted to hear from my own lips that I was good for nothing, she got the greatest satisfaction when I used her exact words, proving that my own thoughts were wrong. A smile spread across her lips, although it was more of a small movement of her upper lip, she never smiled a big American smile, but a small, reserved smile, gained from many years of disappointment.
“An what is it you’d be wantin’ in return young boyo?” I hated it when she used that word. It’s amazing how much a simple ‘o’ can change the connotations of a word.
“Just to please you…and hang out wit the guys,” the last part I said much more quietly than the rest. She had the ears of a hawk, and heard the entirety of it. The sneer would have been much worse had I
neglected to mention my true intentions.
“Oh, is that right? We shall fuckin see then, I’ll have you jigging in my palm.”
We spent many countless hours in Kell’s, and I must have tried on every pair of pants they had in stock, and even some they didn’t. At last she seemed satisfied with a pair that seemed to cut off all circulation to my lower extremities. As we left, she threw me against the worn brick wall.
“You can go have yer fun, but if it ends up like last time, your da’ll be the least of yer fears.”
I ran towards the courthouse to meet up with the guys. I found them leaning against a barricade hastily thrown up earlier in the morning. Brian was two years older than me, and smoked like a factory. I was always sure that he never smoked around his ma, she was a good one of the cane, and Brian had received it many times for lesser offenses. His brother Sean stood next to him, a foot shorter than the elder Wilson. It wasn’t long after we exchanged our greetings that the events of the day really began to play out.
The guards were moving us away from the courthouse. A bomb threat had been called in earlier that morning, with only the vaguest of details about the when and where. They were pushing us back towards Kell’s, using their batons like plows, held out in front. Brian was in front of me, egging on the cops as he always did. None of us took the bomb threat seriously, we had grown up in a political climate where bombs only went off forty-five percent of the time, and always in Belfast or Derry, somewhere far away from us in County Tyrone. Sean hung next to his brother, laughing at the cops, but with no courage to yell himself. We were pushed towards Market Street, where a group had already been gathered. Among the crowd I saw Lorraine, her unmistakable red hair tied back in a ponytail. She had been working at the time, and her workmate Samantha was with her. I began trying to walk towards her, but met strong resistance from the crowd. I began pushing people aside, offering my apologies as I went. Brian shouted towards me.
“Hey! Ruadhan! Where’ya goin’?”
“I’m gonna go talk to Lorraine!”
We had to shout to hear ourselves over the noise, mostly people discussing the evacuation amongst themselves.
“Ha! I knew it! I fucking knew it! You love that girl, you….”
His words were cut by a loud bang from behind us. We were shoved forward by the force, and I felt a large, sudden whoosh of air come over me. For a few moments there was nothing but blackness, and the complete absence of sound. My ears were throbbing when I came too, and the darkness gave way to a red haze. I was shocked at the sight of all the blood, it didn’t seem possible that there could be that much. It was everywhere, and I was covered in it. I felt around myself to see if it was mine, sitting up and taking a look around.
The scene that lay before me was of chaos, the whole town looked like a war zone in the old World War II films. The mannequins who had previously resided in Kell’s and the other shops were strewn about the street, and I swore one of them, sans arms or legs, was screaming. Brian lay next to me, staring down at what was left of his leg. I don’t know if he was too much in shock, but no tear escaped from his eyes. He stood transfixed, unsure as to how to comprehend the damage. His brother Sean was lying unconscious next to him, his face submerged in water.
All of the water mains had been burst in the explosion, and several rivers had begun forming, snaking their way down Market Street. The water had mixed with the blood, and the rivers turned to a
dark red. I reached over and pulled Sean out of the puddle and checked him for any signs of life. He had a pulse and was breathing, and I lay him down on his back.
All the sounds of the world rushed forth in an instant. I heard yelling in Spanish, and Tommy Flannigan lumbered past me, each foot taking great effort to advance clumsily forward. The remains of a tour group from Barcelona lay scattered in a concentric ring around the blown out shell of a car. The next day the police would determine that the blast had come from the car, with 300 pounds of explosives hidden in the backseat. I pressed forward and assessed what could be done, and that’s when I saw her.
She was laying face-down in the crimson street, a large brutish two-by-four crushing her graceful neck. I recoiled in shock, it couldn’t be her. Yes, yes it was, there was no mistaking her brilliant red hair. I crept towards her, believing in my own mind that it wouldn’t be her, but also knowing in my heart it was, but still delaying the inevitable. I pulled with all of my might to remove the debris covering her, and was marginally successful. I leaned forward and pounded my fists into the cobblestones, bringing a physical manifestation to my mental anguish.
Sirens filled the air, and I was dragged once more that day, kicking and screaming. I was given a quick once-over by the medics and told to report to County Tyrone General. I didn’t want to leave her alone.
No matter how hard I try, I can’t stop seeing her. She haunts my dreams, and I can’t even go so far as to close my eyes without her face appearing. She’s covered in blood, her face unrecognizable from the way she appeared 30 seconds prior. Her eyes, once a vibrant blue and full of life, happiness, and cheer, were now frozen open, with an expression of complete shock. She hadn’t seen it coming, and even in death couldn’t comprehend what had occurred. I think about her all the time, and I can’t stop. I ask myself questions, like, what if she had called in sick that day? She would still be here, still giggling and talking about boys. She’d be 25 today, maybe she’d have a husband, maybe a child.
How did her parents find out? I always hoped it wasn’t seeing her body on the news. I can’t even describe, nor imagine what must have been running through their minds. They had searched the community bulletin boards, scanning every scrap of paper for a note, anything. They made the journey to Tyrone County and slumped down on the floor, now mostly cleared of those searching for loved ones. They got to go home and be a family again, but not so for themselves.
How awful must it have felt to not be able to answer a single question? In their minds they couldn’t tell, didn’t want to be able to. Her face was broken in, and shards of metal and bone, separated only sporadically cover much of what was once her face. In their hearts they knew, they could not
mistake her soft blue eyes.
With that they declared defeat to their minds, they knew it was her. I knew I wouldn’t have been able to do that. If my brother were the one lying on that table, I wouldn’t have said anything. In my mind, if I didn’t say anything, it wouldn’t be him.
I was released from the hospital to my parents. I think the events of that day scared them sufficiently to silence. We gathered around in the parlor for hours, no one saying anything. I could no longer hold me tears, and retreated to my room.
I cried. For the first time in years, I cried, and it felt good. I knew my da would have come in, with the smell of the creature upon him, and scoff, adding a remark to the side of womanhood. But I didn’t care. As far as I was concerned, the pope could have materialized in my closet of a room, dressed in his best vestments, and I would not be deterred from the task at hand. It had seemed so easy before. Da would be out every Thursday, for a meeting of the Northern Provos.
I had sat in on a meeting the week before, to signal my entry into manhood. I had seen the faces of the men who had done this, smelled their whiskey-soaked breath with just a hint of smoke. I had walked in trailing my father, becoming his shadow, an attempt to remain hidden as long as humanly possible. The door opened with not the normal raucous tones, but a muted atmosphere. Many of the patrons had gone home early, leaving small groups around several tables in the back.
The local was the meeting place the heart of the town, where anyone could go to hear the latest or war stories from the vets of Bogside. A large wooden sign hung from the eaves, and looked as if it was held on with willpower alone. The nails had rusted down to nubs centuries ago. As we walked through the wooden door, I noticed everyone around a large table in the back of the room was wearing an easter lily on their right lapels. It seemed so out of place, why would grown men, men I had grown up around, be wearing flowers? They spoke in hushed tones, and the others around them were moving towards tables in the front. In my entire life, I had never seen people just rise and move collectively, with the exception of the town’s church.
“Sean, tagadh sé”
A man motioned for my da and I to come forward. This particular man was missing the ring finger on his left hand. It wasn’t so obvious while he was pointing, but after his father sat down and motioned for him to sit, the man lay it on the table, holding down a corner of a map, and the gap became bigger. The absence of it bothered me.
Nothing was said for a length of time, and I was beginning to think nothing would be said for a while longer. The 9-fingered man spoke first, motioning towards me.
“Cé hé seo?”
“Is é seo an Ruadhán, my son.” My da placed his hand on my shoulder and presented me like a prized pig at the county fair.
“Can he be trusted?”
“He’s my son.”
The man looked me down, his stone cold eyes, staring into the very depths of me, so much so that I was certain he could see the bar behind me. I could feel his labored breathing upon me, could taste the Bushmills Black Bush on his breath. He had a habit of spitting as he spoke, and so the taste claim was quite accurate. I stepped back so as to remain out of range, but he reached forward and grasped my hand, enveloping it in his. I was relieved to see that it was his right hand, and not the left. I didn’t know why, but I was averse to touching it, and bringing my stomach all the closer to my throat.
“Fáilte Ruadhán, welcome son.”
He looked towards the bartender.
“Pádraig, deoch a chur amach do dhuine, get this man a drink”
I looked to my da, searching for his approval. He nodded slightly, the brim of his scally
masking his face.