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When I was a young lad twenty or thirty or forty years ago I lived in a small town where they were all after me on account of what I done on Mrs. Nugent. I was hiding out by the river in a hole under a tangle of briars. It was a hide me and Joe made. Death to all dogs who enter here, we said. Except us of course.
You could see plenty from the inside but no one could see you. Weeds and driftwood and everything floating downstream under the dark archway of the bridge. Sailing away to Timbuctoo. Good luck now weeds, I said.
Then I stuck my nose out to see what was going on. Plinkrain if you don't mind!
But I wasn't complaining. I liked rain. The hiss of the water and the earth so soft bright green plants would nearly sprout beside you. This is the life I said. I sat there staring at a waterdrop on the end of a leaf. It couldn't make up its mind whether it wanted to fall or not. It didn't matterI was in no hurry. Take your time drop, I saidwe've got all the time we want now.
We've got all the time in the world.
I could hear a plane droning far away. One time we were standing in the lane behind the houses shading our eyes from the sun and Joe says: Did you see that plane Francie? I said I did. It was a tiny silver bird in the distance. What I want to know is, he said, how do they manage to get a man small enough to fit in it? I said I didn't know. I didn't know much about planes in them days.
I was thinking about Mrs Nugent standing there crying her eyes out. I said sure what's the use in crying now Nugent it was you caused all the trouble if you hadn't poked your nose in everything would have been all right. And it was true. Why would I want to harm her son PhilipI liked him. The first day he came to the school Joe says to me did you see the new fellow? Philip Nugent is his name. O, I says, I'll have to see this. He had been to a private school and he wore this blazer with gold braid and a crest on the breast pocket. He had a navy blue cap with a badge and grey socks. What do you make of that says Joe. Woh boy, I said, Philip Nugent. This is Philip Nugent, said the master, he's come to join us Philip used to live in London but his parents are from the town and they have come back here to live. Now I want you to make him feel at home won't you? He was like Winker Watson out of the Dandy in this get-up of his only Winker was always up to devilment and Philip was the opposite. Every time you saw him he was investigating insects under rocks or explaining to some snottery-nosed young gawk about the boiling point of water. Me and Joe used to ask him all about this school. We said: What about these secret meetings and passwords? Tell us about the tuck shopcome on Philip but I don't think he knew what we were talking about. The best thing about him was his collection of comics. I just can't get over it, said Joe, I never seen anything like it. He had them all neatly filed away in shirt boxes not a crease or a dog-ear in sight. They looked as if they had come straight out of the shop. There were comics there we had never seen before in our lives and we thought we knew plenty about comics. Mrs Nugent says: Make sure not to damage any of those now they cost money. We said: We won't!but afterwards Joe said to me: Francie we've got to have them. So you could say it was him started it and not me. We talked about it for a long time and we made our decision.
We had to have them and that was that.
We called round to Philip and had a swopping session.
We cleaned him out. I admit it. It was only a laugh. We'd have given them back if he asked for them. All he had to say was: Look chaps, I think I want my comics back and we'd have said: OK Phil.
But of course Nugent couldn't wait for that. Anyway we left Philip with his pile of junk and off we went to the hide going on about it all until the tears ran down our faces. Wait till you hear this one Joe would say one flea says to the other what do you say will we walk or take a dog. He was reading out all these jokes I couldn't stop the laughing, I was choking. We got so bad I was hitting the grass with my fists crying stop Joe stop. But we weren't laughing the next day when Nugent got on the job.
I met Joe coming across the Diamond and he says to me watch out Francie we're in the wars with Nugent. She called at our house and she'll be round to you. Sure enough I was lying on the bed upstairs and the knock comes to the front door. I could hear ma humming and the shuffle of her slippers on the lino. Ah hello Mrs Nugent come in but Nugent was in no humour for ah hello come in or any of that. She lay into ma about the comics and the whole lot and I could hear ma saying yes yes I know I will of course! and I was waiting for her to come flying up the stairs, get me by the ear and throw me on the step in front of Nugent and that's what she would have done if Nugent hadn't started on about the pigs. She said she knew the kind of us long before she went to England and she might have known not to let her son anywhere near the likes of me what else would you expect from a house where the father's never in, lying about the pubs from morning to night, he's no better than a pig. You needn't think we don't know what goes on in this house oh we know all right! Small wonder the boy is the way he is what chance has he got running about the town at all hours and the clothes hanging off him it doesn't take money to dress a child God love him it's not his fault but if he's seen near our Philip again there'll be trouble. There'll be trouble now mark my words!
After that ma took my part and the last thing I heard was Nugent going down the lane and calling back Pigssure the whole town knows that!
Ma pulled me down the stairs and gave me the mother and father of a flaking but it took more out of her than it did out of me for her hands were trembling like leaves in the breeze she threw the stick from her and steadied herself in the kitchen saying she was sorry over and over. She said there was nobody in the world meant more to her than me. Then she put her arms around me and said it was her nerves it was them was to blame for everything. It wasn't always like this for your father and me she said. Then she looked into my eyes and said: Francie you would never let me down would you?
She meant you wouldn't let me down like da did I said no I wouldn't let her down in a hundred million years no matter how many times she took into me with the stick. She said she was sorry she had done that and she would never do it again as long as she lived.
She said that was all there was in this world, people who let you down. She said when Mrs Nugent came to the town first there was nobody like her. I used to be up the town with her every day she said. Then she started crying and saying this awful place and dabbing at her eyes with a tiny bit of tissue out of her apron pocket. But it was no use it just frittered away into little pieces.
The light slanting in the window and you could hear the children playing outside in the lane. They had set up a shop and were paying for groceries with pebbles. They had empty soap powder boxes and bean tins. Noits my turn one of them said. Grouse Armstrong scratched his ear and yelped running in and out among them.
I was thinking how right ma wasMrs Nugent all smiles when she met us and how are you getting on Mrs and young Francis are you both well? It was hard to believe that all the time what she was really saying was: Ah hello Mrs Pig how are you and look Philip do you see what's coming nowThe Pig Family!
But it didn't matter for me and ma we were great pals after that any chance I got I says to her well ma do you want any messages up the town sometimes she did and sometimes she didn't but I always made sure to ask her anyway. She gave me my dinner and says Francie if you ever have a sweetheart you'll tell her the truth and never let her down won't you?
I says I will ma and she says I know you will son and then we'd just sit there for hours sometimes just staring into the firegrate only there never was a fire ma never bothered to light one and I wasn't sure how to go about it. I said what fire do we want its just as good sitting here staring into the ashes.
I don't know what night it was I think it was the night the town won the cup da had to be left home it was one of the railwaymen dropped him at the door. I stood on the landing but all I could hear was mumbling and coins dropping on the floor. I was going back into the room when I heard something breaking I wasn't sure what it was but it sounded like glass. Then I heard da cursing the town and everybody in it he said he could have been somebody hadn't he met Eddie Calvert who else in the town had ever met Eddie Calvert who else in the town even knew who Eddie Calvert was? Who? he said, Who? He shouted at ma: Do you hear me talking to you?
She mustn't have said anything for the next thing he was off into the speech about his father leaving them when he was seven and how nobody understood him he said she lost interest in his music long ago and she didn't care it wasn't his fault she was the way he was then he said she was mad like all the Magees, lying about the house from the day they married never did a hand's turn why wouldn't he go to the pubs she had never made a dinner for him in his life?
Something else broke crockery or something and then ma was crying: Don't blame me because you can't face the truth about yourself, any chances you had you drank them away!
It went on a long time I was just standing there listening to it all I knew I should have gone down but that's no use now is it I didn't did I? I didn't go down and that's that. I was trying to listen to the cars going by on the Newtown Road and saying to myself: I can't hear anything in the kitchen now it must be all over.
But it wasn't all over and when I stopped listening to the cars I'd hear him: God's curse the fucking day I ever set eyes on you!
The next day we got out of school early on account of the town winning the cup and when ma seen me at the back door she got all flustered and started making jokes and all this. Then she got her purse down off the window and says here Francie, there's sixpence why don't you go on round to Mary's sweetshop and buy yourself a quarter of dolly mixtures? No ma I says, I won't buy dolly mixtures but I will buy two Flash Bars and a macaroon bar if I can can I? Of course you can she says. Now go on go on and her face was red and patchy and hot like she'd been sitting bent over the fire only there was no fire. It was a pity but Mary's was shut so I had to come back and tell ma. I wanted to see if I could still get keeping the sixpence. But when I tried to open the door it wouldn't. I knocked at the window but all I could hear was the tap ssssss. Ma must be up the stairs I said whistling and rolling the tanner round in my hand wondering would I get the Flash Bars after all or maybe six cough-no-more black toffees. Then I heard a clatter I thought I'd better get in the window to see what that was I thought maybe Grouse Armstrong or someone was in stealing the sausages again but when I got into the kitchen who's there only ma standing there and a chair sideways on the table. What's that doing up there ma I says it was fuse wire belonging to da just dangling but she didn't say what it was doing there she was just stood there picking at her nail and going to say something and then not saying it. I told her Mary's was shut could I still keep the sixpence she said I could Yee ha! I said and bombed off out to the border shop to get six cough-no-mores but then when I got there I said two Flash Bars and a macaroon please. When I got back ma was doubled up in the chair by the dead fire for a minute I thought she was shivering with the cold but then she looked at me and said: You know you were only five pounds weight when you were born Francie.
It wasn't too long after that ma was took off to the garage. She says to me: I'm away off up the town now Francie I have to get the baking started for your Uncle Alo's Christmas party. Right, I says, I'll just stay here and watch the telly and off she went I didn't notice the time passing until I heard Mrs Connolly at the door with da and some other women she said ma'd been standing for two hours looking in the window of the fishing tackle shop with the bag on the ground and a tin of beans rolling round the footpath. Da was flushed and when the women said they'd have to see about a nightdress he got even more flushed then Mrs Connolly said never mind Benny I'll look after it and she tapped him on the shoulder like a mother then hoisted her skirts and went off upstairs singing. He went out into the scullery then I could hear him swigging whiskey in under his coat. He was waiting for them to call out through a megaphone: Don't move! Stay right where you are! Put the whiskey down nice and easy and don't try any tricks! A few more women came in and stood whispering by the fire. I could see Mrs Connolly pulling the zipper of her housecoat up and down going terrible terrible but I didn't care. Take 'em to Missouri! said John Wayne and hee-yah! he rode off in a thunder of hooves. They hung around for a while talking about this and that, stuff they thought da might like to hear, about the town band and the way the government was ruining the country but he wasn't any more interested than they were, he just kept on nodding he'd have nodded no matter what they said. If they had said wasn't it terrible about Mrs Lavery's daughter being eaten by wolves on the Diamond he'd have nodded and said yes indeed it was. Mrs Connolly said well I'd best be off now I've left his dinner on the stove and you know what men are like if you don't look after them. Oh now, they said, and gave her a shove, who are you telling, at least your fellow eats mine will eat nothing I give him. Oh they're a terror the men, a terror now to the living world. All was left of John was a cloud of dust and the desert pocked with hoofmarks. I've a bit of business to do said da, you'll be all right, and handed me two bob. Then off he went to see about his business Tower Bar business that is. I didn't know anything about ma and all this but Joe filled me in. I heard Mrs Connolly saying breakdown what's breakdown Joe. I says, Oh that's when you're took off to the garage, Joe told me, it's when the truck comes and tows you away. That was a good one I thought, ma towed away off up the street with the coat on. Who's that, they'd say. Oh that's Mrs Brady they're taking her off to the garage.
Joe said there was some crack in this town and there sure was. Hand me down the spanner I think Mrs Brady's ankle needs tightening. Oh now, I said, what a laugh.