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Willie Shannon was a quiet man. He lived with his sister, Catherine, in the house they had been bornin. Willie was seventy-three; Catherine was seventy-five. Until their retirements they had worked for two of the bigger shops in downtown Belfast.
Willie had been a storeman in Woolworth's, Catherine a buyer for one of Royal Avenue's fashion stores. Catherine could have become the buyer for an entire floor, "Silks and Lace"—Mr. Bradshaw himself had offered her the position. She had seriously considered accepting his offer but, as she would conclude primly to whomever she was addressing, it wasn't to be. She also had at that time an enduring but temporary attachment to a young man who had moved to Belfast from Banbridge. He was a Protestant and boarded with friends of Willie and Catherine's mother. He was a real gentleman, Catherine would recall, a little sadly perhaps, as she reflected on what might have been. She still had a photograph upstairs somewhere of herself and Ronnie, taken the day they had gone to the Glens of Antrim.
If Willie had tales of lost love he kept them to himself. He was fond of a drink. That was one of the legacies of Woolworth's. He had learned to drink as part of his apprenticeship. At first it was a bottle of stout, carefully nursed for half an hour on paydays in one of the snugs in Kelly's before he caught the bus home. Later, as he came out of his teens, he graduated to pints of porter and on special occasions to a half-un of Bushmills. On those nights, in the beginning, dinner was delayed until Catherine bustled in to announce that there was "no pointin waiting for our Willie. He's with that crowd in the pub."
Their mother would put Willie's dinner in the oven or between two plates atop a pot of simmering water while Catherine served the rest of the family. There were two more in the family, James and Lily, who were younger than Catherine and Willie. James, to his father's delight, won a place in St. Malachy's College. By this time Willie was three years in Woolworth's while Lily, the youngest, was still at St. Mary's Primary School for Girls.
Then their father died. He died slowly and painfully the year James started in St. Malachy's. In a way Willie became the father figure, the head of the family. He was twenty-three years old. After a while pay nights became his late nights. On those nights the family had their dinner at the normal time without him. When he returned later smelling of tobacco and Guinness and full of good humor his mother fussed around him, serving a freshly cooked dinner on a tray instead of at the table. When he had eaten his fill Willie usually slipped young James and Lily their "pay" before presenting his mother with his weekly subscription to the family's income.
"I'm away up for a wash, Ma," Willie would say, "and then I'm off for a pint. I'll be in early."
"That's all right, son," Mrs. Shannon would reply. "There's a clean shirt over the chair in your room."
Willie never gave her any trouble. On Saturdays if he wasn't working he'd be off training or playing for the Rossa hurling club, then back home for a big fry of bacon, eggs, black pudding and sausages served up on a bed of soda and potato farls. If the evening was fine he and his cronies would dander up to Charlie Watter's public houseat Hannahstown on the shoulder of Black Mountain. Then, as the dusk slowly settled in on the city below them and sea mists smothered Belfast Lough, they strolled back again, yarning and boasting and laughing as young men do. Sundays were family days. They went to early mass together. They ate well at noontime, a Sunday dinner which was prepared and served by Mrs. Shannon and her daughters while Willie enjoyed a leisurely read of the Sunday Press. After dinner he and James washed up the dishes and they talked of hurling and football or Willie would quiz James good-humoredly about his schoolwork. Then Mrs. Shannon and the girls went off visiting their Aunt Anne or cousin Mena, James settled down in the parlor to study and Willie strolled across to the Falls Park to meet his friends. In winter the routine was changed only to suit the weather.
It went on like that for years. In time James progressed through St. Malachy's and into teacher training. He got his first position as a trainee teacher in a small school outside Ardboe in County Tyrone. Two years later he married and he and his new wife moved to Strabane and from there to Glasgow in Scotland. Lily also married. She wed a schoolboy sweetheart who grew to abuse her. Their marriage soured as his drinking increased and their relationship degenerated into a behind-doors hell for them both, especially for her. Only Willie and Catherine remained the same. Their neighbors and friends, their workmates, the Rossa team, even Willie's drinking companions eventually settled into marriages, emigration and in one case the priesthood. Willie and Catherine and their mother persisted happily in routines which had constancy and reassurance and when Mrs. Shannon died Willie and Catherine carried on as they had when she was alive. They fitted into the rhythms of each other's lives. In many ways they complemented one another's lifestyles.
Willie was by now a senior storeman at Woolworth's and a committeeman at the Rossa club. One of the highlights of his year was the All-Ireland Hurling Final in Dublin. He would spend the weekend there, boarding in a bed-and-breakfast house close to Mountjoy Square. It had been part of his annual pilgrimage for twenty years, and on the Saturday he went there straight from the early train. Hewas treated like a king and reveled in the attention he received. Then, with a jaunty air he was off to tea in Bewley's, a browse along the bookshops on the quays, a steak dinner in Wynn's before strolling up to the GPO to meet the Rossa crowd at Nelson's Pillar. They all adjourned for a few pints and a sing-song in their hotel. No matter who won the match the weekend was always a triumph, and Catherine got a full blow-by-blow account of the game for nights afterwards. She knew every ween and turn of Willie. Sometimes she would tease him gently as he enthused about a particular action on the field or as he berated some player's incompetence. She, for her part, seemed content with her small circle of friends, an occasional small sherry and a regular trip to the theater.
She went to the Lough Derg pilgrimage every year; that was her All-Ireland. In 1967 she retired from Bradshaw's. After a month of boredom around the house she got involved with the local Ladies' Co-operative Guild. Soon she was enclosed in its circle of activities.
When Willie retired his workmates did a whip-round and presented him with one of the new black-and-white television sets. Willie was delighted. He spent the first few weeks of his retirement between the television set and the Falls Park. There was some sporadic trouble in Belfast city center that year. Willie and Catherine paid little heed to it. Indeed, if they hadn't had the television set they might not even have known about it. In the first week of October they went on a parish pilgrimage to Rome. It was there on the night of 6 October that Willie saw television coverage of the RUC's attack on the Civil Rights march in Derry the previous day. He was in a small bar when the strangely familiar uniforms rioted across a news program. He wasn't sure what it was or where exactly in Ireland it happened. In fact, he was slightly puzzled and then embarrassed when the barman drew his attention to the television in the corner of the room. "You Irish, you zed? Si? Look!" he pointed excitedly at the screen. When Willie returned to their hotel the group was talking about the trouble. One woman had phoned her sister in Derry. Fr. Crummey organized the phone call. The news wasn't good but the slight shadow it cast over their visit evaporated the following morning in the Roman sunshine.
"Isn't it wonderful how warm this place is on an autumn day?" Catherine remarked to Willie as they lunched in a small restaurant in the Via Flavia, a narrow street behind their hotel.
"Indeed it is," Willie agreed. "The Falls Road was never like this."
"You leave the Falls Road alone," Catherine replied.
The slight hint of an edge on her voice puzzled him but he took it in good part. Only when they were home again days later did he remember that little undercurrent of tension. It came back into her voice as they listened to a television debate between Civil Rights leaders and a Stormont government minister.
"I think they are only interested in creating trouble. Things aren't as bad as all that," she sniffed.
"Well, they're not that great either," Willie answered. "It's good that somebody's standing up for us."
"They're not standing up for me," Catherine retorted. "I'm quite capable of doing that for myself, thank you very much. There'll be no good come out of it. You mark my words. They are only in it for what they can get out of it for themselves. And the young people have no sense anyway. It'll be long and many a day before I'd need any of that crowd to help me. There'll be no good'll come out of their rabble-rousing."
Willie was surprised by her tone. They had never discussed politics before. He wasn't sure if Catherine even bothered to vote. He always voted but more out of some sense of responsibility than any ideological commitment. Of course he always voted anti-Unionist. And, he realized to his surprise as he reflected on Catherine's outburst, he had never told anybody about his voting habits. Now, with time on his hands, he was discovering that his attitudes were more questioning than they had been before. There was so much happening every other day, between protests and counter-protests, statements and counter-statements, all transmitted on the black-and-white television or reported in the morning paper. Willie found himself becoming absorbed in the political excitement of the period. At times he found it difficult to comprehend how Catherine avoided what was happening outside. Whenever he tried to talkto her about whatever issue was dominating that day's headlines she refused to be drawn into conversation. Things came to a head between them one morning. A man had been killed in an RUC baton charge the night before. The first Willie knew of the incident was at breakfast when Catherine flung the Irish News across the table at him.
"I suppose you and your friends are satisfied now," she cried at him.
He was dumbfounded at first and then as he read the lead story anger replaced his bewilderment. Crumpling the paper in his hand he followed Catherine into the scullery where she had retreated after her outburst.
"What do you mean?" he confronted her. "What do you mean am I satisfied? Them bastards kill a man and you give off to me? What do you mean, woman? What's in your head? I suppose it was that poor man's fault that they killed him?"
Catherine said nothing. She turned her back to him and adjusted the heat under the teapot on the stove. He flung the newspaper at her in anger.
"Don't ever say anything like that to me ever again as long as you live, Catherine. If that's all you think about the situation then keep your thoughts to yourself. And don't worry about breakfast for me. I'm going out!"
He didn't return until nightfall and although she had kept a nervous vigil at the parlor window awaiting his return she said nothing as he stumbled his drunken, hurt, mumbling way upstairs to bed. The following day she told him that it might be better if they didn't discuss politics in the house. He said nothing. The next morning he went to the funeral of the man who had been killed in the baton charge. He said nothing about this to Catherine and soon things in the house returned to the way they had always been, as if nothing had happened. But as their effort to avoid contentious topics of conversation intensified indoors, while the troubles outside continued to escalate, the relationship between brother and sister slowly turned into one of long, lonely silences. They were so much a part of eachother's routine that the rituals remained unchanged, but as the awkwardness between them grew so did Willie's feelings of resentment and Catherine's sense of outrage. Gradually the warmth they felt for each other died. It was, as Willie remarked to himself one day, a bit like the cold war.
Yet he could not bring himself to make the peace: Catherine was demanding too high a price. He was prepared to compromise, to meet her halfway, but he was not prepared to surrender. It was she who was attacking him. Even a careless word from him about some incident or other was greeted by a scornful "You know I don't want to know that" from Catherine. Wounded, he would withdraw and a long, brittle silence would follow.
When he got drunk, which was seldom enough, then the resentment flowed out of him in an ugly, frustrated and angry torrent. He'd arrive home late and stumble noisily and clumsily into the quiet, waiting house. At first she used to scold him, rising from the chair where she waited anxiously for him to return, but his fury was so intense that she became a little frightened of him. She still waited up but now she held her tongue. Even then, in his drunken slyness he realized the power he had over her, and poured out his disgust at her, goaded to louder outbursts by her silent refusal to be drawn by his insults.
The next day he would be like a contrite child and for a while it would be like old times as he tried to please her by doing little things about the house and she slowly thawed, despite herself, in the face of his charm. At these times even the television news failed to divide them as they made a special effort not to let outsiders destroy them, but such was the daily controversy which swirled all around and so entrenched were they both in their views that such respites were not only infrequent, they were also short-lived. It was during just such a period, as they sat beside a roaring fire, watching the Sunday film on television, that a newsflash invaded their cozy contentment. Like the broadcast three years earlier in Rome the news this time, at first vague but becoming clearer and more deadly by the hour, was also about Derry.
They sat, numbed as the enormity of it was broadcast into their sitting-room. It was Catherine who eventually spoke.
"I'm sorry, Willie."
He made no reply.
"I'm surprised you're not applauding," he exclaimed savagely. The wounded shock on her face halted him for a second but even then his pain was too great for him to contain.
"That's what comes from your creeping-Jesus refusal to face up to the way things are. Bloody British soldiers shooting our people down like dogs and all you can say is you're sorry! What are you sorry for? You've done nothing wrong."
He was on his feet, glowering at her. She looked up at him. Pain and disbelief were etched across her face. For a moment their gazes met, bewildered and hurt, an old man and an old woman in their own living room, brother and sister, spinster and bachelor, lifelong friends, and then slowly before his eyes she slumped from her chair with a little sigh and sprawled awkwardly at his feet.
She was buried on the same day as the dead of Bloody Sunday. Willie lived on, on his own after that. He retained his interest in politics. Indeed despite his age he attended the litany of local protests all that spring and early summer, yet he himself knew that the fire inside him had died. His sense of outrage had gone. He was, as he acknowledged to himself, only marking time. He died in August in the Royal Victoria Hospital while being treated for pneumonia. The hospital chaplain anointed him just before he passed away. As he did so the priest thought he heard him whisper something.
"What's that, Willie?" he asked.
"I'm sorry, Catherine," Willie sighed. "I'm sorry."
A canopy of wire shrouds the squat, grey two-story building. The entrance to the area between the wire and the building is a turnstile guarded by a security hut. Entry to the building itself—for there is no other reason to breach the wire—is by way of a double glass-paneled door which leads into a short hall watched over by two or three uniformed attendants. To the left are rows of dark plastic chairs; to the right another pair of glass-paneled doors opens into a large, empty room. Through here yet another set of doors brings you into a long, wide room. On one side is a counter topped to the high ceiling by protective glass. Behind the glass are low boxes of index cards thumbed through by mostly young men and women. They slip forms on request through openings in the glass shields to queues of mostly young, casually dressed men and women.
This is the dole, the "broo." It is a Monday morning. On the grey plastic chairs sit a dozen people. Some wear the uniform of the casually unemployed: training shoes, jeans, zip-up jackets or sports tops.Other classes wear clothes like this, of course—occasionally. Many of the casually unemployed wear them all the time, at funerals and dances, at weddings and on street corners, in warm weather and wet. Some of the casually unemployed are women; more unwaged than unemployed, many are accompanied by small children. Prams are not permitted in the broo, though, so the small children thus liberated, or denied a resting place, laugh or whinge the time away, crawling over and under the plastic chairs and across the cold floor. Occasionally an adult or juvenile will raise his eyes off the tiled floor to smile or glare at the infant malcontents; others doze fitfully, one or two read newspapers, some converse quietly together. All are bored. When an attendant arrives with a list of names all look up expectantly.
"Grogan, McAteer, Russell." The attendant calls and the owners of the names signal their presence and are directed to small rooms or cubicles where they provide answers to the many questions asked to ascertain whether they can be permitted a loan or a small grant. Usually they wait for hours. Sometimes they wait for nothing.
In the big room with the long counter the signing-on is done. All signers-on go to a previously assigned, numbered part of the counter. They show a yellow card, a UB40, and pass over a white card which they have received in the post with their giro check—a new one with every payment. They are given a slip of paper in exchange. They sign this declaration which confirms that they have not worked since last they signed on, and that, usually, is that. At busy times a queue will form, at other times a signer-on may be challenged from behind the counter.
Occasionally there will be a spot-check. Is the signer-on impersonating someone else or are they really the person they claim to be? The large signing-on room is less grim than the smaller one. Fewer people sit waiting there, and unless they are challenged or spot-checked or waiting for a friend, most slip in and out as quickly as possible. Outside the building two streams of people moved urgently back and forth. Richard McCaughley, swept along in the human current, entered the building. A slightly built, dark-haired man in hismid-twenties, he wore jeans, denim jacket and training shoes. His attractive face was unshaven and his eyes were cheerful and alert. He whistled quietly to himself as he went to his box and presented his UB40. He was shaken from his musical reverie only when the man behind him in the queue nudged his arm.
"She wants you, mate."
Richard looked up. The young woman behind the counter tapped the glass with her pen.
"Payment has been discontinued, Mr. McCaughley," she said. "I'm sorry, but you'll have to take a seat for a few minutes. Mr. Bryson will see you."
Richard nodded blankly. As he went to one of the plastic seats his mind raced ahead, panicking as the news sank in. "Your payment has been discontinued, Mr. McCaughley. Your payment has been discontinued."
He slouched into his seat. "What will I tell Jean?" he asked himself. He glanced anxiously up at the box. The clerk wasn't there. When she returned she smiled brightly over at him. Reassured, his panic abated. "It's just a mistake, some balls-up." They couldn't discontinue his payment. He had to live. He had a wife and two children to keep; they couldn't be left to starve. Indignation replaced despondency. "Who do they think they are? Treating people like dirt."
"Mr. McCaughley." A tall middle-aged man with glasses summoned him to the counter. He held a handful of forms as he leaned over towards Richard and spoke to him in a low, confidential tone which struggled to be heard above the babble of noise around them.
"Mr. McCaughley, my name is Bryson. Your payment has been discontinued: your oldest child has passed the school attendance age. If he is going to stay at school you will have to make a fresh claim. In the meantime I have arranged for you to get a special benefit. You will have to take this form to the lady up at special benefits.
"I can help you to fill in a new claim for your income support, or if you wish you can fill it in yourself and leave it back here for me." He looked quizzically over his glasses at Richard.
"What do you mean my son's left school?" Richard asked.
"According to our forms he is school-leaving age. If he wishes to stay at school," Mr. Bryson spoke more slowly and deliberately this time, "if he wishes to stay at school you will have to make a fresh claim. The claim for your wife and youngest child is being processed at present so I have arranged a special benefit for..."
"My son is only a child," Richard interrupted him.
Mr. Bryson's face wore the resigned look of a worn-out school-teacher.
"That may be so, but at sixteen he is at school-leaving age."
"Our Danny is sixteen months old, not sixteen years," Richard said tersely.
"Are you sure?" Mr. Bryson peered at him.
"Am I sure? Am I fucking sure? Of course I'm sure. I'm his fucking da, amn't I?"
"Well according to this form he is sixteen years of age and..."
"He's sixteen months. He hasn't even started school yet, nevermind leaving it!"
"Well, obviously there has been some mistake. Can you give me the child's full names and date of birth please, Mr. McCaughley?"
Mr. Bryson noted down Richard's replies and went off with his handful of forms. He returned a few minutes later.
"Look, this is where the mistake is Mr. McCaughley; I'm verysorry. It's the computer printout."
He showed Richard the sheet of paper.
"I'll get this sorted out for your next signing-on day. It has to go back to central office, you see," he continued apologetically, "but you'll get the payment as normal for yourself and the wife and one child and if you go up to special benefits with this form you'll get payment for the other child. I'm sorry," he concluded sheepishly, "it's the bloody computer." He slipped the form through to Richard.
"It's okay," Richard said quietly. Suddenly he felt sorry for Mr. Bryson. He picked up the form. "I'm sorry for cursing at you," he said.
He turned and walked slowly out of the signing-on room towards the special benefits room. Mr. Bryson stood immobile behind his counter, blushing a little. Then he shuffled his handful of forms. He looked over to the middle-aged woman sitting opposite him.
"Spot-check, please! Mrs. Flannery?" he called brusquely.
The man sitting on the plastic chair beside Richard gurgled; that is, his stomach gurgled. He looked over at Richard.
"Was that you or me?" he smiled.
"What's that?" Richard stammered. He wanted to avoid conversation.
It was almost half-past eleven and he had now been in the broo for two hours. He looked over towards the cubicle. Somewhere behind the door his benefits form was being processed. His neighbor's stomach gurgled again. He nudged Richard.
"My guts think my throat's cut. I'm starved. Here, d'you want a fag?" he asked.
"Thanks, mate," Richard inhaled thankfully. He had smoked the last of his cigarettes for breakfast that morning. "I was dying for asmoke."
"Aye, I know the craic myself. There's nothing worse than having no smokes. Especially in a kip like this." He glanced up as an attendant called out a list of names.
"Nope. No luck there. Ach well, there's no use complaining. No point in biting the hand that feeds you, that's what I say."
"Unless you're starving," Richard observed dryly.
"Ha," his neighbor chortled, "that's a good one. Well said. Oops, that's me." He nodded over towards the attendant. "See ya, son."
"Thanks for the cigarette," Richard called after him.
"No problem, son. No problem."
Richard slouched into the chair and sucked his cigarette down to its filter. A slight nicotine-induced sickness turned his stomach and dampened his brow with sweat. He flicked the filter-tip away from him and looked about the room for a toilet door. There wasn't one.
"Excuse me, missus, do you know where the toilet is?"
"I do not, son. I do not indeed. I was just saying to myself, so I was, you'd think they'd have a toilet here. It's desperate. There's nothing here. Not even a place to get a cup of tea. I'm parched for a wee cup of tea."
Richard excused himself, stepped over two squabbling children and went, as directed by the attendant, into a small cubicle. He meant to ask the whereabouts of a toilet but when a small gray-haired woman bustled into the cubicle he decided to ignore his nagging bladder.
"Good morning, Mr. McCaughley; I won't delay you."
Richard nodded in reply.
"You're making a special benefits claim because your son has started work," she noted, glancing up from the paperwork before her. "He left school last week, isn't that right?"
"No, there's been a mistake. The man at my signing-on box is sorting it out. I'm having a special allowance claim in the meantime."
"What do you mean, a mistake?"
"The computer messed up my son's age. He's sixteen months; thecomputer put him down as sixteen years."
"Oh, I see. Well, we can't have that. I need a different form. I'll be back in a minute."
She rose and shoved back her chair.
"I've been here since a quarter-past nine," Richard complained.
Her face clouded.
"I'm sorry, Mr. McCaughley, but I'm doing my best."
"I know," Richard said sulkily, embarrassed by his tone. The door closed behind her.
"It's not your fault," Richard told the door. "It's nobody's fault. It never is."
Half an hour later he left the cubicle. An attendant was telling the dozen or so on the black plastic chairs that they would have to leave and return after lunch. Richard hunched his shoulders into his denim jacket and edged his way past them. He joined the stream of people bobbing their way via the glass-paneled doors towards the turnstile in the wire fence. The stream of people surged around and past him so that he was sluggishly towed in their wake onto the pavement outside. He went up the road and into the toilet in Daly's bar. As he left the bar a light drizzling rain started. He walked his way slowly home, a small, slightly built dark-haired man in his mid-twenties. His attractive face was unshaven and his eyes were downcast.
Castle Street was quiet. Mid-morning sunshine warmed the pavements and the shopfronts and created a pleasant, half-asleep, half-awake spring mood about the street. Sammy McArdle stood at the doorway of the bank. He had started as security man at the bank at the age of sixty; he was now in his second year in the job, the first regular, full-time employment he had ever had. He checked customers' bags and parcels as they entered the bank; it wasn't strenuous work and he enjoyed it.
Castle Street was a short, bustling street of high buildings, pubs, clothes-shops, arcades, a bank, big stores and a fish-and-poultry shop, and most days street traders hawked their wares on the side of the street. By now the usual opening rush of early morning customers was over. Sammy hadn't checked any of them: after all, they had been coming to the bank for years, since before he had ever graced its portals. On Wednesdays like this there were few strangers or new customers for him to scrutinize.
Jimmy from Eastwood's bookies had given him a tip for the bigrace and Big Gillen had stood for a minute or two with his bags of loose change, chatting about his bad back and the poor trade. Since then no one else had come Sammy's or the bank's way. Not that he minded: it would have been difficult to mind anything, he mused, on such a fine day. Even the British Army foot-patrols didn't bother him.
From the other side of the street Buster Traynor, the street-sweeper, shouted a greeting to him.
"What about ye?"
"Dead on," Sammy replied, stepping out from the shade of the bank's doorway. "It's a great day, isn't it?"
"Gorgeous," Buster agreed, leaning, arms crossed, on his brush. "It's well for you, nothing to do but to stand about all day enjoying the sunshine."
"Aye," Sammy laughed, "it's desperate isn't it?"
"And you're getting paid for it too," Buster continued. "Some people have all the luck." He started brushing the street again.
"G'wan out of that with you," Sammy chuckled. "You neither work nor want. A day's work would kill you, so it would."
"That's all you know. You and Cloop have a lot in common." Buster gestured down to the corner.
Sammy gave a wry smile: Cloop was the bane of his life. "You really know how to hurt me, don't you?" he chided.
"See you later," Buster smiled. "I can't hang about here all day. I'll send Cloop up to keep you company."
"Well dare ya," Sammy warned.
Buster continued on his way, pushing his brush and little pile of rubbish in front of him.
Sammy gazed down the street towards Cloop, who was sitting on the pavement at the corner of Chapel Lane. Basking in the sun, his back against the wall, face tilted towards the sky, he had one leg beneath him and the other stretched across the pavement so that pedestrians had to make a detour around him and his strategically placed cap. Cloop was a wino and he and Sammy confronted one another whenever Cloop set up his pitch outside the bank. Sammy was under strict orders to shift all loiterers. Usually Cloop complied with his request to move along but occasionally he was abusive, especially if there was anyone watching or if he was egged on. Sammy had given him a few bob once to bribe him to leave: the next day a queue of winos had settled outside the bank. That was the day Sammy's patience with Cloop ran out.
Sammy was a decent man. Life had not been good to him but he tolerated its inadequacies. He was by temperament a patient, pleasant, easy-going Christian. He had learned through a lifetime of little indignities to be dignified, to turn the other cheek, to endure. But he had rarely been satisfied; that had come belatedly to him with his job at the bank. It wasn't the wages: they were meager, but his needs were humble enough anyway. No, he just liked being employed. He liked the responsibility, the company, the sense of well-being, of belonging; he liked having something to do. He liked Castle Street, especially on mornings like this. But he resented Cloop. And now Buster was going to wind Cloop up and he was going to be tormented for the rest of the day.
"Morning, Mr. McArdle." It was Mrs. Murphy from the holy shop in Chapel Lane.
"Morning, Mrs. Murphy."
"You don't look a bit well," she observed. "Aw, nawh, I'm grand," he said quickly. "I was just thinking to myself about something. I'm great really."
"That's good," she concluded. "Such a fine morning. It's too good to be wasted worrying, Sammy. I'm glad you're okay." She went into the bank.
"Thanks, Mrs. Murphy," Sammy called after her. "She's right you know," he muttered to himself. "Worrying is a waste of time." He peered cautiously down the street.
Buster had gone round the corner without disturbing Cloop. Sammy brightened visibly, so much so that Mrs. Murphy remarked on the change as she left the bank.
"I'm glad you're back to yourself," she saluted him. "Keep your chin up."
"Right, Mrs. Murphy. Good luck to you."
"And to you too, Sammy. Remember, there's always somebody worse off. Look at poor oul' Cloop."
Sammy's face darkened. He looked towards Cloop, who waved cheerfully back at him. Sammy gazed past him, then averted his head and looked down Royal Avenue. When he looked up Castle Street again Cloop had shifted his position. He was moving slowly, still seated on one leg, edging himself laboriously down towards the bank. When he saw Sammy looking at him again he stopped and waved.
Sammy's face remained impassive. "It's almost lunch-time," he thought to himself. "The worst possible time." Lunch-time was when Mr. Timmons, the manager, left the bank. He would be going out the door just as Cloop arrived. Sammy sighed. It was just his luck, he thought uncharacteristically; it was going to be one of those days. Such a lovely day, too. He glared again at Cloop, who was slowly pushing himself into an upright position. He gestured to Sammy, then resumed his slow passage towards the bank. Sammy clasped his hands together in exasperation; he scowled down at the pavement and swung his hands apart. "Ah well," he thought, "nothing else for it. I'd better head him off."
Cloop was now almost at the bank's front window, but he stopped and leaned against the wall as Sammy walked slowly towards him.
"Mr. McArdle," Cloop greeted him. "Mr. McArdle, I was just sitting down there enjoying the sun."
Sammy glared sullenly at him.
"I was just relaxing there with not a care in the world."
Sammy stopped before him.
"And I looked up here and here you were all on your own-i-oh. Now don't worry," he said, anticipating Sammy's next move. "Don't worry, Mr. McArdle, you won't have to move me today. Nawh, that's not why I came up here. You just looked so alone and so worried lookin'." Cloop shoved his hand into the pocket of his tattered coat. "So I just said to myself: it's not fair mesitting here without a worry in the world and Mr. McArdle up there likeall belonging to him was dead. So I brought you up a wee smoke, so I did."Cloop drew his hand from his pocket. His fingers clutched the butt of acigarette and a whole one. He put the butt in his mouth and pointed theother one at Sammy.
"Here you are now. Give's a light and I'll leave you in peace."
Sammy looked at him. He looked past the cigarettes and Cloop's outstretched hand; he looked beyond his unshaved face. He looked along Castle Street and sighed. In the sunlight a shop window winked at him.
"Okay, Mr. McArdle?" Cloop asked. "You really shouldn't let things get you down. Especially on such a nice day. Here, have asmoke."
Copyright © 1995 William Heath.All rights reserved.
|Says She to Me||21|
|The Mountains of Mourne||38|
|Up the Rebels||58|
|Does He Take Sugar?||77|
|A Life Before Death?||85|
|A Good Confession||88|
|Just a Game||97|
|A Safe Bet||108|
|How Paddy McGlade Entered into a State of Grace||116|
|Of Mice and Men||136|