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by Shane Connaughton
All I ever wanted to do was see the stars in daylight. And there should be a law against charging a sixteen-year-old boy with murder. You reach that age and the testosterone starts blowing your lid off. Your brain can't cope until you're eighteen. But by then it's often too late. If there's a girl involved. In my case there was a girl involved.
We lived on the edge of town. There was a village surrounded by fields. Miles from the city. Then houses were built, roads put in, and overnight we were a suburb. They built a new runway at the airport and now we were under a flight path. My mother went crackers. My dad went to the pub.
My mother had rows with the neighbors. Mrs. Kelly got new shoes. She wore them round to our front gate and showed them to Mum.
"Haven't you got big feet?" my mother said.
Apparently this is an insult. Soon Mrs. Kelly was sobbing and shouting and other women had to tell my mother to go indoors "And stay there."
Mrs. Reilly got new wallpaper. When she invited Mum in for tea my mother told her with such wallpaper she might as well go all the way and open an Indian restaurant.
Now she and Mrs. Reilly didn't talk anymore. And the list was growing.
My father and his friends put it down to the overflying airplanes. "It's the noise. It can't be good for you. Them BAC One Elevens can crack stones goin' over, never mind heads."
My father put in double windows but it made little difference.
My mother took to needlework. Her meticulous fingers threaded the night to the morning. Then she died.
When her coffin was lowered into the grave a jumbo jet thunderedabove. Its shadow slowly ghosted across us, darkening the headstones all the way over to the cemetery wall. Wings but no angel.
I looked down into the hole. It was deep but the earthy floor was bright as noon.
I was fifteen years seven months that day.
I lived with my father now. Left for school in the morning, came home in the evening. Ate, studied, watched telly, looked at myself in the mirror, was pleased with what I saw, went to bed. I was five feet seven inches.
The house we lived in was a new redbrick one in a street that had ninety-eight others all the same. The only thing I liked about it was from an upstairs window you could see our old house in the Watery Lanes.
My father was born in that house and so was I. It was built with uncut stones and thick mortar and had an asbestos roof. It was down off the road right on the edge of a river. The river was six feet below the house and usually ran very narrow and shallow. We crossed it on a few wooden planks nailed together and this took us up to a wide green stretch of open ground where people walked dogs, kids played football, bigger lads grazed horses. Some kids dug a hole one day and a horse fell into it and had to be hauled out by the fire brigade. They put a sling under his belly and raised him up with a crane. For a moment he was up in the air, his legs dangling. His mane had fallen over his eyes so you couldn't see life. He looked like a big dead pantomime horse. But he was okay and when they lowered him and released him he gave a buck and ran off across the grass and out onto the road amongst the traffic.
Sometimes the river in winter rose high enough to flood into our house. It didn't come in the door or windows. It came up under the floors. That was why our beds had twelve-inch blocks of wood fixed to each leg. The water, in my history anyway, never reached the mattresses. The twelve-inch blocks were exact to a meteorological degree. We often went toward our beds in Wellingtons but on reaching them slept high and dry.
My granny lived with us. She had an expression for when things went wrong or weren't working out right. "It's all up in the air or down in the ground," she'd say.
When we were told we had to get out of the Watery Lanes, Granny took it bad. The man from the council said the house was going to be knocked, the river piped, covered in and built over. We were "an anachronism," he said.
Granny took this as a personal wounding.
"Knackers?" she shouted at him. "Get out of my house, you cheeky brat, before I ossify you."
I got the dictionary and explained the word to her and she went calm again. She had to accept the facts. Where we stood and sat at that moment would in a year be the dead center of a roundabout on the new motorway carrying traffic to the North and to the airport.
We had to move to one of the new houses no later than the first of the following February.
Granny died on Christmas day. She got out of bed and sat in her chair by the old black range. Mum and Dad were out at morning mass. I was sitting at the table playing my new harmonica. When I looked at Granny she was dead. She hadn't been eating enough. At her age, I expect you have to have willpower to eat.
The house filled with neighbors. They wouldn't move Granny until the doctor arrived. People drank tea and bottles of Guinness. And in the middle of them all Granny, in her nightdress, sat dead in her chair. It was a strange sight. Her long gray hair hung round her shoulders. She'd not got round to putting it up in its usual style. Her hair was her pride. Now it hung limp and reminded me of the mane of the poor horse rescued by the fire brigade. As people came in and out the door the drafty air stuck in her hair, shifting it a little. It was weird. Her ankles were thin as pins.
Granny was the end of the Watery Lanes. The old people cried a lot at her funeral. Her end was the writing on the wall for them too.