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It’s an important day for the Sopranos when the school choir bus hits the big city for the national finals. The girls’ priorities are pub-crawling, shoplifting and body-piercing, and then it’s on to the Man Trap disco.
|Publisher:||Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.08(w) x 7.76(h) x 0.87(d)|
About the Author
Alan Warner is the author of three novels: Morvern Callar, soon to be a film by Lynn Ramsay; These Demented Lands, which won the 1998 Encore Award; and The Sopranos, also soon to be a film.
Read an Excerpt
Our Lady of Perpetual Succour School for Girls
No sweat, we'll never win; other choirs sing about Love, all our songs are about cattle or death!
Fionnula (the Cooler) spoke that way, last words pitched a little bit lower with a sexyish sideyways look at none of the others. The fifth-year choir all laughed.
Orla, still so thin she had her legs crossed to cover up her skinniness, keeked along the line and says, When they from the Fort, Hoors of the Sacred Heart, won the competition last year, they got kept down the whole night and put up in a big posh hotel and ... everything, no that I want that! Sooner be snogged in the Mantrap.
Know what the Hoor's school motto is? Fionnula spoke again, from the longest-legs-position on the wall. She spoke louder this time, in that blurred, smoked voice, It's 'Noses up ... knickers DOWN'!
The Sopranos all chorted and hootsied; the Seconds and Thirds mostly smiled in per-usual admiration. Quietly, so's only the Sopranos-half of the wall could hear, Fionnula goes, Look girls, the Hoors're no even IN it this year. Shows how chronic the standard is; we stick thegether on this and there's no ways we'll win, won't even get in the second round! We'll be plonked on the bus an back here in plenty time for the Mantrap slow dances and all manner of sailors' jigs.
That's IF submarin-ers are in the Mantrap. And that's IF we get past that new bouncer, he hasn't got off wi a single one of us! (Ra)Chell was calling out, just from along, where some taller Seconds and Thirds separated her.
(A)Manda Tassy recrossed her legs, looking a little uncomfortable, cleared her throat and announced, I've got in the Mantrap three Saturdays running! Manda who could never afford cigarettes an was aye bumming them, placed one of her big sister's duty free Camels into her lips without even offering round, an from a pack of twenty!
Kylah squinted severely, though Manda was next her, Kylah went, That's cause you're the dying image of your big sister.
Are you JOKING Kylah? Manda blew smoke, Have you SEEN Catriona's suntan!
I'll no see a thing the day, Kylah muttered.
Orla giggled and smiled, her braces showed, Yon medallion man, the bouncer, he's only there cause he couldn't get a chef's job anywhere. He's from the Island. He'd get on well with Chell cause he has a love of animals; he can only tell the ages of sheep!
Aye, goes Chell, From behind.
Those within earshot laughed. Manda coughed.
Kylah, chortled, frowning up and down the line as if watching a fast tennis rally and says, The Island, where no horse is safe as long as there's a table or chair left!
Fionnula shrugged shoulders laughing, lit another cigarette an goes, As long as we ALL stick thegether. It was spoken as what it was: a warning to any Seconds or Thirds who might be taking the competition too seriously and who didn't have the priority of a night on the town later; it was a threat to anyone with delusions of grandeur.
The Sopranos leaned forward an looked at Kay Clarke from Seconds who, virtue of her limb-length, sat trapped, sombre and silent amongst them, then they glared down the length-of-legs school wall towards the short-arse end and Ana-Bessie.
Snobby Kay Clarke and Ana-Bessie Baberton fee-paying (their Old Men, one Port Solicitor, one Consultant up the Chest Infirmary) stared stubborn cross-square to the statue of JL McAdam, surveyor, advocate of tarmacadam and national hero. Kay and Ana-Bessie were aye willing to admit bursary girls like Fionnula had 'colourful character'. Inwardly, the two middle-class girls consoled themselves: Fionnula's legs were 'actually' too thin and there was always the fact Fionnula's parents only had a bought council house up the Complex.
The school wall afront the square, with its iron railings, curved round to the slope by the side entrance (the polishy-smooth stubs were the old iron bars, sawed off for the war effort in the forties); the upward slope of pavement delineated the precise order the choir aye sat in, 'ccording to the length of each girl's legs from arse on the old polished stubs down to the chewing- gum- blotched macadam.
CHOIR ORDER ON LENGTH-OF-LEGS SCHOOL WALL
Fionnula (the Cooler) Sopranos 35''
Kylah Sopranos 35''
(n.b. Fionnula (the Cooler) and Kylah an agreed First Equal but Fionnula always sits on outside.)
(A)Manda Tassy Sopranos 34 3/4'
Kay Clarke Seconds 34 1/2''
Yolanda McCormack Thirds 34 1/4''
Assumpta Thirds 33 1/2''
(Ra)Chell Sopranos 32 3/4''
Orla Sopranos 32 1/2''
Aisling Seconds 32''
Iona Seconds 31 1/2''
Shuna Thirds 30''
Fionnula (ordinary) Seconds 30 1/4''
English Katie Seconds 29 1/2''
Ana-Bessie Seconds 29 1/4''
Fat Clodagh Thirds 28 1/4''
Wee Maria Thirds 27 3/4''
On the flat, leaden school roof above the fifth-year choir and close to the speeding dawn clouds, Our Lady stood. Her sculpted shawl surmounted by an alert, perched seagull with a hooked, yellow beak — the cheeriest colour around. A scrawk from Lord Bolivia down in the New Chapel below, made the gull lean and fly forward off the BVM.
Our Lady of Perpetual Succour's dead, stone eyes were cast way over the teenagers below. The gaze looked above the slates of McAdam Square and the railway station clock, to the bay, beyond. She stared constant at some theoretical point, dependent on the angle of the reinforced concrete block Kirkham & Sons Construction had power-bolted her onto, year she descended down from heaven, under a Westland helicopter.
Her left arm was held out with a daft and neverending finality, offertory fingers appealing, though only ever receiving a tiny curlicue of sparrow's dropping; only ever delivering a slow sequence of rain drips to the sheered height way down onto the concrete playground below, where, every September, girls on their first day would bawl up to her: Don't jump things can't be that bad! Don't do it! Suicide's a sin.
That morning, the statue's rampant gaze drove across the surface of the port's baywaters as perusual but, it seemingly settled for once on the long black vessel now anchored there, even the communications aerials on the nuclear submarine's conning tower, no reaching above the cloud-looped summits of the distant island mountains.
Orla yawned, moved her hand over her still-short hair, looked at her palm as if still surprised. She yawned, poked a finger in to the back of her mouth, took it out again and proclaimed, Chell's right enough, wi these navies from all countries, yous never can be sure if they've shore leave. Those greeny uniform ones did, but yon last destroyer didn't and you never know if you can count on them going to the Mantrap; who's to no say they'll go get taxis out the Barn or somewhere we can't get to?
They always go to the Mantrap for a drink even if they do go on, some aye stay. And funny though if those last didnie come ashore how come Michelle McLaughlin still managed to get pregnant offof it!
A few cassandras of laugh tremelled along the wall.
From top the wall Fionnula burred, Aye, it's a disgrace if they don't come ashore and them signed to NATO an everything! She sighed.
Everyone laughed. Even the girls who wernie doing Higher History.
Spotty Fat Clodagh from right along yelled out, cross square, By the way Manda, Michelle did not get pregnant by yon destroyer, it was one the Pakistani lads come up for Saturday market in their van.
There was dubious silence. Cross square, two gulls crawed an tugged at a fat binliner on the pavement by the amusement arcade, boarded for offseason.
Rural depopulation? NO chance with Our Ladys about, Kay Clarke sighed.
Manda leaned forward and met eyes with Fionnula across Kylah's thighs, the look meaning: No that you'll ever contribute, you lightweight, university-bound virgin.
There is an old county council Ceil Meile Failte road sign just outside port, before you swing steering wheels round the high hairpin above the buspark. When Fionnula and Manda were Second Years they nicked a little pot Airfix paint offof Kylah's big brother Calum.
It was the time that First Year herself, a thirteen-year-old from Our Lady's got pregnant in the van, her bare back above the lifted blouse, sticking to the uncomfy cellophane-wrapped cartons. He was twenty-nine, refiller of cigarette machines, responsible for the entire West Coast!
Fionnula can still mind wearing their tight jeans and very white and pink trainers, being crouched up, faces close, gigglestifling in the dry ditch next the main road, then leaping out the gain when each last vehicle headlights passed and carrying on the handiwork with a make-up brush.
Then leaping back into the ditch as a great shift of headlight oozed round in the dark and them both cooried up, part of the tremulous, excited-feeling cause the vandalism, but also reaching for their own little, convexy belly-buttons snipped into shape by the National Health, knowing one day they would give in to some lad.
I read somewhere that submarine-ers...
Submariners, Fionnula grunted.
Submar-in-ers; that if they get a cut or something, cause they've been away under the waters for so long, it's done something to their ... (Wee Maria McGill, who'd once used Vanish soap stain-remover to try get a bad henna out, had kinda stumbled into this, but she just looked along to Orla and bravely soldiered on) ... Done something to their, blood.
Aye. Haemophilia. It's in Biology, Orla, who'd had chemotherapy, let Wee Maria go on.
Aye. Well if they get cut or that it won't stop bleeding for ages cause the air stuff they've been breathing down there.
There was contemplative silence then Orla spoke out their collective image, Aye! And when they submariners spunk with all their wanks down there, it just keeps coming out and coming out...
Everybody laughed cause it was Orla's crack.
... Inside their submarine - it would all just fill up with spunk and they'd all drown in it!
Ah, dinnae scum us out! goes Chell.
Here in their spunky grave lie the hundred brave sailors, Fionnula's voice came from top the wall.
We'll test it out the night girls! Manda's filthy laugh came.
Yolanda dropped her cigarette and yawned, Condom.
Nine or ten limbs of the smokers, all in flesh-coloured tights, with socks pulled up above the knee to make the legs appear longer, pulverised half-smoked cigarettes into the tarmac pavement. Each black, flat-bottom shoe that did the grinding, sported completely different, luminous, day-glo, interwoven, painted or rainbowy laces: the only means of self-expression remaining.
Various novelty lighters that played tunes (ironic wedding marches and Lambadas) B&H, Regal, Embassy, Marlboro reds and Light, Silk Cut and Yolanda's Lambert & Butler! All packs of ten, part from Manda, were returned to suspiciously full backpacks. Some cigarettes were rapidly nibbed then slipped into the secret, folded hems of the specially shortened tartan skirts.
Orla grit her teeth, bared her retainer braces in a fake smile, says, Look at her walk, its like she's got the most gi-normous sanitary towel jammed between her legs.
Carrying her famous blue bucket, today full of parental consent forms and her own choral arrangements, held wind-safe under a hefty nineteenth-century bible, Sister Condron approached cross McAdam Square, beneath the collapsing and hanging dramatics of dawn clouds.
Aisling was mumbling, I'd a dream like that.
What? Shuna goes, but smiling straight ahead.
You know? A guy got handjobbed offof me and it not stopping, it just gushing an gushing out, goggles, whole goggles of it just gushing an gushing out filling ma bedroom an just knowing mum would find out!
Kay Clarke goes, I'll look that up in my Freud Dream Dictionary. Don't know what I'll look under.
Try Wanker, Manda coughed.
Fionnula spat out a laugh.
Good morning girls.
MORNING SISTER CONDOM. Perfectly synchronised, each of the sixteen girls slithered off the wall to lengthen the look of their specially shortened skirts.
Sister Condron breached the kerb, canted, swayed, straightened, spoke: All together, Forth Let The Cattle Roam! She dropped the bucket, lifted one arm pointing at heaven.
Sister, it's half eight in the morn, Fionnula snapped.
So Fionnula McConnel. Is your voice still in your bed?
Ana-Bessie and Kay Clarke alone giggled.
In a bland, soft whisper, Manda says, Good King Wenceslas.
Fionnula let out a spirtle of crack-up, waggled her tongue, looked left and right, eyes away wi it then says, One, two, three. The Sopranos sung in the tight dawn air, an immediate beauty, like flags cracking in the wind. The sound moved cross square:
The snow lay round about
Good King Wenceslas
Last looked out
On the Feast of Stephen
The snow lay round about
Deep and crisp and even
NO. GIRLS! FORTH LET THE CATTLE ROAM.
But recalling December humiliations on Port streets with stupid hats on, the Seconds joined the Sopranos in a two-parter, cuddled in the neath, the Thirds waited and bassed the thing, even splitting the carol, messing about with a four-parter, looking each other in the eye to keep silent times.
A window canted out cross square, a night shifter fro the Alginate just a-bed leaned out roaring, Christmas so soon? Fuckin shut it ya wicked wee Catholic heathens.