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Kenfucius
Dec 8, 2016


In

Time to stop lurking and starting giving this a shot.

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Kenfucius
Dec 8, 2016


One Too Many
Word Count: 1399


“Back up!” Walt O’Hearn barked at the gathering crowd on the police perimeter. “Get back!”

Behind him, the struggle to maintain control of the inferno continued. Putting the fire out had taken on a secondary importance to maintaining containment. Teams charged in and out, trying to clear a path as best they could in the hope of securing and evacuating survivors. Gouts of flame escaped through the windows previously shattered by the initial blast, and smoke billowed into the night sky.

As Walt marshalled the spectators straining against the police tape in an effort to keep them from getting any closer, shadows danced through the illumination on the edge of his vision. Flames and emergency lights melding and darkening. The first time Walt had worked crowd control at a fire like this, he felt like panic had been given its own color just for the occasion.

The firefighters were working as diligently as they could, but this was a small town with a volunteer force. There was only so much that could be done about a gas explosion in a four-story apartment building with no manpower and a shoestring budget.

A few feet away, the line buckled, as some teenager with a cellphone in the air pushed forward.

“Steve! Control your section!”

Walt’s admonition was as unnecessary as it was habitual, as Steve Mitchell, his partner for the past six years, was already moving to push the kid back. Some stinging words flew out on the edge of Walt’s earshot, something about confiscating the phone as evidence, and both the device and its owner were gone as fast as they came. Steve gave the older man a knowing look.

“I’m starting to hate cell phones,” Steve remarked to his partner.

“I’ve never liked ‘em.”

“I know,” Steve responded, “but then, you think progress peaked with the microwave… Step back please, for your own safety!”

Walt nodded approvingly at the command in his partner’s tone. Steve had been foisted on him straight out of the academy, and even now the mentor in Walt occasionally reared up. Steve hadn’t noticed the older man’s response, too engrossed in maintaining his zone. The two got on well, in their way, but Steve tended to get touchy if he felt Walt was lapsing too far into his old habits as a training officer.

The throng in front of them continued to demand complete focus. Everything was voices and sirens and ominous crackling, and Walt knew he had to be able to keep the crowd’s attention on him and off the scene unfurling in the distance. He moved along the line, switching between glares and calming glances with experienced precision.

His beat, his people, he had to keep them calm. Walt had spent so many years in uniform that the responsibility of the job had become a part of his psyche.

Somehow, a young woman slipped under the tape and started running for the burning building. Steve went after her, but Walt was faster, still exceedingly fit despite his advancing years. He reached her, wrapping his arms around her to halt her progress. Steve got there a second later and made to usher her behind the line, but Walt gave him a warning glance.

The woman was shaking.

“My mom, my daughter,” she choked out, sobs starting to follow.

“They’re inside? Where?” Walt asked, trying not to sound alarmed.

“Third floor… my mom was babysitting, I had a date…”

Walt’s eyes met Steve’s. The fire had started on the third floor. Steve shook his head sadly as, in Walt’s arms, the woman’s sobbing turned to a broken wail. Walt itched in the regard of the crowd. He knew he should get the woman away, behind the cordon. That’s what Steve would do. The smart thing, by the book.

All Walt could do was hold her and think of his grandchild.

-=-=-

Walt raised a hand towards the barman, then pointed towards the glass he’d just drained. The barman pursed his lips disapprovingly, but still grabbed the bottle of Irish whiskey and refilled Walt’s drink regardless. It was a cop bar, and it was rare that anyone stepped out of line, so everyone there knew when to cut someone off and when to keep quiet and let things go.

The barman faded away, leaving Walt alone with his first binge in over a year. He looked at the contents of the glass, swirling the liquid and inhaling the scent, as if attempting to delude himself into believing he was here to enjoy and savor the drink. The grim resolve with which he swallowed half of the contents put the lie to that.

Walt didn’t notice the door to the bar opening behind him, though he wasn’t surprised when Steve slid onto the adjacent stool. They held their silence for a time as Steve waved off the barman and Walt drained most of his drink.

“Well, we haven’t done this in a while,” Steve mused.

Walt stared at his glass, and nodded. “Fourteen months.” Walt’s words came out with the practiced carefulness of a man trying to avoid slurring.

“Marla called, you know,” Steve continued, keeping the same careful tone. “I told her not to worry, that I’d bring you home.”

Walt squeezed his eyes shut. He knew when he walked into the bar that he was breaking the promise he’d made to his wife, but he couldn’t stop himself. He let out a low sigh and asked, “how pissed was she?”

Steve shrugged. He knew, of course, just how close Walt and Marla had come to separating before, partners always know. “On a scale of one to ten? About an eight when I answered the phone.” Steve finally turned his head to look at Walt directly, understanding in his eyes. “I told her about last night. Now she’s just worried.”

Walt nodded, but said nothing else. It was the closest to a thanks that Steve was going to get. Walt took a long drink, emptying the glass again. His arm started to raise, but he saw Steve cocking an eyebrow at him and lowered it again.

Walt hadn’t wanted to know anything more about the previous night, it was why the TV in the bar was switched off. Now, however, he couldn’t help himself. “What was the final score?” he muttered in Steve’s direction.

“Eleven dead,” Steve replied clinically, “twice as many again in the hospital. Maybe five who won’t make it. I don’t think they’ve finished clearing the scene, though.”

“And the family..?” Walt trailed off. He didn’t need to specify. Steve just looked at him and shook his head.

Walt pushed himself off the stool and immediately staggered as his legs betrayed him. He grabbed the bar for balance, but Steve was there in a flash, holding him to help him stay upright. Once again, the barman started towards them, but Steve held a hand up to calm him, then fished quickly in his coat pocket for a card to pay Walt’s tab.

“Sorry,” mumbled Walt, catching Steve by surprise. Walt had never apologised to him before. “Sorry, Steve… I think I’ve had one too many.”

“More than one, is my guess,” Steve responded, as he started ushering Walt towards the door. “I thought I was done with dragging you out of this place.”

Walt shook his head, slowly. “Not the booze, Steve. All of it. All of this, I just… I can’t anymore.”

Steve ground to a halt. “What are you talking about, Walt? I know last night was bad, but we’ve seen worse.”

“That’s what I mean. Between the Marines and the force, I’ve been seeing dead bodies and crying families for thirty years.” Walt paused, collecting his thoughts. “Last night… that was it for me. I’ll take my leave time, sit at a desk until I hit my twenty, then call it a day. You can move on, get a detective shield and get out of uniform… it’s for the best.”

Steve shook his head. This idea was absurd. “It’s the alcohol, Walt. Sleep on it, you’ll feel better tomorrow.”

Walt said nothing as Steve helped him out of the bar. He didn’t have to. He knew in his heart that there were only two ways he could keep going. Drink the pain away, or walk away from the pain.

After years of doing one, it was time to try the other.

Kenfucius
Dec 8, 2016


in

Also, much thanks to Chili and Thranguy for their crits.

Kenfucius
Dec 8, 2016


First Entry

Normal
Word Count: 687



(A woman stands in front of a door, holding a key. She raises the key to the door, then stops, and turns to face the audience.)

“How was your day?” I know my husband will ask when I get home, for he always shows me that simple kindness. I love him and have loved him and will continue to love him because I know that this is no empty gesture on his part. My problem, on this day, and it’s not the first time it’s happened, is that I have no idea how to answer. Can I tell him that my path to work was momentarily blocked by two men who declared me a Goddess? He’d most likely be amused, or tell me how he agrees in a misguided attempt to put a smile on my face. Just as he’d be likely to darken his gaze and clench his fists as I tell him how those compliments turned to epithets when I refused to slow my pace or turn my eyes.

None of those reactions are useful, they aren’t what I want or need. So do I smile, tell him “same old, same old,” and let him live in blissful ignorance? Do I keep my mouth shut, as I have so many times before?

I stay silent because it’s normal.

It’s not that I don’t think he’d sympathize, or that I believe he’d fail to offer welcome comfort. It’s that I know he wouldn’t understand. He wouldn’t understand why the girl who works for me, just turned seventeen, had to hide out of sight while I called the police. All this to thwart a man, twenty years her senior, who refused to leave of his own accord, because he didn’t understand just how charming he was not. No, my husband would not understand this, and he certainly wouldn’t understand why that girl’s fear turned to laughter and pity as calm reasserted itself upon the day.

But I understand, because at sixteen, that girl was me. Locked in a walk-in chiller inside a German deli, shivering and starting to see the humor where there was none to be found. He wouldn’t understand that I still laugh at the memory.

I laugh because it’s normal.

So should I speak? Should I shout and rave and declare that the world should not loving be this way? Should I declare that I am tired of the unsought attention and the undesired advances and the undeserved abuse? I don’t even know if I can make my husband, whose idea of normality is completely removed from mine, see what I’m really trying to say. Even he, in his oafish attempts at solicitude, has moments where he, all unwitting, perpetuates this status quo.

If I really let myself focus on all of these things running through my mind, I start feeling the tears well up. Frustration flooding me, looking for an outlet. But if I let it out, there it is, yet another hysterical stereotype. I’ve grown used to it, so I clench my teeth and hold it in.

I don’t cry because it’s normal.

I know I’m not alone in this, I know I’m not a single voice crying into the void, and I don’t want anything special. I want two couples who I count among my dearest friends, one black with a daughter and the other white with a son, to know their children will have the exact same opportunities. I love the fact that they talk to each other and those children as if they are family, due the same respect no matter how different they are. I want everyone to raise their kids the way my friends do. Those two children are brother and sister, in every way but blood, and all their differences will mean nothing in the face of that shared bond.

Is it too much to ask for that to be normal?

(The woman turns back to the door, opening it and stepping through. From off-stage, a male voice calls “how was your day?” The woman turn to the audience again, and gives them a sad smile.)

Kenfucius
Dec 8, 2016


Second Entry

Little Heart Attacks
Word count: 611



You know how people say that things can be as serious as a heart attack? Well, let me tell you, my heart attack left me in stitches. Actual, literal stitches, because they had to operate. You remember, of course.

Also, I thought it was funny as hell.

First off… I didn’t realize what was going on straight away, honestly. I just thought I was constipated and overdoing it. I’m not as young as I used to be and the ol’ digestion isn’t as reliable as it once was, so this is not new. Anyway, as it turns out, what I initially thought was a pain in my rear end became a pain in my chest, then it became a pain in my rear end all over again because I fell off my throne before I could get myself decent.

You heard the noise, barged in, and called the ambulance, I remember that, son.

I don’t know if you knew, but I never actually lost consciousness. I was in so much pain I couldn’t make a noise, but I was awake, and I remember you fixing my clothes for me. It was sweet, kiddo, but the look on your face! It was a picture, if I hadn’t already succumbed to a cardiac event, seeing how awkward you were at seeing your old momma with her pants around her ankles might have made me laugh myself into one.

Plus, you spoiled things for me doing it, too. I suppose it’s sweet that you defended my modesty and all, but one of those paramedics was a real cutie, I remember that! I’d have jumped on his face and shouted giddy-up cowboy given half a chance.

Maybe I should see if he still works here when my visiting time is done.

Remind me to tell you all of this again when you wake up, son. Let’s be honest, what good’s a mom who doesn’t mortify and embarrass her kid given half a chance?

Oh, and that was the other thing! Speaking of mortification, remember how your grandma always used to say that you should always wear clean underwear in case you ever have to go to hospital? Well, I hate to tell you, son, but… yeah, about that....

Now don’t you worry, your mom isn’t some slob who wanders around in dirty underwear all the time but… look, it was the morning, okay? I hadn’t showered yet, I wasn’t going to put on the clean stuff until after, I was still wearing what I slept in.

On second thoughts, you might have done me a favor with the paramedic. Can’t wear dirty underwear on a first date, that’s just gross.

Anyway, son, the point I’m making here is… somewhere in there, I thought, just for a minute, that I was going to die. But here I am, years later, still kicking, and able to look back on that day and see the funny side. And somewhere inside that coma listening to this, you might be thinking the same thing that I was during the worst of it.

Stop.

Listen to your mother now, I’m still older and wiser and always will be, and if I catch you thinking about not waking up, well… you are not too big for me to take you over my knee, you hear me?

So, take your time if you need to, but at some point, you ARE going to wake up. When that happens, I will be here, and I will find a way to make you laugh. Life’s always a little more worth living when you can laugh about it.

Goodnight, my sweet boy.

I’ll see you in the morning.

Kenfucius
Dec 8, 2016


Great, I'll have to get my brother-in-law to give me all the details on this stuff.

Plus... what the hell, I'll :toxx: too.

Kenfucius
Dec 8, 2016



Concrete Divide
Word Count: 3875



Belfast
1965


The rain played a staccato tune on the concrete playground as Kieran Molloy leaped from the third schoolhouse step into a puddle. Boyish excitement coursed through him, dispelling any worry of a cuffed ear for coming home with sodden hems. He broke into a run immediately upon finding his balance, not willing to miss a moment. Mick Halloran had gotten a football as a birthday present, and he’d brought it to school with him. A football! Kieran had often dreamed of being the hero who brought the ball to school, an unassailable status symbol. Maybe if his dad found a job before Christmas, he could ask for one.

Kieran almost skipped towards the crowd surrounding Mick and the glorious object he held in his hands. Mick wasn’t a good football player, but as the provider of the ball, he got to pick a team. Luckily, Kieran and Mick had been pals forever, growing up next door to each other. Mick had promised Kieran he could pick the other team. It wasn’t the royal position all boys craved, but it was more than nothing.

Kieran quickly counted the group. Dismay soaked into him like the falling rain as he realized they had an odd number. Kieran swung his head around hopefully, checking to see if somehow he hadn’t been the last one to make it to the playground. With nothing forthcoming, Kieran realized they were either going to be playing with uneven teams or playing with a substitute. The last two times they’d played with an odd number, it had ended in a fight, and neither boy brought their ball in anymore.

“Ho Mick,” Kieran called. “Someone missing?”

“Aye, Frank’s got a bad dose of something,” Mick responded. “We’re one short.”

Kieran looked around the playground, trying to figure out a plan. If they had the ball taken away, Mick wouldn’t be allowed to bring it to school anymore. An idea formed, as he saw one of the few boys not part of the crowd sitting in the nearby shed to shelter from the rain. “Hey Mick, what about Billy?”

Mick looked over in alarm. “You mad, Kieran? He’s a soup taker!”

A couple of the other boys in the crowd murmured in agreement. Billy Morgan was one of the only Protestants among the school pupils. He had joined the school at the start of the year when his father, a Royal Ulster Constabulary recruit, was stationed in Belfast The teachers assigned seats based on surnames, so Kieran had to sit beside him, leading to occasional shared words. Nobody liked Billy, but beyond his father’s profession and his denomination, Kieran had little bad to say about him.

“Ah, he’s all right enough, Mick,” Kieran said, trying to mollify his friend. “Anyway, it’s just for today, since Frank’s not here. We can have even teams.”

Obvious discontent grew among the crowd at the thought of playing with a proddy, but everyone looked to Mick as he stared at Billy, pondering. Mick brought the ball, so he had the final decision.

“All right then, Kieran,” Mick finally declared after a few moments. “Go get him. You’ve got to take him on your team, though.”

Kieran nodded, accepting the fair compromise. Not wanting to hold the game up any longer, he sprinted over, waving at Billy. “Ho, Billy. Want a game of football?”

Billy looked up, startled and maybe a little afraid. He looked around as if expecting to be jumped. He had no reason to trust anyone in the school. “Me?”

“Aye. We’re one short, so we need you for fair teams.”

Billy looked at the crowd. There were at least two of them there who had hit him before, and he tensed to run away. Kieran gave him a smile, trying to calm him. “Come on, Billy, Mick told me to ask you. I already said I’d take you on my team if you play.”

Billy considered. Being a Protestant in a crowd of Catholics was rough, but the boy with the ball inviting you in was more important. Billy didn’t hold out much hope of it lasting, but for one day, it could be fun. A nod confirmed his assent, and he stood, running with Kieran towards the crowd.

“You any good, Billy?” Kieran asked. If he had to have Billy on his team, maybe he’d be lucky and the boy could play decently.

“I’m not bad,” Billy responded with a smile. “I used to play at my old school all the time.”

Kieran smiled back, ignoring the rain as it started to come down harder. Football was a game for all weather, and all people. Billy Morgan may be a Protestant, but he’d always seemed nice. If he could play football too, maybe he’d become a friend.

-=-=-

1968

“Wow, Billy, I can’t believe you have a record player at home,” Kieran said with a laugh in his voice. What a start to summer holidays. All afternoon, he’d played football with Mick, Billy, and other friends. Afterwards, Mrs. Morgan had made sandwiches for them all and let them listen to music. Mick, walking beside them, sang “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” quietly, though audibly enough for both Billy and Kieran to hear how bad a singer he was.

“My dad got it at Christmas,” Billy responded with pride in his voice. “He bought me Sergeant Pepper for my birthday.”

Billy had offered to walk Kieran and Mick part of the way home after being told to pick up a replacement loaf of bread. The three had become inseparable at school, but Billy had only gained consent this summer to head into the surrounding Catholic areas to meet his friends outside of school. It had taken some persuading on Kieran’s part, but he had cajoled his parents into letting him go to the Shankhill area as a show of solidarity. Mick hadn’t mentioned any trouble on his end. His Uncle worked in a Protestant area with no issue, so he no doubt had it easier.

“It’s a deadly record,” Mick said, still full of enthusiasm. “I wish they’d stop letting Ringo sing, though. He’s brutal.”

“He’s a better singer than you are, Mick. Probably a better football player, too,” Kieran barbed back at his friend, prompting Billy into gales of laughter as Mick threw a mock punch Kieran’s way.

“Mind who you’re slagging, chancer, or you’ll not be playing next time.” Mick’s grin took any sting out of the threat, and Kieran made to say something else. Before he could, Billy dug him in the ribs and nodded forwards.

The sight of the Driscoll brothers immediately sobered the mood. Robert and his younger brother Sean were two people no catholic boy wanted to see. Some said they were UDF volunteers, like their father. Kieran and Mick started crossing the street, hoping they had not yet been marked by the two. Billy followed after them, glancing furtively in the direction of the Driscolls. A dismayed sigh from Billy alerted his friends that their efforts to avoid the two had failed, as first Robert, then Sean, came into view in front of them.

“Ho, Billy,” called Robert, sneering. “What you doing cutting about with these taig bastards?”

Kieran tried to keep moving, but Sean sidestepped in front of him. Mick, meanwhile, held his arm up in a pacifying gesture. ”Lads, we’re not looking for trouble…”

“Shouldn’t be on Shankhill, then,” Sean cut him off as he planted a slap on Kieran’s head. “Fenian bastards like you two should stay in your loving kennels.”

Kieran backed up, trying to get himself out of Sean’s reach. The Driscolls had age, size, and a nasty reputation in their favor. If it came to a fight, Billy might not help. Living where he did increased the chances of being caught alone by the Driscolls tenfold. Would he really decide two Catholic boys were worth calling down that type of retribution upon himself?

Sean stepped in, circling Kieran. Robert loomed over Mick to force the two back to back. Billy watched with anguished eyes as he tried to placate the two brothers. “Come on, they’re going home. They’re leaving, can’t you let it be?”

“Shut it, Morgan. Only thing worse than a taig is a taig-lover,” Robert growled. “Run along, and I’ll forget I saw you with this scum, just this once.”

Sean glanced away from Kieran long enough to give Billy a feral grin. Kieran, trapped, used the split-second to plant his knee into Sean’s groin and pushed him away. Sean’s yell of pain surprised Robert, catching his attention. Mick threw a punch, catching Robert on the cheekbone. Kieran spun as the elder Driscoll brother staggered, shouldering him in the chest and knocking him off balance.

“Leg it!” Mick yelled, and the three hared down the street. The shouts and footsteps behind them were loud and close, but they just had to stay far enough ahead of the two to make it into Catholic territory. One yell near a pub would draw enough attention to make sure the Driscolls backed off.

Kieran, in the lead, turned the corner, and ended up on his back. He panicked as his eyes rose to take in the man he’d bumped into, and tried to scramble away while Mick yelped in surprise. The only thing worse than running into the Driscolls on Shankhill was running into an officer of the RUC. Police uniforms did nothing to inspire trust in Catholics these days.

The biggest reaction came from Billy, as he yelled, “Da!” loud enough for the hotly pursuing Driscolls to hear. Kieran felt a wave of relief, recognition dawning.

The pursuers pulled up, looking at Constable Scott Morgan. They became very aware of the hand upon his holstered sidearm and the unpleasant look on his face.

“Well now. Here’s Robert and Sean Driscoll, chasing some boys from Springfield Road. Let me guess, youthful hijinks? Good craic?” Constable Morgan’s growl made it clear he wasn’t going to believe a word. Robert and Sean, for their part, stepped away quietly.

“No trouble here, Constable,” Robert muttered. “We’re leaving.”

“Aye, do that. If I catch you anywhere near my boy and his pals, I’m going to forget who your da is.”

Sean threw a sneer at the constable, and Robert drew a thumb across his own throat while staring at Mick. Constable Morgan’s grip on his firearm tightened noticeably enough that the Driscolls backed away with no other words. Morgan watched them go, then gave Kieran and Mick a glance.

“You two boys going to be all right getting home?”

Mick nodded as he helped Kieran back to his feet. “Aye sir, it’s not far.”

“On your way, then,” Constable Morgan told them. “I’ll see Billy back.”

Kieran felt a flash of anger. He understood Billy was the constable’s son, and the Driscolls would probably still be prowling nearby. His understanding, however, didn’t stop him feeling abandoned. He said nothing as Mick and Billy traded goodbyes, only managing to offer a terse nod before storming away, alone. Mick broke into a run to keep pace.

“Billy did nothing back there,” Kieran muttered at Mick when he finally caught up.

“What did you expect him to do, Kieran?” Mick replied. “He tried to get them to let us go, and his old fella helped us out.”

“No, Mick,” Kieran spat out angrily. “He helped his son, he wouldn’t have done a thing for us if we’d been alone. You know what the RUC’s like. Half of them are orangie dogs, and the other half turn a blind eye.”

Mick shook his head. He’d heard people talking like this all around the Springfield and Falls Road areas. The creeping paranoia within the Catholic communities in the aftermath of the civil rights protests grew more pervasive by the day. Kieran’s father was especially vocal, Mick knew. Billy, however, had never said a bad word about any Catholic.

“Come on, Kieran. Mr. Morgan isn't like that, and Billy's a mate.”

Kieran stopped in his tracks, staring Mick hard in the eye.

“Is he?”

-=-=-

1969

“Get this bastard tipped over!” Aedan Molloy yelled, as he tried to lift the car in the middle of the street with the help of Kieran and half a dozen others. “We can’t let those pricks get the Shorlands up this road!”

Three days of rioting with no end in sight. Word had gotten around that the RUC had their Shorland armored cars near Divis Flats again. Browning machine guns ripping through thin walls, being answered by Molotov cocktails. Kieran’s father had taken it upon himself to create street blockades, with help from neighbors. Some houses on Springfied Road smoked, where unionist-thrown petrol bombs had smash windows the previous night.

Kieran had tried to go to the first march protesting the RUC’s actions in Derry, but his father put his foot down. When other teenagers Kieran’s age had thrown petrol bombs at an RUC station, kicking off the rioting, Kieran’s mother had forced him to stay inside. He was no member of the IRA’s Fianna youth wing, but that wouldn’t stop him being attacked as one. Now, though, the community needed every able hand. Kieran had helped his father build barricades all morning, blocking streets with abandoned cars and setting them aflame.

Mick sat on a nearby doorstep, staring at the ground. Supposedly, he’d come to help, though he had offered nothing beyond an expression of numb shock. Kieran couldn’t let that stand. The despair had to wait.

“Mick, get over here! We need a hand!” Kieran yelled. Nothing in Mick’s demeanor suggested he had heard.

Kieran’s father tapped him on the shoulder and gestured towards Mick. “Go see what’s wrong with him, boyo.”

Kieran glanced back at his dad, giving him a nod and stepping away from the car they were trying to lift. As he ran over, Mick didn’t raise his eyes in acknowledgement. A hand on his shoulder didn’t rouse him either, so Kieran did the only thing he could think of. The meaty sound of a slap was loud enough to make a couple of the other volunteers look their way. Mick finally raised his eyes, allowing Kieran to see the forming tears.

“What the hell’s the matter with you, Mick? We need you here!” Kieran’s shouted, frustration boiling over.

“Uncle Mark,” Mick murmured in a tone that sounded like it came from a thousand miles away.

“What about him?”

“Robert Driscoll loving shot him!” Mick shuddered as the tears fell. Aedan, having heard the declaration, ran to the doorstep. Sitting beside Mick, he put an arm around the boy’s shoulders and pulled his head into his chest. Kieran stepped backwards, eyes wide and mouth working soundlessly.

“Mick, son, where’s your Uncle?” Kieran heard the softness in his father’s voice, bringing to mind memories of the days when monsters lurked under the bed. Now they were in the street, and Dad was soothing them away the same way he always had.

“Hospital, my ma just got back from seeing him. She told me before I came here,” Mick looked up at Aedan, who absently wiped away a tear from Mick’s cheek. “Driscoll had a shotgun, he kneecapped him.”

It was too much. Kieran’s turned away from Mick, jaw set and eyes tight, running towards the stack of petrol bombs set up to fire the cars. He grabbed two and a matchbox, and felt a hand clamp down on his shoulder.

“Where do you think you’re going?” Aedan’s eyes were hard. Harder than Kieran had ever seen them.

“I’m done with the loving Driscolls. I know where they live.”

Another slapping sound. Kieran accounted himself a strong arm, but as always, his father’s was stronger.

“You mind your language with your father, boyo,” Aedan said, as he grabbed the petrol bombs from Kieran’s hands. “Get your mother. There’s women and children on their way to the outskirts.”

“But Da!” Kieran’s protests were cut off.

“Don’t you backtalk me, Kieran! Take your mother, get her out of here. See if you can take Mick and his ma back to the hospital to see Mark,” Aedan watched with compassion as Mick sobbed into his hands. “The boy’s no use here as he is.”

Kieran made to argue further, but his father’s eyes told him it would not be brooked. Nodding, Kieran turned towards Mick, helping him off the step. He put an arm around his friend’s shoulder and walked him away from the scene, watching over his shoulder as his father turned to direct the rest of the protestors in their work.

“What about the Driscolls?” He called back towards Aedan

“Don’t you worry, son,” Aedan said quietly, looking back at Kieran with a grim smile. “Robert Driscoll and the rest of his clan will get what’s coming.”

Kieran nodded, turning the corner onto his own street, helping Mick along the way. When they returned, mothers in tow, hoping to say their goodbyes to Aedan before moving on, he was nowhere to be found. Only Kieran noticed that the petrol bombs his father had taken from him were also missing.

It upset Kieran not to have a chance to bid his father farewell. However, he had to take care of his friend.

-=-=-

1971

For the first time in nearly two years, Kieran set foot on Falls Road, his presence shadowed by the newly built peace line on one side, looming over him and playing with his frayed nerves. Heavy machinery worked as best it could to hide the evidence of fire and bullets, even if it could do nothing for the memories. Across the way there were children with a football, because there are always children with a football. Kieran smiled at the sight, surprising himself. He watched them enjoying their game for a moment, reflecting on happier days, until a shout from behind him caught his attention. He turned toward the construction, and waved as he saw Mick with one hand in the air and the other holding a hard hat.

“Ho, Mick!” Kieran yelled, trying to make himself heard over the pneumatics chiselling through the pavement. Kieran watched as Mick said something to another, older man, probably the foreman. Mick handed off his hat then left the site. Kieran headed towards him and the two met with a handshake that turned into a brotherly hug. Kieran felt his anxiety drain away. Old friends have a way of making the worst of things seem survivable.

“Kieran! I’ve missed you, mate! How’ve you been?” Mick’s words came in rapid-fire as they broke apart.

Kieran gave him a shrug. “Not too bad. They’re finally letting my dad have visitors.”

Mick nodded. “Is that why you’re back here? Going to the jail to see him?”

“Aye. I have to change buses here,” replied Kieran. “What about you, Mick? How’s your Uncle?”

Mick paused, looking at the ground. “He’s in a wheelchair. Doctors say there’s nothing to be done.”

Kieran wrapped an arm around his friend’s shoulder. “Sorry, mate,” was all he could say.

Mick’s glance was grateful, but a hard rage lay underneath. “Aye, well. Thank your old fella for me when you see him.”

“Will do,” Kieran replied. One less Driscoll in the world was something a lot of men wanted to thank his father for, even if Kieran questioned the cost daily.

Mick stepped forward, beckoning Kieran to follow. “Come on. I’ll walk with you to the bus stop.”

“Cheers,” Kieran said, looking around. “So, Mick, how long you been on the building site?”

“A year. I left school once we knew my Uncle couldn’t work anymore. My mum’s cousin is a foreman. He got me the job.” Mick paused for a second as he eyed Kieran sideways. “What about you? Working?”

Kieran shook his head. “Been looking around, but I don’t know anyone in Andersonstown. Not much available for a Catholic boy from Springfield Road when they can hire the local lads instead.”

“I can put a word in, we’re always taking people on.” Mick waved a hand, gesturing at the street. “God knows there’s plenty of work still to be done.”

Kieran looked around, nodding. “Aye, I can see that. Thought you’d be further along, to be honest.”

‘We would be, but those came first.” Mick pointed at the sixteen foot high wall segregating the street. “They told us it was to stop the riots. No point rebuilding the houses if they’re just going to get burned again.”

“Aye, right. More like they don’t care about Catholics having to sleep on the streets. Zoo animals don’t get roofs, why should we?”

Mick nodded glumly as they reached the bus stop. “Wouldn’t put it past the loyalist scum to think like that, true enough. Anyway, you have a phone at your house?”

Kieran chuckled. “A phone? No chance. A phone needs money. I’ll come by again on Monday though, if there’s a job going.”

Mick flashed a smile in Kieran’s direction. “I’ll put a word in,” Mick offered his hand again, and Kieran shook it. “I’ve got to crack on. Be good to have you about again, mate.”

Kieran smiled back. “Aye, good seeing you. Now off you go, I’ll not get a job if you get the sack.”

Mick gave him a laugh and turned away, breaking into a jog as he headed back towards the building site. Kieran leaned against the sign for the bus stop, watching him go with a smile. It wasn’t so bad, being back in his old stomping grounds.

Kieran looked towards the building work going on. The offer had been a surprise, but in retrospect, Kieran assumed Mick missed having people around that he knew. So many kids their age were part of Fianna, and the rest had fled with their families. Mick didn’t like the loyalists, but he wasn’t cut out to be a fighter, and the Fianna kids weren’t going to associate with him if he lacked their commitment. As he surveyed the newly-erected wall, he assumed the anti-British graffiti adorning it was their handiwork.

A shout carried across the street as he waited, and Kieran’s eyes followed, searching for the source. It took him a few moments to find it. From the other side of the wall, through the gate, he saw Billy Morgan, waving and smiling.

Kieran looked right, turning away from the greeting. The bus he awaited came into view, trundling along the street towards him.

Kieran looked back towards Billy. The smile was gone, and the friendly wave had died. Kieran stared at Billy, then very deliberately took a step forward. “gently caress the Queen, you proddy oval office!” yelled Kieran at the top of his lungs, just before the bus stopped. Kieran stepped on, not bothering to watch for a reaction.

Mick saw it, though. He watched one friend abuse another, his attention caught by the vehemence in Kieran’s voice. He saw Billy’s shoulders slumping in resignation, and the shake of his head. Mick caught Billy’s eye, and offered his old friend a sad smile as they shared an understanding through the gate.

The rain began, and it played a staccato tune on the concrete walls built through the playground.

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Kenfucius
Dec 8, 2016


In now that work is a place of peace once more.

Claiming Bipolar I.

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