Brendan and Joanna in Dublin...

This part is before Brendan takes Joanna to Grianan Aileach, before Internment and Bloody Sunday, when things were only beginning to seem dangerously out of control. Brendan's agreed to deliver a letter for Colm and is leery doing it but agrees because of their long friendship...

The bus took us down to O’Connell and the conductor pointed us to Trinity. And we got there with no trouble and looked it over, and the only thing Joanna said about it was, “It’s dingy.” There was truth in that, without question. And it seemed small for its reputation. So we left and went walking down the Liffey to the Ha’penny Bridge. Crossed over and wandered about some more till we were back on O’Connell. Dublin seemed not only busy but brusque and I was taken aback at the quickness of everyone’s pace. It was an embarrassment after what I’d promised Joanna it’d be. But she seemed not to mind.

Another driver told us which bus was for Clontarf, and we found the address with little difficulty, only it wasn't Colm’s Uncle Finn who took the envelope but a sharp, angry woman with cold black hair and eyes. With her was an older lady, all curves and kindness, and she fed us tea and cheese sandwiches as she asked after Derry and the events up there. Joanna kept silent as I told of what little I was willing to share. The lady seemed disappointed I hadn't some horrors to share, and her associate only came into the parlor once to glare at us before going out. I was not sorry to leave that place.

“So this is Dublin,” Joanna said as we returned to the bus stop. “They don’t seem happy, here.”

I had no answer. I was in full disappointment, myself.

En route back, we hopped off on O'Connell and stopped in some shops and found they had much finer things available than in Derry. Joanna was looking for earrings to convince herself that she should pierce her ears but seemed unable to find anything to her liking. Then we happened upon a shop on a side alley that offered not only the earrings but piercings, as well. She was still thinking about it when I noticed in the back they also provided tattoos. I idly looked through a book of them and wondering at the simplicity of the designs – anchors, dates and animals, and the like -- until I came to a section filled with lettering. In it was a lovely flowing script, like handwriting would be if made perfect, and I got an idea.

“Joanna, what would you think of me with a tattoo?”

“My father has one from his time in the Navy,” was her absent reply. “Got it in Hong Kong, of a half-naked lady. It’s begun to fade.”

“Does he have any names on him?”

“Names? Tattooed? No. Why?”

I turned to the girl at the counter and asked, “How much is one?”

“Depends on what you get,” she said.

“A name. Six letters here.” I motioned across my left upper arm.

“Which letterin’?” she asked as she came over.

“Brendan, what’re you doing?” Joanna asked, coming close.

“Dunno yet,” I said, then I pointed to the script.

She eyed my upper arm and said, “Three punt.”

“How long would it take?” I asked.

“Just over an hour.”

I had five punt on me and twelve British pounds, which I’ve found they take anywhere in the city, so I said, “Do it.”

Joanna’s mouth dropped open. “Brendan...”

“What age are you?” the girl asked.

“Seventeen,” I said, without hesitation.

She eyed me, unsure. “You look younger.”

I took my coolest pose and shot back at her, “We’re down from Derry lookin’ at Trinity College. We’re applyin’ to attend, next year, and wanted to see more about it. Isn’t that so, Joanna?”

She looked at me, wary, then nodded and said, “Though I’m not decided. I’m also considering St. Andrew’s.”

The girl shrugged, called into the back, and a man the size of Mrs. McKittrick’s house come out. I actually swallowed in nervousness at seeing him. “He wants a tatt -- right here.” She patted her left upper arm. “In letterin’ E-6.”

“Spell it out,” he said, shoving a slip of paper at me.

I did so.

Joanna was speechless for the first few minutes, then as I was handing over the money she turned me to her and said, “Are you daft? You can’t take these things off.”

“I’ll never want it off,” I replied.

“Brendan, this is foolish. How’ll you explain this to your mother? To anyone -- ?”

“There‘s nothin’ to explain. Nothin’. I love you, Joanna. I will till the day I die. Nothin’ else matters.”

“You’re mad,” she muttered.

“No argument from me.”

She shook her head, still wary, but smiled.

The man and the girl smirked at each other, but I knew how deep my feelings for Joanna were and no one could have swayed me from this course.

“Off wit’ ye shirt,” growled the man.

I removed it and sat beside him. “Does it hurt much?”

He smiled and said, “Put ye arm here, hold this grip an’ do NOT move.” I did as he said, and he started the needle up and dug in and I near screamed at the sudden pain of it. “Do not MOVE!”

I didn’t, for I did not want the letters to wind up like my own scratchy handwriting. I sat there and locked my eyes on Joanna’s and crushed that grip and she held my other hand and my focus stayed on keeping from crushing hers.

“Brendan, you truly are mad,” she whispered to me, smiling in admiration. “Wicked mad.”

“Have been since the first day I saw you.”

“When was that?”

“The taxi rank. Remember? I was washin’ me hands.”

She giggled. “In the gutter, and you had dirt on you and you were so pleased with yourself about something.”

“It was the first time I’d fixed a car.”

“You like doing that, don’t you?” I nodded. “Well, a degree from university might help you get on with British Leyland. Design cars. Build them.”

“I hadn’t thought of that,” I whispered, and it pleased me no end that she had considered something so fine for my future.

That’s when the words began spilling from me, and I told her of seeing her, again, that day we saw Eamonn off, and of following her down Shipquay to Wollies, and watching her and her friends dance and seeing what record she bought and how I’d bought the same and the phonograph I’d fixed so’s I could listen to it and how I’d seared the words and music into my heart and sung it when I wanted to see her, and this being a year before the Liberation Fleadh. She just sat there, listening to me, looking at me, seeing me and seeming fascinated by my sordid little tales. And her eyes never wavered from my face.

Of course, I said nothing about the nights where I’d conjured her up. And the girl behind the counter said nothing. And the burly man working on me seemed to grow more gentle so the pain seemed to lessen to the point I could hardly feel it, at all.

I recounted how I felt around her. How my heart leapt from joy at seeing her every time we met. How I hated parting from her. On and on I babbled, as if the needle was digging a truth drug into me instead of ink as he swiped and outlined and filled in...and I grew hoarse from talking so much. The girl behind the counter brought us cups of tea and never had anything felt so good on my throat or tasted so fine on my tongue.

Finally, I could speak no more, but it was all right, for the burly man did one last wipe of his work and leaned back to smile and said, “Well done, lad. Would you care to look at it before I cover it? Last chance for maybe ten days.”

“Why?” I asked.

“It’ll become a scab as it heals, then it’ll peel away and what you’ll have will be as lovely as what you see now.”

I nodded and he put up a mirror, and I laughed. “It’s backwards.”

He chuckled and angled the mirror then put up another to catch the first one’s reflection. And oh St. Brigit, how lovely it was. Script flowing together in tender darkness, the hint of an outline in red along the top. Dots of blood that he quickly wiped away. I drew in so deep a breath of pride, I could easily have burst, and I turned to show Joanna her new place in my soul.

She touched it, tenderly. “Does it hurt?”

Yes. “Never. I’m yours now, no matter what. You’ve branded me.”

She looked at me with eyes so filled with confusion and wariness, I grew afraid. Thought for an instant I’d made a fool of myself. Gone that one step too far for her or done it too soon or too sudden and now she’d back away from me for being too much a child in matters of the heart, still, and dear God, I think I’d die if that happened.

But then she leaned in and kissed it. Barely brushed her lips over the raw etching, and relief overwhelmed me. I lay my head in the crook of her neck and let out my breath, finally knowing all would be well. She put her hand to my cheek and whispered, “It’s near six. We’ll be late.”


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