Derry '81

Brendan has been living in Houston for more than eight years, but is finally called home to Derry because his mother is dying from cancer. He's using this as an excuse to get away from his Uncle, who has betrayed him.

The British and RUC are still looking for him, to question him about the bombing he witnessed, so he's sneaking in using a new identity his uncle procured for him, with an Irish passport, using the life of a young man who actually died in a farming accident to fake everything up.

No one knows he has no intention of returning to Houston.

--------

A friend of Aunt Mari’s worked at American Express in The Galleria, so she found me the best way home. I was set to fly out of Intercontinental on B-Cal via Gatwick, then to Glasgow, where I'd catch a short-hopper to Derry’s Airport on Logan Air. It was neither fast nor cheap, but I had savings enough to cover it and was assured it was comfortable enough to catch some sleep on the long haul across the water.

Uncle Sean offered to pay the ticket, he was so happy to be quit of me. That he deliberately made his offer in front of my aunt was especially grating, for he knew already I wanted nothing from him. In the more than three years since Mai's visit, I'd spoken to him only when necessary. Found an excuse to leave when he entered the room. And been naught but polite when he paid me my wages for The Colonel's.

Aunt Mari noticed, I'm sure, for little escaped her sharp eyes, but she said nothing. I liked to tell myself it's because she thought this anger between us would pass, but to be honest with myself, I knew she knew what was happening between her husband and myself. I had little doubt she knew his blackmail was the reason I'd returned to under her roof. How much else she knew didn't matter...at least, not to me.

Perhaps I should have fought him or argued with him or condemned him, treated him as the quietly brutal bastard he was. Using threats against others to get his way. At least my Da had been honest with his fists and words, for I could think of no time he ever threatened harm to any but the one he was looking at. It's funny how honorable he seemed, in comparison.

But Uncle Sean was Aunt Mari’s husband and, hate him as I might, to have caused them all that sort of disruption would have been a cruel way to repay her for all her kindness and generosity. Not merely since I’d come there but in the years before. But she was the one married to him, and neither believed in divorce as a solution to anything, so she heard not one cross word between us, and that is what counted. It settled me well enough to notice the B-girls now argued more with their father than each other, and that drove Aunt Mari to enough distraction.

When I turned down his offer, Uncle Sean softly sneered that I was independent to a fault. The first time he'd said that, I'd thought he meant it gentle, because even at the ripe old age of seventeen I'd wanted to be my own person. Beholding as little as possible to anyone else, and never mind what I had just been through. It was my way of reasserting myself, and since then I'd shown myself able to do it. Him repeating it now meant only that he had learned nothing about me in the more than eight years I'd been around him.

Aunt Mari had remained silent, but she caught his callous expression and her looks between us were as sharp as ever...and that was despite her being back only a day from her own trip over. She had flown into Shannon and taken a bus up the back way, and it had been quite the chore.

"No trouble up through Letterkenny," she'd said. "Oh, but the moment we reached the border. My little suitcase was rifled through as if I were carrying drugs."

"Or cash," said Uncle Sean, smiling.

"That they found in my purse, and didn't they make an issue of it?" she'd huffed, nearly shaking with anger. "Naught but two-thousand pounds, and that was only to help my sister have a decent wake and burial."

"You're lucky you had an American passport," I said.

Aunt Mari nodded. "Yes, those with Irish or British passports had it worse. Some men were physically searched. And the words used on the women. It would shame Judas. What do the British think they're achieving with this sort of nonsense?"

"Just reminding the little people of who once ruled the world," I chuckled. "They haven't the strength to admit they're nothing more than a tiny island of little significance."

"They're more important than you let on," said Uncle Sean.

"Aren't we all unto ourselves?" I shot back at him.

That is when the B-girls arrived from school, saw their mother was home and began their interrogation of her. Uncle Sean glared at me then carried her bag upstairs as I returned to the pool house.

So I paid my ticket, cashed all my savings into pounds, finished all my projects and took no more on, despite some very tempting ones. Those I could not sell I donated to Goodwill, and they were very appreciative.

Aunt Mari did come to the pool house, the day before I was to leave. I was packing my duffel bag when she knocked and entered, her face caught in worry and uncertainty. Her visit with Ma had been for near a month, and I could see it was hard on her. In the week or so since her return, she'd been even more quiet than usual and would sometimes let her mind wander while fixing a meal or washing a dish. Then after a moment she'd snap back. If I was around, in any way, she'd cast me a near glance, huff at herself and continue on. But she had yet to talk with me about anything that might be troubling her. This time, she was just checking to make sure I had everything I needed for the journey, as if I were going to an undeveloped part of the world. Which, in truth, was not far wrong.

She noticed the passport for the new me, which I'd deliberately left out for any and all to see, and saw some of the pound notes; the rest was in traveler's checks stuffed in a couple pairs of socks, in with my clothes. Not the safest method of transport, but not easily noticed.

"Ya've changed yer look," she finally mentioned. I'd had Everett cut my hair and put in reddish highlights.

"The less I look as I once did, the better," I replied.

"But it's been near nine years since ya came over," she said. Her voice was uncertain. "Surely they aren't still on about the...about the..."

The bombing.

The horror of it.

The leg twisting and twirling in the air as it whispered down to land before me.

The silence of it all.

I had to stop, in place, about to set the last of my socks in the bag, and deliberately will my mind back to nothingness.

Aunt Mari sighed and sat on the edge of the bed to say, "Bren, I should let ya know...when ya see Bernadette...yer mother is...well, it may come as a shock. Try not to show it."

I started breathing, again, and shrugged. "I figured as much."

"Mairead let Maeve know ya're coming..."

I froze, again. "She told Maeve it's me -- ?"

"No, no, no...not you, yourself. While she was there, she told Maeve it's a...a cousin coming, and I supported her."

I took in a long breath. Well, here it was. She finally let me know she knew all of it. That I was slipping back into the country, not as Brendan Kinsella, the fugitive from Her Majesty's justice but as some vague blood relation. And that led me to another understanding. Whether I liked it or not, Aunt Mari was full aware of what Uncle Sean had done. I'd been clinging to the idea she'd kept herself in the dark, but that was no longer possible. It meant she knew a great many other things I'd rather not think she knew. What all they were, I would not let her tell me. I did not want to accept the betrayal I felt at this. The anger. So best to keep it quiet and tucked away in the back of my mind. I could feast on it the rest of my life, if I so chose.

"When did Mai...I...I didn't know she'd gone," I managed to say.

"Her trip overlapped mine by a week. She had to go then; she's now five months on...with another set of twins, so is no longer able to fly."

That made me look at her. "I thought she and Tur were being careful. Not going to have more."

"No form of birth control is perfect. Tur's agreed to do something more...more certain, for himself."

I had no idea what she was talking about, so turned back to the last of my packing and said, "Well...that passport has my reborn name on it."

"Yes," she murmured. "Sean showed me before he give it to ya. Makes you legal, now."

Fuck, fuck, fuck, why did she say that? Why did she tell me that? Fuck.

I barely kept my voice even. "As he promised."

"Yes," she murmured, again. "How long do ya think ya'll be there?"

"No idea. Depends on Ma." I looked back at her. "Will you be coming for the wake?"

She shook her head, almost sad. "I've said my good-byes. No need to show off for others."

I made myself chuckle. "I've never heard a funeral referred to, like that."

"That's Ireland. People come from far and wide to say lovely things about the dead, and nothing bad, whether they knew them or not."

I nodded. "Yeah, I remember that from Da's wake."

"He was rough with ya, was he?"

"You know full well he was. With all but the youngest."

"I need to tell ya something more..." Her voice trailed off. I stopped packing and waited. It took her a moment but then she took in a deep breath and whispered, "I...I also met...spoke with...with yer grandparents."

That jolted me. "Grandparents?"

"Yer father's parents."

She knew of them? "Still...still alive, are they?"

"Yes. They live out by Toome and...well..."

My voice was sharp as I snapped, "Aunt Mari, I'm now twenty-five. You can tell me what you need to. No hemming and hawing, as you like to say."

She eyed me then took in a deep breath. "They needed to know about ya and yer background."

"The true or the false?"

"The one ya have now. In case they were asked. It's funny, but they were so easy to find. They were even visited by the RUC after ya came over. But since they knew nothing, they could tell them nothing."

"Wouldn't it have been better to keep it that way?"

"I...I know that, now," she said, weary to the bone. "But at least they believe ya're a cousin, on yer mother's side. And they won't be to the wake, either."

"Good. One less thing to deal with."

"But if ya wanted to see them, I could give ya their -- "

"I don't! I didn't even know of them till now."

"But ya've a whole world of uncles and aunts and..."

"And what? Did they come looking for me? For any in my family? No. You're the only one stuck with us. They've been silent my whole life. Not word one to any of us, that I know of. I see no reason to change that."

"Well...Kieran and Maeve are of a different mind," she said, rising. "They have been with them. Mairead has, as well, and I think Rhuari's visited, with his wife and their wain."

"Such is their choice," I growled. "Why're you telling me this, now? The night before I leave?"

"I wasn't going to, but then I began thinking and I...I thought ya should know what to expect. In case."

"Well...now I do. Is there anything else?"

"No."

She drew me into a hug. I let myself hug her back.

"When ya return," she said, "this will be yer home, again. All right?"

"When I return." Said without hesitation.

She nodded and left.

I stood in the middle of the room for perhaps half an hour, letting my anger subside. Da's parents...my grandparents...had let us live in poverty and neglect for all these years and were still being silent, hateful beasts about us. And he had brothers and sisters, but all were being fucking silent. It was as if we had to ask them to so much as notice us. Even now, as their daughter-in-law lay dying, they wanted nothing to do with her or their grandchildren and had to be approached on bended knee. The fury that built in me was vile and brought a sour taste to the back of my mouth.

Finally, I opened a beer and downed it. I'd have gone for a couple valium and a joint, as well, but I'd pulled back from all of that and had none. Dammit. Not to be clean or clear, but because I'd be having difficulty enough passing safely in Derry without adding drugs to the mix. So I opened a second beer, the only drug legally acceptable to a Derry Man, and after the first swallow had to admit Aunt Mari was right; they did need to at least know about the new me in case they were contacted by RUC or the Brits, again. The papers Uncle Sean had got me could be easily found out as fake, if someone decided to look deep. It's unwise to tempt fate.

Which was why I was not going to Derry as a relation to anyone there.

Which is why I was traveling as Jeremy Landau, instead.

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Jeremy is a Jewish friend of Brendan's, in Houston, and they look enough alike to be considered brothers. They also share a bond in that Jeremy was in the Yom Kippur war and killed men and saw his friends killed, much like Brendan saw on Bloody Sunday. So he's let Brendan use his passport and Bren has changed his looks to better match Jeremy's.

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