Honing and sharpening...
I've spent the last few days working out why the opening chapter of APoS wasn't working, for me...and finally just dove in to restructure it. Opened up a new blank document, copied and pasted the parts of what I currently had to it, and came up with this...which is much shorter and far tighter and less expository. I think that was the problem -- putting too much detail in at the beginning, stuff that could come later. So...here's what I did (the image shows one end of Nailors Row, under the Walker Monument,,,which was destroyed by the IRA in late 1973):
Those who knew Eamonn Kinsella, and were being less than dishonest with themselves, had to admit that were he born but ten miles to the west or north, his murder would have been seen as the fitting end to a hard and brutal man and few would have mourned his passing. For he was well-known as one who was quick to temper. A wrong word, here, or a wrong look, there, or even so little as a wrong touch, and suddenly you'd be on the floor with a split lip or blackened eye, and it would always be your fault he had to react, no matter how improbable the cause.
To his advantage was his height, at over six feet, and that he came in at more than 15 stone. Despite it being years since his position as a navvy on Belfast's docks, his hands still held the calluses the job built, his back still carried the strength gained from it, and he had only just begun drifting into sloth. So as word of his death spread, the first thought on many a mind was he had finally focused his anger on one who had shown him the truth of existence...that there was always someone stronger, meaner and better with his fists than yourself, and one day you're sure to meet.
That idea was quickly cast aside, because his body was found off the Limavady Road in a ditch of flowing water on a cold, blustery morning late in February. His coat had been pulled down his arms and his hands bound behind him. Every bone in every finger had been broken, several ribs shattered, an elbow dislocated and his face pummeled into the mere hint of a human visage. Blood soaked his shirt down to his trousers, the knees of which were torn and scraped as if he’d been forced to walk on them or been dragged, and it was said his every tooth was broken out, as well. Of course, little of this was truly verifiable because the Coroner’s one comment on his death was the purest embodiment of simplicity.
“Mr. Kinsella perished due to a bullet fired into the crown of his head.”
Not killed. Not murdered. Not slaughtered like a cow in the abattoir. No. Perished. A charming word that can mean so much. After all, many's the time you'd hear more than a few men say, "I'm perished from the thirst." Or hunger. Or cold. Or work. Or the mere seeking of a job. Women would say it, as well, but not once until that Coroner's use of it did I ever connect the damned word with death. It sent me to the library, it did, to look it up, as they had a dictionary. To my surprise, it was defined as such, with synonyms being expire, wither, shrivel, vanish, molder and rot (any of which might have been just as appropriate...save for the last, since he didn't time to), so its meaning had to be accepted as true.
If still cowardly and so bloody fucking typical.
It was determined he had lain in that wet icy ditch for a full day and night. On his back. His clothing soaked through and solid with ice. His one unseeing eye open and tinted by blood; the other being swollen shut. Still bound tight as if against the possibility of him returning to haunt his killers...and in truth, I'd not have put it past him.
The problem is, that made it difficult to set an exact time of death, according to the Constables. Understandable...but to then have them claim it was somewhere between midnight and four in the previous morning? That was ridiculed beyond belief, for he was last seen being jostled out of McCleary’s Pub in his far-too-usual condition just after last orders, two nights before. And once the details of his final condition were spread by a reticent undertaker's wife...in quick, horrified breath, of course...it was obvious to one and all that he did not release his grip on life without a full-on fight, and without question it would have lasted for more than a few pathetic hours. Its veracity became truth incarnate when it was learned that said reticent undertaker was also in the process of gently but insistently suggesting a closed casket, to the widow.
Word of his murder flew from tongue to ear, as such news always does, and within the hour many a man at many a pub began to offer kind remembrances of his bleak eyes and long face, all bringing to mind tortured poets and sad balladeers. They spoke of how he could sing so well as to make the angels weep. Elegant tunes of Ireland's ruined past and her dead future. Others gave gentle smiles and recalled melodious stories spun by him of fairies living in Oak glens that once spread forever across the land. And of gods who roamed her once glorious green fields and forests. And exciting tales wrapped around Grianán Aileach, the ancient ring fort but six miles and a hundred worlds away from town. All brought forth in such beauty and perfection you'd have thought he lived through each and every one.
He could also weave tales set in times more modern, violent and furious and savage, and dealing with the unnatural order of life in this corner of our fair isle. Even his enemies, of whom there were more than a few, allowed that he had a true Irish heart, and in another time under better circumstances would have given the likes of James Joyce and Sean O’Casey a challenge as the nation’s bard.
Of course, a few less-pious souls mingled in their offering of the possibility that he might well have lived through some of his tall tales, including those ancient, with their gentle hints at the heretical idea of reincarnation. That blasphemy spread just as quickly, and by the following Sunday, the Church was filled with huffing and puffing most magnificent at such vile nonsense. I found it glorious and rather probably, for it was hard to see how so much anger and grace could have been poured into one man in fewer than thirty-six years unless he carried it over from a previous existence.
By God, the rages he could build about the horrors of being a working man without work in a land cursed by God, with a wife and five mouths to feed. Barely living off the dole, they were, with naught but spuds burned in the open hearth and tea made from thrice-used leaves for their breakfast. Rags on their backs. A hovel of a dwelling on Nailors Row, close to collapsing around them and lucky to have that to themselves. No steady heat or indoor plumbing. Spuds for supper and tea, as well. No prospects for a decent job as once he’d had, even though that had been the worst kind of cruelty to his back and taken him away for too long from his devoted family...and would you please front me another pint, m’boy?
Despite the fact you’d never see a farthing of repayment from him. Of course, that last memory was minimized in honor of the dead. Hypocrisy is much expected at both funeral and wake.
Still, it was not a day past his burial before some felt it safe to acknowledge that he might have taken a dram too much, now and again. But that was not viewed to be a true criticism; as many would say, it was one of the few comforts offered men in his pinpoint of the world. Women as well, though not as many because they had little time for it, between caring for their latest wain and working the shirt factories, not to mention keeping their man from making too great a fool of himself down the pub. That could be a full-time position unto itself.
Of course, anger was seen as the only honest emotion men like him were allowed to hold forth. And if his wife went to market with a fresh bruise over one eye or across one cheek, or was out walking her wains around till her lord and master had sworn himself into weary, drunken sleep, stopping to chat with others who might be doing the same...well, she was hardly known for her gentleness, was she? Her nails had left scratches deep on more than just his back, and her quickness with an iron skillet aimed for the head was not unnoticed. No, she was her own form of holy terror, was Mrs. Kinsella.
Far, far too many of these comments were bandied back and forth, soft and low, usually accompanied by a click-click-click of the tongue. The justification for their libels was, Just having a bit of craic on the stoop, nothing more. But that they took no concern for any of his children if they happened to be close by and...well, just happened to be listening in...without seeming to gave lie to their claim of innocence.
But that soon faded away, as well. For starting with his wake, his trek to sainthood began and the truth of his lost, violent existence drifted into the fog of vague remembrance like a ghost, aided and abetted by that closed casket and the need for his burial to be quick.
It was paid for only through the intersession of Father Demian, the family's priest, who’d so often visited the man’s home in times of violence or distress in the years prior he felt no need to knock before entering. And he tried to comfort the new widow as she wept and wailed such things as, “What’s to become of us?" and "How shall we live?” Over and over, to the point where even those sympathetic to her wondered if her laments were less over her husband's passing and more from her sense of guilt for having loudly wished him dead, many a time. While I may have agreed with the latter sentiment, it was not their place to cast judgment on her, for it. Only a man’s kin may determine the meaning of his passing and worth.
So...how did the family live, once he was gone?
The burned spuds and weak tea for breakfast were replaced by porridge and milk. Fish and chips could be brought in, on occasion, and eggs and fresh bread. For the one benefit of having to deal with life on less than half the dole's miserly payment was that Kinsella's widow knew how to stretch a ha’penny the length of a mile. She also took in sewing and was well-thought-of by those needing a light repair to a shirt or dress, and for half the rate of the tailor's. Even better -- because the widow had five young ones with another soon due, the Derry Committee (the bastards who ran the town) were forced to promise better lodgings for us once the last of the Rossville Flats was completed.
If there were room still available on the queue, of course.
Can’t make promises one might have to keep.
So yes...for me there was no sorrow at his death. And while it was deemed inappropriate, me being his second son, I sensed even then it was for the better of me, my two brothers and two sisters...and even my mother, weep as she might. Something no child the age of ten should be thinking about his own father.
But in all honesty, I did.
For I cannot tell you the number of times I'd seen his fists upon her as my elder brother and myself tried to stop him. The blood on her face. The tears from blackened eyes. Hers as well as ours. And how he broke my clavicle by shoving me down the stairs when I got too tight between them. It stopped him, but Ma blamed me for the expense it incurred, by a trip to the clinic.
Now of course, since I demand honesty from others, I must also honor it, myself. My relief at Da's passing was mostly colored by the recent occasion where he’d nearly crushed my right hand because I dared wish to keep a shilling I’d earned helping Mrs. Cahan clean her hutch instead of hand it across so he could have one more pint of porter. And never once since has my mind changed.
However, my father lived and died in Derry, Northern Ireland (Londonderry for those who cannot be bothered to learn the city’s proper name). And upon his death, he was lionized for who he was...a Catholic man...as memories of the brute he was were cast aside. Then when it was learned he was killed by two drunk Protestants who swore to heaven and earth they’d only meant to have some fun with the Taig...which was as high a pile of shite as could be imagined but, naturally, was accepted as the most reasonable explanation by the powers that be...his martyrdom to Mother Ireland was carved in stone.
A poor family man trying only to keep kith and kin together as he slaved for the pennies tossed his way by Loyalist scum.
It would bring full-throated laughter from even the most accepting of men. If they were being less than dishonest with themselves. Still...that would also have been tucked away, eventually. Merely added to the long list of offenses against the Catholics of the North and soon forgotten but for several Catholic schools being attacked, that year. And the murders of more Catholics, thanks to the emergence of a band of Loyalist mental defectives who, sensing the growing restlessness of the oppressed in Ulster and the push for civil rights, stupidly thought killing a few papists would remind them who was still in charge. Called themselves the Ulster Protestant Volunteers, they did, and in their deluded minds would become bigger and better than the RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary), the UVF (Ulster Volunteer Force) or B-Specials (generally bullies and assholes backing up the RUC).
Instead, they wound up simple murderers, banned, and imprisoned at Long Kesh.
However, their stupidity was not completely in vain. For in honor of their foolishness, the Derry Corporation saw fit to decide that no Catholic would be relocated till it was time to redevelop their street. Meaning we kept living in that hovel for three years more. Ma, the new wain and the girls in the front bed, me and the lads in the back, even as life settled into a fresh, bold direction around us.
So that was my new beginning at the ripe old age of ten, feeling joyful and free even as the subtle brutality of my only known world surrounded me, waiting for the best moment to bring forth its fullest impact, growing closer and closer to an explosion of hatred and cruelty made only the worse by it happening in a supposedly civilized part of the fast-dwindling British Empire.
But what child can see the build of history around him? Even few adults can, in truth. Events occur that you’re part of but at the time carry no meaning beyond themselves. You either rejoice when all ends well or weep when it doesn’t. So my father's death only held resonance for me in the most selfish of ways -- that I could now live my life in the manner I chose, that of a boy filled with hopes and dreams and prayers and promises, believing himself to be in a place of safety.