DOWN AMONGST THE BRAMBLES
by Michael Downes
He stood and watched the crowded playground from outside the torn cyclone fence, the screaming, laughing sea of activity, the games of conkers being play near the high grey wall, the excited group around a marble game, football cards being swapped, and a number of others chasing a ball. He felt safer looking in without participating, not that he hadn’t tried in the past to join in, but, as before, he was not welcome, not by his own class, or any other class. ‘Don’t play with Smelly Carlin; he sinks, and he’ll give you nits too,’ was the catchcry.
It was true, he did smell; his clothes were dirty, and he had nits; and his teacher hated him. He didn’t blame them for not having anything to do with him, and he didn’t feel any animosity towards them neither, nor did he feel any self pity. It was just how things were for as long as he could remember. But he did feel fear, fear of being at the receiving end of Duffy’s cane again if he didn’t get himself a school bag before the week was through, and that above all was his main concern. But for now it was good to watch, even better to be left alone. He moved away from the fence, for some boys were rushing towards him in pursuit of a ball, which had now bounced through a large gap stopping at his feet. He bent to pick it up.
“Don’t touch it!” screamed a boy, ducking through the torn wire to retrieve it.
“It’s Smelly Carlin!” cried another.
“Touch that ball, Smelly, and I’ll kick you down the hill,” warned the boy who had stepped through the large rip.
He moved further away until he was a few feet down the grassy slope of the embankment.
“Stay there, Smelly, and don’t move from it ‘til the bell rings,” sneered the boy, picking up the ball.
“Naw, stay there forever, Smelly!” cried another. “We don’t want you in our class, and neither does Bald Duffy!”
He watched as they left with their ball; he was alone again, safe again.
He turned. A little to his left was a large boulder half buried into the side of the embankment, surrounded by brambles and weeds.
Curious, he approached.
“Have they gone?”
He peered. There was someone hiding within the brambles.
“Have they gone?” asked the voice again.
“What are ye doin’ in there?”
“Have them boys gone?”
“Aye. Whatta ye doin’ hidin’ ?”
From out of the brambles crawled a skinny scruffy youth, his hair matted, his clothes worn, dirty, the look of a wild animal about him.
“Whatta ye doing hidin’ in there?”
“I’m doddin’ school.”
“Really? Boy, I’d love to do that so I would!”
“Ye can if ye want to. What’s yer name?”
“Cole, Cole Carlin—what’s yers?”
“Cathal Callan.” He looked cautiously around, crouching low on all fours. “You sure them ones ‘ave gone, aye?”
“Aye. That’s a good name you got—Cathal Callan; don’t know anybody called that.”
The other boy looked up at him. He was older, and taller too, and like Cole, his clothes had a distinct smell.
“Sit with me against the boulder, Cole, but make sure the stone covers yer back.”
Without a word he did so, unafraid of the thorns from the brambles, unafraid that the smell of his own clothes might make the other move away.
“Do ye wanna git even with them there boys fer callin’ ye smelly?”
“Whatta ye mean?”
“I mean gittin’ revenge— ye wanna, don’t ye? I can help?”
“Naw, it’s all right,” he said, shaking his head. “Anyway, I’m used to it.”
“How old are ye, Cole?”
“I’m eleven. How old are ye?”
“Boy, I wish I was fourteen, then I’d be taller, just like you, and not scared of anything, and be nearly finished with school forever.”
“Who’s yer teacher?”
“Duffy! That big pig! I was once in his class; I hate him more than anything!”
“Me too! He’s goin’ to cane me if I don’t git a schoolbag by Friday, and then afterwards, he’s going to order me to go to Headmaster Foley fer another canin’.”
“Is he now?”
“Aye. Boy, I wish I was fourteen like you, then I wouldn’t be scare of anything.”
“What scares ye most, Cole, ‘cause I can help ye, ye know.”
The question startled him! No one had ever asked him that before, no one as far as he could remember had ever shown any concern for his welfare as this boy Cathal did; and the many times he called him Cole too— it was like they were best friends already! And the elation, the wonderment he felt overwhelmed him.
He swallowed hard, for the emotion of the moment had gotten to him. He felt tears gathering in his eyes, but he mustn’t show them, not to his new found friend.
“Ah, me da first,” he choked, and then Bald Duffy, and then Foley, and that’s all.” He didn’t want to say anymore, for he knew if he did, he just might cry.
“Does yer da hit ye?”
He nodded. “But not only me, ye know. He gits very angry when he’s got a feed of drink in him on Friday and Saturday nights. That’s when you must hide from him. He bashes everyone in the house then. If he sees ye hidin’ from him he’ll drag ye out and wallop ye. I got a few black eyes from him, and a broken arm once, and me big sister ran away from him to England fer good.”
“He’ll niver hit you again—I promise.”
“Dead sure.” The older boy plucked at three dandelions. “See this.” He blew hard on one dandelion until all the seeds were gone. Then he crushed it. “That’s yer auld da taken care of. And this one’s fer Duffy.” He blew on the second dandelion, crushing it. “And the last one is Foley. He blew hard on the last. “All three finished with.”
Cole didn’t say a word.
“Ye don’t believe me, do you?”
“I-I-I want to, but…”
“We’ll do it together, you and me, and ye won’t ‘ave to lift so much as yer wee finger.”
“Ye notice how Duffy walks with a limp?”
“Well, I give it to him. Whatta ye think of that?”
“Ye did that? Gee!”
“Aye, and ye knew how I did it? By thought—by sheer thought.”
Cole looked at him, puzzled, wondering what he meant.
“It’s dead easy, so it is, but it’s a lot easier if someone helps ye—then ye git the results ye want. So, will ye help me, Cole?”
“What am I suppose to do?”
“Just think of yer da comin’ home after the bar shuts. Can ye do that?”
“Aye, Friday night, comin’ up the back lane, staggering, singin’.”
“What’s yer lane like?”
“It’s a dirt track, and slippy when it’s wet, with stones and some holes.”
“Good. Now, I want you after it gits dark on Friday to lie in yer bed and think really hard about yer dad comin’ up that lane and fallin’ face down, and I’ll think the same thought over and over, at the very same time as you…and then, you’ll see.”
“So, it’s like magic then, aye?” he cried.
“Aye, somethin’ like magic. Then yer da will niver hit ye again.”
“Ye mean it’s that easy?”
“With the two of us it is.”
Just then the school bell rang out.
“I ‘ave to go,” he said, rising.
“I’ll see ye tomorrow at the same time, okay?”
“Are you dobbin’ school tomorrow too?”
“I think I will…aye, I will, just fer ye.”
Cole beamed at the thought of someone older than him doing just that—and for him too! “I won’t tell anybody about ye dobbin’, or about the magic we’re goin’ to do.”
“That’s good thinkin’, Cole. Don’t tell anyone anything.”
“Bye, Cathal, see ye tomorrow.”
Through the brambles he watched the boy run across the playground and fall in behind the last of stragglers. He grinned. Of all the boys he had spoken to in the past, this one seemed the most promising of all. Yes, he would have his revenge at last…and more, much more! He turned to look down the embankment to the stump of an ash tree, and beyond it the bracken. He would spend the rest of the day down there…and enjoy it!
All that day and night, Cole thought of nothing else but of his friend he had met in the brambles. Dobbing, he thought, as he lay in his bed. He would one day dob school with Cathal and go places, maybe do magic too. Cathal was older; he knew a lot of stuff, and he didn’t mind a bit that he was smelly, or the fact he was only eleven. He smiled, sighing with excitement. He couldn’t wait for tomorrow to begin.
Next day at school, and he watched the clock on the wall above the blackboard for the twelve o’clock bell to go. Duffy seemed to ignore him today, which was unusual, for the dunces’ row where he sat always came in for special treatment from Duffy. And then at last, the bell rang out: lunchtime!
At once he made his way to the embankment, looking round to make sure no one was following or watching him; and there was Cathal hiding within the brambles, it made his heart leap with joy. “Hello,” he smiled.
“Hush! Come in and sit down beside me, Cole, and don’t look round.”
Cole obeyed immediately.
“It must be good to dob; are ye doddin’ tomorrow too?”
“Don’t know yit.”
“What class are ye in?”
“Well, I’m not in Duffy’s, that’s fer sure.”
“I bet Bald Duffy might be scared if ye ever walked into his class after what ye did to him—aye?”
Cathal sniggered with laughter. “Aye, he just might too.”
Cole laughed with him. “Have you got a school bag?”
Well, ye see, tomorrow is Friday, and if I don’t come with a school bag tomorrow, Bald Duffy is goin’ to cane me, and so will Foley. So…I was just thinkin’ if yer dobbin’ tomorrow, I could ‘ave a lend of it. I won’t damage it or nothin’, I won’t take anythin’ from it, and I’ll give it—”
“I don’t ‘ave one.”
Cole looked back at him in shock.
“I don’t ‘ave one; I niver did—ever.”
It was only now that he could see how similar they both were, and it surprised and pleased him all the more.
“What about yer ma and da, Cathal?”
“I don’t ‘ave one.”
“Oh, boy, I wish I didn’t ‘ave a ma and da! Boy, are ye lucky, Cathal!”
“Ye think so?”
“Aye! ‘Cause then ye can do whatever ye like. Me ma is nearly as bad as me da sometimes, so she is, so, yer lucky, and ye don’t even know it!”
“Ye think so?”
“Aye, surely! We’re almost the same, Cathal, you and me, almost, except I’ve got parents, and you haven’t.”
Cathal crept closer and said in whispering voice: “I haven’t forgotten about Friday night, ye know; about yer da. We’re goin’ to git him first, then Duffy, okay?”
Cathal leaned back against the big broad stone. “See the bottom of the hill, where all that bracken is growin’, well, there used to be an ash tree down there, but somebody cut it down; and ye wanna know somethin’ else, Cole, somethin’ wonderful that nobody else knows about except only me?”
“Fairies live down there; I’ve seen them, spoken to them. You mightn’t believe that, but I’ve seen them, and they’ve seen me. I’m goin’ to tell them about you…if you like.”
“Is that true, Cathal?”
“Aye, every word. I know it’s hard fer ye to believe all that, but one day soon I’ll show you, then you’ll see fer yerself.”
“Can ye show me now, Cathal?”
“Not now, ye ‘ave to git permission to see them, but I will ask them, if you like.”
A silence developed between them, Cole pondering all the stuff his friend told him. Fairies down there, and if that was true, then he was especially lucky; and to think that Cathal didn’t have any parents too, and able to dob school the way he did…boy, was he so lucky or what! Suddenly a thought struck him.
“Cathal, can I dob school with ye tomorrow…can I?”
The school bell rang out. “Can I Cathal, can I dob with ye tomorrow?”
“Ye better go now, Cole.”
“But, can I dob with you tomorrow, can I? Because ye see, if I don’t, Bald Duffy is goin’ to cane me really, really bad, and then, so is Foley?”
“If he does, I’ll kill him!”
“Ye mean that?”
“Every word.” He looked at the younger boy, his pale face brooding with anger, his lips pursed, and his eyes dark and wide, and Cole knew he meant it. “Remember this: when Duffy starts canin’ you, just think of me, keep thinkin’ of me, and it won’t be too bad. Now, ye better go; they might come down here lookin’ fer ye, and then they’ll catch me too. Go!”
Back in class, he couldn’t think of nothing else but of Cathal dobbing school, doing whatever he wanted, being free…
Duffy’s roar brought him out of his day dreaming.
“I asked you a question, Carlin—answer it!”
He stared in silent fear, for he knew Duffy would soon come down, drag him by the hair out of his seat and cane him. And as he watched the big hulking, limping frame approach, the cane grasped in his hand, the big bald bullet head, the protruding lower lip, he meekly put out his hand to receive his punishment.
Friday morning, and he knew he was going to get it again from Duffy, and then Foley, and probably later that night from his drunken dad, but not if he did everything Cathal told him to do. He smiled reassuringly, lifting his spirits, and he smiled even more when he thought of Duffy’s fate when Cathal found out about the beatings.
“Carlin!” growled Duffy, as he made his way to the dunce’s row that morning. “Have you got yerself a schoolbag?”
He shook his head.
“Are you tellin’ me you haven’t got a school bag, boy?”
But he was too frightened to answer back.
“Up the front, right now, boy!” He reached for his cane, hanging from his high chair.
Quietly he left his seat to take his medicine.
“Didn’t I tell you earlier this week to get a school bag, didn’t I, boy?”
“And once again you defied me, didn’t you?”
He looked up at the big lumbering frame, the solid fleshly face with the protruding lower lip, the unblinking cold eyes, and not knowing what to say back.
“You defied me—answer!”
Unable to, he started shaking, nodding his head constantly, as if in the first throes of a fit. Instinctively he put out his hand. Duffy stood back and brought the cane down, over and over again. “Other hand, boy!” Meekly he obeyed, and six more times the cane whipped through the air. By now the first streaks of sweat had broken out on Duffy’s brow. He panted, looking down on this boy who looked back without a startled cry, without a tear; and it only enraged him! Grabbing hold of his hair, he whipped him on the bare legs, only stopping to gasp for air. The class, muted into silence, stared in disbelief, never had they seen such a beating before from Duffy; and not a single cry from Smelly either!
“Off to the Head now!” cried Duffy, pointing to the door; and as he watched the boy walk away, without a tear, without a whimper, a sudden fear came upon him. “Wait!” He limped across to grab him by the hand. “I’ll take you there myself, just in case…”
In Foley’s office he received six more, three on each hand, and was told he would receive the same punishment every Friday until he got himself a school bag.
At lunchtime, as he made his way to the embankment, some boys approached him asking him about the beatings, and why didn’t he cry out. There was a feeling of genuine respect for him, even though they wouldn’t admit it, but for someone to take a beating like that, and not cry once, that was really brave in their eyes. Finally, when left alone, he went down to the brambles, and there, sitting amongst them was his friend, Cathal.
“I didn’t think you’d be dobbin’ today, Cathal,” he said, as he pushed his way through. “Pity ye didn’t tell me yesterday, then I could ‘ave missed out on a beatin’.”
“Who did it—Duffy?”
“Bald Duffy, and then Foley. Look.” He showed the red welts still noticeably on his hands.
“I’ll kill him fer that! Believe me, I will!” Cathal’s eyes glared with anger, his pale face filled with an evil intent. He turned away to stare out through the brambles to the bottom of the embankment. “Ye won’t forget about tonight, will ye?”
“We’ll do yer auld man first, and then Foley.”
“What about Bald Duffy?”
“He’ll be the last one to git it; I’ve got it all planned.” He chuckled sinisterly. “Oh, boy, is he goin’ to be surprised when he turns his head to face me. I can see it all in me mind, him screamin’ his life away inside his car.”
“Gee! Are you goin’ to face him in a fight?”
Cathal slowly turned his head, and smiled at the younger boy. “You can be there, watch it all happen, if you like.”
“We’ll git into trouble fer it, Cathal.”
“Naw, we won’t.”
“Are ye sure?”
“Dead sure…coz, ye see, it’ll be all done with nobody knowing who done it—see?”
“Ye mean, it’ll be like magic?”
“Aye, something like that.”
A short silence developed between them, broken finally by Cole. “I don’t mind ye getting’ rid of me dad, ‘cause I fear him more than anybody, but maybe ye shouldn’t kill Bald Duffy.”
“Why not?” Cathal turned suddenly, his pale face flared in anger, causing Cole to move away from him. “Do you want that monster to git away with what he did to you; what he did to all the other boys who have suffered because of him—do ye?”
Cole shook his head.
“You won’t ‘ave to do anythin’, Cole—not a thing. It’ll be just like how yer auld man’s goin’ to git it, that’s all.”
Before he could think of something to say, the school bell rang out.
“I’ve got to go,” he said, relieved that the bell had sounded, glad in a way that he was leaving Cathal to all his hate and anger.
“Don’t ferget tonight, Cole, ‘cause after tonight you’ll niver ‘ave to worry about yer auld man ever again.”
“I won’t ferget, Cathal.”
That same night lying in his bed, he thought of Cathal, knowing at that very moment Cathal was thinking hard about the lane his drunken dad would soon be staggering up. He shut his eyes and visualised his father entering the lane, swaying drunkenly, until he fell face down in the gravel. Over and over he played the scene back in his head, and every time his father’s fall was more severe; and as he did so he felt that Cathal was helping him, encouraging him. A surge of excitement raced through him; it was just like Cathal said it was—it was magic!
In the early hours of Saturday morning, his dad was found lying at the bottom of the lane, cold, lifeless, his neck broken in a drunken fall. Cole looked down upon the body as it lay in the upstairs bedroom, and smiled. Never again would those hands now crossed in prayer be raised against him, never again would he cower from a beating, or hear the roaring curses—and he had Cathal to thank for it all.
Because of his father’s death, there was no need for him to attend school on Monday; but that did not stop him from visiting the brambles on the embankment later that same morning when the school playground was deserted, and there, amongst them, waiting for him was Cathal.
“You did it, Cathal, you did it!” he cried, as he made his made through to him.
“We both did it, Cole.”
“It was just like you said—it’s magic!”
“Aye. And now fer Foley to git his.”
“What’s goin’ to happen to Foley—another fall?”
“Aye, another fall. Maybe a heart attack, or even a stroke.”
“What’s a stroke?”
“It’s what auld people git. Aye, a stroke would be a good thing fer him.”
“Will he die?”
“Naw, not die. That would be too quick, but he’ll niver move again, niver walk again, but I can’t do it without yer help, ye know.”
“I’ll help ye, Cathal, and I’m glad yer not goin’ to kill him, or anything; I’m glad of that.”
“But you’re glad yer auld dad’s dead, aren’t ye?”
“Oh, aye! I’m very happy about that, and I think me ma’s happy too.”
“That’s nice, nice.” He smiled, and for the first time Cole thought he detected a warmth in Cathal’s pale hard face. “We’re a team now.”
“Aye, and best friends too!”
“That we are, Cole, that we are. And because we did it once, the second time will be a lot easier.” He grinned and chuckled, staring out from the brambles to the bottom of the embankment where once stood a solitary ash tree. “Nobody can stop us from doin’ what we want to do—nobody.”
“Cathal, can you tell me more about the fairies?”
“I’ve spoken to them about you; they said they would like to meet you.”
“Oh, boy! I’d love to meet them too!”
“You shall, but not until we’ve taken care of Foley.”
“When are we goin’ to do that?”
“So, that means I can see the fairies after that, aye?”
“Aye, straight after we fix Foley, then you’ll see them.”
Cole looked down the embankment where the bracken was thick and impenetrable, excited at the thought of Cathal leading him down there to visit the fairies.
“Remember Cole, think hard about Foley tomorrow night, about him in his kitchen making tea fer himself, and then suddenly he falls down, and he can’t git up again. Think that scene over and over, and I’ll do the same, and I promise you he’ll niver come back to school ever again.”
“And then I’ll see the fairies, aye?”
“You will see the fairies. I will take you down there on Wednesday mornin’ if you meet me by the tree stump about an hour before school starts.”
“And I’ll see them, won’t I, Cathal?”
“You will, and once ye do yer life will niver be the same again. You’ll be free to do whatever ye like.”
Come Tuesday, and he was back at school. Some boys approached him to ask about his father’s death, more out of curiosity than sympathy, but apart from that, it was the same old fear-filled day, wondering whether he would be at the receiving end of Duffy’s cane. At lunchtime he made his way down to the brambles, but to his surprise Cathal wasn’t there. He searched the playground, the toilets, even went down to the bottom of the embankment searching through the thick bracken, but there was no sign of Cathal. Confused, he wandered around the outside of the cyclone fence asking himself why his friend was no where to be found.
“Hi, Smelly. Are ye goin’ to git yerself a school bag before Friday—are ye?”
He thought for a while before he answered. He didn’t mind John Givens, who sat behind him in the dunce’s row. John had a stutter which was most noticeable in class, but not so much in the playground.
“Well, are ye, are ye goin’ to git one or not?”
“Do ye wanna know something really excitin’?”
“It’s something that’s goin’ to happen to Foley tonight. Do you wanna know what’s goin’ to happen to him?”
“What’s goin’ to happen to him?”
He paused. Cathal had told him not to tell anybody about what they were doing, but Cathal wasn’t here now, and he just had to tell someone about Foley.
“He’s goin’ to fall down in his house tonight. Cathal said he will have a stroke; that’s what auld people git in case ye didn’t know. And ye know what: he’s niver comin’ back to school ever again!”
“Cathal Callan; he’s my best friend; he’s fourteen, and dobs school lots of times; and ye wanna know somethin’ else: after Foley gits his, next is Bald Duffy, only Bald Duffy will die. Cathal hates Bald Duffy more than anything in the world; he used to be in his class, ye know. It was Cathal who gave him the limp. Bet ye didn’t know that, eh? He knows magic too, lots of magic, and another thing…” He stopped. He wanted to tell Givens about the fairies, but was afraid of being ridiculed; besides, he had already said too much.
“What class is Cathal Callan in?” asked Givens.
“Ah, I’m not sure…he didn’t say, but he’s fourteen, so he must be in Lagan’s class.”
“Ah, yer head’s cut, Smelly! Yer makin’ it all up, so ye are.”
“Naw, I’m not! You’ll see! Foley will niver come to school again! Just you wait and see. I know, because I—”
“I can’t tell you anymore.”
“Yer makin’ it all up, Smelly,” sneered Givens.
“Okay, I’ll tell you somethin’, but you must promise not to tell anyone.”
“No! You must promise; you must swear ye won’t tell anyone, or else somethin’ very bad will happen to ye!”
“Okay, I promise. What is it?”
“Me dad didn’t just die, ye know. Me and Cathal planned it. He showed me how to make it happen, and it did, just the way Cathal said it would.”
“Ye mean, ye murdered yer da?” gasped Givens.
“It wasn’t really murder—not like real murder, ye know. You must niver tell anyone what I just said, because if ye do, I’ll say you’re a liar!”
“Did ye really murder yer da?”
“Cathal did, and I’m glad he did.”
Givens blinked nervously, too shocked to speak. He’d never known anyone before who was happy about the death of their father; and before he could think of anything to say, the school bell rang out, announcing the beginning of class. As they left the grounds, he whispered fiercely to Givens: “Remember, not a word to anyone; and if you’re still not convinced about all the stuff I told ye, you only ‘ave to wait until tomorrow mornin’, then you’ll know I wasn’t lyin’.”
That same night he visualised Foley in his kitchen making tea, and suddenly falling to the floor. It was easier this time too, just like Cathal said it would; and this time he could feel Cathal’s presence, urging him to play the scene over and over again, until finally, he knew their goal had been achieved: Foly was now lying still on the kitchen floor, and he wasn’t getting up. Only then did Cathal’s presence depart, and sleep came upon him.
Wednesday morning, and John Givens walked around the cyclone fence searching for Smelly. He went down to the brambles, but he wasn’t there either, then he ran down to the bracken and searched there too, but to no avail. Smelly Carlin was no where to be found.
In class Duffy began the roll call for the day, until he was interrupted by a fellow teacher who entered the classroom. The two spoke in hushed tones which seemed to go on forever. The class stirred, aware that something was up. John Givens swallowed hard as he watched the two teachers in earnest conversation, and a creeping uneasiness came over him. He watched the other teacher leave the room; Duffy’s growl for silence, and then he listened as Duffy told the class about Foley’s fall at his home, and how he was now in hospital, and that we should all pray very hard for his speedy recovery. The roll call continued. Givens knew that Smelly’s name always preceded his, and when Duffy called it out, Givens cried: “He’s not here, sur.”
Duffy ticked the name off. “Givens.”
Givens rose slowly from his seat.
“Givens,” repeated Duffy, and when Givens didn’t answer, he looked up from the roll book. “Givens, did I give you permission to stand up?”
“Sur, there’s somethin’ ye-ye-ye should know,” he stuttered.
“Sit down, Givens, and when I call your name out I expect an answer.”
“Sur, Smelly Carlin is-is-is to blame fer Headmaster Foley’s accident. He-he-he told me yesterday that Mister Foley was goin’ to ‘ave a stroke; he-he-he said it was all planned by him and another boy.”
“Sit down, Givens.”
“Sur, he-he-he said yer next, only he said you will die, ‘cause the other boy wants it that way; and sur, he killed his-his-his father too! They planned it, sur. They’re mu-mu-murderers!”
“This other boy, Givens, does he attend this school?”
“Smelly said he’s fourteen; said that you-you-you once taught him, and that he give you the limp, su-su-sur. He-he-he said he wants ye-ye-ye dead!”
“What’s this boy’s name, Givens?”
“Cathal Callan, su-su-sur.”
At the mention of the name, the blood drained from Duffy’s face, and in an instance he was transported back to the year 1933 to this very same room. A thin black haired boy from the poor house had just thrown an ink well into the face of another boy. He had been warned about this particular boy, a wild intractable fourteen year old that no other teacher could discipline. Well, he would if it meant beating the brat at every opportunity, until he was broken. He saw himself march down to where the boy sat, drag him by the hair to the front of the class, and belt him viciously with the strap around the bare legs until he stopped for breath; and all the time the cold sullen stare looked up at him. Again he laid into him, cane and all, and still the boy looked on without a cry, without a tear, and all he could do was stare back at this insolent little brat while he panted heavily, his brow beaded in sweat. And then, in a show of defiance the boy turned his back on him, and wal
ked from the room; and he, too spent, didn’t bother to stop him, for he knew at that moment he would never break him.
It wasn’t until later that evening that he found out where the boy had gone, what he had done: hanged himself from the ash tree at the bottom of the embankment.
Givens was still stuttering away excitedly, but he wasn’t listening. Slowly, like some one who knew the past had caught up with him, he raised himself off his highchair, lifted his jacket, and limped from the room.
He got in his car and drove out of the school grounds, with the visions of twenty-nine years ago haunting him, including that day only months after the hanging, when he took a short route to school across the quarry, and was thrown down into it by an unseen force; and as he looked up from where he lay, body twisted, and semi-unconscious, there silhouetted against the morning sky was Cathal Callan looking down upon him…
Once again he stalled the car, motorists beeped him. It was impossible to drive in the condition he was in. He had to stop, had to remove himself from the heavy morning traffic before he caused an accident. He drove into a laneway, free from vehicles and people. He stopped the car, and rested his trembling arms across the wheel, his head bowed. He closed his eyes, but quickly opened them again, for the vision of Cathal Callan staring into his bedroom window last night was too much for him to bare. And then, a gasp of horror left his lips when he happened to look in the rear vision mirror. In the back seat were the faces of two boys, one with the sullen pale petulance of long ago, the other whom he had marked absent for the day.
DOWN AMONGST THE BRAMBLES