“Mammy!” came the call from Eoin’s plump, naïve lips. But his mammy couldn’t hear him above the sound of her hair-dryer. He shouted as loud as he could this time.
“Mammy can I go to Joseph’s?!” Crinkling the skin of her orange forehead, she announced in a robotic South African tone, that Eoin could visit his spindly little friend from down the road, on the condition that he was back in two hours.
“Yes! Tanks Mammy! Love you!” Eoin leapt off the landing and sped off to his best friend’s house as fast as his milk-bottle legs could take him. What a sweet little boy I have, his mother thought to herself as a tear-drop sizzled on her hair curler below. It was the last time they would play together.
“Two hours? Ah sure, that’s loads o’ time,” Joseph said with unfounded authority.
“Yeah I know! Brought my Action-man…” Joseph was right. Two hours was an eternity.
And so Eoin played with his best friend, out of all the Brookmount kids, as he always did. They played Mortal Kombat first. Eoin won because his figurine could jump the highest and therefore dodge Joseph’s one, much to the shorter friend’s annoyance. Then the playing, inevitably, turned to rough-housing. The pair got out their musketeer-swords and began a fight-to-the-death. They made sure to miss each other and hit each other’s weapons, (it was more fun that way), intermittently shouting out big phrases like, “En garde!” and “Touché!” in small Irish voices.
The fight ended when Joseph was stabbed right through the heart. It was a fatal blow that sent him wheeling and spinning across his lounge until he finally collapsed, writhing and gargling in agony. Eoin was in hysterics. The two were in their element; no amount of money could entertain them so.
Discarding the plastic-sword Eoin said, “Now let’s play cops and robbers! You can be the robber.”
“No, you always say that! My Daddy’s a copper so I should be the copper.”
“If he’s really a copper then why doesn’t he have a cop-car?”
“I don’t know… but he has a gun! I’ll show you!”
“YOU BLEEDIN-WELL WON’T, JOSEPH!” Pamela, Joseph’s burly mother had walked in from the kitchen, her face red and sweaty from cooking over the stove. To the street’s children she seemed a hulk of a woman, whose smacks must have hurt more than any other mammy’s.
She continued, “I’ll smack you if you say things like that, Jospeh!” Little Joseph dared not plead his case.
“Jaisus wept, and you Eoin? You have to go home now or you’ll be here forever. It’s been three hours.”
Eoin was a little confused by Joseph’s mammy’s last remark but decided it was nothing more than grown-up talk. They hardly ever made sense anyway.
Picking up his toys he said, “See ya later Joseph.”
“See ya later, Eoin.”
Eoin, in his miss-matched uniform of street-side fun – a winter jacket, track-suit trousers and black, light-up runners – marched on home, making sure to step in between the cracks on the pavement. On his right were the homes of Andrea and Lee and Kim. “I wonder if they’ll want to play?” he thought to himself. His busy blue eyes roamed further up the street beyond his own house to where Christine and Brenda lived and to that house with the funny shaggy dog from the paint-ad on TV. On Eoin’s left were the new-houses and the dead-end where he and all the other kids learnt to skid their bikes. And ahead of him lay the bus stop at the top the road – the world beyond. It occurred to him that he loved his neighbourhood, and, perhaps more vaguely so, that he always would.
But just then something changed. Something stale hung in the air like the smell of old socks. Eoin suddenly felt the icy wind stinging his face, and it was sore. The new-houses glared at him through mean window- eyes. He began stepping on all the cracks instead of missing them. Eoin felt strangely guilty. Was the neighbourhood angry with him? Nah that’s mad, he thought. And in that moment, a shock of sunlight was draped over the Dublin Mountains. Eoin could have sworn they nodded at him, in eerie confirmation of his ill-feeling. His stomach lurched. He sprinted towards his house, too afraid to look back. A monster was chasing him. The monster was the mountains, the clouds, the houses and the very wind that clawed at his bare cheeks. Eoin clambered to his front door, burst through it and ran to his parents.
Mr and Mrs Fitzpatrick sat together in the kitchen sipping coffee. “Mammy! Mammy! Da…”
“What is it Eoin; what happened?” Eoin’s father wasn’t overly concerned but his mother was. “What, Eoin? Are you okay!?”
“Something’s out there… I…I dunno what,” Eoin said, staring in to space and trembling slightly.
“Brian, go look outside, someone’s hurt him!” his mother commanded.
“He’s not hurt Jen, don’t get hysterical. Not now,” There was a certain weight to those last two words.
“It was the boys from up the street; they chased you didn’t they, Eoin?”, his Father asked.
“They’ve never scared him like that before. It couldn’t have…”
“Shhhh! ‘ Christ’s sake, let him speak!” His voice cracked with tension.
Eoin’s response came slowly and thoughtfully, “No…it wasn’t them. I didn’t see anyone. But I felt them (sensing he was about to sound silly)…I mean I felt really strange, that’s all.”
“See Jen, he’s fine.”
“You shouldn’t come in screaming and shouting like a mad-man Eoin, you scared Mammy.”
“That’s alright Eoin. Go to the lounge and I’ll bring you some toast before we leave. There’s a good-boy.” Eoin did as he was told. What a sweet little boy I have, Jennifer Fitzpatrick thought again to herself.
Separated from his parent’s tension by a bit of plaster and thirty years of life’s rigours, Eoin sat in the lounge. He sat as far as possible from the large bay window, as far way as possible from outside. The lounge was comforting. In it was the ceiling-light he once broke with one of his toy swords. There was the telly and the fire-place that didn’t really make fire and above it, the mantle piece full of photos – photos of himself and his family, a couple of just him and his baby sister. Next to these, were wedding photos and various shots of the extended family and friends. They made Eoin feel like he belonged. This was his lounge in which he watched his cartoons, surrounded by pictures of his people.
He got to thinking about the street outside, the street and the neighbourhood that was his favourite toy. That was his too, wasn’t it? Well he shared it with his friends and all the other kids but it was his as well. It was silly too be scared of it. Maybe outside was angry because no one was playing in it. He thought, maybe it was lonely and it wants me to get Andrea and Joseph and Christine to come play. Then outside would go back to being nice.
He’d convinced himself now and was about to make a request of his mammy to let him round up his friends, when she came to him. “Eoin turn off the T.V, we’re going now”, she said as gently as she could manage.
“Ah but Mammy. I want to go play again. Isn’t there time?”
“No, Eoin. There isn’t. Now help me bring your bags to the car.”
“Please Mammy, just for a bit. I’ll be quick. Plea…”
“I’m sorry Eoin but its time to go now!” she saw his heart sink and her own followed suit. “I’m sorry, I’m really sorry, Eoin…” her words were lost in sobbing and she turned away.
Eoin was baffled by his mammy’s behaviour. She must be over- racting. At least that’s what his Dad called it.
“It’s alright Jen, shhh. He’ll be fine, we’ll all be fine. It’s just a big change. We can always come back,” Eoin’s father said, hugging her tighter, “we can always come back.”
Eoin approached his mother and said tenderly, “Sure Mammy, it’s only a holiday. Of course we’re coming back, silly.”
“Oh, Eoin! Look at him, Brian…”, again, tears overcame her. Frightened, Eoin reeled backwards.
“Don’t worry Eoin, Mammy’s just tired,” Eoin’s father said while he ushered his stricken mother upstairs,“alright then, us two strong boys’ll bring the bags to the car while mammy has a lie-down, okay?”
Eoin’s concern for his mother was evaporated by his burning eagerness to be a strong boy and so he ardently accepted his father’s terms and set to the task of filling the boot.
“Look Dad, I’ve got two!” No reply came.
“Look, Dad. I’m carrying two!” Eoin exclaimed again. But his dad wasn’t listening. A Dubliner all his life, he could normally stand the cold. But Brian Fitzpatrick shivered and felt his ears stinging in objection to the chilled air that wrapped around them. He stopped dead at the boot, luggage in hand and son at his side. Something was pulling at his shoulders, commanding him backwards. He whipped his head around violently and, without wanting to, fixed his gaze at the mountains and the lifeless hunks of rock glared back so intently his eyes burned. They had watched him every moment of everyday, from the moment he unchained his bike to the moment he locked it up again. They knew he was deserting them, betraying them for another country. But how? The mountains glared more viciously still. Shame welled up inside Eoin’s father and he whipped his head back, pale faced, gasping for air.
Eoin spoke with trepidation, “Dad?”
Snapping out of the spell, his father said hurriedly,“Yes Eoin. Very good… eh, you’re really getting big and str…”
His eyes met Eoin’s and he was made mute. He reeled back in disbelief as his son looked at him, knowingly. Eoin had felt it too. His father could read it in his face, his own face in miniature. Suddenly his Eoin’s earlier behaviour made sense. And Eoin too, knew what had happened to his father just then, why his brave, strong dad looked so vulnerable. They stood motionless, facing each other and simultaneously swallowed a mountainous lump in their throats. Both sets of eyes rolled westward but flashed back again in fear. But then, still not daring to speak, not daring to confirm that which seemed insane, the pair nodded in reassurance and made again to face the mountains…
“Brian!” the piercing call came from the house. “Brian! Help me with my bag please! It’s
the last one.” Eoin and his father were hurled back into reality – or at least the version they preferred. Eoin’s father, relieved at the distraction, almost ran inside.
“But Dad! What was…”
His father looked back, made to open his mouth and turned away, and for the first, but not the last time in his life, Eoin realised his beloved Dad wasn’t invincible.
The whole day had been too much for Eoin. He got in the car and sought the familiarity of his mammy’s tapes – he loved singing along to them. He was trying to work out how to turn the radio on when his heavily-loaded dad, now led by his mammy, came trundling towards the car.
“Mammy, how do you work the radio?”
“Hold on Eoin, I’ll show you now-now,” she said hurriedly. His dad bent down smiling and turned the ignition key, making the radio come on. Eoin was thankful but couldn’t smile back. He searched his dad’s face. Their gazes met again. They froze for a moment and then slowly turned together, towards the invisible pull of the mountains. Then his father looked down and sighed, and Eoin thought he heard him say under his breath, “I can’t look at ‘em.” Before Eoin could respond, his father was beckoned inside once more.
The sun began to set. The car was packed and the house locked up. His parents got in and Eoin knew they were ready to leave. His imagination lit up with thoughts of holiday adventures in South Africa. He missed his Nanny Eileen and it would be simply fantastic to swim outdoors. He looked out the window and to his surprise, everyone from Brookmount was standing in the garden. There was Andrea, Joseph, Erin and Christine. All the parents were there too. Eoin was delighted.
“Are they all saying bye Mammy?”
Somberely, his mother answered, ”Yes dear. Yes, they wanted to say goodbye.”
“They never used to say goodbye. Are we going for long?”
Trying not to cry now, “Yes, Eoin.”
Little Eoin looked closer at his neighbours as the car rumbled in to life. They were crying. Naivety and understanding battled within him.
“Will I be back in time for school? Why are they crying?” His mother was now of no use balling in the passenger seat. The car backed down the drive way and the crowd followed.
“Daddy! Why are they crying!? Please, tell me Dad!”
“It’s just a sad day, they’re fine.. .you’re… you’re too young to understand.” His eyes were red from fighting back tears.
The car slipped into first gear and began to roll away from the crowd, away from Joseph, away from all the other mammys and daddys, away from outside. He clawed at the rear windscreen but only half-heartedly, in disbelief. His neighbours were waving him goodbye in sad unison.
“No”, he said under his breath, “no,” this time louder. This isn’t happening, he thought. He looked up fiercely at the mountains, searching for an explanation. But he found none there. They had turned their backs on him and hidden their faces in shadow. They had tried to warn him but he had ignored them. What more could they do? Loyal wavers faded into the Brookmount background and all that was left were the mountain peaks. But they would not bid him farewell. They would not wave him goodbye.