Friday, 21 September 2012

The Rosary

The Rosary
By Andrew Hamilton

Oliver is buried in the back garden.

Sharon walks to the sink, fills the electric kettle almost to overflowing and places it gently in its cradle. She peers through the window. The early September darkness has already infiltrated the garden, capturing shrub and flowers and half the wooden shed. She feels a chill down her spine as the first of the evening stars reveal themselves in the half-light. “Don’t worry,” she says, “they will be here soon.”
She plunges her hands into the warm, bubbly water and begins to slowly wash four China cups and four China saucers. The dishes, unused since last week’s rosary, are much too delicate for the dishwasher. They came from Lourdes, from the parish trip in ‘84, and now they spend all their waking days on the high shelf overlooking the sink – watching in displeasure as the kitchen, the hallway and the sitting room fall deeper into disrepute. Everything has changed since he left. Sharon’s washes and rewashes the cups.
… The glass of the windowpane is impregnable… The steam has made it so… The condensation… The power of hot and cold… The darkness can have the outside… The inside is mine… The whistle of the boiling kettle shakes Sharon from her thoughts - the cups, the tea, the kettle, the rosary. She empties the kettle into the still bubbly water, refills it from the cold tap and returns it to its cradle to boil again.
MaryAnn lingers at the open front door, shaking droplets of water from her half-folded umbrella. A rush of cold air enters the house and explores the hallway, before it makes its way up the leg of Sharon’s dress. She places her hand on her hip, a grimace of pain rolls over her face. “Come in,” she says to her sister, “where are the other two?”
“Hail Mary. Full of grace. The Lord is with thee…”
Sharon and MaryAnn kneel before the kitchen table. In the centre of the table stands a ceramic statuette of a woman dressed all in blue, perched on two small wooden block, each embossed with the words ‘Our Lady of Međugorje’.
“Holy Mary. Mother of God. Pray for us…”
Sharon looks to her sister – eyes closed and head bowed, ready to lead the next prayer. “She’s not so perfect,” Sharon tells herself. “A happy husband doesn’t make her better than me. It doesn’t make you holier.”
“Hail Mary. Full of grace. The Lord is with thee…”
MaryAnn leads the virgin’s prayer slowly, anointing every word. Nothing is rushed, no sentence is completed with any less relish than the one that went before.
“Why haven’t they come?” Sharon asks herself. “Where are Teresa and Martina? Why have they abandoned me?”
“Holy Mary. Mother of God. Pray for us…”
“She’s going to leave too,” she says to herself. “First him, then Teresa and Martina, and now her. I’ll be alone. I’ll be alone with his sin.”
“Sharon,” whispers MaryAnn, her eyes looking to her sister. “Sharon, I thought we might just finish early tonight. I though we might just say the Fatima Prayer, and leave it at that. Maybe have a cup of tea or something? What do you think?”
Sharon is silent. She looks at her sister – ready to cry or to scream – but instead she says nothing. Long, silent nothing.
“Sharon? Sharon, it’s okay. We’ll finish it, same as always. I just thought, you know, because it’s just you and me now, maybe we could do something differently. But it doesn’t matter. Lets start again.”
Sharon’s eyes leave her sister and turn to the sink and to the kitchen window. Through it she sees stars and shadows. She can even see a portion of the waning crescent moon.
“Hail Mary. Full of grace. The Lord…”
“Stop it! Stop it! Stop it MaryAnn, just stop it! I can’t anymore.”
Sharon begins to cry.
“I miss him. I miss him so much. Why did he go? Why did he leave me like this? Why Mary, why?”
MaryAnn stands and walks to her sister, arms outstretched. She helps Sharon to her feet.
“Don’t worry,” she says, “it’s all going to be fine now. Trust me.”
She walks to the sink, fills the kettle with water, and places it in on the cradle.
The kitchen window begins to cloud with steam.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

The Front Hall Agreement

The Front Hall Agreement
By Andrew Hamilton

We decided to form the union right after Mom and Dad made us sign the Front Hall Agreement. It didn’t mean much at first, just an understanding really, but I figure with Christmas coming – why not give it a go. I mean, you remember how things get around here at Christmas.
It all started off well enough. Jim, as the oldest, wanted to be the head of the union and said just that loudly and with great authority, while beating Mike playfully with one of the good wooden spoons he had stolen from the kitchen. That seemed a fine idea and we all agreed that Jim would do just fine as a leader and would represent us with strength and considerable honour.
But then, when she thought about it for a little while longer, Mags remembered the Halloween incident. You know, the one with the car and the urine, the garden hoe and the new beige settee. Mags is always remembering things just lately, and lucky for us they usually turn out to be things worth remembering.
Anyway, after Mags reminded us about that incident, it was clear to everyone, and we agreed unanimously, that Jim possessed neither the moral fortitude nor the strength of character to be an effective leader. So we agreed that Mike – who Jim was just then using as a makeshift pillow – would make a fine leader too.
Mike, by everyone’s reckoning, was the stupidest and most ruthless of all the children, so we though it would be just fine to make him the leader of our new little union. But, just for some safekeeping, we also decided to appoint Jim his deputy, his second-in-command, just in case Mike needed help with any of the extra important decisions. So, like I was saying before, the union all started well enough and things proceed pretty much as they have always done.
But that all changed when little Jane decided to go out and get sick, real sick, with some sort of winter vomiting bug. Do you remember little Jane? She’s five years old now and looks every year of it. The little scamp.
Well, with little Jane sick with that vomiting bug and no longer able to perform her given duties at wash-up time, as set out clearly in the Front Hall Agreement, we really didn’t know what to do. It was quite a pickle, a real big problem.
But then, Mom and Dad sent out a circular to all children telling each of us to take it in turn - one night in every four - to dry the cutlery and put the dishes away correctly, just as Jane had always done. This seemed like a fine idea, and besides, we couldn’t refuse it under the terms set out in the Front Hall Agreement.
Jim didn’t like it one bit and he swore and he spat, and Mags just shook her head as she ran back and forth with fresh towels and basins of cold and hot water to poor sick little Jane.
Mike was angry too. We could all tell it but he didn’t let it show. Instead of shouting and swearing like the rest of us, he took off with Mom and Dad to the cinema – to discuss with them the growing discomfort that the Front Hall Agreement was imposing on the members of the union. You’d be proud of him - he really is becoming quite a fine leader.
So, as the second youngest child after poor, sick, lazy Jane, I took it upon myself to put away the knives and forks that night. That seemed like a fine idea and was working out well enough until Jim pointed out, while he wedgied me quite roughly in front of Mags and poor sick Jane, that I had, in fact, crossed a socially implied picket line and, as such, had basically destroyed the union and screwed us all forever.
After Jim explained the situation, and punched me once in each kidney, we all agreed that he was right and that I was, in fact, a complete fool who would eventually be the ruination of the entire union.
So, to set things back to right again, we all decided that I would use the coffee table, the one that Dad had received in a very favourable will from his Uncle Desmond, to smash the patio door and strike a blow for all the working children of this family, and indeed for the children of every family in this fair country. I know what you’re thinking, what a smart and brave thing for Jim to suggest, we are so luck to have him as second in command of the union. We voted on the whole idea and it seemed to be passed fairly unanimously, or as close as makes no difference anyway.
So, after throwing-up thoroughly and taking some time to stop the bleeding in my nose, I attempted to throw the coffee table through the patio door. But, alas and alas again, the attempt was destined to fail and with it all my dreams of redeeming myself and proving my worth to the union. The table came up against the ruthless stubbornness that is double-glazing – a capitalist product, of course, and a tool of the ruthless parent establishment. So there I was, one sheet of glass broken, the other completely intact, Mom, Dad and Mike expected home from the cinema any minute, Jim and Mags ready to kill me and little Jane crying and wailing from the bedroom. I don’t need to tell you, the whole situation was not what I had anticipated.
“Half a job is no job at all,” Jim said to me and he spat on a piece of broken glass and stormed out of the room. Mags was speechless, in shock maybe, she just stood there and smiled. No need to tell you, the situation as it stood just then was nothing short of obscene.
But just when it all looked hopeless, we struck upon a revolutionary new idea. I think it was Jim - or maybe it was Mags - who suggested it first, be we all quickly agreed that it would be a fine idea indeed. The plan was to use a shard of glass from the half broken patio door to cut poor, lazy, sick Jane – somewhere on her face.
It as a simple idea – a blood sacrifice – a statement that would show Mom and Dad just how serious we really are and also distract them form the failed political statement at the patio door.
We were all mostly in agreement and once little Jane was gagged and bound, she also seemed to adopt a calm attitude towards the whole thing and to realise that this was for the greater good of all the workers in this fine union that we are trying so hard to create.
Mags told Jim, who told me, to collect a medium sized piece of glass from the botched political statement and bring it to Jane’s sick bed. When I arrived back, Mags and Jim were both sat at the foot of the bed and Jane wasn’t even crying anymore – the little trooper. As I approached, she began turning her head from side to side suggesting, or so it seemed, that I should perhaps cut her somewhere on the neck or around the ears. But I couldn’t decide.
So I turned to Mags, who had just then – most bizarrely – taken Jim in a very rough looking headlock, and I begged her to give me some simple directions.
 “Just cut her you little shit,” she shouted, clearly annoyed and out of breath from her struggles with Jim. I’m so glad she was there – if she wasn’t, I’m not sure what I would have done.
So I made one medium sized cut in Jane, running from her left ear in an almost perfect diagonal along her neck. When I was finished, we laid her back in bed, removed her gag and bounds and retired to the sitting room to plan our next move.
As he sat on the couch, Jim, now much revived from his brief spell of incapacitation, made a joke of pretending to rest his feet on the coffee table that was no longer there. He wondered, out loud and in my direction, if we shouldn’t just temporarily retrieve the table from the botched political statement beside the patio door.
“We could put it back when we hear Mom, Dad and Mike coming to the front door,” he suggested. “They wouldn’t know any better, and besides, I’d have somewhere to rest my feet.”
Mags, who had positioned herself right in front of the TV, said that this was an awful and truly stupid idea, so we all agreed that to tamper with the botched political statement was an unethical and highly immoral thing to do.
So, instead of the coffee table, Jim decided to rest his feet on my back while we all waited for the others to return.

Andrew Hamilton

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

The Watcher

The Watcher
By Andrew Hamilton

Little Jimmy Morris made it all the way to McGarry’s and back this morning.
I know this because I saw him. I saw him jump the wall on the town side of the monastery. He landing with a sickening squelch, one foot in Brother Liam’s drill of carrots, the other in a pile of dog plop left behind by Vianney.
I saw him get down on his knees and cleverly shovel fistfuls of dirt into the large, shoe-shaped hole in the vegetable patch. He patted the dirt, got up quickly and trotted off to the side gate - scuffing his shoes on the long grass as he went.
I watched him as checked to make sure that the coast was clear and as he walked slowly up the hill towards the old school building. He stayed close to the hill-side of the path – the low bushes partially obscuring him from anyone who might decide to wander down.
He was no more than a quarter of the way up the hill when I witnessed his right hand reach inside the pocket of his muddied blazer. Again and again he delved, each expedition revealing some fresh and tasty wonder.
Applejacks, fruits salads, lemon bonbons - he crammed fistfuls of them into his ready mouth. By the time he reached Brother Gregory’s old wooden bench, his cheeks were bulging with juice - green and sticky.
There he became suddenly brave, and, crouching before the bench, I saw him remove the whole bag of sweets from his pocket. I watched as he counted and divided his fortune and, after evening-up the number by quickly eating a single white chocolate mouse, he divided his hoard into two equal bags. One for later, and the other for later still.
When the bell rang, I saw him join a group of boys who had been playing football out in Tierney’s good meadow and return with them to his classroom, unmarked and unmissed. Clever little Jimmy Morris.

I saw him again at lunchtime. He walked with the rest of the first years to the pitch for the big match between the fifth and sixth years. He looked so lost in their company, lagging behind alone, his hands planted firmly in the pockets of his blazer.
When they reached the pitch wall, I watched him as he stopped to tie a shoelace, and then – as his classmates jostled each other for a position along the cold, stone wall – I saw him steal away unnoticed, running quickly into the ash tree glen.
There, in a little cove among the briars and the undergrowth, I watched as he sat on a mound of damp brown leaves and laid out his full fortune before him. He began with the skittles, eating the red first, then the green and yellow together, and then the remaining colours all on one go.
As the shouts from the match filtered down to his hiding place, Jimmy Morris’ heart beat faster and faster. Sugar coursed through every inch of his body - he was suddenly exhilarated – alive and master of all he surveyed.
I watched him closely as he closed his eyes and placed a singe chocolate mouse between his teeth. I saw the first beam of a grin appear and watched carefully as a smile took hold of his entire face.
After a moment, he continued on a diet of marshmallows, éclairs and thick liquorish coated with pink sugar. His hands circled his booty, picking off treasures from here and from there - eating them with a mixture of excited haste and slow relish.
At half time in the match, the fifth years had taken a most unexpected lead. The rabble on the sideline – who had spent much of the first half making animal noises and slyly punching each other – became suddenly silent as Brother John screamed violent instructions at the sixth years. Nothing could be heard but the screams of the Brother – he admonished the team for how it played, the supporters for how they cheered, the wind for how it blew and the grass for how it grew. When he had finished, all was silent.
Down in the ash glen, I watched as little Jimmy Morris studied the remainder of his once great hoard, now reduced to a mischief of just six chocolate mice. He hesitated, searching his pockets again and again – there must have been more. Finally admitting defeat, I watched him as he studied his last six sweets. For a time all were quiet.
When the noise of the match restarted, I saw Jimmy Morris lay his soft brown head back on a tuft of moss-covered grass and search for fragments of the sky between the thorns and the broken trees. Then, one-by-one, I watched as he ate the mice.
He took the first, laid it carefully on his tongue, and allowed it to dissolve right there in his mouth. I saw his right leg twitch with delight as the warmth of his mouth gave life to the sweet – making it dance on each of his tastebuds. Sheer, incorruptible delight.
Above at the pitch, the older of the Murphy brothers gathered a high ball deep in the fifth years half, and, after hopping it once, fired it deep into the back of the net. A goal, a goal, a goal.
The shouts from the sixth years were brutish. Jimmy heard them and so did I. He finished the last chocolate mouse but it was no good, the taste was somehow wrong. He got to his feet and slowly made his way out of the bushes.

I watched him as he left. I saw the thorn branch slash at his calves as he pushed his way out of the briars. I saw his red face, flushed with effort and delight. I saw his eyes squint as he returned to the full glare of the sunshine before returning sheepishly to the match.

I saw him leave.

I see him still.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

The Upset

Welcome to Fighting Talk. In this blog I will publish new short stories and other bits of creative writing. Please have a read and leave a comment. If you like any of the stories, I want to hear from you. If you dislike or were offended by any of the stories, I really want to here from you. The first story is called Stained Glass.

Stained Glass
By Andrew Hamilton

She stops the car.
“Is this the place? Harry. Harry, this is the place, right?”
Harry doesn’t move. Eyes straight ahead, he searches the skyline, the road, the trees – anywhere but her face and the building that lurks outside her window. She pulls the hand-break tight, takes the keys from the ignition and buries them deep in her handbag. The cracking of the cooling engine breaks the silence and keeps time with Harry’s breath. Faster. Faster. Slower.
He looks to the hedges – his hedges – now invaded and almost fully conquered by the wild brush from the gutter. The unkempt lawn sneers and spits at him as his eyes study the menace of the half-submerged potholes.
“Come on Har, this has to happen. We go in, we see the place, we walk around a little and then it’s all over. Twenty minutes and we’re done. We’re gone. Then we can go home, get drunk, and start again.”
Harry exhales deeply, his thoughts still filled with the trappings of domestic failure. His face is hard, filled with stubbornness and fear. He catches his breath as if to speak, but no words come. He shouldn’t be here. This isn’t right.
She begins to tap the toe of her shoe against the rubber saddle of the break pedal – slowly, but deliberate. Without looking, he can see the expression on her face: her neck arched uncomfortably, her tongue forming an ugly bulge in the pit of her cheek.
Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap.
She is going to blow. Harry knows it. And when she does his last chance of happiness, of redemption, will be blown with it.
Tap. Tip tap. Tip tap. Tip tap.
She fumbles for her bag.
“Okay,” he says, letting his face fall into the cradle of his open palms, “Okay”.
Harry opens the door.

Before the upset, Harry liked to visit Rome and The Vatican City almost every year. He loved Rome. It was the feeling of stone beneath his feet and the angular simplicity of its magnificence. Turn right at the Colosseum, continue straight along the walls of the old forum until you meet the Monument to Victor Emmanuel II. Pass a secret word to the Unknown Soldier and then straight to Piazza del Popolo, where an easy left turn brings you to the gates of the Vatican. Simple geometrics – lines, angles and corners.
Harry was at home in Rome. There he was calm and confident. It was a simple calm, grown only from knowing his way around a foreign city, but a righteous and glorious calm none-the-less. When he could, he would make his yearly pilgrimage alone. Other people spoiled the experience. They insisted on taxies or pictures or behaving like tourists or talking.

The giant oak door swings freely on its hinges. She hesitates - her eyes jumping from the car, to the courtyard, to Harry, and back to the car again.
“Now or never,” she whispers to herself as she leans against the door before wedging it open with a fragment of a shattered holy water stoup. The chapel is damp, and despite almost every pane of glass being smashed, the air is sour and stagnant.
Harry pauses at the threshold, blesses himself, and steps inside.
The old building rises and groans to greet him. It is a half-hearted welcome, a reception reserved for sons and daughters who abandon their family at a moment of need, only to return when all the work has been completed. The room is different - worse than he could have imagined. Worse even than his dreams.
She follows at a distance. Space, she knows, is the key to this reunion – time and space.
Wildlife, damp and teenage drinkers have all found welcomes here. Many of the pews have been burned or stolen and the floor is covered with decaying leaves, rubbish and a snowfall of broke glass.
Above the altar, in the place where Christ had once hung and looked to his father for mercy, a giant sign had been made of red paint on dirty white cloth. It reads, “Jesus don’t live here no more”.

“Have I ever told you about St Peter’s Basilica,” Harry says, his tone light and almost cheery. “It really is the most amazing place.”
“No,” she says, surprised by the change of mood. “I don’t think you have.”
“Well it really is the most amazing place.”
Harry walks to the centre of the church, his boots crunching on slivers of shattered glass. He looks up, shielding his eyes as the last of the mid-March sun pours through the empty space where stained glass once had lived.
“It was once the greatest church in all of Christendom. It was beautiful, fair but not fierce. They built it not to overawe those who entered, but to comfort them. To ease the pilgrims into its grandeur. To make them part of the building and then, when they were fully comfortable, to reveal to them the sheer scale and majesty of St Peter’s chapel.”
His eyes move quickly, darting thoughtfully, as if in sudden recollection of a long forgotten secret. He turns to face the altar. He sighs.
All the oxygen leaves his body.
She wants to go to him. To stand beside him. To take him in her arms and comfort him. This is the most he has spoken in years. But she knows she mustn’t.
She is a guest here – an imposter in his world. She knows that much.

“There is a stained glass dove in St Peter’s,” Harry continues, talking softly now, as if only to himself. “A lone white dove, emerging from a bed of golden rays. When you enter, the dove seems no more than a trifle, a tiny detail no bigger than the nail of your thumb.
“But when you walk the church – when you finally come to kneel at the great altar – only then do you realise the sheer size of where you are and what you have become. That tiny dove, that insignificant speck of glass and metal, has a wingspan of more than 13 metres.
“Imagine that,” he says, shaking his head, “a wingspan of 13 metres.”
Harry is silent.

She walks to the centre of the chapel. Edging closer, but not too close, to Harry.
The church is different from what she had expected. It is smaller somehow, less formidable.
In the silence her eyes search the room, looking for a sign, a signal of what Harry might have been in the years before she knew him. But the room is silent. All its secrets have already been told.

Harry falls to his knees, his hands searching frantically in the scatter of the broken glass.
“Don’t,” she shouts, rushing towards him, but he isn’t listening. Before she can reach him, he picks up a fist-sized piece of stained white glass and runs to the altar.
Without stopping to genuflect or even bless himself he races to the pulpit and places the piece of jagged glass on the filthy plinth before him. He holds out his hands, blood has started to collect in the gaps between his fingers. His eyes move slowly from left to right – waiting for the room to become quiet, waiting for a time to begin.

She is silent – her eyes, her face, every aspect of her being transfixed by the scene before her. She has felt like this before but she can’t remember when. A spasm of cold runs through her, scorching the tendons of her back, making her whole body twitch and shimmer.
She is still.
It is time.

“One day I came upon a bird. It was the most beautiful creature that I had seen in all my days, and I wanted it,” he says, his voice loud and commanding.
“So I took that bird for myself – and I placed it in a high place, and every day I came to look upon it. Each day I looked up and I prayed, for the bird made me strong. It made me sure. I looked up, and I was happy.
“But what had I to be happy for? What had I to be sure about?”
“Was I happy just to look upon this thing of delicate beauty? Was I happy because it gave me joy to behold the sheer splendor of this creation, and to know that this splendor came directly from the very hand of God? Or was I happy because this bird was great – and in its presence, I too became great?”

He stops – his eyes moving from the shard of broken glass to his imagined audience. She is frozen, waiting, her breath trapped within her chest. Suddenly, through her eyes, his whole presence seems to shrink and flatten. He begins to splutter, weak with the futile anger of the defeated.
“I’ve spent my whole life looking up. I’ve strained until my eyes burned, until my whole body was aching and broken. And I’ve never seen anything that really matters.”
He lifts his head, revealing streams of tears. He looks at her, now seeing her and her alone.
“I’ve never seen anything that really matters.”