She holds the pebble in the palm of her hand as though it were a burning star sat centre of the universe. Her fingers fold and unfold about the stone. Rounded yet small the pebble feels to be entirely of itself, a galaxy around which a multitude of satellites spin. It is smooth like Zen, silent but watchful, a thing unto itself yet part of the vast unknowable from which all things come. The ten thousand things are of one substance. So, it is and the pebble is no different and yet…
She considers this as she runs her thumb across the pebble’s pristine surface. There is a connection between her, the pebble and existence, an unseen force that is the foundation upon which all life is built. The pebble is her talisman.
Again, she thumbs the surface seeking to find an aberration, coruscations, a fault of some kind, something but there is nothing, it is as perfect an object as conceivable.
Thoughts of her parents, dad sitting still like a privet bush in a home for suffers from dementia, mum a small potted plant on a plot near Belfast. Her death from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease long years past. Whilst she lived and breathed, each month her breaths more painful than the previous, she fiercely denied her condition to have been caused by the twenty Carrolls Number 1’s she smoked every day of every month of every year for the past forty years. She insisted it had been caused by working in the ammunition plant during the war. “Feckin’ British bastards,” declared her father, a man from Sligo, to which her ma would start singing Blake’s Jerusalem as a way of response. Not even the doctors could convince her otherwise. “It was all that asbestos,” she gasped through her shivering lungs.
Her sister had married that Englishman, a dentist, grasping at his success as by means of escaping their dreary lives spent in Lurgan. When Mary, her older sibling, informed her parents that she and her husband were moving to London. “Diúl mo bód” snarled her father raising his fattening forefinger to his daughter and her looneyp.
That had been nineteen eighty-three. The family never heard from their daughter, her sister, again. Thirty-four years and not one single word. It all seemed such a terrible waste. As children, they had loved each other, played together constantly, but the call for security, which roughly translated meant wealth, had been overpowering. Her sister, sweet Mary gone. Life was not meant to be lived like that. Life was for the moment. Forget the past it is gone, leave the future along until it arrives. Life had taught her that much.
She gazes again at the pebble. Unadulterated, uncontaminated, pure. She wonders how many folks, could you say that of? It seems to pulse in her hand, to throb as though an invisible force is emanating from it. She knows this isn’t so.
The pebble rolls around her palm. It reminds her of a star orbiting a distant constellation or a tear rolling down a powdered cheek. Its power immeasurable, its permanence faced with her own impermanence an impedance she cannot negate. Her life fading from the day of her birth compared to the pebbles startling longevity.
A thin ribbon of blood trickles down her arm to her elbow. She looks impassively at the thin line then bends her head forward. She hears a sound like the sky cracking open, a violent implosion. Her head rocks as if shaken. It is not thunder, there is no storm but her head hurts. Her pulse momentarily quickens then slows to a sluggish cadence.
She loved her mum, of course, she did, she was always there for her as she was all her children. Yet somehow, even considering the way her mum devoted herself to bringing up her offspring, to protecting and nurturing them, she found her mum, certainly after hitting her teenage years, to be someone who demanded a love returned for a love given.
Mum had had a way with the snide remark. She had never understood irony but was a dab hand with sarcasm. Her cynical, caustic comments caused no end of grief to all of her family and friends. Dad was different. Yes, he could spit acid if his passion was up, especially if the bloody British or worse, the English were his focus of attention. But it was his passion, his fierce heart, his honest hatred of the injustices in the world, especially those against the Irish, that so impressed her. His spite was directed whereas her mothers were abstract, random, incoherent. Hers a form of abuse whilst his was an assault.
Dad’s love had been unconditional whereas her mums came with proviso’s – love me in return, obey me, care for me, do as I say when I say. That had not been love, it had been control.
The way her father had smoked his cigarette, lip curled at one side, smoke lazily drifting about his head, whilst the other side of his mouth firmly held the homemade cylinder. By his right hand, balanced on the arm of the chair, a tumbler of Bushmills 21. The family were not poor but they certainly weren’t rich. The money dad made could ill afford to purchase such whiskey. No one dared asked where he came by such expensive malt but all made good guesses.
When he’d drank his fill his eyes would fill, tears trickling down his cheek before he began singing the same song he sang every time he was drunk.
“They nailed their banners to the mast: the Orange, White and Green;
A nobler set of Irishmen the world has never seen.
They knew through sloth and idleness, a nation's soul was lost,
They rose to have dear Ireland's soul and counted not the cost.
They knew well that a thousand men — they did not number more Could never break the tyrant's chain and drive him from our shore; But this they knew — and knew it well — they would not die in vain, Their blood would save our country's cause and give her life again.
Who was it led this noble band, and what has been their fate?
Was chivalry shown to them at last? No, worse than '98.
They fought 'gainst overwhelming odds, and held them well at bay, Till Feckin’ Britain swore that she would make the innocent to pay.
Then woe betide the citizens who went abroad that night,
The soldiers lay in ambush, hid and shot them down at sight.
They shot the women and men, they shot the children, too; The Defenders of Small Nations showed herself in colours true.
Then after the surrender, there began a tyrant's reign,
When young and old — the brave and true — all ruthlessly were slain. Tom Clarke, the Brothers Pearse, and Daly, Colbert young and gay, And Eamonn Ceannt and James Connolly were shot at dawn of day.
The same fate met Sean Heuston, McDonagh and MacBride,
But 'twas outside the G.P.O. the brave O'Rahilly died.
Mallin, Plunkett and McDermott fell before a firing squad,
Their blood, with brave O'Hanrahan's, for vengeance cries to God.
Great numbers, too, were sentenced then and sent across the sea; The men and women, boys and girls, who strove to set us free.
Gold could not buy the ones who fought for Ireland through that week. And they to make their sacrifice no purer cause could seek.
Enshrined are they forever more in every Irish heart;
God bless those men and women who played that noble part.
Who left their homes behind them, who left their kith and kin,
And rallied round their banner when the fighting did begin.
May their memory live forever! May our children bless the name Of each one who fought for Ireland! May it ever be the same.
May your country still have hero's that are not afraid to die
On the battlefield or scaffold so our proud old flag may fly.”
Then, his song sung, he’d fall asleep his feet shoved close to the fires embers, his boots reflecting the red glow.
Now he was vegetating the last of his days in that abysmal home. His passion nullified by the creeping senility that stole his brain, his soul, his very existence. But his passions had burnt fierce and they had ignited within her. She never forgot his passions.
She recalled the times he’d come home from work having first paid a visit to the pub. Reeking of alcohol but not drunk or maudlin as when he sat by the fire but joyful. He’d take them, her and Mary, and then stand them on his working boots then whisk them off in a waltz dancing around the table as their mother screamed at him to stop calling him an “Ejit.” He just laughed as he winked at their mother.
The pebble feels hot now. It is as if there is a fire burning inside the stone. Maybe, she thinks, it really is a star sat hard within the contoured cup of her palm. It’s being inextricably linked with hers, her totem, her fetish. Is it growing larger? She thinks, eyes blinking now trying to see clearly but also to stop the pain in her head.
She sees the thin stream of blood now at the heel of her hand. Crimson. Dark. Glistening.
There had been other men, everyone has their needs, but not one of them came close to her father. They talked the talk but didn’t walk it. Paraic was different. He shared her loathing of the Peace Agreement. They both saw it as an abomination. Less a peace initiative, more a defeat. The principles of the Republican’s had been aborted to give shared power to those they had trusted. You simply cannot concede moral values, you fight for them. Sinn Fein had sold the whole movement down the Liffey along with the IRA. The New IRA held fast to the fundamental truth that Ireland should be free and united.
Paraic’s plan could have worked, would have worked had some bastaird, some informant with the organisation not alerted the Garda Siochána. What no one knew was that there wasn’t just the one bomb, there was two.
Outside the night sky turns sodium white. The window shatters sending shards of glass flying narrowly missing her. She does not move. The blast has set sirens wailing. There will be ambulances and fire engines and the cars of the Garda hurtling down the streets.
The pebble weighs heavy now in her palm. Her blood has run down her wrist into her palm and surrounds the stone like an island, no, not an island, a continent in an ocean of red. She thinks of Paraic lying dead in the gutter where the Garda shot him.
The pain in her chest fades. She feels a dreadful cold. Her hand falls forward and the pebble drops to the floor. Droplets of blood rain down on its smooth surface. The centre of everything plunges earthward, a victim of gravity. Her eyes glaze over as moon and stars fade to a distant past.
Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.