Souvenir? he asked her.
Is it one of yours? she asked. One just like that was fired into the face of my neighbours boy. Fifteen years old. His mothers only son and now he cant even feed himself. One of the soldiers boots came through the ceiling into the living room and a shower of brown dust came shooting down. Jesus, Joseph and Mary! And what if this was your own mothers home?
My mother didnt raise a terrorist, said the soldier by the door to the hallway, leaning back, looking casual. He was tall, his back was straight, his eyes blue. He was in his twenties, smart in his uniform, his beret poised. There was a light white powder in the air. When her husband made to go into the kitchen, the soldier told him to sit down.
Those whod been upstairs came clattering down the narrow stairway, one after the other until most of them were in the front room, filling it entirely, with two more in the hall. A shorter man stood in the doorway with his hands up above his head holding on to the frame.
Clear, Sarge, he said to the soldier at the sideboard.
This man, their sergeant, took a last look around the living room, taking in the vases and knick-knacks on the sideboard and mantelpiece, a small pale blue Madonna, a large conch sea shell, a few dark-coloured glass vases with gilt lettering, place names, a maple-leaf shaped piece of wood with Canada carved on to it.
Youve got a nice home, Mrs, he said. One of the cleanest Ive been in anyway. Any chance of a cup of tea for the lads?
Go fuck yourselves, she said.
Her younger son stood up beside her, the shoulders of his small frame rose and fell; with his mouth open, he was like a baby bird wanting to be fed.
Starting him off young, are you? said the sergeant. Thats what you call infantry, that is. He threw a look at the handsome soldier.
Kathleen pointed towards the door.
They were in no rush. The sergeant took another look around, clapped his hands together, strolled across to the stairwell and gave the order. His men started to move themselves, gather the guns. The last one out was the handsome soldier, who looked up at the framed poster of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic on his way and tutted. He tipped the barrel of his rifle at the wife, touching her very lightly at her throat, where her dressing gown crossed. I bet you were one of them who used to be nice to us, once.
Her cheeks flushed, Kathleen went to the front door to close it after them. She saw that the porch light had been smashed in. Ach for Gods sake! she called out, and started to shove the jarred door with fury and hurt. Harassment, thats all it is, said her husband, coming up behind her, his voice growing as they watched the men going down the path and through the front gate. To keep us in our place . . .
And what are you going to do about it? she said, turning to him.
He had a moment to look at her, her face backing into the new daylight, her neck stretching, a space between utterances, and he said nothing, paused between difficult things.
And then she was moving. Go up and get yourselves dressed, she yelled at the children. Cant any of you do anything without me telling you?
Why did they come round here, Mummy? said Aine, a brown envelope and a pen in her hands; shed been sitting drawing pictures while the soldiers were there.
Will you up and get yourself dressed, Aine, please. Dont make me say it again.
Theyll be back again soon enough anyway.
Copyright © Louise Dean, 2005
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