When the soldiers came the time before, the father went off with them. He had the same name as his son, so he went in his place. After a few days he was released. Their son was far away by then, down south.
This time the son was in prison and they didnt want the father. So what could the father do, except stand in the front room, in his underpants, hands in the sagging pockets of his cardigan, watching the soldiers moving back and forth between the front and back doors of his home.
He was trying to think of something to say. His children and his wife were sat about in their nightclothes; they werent looking at him.
Yous think you know it all, was what hed told them up at Castlereagh, the interrogation centre, when theyd come to realize their mistake. The first day theyd had him hands against the wall, legs apart, and when his knees weakened theyd shouted at him or kicked him. Hed not had anything he could tell them. Nor had he defied them. For two days theyd stopped him from sleeping, told him to sweep the hallway and when hed sat down, theyd emptied out the bucket again and gone kicking the dust, cigarette butts, apple cores, and empty bleach bottles down along the corridor. Then theyd handed him back the broom. They let him go first thing on the third morning.
Hed got off lightly, he knew it, when he stepped outside, turned his collar up and set off, the sky all of one colour, a licked pale grey. It was a damp morning to come home on, and no one was about. Hed had to wait for the dinnertime session for the telling.
His son, Sean, had been inside Long Kesh for a month now. These men knew that. They were there because of the boy, because of where they lived, because they had another son and because they were Catholic.
There was a stack of rifles on the living room floor. Dont you be touching those, he said to his children in a low voice with a light whistle in it, the air from the open front door catching on his back teeth. They leave them there on purpose to see what the kids know.
From upstairs came the sound of a door being forced, once, twice, and through. His wife shook her head.
Its true, said her husband. They do.
The electric light was impotent, the daylight had taken over and so his wife got up to switch it off and pull back the curtains that gave on to their scrap of back gardensome grass, bare patches, a washing line with a pair of pants on it, legs sewn to hold pegs. To the right-hand side of the line, within the creosote armpit of a shed, was a gap that went through to the next street. The last time, shed had a go at the soldiers when they came in, shed jumped up to stall them, to make sure her son got away through that gap. Shed kept them then at the front door, offered them her husband herself. If its Sean youre after, well here he is. And sure enough they looked at the man in his jumper and Y-fronts and agreed hed do. She, herself, had had him by one of his sleeves, shaking it.
Who gave you permission to come in my house? she said now.
Weve got all the permission we need, said one, loafing by the sideboard, looking at her ornaments.
Youve got the guns is all.
Were not the only ones. Show us where you keep yours and well be away.
Liam, show the man your water pistol.
Upstairs, they were crow-barring the floorboards, emptying drawers and cupboards. There wasnt a house in Ballymurphy that hadnt been pulled apart by the British Army. The soldier at the sideboard was going through those drawers, taking out chequebooks and bills, newspaper cuttings and photos. He left the drawers open, looked again, then picked up a black rubber bullet that was on the top shelf. It was about three inches long and an inch wide.
Copyright © Louise Dean, 2005
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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