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Novel Opening...


by James Claffey


On rainy days time slowly passes. Trance-like, I tongue my bedroom window and lick the condensation from the glass. My nose smushes against the cold pane. The seagulls glower below, on the roof of the coal shed, eyes fixed on the kitchen door on the off-chance Mam might throw out some scraps for them to fight over. 

Rivulets race down the window at different speeds, my eyes fixed on my favorite, named of course. The storm lasts so long I could stare into the garden all day. Instead, I haul the trunk with the crushed lining out of the wardrobe that houses my aunt's mothy fur coat and her double bass. Inside the trunk, old notebooks, journals, well-thumbed copies of Ireland's Own from the fifties.

At the bottom, an old Freeman's Journal—the Great Strike, Larkin, arms outspread, Jesus in a raincoat. The Old Man speaks of "Big Jim" and his impassive dignity, how he fought to overturn the unfair treatment of workers in the dockyards. The picture is hard to make out, the ink smeared and the background fuzzed.

From downstairs, the smell of meat cooking wafts through the rungs of the banisters. Mam's bustles about; whacking a chunk of dough with the rolling pin. I'd rather she beat the dough than the backs of my legs, which is often the punishment for refusing to comply with what the master says at school, or for not taking the bins out on time.

Sunday. Mass. Roast lamb with mint sauce. Afternoon spreading manure on the roses, and in the evening a decade of the Rosary, kneeling to face the wall, the television set cold and brooding behind our backs. Mouth the words, the Hail Mary's fall into line, and the Our Father, and a Hail Holy Queen round the evening out. A word out of place, a disruption of the sacred rhythm, and Da stops me in my tracks, clips my ear, and resumes the litany without a hitch.

The Old Man's dismal mood is broken up by the rare moment of happiness, as it is tonight when he grabs Mam and dances her around faster and faster until she is dizzy.

“Wouldn't it be grand to have a house with a gravel driveway and crystal chandeliers on the ceilings?” he says drawing Mam to his side and giving her a sloppy kiss.

“Get away with you," she says. "It's far from crystal chandeliers you were reared.”

He slaps her bottom and says, “I grew up in a house where even the dogs ate off bone china.”

 Mam snorts, turns the tap on in the kitchen sink, and scrubs the dishes.


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