Literary Yard

Search for meaning

By: Elaine Lennon

It is a truth universally acknowledged that the intimate exchanges between young men are principally of the gaming variety.  It was with a deal of struggle that Ned and Dobbin Smith kept their friendship at the level of pure gunshot and gimcrackery. That was the key to keeping their cocks to themselves, they felt, in a sort of unspoken agreement.  Otherwise, you’d never know where you were, would you? Anyhow, they were cousins of a sort and you wouldn’t have that sort of thing even in a so-called experimental kind of fashion no matter what the hippies might be doing over in America.

So as it was the Summer, and all that kind of crack, it was time to go shooting.  Guns were in the news all the time, what with the messing up North and the murders in Derry (or Londonderry, if you watched the Beeb and saw all the body parts every evening on the Regional Bulletins) and the trouble with the transportation of butter from one side of the Border over to  the other.  And all anyone really wanted was a roll of Spangles, Walls ice cream and a Fray Bentos pie. Really, things were getting far too complimicated, as Mrs Thornhorn would opine in between launching her impressive bosom to offer an operatic aria to the local Musical Society.

Of course the lads were doing things in an official capacity, as it were. They attended meetings of the local unit and donned the uniform of the FCA and so it came to pass that one fine day they were trundling along the roads in an army truck to the back beaches of Donegal.

Dad’s Army has nothing on this,” shouted Dobbin at Ned across the floor of the covered vehicle as it hit another pothole.

“What?!” said Ned, cupping his hand to his ear. He was at nothing.

There were thirty of them squashed together like peas.

They were piled into a barracks that had a sheet metal roof and one urinal and the usual open showers.

“The priests’d love it here,” muttered Ned as he tried to scrub himself down after an especially arduous two hours around the obstacle course.

Day two was manoeuvres on the beach.

            “Down boys!” the drill instructor screamed. Ned and Dobbin dunked their heads. They were behind the sand dunes on Bundoran Strand and the mortar landed twenty feet from them with a roar.

            “Fuuucccckkk!” screeched Dobbin.

            Ned sweated, biting into his mouthpiece. “I want to go home,” he whispered to himself.

            There was no opportunity for getting your leg over as the exhaustion set in along with diarrhoea. The food was godawful tripe.

            On day three they had training on a Bren gun and it was nearly the end of Ned.

            Dobbin took it to like a duck to water. “Now we’re talkin’,” he said gleefully.

            Ned covered his ears.

            The grenades fell about them like confetti.

            “How did Hackett ever survive?” he whimpered, pulling his helmet closer, if it were even possible.

            “Who?” shouted Dobbin.

            “Reverend Hackett! He made it out of Normandy! How on earth?” screeched Ned as another grenade landed a few feet away.

            “Is that so?” shouted Dobbin grimly and held on to his gun with a passion, scrunching down in the sand as the gunfire rang around them.

With things the way they were and the border only a handful of miles north, the older FCA recruits were allocated the responsibility of the power station which they guarded manfully on eight-hour shifts. The lads however were appointed the responsibility of minding the Bishop’s Palace. The well-furnished villa was in the grounds adjoining the College and the lads were not best pleased to be doing anything when they could have been dossing.

            “Remind me why we’re here,” Dobbin snarled to Ned. They were on either side of the swirly gates leading to anointed one’s home.

            “The money.” Ned was definitive. “Switch.”

            They marched across from one post to the other and swapped positions, hoicking their rifles.

            All at once a racing bicycle whizzed past them. It was ridden by a young man with a red face and a shock of curly hair stuck to the back of his head and shorts up the wazoo.

            “D’ye think he really goes to Dublin once a week on that thing?” asked Ned.

            The bike was already out of sight. Speed was the watchword.

            “Damned if I know,” said Dobbin, wiping his forehead. “I’ll bet you he’s never the bishop’s son. Not with those shorts.”

            Ned considered.

            “They say he’s out of an orphanage.”

            “And who d’ye think put him there?” asked Dobbin knowledgeably.

            “D’ye think he knows who his father is?”

            “Does he fuck,” said Dobbin agreeably.

            “But he knows that’s what everyone calls him.  I cannot believe he goes to Dublin on that yoke.”

            “And back the one day,” added Dobbin.

            “Jesus, the bishop must be a real tight arse,” said Ned. He was sweating for Ireland.

            Dobbin shook his head. He was bored.

            “Fecked if I’m staying here all day.” He blew a bead of perspiration off his nose. It continued to trickle onto his top lip.

            “Do you think Norman Hackett is good looking,” asked Ned. It was somewhat of a rhetorical statement.

            “Do you think I’m a queer?” responded Dobbin.

            “Tildy says Norman Hackett is the best looking lad she’s ever seen. Even better than Mick Ronson.”

            “Tildy is your seven year old sister, dude,” said Dobbin.

            “Tildy is the only sister I’ve got to go on,” said Ned.

            “Sorry, dude,” said Dobbin. He shifted awkwardly from one foot to the other. Nobody mentioned poor dead Susie these days.

            They walked along the broken footpath in Earlsvale Place, looking through the fir trees at the Hacketts’ nice Victorian redbrick.

            “I’ve always liked that monkey puzzle,” said Ned.

            “I have an idea,” said Dobbin, ignoring his friend’s horticultural observation.

            “About what?” said Ned, kicking a pebble along in front of him.

            “Let’s kidnap Norman Hackett.”

            Ned stopped in his tracks.

            “What the hell are you on about?”

            “You know exactly what I’m on about. Let’s kidnap Norman. We just need a few things,” said Dobbin. “Come on the fuck! Are you really going to stay here all day! As if the chief fucking pervert needs protecting! It’s children need protecting from him and his dog- collared friends!” Dobbin stopped marching and started walking.

            Ned followed.

Norman Hackett was hunched over his Kawasaki trying to adjust a nut when a shadow fell over him.

“Spare me your shite, Norman,” drawled Dobbin. “We know what’s what.”

“We’re here on business,” stated Ned flatly. “Strictly business.”

Norman was mystified.

“So stand up there and we’ll get it over with,” said Dobbin. “C’mon now. The quicker we get this over with, the better.”

“What the fuck are you on about? I’m busy.” Norman attended to his nut. “Go into the garage and grab us a few beers from the fridge. The mother’s out.”

He wasn’t looking when the lads pulled black berets and sunglasses from their pockets and poked him on the shoulder.

“I’m really sorry, Norman,” said Dobbin. “I know you’re screwing my sister ‘n’ all but we have a job to do.” He was frowning.

Norman squinted up at the bould pair. “Fuck me! You’re not! Christobel never said!” He dropped his spanner.

Ned cleared his throat. “We have our orders, Norman. You know how things are now, don’t you. And you’re on the other side, so …” his voice trailed off in embarrassment and he was afraid he was going to laugh and let the side down.

“The other side of what?” Norman stood up and found Dobbin’s rifle sticking into his left hand side.

“What side? What side is it? Dobbin hissed into his ear. “What fuckin’ side do you think you gobshite?! We’re under orders for the local unit! C’mon t’fuck!”

Ned put his gun to point at Norman’s shoes.

Dobbin motioned at Norman to put his hands over his head.

Norman looked from one to the other of them. “I think you’re confused fellas. As far as everyone knows you’re in the bloody FCA not the IRA!”

“Quiet! Don’t say that out loud!” shouted Dobbin. “Does that feel like a fake gun to you?”

He screwed the barrel in tighter to Norman’s chest.

Norman blanched but maintained his composure.  He looked around him. “There’s nobody here unless you mean the chickens in Elm Bank,” he nodded toward the hatchery across the road.

“On your knees,” hissed Dobbin at the most menacing he could manage.

Ned coughed and looked at him. But Dobbin’s eyewear was so dark he couldn’t see three feet ahead of him.

Norman lowered himself again. He was sweating profusely. But then it was a very hot day. Dobbin shunted the butt of the gun into Norman’s rear end.

“I’m really sorry but we’re under orders,” said Dobbin, half-apologetically. “Round up the Prods, isn’t that it, Ned?”

Ned was appalled. “Ah you’re going too far, Dob,” he implored.

Norman shook his head. “A fine pair of terrorists you’d make, you morons. Now would you let me get back to my bike, for fuck’s sake? I promised Christobel I’d take her out tonight and I’m not about to walk. She’d fucking kill me.”

Dobbin put down his rifle. “Ah you’re no fucking fun. And what’s worse, you’re starting to talk like a Catholic. The mouth on ye!”

He took off the glasses. They had left a mark on his cheekbones. “The pain of these,” he groaned. “Now where are those beers?” He stalked off to the garage.

Norman looked at Ned. “What the fuck, Ned? Your cousin’s a nutter – but you?” He was appealing to Ned’s humanity and didn’t Ned know it. He dropped the act and shed the mirrored shades.

“I’m really sorry. We were bored shitless at the bishop’s palace and …” – he gestured hopelessly. “It was only a bit of craic.”

“Very fucking funny. If it hadn’t been me here things could have got bad. He’s out of control and taking you with him,” observed Norman as Dobbin came back with three bottles of Smithwick’s.

“Feck that for a game of soldiers!” laughed Dobbin and opened the bottles with an opener hanging on his gunbelt.

The three of them laid themselves under the shade of the monkey puzzle and got lathered.

Eighteen months later, when he was reading about John Paul Getty Junior’s ear being delivered in the post, Dobbin said to himself, That’s what we should have bloody done.

He was only half joking.

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