The Rebellion Chronicle
by Perry McDaid
“My Da says your Ma was a writer. He sez she used to do poems an’ stories an’ stuff.”
“Your Da sucks bottles dry.”
Their friend Aimee giggled despite herself.
“Does not,” Sinead objected a little too loudly in her broad Derry accent.
“Sssshhh, she’ll hear us,” Eimear hissed.
“So what,” Sinead snapped, albeit in a low voice, “Auntie Bronagh never lifted a hand to anyone.”
“Aye , but she’ll shoo us out of her room quick enough,” Aimee pointed out, posing this way and that with some costume pearls. Her soft Donegal twang was in no danger of carrying downstairs.
“They’re gorgeous,” Sinead faux-gasped. “Here, gimme a go.” She got up from her hunkers where she’d been examining the box at the bottom of the built-in wardrobe. The lid slammed shut. They all froze.
Eimear made clawing, strangling motions with her hands in Sinead’s direction as they waited for the sound of footsteps on the stairs.
Although the pile on the stair carpet muffled any movement, the handrail wasn’t fully secure and tended to issue a low squeal as wood and metal argued about parting company. There was a creaky board under the carpet of the fourth tread. Alone, the first sound would indicate that someone had grabbed the rail and was likely listening intently for any justification to ascend. On its own, the second would suggest that the adults were mounting a sneak attack. The two together meant that the girls were in bother no matter what.
Aimee eased the pearls from around her neck and lowered them with only the slightest of clicks into the pressed cardboard case. Noiselessly, she held both sides of the box and controlled its closing, wary of hinges and the metal catch. The downstairs voices started up again with accompanying laughter. It must have been a natural lull.
Sinead opened the box again. Something had caught her attention: a thin manila folder with the word STOPPED emblazoned in red capitals along the edge of the tab.
“What are you doing?” Eimear hissed. “I told you….”
“Look, my mother told me that some high-flyer, an M.P. or something, is the reason your Ma stopped writing entirely.” She turned with the folder in hand. Her eyebrows did a little dance to her wicked grin. “There could be state secrets in here … or a terrible scandal. See …. ” she continued in an animate whisper, indicating the legend.
“It’s not as if she was a journalist,” Aimee cajoled, moving away from the jewellery cache. “It won’t be illegal or anything. It could be entirely innocent.”
“What about what Sinead’s mother?” An uneasiness was possessing Eimear now, despite her usual level-headedness.
“Um,” Aimee didn’t say.
“What do you mean “Um”, Blondie?” Sinead demanded.
“Well, your Mum claimed last week that Mister Collins, the newsagent was a spy.”
“He lost an eye in a car accident.”
“Well,” Sinead muttered sullenly, “it was a natural mistake. He had an eye patch. He was hardly going to be a pirate.”
Snot ran out of the noses of the other two girls as they tried to contain themselves. The shadow of embarrassment passed and Sinead joined them.
When they had all coughed a bit and wiped their noses, Eimear relented. “Go on then. I might even get a story out of it for English homework. I’m stuck at present.”
“You?” Aimee and Sinead chorused in an ugly combination of accents.
Eimear winced. “Don’t do that again, girls. Pleeease?” They grinned. “Yes, me,” she continued. “I have this maddening block.” She shrugged. “I suppose that’s why I came up here in the first place: to find inspiration. Let’s hear–”
“It’s about the rebellion,” Sinead announced, sotto voce.
“What rebellion?” Aimee, being from a ‘quiet’ part of Donegal, was just about ignorant of the “Troubles” in Ireland from the 1960s to the nineties.
“Ssshhh!” Eimear was snared.
“Rebellion, by Bronagh Sproule…” Sinead began.
“Sure that’s not your mother’s name,” Aimee objected.
“Probably a pen name,” Eimear guessed.
“To protect her from prosecution,” Sinead said; all drama.
“Go on, for God’s sake, and catch yourself on.” Eimear was eager to hear the real content.
Sinead read a few lines into herself. “Awww, it’s just a story.”
“Go on anyway.’
I’ve looked teenage since I hit nine… “My Ma always said that about yours. She towered over…”
Eimear glared, Sinead returned to the text.
…and was teased ruthlessly for hanging about with my classmates. When older boys called to me in the street, I used to be mortified; and thankful when adults told them off. Mum said men used to whistle at girls. You never get that now. “Where was she living, a convent?”
“Well Parr-donn me,” Sinead drawled before returning to her narration. I also used to be chuffed when neighbours would scold that I looked older than my age and they should be ashamed of themselves. She paused as if to comment but spotted the lurking glare-athon. “Do you want to read this?”
Eimear snatched it from her. “Yeah.” She drew her forefinger and thumb across her lips and widened her eyes. “Got it?”
“Aye,” Sinead sighed. “All right.”
“What did I do?”
“Nothing yet… Well?”
“I’m a mouse.”
“You’ve a what?” Sinead was always looking for a double entendre, especially where none existed.
“Did you bust your zip?” Eimear asked dryly, tapping her own top lip.
“Arrarr,” Sinead said between pursed lips, pinched between forefinger and thumb. She made a twisting movement to represent locking and mimed throwing ‘the key’ over her shoulder.
“Okay then. She writes:” I also used to be chuffed when neighbours would scold that I looked older than my age and they should be ashamed of themselves. “I remember her telling me of that sort of neighbour. They used to be very protective. Now you could be murdered in the street and they wouldn’t twitch a curtain. It’s getting as bad as the big cities.”
Aimee and Sinead glowered silently.
“I’m just providing background,” Eimear said defensively, and moved on. Then I turned thirteen. Apart from the obvious body changes all girls have to deal with, I found myself growing embarrassed and resentful of my protective neighbours. It no longer seemed they cared, but rather that they were interfering. My best friend shrugged agreement when I shared this with her. What they can’t see…was her approach. “Hah, sounds like you, Sinead.”
Sinead swivelled where she sat and pawed the ground as if looking for the invisible key she had thrown away. Eimear rolled her eyes.
Together we’d sneak off to quiet corners for a snog with boys our own age and up. We even pitched tents during summer and stay out all night, secretly arranging with lads up the street for them to visit for some harmless experimenting in the wee hours. Because the tent was in other parents’ front gardens, no-one seemed to suspect.
“Whaoh-ho, Aunt Bronagh, ye girl ye!”
Eimear ignored Sinead’s outburst and regarded Aimee, who was having a silent laughing fit.
“What’s with you?”
“Snog,” Aimee mocked, catching her breath. She went back to her amusement.
Eimear sighed loudly and went back to her recital. The nosey neighbours who never seemed to sleep said nothing, despite our terror. They just leaned out the windows giving us dirty looks before shaking their heads and drawing the curtains when we gave them the fingers. Their lips moved, but I never heard what they were saying; I was just thankful my parents couldn’t either.
“Well, that explains the change in attitude by today’s neighbours. This is actually rather insightful. You could do the school project on the reason behind shifting social responsibility.”
“Frack!” This was Eimear’s favourite cuss word.
“What,” Sinead said. “Is that such a stupid idea?”
“No, it’s actually brilliant,” Eimear acknowledged. “I’m just surprised it came from you.”
Aimee laughed out loud at this.
“Ha, ‘fracking’ ha,” Sinead drawled. She made a spooling motion with her right hand. “So, are we nearing any sort of story by this great writer Ma of yours?”
Eimear read into herself a few lines ahead. “Hmmm, it seems to be getting interesting. You’ll appreciate this, Aimee.”
We smoked. My friend’s father sold booze and ciggies from his house, so we were never without. We’d get drunk and sing into the wee hours, and tell anyone who complained where to go until, that is, the ones at the corner house appeared. They didn’t take any abuse, and we lost many a can of beer when running away. One of them had a particularly loud voice and used to yell ‘What sort of home do you come from that lets you out at this time of the morning?’ at the top of his lungs so our parents would hear. God, it was mortifying.
Eimear grinned at her friend. “Any idea who the black marketeer is, Aimee darling?”
Aimee stopped laughing, and started wondering about the windfall which had allowed her parents to buy a big house near Letterkenny.
“I know who the loudmouth is,” Sinead volunteered. “That’ll be my Grandda! He can still scare the rooks away with that goul of his.”
“Goul?” Aimee was eager to deflect the conversation in any direction at all.
“You know …,” Sinead explained, ‘… a big loud angry growl with enough swear words to curdle cream.”
“Oh!” Eimear had read on to the end and now sat face flushed bright red. She had dropped the pages at her feet.
Aimee bent and snatched them up, eager to retaliate after the reference to her parents. She one of those readers who don’t anticipate more than a few words ahead: following the words as they fell in recitation and thus narrating in a sing-song presentation which skews the meaning for those listening.
Fortunately my parents were either out ‘on the razzle’ themselves, or too busy smoking the ‘wacky baccy’ and knocking back cans themselves to pay any notice.
Aimee took that much in well enough, and stuck her tongue out: licking a finger and chalking a point in the air. Heedless to Eimear’s silence, she continued. Unfortunately, one of my Ma’s friends heard and passed it on when they sobered up the following day. She mimed a quick chortle.
We moved base to a secluded park left open at night. The seventeen and eighteen year-olds there were really cool about sharing space. My friends didn’t want to stay. When I wouldn’t come, they deserted me. Big deal! I thought. One of the guys was really nice. He was really friendly. I stayed to talk to him when his mates went to bed.
“Hmmm,” Aimee muttered appreciatively. “Naughty Bronagh.”
Sinead was frowning, sharing glances between the terribly quiet Eimear and the pages. “Aimee…”
No-one, Aimee went on, heard my screams or saw,… Aimee trailed off. “Oh dear God, Eimear, I’m so sorry.”
Eimear’s face was white now, and she stared into space, echoing in a murmur the last line of the story: the real reason her mother had stopped writing.
I can’t hide now, and I’m not laughing. He’s in prison. I’m carrying mine.