This is something I have been writing for some time, I've put it down and picked it up so many times, Should I tell it? Am I betraying family secrets? Is it even worth telling? It was originally entitled "brothers" still not sure where the focus should be, So I've decided to serialise it and edit and fine tune, expand as I go.
Its mainly a cathartic exercise for me alone, get rid of demons, bring them out into the light etc etc...
A book by Keith Hehir Lynch
We have enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another.
She was pushing as hard as she could, felt herself tearing from the effort. The room was lifeless and grey. The only colour was the blood on the bed. Sister Mary, the head of the home, was as impatient and still as cold as she was when she opened the door to her 21-year-old sister, whom three weeks ago was kicked out of her home in Ballyfermot, Dublin, with just the fare and an address in north London of her sister to go to. Her mother was not able to face the neighbours and the church, with the sheer shame of it all. Anne was expecting maybe a crumb of comfort, when she finally arrived at St Augustine’s mother’s home, after a grueling trip across an unforgiving Irish sea but got the vilest look of disgust from her eldest sibling and after a lecture on how evil she was to even be here, she was escorted to her room. Her penances for her sins where about to begin.
‘Push Anne push’ said Sister Mary ‘I hope you remember this pain; it will serve you well the next time you want to act like a harlot’
Anne wanted to put her sister on the tiled cold floor with her fist, and used that anger and adrenaline to push Patrick into this world in one final guttural scream. They fussed and cleaned, and one of other nun’s handed Anne the new bundle, ‘feed him before he goes’ young Anne tried and succeeded. The papers where signed and the adoptive couple were ready in the next room, and excited to take their baby home, Anne could hear them, It was the first laughter she has heard between the constant prayers she did with the sisters. I want to laugh she thought, and got up, wrapped the child, quietly and quickly went to her room, put her coat and shoes on, opened the window, to the crisp April night air, climbed out…and ran.
Sister Mary, despite being young Anne’s older sister, was a cold heartless servile of god, she went to her bed that night and failed to pray for her frightened and broken little sister, whom was about to get lost and swallowed up by an even bigger bitch, the city of London.
Blood still running down her legs and feeling exhausted; she stood at the bus stop not knowing where she was to go. 20 minutes later carrying a bag and the new sleeping bundle, she walked down brick lane in east London after going as far as three pence would take her. She fell into the jolly butcher’s arms public house. My step father whom she was yet to meet when awake, picked her and the silent little cold bundle off the floor………….
We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars
- Oscar Wilde
In Barbados, in a tidy tin shack by the sugar groves where Gladys Antoine and her tiny husband worked, Gladys was popping out her first of six. It is hot and humid; the air is sweet and heavy. Gladys and her husband’s huge trunk are labeled and ready to go. ‘Oh! Dam woman! Only a week to go! That’s all you had to wait was a week’! Gladys thought that if she were not lying here giving birth, she would have her hands around that miserable wretch of a husband’s neck. Me Moving to England with him? What in gods name was I thinking! She pushed and Terence plopped out in one fast movement, the look on his face! She was thinking, what anger at being disturbed from his cosy place, she smiled at his clenched fists and grimacing face…
Gladys took baby Terence on a bye, bye tour of Bridgetown and to the end of the Crop over Festival; she loved and took part in since a child, making tasty bajan food to sell on her families stall. Gladys is an only child, her father died when she was three and her mamma never had a mind to remarry.
It is Grand Kadooment Day, last day of the festival; everyone has the day off officially and unofficially! She is tearful and everybody is wishing her well, she waits for the fireworks and worries if the noise will scare little Terence.
As she held him closer as the big bangs in the sky exploded with colour, baby Terence smiled a big smile, and did a lovely belly laugh as the bangs got bigger, Gladys smiled then burst into floods of tears, holding her baby close underneath a multicoloured sparkly star filled sky. What will she be going to? What will Terence become? Will he, or us ever see home again?
Two days later, Gladys, looking grand in her favourite white and red dress, her tiny bruised husband, hair slicked and resplendent in his worsted pinstripe grey suit and black bow tie, who by now, was regretting swearing at Gladys when she was unable to plant one upside his head, whilst giving birth, and little Terence, asleep in his Grandads christening shawl, board the princess of fortune and waving back, bye, bye and big kisses to her family, whom where dutifully waving and suitably tearful on the dockside. The golden streets of Bethnal green, East London beckons; such a sunny name Gladys thought……
To a man who is afraid, everything rustles.
1963, Age: four and a little bit...
Darkness… and my sister Christine is going to be on her own with her now because I got to go to a school place, hopes she is doing the hiding and quiet game without me, she have to play on her own now.
Light? It is my very First day at school. Never been in the same room with so many people all mostly the same size as me, well…. except for that long skinny ginger one, bet her mum is high up! Never said hello to a person the same size as me close up. They jump, run, and scream, why don’t the mums and the nums punch and kick the ones my size for being shouty and screamy? Why don’t the dressed in black ladies called nums use the sticks they wave at them. Why don’t I know what to do? I will just hide around the corner when mam goes until when they have all been beaten up. It is not best to hide sometimes though, it only makes your mams, and nums probably go madder. Mam pushes me towards the big door with the big cross on the inside.
‘Be good’ and mam turns and disappears behind noise and a thousand legs. A big num with a whistle goes red with the blowing of it, and shouts for quiet. I stay behind the corner I've picked to watch the beatings, eight nums with sticks appear and stand in the middle of the ground and shout at the kids calling their names from a book one by one the kids stand in a line for a beating, the little num is calling my name! Oh! What do I do?
‘Keith Hehir!’ I sheepishly walk from behind the corner with my limp towards the lines because I cannot make my leg go straight today.
‘Hurry child’ the big black penguin of a num is coming for me, Maybe I'm gonna be first for the beating then. She grabs me and with my eyes shut ready to get a punch or maybe a kick, she drags me along, my leg cannot make me walk as fast as me other leg and trip over and fall to the wet ground, I instinctively curl up into a ball and wait for the rain of pain.
Child, Child! Stand up! What is the matter? Are you hurt? The kids are laughing and giggling and are told to be quiet. I open my eyes and see the whole school standing watching me, the big num pulls me up and puts me on the end of a line, I'm confused and don’t know why the beatings haven’t started, the kids are smiling and giggly. Then the lines move one by one into the school. I sit myself down, and after an hour, the clear-varnished seat is sticking to my sores at the back of my legs. It is making them redder and wetter, the big girl is sitting next to me with her nose up her snotty arse, it is a break time, and out we go, a black kid called Terry circled me in the playground and walked off. He has a face like a bulldog because it is all screwed up and he has big eyes.
The kids shout at me to go away, and I wander around the playground to find cover from the taunts, they jump about, point, and scream at me, I don’t care. That black kid is over by the gate looking at me, he does not have a face like a bulldog now it is a nice face. Not my fault my skin is horrible and falling off.
The Dinnertime comes and dinner was big and I eat it all up, semolina is horrible, and leave it. The big old “nun” Sister Theodore is shouting and shaking me to eat it. I try to eat but it makes me want to be sick. I stand up, face the nun, and stare at her in the eyes ready to be beaten. She stops shaking me and is not sure what to do with me, why doesn’t she just get on with it?
‘Don’t you dare look at me like that’ she says, and steps back from me and study my skinny dry sore ridden body with the look they have down the shops, when they tell my mam can he wait outside away from the food please.
What can she do that she is not already going to do anyway? So I just keep looking and waiting for a punch or kick, don’t know about her kicking though because she has all those heavy black dresses on.
‘Stop looking at me in that way! I said!’ Sister is getting mad here it comes…. I shut my eyes, and speak; ‘when you hit me lady, will you stop all the kids and nuns from walking on me when you knock me to sleep? Maybe you can put me under the table please,’ I'm careful to remember my manners otherwise, I know what happens to bad manners ‘And put me out of the way a bit thank you. My mam said I've got to be kept clean’ I wait for the first punch and squeeze my face up real tight.
‘Oh! Sweet Jesus child’ she says and the black nun moves to me, I can feel the rustle of her dresses, I wet myself forgetting that I should have gone, I waited and waited but the little nun in class never seemed to see me but the nuns push you here and there and ignore you when you ask things. It stings my sores on my legs and the crack at the back of my knee. I cannot straighten it today because if I do it always tears open and bleeds and hurts me, all because they won’t let me go to the toilet.
“Oh dear god” I hear her say, and I think to run, mam would at least hit me and get it over with, so this lady is planning a big punch on my head, I think mams punch will hurt the smallest and run….
I run out the Hall, out into the play ground, the crack is broke, I felt it rip, it don’t hurt now and at least I can straighten my leg. I climb over the stupid wire fence and all the kids are shouting, I notice that Black Terence boy and he has a funny face on him now and his eyes are popping out of his head! I stop at the top of the wire fence and smile at him, then jump to the other side just as the little nun was about to grab me, the nuns and a man are shouting at me to stop!
“What the fucking Jesus is he doing? The man shouts at the nun that has fallen over the wiry fence trying to get me, them big dresses are stupid for climbing!
I run and run, I think I know how to get home. It is big on the street without the pram I have to hold on to and not let go. People smile and say hello and ask where my mam is. I think that is a silly thing to say because she is at home crying and shouting! Where else would she be? It feels good to be not at school, maybe stay at home and play with Christine and try to be good for mam, don’t know why she don’t tell me what’s good or bad? Then I won’t do the bad things.
Mams face is big, she comes out into the street, and quizzically looks up and down it.
"Who brought you back?" She is holding my face so I look at her in the eyeballs.
"Nobody, they wouldn’t let me go to the toilet and had to wet my shorts, I'm sorry mammy but they did it to me, and they was gonna hit me with a big stick for not eating a semolina. So I come home so I can play with Christine, Ok? mam Ok? I hold her hand and pat it with the other, as if to say it is all right, no need to belt me one.
Mam has her coat on and Christine is in the pram, we are going shopping but we are not going to the Bethnal green shops. My mam is always arguing with the people that live upstairs. We have a bedroom we all sleep in and wee in the pot at night, and a front room and kitchen with one big white sink. The toilet is outside and the people upstairs have to walk through the front room to get to it. Mam keeps the good stuff in the pram when we go out because they are thieving bastards so me mam says.
We are going to go past that school place, I can see it up the road, and I wonder if that little nun is still hanging upside down from the fence by her black dress?
‘Mam, we not going in the school are we mam eh? Are we mam? She is not answering.
Mam has the look of a punch coming, her lips are tight and small, and we are really walking fast now! I'm getting a bit worried that mam will kill all the people in the school and I would have to run with the pram to get out of the way.
Inside the entrance past the huge cross in the hallway, near where the nuns drink the tea, mam has the big nun by the throat, and the man who is a caretaker is making the mistake of getting between them, mam bites the man on his hand. I better move Christine away, give mam more room to kill everyone.
Mr Doherty! Call the police! Sister Theodore whispers because mam has her hands around her neck again,
‘Why? Yer a fecking evil bitch! Maybe I'll tell them how you beat the children with these canes. Mam lets the sister go and walks around the circle of nuns that are now surrounding us all, and snatches all the canes out of they’re hands and breaks them all with a snap.
"Touch my child ever", and I'll swear to Jesus, I'll kill the lot of you! Some of the other mums are arriving, and are shocked to see the broken canes on the floor and mam is quickly explaining to them what the “bitches” are doing with them. Mam never uses a stick always her hands and I wonder if a stick hurts more or less than a punch.
‘I saw him looking at me with a tear’ The sister continued, and went to hug the child when he wet himself, then he ran! If he would have asked me I would have let him go to the toilet. I have never met your son until today, and was shocked to see the state of his skin, and the terrible sore at the back of his knee Mrs Hehir,and we only use the canes to chastise them!
She was breathless with the telling of the tale, and I thought why is she not being punched for saying a wrong, I am punched for saying a wrong.
They all go to the office for the tea. and I stand outside waiting for me mam and give Christine a tickle and the little nun Bernadette, who is smiley and kind offers to take her to the toilet, I noticed the ripped dress she is wearing and realize that this was the upside down nun hanging off the fence earlier.
We went home and had dinner and went to bed early as usual, would love to play out in the front yard but mam never lets us out. It is warm and still sunny, and can hear the kids opposite in the flats playing. Punderson gardens is a quiet cobbled road and can play ball on it without getting run over. The big Lorries that park at the end of the road come back late, When all the kids are getting their dinners.
Mam tells dad she is having another baby, then they have the arguments again and mam is hitting daddy over the head. Christine and me run to the bedroom, get into bed, and wait for the arguments to stop. The bed is wet from Christine weeing again “do the wee in the wee pot Christine” I whisper and do the face mam does, she just smiles at me. My mam face is not very good.
I tear at my skin while I'm trying to work out where this new baby is going to sleep. Christine and me are top and tail and kick each other and she hurts my sores with her weeing the bed all the time. Have to go back to that school place tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day after that…
“Tyrants have always some slight shade of virtue; they support the laws before destroying them.”
1966, Aged eight
Terence Antoine’s bed was the biggest springiest bed I will ever see. His brother and sister shared, like a little row of chocolate children in a box. His mum Gladys was the biggest woman in the world, and screeched like a banshee, whatever one of them is? She did warn us, but as usual we didn’t listen, and in mid jump me and Terry was side swiped by a screaming mammoth. "Keith get home, your mother will have your hide for being out this late” I dreaded the end to every day, and Gladys knew why, her soft face always gave me a smile of love, the look that says I love you and I'm here no matter what, and looked forward to the little hug I got as I left, the fact that she watched me walk to the corner and wave as I disappeared around it was the dearest thing I had to hold on to in my young little life so far. Time for dinner I suppose, it’s getting dark, only a short walk home, dreading the usual…
‘I'll tear the fecking face off yer’ my mam screamed.
And I got my slap that made me see those stars again, and deafen me long enough not to hear the other things that my mam was going to do to me. Didn’t tell me I had to do the launderette again tonight, why can’t I read minds? No dinner again, I Hate flippin' tripe, trotters and milky onions anyway…
Bought some chips while the washing was on a long spin, from the sixpences I borrowed from the slot box on the back of the telly. Always got the crispy old bits he gave to kids when I went to the chip shop, the owner, old git, which I'm sure is short for something greek, was a mean miserable old bastard. He kept young prostitutes above the shop, for years I thought they were his kids that lived above the chip shop with him!
Those kids from the flats are outside looking in at me because I'm doing the washing again, one of them who lives above us seems to be the leader, tall long haired and gold toothed he always just smiled and smiled. “Like your pram! wanker poof boy” they sang in unison as I negotiated around them, the roads, the up and down pavements, without losing my composure, I impressed myself with the macho way I expertly handled that coach built pram, fully loaded with wet clothes in big bags, going at about forty miles an hour, well it seemed like it! I always manage to keep ahead of the baying crowd of laughing kids, had to explain while I was in a headlock to me mam why the wheels were bent though.
Had to do the usual shopping trip with mam on Saturdays, with the multipurpose coach built springy pram. We used it to get the coal, washing, and shopping in it, and occasionally for pushing children every now and again. If we were old, enough to walk you got out and the shopping went in! Used to make me upset to see mam cry, cos I knew she would not come out of her darkness for ages, but the signs on the butchers and the paper shop and pubs read ”NO IRISH OR GYPSIES” and that upset her and me dad. Did not know I was a dirty Irish. Why don’t big people be nice? We used to go down the lane to get the broken tins from a big stall, some with no labels! And we never knew what we got till we opened it! At least they did not tell us to go away because we were dirty Irish.
Mam had another baby, she is Dawn and sleeps in mams room, me mam beat dad over the head again. I do not want babies when I get big, big men go through so much pain, because it’s the man's fault if you have a baby apparently.
We have bunk beds now. Martin who is now three, who wets the bed worst than Christine, sleeps with me. Christine sleeps at the top, but she wets the bed now and again and I still get wet with the rain made of wee.
The people at the top of the stairs finally left with me mams boot up there arse, or so she said to the man who sells meat in the market. And the rent man let us live in the top bit of the house as well, mam and dad have there own room so they can huff and puff before they sleep.
Do not like mam doing the walking up and down thing in the front room when dad goes out. It makes me cry the most because it makes me and Christine so tired and today’s word is butter, not butta or buta. We have to walk with our head up and back straight or we get a smack each, my legs get bad and it’s hard to stand straight. Martin just sits in a plastic bath mam washes the sheets in, weeing and pooing. I do not know where it comes from, he only sucks on his tripe, and I eat mine and never poo that much!
I know how to say butter, but mams face is angry and makes me and Christine say it and say it between smacks on the face, Christines’s little voice is not strong and mam hits her to speak up and she forgets to say it right, and got hit more than me today.
My eczema gets quite bad as well, from 18 months old I awoke too many times to my sheets completely stuck to my legs front and back, the ambulance crew new the routine and used to lower me into the tin bath of cold water to soften the stiffened bloodied sheets to pull them off me... Then mam punched me for scratching when they left. And when I got old enough to go to school, I was made to go with weeping legs that saturated the trousers I was wearing, which hardened with whatever was pouring out of my sores as the day wore on, teachers did nothing, cared for nothing, and made me care even less for them.. Mam eventually ripped the sheets off in the end, to get me and to get the others up for school, I remember chunks of my flesh hanging off the sheets, it dried by the evening and had fun flicking it off. Sheets got very stiff by the weekend and always got a slap or punch for not getting any better.
Terry was there when I started school, he saw my being tormented by the others, he gave me odd looks for a couple of weeks, but then started talking to me, they called him names too that were not very nice. We really became friends when I trod on his gown in the school church, we were Alter boys in. He turned on me with his fists up and saw me laughing at him.
Terry, as if given a mission from god, began defending of me as a now and again cripple and from the nasty things some kids would say about his blackness, my resolve to carry on and act the clown and smile my smile. Despite ALL the kids taunting me saying I was the grossest thing on the planet, gave him the courage to use me as an excuse to defend himself as well.
Since I was started school at five, on some days, I, or we, as more of us became of school age, never went, because I either didn’t get up, or mam just stayed in bed all day. I used to feed myself and my brother martin and Christine and Dawn bread and butter with sugar sprinkled on top! Or make toast on the coal fire I had to make before I went to school, the whole house was smoked once when I didn’t put the newspaper up against the fire, mam was like a golliwog she told dad when she woke up! And because there was never anything to eat in the cupboards that didn’t need making, or cooking, and mam did all them things.
Recently on one of these days when mam stayed in bed for most of the day not speaking and crying mostly as usual, and little Dawn, who wasn’t old enough to go to school, needed looking after, (which is probably why I didn’t get a beating on these days!).
Little Dawn had a huge abscess in her stomach just under her skin and above her belly button, the doctor gave mam medicine and was told to take her to hospital to have it removed. Mam decided instead to put Dee across her knee, forced, and pushed the puss and black smelly ooze from the abscess while Dawn screamed, kicked, and struggled. Mam was slapping her and losing her temper, and was screaming at me to help and hold her down! I shouted at mam to stop, which made her get madder!
Dawn was shaking with fear and sobbing. She endured some of the pain and stopped crying because the slaps got harder, and with fear in her eyes, stopped struggling, then when it hurt too much, she screamed for me to make mam stop! I went over to her and held her, and stroked her head and face so she could not see what mam was doing, and endured the slaps to my face and head because I was getting in the way.
Dawn sobbed with real pain. Mam was determined to get the entire puss out, and with the blood, it came out in bursts. Dawns’s little stomach was badly bruised from my mams determination not to go to hospital, but tend to it herself. Dawn was just one and a half years old. And mam was eight months pregnant with Sonia. And I wanted mam to die, so we could have some fun at last. I was nearly nine. Dad was kicked in his soft bits for doing a baby again. I am definitely going to marry a wimp that can’t punch for toffee I am.
Schoolteachers were replacing the Nuns at about seven years old but the fecking Irish bloody dancing stayed. Step, toe, fucking step. Felt like a fool. And watching the twenty stone Miss O’Flaherty do the Dance routine with the legs flailing and the rigid arms by her side and her fat blobby tweed covered body moving in all directions at once astounded me. Her ruddy cheeks always got redder and quickly went to a purpley shade and with an emotionless wide-eyed expression; all except for her flaring nostrils that I could hear was taking in gallons of air from the room, made me breathless to watch this crime to the floorboards.
I always had that bloody tall Jacqueline Kelly as a partner; she still had her nose up her arse when she got close to me. I made a point of rubbing me scabby legs on hers whenever I got the chance. The Snotty skinny ginger bitch even punched me in the hall after my first communion, because I was near her highness, so I pulled her hair and kicked her in the crutch, the red haired bride of god looked like ginger candy flossed stick insect in a dress.
Christine and I did the communion together. We were resplendent on the day, dressed in pure white clothes handmade from the Jewish tailors in petticoat lane with the money that was borrowed from the man that came round on Fridays with his little book in his hand and a doffed hat for me mam. I had a red and gold sash and a pearlized genuine prayer book freshly blessed by the pope himself. Would have been a special day if the adults did not put the fear of god into us, it was a sin to smile you know, must not enjoy it, you mustn’t.
Mrs White the nicest kindest person in the whole wide world. She was always just there in school, never knew what she did. She died a week after the communion. We had a big funeral for her in the same church, the whole school went, and I was sad that she died; I dreamt sometimes that she was my mam; I will never forget her big white hair and clean smelling pinny she wore. She is a real angel now, I just Know she Is,
I just do...
I just do...