“History” by Pearse Murray

Around the time of his First Holy Communion Sean had been going through a disturbing series of questions about the body and how it could eat the body of Christ. Bodies eating bodies is what nature is about as in the fish eats the fly and we eat the fish or so his dad would remind him whenever they went fishing on Sundays after Mass. Who eats who is what life is, Sean. His first confession and his nervous swallowing of a thin circular bread wafer had been bothering him for some days. The arrival of the age of reason that this ritual registers was checked with perhaps a premature arrival of his sense of the absurd. The usual excavations into the sense of a growing separateness and the formation of the personal pronoun occur in many strange ways. It was the endless back and forth of: who am I, where did I come from, what am I doing here, who are these people around me, what is that tree and that bird doing there? The fear of growing up strange was his preoccupation, I suppose. It was a slow arrival but a very definite one. Hardly philosophical precociousness on his “thinkings” (shut up, I’m doing me bleedin’ thinkings!) but this existential thingness of things was in the air because his older brother, at the very young age of sixteen, was then attending college and returning each weekend with a new thought on history, Irish nationalism, Sartrean philosophy, the Church, injustices in the world and all manner of topics that would provoke debate with their father who engaged with him like a professor in vexatious humour. His dad, being a Catholic and a carpenter, drove the conversation into practical questions as to the usefulness of thinking about such notions as being, morality, justice, freedom, rights, ends and means including the justification for armed struggle. His was a life both devotional and vocational. Sean had no part in these discussions and arguments as he was considered too young and was simply treated as the irritant in the family. Although not understanding a word of it some of it must have been absorbed by him as he was driving towards feelings of febrile rebellion and or madness. He resolved it all one Sunday morning in an act of open defiance when he shocked the family in refusing to go to Holy Mass— not the refusal so much as the manner in which he declined the weekly invitation or order to attend.
“Get your shoes on. Did you put on a clean shirt?”
“Well get a move on now or we‘ll be late.”
“I don’t want to go!”
“You will go, whether you like it or not.”
“But I don’t want to!” The emphatic expression of a young mind.
“I don’t like it.”
“God will send you down to hell, you must go—it is a mortal sin if you don’t.”
“I’m hungry.”
“We’ll get breakfast after we come back. Come on now, we’ll be late, get going!”
“I am not going.” He announces calmly and with a resolve not to yield to pressure even from his beloved sister.
His older sister, by two years, pushes him to get going. She is in a pretty—not to him—blue flowery dress like the wallpaper in the hall. His mother was in her light coat and she was well painted for God.
“Why should I go when dad is not?”
“He already went to the early one.”
“I did n’t see him go. I am going to ask him.”
“Now don’t disturb your father, sure he has gone back to bed, and he is not feeling well.”
He runs upstairs and asks his father who is still in bed.
“Did you go to mass?”
“No son, I did not. I am not going. I’m feeling a little sick. We won’t be going fishing today.”
He silently exults over the lie of his mother. He now has the upper hand.
“Then why does mammy want me to go?”
“Because it is your duty and it is important to get use to it now that you have had your first Holy Communion; it will get you into Heaven.”
“Does that mean you won’t be going to Heaven?”
“No, see if you go to a lot of masses now you will build up your account and then you can ease off when you get much older. Can’t you go along now and please your mother, go on now off with you and while you are there pray for me too. I drank a lot last night and am not feeling too good. All those discussions with your brother Ciaran on existence have driven me into a bit of the drinking. Go on down now and go off with your sister and mother.”
“Why can’t I go with Ciaran?”
“He went back early this morning to the college. Off with you, now!”
His mother shouts up that he has to come on now, right this minute!
He runs downstairs and tells his mother that he does not have to go, Daddy says so. One good lie begets another.
“You are lying to me.” She shouts up to her husband and he shouts down, no I didn’t.
Now caught out he tries to figure out what to do. His sister shouts at her mother
“Oh mammy, let’s go without him, he is just a dirty little black Protestant — he will be sent to Hell.”
Desperate now and infuriated with this assault on his emerging or inflicted-upon identity, he sees his shoes and then looks up, reddening, at the Sacred Heart image with the red mock electric flame light that his mother had got installed a year earlier. He stares for a few seconds at the image, picks up one of his leather shoes and throws it directly into the Sacred Heart picture. The glass and the whole frame and light come crashing down with Sean screaming, “Fuck you Holy God, I am not going!”
He feels good, very good in fact. A form of liberation, I suppose. No signs of lack of resolve on his part. He had had it with all forms of authority. He was learning. He did however soon develop the fear of the ever present threat of authority of his dad in the words “I will learn you, lad.”
Her shock and frozen stare at him emboldened him to go further as she says
“Put your bloody shoes on and come right now!”
He got the other shoe and threw it at her.
An untellable ruckus ensued for all eternity. During eternity he ran out to the woods behind their house — it adjoined a river that would flood from time to time and he identified with its deep undercurrents, an identification suggested by a remark his mother made following an earlier fit of temper. “You are just like that racing river back there, you boil over and stir the mud up and too much for your own good: you should calm down like the lake further down.” The racing emotions of fear, of anger, of force and some joy streamed through his blood. He hung out for the rest of the day mulling over what had happened and his intent not to return home — since he knew he would never be forgiven for such an awful insult to the Almighty. Still it was only a picture and a light so where was the pain in that? It was not really God, just his image. He was reminded by his accusatory sister once again as he ran out the door with “You know that was a mortaler and you will definitely go to hell for it.”

Relenting, and getting hungry, he returned home having prepared a speech in his head for the family to hear but as he entered the house his sister faced him and just as she was about to offer yet another verbal assault on him, continuing with her previous remarks that morning, he threw at her the words strung together from nowhere and not in his prepared speech “Charles Stewart Parnell was a dirty Protestant too, so there!”

And eternity ended, time began again, time forgave and his troubles, like the Troubles, with his family and God dissolved into feint memory for everyone. It remains just that— in the deep and there, there to be thrown up to be re-buried from time to time.

Biographical Note:
Pearse Murray is a native of Dublin, Ireland and lives in Upstate New York. He has had several poems published in a variety of Anthologies (Voices Israel, Child Of My Child, Tree Magic, Poems for Peace Shoah) and in on-line and print magazines such as Poetica, Cyclamens & Swords, Blue Collar Review, Revival Literary Journal. Besides this story he has had two short stories in Cyclamnes & Swords. He is working on a collection of short stories and poems.

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