When the father came in late that evening and was halfway through his dinner I told him that someone had shot a bullet through Joejoe’s front window.
He said, you’re joking.
I am not, I said.
God above! Why was I not told this before.
He jumped up and we went down the road in blinding hail. Night had fallen. The globe was lit on the sill. And the window pane that the bullet hit had been taken out. The fire was burning and the dog in his chair. Then my granduncle let us in and the father ran to the window.
Jesus, he said, Joejoe.
First thing this morning, bang! and he sat.
Where is the window pane?
I took it out.
Why did you take it out for Christ’s sake?
Cause I could not stand looking at it.
Where is it?
In that box over there.
We looked into the cardboard box that once held Chiquita bananas. Inside the pane of glass was in smithereens.
You’ve broken it up.
Yes. I had to when I was taking it out.
Jesus Christ. How are we now going to see the bullet hole?
Why do you want to see the bullet hole?
To know it was there.
So you don’t believe me. Well ask Mister Psyche. Did you see a bullet hole?
So you see it was a fucking bullet hole.
What are we to do?
You tell me.
Is all this really happening?
I think so son.
You better come up with us to the house.
I will not.
Get his things, he said to me.
Touch nothing I say, nothing!
You’ll have to go up to us Joejoe.
You can’t stay here.
I’m not budging.
Christ! Should I get the guards?
Let the guards be. But you know what you can do?
Would you put in a new pane of glass, I’m sitting here with the wind whistling
The father went over and lifted the oil lamp and moved it over and back looking.
I can see no glass on the sill.
He shot clean whoever he was, said Joejoe.
There should be glass. Shards and splinters of glass.
I cleaned them up.
Where’s the torch?
It’s in the drawer.
Get the torch, the father said to me.
I got it.
Hold that door, I’m going outside.
I held the door against the wind, and he darted out with the torch.
Now what is the fucker at? snarled Joejoe.
We saw the father going to and fro outside the window. He shone the torch this way, that way, then he went out of view, reappeared again, studied the sill in the light. He stood there like some sort of illuminated spirit then he thumped on the door.
I let him in.
He set the torch on the table, sat down on the armchair opposite Joejoe and looked
What happened Joejoe?
I told you what happened.
Tell us what really happened.
I’ll say it again and I’ll say it no more. I was pulling on my bucking trousers be the remains of the fire at the crack of dawn when whack!
Yes whack! he shouted, and he slapped one hand onto the palm of the other.
And how come I found glass outside?
Did you now?
Yes, I did.
So how did the glass get there?
You tell me.
Where’s your rifle?
Where it always is. There on the wall. Are you saying that I took a shot out through my own bloody window?
I’m saying nothing.
Well don’t. He turned to me and tipped his cap. You hear what he’s saying to me.
I do, I said.
This man is saying that I blew a hole in my own bloody window, and he stood and spat into the fire.
I’m not saying that.
That glass fell outside when I was taking out the pane. Ok?
If you say so.
Go home with yourself, I’m going to bed and I’ll bid you goodnight if you please.
Joejoe, said my father.
I’m tired, it’s been a long day.
My father shamefaced stepped into the wind followed by myself. The door swung closed. We turned into the gale for home. Looking back I saw the oil lamp go out.
Now what, said my father, am I to do?
He folded his raincoat over the radiator and stood with his hands on the kitchen table.
A bullet no less. A bloody bullet. Jesus, he said, what next, and he hammered the table with his fists. I never in all my life met a more stubborn man. He’ll be the death of me. What the hell went on in that house last night, that’s what I’d like to know.
I don’t know Da.
And of course the Blackbird was with him.
The bloody Blackbird. Whenever he appears you can expect the worst. Anything might have happened. Anything.
Jesus. And I suppose they had whiskey.
They had Malibu.
And who got them the confounded Malibu?
Of course you did, and he glared at me.
He asked me to.
And the worst thing is I don’t know whether someone shot in at him or he shot out. If we could tell he was shot at I could get the guards. But what does he go and do—he smashes the glass into smithereens. This is it you see, if the bullet hole was still there and I got the guards and they discovered it was him shot out the window it’d be him that would be arrested. Jesus. My own uncle, no less.
My mobile rang.
Anna, I said. I can’t talk now.
You can tell her, he said.
It’s just that… that Joejoe nearly got shot, I said.
Look, I’m sorry, I’ll ring you later.
The phone went dead.
Dear God, said Da.
And we stopped like that a while, in silence.
I’m going down to confront that man Tom, said the father and he put on his coat.
Can I come with you, I asked.
You might as well.
We sat into the car in the driving rain. The sky was bucketing and the car was shunted to and fro by the wind. We turned right down Cooley Lane and reached the Blackbird’s. There was one bulb lit in the kitchen. A pile of timber against the wall, and a black plastic bag blowing.
Stay you in the car, said the father and he went up the path and pounded the door. He stood there drenched to the skin. The water was running down his arms and his face was grim.
He pounded the door again.
The door opened a fraction.
Who in hell is that, shouted the Blackbird from the hallway.
It’s me, Tom.
Tom Feeney, same as yourself.
Long time, no see, Mister Tom.
Tom, I need a chat.
What do you want!
I want to talk to you!
At that the dog attacked the door from within and it closed.
The father backed away onto the street.
The lunatic has set the dog on me, he said to me then he went back to the door
Come here, he said to me. I came up beside him. Now you call him.
Tom, I said.
The kitchen window opened a fraction and the Blackbird appeared.
Yes, Mister Psyche.
Da wants to talk to ya.
Well let him behave himself.
Dad stood in front of the window, his hands on the sill and implored the Blackbird. Please, Tom, what happened last night?
Tom, I’m sorry for shouting. I just want a few words.
I can’t hear you.
I know that.
Open the door, Da shouted.
You can’t get in the door because of the fucking dog, roared the Blackbird.
Well then you come out.
I can’t let the dog out.
I said: you come out! screamed Da.
No. I will not.
What happened last night in Joejoe’s?
What do you mean?
I want to know what happened!
What happened! What happened? We had bacon and cabbage and that was what happened. Do you hear me?
Bacon and cabbage!
And is that all?
We had a drink.
I can’t hear you.
We had a drink!
I know you had a fucking drink. Isn’t the drink is causing all the fucking
Stop the bad language.
Stop the shite. Were you arguing?
I was not, the Blackbird thundered, but I am now.
Tom, listen to me, something happened in that house last night and I want to know what.
Come back when you’ve settled yourself.
I’ll break down the bloody door if you don’t tell me what happened.
Nothing bloody happened.
Nothing, I tell ya. Psyche! he roared.
Take your father home!
The window snapped closed, the curtains went across and the light went out in the kitchen.
My father hammered the door, then he kicked it. He ran to the bedroom window as the light came on.
Come out, shouted me father, you long black bastard.
The curtains were pulled and the light went out.
Come out, I say.
He came back and kicked the door.
He drew back and stood in the middle of the street and stood looking at the darkened house in the rain-split lights of the car.
Blackbird! he yelled.
Blackbird, he yelled again.
Yes, came a quiet voice.
Where the hell are you?
I’m in the letter box.
My father leaned down and spoke into the opening.
Come out a minute for a chat, he said quietly.
Just a few words.
I just need to know a few things.
No. Say what you have to say then be on the road.
What I want to know is—
How come there’s a bullet hole in Joejoe’s window.
A bullet hole.
The door of the letter box slapped shut.
Do hear me in there, roared the father.
The box opened.
There’s a bullet hole? asked the Blackbird.
Yes there is.
Did you see it Psyche?
I leaned down.
Then the father’s roared: And I want to know how that bullet hole came to be in Joejoe’s window.
I wouldn’t know about that, the Blackbird said. That’s beyond me.
Well, said my father quietly into the letter box, we need to talk about this. This is serious.
The dog suddenly crashed up against the window raging.
You better go away. You’re making a mountain out of a molehill.
I’ll stop here till I find out what happened.
open the shagging door.
No, he said, the dog might ate you. And you should be ashamed of yourself annoying an old man at dead of night.
Jesus help me, said my father. Have you a gun in the house Tom?
Take him home, Mister Psyche!
The letter box slapped shut.
Blackbird, yelled my father.
He slapped the door.
The place went quiet. Da looked at me fiercely, then we climbed back into the car, closed the door and we sat there with the headlights on for all 60 seconds watching the rain fall through the beams onto the roadway, then he hit the ignition and with a giant rev he pulled out, and turned, and shot down the road like what he would have called a boy racer. A hundred yards down he cut the lights and coasted in outside Mary Joe’s, and sat with his hands gripping the steering wheel.
Right, he said.
He raised a finger to his lips.
You stay here.
I’ll be back.
He cracked up his mouth and opened his door, and closed it with a little click. I could see the rain tumbling down on him as he turned back towards the Blackbird’s. I sat there waiting. I’d been here before. The rain drummed on the roof and away off in the distance was the sound of the sea. I snuggled in tight against the belt. I looked in the rear-view mirror and saw the same darkness that was in front of me. I might have turned the radio on without knowing, but I remember turning it off. There was no sign of Da. I began to feel afraid of what was happening up the road.
I got out and looked, and closed the door quietly.
I stepped out onto the tarmacadam and saw nothing but the rain blowing towards me.
I skated along the hedge on the edge of the road back towards the Blackbird’s. Stopped, and listened, and went on. Above my head were great black boulders of rain. All was black ahead of me. Then suddenly in the distance the Blackbird’s chimney spat sparks and my heart went crossways. I ran like mad along the drain and the muck, then reached the low pebble-dashed wall at the front of the house. The cottage sat there idling in the dark. There was no light, and no sign of anybody.
I crouched a while there in the rain then got on my hunkers and moved along the wall as far as the gate, and found the father sitting against the further pier, with his back to it, out of the wind.
Da, I whispered.
Come on home.
The bastard is hiding on me, he said.
He peered over the stone wall, then settled down again. We waited. There was no stir. The rain grew more fierce.
I could not see his face.
Please, I said.
Just call him, again, the once… for me.
I went to the door and knocked it quietly.
Tom, I said.
There was silence.
Tom, I said.
Yes, came a faraway answer that at the same time drew nearer, as if the Blackbird
was approaching the door.
It’s just that Da is worried.
Mister Psyche, take him home. He’s wrong.
I walked down to the father.
Please Da, let’s go.
Yes. Ok. You’re right.
He touched my shoulder, and went by me. Bending low I followed him along the wall, then he stepped onto the street and we walked back down to the car. I saw someone swinging a torch ahead of us outside Mary Joe’s and as we came forward the light caught us both.
Hallo! shouted a voice. Who’s there?
It’s just us.
The light went up and down each of our faces.
You gave me a fright.
Sorry Mary, said my father.
I saw the car, and she shook her head, I saw the car outside the house and didn’t know what to make of it.
We were chasing a beast, explained my father.
Oh, and she shone a light up the road.
It’s all right. We got him. We put him in behind the Bird’s.
Ah very good, very good.
Mary Joe swung her torch around to light us up as we got into the car. Then as my father started the engine she ran the torch from my father’s face to mine, and back again. Da let down his window.
Sorry for the inconvenience.
Oh think nothing of it. You gave me a hop. Wild night.
She gave a great wave as we pulled away. Sheets of water went up each side of us. I could see the rain pelting the face of my father as we took the road to the alt. He swung in front of the lane to Joejoe’s house and stopped. The shock from the sea went under our feet.
The window, Da, I said.
He went to wind up the window. Then the handle came off. He tried twice and both times it came off. On the third it took.
Round one, he said.
For three hours we sat at the gate in the rocking car, lights off. Beyond us the thrashing sea. No one came or went. Suddenly my father’s head fell onto the steering wheel.
Where are we! he shouted, wakening.
At six in the morning Da shook me.
Go down and take a look, he said. If he sees me there would only be murder.
I’m sorry for asking you to do this after what you’ve been through.
It’s all right Da.
I’m losing it—the paranoia is growing—forgive me.
See you in a few minutes, I said.
The night was not over yet. I got up and dressed and took the lantern and started walking. It was eerie. I was holding the lantern in my right hand by my thigh, and as I walked the shadows of my two legs grew huge to my left. I was taller than the hedge of tall olearia. Another huge black version of me was walking the beach like a mad colossus. The gates were frightening as they shot by, swinging in the beam.
There were a whole lot of us walking abroad by the big sea.
I reached Joejoe’s gate and saw his lamp was lit on the window.
As I came in the gate I could hear the music. I got as far as the window and there he was in his chair, hat on, playing a reel on the single accordion that was full of offnotes, as he looked into the dead grate. By his side, propped against the chair, was his rifle. I got a shock. He looked somehow like a wounded soldier. Then he suddenly turned towards the window. He seemed to be looking directly at me. He stopped playing. I backed off and went to the gable and doused the lantern. I waited. In a few minutes the music started again. I went out onto the road and stood in the dark wondering what to do.
It was not what I expected.
A rifle by his side.
I turned for home and soon the shadows were walking across the fields alongside me. The shadows seemed even darker now. I let myself into the house and found the father sitting at the bottom of the stairs.
Well, he said.
Oh, he’s there.
Is he all right?
Is he up?
Aye, he’s sitting there playing the accordion.
At this hour?
Christ. I do not know what to make of that man. Well I suppose we should go back to bed. Thanks Philip for that.
Next thing in bed all I saw was endless piles of naked people.
Every shape turned into naked people.
If I closed my eyes there they were.
If I opened them I was terrified.
I saw a man chasing me out of this hostel.
He snapped this buckle of his belt at my face.
Out, he shouted. Liar!