You mightn’t think to look at it but there’s a lot of skill involved in bullets. It’s all in the hands, and how you read the road. The technique of getting the bullet to spin just how you want, guiding it round a corner, knowing the exact moment to let go—some people never master it, even after a lifetime. It’s not always the biggest men who do it best, and you’re better being flexible than strong most of the time. To play you need a twenty-eight-ounce cannonball and a stretch of country road to throw it along, and that’s all you need. They only play this game in Armagh and Cork, though they have variations in parts of Germany and the Netherlands. It’s a game well-suited to a netherland all right.

JP Flynn walks towards the bridge at the foot of Drumbreda, the meeting point and starting line. Beneath Drumbreda stands a bowler, feet together, facing into the incline, practicing. When the score begins he’ll turn around and throw out the road into the countryside, but while he’s warming up he can use the hill like a driving range for bullets. It’s maybe two hundred yards, all uphill and steeply banked for most of that. The bowler takes off, a jog at first. He gathers speed. Hits a sprint. A whirr of the right arm. The bullet is fired.

It’s airborne.

Hits the road with a clack, maybe fifty yards up the hill.

Skips on. Another fifty yards. Seventy. Rolls on further. Finds a new burst from somewhere, fuck the laws of physics. Ninety yards.

Peters.

Dies.

Lingers. Cannot move forward, isn’t for rolling back.

But of course it rolls back, as it must. Nature will have its way. The road would have to be a lot rougher and the ball a lot more callused to make evitable the inevitable.

The bullet gathers momentum as it trundles down to the hill to where the bowler, Noel, awaits. He watches its return. JP watches Noel watch it.

Did anybody ever manage to crest the hill?

Noel turns sharply—he’s not great when you catch him unawares—but he smiles when he sees his big brother.

Not too many.

Noel wants to throw a bullet clean over Drumbreda. He’s out there every day, just hurling that cannonball into that hill. It’s not a new thing, he’s been at this for a while now.

Are you getting close?

I just need to find another twenty yards.

Those last ones are the hardest.

If I could just find another twenty yards. Another fifteen.

Noel is in polo shirt and jeans and the belly hangs low on him. He has shaved off the beard and probably shouldn’t have, because the beard took the worst of the bad look off those evacuated jowls. He looks younger but sadder too, and when he’s clean-shaven you can somehow tell he doesn’t shave himself. He looks more like a patient than he has for a good while. JP puts a hand to his elbow, a kind of embrace, and Noel just nods, juggling a bullet from left to right, right to left.

You’re looking well.

I am like fuck.

JP takes the bullet, has a couple of warm-up throws. Noel shakes his head pityingly.

I wish I didn’t have to be in a team with you every year. You’re fucken shite.

At least I can keep count of the score, you fucken innumerate.

Just try and keep it on the road, you pen-pushing cunt.

I got something for the boys, says Noel. He has a hold-all with him, and from it he produces five twelve-ounce bullets, one for each of JP’s children, all sons.

You know my youngest is only two?

Two’s plenty. As long as I mind, I was throwing.

There doesn’t be too many scores down the Malone Road, to be honest with you.

You should be pushing them to keep it up. It’s their heritage. I’ll be very disappointed if they don’t play.

Noel loves bullets and so does JP. It brings him back like little else does. Yet this is the only day of the year he throws. They don’t play bullets in Belfast, where he lives now, and even if they did, his wife Saoirse wouldn’t approve. Saoirse is from Cork and in Cork, she tells him, bowling is a lower-class game. It’s not exactly polo in Armagh either. Saoirse puts a lot of store by these things. Her father is a Blueshirt judge who likes to boast about how his grandfather was one of the first Guards recruited in West Cork, and Saoirse idolises him. JP thinks if he’d met Saoirse anywhere other than Trinity she wouldn’t have given him the time of day.

A really big bullets score can attract hundreds, even thousands of spectators, and some of the most absolutely degenerate gamblers in the country turn up and throw down great bundles of cash on the road when two great bowlers meet. This is not one of those scores. This is a get-together of old friends, a nice walk into the gentle undulations of the County Armagh countryside for men now undeniably in middle age. It’s the twenty-third annual Pearse Donnelly Memorial Cup, and it has never struck anyone as strange that there is no actual cup. The players are the members of the old gang, and every year they get together to remember Pearse, the one who’s missing. Pearse, who loved bullets.

Pearse played electric guitar and had perfectly ragged hair to the collar and epic mutton-chop sideburns and his Da was on the run. He lost his virginity at the age of fourteen with a nineteen-year-old woman while the rest of them lived with pubescent frustration, always on the verge of tears or murder or both. He was handy with a hurl, handy enough with his fists that he rarely had to use them, and had that reckless abandon that adolescent boys revere. See him? they’d say, he doesn’t give a fuck so he doesn’t. He was the most glamorous person JP ever met.

One time Pearse was in JP’s house listening to his brand new tape of* In Utero *and they got to talking about what Kurt Cobain’s problem was anyway, when suddenly Pearse burst out crying about how much he hated his Da, though you could tell he was only saying that, and then he admitted he loved him really and just wished he was around. You must miss your Ma? Pearse asked, and JP said Yeah. What did you call her? Kathleen. JP was pretty sure Pearse never showed that side of himself to anyone else. Looking back he can see Pearse was very lonely and very scared, but at the time he just thought Pearse was unbelievably cool.

The first time they held the Pearse Donnelly Memorial Cup, soon after it happened, they had fifty lads out throwing, but last year there was only seven. This year it’ll be fewer again. First to arrive is Beaker—his real name is Ciaran—home from England. Once upon a time he was a beanpole with bushy hair, long, thin face and permanently shocked expression, and years ago somebody noticed he looked like Beaker from The Muppets. He looks different now, all burly and jowly and baldy.

Here comes Tony Soprano.

Been eating the profits, have you?

Beaker works for some big biscuit company over there.

Sure look at the state of youse. Bandy-legged bastard and Uncle fucken Fester.

They embrace.

Monty arrives, wearing sunglasses.

Here comes Bono, says JP.

Monty takes off the glasses. His eyes are red and spidery. It’s just as well you have the brains because you sure as hell don’t have the looks.

Rough night?

Aye. Tell your Ma to go easy in future.

Monty has this theory that you should always begin a conversation with an insult. Make a terrible first impression and see who sticks around. If they go swooning on the fainting couch, well, it’s good to know that about them straight off. Fuck you, move on. JP can see there’s a mad logic to the idea.

They all embrace.

Monty got put out of Armagh in the late nineties for selling a few joints. The ’Ra gave him forty-eight hours to leave the country, so he got to keep his knees but left behind a pregnant girlfriend. He has a twenty-year-old son he never sees except when he passes him on the street. Selling a bit of weed doesn’t seem such a big deal now, the son must think it’s a thin enough excuse.

So who all’s coming?

Pigeon has a big surgery.

What the fuck’s wrong with that pigeon-chested bastard?

No, he’s doing a big surgery.

Oh right. Pigeon is a consultant neurosurgeon in Dublin. Not bad going for a man of forty-one who still breakdances, badly, when he’s pissed.

No word of Chunk?

Maybe next year. Chunk is still inside. He got four years when they caught him driving a tanker full of washed diesel across the border.

Monty shouts over to Noel, who’s still taking warm-up throws into Drumbreda: All right there Rain Man? Are you getting close?

Noel looks back blankly.

Come on to fuck or we’ll start without you.

Noel sprints over in a mild panic.

Will we make it interesting?

Nah. I don’t like gambling, says JP.

Sure actuary is nothing but gambling.

What the fuck would you know about actuary?

Well, you get a bow, and an arrow, and…

JP doesn’t laugh from one year till the next the way he laughs on the day of the Pearse Donnelly Memorial Cup. He doesn’t laugh much at all these days, to be honest, so it’s good to come home, back to where he feels seventeen again, where he can be again who he once was.

One day Pearse said: let’s go on the mitch down the town. JP was no truant, he actually liked school, but when Pearse said let’s go on the mitch you went on the mitch. They lingered near the edge of the yard at break-time and waited for the bell to go and the crowds to start confusing the doorways, then slipped away. They went to the Snook, the amusement arcade / snooker hall at the Shambles Corner. Every mother forbade their darling sons from darkening the door of the Snook, it was a place for corner boys, so of course everybody went there, corner boys and altar boys alike. Being forbidden gave it an appeal it didn’t have itself because it was a dingy little hole, looked at objectively. Just poker machines and one-armed bandits and a handful of arcade games, and a single, three-quarter size snooker table in the middle that you could never get a game on. That morning there was no one in the place apart from Jakey Schmig McKeown behind the counter, him and his Jimmy Hill chin, so JP and Pearse had the Snook to themselves.

Never seen this place so dead, Pearse said.

Should you children not be in school? said Jakey gruffly.

JP was a little bit afraid of Jakey, but Pearse didn’t give a fuck about him.

Free period.

Don’t be telling me about your periods.

So that’s why this place is so popular. It’s that sunny personality of yours.

Fuck up.

Monty pours a measure, downs it. When he fires his head back you can see ugly scarring under his jawline, from the day he was sitting in a parked car when a bomb went off in the Land Rover next to him. He was only an infant and has no memory of it but it scarred him for life. Monty—as in Mr Burns. JP lets the whiskey warm him. He enjoys the arms race of put-downs but sometimes he wishes they could talk more. Like, Monty and JP have been best friends all their lives and JP still has no idea whether Monty is happy or sad, or even how he’s making a living now. But mainly it’s Pearse he wants to talk about, on the day that’s in it. He’d love if the other lads shared their memories of him. But apart from a toast, Pearse hardly gets a mention any more.

The others pair up, grumbling as usual that JP gets to team with Noel just because they’re brothers. The bullets course runs from the bridge at the foot of Drumbreda out to The Arena. The Arena is gone now, there’s only a hole in the ground where the boreen meets the main road, but back in the Nineties an out-of-town nightclub stood there. Even the young bowlers with no memory of the place still say out to The Arena. Bullets is like that. Along the road there’s a house called the New House which must be there seventy years. There’s Connolly’s Corner, though nobody remembers any Connollys. There’s the Screaming Peacock. The Black Stick. The Foxes’ Gap. The Banshee’s Bend. To the bowler the present is a thin film on top of a present past.

It’s a simple game but below the surface is infinite complexity. Bullets takes skill, poise, strength, subtlety, stamina. The inches count. Beaker takes the first shot: the ball flies off the road after twenty yards. Next up is JP, who fires the bullet sixty yards from the start line before it disappears into the ditch. Not a bad start. Monty throws twenty yards beyond that mark; his smugness disappears when Noel sends the bullet screaming along the road, past Monty’s almost before it hits the asphalt. It strikes the kerb just at the bend, bounces on at the perfect angle, keeps going forever.

She’s still rollin’ boooyyyy! JP cries. Over the years he’s been away his true accent and true manner have flattened out, but when he’s home they come back to the surface.

Don’t be getting too cocky, it’s your throw next, Thalidomide arms, says Monty.

It was an atrocious break. Reds splattered everywhere, and immediately Pearse started mopping up.

What are you missing? Anything important?

Nah, JP lied. Just Economics. Ricardo. You?

French. Only took it for A-Level because there’s a placement.

When’s that?

Over the summer. I’m going out to La Rochelle to see my pen pal. Lovely Aurélie.

The relish he packed into his perfect, rolling pronunciation of those delectable syllables.

Orally?

You’d never know, he winked.

JP was so impressed, so excited, he could have humped the billiard table.

That’s some muscles you have in your right arm, says Beaker. How come your left arm is weak as water? What sort of training are you doing, that you’re only using your right hand?

Bending your Ma over and riding her like a mechanical bull.

Will youse fucken remedials hurry up and take your shots? says Monty.

JP’s throw cannons off the kerb, makes a turn around the corner and runs up a little hill for forty or fifty yards till eventually it comes to rest against a telegraph pole.

Not bad, Noel admits.

But the flight of a bullet is never an easy thing to predict. When judging the camber, curves and idiosyncrasies of the road, the laws of physics can sometimes seem more like guidelines. Suggestions. Next turn, JP throws what he thinks is his best shot of the day, and the bullet ricochets crazily off the kerb into a field, startling cattle. Then Monty hurls a terrible shot straight off the road but somehow it lofts high over the hedge, flies clean across the corner of a field and another hedge beyond and rejoins the road around the bend. Even Noel whistles at that one.

Pearse lit up a cigarette. On the jukebox, the drums shifted direction. Who’s this, Madness? Pearse asked.

Supergrass.

Who?

Supergrass.

JP said it awkwardly because it was a supergrass that got Pearse’s Da sent down. Pearse just crouched over the table and caressed in another red. They’re good. Rammed home another black. They sound a bit like Madness.

You look like you’ll be here for a while, I’m away for a shite, said JP.

Pearse peered down the thin shaft of the cue. It grazed gently against his chin, then another ball dropped. Don’t be too long. There’s always the possibility I’ll miss. He raised an insouciant eyebrow and smiled. JP smiled back. You couldn’t even be jealous of Pearse, he was just in another league altogether.

Three cars, a tractor and two ladies in lycra power-walk past in the time it them to amble out the road, like some happy funeral cortege. Approaching the final corner Noel and JP are well ahead, and JP stands with the bullet in his hand.

Pressure’s on Flynn, don’t be shittin’ the nest.

Noel runs ahead to caddy for him. Not a peep, not a peep! Noel shouts. No clear line around the bend. Bullets has a language of its own. JP isn’t a total makeweight here, he has some game—with a flick of the wrist he sends the bullet skidding from left to right and he’s round the corner and down the hill, leaving Noel with a straight road before him. Needing a miracle, Monty sends his shot clattering into the wall. Then Noel leaves JP within forty yards of the finish and an easy shot to victory.

No pressure JP. Don’t be fillin’ the togs.

Armagh men and Corkmen have different styles of throwing. In Armagh they use a wide, under-arm bowling action, but in Cork they hinch it, with a sharp windmill motion. This time, just for the craic, JP hinches it. The ball veers for ten yards, bounces straight off the road and lands deep in the ditch.

What the fuck was that? screams Beaker, incredulous.

You think you’re a Corkman now?

Just throw the ball right. You’ll still be shite but at least you won’t make a dick of yourself, says Noel bitterly. Even though they still win handily, Noel is only partially placated.

JP was still in the toilets washing his hands when the shooting started. He knew straight away what it was, he had heard gunfire before. The only window was far too tiny for escape so he threw his back against the door to stop anyone getting in—it was glorified chipboard, if they shot at it he’d be a goner, but it was all he could do to stand there, shuddering at the feral whine of the guns and the exploding of the glass going on out there. The crying out, the laughing, the noise of their hatred, it seemed to last for a long time. Then eventually without reason or prelude it stopped.

A minute passed. Maybe it was ten. In that time something changed in JP. Terror was there of course, but that receded and something unlikely bubbled up instead: calculation. Standing with his back to the flimsy door, close to death, he calculated the probability of the gunmen still being out there waiting against the probability that they’d be gone. We’re in a narrow city street, no arterial routes adjacent, escape will be tricky, and it’s a small town, the alarm will have gone up. And we’re in a nationalist area, it’s possible somebody might be nearby who will shoot back at them, and they’re thick but they’re not that thick, they won’t take chances. They’re cowards. They didn’t come looking for a fight. Not them. They’ll be gone. The Snook will be the safest place in the north of Ireland now. It all seemed watertight, when you calculated it out.

They reach the finishing line where The Arena once stood, and Monty pours another cup of the whiskey to toast again. To Pearse. The Arena had been a gigantic nightclub, among the biggest in Ireland and incongruous as some alien spacecraft landed in the rolling hills. All that remains of it now is an acre of hard standing overgrown with moss and grass and brambles. The car park is derelict and weed-infested but still recognisable as the place where they got drunk for the first time, bought drugs for the first time, got a hand-job for the first time, fought with the Blackwatertown boys for the first time. History happened here. Two thousand revellers every Saturday night. It caused a bit of a moral panic, in more innocent times.

D’you remember before the ceasefires there was no drugs?

The ’Ra were the boys knew how to do Prohibition right.

I knew boys got the knees just for having a few joints.

Monty looks down. He almost got the knees but he left Armagh instead. Then suddenly there was drugs everywhere.

There’d be crowds from the Shankill and the Falls beside each other on the dance floor, the sorts that would normally kill each other, all too blissed out to care.

The Prods and the Taigs united by disco biccies. Give me a fucken break.

Some of the worst times came after the ceasefires.

The Orangemen bringing it to the brink over the Drumcree march.

Remember them out blocking the roads?

I remember my Ma stocking up on candles in case the power was cut.

Filling the bath in case the water would be turned off.

When you think of it now.

Billy Wright was on the loose, murdering left right and centre.

He murdered my cousin in Portadown. Well, his gang did, anyway.

Yeah.

Bastard.

Hope he’s rotting in hell.

Every night we were going out to the pub my Da used to make me promise to stay well away from the doors, in case they’d come in and shoot the place up.

They did that in loads of places.

Greysteel.

Loughinisland.

Poyntzpass.

The Snook.

JP is standing within yards of the spot in the trees at the bottom of the Arena car park where one wet summer night he lost his virginity. A pretty, slightly scatty girl from Madden, she’s a happy memory, and he latches onto her. She was a couple of years older and game as hell, and they’d fooled around before but it still came as a shock when he looped his thumb inside her knicker elastic, gave a speculative little tug, and she nodded her permission. He remembers she had a bag of chips with her, and after, when they rose to fix themselves, the chips had turned to mush. He wonders what ever became of her.

It was only good luck that the Snook was so quiet that morning, normally there’d have been dozens in there. They would have been expecting that, and must’ve been disappointed to find the place so thinly patronised. What were the odds? Many times in the years to come he would run the calculations, but could never distil a number. They came from Portadown, the killers, their leader was well-known and notorious, JP had seen him in the flesh twice: once in a passing car; and once when he walked in the door of Hogg’s pub in Loughgall, and JP and the other Catholics present made a quick exit out the back. A psychotic serial killer with dozens of innocent victims, and he just lands into a country pub like a normal human being, saluted by the regulars. That’s what people don’t get.

Noel hasn’t said much. It’s noticeable because Noel was an Arena regular and he threw himself into the scene more than anyone, back in the day. You all right there, kid?

Noel looks up like he’s been far away. Sometimes it’s hard to remember now, but he was perfectly normal growing up.

What?

Penny for them.

I was just thinking, the Pearse Donnelly Cup—we should get an actual cup.

The rest of the lads shake their heads. They pity him. They shouldn’t. Noel can be a complete nightmare, and when JP thinks about what he has put the family through over the years… well, JP doesn’t think about it. He thinks instead: what’s the actuarial probability of a connection between the phenomenal amount of drugs Noel ingested over the years, and the fact that he thinks the trees and the bushes are talking to him? That he’s out every day throwing bullets at Drumbreda because the hill itself is talking to him? Mocking him. Daring him to keep trying. Actuarially speaking, you’d have to say a link is pretty fucking probable.

Once, JP asked him: what’ll you do if you ever get that bullet up the hill?

Noel replied, as if JP was an idiot: Well, then I can top myself.

JP didn’t know what to say to that.

It could be worse. One time, Noel nearly drowned because the river told him to jump in. Another time the trees told him to break a bottle over a fella’s head, and the fella was a Blackwatertown scumbag and the trees’ advice was good advice, but still Noel got sectioned. He’s been in and out of hospitals for years. He’s home now for a spot of what they call independent living, and throwing the bullet up the hill is about the worst thing he’s done lately. As psychotic episodes go, it’s not so bad.

The shooters must have destroyed every video game, every fruit machine with all the bells and whistles, because in the Snook there was only an unreal silence. They say that’s common after atrocity, an uncanny stillness, like a sick parody of peace. The smell of bad meat and piss and hot tar and burning hair. The smell of massacre. JP felt like he was walking into a film. Jakey was riddled but somehow he wasn’t dead—shot twelve times but believe it or not he survived. Eventually he got back on his feet and they rebuilt his face with a much-improved chin, and he got a new nickname: Teabag, on account of all the perforations. Years later they put up a memorial plaque and poor old Jakey never even got a mention. That’s what you get for living. In the moment itself it didn’t look like the probabilities favoured old Jakey, he looked as dead as dead could be. JP left him to it.

Great times.

They were.

Every Saturday night this place would be pumping. Everybody would be off their tits.

Our Summer of Love.

Fucken yellow-pack version anyway.

*

Shattered glass was strewn and a smoggy deadness hung over the room. Natural light had no way in here, it felt like a place no one had been for a long time. The baize was shredded, bullet holes bored deep into the lead of the snooker table, and blood ran across the floor like spilled Bloody Mary. Stepping in it, the risible thought occurred to JP that his shoes were ruined, he’d never get the stain out. Pearse was lying on this back, half under the table, with his head exploded, and JP fell to his knees to put Pearse into the recovery position because what do you do in a moment like that anyway? Chunks of skull were coming loose and sticking to his sleeves, blood was pouring out of Pearse’s limp torso like a stream and JP hadn’t the first clue how to stop any of it. Later he would have a hard time remembering any of this. He would remember instead how Pearse’s score on the scoreboard was still at nought—he hadn’t marked up his score so he must still have been in the balls. Hadn’t missed yet. Might have been on for a record break.

They go to the Harps Club; there’s a crowd in, and the craic is good. Here JP, did you ever see your Da’s cock?

Wha? No.

Starts to undo zip. That gets a good laugh. The others order pints but JP asks for coffee. Why should it be a surprise that they offer him a menu? Had the machine installed ages ago, it’s very popular, cappuccino’s good, though that’s more of a breakfast coffee, isn’t it? Changed times.

JP’s mother died when he was eleven, and at her funeral he was a sobbing child. Useless. At Pearse’s wake JP felt instinctively that his people had a use for him because Pearse was dead but he was alive, and there was hope in that. He poured tea and gathered up mass cards and told everyone who came through the door that Pearse hadn’t suffered, whether they asked or not. He gave comfort to Pearse’s mother, held her in her raw desolation; helped Pearse’s father too by standing out on the road with the men of the estate, telling the RUC and the British army with wordless, sullen hatred to keep their distance while Pearse Donnelly Snr crept back from exile, silent and unseen, to break down over his son’s closed casket. You need to be missing something, in order to be useful in a moment like that. JP has been relentlessly useful ever since.

A couple of drinks later, it starts to get messy. Beaker speaks quietly, deadly earnest, he has serious things to talk about, and you can tell he hasn’t been drunk in ages because he has that manic look in his eyes. Listen, sitting down and telling my daughters I was leaving, my two beautiful girls, that was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life.

You didn’t have to do it and you shouldn’t have done it either, you’re just a selfish cunt, Monty tells him.

In the month after Pearse died, JP lost two stone. He thought he was living as normal but even Sean, his father, pulled him aside eventually. You’re not eating and you’re not sleeping, he said, and it was true enough, JP was developing that hollow-cheeked look they have in the Horn of Africa. I’m making a pot of champ, come on, Sean said, and sat him down to two huge plates of buttery mashed potatoes and scallions topped with fried eggs. Later the lads called and JP went out with them to see the Harps against the Ógs at Abbey Park, but instead of going to the match they climbed the wall of the primary school and sat in the playground where they had played as children, and drank a bottle of Buckfast. He rolled home in bad shape that night but Sean turned a blind eye, and when he awoke the next afternoon, Sean fed him a huge Ulster fry. He needed it badly.

Beaker leaves. He tries to make it seem like he’s not storming out in a huff, but when JP follows him he finds him standing on the street looking bewildered, like he doesn’t know which way is home. Come on, JP says, I’ll give you a lift. They drive in silence till they arrive at the house Beaker grew up in, and when Beaker is about to get out JP asks: Will you come back again next year?

Dunno.

It’ll be twenty-five years.

I know.

Some year there’ll be nobody there, Ciaran.

There was only four of us today. Used to be there’d be dozens.

If we ever don’t do it then that’ll be it, for good. We’ll forget.

Maybe next year somebody will know what to say.

Eventually there’ll be nobody left to give a fuck.

Beaker shrugs and gets out, but lingers by the open door a moment.

You still go to mass? he asks.

Mass? Yeah, I still go. Why?

How can you? What with everything that’s come out. Brendan Smith. The Magdalene Laundries. The Tuam babies. All that stuff.

JP doesn’t think of himself as religious but he doesn’t share his generation’s fury towards the Church, and is suspicious of it. He owes the priests a lot – they taught him poetry and history and Thucydides and Xenophon and advanced calculus, gave him an education as good as any millionaire’s son. It was only when he got to Trinity that he realised that’s not the norm for kids on free school lunches. Now he’s a millionaire himself, and it wasn’t lefty fucking do-gooders that did that for him, it was hard men in collars who took no shit that did that for him.

You walked out on your wife and kids so you could snort coke and shack up with a young ’un, and that’s the reason you hate the Church, JP snarls.

Beaker makes to slam the door. I’ll tell you the best thing about coming from Armagh, he says: you never get homesick.

Driving back across town JP thinks about Beaker. He knows lots of people like that now, self-serving and rootless, and it’s depressing to see it in one of the lads he grew up with. As he’s coming down Drumbreda he’s thinking: You’ve lost another friend. And for what? You had to go and get all moralistic, didn’t you? I wasn’t the one that brought up religion. Yeah, but you have a vicious fucking tongue in your head all the same. What is it with you, that you always have to say it? Why do you always have to be such a fucking nordie about everything?

Honestly, this is what it’s like in JP’s head most of the time.

Suddenly something crashes into the front of the car. Glass smashes. Metal prangs. What the fuck? Somebody’s firing.

He screeches. Slaloms. Leaves a giant tilde marked in rubber on the road. Airbag enwombs him.

He climbs out of the car. Steps into the apologetic glow of orange sodium streetlights. Examines himself inside and out—he’s shocked but not hurt. He looks back at the car, sitting askew in the road. Perching insolently in the broken glass of the wrecked headlight is a twenty-eight ounce cannonball.

The streetlights taper off halfway down the hill. The bullet came up from the darkness beneath.

Noel emerges breathlessly from below. Jesus, are you all right there?

JP is sitting on the footpath. He lifts his head from his knees, shakes it in his brother’s direction. Noel is hugely relieved. Oh thank God, it’s only you.

JP can only laugh.

Why do we never talk about Pearse?

What?

Every year we get together and it’s supposed to be about him but we never talk about him.

What the fuck is there to say?

I dunno. Something.

Like what?

If we don’t share our memories of him with each other, he’ll be gone forever.

He is gone forever.

But JP persists. Tell me, one thing you remember about Pearse.

He was a sound lad.

Come on Noel.

Noel shrugs. To tell you the truth, I don’t really remember that much about him.

What do you mean you don’t remember him?

Like, over the years you hear people saying things and you read things and after a while you don’t know what’s the stuff you actually remember and what’s the stuff you just remember being told later.

JP puts his head back into his knees and thinks about his father-in-law, of all people. Not long after his grandfather became one of the first Guards in West Cork, republicans shot him. You know what they told my father about it? he would say. And what my father told me? The same thing everyone from the Civil War told their children about that time. Absolutely nothing! he would declare triumphantly. You lads in the north had three thousand died in twenty-five years, we had four thousand died in as many months, most of them in Kerry and Cork, and none of the families they left behind had any notion about getting justice. They took it all on their own shoulders and they took it to their graves and that’s why the generations that came after didn’t have to fight the same battles over and over.

Strong people.

People who decided to be strong. They offered it up. Not like people now. There was no such thing as closure in those days.

And he packed a lot of contempt into that closure.

Only four of us this year. Next year it’ll be less.

We can’t just forget.

Of course we can forget.

We have to remember.

Remembering is hard.

But forgetting.

Forgetting takes nothing.