An Intervention 2
The orchard raid was planned with military precision. The orchard was located behind the landlady's house, and in truth, Stephen was not convinced that they could not have walked into it in full view of the landlady. The apples were small, gnarly and bitter, and would end up being thrown away in any case. James led the way, creeping up by the side wall of the main house, signalling to the others to crouch down in the long grass of the orchard. Only the low hanging fruit and windfall were within reach, and after gathering a small bag full, the three raiders made their way to the small cliff overlooking the beach. James slipped over, navigating his way down the ledges and crevices and ending with a short jump onto a large rock. Andrew followed. However, when it came to Stephen's turn he froze half way down, and could go no further. He was standing on a small ledge, facing seaward, and was too scared to turn around on that small space so he could lower his leg to reach the next foothold down. James and Andrew stood on the rock below, cajoling and abusing him to complete the descent. ‘Don’t be such a baby – just turn around and put your foot on that rock”. But he could not, And then, the broken shale on the ledge where he stood began to roll underneath his sandals, and his legs flipped out over the edge. He landed on his back, his head cracking against a large stone on the beach. Blood began to pour profusely from the cut.
James took out a handkerchief and pressed it to the open wound, staunching the flow of blood, he then led him to the stream. “You’re not to tell Mammy, she’ll kill us.” he whispered fiercely, as he washed the blood away. It seemed unfair to Peter that he could not exploit such an impressive injury to garner attention and sympathy, and he did not quite understand why Mammy would be mad, Was it because they were stealing apples? Or playing on the cliff? However, he did not dare go against James, and so he agreed to keep quiet. Only a small amount of blood had gotten on his shirt, due to James’s quick action, and by the time his mother spotted it while washing clothes at the stream, he was able to fob her off with a story about being scratched by a bramble.
For the first two weeks of their holiday, their father arrived on the Saturday afternoon train, and they all went in to meet him. But on the third week he made his own way out, a good deal later in the evening, after they had gone to bed. They were woken by the sound of raised voices. “They’re at it again”, Stephen said, but James told him to shut up. “It’s none of your business” he told him, in that annoying, eldest brother voice he was increasingly using.
For while earlier in the year they had regularly been awakened by arguing, usually late at night, and on one occasion by the sound of banging on the front door, where Mammy had locked their Daddy out. James would sneak out to listen at the top of the stairs, and return to tell then it was about her smoking and wasting money, about his drinking and card playing, about unpaid bills. And then a silence would descend. They would avoid each other as much as they could. Meals were taken in complete silence, Daddy's face like thunder, Mammy's tight and grim Any communication between them was diverted through the boys, “Ask your Mammy to pass the gravy.” “Tell your Daddy the potatoes are finished.” These were for Stephen the worst part. He felt like he was being co-opted by one or the other, and it felt like a physical pain, as if his chest was being torn in two.
So it was a relief when they began talking again, stiffly at first, but gradually returning to normal. But now the arguments had started again.
The next Saturday was the second last day of the holiday. Daddy arrived sometime after they had gone to bed, and the next day they packed in silence, apart from the occasional “Tell your Mammy” or “tell your Daddy”. The boys knew that any exhibition of boisterousness was likely to result in a flying fist, from either adult, so they did their best to be quiet and helpful. They stopped in Westport to say goodbye to Granny and Grandad and the aunts, but the palpable hostility between their Mammy and Daddy, and their mother’s open animosity towards their father’s sisters, ensured that these ceremonies were brief.
The following week back in Dublin the hostilities continued. The only time the parents spoke to each other was late at night, and at high volume. Their father worked late each evening, and sometimes went to the pub afterwards. He even went into the office at the weekend.
Then, on Sunday morning, they arrived home from mass to find Uncle Stephen and Auntie Anne sitting in their car outside the house. Uncle Stephen, for whom young Stephen was named, was their mother’s brother. And as they all got out of their cars, Uncle Jerome, another of her brothers, drove up. His mother’s family were not the huggy type, they milled around for a while, awkwardly making their hellos. Five minutes later her sister, also called Annie arrived.
“What's going on here?” Mammy demanded, looking suspiciously at their father. “Let's take it inside,” said Uncle Stephen, “no need for the neighbours to know.” Once inside, It became apparent that Daddy had become convinced, sitting alone in the house during the weeks they had been away, that Mammy had been complaining to her family about him. He written to all of them, to defend himself against the lies and accusations he was convinced she was spreading about him. “You bloody fool” she spat. “I haven't been spreading any lies.” and it was clear that her family, had known nothing, but had been sufficiently alarmed by his letter to descend en masse to try to sort it out.
The adults with the exception of Stephen's wife, wend into the front room, and closed the door behind themselves. Anne stayed out with the children. Soon the sound of raised voices began to emerge. Stephen was drawn to the door like an infernal rope was dragging him. “They're off again.” he said to Annie, tears filling his eyes. “you mind your own business!” she snapped, “and get away from that door.” Suddenly he could take it no more. “It IS my business” he shouted at her, ‘they’re MY Mammy and Daddy”. He ran out the back door, and up the road. He walked for hours, at first driven by rage and distress, and then gradually be fear. He would likely get the thrashing of his life for giving cheek like that to Auntie Anne. Eventually he turned around – there was nowhere else to go.
The late summer evening was drawing in as he neared the house. The visitor’s cars were gone. He could see his father in the front room, reading the paper.
“Where have you been”, his mother said in a way that did not expect an answer, as he entered the kitchen. Her tone was neutral. “You’ve missed your dinner and your tea. Get some bread and jam, then go to bed.” The air in the house felt like when a thunderstorm has passed over. The electricity was gone.