Dropping out of the window as the Long Tower chimes three and clambering down the drainpipe I move slowly and do not jump so I can touch the pavers without a sound. The moon has me in its sights, a moving spotlight appearing in a gateway in the clouds, and the shadow is something fearful.
Keeping my shoes off I scurry in stockinged feet through the alleys, ears wide to the unique dangers of this summer. There is the depth of the rumble of the Brit APCs and the rhythmic beat of the boots of the Provos running and the sadder rhyme of the Paras pounding their patrol routes. There is the silence of a city besieged and from the occasional open window the higher woodwind tones of mothers sobbing.
No one should be out on these streets right now, but all we have is each other and so I run to her when all pretend to sleep, and I run back when I have come to hope that this town's exhaustion has overtaken its fear and the people that surround me are truly at rest.
The street ahead has to be crossed and I lie face down on the cold stones, slipping forward, watching, listening. I feel the chill press through the fabric and shrink that Irish curse of mine – just a half hour ago it was filled and hot and wrapped in that tight love of hers – and I let myself know enough fear to keep me from the foolish bravery that has doomed us all.
Way off someplace. Way way off. There's a phonograph playing. I do not know why, but just now the streets are absorbing all of the bass notes, leaving only a treble voice scraping over the slate rooftops. "Go down, Miss Moses, there's nothin' you can say. It's just ol' Luke, and Luke's waitin' on the Judgement Day. "Well, Luke, my friend, what about young Anna Lee? "He said, "Do me a favor, son, won't ya stay and keep Anna Lee company?""
The voice pins me to the pavers. The moon is forcing hard shadows on the scene. The muscles in my chest are making it difficult to breath. I pull faces from my memory. Katie, Ma, the sisters, Honora. It is the women that you go on living for. It is the women most hurt when you disappear or die.
Five, four, three, two, I countdown to myself, "go," springing to my feet, racing left close as possible by the house fronts, then, crouched low, I cross to the home alley, moving as fast as I possibly can, I have never raced down the left wing on the pitch any faster, and I hop the wall because the gate makes noise and with quickness that only comes from years of practice slide open the kitchen window and land on the scarred lino floor.
And then I will make no more noise this night. And then I will not move until the sun breaks across the lough. I curl up on the floor of the tiny hall. My back pressed against the base of the stair. And I begin to dream.
copyright 2006 by Ira Socol
photo adapted from Eamon Melaugh original via CAIN archives.
Lyrics, of course, from The Weight by J. R. Robertson as performed by The Band on the 1969 album Music from Big Pink.