Monday, October 16, 2006

small worlds

The old black Humber Hawk would wake all of us with its cough as it tried to start in the hour before dawn on Tuesdays and Thursdays. It was the only car on the street. It was the only car for many streets back then and if any of us lads had ever been in an automobile it was either this one or maybe, if you'd been caught, an RUC car.

Aedan's grandfather worked for the Bishop. He went to Belfast on those mornings for the church and came back late in the evenings. We had no idea what he might have been doing there. Belfast was impossibly far away. Only Aedan had been there and he talked about how big it was and how the giant cranes towered over the shipyards. "They built the Titanic there," he told us, "I saw where. It was the biggest ship ever but it hit an iceberg and sank and everyone died." This was an amazing story. We argued about when it might have happened. "Long back." "Very long?" "Before the war." "In the war the Germans sank a lot of boats with torpedoes ." We knew this. There were uncles and grandfathers lost on those Royal Merchant Ships, and even American ones. But before? "Maybe 1938 or like that," Aedan said. This seemed possible. An iceberg! Eventually someone would have to ask an adult.

Seamus had been to Dublin. Out of the twenty of us that ran these streets he was the only one. He had an uncle there. He told us it was "biggest city in the world except for London and New York." Rian challenged that. "Paris is bigger, and Tokyo." But that did not seem possible. We had never seen a French person, how many could there be? And we only knew people from Asia from American war movies, we were hardly sure that Tokyo was more real than Oz or Narnia.

Thomas and I and others had been in Donegal. Thomas and I had been all the way to the sea where we could look west to that New World and all that it promised. Trevor had spent a week somewhere near Coleraine when a rich cousin had come from Chicago. They had taken him to see the Giant's Causeway on a bus. He had told us that so long ago, so, so long back before Wolfe Tone even, when people were much bigger, you could walk to Scotland on those stones in the ocean. "Is that how the Proddies got over here?" Kelvin asked. "No you gobshite," Thomas said, "They came on boats and cut off their hands and threw them here. That's why they've got that on their flag." Thomas was very smart. We knew that. So somehow this was accepted without argument.

We would tell these stories over and over. Long into the night. Even that young. Though when we heard the old black Humber Hawk rumbling over the pavers, and would spot its wavering headlamps, we would know it was time to head toward our beds.

copyright 2006 by Ira Socol


MB said...

I love this piece, Ira. You have deftly woven together the small strands that comprise a child's knowledge and doubts, in a way that points out their limitations without making them seem less believable. Marvelous.

And thanks for the explanation of "American small talk." I had never identified that before, but now that you describe it, I do know what you mean. I would only add that many Americans also have trouble with it!

Patry Francis said...

So happy to have stumbled on this. Quite wonderful.

Brenda said...

The way everything leads off to other places, the vastness of the world, its mysteries, is, why, positively rhizomatic! Buzz-word, I know, but I do so love Deleuzian-type pathways. And your main character, narrator, goes on to explore many of these strange and marvelous places later on, so the threads run in many directions. How you can enter a child's viewpoint always amazes and delights me too.