By Jim Monaghan
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Gallagher always came past about half six.
He would slink up to us, shopping bags in both hands, drop the
bags, then sprint towards us, trying to get the ball. We were wise to his move by now, so we kept it off him until
he gave up, laughed, and said – “See Yous Boys”.
What that was meant to mean we never knew, but we all liked him,
he was always a friendly old guy, harmless.
His son, Michael, who often played with us, told us he had been a
great war hero, a spy who brought down Hitler.
Most people thought that Mr. Gallagher was Michael’s Granddad,
Michael hated that but Mr. Gallagher always thought it was funny.
day, sitting on the roundabout, talking about nothing much, Michael told
us about his dad – “He’s no sick, like dyin or anythin, he’s
sick in his heid.” “Whit
ye mean he’s mental?” “Naw, it’s no mental, he’s just funny,
but he’ll be better if he stays in the hospital”.
always stuck in my mind. Not
mental just funny, we always thought he was funny anyway.
I think that Michael had as much of a clue about what was wrong
with his dad as we had. After
that we didn’t speak about Mr. Gallagher and probably forgot all about
him, we were too busy with the important things in life, like crossing
the eeky voe on a raft we had been building all summer.
Four barrels tied to a door.
It didn’t take all summer to build because of the engineering
intricacy involved; it was because it was only the most important thing
of that summer sometimes. Other
times stealing apples, sneaking into the scrappy’s and, of course,
football were far more important, but crossing the voe had to be
completed before we went back to school.
had tried and tested it twice on the burn and it seemed to float quite
well but when we got half way over the voe it sank, just like that.
I don’t know whether someone moved and upset the balance, or
the barrels filled with water, but whatever happened it just sank.
Josie shouted, “swim for the shore”.
It was like that when we were wee, even in times of crisis
someone would be able to summon up a line from an adventure story or
comic to suit the moment. Like
when we chased two Forgie boys across the park, only to run straight in
to their big brothers and their mates and Kenny Scott yelled, “retreat
lads, we’re outnumbered, two to one”.
We laughed at that one for months.
time though, we weren’t laughing.
When we reached the shore, Michael Gallagher was nowhere to be
seen. We just didn’t know
what to do we were only kids. Josie
started shouting Michael! Michael!
Over and over. I
started crying and my wee brother Frank just stood there silent and
still. It was Frank who
made the move, running off towards the scrappy’s.
Josie stopped shouting, put his thumb in his mouth and joined me
in the crying. It seemed
like a long time before the men from the scrappy’s arrived, jumping
straight in to where the raft was still visible, the top of one of the
barrels sticking out of the water.
Then came the police and then the ambulance.
They said he was still alive when they got him out of the water,
that’s when Mrs. Gallagher arrived.
all the scary moments in my life, to this day I have never encountered
anything quite as scary as the noise coming from Mrs. Gallagher. It wasn’t a cry, nor was it a scream, or even a moan, it
was just a low, horrible noise. She
stood over Michael’s body with that noise coming from her. Michael’s wee sister held her mum’s hand and smiled at
the policemen and at us, as if this was an everyday event in the life of
a Gallagher. He died,
officially, in the ambulance on the way to the hospital.
wee sister, Kerry, went away to stay with her auntie when they took her
mum in to hospital. “Pair
wee lassie, her big brother deid and her ma and da in the asylum”, I
heard my parents talking in the kitchen.
“It could have been us ye ken”.
“In the asylum? How dae ye make that oot?” “Naw, ya eediot,
it could’ve been oor wee boy that was deid.”
“Don’t be stupit, oor boys can swim.”
My dad was like that, he never quite got the point of what people
were saying to him. I got
the point though. Up until
then I knew I felt bad, but now I knew why – it could have been me
that drowned instead of Michael Gallagher.
years later we were playing football in the park, nothing much changed
from summer to summer (although rafts were definitely out and girls were
definitely in), when Mr. Gallagher came past.
I didn’t recognise him at first, he had a beard and looked very
old, he was always old, but he was very old now, like young Mr. Grace
from ‘Are you being served’. He
had shopping bags in his hands like before, but he didn’t drop them
and chase the ball. He stopped and looked at us.
We stopped and looked at him.
It was as if he was trying to make sense of us, he knew us and
what we were doing but he just seemed like it didn’t quite register,
he screwed up his eyes like he was trying to see in the dark.
Frank passed the ball to him, “cross it in Mr. Gallagher”. He smiled and curled a high ball to the back post.
Smokey Fraser met his cross with a volley that went in off the
bar. We all cheered.
Mr. Gallagher stood there with his bags still in his hands, he
was crying. We watched him
as he walked away, back the way he came.
We didn’t know where he was going.
The Gallaghers didn’t stay here any more.
Mrs. Gallagher had moved to Ireland with Kerry when she came out
of hospital and Josie’s big cousin stayed in their house now, with her
baby and a biker. I told my
dad that night and he told me that Mr. Gallagher was staying in the
sheltered housing now. He
was probably going to his old house that day, thankfully the diversion
caused by the ball reminded him and he saved himself the embarrassment
of turning up at Josie’s cousins house.
joined the Youth St Vincent De Paul in much the same way as I had become
an altar boy. Father
McGrane mentioned at mass on Sunday that the parish needed teenagers to
assist the St Vincent De Paul in their works of charity, and my mum duly
volunteered me. I didn’t
mind though, Karen Brady and Angela Benedetti went to the meetings and I
would have joined the brownies to spend some time with them.
my mates thought I was the business when it came to girls, all the girls
talked to me, laughed at my jokes, listened to me when I spoke and, best
of all, they told me things. The
things the girls told me were secrets, I never told the other boys, not
because I didn’t want to, it was because I was embarrassed to talk
about things like that with my mates.
Apart from that these were secrets, my secrets, me and the girls.
Back then I was the only one of us who had realised that women
liked men to listen to them and seem interested in all their affairs, no
matter how stupid they might appear.
I also knew that girls were older than boys were.
We were all about 13 or 14.
At that age girls were going out to discos at the community
centres all dressed up and snogging (and more) with the bigger boys from
other towns. My mates
thought that the girls in my class all fancied me, but I knew different.
They thought I was a nice wee guy that they could talk to, I
became like an agony aunt and quite good I was too.
I read my big cousins and my mums magazines and picked up tips.
“He’s always wanting more. Last
night I let him feel my tits and then he started to try and get my jeans
off, when I told him to stop he went in the huff.
Charlotte lets that Jimmy finger her, I want to but I think he
will just want more again.” Auntie
says, “It’s your body, don’t do anything you don’t feel
comfortable with, if he loves you he will respect that.”
“Aye, you’re right, thanks Danny.”
“Nae bother, you look after yourself, right?” I would go
away, pleased at myself, then lose yet another nights sleep pumping my
poor wee todger to a pulp.
the second meeting we were given a list of old peoples addresses and
split in to teams of two, one girl and one boy, and sent off to visit.
Mr. Gallagher was on our list.
Karen Brady came round for me after school and we headed off to
the sheltered housing. “Are
you still seeing that guy fae Forgie Karen?”
“Naw, ah chucked him, aw he wanted wis ma body.” Smart guy, I
thought, Karen Brady’s body was about all I could imagine life could
offer anyone, short of playing for Celtic. “Wanker”, I offered my support.
was surprised that Mr. Gallagher knew me, I wished he hadn’t.
“Daniel Foley, you were with my Michael when he died, you and
your brother?” “That’s
right Mr. Gallagher,” I was frightened, I didn’t really talk about
that day and every time I did I could still hear Mrs. Gallagher’s
noise. “She blamed me you
know”, I was embarrassed, it was as if he had caught me thinking about
her. “She said if I hadn’t been a fucking loony Michael would
have been out flying a kite with his dad instead of drowning in the voe.”
I was even more embarrassed now.
I looked to Karen for support and she jumped to my rescue.
“How do you like this place Mr. Gallagher?” She spoke loudly
as if he was deaf. “I’m
not deaf, just old, so ye can talk quieter hen, you’re Jimmy Brady’s
daughter, from the Waverley Road?”
“Aye, that’s right, dae ye ken ma faither?”
“Yes I do, I hate the man.
He’s a communist. Men
like me saved this country from the Nazi’s while your dad and his kind
hid down the pits. He would have liked the Nazi’s to win, they’re just like
the communists. If it
wasn’t for me you would all be speaking German now and if your dad had
his way we would all be speaking Russian.
He makes me sick your dad.”
There wasn’t much left to say after that, there was a silence
for about 5 minutes. Karen managed to keep her tears, or anger, I couldn’t work
out which, at bay. I stood
up and said “we have to go now Mr. Gallagher, do you want us to come
and see you next week?” “No
I do not, you can tell that Father McGrane that I don’t need his
sanctimonious catholic sympathy”.
We left and went to visit old Mrs. Gordon.
She sang to herself and gave us biscuits.