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A Slanting of the Sun

Donal Ryan
Doubleday Ireland


From "The Passion"

SHE CRIES SOMETIMES, without noise. I know not to talk, only to leave my hand under hers on the gearstick. Where were you all the time before the court case, she asked me once, early on. In my room, I said, I slept a lot. She said she'd heard I was seen below in the Ragg and inside in Easy Street in Nenagh as bould as you like. She wasn't accusing, just telling me what she'd heard. I said I wasn't, and that was enough. You'd hear lots of things, she said. People thinking they're helping. I look sometimes at the side of her face when she cries, the straightness of the line the tears make slowly on her cheek, the red of her lips, and I want to touch her cheek, to wipe away the mark of her sorrow. But I never do.

My mother and father don't know what to say to me. Will you go back training? My shoulder, Dad, I can hardly lift a hurl with my right hand. Oh, ya, ya. Sure of course. More physio, maybe. And I say something along the lines of It's fucked for good, Dad. And he clenches his jaw and I'd say he thinks to himself He must have got that roughness in jail and God only knows what hap­pened to him in jail and I'd say me in jail is all he thinks about ever since the day I was charged and still he won't ask me about it, never, ever. Would you not go out for a few pucks below in the field maybe or against the wall beyond and maybe it'll come right? And I say nothing and he taps his forehead with his fore­finger like he doesn't know he's doing it and asks will I eat an­other cut of fruitcake.

They make me fries in the morning and give me plates of tart and cream and cups of scalding tea for my elevenses, as they call it, and we have dinner for lunch and dinner again for dinner and the leanness I got in jail is nearly gone. I'm melting out to fat. I'll have to do a bit of something soon that wouldn't call too heavy on my shoulder, running or soccer or something. But Bonny's brother plays for the juniors and I'd see him at training and it wouldn't be fair on him.

My mother stands and twists tea-towels in her hands as she watches birds out the back window, and gives out about the way that oul bad bitch of a cat lies in wait for them, crouched on her haunches in behind the trees. A dead wren she left on the back porch step the other day and Mam cried at the sight of it. The little darling, she said. And she wouldn't give Puss her supper no matter how much yowling she did at the kitchen window and rubbing with her paw. She can go and shite now, the murdering little rap. Then she softened a bit when Dad said She killed that bird for you, Moll, and left it there for a present for you, because she's so stuck on you. But still Puss wasn't fed.

You'll have to call out to those people, my father had said once, long before the inquest or the court. While there was still bandages on me and a cast on my arm. Why will he, PJ? My mother exploded from silence, giving him a shock. He hadn't known she was there. To see to know can he make amends in some way, to let them know how sorry he is. Lord God almighty, she said. Sorry? Sorry? Sure for the love of Jesus Christ isn't it plain to see he's sorry? What do they want? Wasn't it an accident? Tisn't as if he meant it, is it? Is it? Is it? And he never repeated himself, and I stayed in my room for most of that year, cling­ing to the edge of my childhood bed. They have their pound of flesh well got now, that crowd, I heard my mother say after I got out. They can put away their wounded faces. My child was taken off of me as well and he was gave back different. Toughies, that crowd.

The first day in court I pled guilty and the judge looked at me for ages before she talked. Guilty, are you? Ya, yes miss, yes ma'am, yes your honour, then I remembered the solicitor said to call her Judge. Yes, Judge. When I looked up from the floor I could have sworn she was smiling a bit at me. There was more talk and a date was given to come back. My father put his hand on my arm walking back out. Jim Gildea had called up to our house in the squad that morning even though he's meant to be retired to say there was a wild uncle over from England, the mother's brother, he had two days given on the batter inside in Limerick already, to watch out for him at the courthouse, a foxy lad, butty, wide across the shoulders. He said he'd ring the lads in Nenagh the way they'd be warned, but to be on the lookout all the same. Thanks, Jim, Dad said. Jim shook hands with me and wished me the best of luck.

It was Jim came on us that night, and he'd cried while we waited for the ambulance, and he'd held my hand and I'd whis­pered Bonny, Bonny, Bonny, and I couldn't move and Jim told me She's gone, son, she's gone, just keep looking, keep looking at me.

The uncle appeared from behind a pillar at the courthouse door. He had a suit on him, and he had no drink taken, the Nenagh boys said afterwards in mitigation of themselves. He even had a manila folder in his hand, as much as to say he was a lad with legitimate business with the court. He squeezed through a gap that was barely there between a cop and a solicitor, slash­ing sideways through the air; I felt the hot breeze of him before I properly saw him. He was a small red man with big fists and he had three digs in before I felt the first one. Four shades fell on the uncle and I was at the bottom of them and my back was flexed at an awful angle from the top step and my bad shoulder burned and when they dragged him off he was still kicking and Dad was sitting on the ground and trying to get up and there was a thin line of blood from his nose to his mouth and there was no one helping him.

The second day in court the judge made a speech about young men being in a hurry even when they were going nowhere and she asked about my apprenticeship and Bobby Mahon put up his hand and half stood with his face all red and said nearly in a whisper that I was in my third year with him and just about to get my papers and Pawsy Rogers went up to the stand and said I was a great lad and a fine hurler and a good worker and my people were the salt of the earth and he looked sideways in guilt and sorrow at Bonny's father and brother and sister and her aunts and uncles and her grandfather and still Pawsy went on that there'd be only more damage done if this boy was given a custodial sentence and there was a half a minute or so of shuffling and shouting and someone was crying and people were escorted out and the judge got a bit wicked then I think and her hammer near splintered the wood of her bench and she thanked Pawsy but she didn't sound a bit grateful and there was no mustard cut and a fella in a blue shirt and navy tie caught my elbow gently and asked into my ear did I want to go straight or go home first and I said I'd go straight and I called my mother Mammy and my father Daddy as they held me tight as pale as ghosts and the lad in the blue shirt said Okay, come on now, and as the van doors closed in the small car park at the back of the courthouse I felt a lightening inside me, a letting go, like I was stretched out flat and floating on a gentle swell.