f i c t i o n

t r a c y  r o b i n s o n 


Jesus, can you darn?

Can you make soup from a bone?

Two nights ago, I stole Maeve Spellacy’s rat and her old man’s wool. The drafts had come and I was hungry. That was not a sin, Jesus.


It is a sin to drink the dole,

to knock a buddy when he’s down,

to curse You,

in Londonderry

and America

and everywhere else.


There are other sins. I just gave to you the worst.

Jesus, can you whisper even though your body died and went to Heaven? I can, and I am alive! I whisper to you and I don’t spit in Church and I don’t sigh and I don’t dawdle and I don’t let Dylan from across the way think he’s the cat’s whiskers. Though I don’t hold a knife like a pen! O! I don’t hold a knife like a pen!

Jesus, for your information, here, this is how it goes:


An eye for an eye

A tooth for a tooth


Before January 30, I wrote a letter to the Queen but had no money to send it. It said:

You stab the backs
of my people,
I’ll see you all

O! You don’t like the message dear Lord! Neither do I, but that was then. Today is a wee bit different.

Bloody Sunday, did you see it? A peaceful march in the streets and then


British paratroopers opened fire on the crowd. It happened Sunday last. There was a story that did not get in the papers. At the hour no one knew but my father, the neighbor’s cat, Baby Tom, Tara and I. Liam walked into it after a wee while with Mary. Jesus, I’ll tell you in case you were busy…


Bloody Sunday

They came for us

Tied me Da to a chair, knocked out his teeth

Made Tara so she could not sleep

Shot Liam in the yard, splattered the leaves

I avenged the balls of the whistling thieves!


I imagine Baby Tom saw blood. The only time I peered through the crack, my little brother was trying to stand by holding the bars of the crib and he made it look easy, and each time Nightmare Dentist yanked out one of Da’s teeth, he shrieked something awful as if he saw a giant monster bite off his toes and eat them with Worchester sauce. Then, Baby Tom stopped crying. Why? Aye is not so daft but cannot say. Babes are famous for keeping their traps shut. Maybe he saw me. I did not look.

I opened the cupboard, gently, made no sound at all. I held the grip of Da’s meat cutter. Tara saw me; her eyes looked like a holocaust and this kept Sicko happy. I got down on me hands and knees, put the dull edge of the knife in my mouth and got to work. Just had to crawl to the other side of the chesterfield. No one behind me was lucky for that! The stench was awful. Soldiers had urinated on the back of the chesterfield. When my target kicked back his heels to put his feet on the coffee table, the chesterfield moved about two inches and I nearly dropped the knife. I was shoved against their piss, then I rolled; luckily still no one heard. It was better to stay back a bit, and then, finally, make it to the end. Nothing pleased me more dear God nothing in the world more than removing the meat cutter from my mouth and holding it not like a pen and – the best part – leaping fast and driving the blade deep into the thigh of a resting one.

“Ah!” he cried.

I left the cutter stuck. It was funny in him. They broke out in laughter, the soldiers not the wounded mind you. The wounded soldier carefully took out the knife. He had a scar. On his hand. It was on the back of his right hand, a lifetime wound. I saw Da. He was able to smile. Then he looked at me and I knew. I knew there would be a punishment later, if he survived. Tara was a zombie. Baby Tom, aye, he saw me then, reached out then fell in his crib and brought himself up again. He was not cryin’. All this action probably made him forget about his hunger but then Sicko shouted to Tara, “Open! Keep them open!” and Baby Tom went about his cryin’. Me eldest brother did not see my great act of courage. He was a dead man. How I knew was the fact soldiers had shot him more times than a man can wink on a dare. Liam could out dare anyone. His hair was the color of a raven’s; girls saw his eyes and melted on the spot. He was very strong; spoke from his heart so well that hearin’ him made us smile, and cry. That was over, and in the days people were sad. Mary especially. (Mary was his love, you know Lord.) The stab was for Liam! If I had a gun, I would have used it! Do you hear me, God? More there was in my mind. I wanted the I.R.A. to know right away, so those soldiers turn toothless and gum less. So each one deflower. Toothless and gum less and poisoned so they could not pee, so never again would they pee in the home of strangers without permission. As for those who shot Liam – the I.R.A. made them pay, with their own lives! It’s in the homes! Everyone knows but rarely speak of it. It would be the very least and fair thing, an eye for an eye, read on and You will discover why not.

Soldiers laughed like this: “HA! HA! HA!” The one in Tara shouted, “Grab the girl! I get her cherry.” Then Da muttered something. He choked on his blood. Torture cannot be explained, defense neither.

There was mild discussion about who would get my cherry. The soldiers used big words, said “however” as like for debate of the Queen’s address. They must have been high up military pigs because hogs do not speak the Cockney. At the least they could have TRIED to be funny. What can you expect? The English lack humor. They think everyone but they do not understand them and to those whom they assume are daft they stick their noses up high and say, “Pity.” The truth is, God, I swear on me mother’s grave if You don’t mind, English humor is not awful; it is as stale as the bread we get. Bone dry. It’s like their going on and on in the morning and about eggs and dew or their three o’clock tea. Near the end, they throw in a pitch and say, “Rather, rather.” Only the blue collars laugh, and really laugh! ‘till their bellies bust. Vinegar hard eggs, lavender dew.

Do you know something, God? If any one of them bastards got my cherry, or harmed it, I would still be a virgin. Do you know why? Because Adam blamed Eve for their eating fruit from the Tree of Knowledge, and YOU never gave Eve the time to explain her version of the story. Rest now, you’re probably mad that I brought it up: Original Sin. Rest now, we’ll talk about it after Mass next Sunday. Read on.

The pig inside Tara’s legs would have to crawl on salted broken glass before getting anywhere near me, and die at my knife first.

I was not a hen with her head cut off, if you know what I mean. Da was near hell, and I could leave my family never, so it was fig to fodder that escape be the choice. Two soldiers lunged for me, and I said, “Give all you can you dirty rotten robbers! Your messing is as harsh as a farmer’s blow! That’s blown snot if you don’t know what I’m talking about. Like this …” I demonstrated. The soldiers were not laughing. A silence got a bit spooky. Baby Tom lay in his crib, still. Then the crazy sons of bitches left everything to pounce on me. That was really something! Given the fact humor swept over their heads! I bit Nightmare Dentist.

“You fight like your big sister, you little cunt!” he said, and bound my hands with rope. Then Tall squeezed my wrist. I spit but missed his face. He was too high. Nightmare Dentist put a gun to my head. So it was probably not a good time to move. Tall knelt and spoke in my ear so loud that his voice rang in me: “The Irish are all the same: big mouths and no aim. Only the martyrs love them. Aren’t I right, felion?”

“So carrot is your hair,” said Sicko. He fondled it with his hands. I wished my kicking could reach him. “Long red pulleys,” he said. Then he took out a razor from his pocket and ran it along the length of my hair, from the end to the top of me head. It caused my hair to split and my scalp feeling tingly and raw.

“Sicko!” I said, “I don’t care who your mother is. For me you are Sicko. Sicko! Sicko! Sicko!”

“Fiery girl but nonetheless …” said Tall, challenged to hold my legs still while Nightmare Dentist bound them. I expected Sicko to turn worse but he did not. Tall continued in the voice of Philip the Duke: “Who … Who but God would care for jobless drunks and girl mothers? For whom other would the Lord be so generous and kind?”

“You, I’m afraid. Though in your case, charity is out of the question! God pities you! And you! You as well!”

“I see.”

“Who? … Who is there? Where are you?”

“Nearby. I am the one that you critically injured.” There was much laughter. The voice belonged to the soldier that I had brutally stabbed. He must have left; I did not see him go. He returned but was out of view.

“Come out! Come out, come out wherever you are and show me your face!”

Heavy boots came from behind my head and then suddenly he appeared, upside down and very close. I could not see it but could feel the ridges of steel gently trace the contour from behind one ear to the other. I lay still. His eyes were inches above mine and looking away. He said to me, “What is your name? What is your first name?

I did not answer.

“What is your father’s name?”

“Unknown,” said Sicko, patting my private place. “That man in the chair is her dead mother’s brother, probably her dad.”

“He’s not my uncle. Not to add oil to wet dillies over that. You are not more daft than a lazy boy, God made you imbecile.”

Laughter again. I was quite amusing to them. Secretly they must have found the comments true. My victim did not laugh. He arched and then knelt very, very close. With the tip of the blade he drew tiny points on my skin that I imagined was stained with his blood. His face shifted, sideways. He was looking at something or someone. So he did not deserve to know my name! but I was not afraid to say it! shine it on the world …

“You speak like a song,” he said, “Sing it again.”




“The meat cutter is further from you now. Tell me your first name.”

“No! Not for you and lowly thieves! Go to hell!”

“May I?”


The devil got him! He did the same to me as I did to him but to me he did it on the arm. I let out a cry but no tears. It hurt. The knife had pierced. No tears for him. He broke the Law of Retribution. No one did him or his family wrong. Liam might have done but not strictly for the cause. For justice. Though children were never harmed. This soldier was not avenging, “keeping the peace.” He committed one of the worst sins: To knock a person when he’s down, not as bad as doin’ it to a buddy, but very, very bad. I told him, God has mercy and God is watching and God knows the difference between a soldier and a cruel man. He was going to pay for what he did. The families would learn of it. He would lose an arm for that.

Then I realized how comical my situation was. It took him and the best of his army to hold still a child – a nine-year-old Irish Catholic girl! I laughed, and this made him really open his eyes and look at Tall. Tall was not laughing. Just then he seemed a stinking big sausage with puny ears, the eyes of a weasel, and the nose, well, not flattering unless he sniffed. I was the one laughing. The same laugh my mother had when she was in the mood of a mouse around the fear of elephants. Completely satisfied. If mice ever were so fine, so was I, though smarter than them, happier than men. Are you with me now, Jesus? My story appears to you how? It seems like old news but wait! Here comes the most peculiar instance of my life. Leaves you to wonder!

So there I was, and my soldier with a bloody leg, sewer rat faces of men to boot, and Nightmare Dentist covering my mouth with black tape. I imagined Nightmare Dentist with a bag over his head. Guess he had enough of my intelligent observations.

I was getting to be as feisty as a mouse in a trap. Tired I was. I was also very, very hot from all that kicking at the start. Holding the bloody meat cutter to my throat, my soldier did something strange. He looked at me. He was on his knees and now we saw each other eye-to-eye. Unbelievable. Do you know God, I’ve eyes of emeralds? It was odd that he should stare at them as if he really did see … jewels. His eyes were gray, like the coast of Ulster, the water especially. His eyes were rough, wanting to polish stones and claim them. Further out, in his eyes, ancient tides came rolling in, starting to swell, planning destruction to our land, to us but not stopping there. No, never stopping: Scotland as well. France, too, but that was a time before he showed his eyes – before they blinked in the mother, before they were dreamed.

Possible it was, Jesus, possible it was to go further and further beyond the gray to blue, so blue and cold like ice. Those were his eyes, ice that was cut apart from the ships sailing through the night. Beyond the ships or what awaited them was a raging sea. My God! I … I … I discovered that MY people had – they have – those eyes, too, raging seas only theirs seem forgotten and ours express: a stormy blue and sad song. Then no blue, just mist and drizzle lasting for days and days. Then a sun rising very fast, and light at last. Light, God! “Let there be light,” it says in the bible! and You are so generous and kind that people have it! Fairies came dancing and poking fun in his eyes. My soldier kept his face but wore the body of a tiny tin soldier attached to strings that I imagined my hand could manipulate. Light shone on the tiny tin soldier’s face; in my mind I let go the strings and then he was dancing on his own and teasing the fairies. He asked them their names and they grinned as they flew away like Jeremy the peddler after selling dye last week, which turned hair to the color of lint. Then angels appeared wearing jumpers that Welsh actresses wear. They were very beautiful. Their loosely gathered hair fell in long waves down their backs. They got naked and put on panties and pranced barefoot in the sun. I wanted to join them. They were smiling nature; You know what I mean. They had all their teeth and theirs were straight and white and probably hard. Smiles changed to a look of concern for the distant cries and artillery shots. They looked at me and in my head I said to them, do not be afraid. God is with you. They looked relieved as if mother was singing down to them from heaven. Finally, the angels waved good-bye. I winked them a handshake.

A hand appeared in the pupil of one eye. It belonged to my wounded soldier. I recognized it by his peculiar scar. He offered his hand. What? I could not believe my eyes, dear Lord! He appeared changed. Swollen blue was one of his eyes and there was a bloody cut on one cheek. He was shorter, younger, dressed up maybe in his father’s military clothes. He looked at me and started to advance. No one spoke. He dragged his feet in army boots too big and used. He walked with a limp, and he was so dramatic that he fell to his knees. I noticed then that he had a frog in his coat for it once tried to hop out and my soldier’s smile could not run away from him. When he smiled there were spaces where his two baby teeth had been. We were like that smiling at each other and this would never happen in real life. In this way he spread his arms wide open, would he sing a song? It was like we were in a silent film or that American show, “The Little Rascals.” He, like Alfalfa singing for Darla, a flower in one hand, frog in the other. No sound, just the act. At one point his eyes crossed together as he reached for the high note and I broke out laughing. He smiled at me. I wanted to give him a hug but then –

He moved the knife that was close to my throat, stood, walked to the sink, and started to rinse the knife with our water.

“What the—”said Tall. Then Sicko said, “What in hell are you doing?”

“Justice.” Said my soldier and he shot Sicko. Eleven times. At the start Sicko had bragged about raping Tara eleven times. That was probably why he got five bullets, and six for showing off.

“You are mad,” said Nightmare Dentist, the one responsible for using a sledge hammer and pins on Da’s mouth.

“No,” he replied. “I am sane and I am your officer. I order you men to leave.”

I wanted someone to turn off the running water. I would have asked my soldier who became a sort of unpopular angel. He picked me up and sat me in a chair and unbound everything but the tape on my mouth.

The soldiers looked at each other.

The officer faced them and said cold-handedly, “If you kill me, you will do hard time and that is worse than execution. My superior knows we are here, and he knows none of you is a planner of good military strategy but capable of dishonoring. He is also my friend. If you kill me, you must kill him, too, and men well paid and well trained, in the military and secret service protect him. He is well liked and never alone. Never goes to pubs, whores. If you succeed at murdering him, the Crown will investigate and quite easily find your tarnished records … that I had arranged for more spoilage if necessary. No way out for you men but THIS door. Now go.”

All but one soldier left the flat. He cocked his pistol at the officer. Then he got a bullet to the head. Tara shot him! While they were busy with me, she must have found Liam’s gun but who untied her? Was it my soldier after I stabbed him? Jesus. Never on Sunday has Tara killed one. One. All it takes is one. The one that war claims for another, another, another ….

Liam’s friend’s – for the love of my brother and for the price of blood – they are paying my sister’s ticket. To America. It is the best option for Tara. In better times she will return. Where, You ask? Home, where else? Before she went she said to me, “I’ll send for food and clothing. They are sending you and the baby to the McCarthy’s in Belfast. Michael’s mother will hide Da and take care of him until he is well enough to join you. I’m sorry we cannot be together but aye must go to spare all of you the price of me head. You know how it goes. Ah Maureen, your tears have you whole. Look at me love. No matter whose blood, the war is won! Do you know why? Maureen McDonough, do you know why? If you cut a root and twist it and plant it even in the good soil it may grow or it may rot. There will always be sun and always dark clouds and always unexpected weather. The mother vine strives above everything; who shaves it? Is it they? Us? Them? They think they own it, and we? What did mother say about the seedlings under mortar shells? Do you remember? Do you recall the risk she took to take it to the streets her talk about hate? Oh here Maureen, cry. Cry, cry, then tell me you are the little seed that will grow into a big tree, no matter what happens. No matter what, I’m coming back. My roots are here. Your soldier may go down today, and for the first time it is I saying, May he be spared the knife.”



Oh, Jesus. I forgot to mention: my soldier with the bleeding leg and special hand whispered something before he left. He looked at me but it was meant for everyone, I think. Then he took the back door to leave from.

In the days and years to come, who knows, maybe Catholic families, and maybe, maybe Protestant families will hear that he said “Sorry.” Whatever he said was like forgiving.

I tell the Story of the Man with a Healing Scar. If I grow to be old, maybe I will hear it told. Maybe then we will not know what war is.


©copyright 2002 Tracy Robinson


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