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A beautiful feeling of lassitude overcame me when I got back to my room. There was nothing to do, nothing to be done. I locked myself in a wardrobe once. The self-imposed sentence was to be for twelve hours, a punishment for a sin that probably deserved much longer incarceration. At first the feeling of shame was so strong that I felt I would have no difficulty serving the full sentence but gradually the smell of my socks became an impediment to my resolve and when I began breaking wind, farting that is, well... I jumped out of the wardrobe. There was no jailer, no-one to answer to, no-one to attach the electric prongs. I had only the rest of my life to suffer for what I had done. We had planned to kill a fellow at school, my friend O'Rathaille and me. I can go back to that time so easily. It is as fresh as the air. It's three minutes to nine. The Amhran na bhFiann is playing, a scratchy record broadcast through a tannoy system. I was standing in the narrow alley by the toilets. Everything paused during the anthem. Nothing stirred, even the crows, sensing something odd, stopped pecking around at discarded crusts of bread and Tayto bags. The only movement came from the slow ascent of the tricolour up the narrow pole, white but speckled with spots of rust. I watched it and then the sky above it, wishing that such a pausing of time would last longer. The music of the Soldier's Song blared through the rusty loudspeakers. Some of the boys muttered the words of the song. With a kind of panic I realised that I didn't know every single word in the lyrics of our national anthem. If a Brother were to interrogate me it could lead to quite a beating. I felt like a prisoner somewhere in South America only for the cold. The music stopped. The flag was up. Boys suspended over bicycles and heavy schoolbags sprang back to life and a few thousand bodies hurtled at a variety of destinations. I didn't move. I liked the sky over the roofs too much. It was so silent and far away. I don't understand much about life, was the ponderous thought that crept into me at that moment.
We were going to kill a fellow called Mac Murthaigh. He had a large head way out of proportion with the rest of his body. He had no eyebrows. The nose was an obscenity. His baby elephant ears would hold him up if we threw him from the top of the old science building. That's what O'Rathaille said. We had thought about it often. Mac Murthaigh was obnoxious. It would be wrong to kill a fellow just because of his appearance. Mac Murthaigh was a squealer, or a snitch as Philip Marlow might say. He even invented stories about us to tell the Brothers so he would remain in their favour. We were sitting in the cattle wagons, planning. There is more than one way to skin a rabbit, said O'Rathaille. That was good, it made me smile. I guessed he got it from his uncle, Fatty Boyle the Butcher, knife dripping blood, amusing the women in his shop.
Mac Murthaigh deserves to die, of that we have no doubt, he has been sentenced by this court. He had informed the Brother that we had gone on the hop on Thursday afternoon and saw us coming out of the Savoy from a film called Pancho Villa starring Telly Savalas. Telly Savaaaaaalas, said the Brother before proceeding to beat us within an inch of our lives, hitting us with everything that came to hand, including his hands, the leather, the leg of an old chair and a broken hurley with a bit of rusty binding on the bas. The way he said Telly Savaaaaaalas though was almost worse than the beating. He had all the info as O'Rathaille said; that rat, that dirty squealer, what's the word again? Snitch, I said. Yeah, that snitch had all the evidence; he probably wrote it down in his jotter; The Savoy, Thursday afternoon, 5.15, Pancho Villa starring Telly Savalas... He deserves to die. It seemed true at that time. There were some human beings who didn't deserve to live. We were convinced of it, as convinced as if the Brother himself had informed us of that ethic in his twelve o'clock religion class. We had become obsessed by death because of certain reading material O'Rathaille had taken from his grandmother's shelf and because of a string of films we had seen along with Pancho Villa while on the hop. A Fistful of Dynamite and Guns of the Magnificent Seven, Death everywhere. Every evening without fail, the hearses crawled up Shandon St. from The O'Connor Brothers Funeral Parlour to the Cathedral, grim files of men walking behind. Ambulances appeared on the streets. Corpses were carted out on stretchers with blood red plastic. That was a particularly hard winter. Death on the wind, the tolling of the death bell, the humming of the rosary, the black crepe on doorknockers, death in the ghoulish faces of asthmatic old men and old women, black flag raised. Favourite films like Psycho, the original version, and The Shining, were never far from our debates about life. How will we do it? I said to O'Rathaille in our cattle wagon on the shunting line which served as H.Q. We'll tie him to the railway tracks, he laughed. No, seriously, we'll lure him into the Glen. We'll tell him there's a treasure chest. Then we'll bash in his head with a shovel and dump the body in the lime pits. What lime pits? I asked rather foolishly. You don't understand at all, he said.
I was sitting on the long brown bench in the bicycle shed looking at a group of boys playing basketball but didn't feel like joining in. A group of senior students were huddled in a herd looking scared, looking cool, looking any way you want in the circumstances. O'Rathaille sat beside me. I hadn't seen him for days. I'd forgotten all about the sentence of death on Mac Murthaigh. Our next door neighbour, Sleepy Joe was dying, a walking corpse, an expectorating stiff. I'd got the expression from one of O'Rathaille's grandmother's books with a hardboiled detective in it called Sam Spade. O'Rathaille was eating a cream doughnut like a pig. He wiped his lips on his sleeve. He's over there by the wall, he said. Who? Mac Murthaigh, the walking stiff. I don't believe it, I said, you just read my mind. It was my first experience of telepathy but O'Rathaille didn't understand what I meant. He thought I also was thinking about killing Mac Murthaigh, something that hadn't entered my mind for days. That game was over. Come on, said O'Rathaille, it's time we put our plan into action. I looked away. I couldn't bear to look at Mac Murthaigh, pinching and shoving fellows around like a big fool, a baby, and his mouth that never stopped moving and his big, stupid leering head. I looked away over the grimy red brick and dirty black slate of the buildings. There was a sharp rise of ground behind the school that reached a cluster of trees, planted to protect the playing fields from the wind. I looked over the trees at the clear blue wintry sky and it looked so far away. The gods of Winter were gathered in the trees. They gazed down on us and our battered rooftops. What dimensions beyond my simple understanding, what worlds existed beyond my perception. I felt like a brain damaged prisoner, the victim of the worst kinds of torture. I walked home through the streets. There was a Gothic atmosphere. The deities of Winter populated every grey inch of the smoky streets. I couldn't figure out if they were good or evil, though I was inclined towards the latter option. I passed the Cathedral gates, in my ears the noise of Sleepy Joe dying, barking like a fox and screaming with pain. From the Cathedral grounds a funeral crowd was dispersing noisily. The heavy slow peal of the death knell fell on their heads. I saw Fatty Boyle the Butcher, nothing unusual as it was well known he attended nearly every funeral there was. It was as good a social event as any and free. What mystified me though was the way he was roaring with laughter, his breath flying out of his mouth onto the damp, grey air, as though he had just stepped out of The Pavilion or the Palace Cinema after a Carry On movie; Carry On Dying. I looked across the Cathedral yard and into the supernatural yellow gloom of the interior through the open oak doors. It was an amazing building and the altar seemed such a long way up, up the long, long marble aisle to where the coffin stood on its brassy carriage with tall candles lit all around it. The chief mourners were waiting for the nod. I went down Tower St. and sat on a kerb under the shadows of the brewery. The tang of the hops and yeast was not unpleasant. O'Rathaille came along and sat on the kerb beside me. He produced a couple of crumpled looking woodbines and a box of matches. We lit up and puffed out clouds of tough tobacco smoke. Poor old Mac Murthaigh, he said. What about him now...I was going to tell him to drop all that dopey talk about killing Mac Murthaigh when he said; Looks like we don't have to bump him off afterall. His old fellow's going to beat us to it. Go on, why? O'Rathaille said that Mac Murthaigh had taken his father's bicycle down to the shops and when he was in the shops the bike was stolen. I laughed suddenly, seeing the funny side of things. There's always a funny side said O'Rathaille. I need a drink I said puffing on the woodbine trying to sound like a bandit in Pancho Villas' band of brigands. We finished the cigarettes and counted out our money. We had enough between us for a flagon of cider. We trotted over to the Bargeman on the Lower Lane Road. O'Rathaille went into the snug and returned in a minute with the flagon wrapped in a brown paper bag. We looked all around like thieves and then ran along the streets to the railway line and up into our H.Q. where we settled down, caught a breath and began to pass the flagon back and forth. It was better than going to see A Fistful of Dynamite again because we could sit there drinking in the cow shitty wagon talking in James Coburn's Irish accent.
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