Usually I go on about words here but today thought I'd share a true story. What's described happened in the small market town of Coleraine in Northern Ireland on June 12th 1973, four days after my 7th Birthday. In my mind it could be yesterday.
'Shared Troubles' was long-listed for the 2012 Irish Times Short Story Award.
“Sit down, it’s just a bomb.”
We did as we were told. Miss. Archibald turned back to the page and resumed the story. Words came out, I heard them, but they were meaningless. She may have been able to make us sit but our minds were always beyond her control. We all watched as the dust cloud rose over our wee town.
Jane Branagh started to cry.
Nigel McElfatrick joined her.
I felt I should too but didn’t, or maybe couldn’t.
Miss. Archibald turned another page.
Friday stories. Most of the kids hated them. Not me, but I never told anyone.
All our Dads worked downtown. Ballantyne's Knitwear and the Shirt Factory. All our Mums shopped downtown. Marks and Spencer, C&A, Gordons Chemists. Perm, blow-dry and gossip on a Friday afternoon then Mum would dash home under a headscarf with a few weekend treats in her shopping bag. Downtown was close. You didn’t need to drive. I once pogo-sticked all the way from our house to The Diamond. That achievement made me part of the gang. Led by Jeremy Watson, the gang was where you wanted to be. Except for now, I just wanted to go home.
I remember thinking that I never knew glass was bendy. How come I never knew that? But after the blast I had seen it warp in the window frame, buckling inwards for a split second before resuming its usual state. I wondered if anyone else had noticed.
Miss. Archibald read on.
There were no sirens and no screams. Downtown was close but not that close. There was silence, except of course for Miss. Archibald. I wished she’d shut-up now.
The cloud, dense at first, started to dissipate and lose form. It was interesting.
I looked at Miss. Archibald. I glanced at the book in her hands. It was shaking. So was her voice.
My Dad worked downtown. My Mum shopped downtown. My sister went to school downtown. Maybe hers did too.
I’d noticed things recently. It wasn’t like it used to be. Stuff I’d only seen on telly had come to visit us. Somebody set fire to the Catholic school up the road. My Dad had to close the factory because some men in balaclavas told him to. Then he was on TV – Scene around Six.
The second blast bent the glass too.
Miss. Archibald stopped reading.
More dust plumed into the air. We all ran to the window, even Miss. Archibald. The school alarm wailed.
“You all know the drill.”
Like soldiers on parade we lined up beside the smelly sinks at the back of the class. We marched out of the room and down the staircase.
We held hands.