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'Tis
Frank McCourt





That's your dream out now.





They told me I had no right to that dream for myself, that anyone could dream about America in the far reaches of the night and there was nothing I could do about it. I told them I could stop them. I'd keep them awake all night and they'd have no dreams at all.





I'd see people at Mass on Sunday morning where a whisper would run through the church when someone with a hunger weakness would collapse in the pew and have to be carried outside by men from the back of the church who'd tell everyone, Stand back, stand back, for the lovea Jaysus, can't you see she's gasping for air, and I wanted to be a man like that telling people stand back because that gave you the right to stay outside till the Mass was over and you could go off to the pub which is why you were standing in the back with all the other men in the first place.





The devil you know is better than the devil you don't know.





All I knew about priests was that they said Mass and everything else in Latin, that they heard my sins in English and forgave me in Latin on behalf of Our Lord Himself who is God anyway. It must be a strange thing to be a priest and wake up in the morning lying there in the bed knowing you have the power to forgive people or not forgive them depending on your mood. When you know Latin and forgive sins it makes you powerful and hard to talk to because you know the dark secrets of the world. Talking to a priest is like talking to God Himself and if you say the wrong thing you're doomed.





Along the New Jersey side of the Hudson River there were hundreds of ships docked tightly together. Owen the sailor said they were Liberty ships that brought supplies to Europe during the war and after and it's sad to think they'll be hauled away any day to be broken up in shipyards. But that's the way the world is, he said, and a ship lasts no longer than a whore's moan.





My God, where did you get those drawers?

In Roche's Stores in Limerick.

If you hung those drawers out the window of this hotel people would surrender.





He goes off to the bathroom but he's no sooner in there than he sticks his head out and asks me if I dried myself.

I did.

Well, your towel isn't touched so what did you dry yourself with?

The towel that's on the side of the bathtub.

What? That's not a towel. That's the bath mat. That's what you stand on when you get out of the shower.





The priest is in the bed and when I come out of the bathroom he tells me, Okay, into the bed. We've got a long day tomorrow.

He lifts the bedclothes to let me in and it's a shock to see he's wearing nothing. He say, Good night, turns off the light and starts snoring without even saying Hail Mary or a prayer before sleep. I always thought priests spent hours on their knees before sleeping but this man must be in a great state of grace and not a bit afraid of dying.





Then I wonder if the Pope himself goes to bed in that condition or if he has a nun bring in pajamas with the Papal colors and the Papal coat of arms. I wonder how he gets out of that long white robe he wears, if he pulls it over his head or lets it drop to the floor and steps out of it. An old Pope would never be able to pull it over his head, and he'd probably have to call a passing cardinal to give him a hand unless the cardinal himself was too old and he might have to call a nun unless the Pope was wearing nothing under the white robe which the cardinal would know about anyway because there isn't a cardinal in the world that doesn't know what the Pope wears since they all want to be Pope themselves and can't wait for this one to die.





It's hard to know what to say to a priest in a bad mood with his back to you who's blaming you for everything so all I can do is go down in the elevator with my suitcase wondering how a man like that who forgives sins can sin himself and blame me. I know if I did something like that getting drunk and bothering people to put their hands on me, I'd say I did it. That's all. I did it. And how can he blame me just because I refused to talk to rich Protestants from Kentucky? Maybe that's the way priests are trained. Maybe it's hard listening to people's sins day in day out when there's a few you'd like to commit yourself and then when you have a drink all the sins you've heard explode inside you and you're like everyone else.





There are days when the girls take off their coats and the way they look in sweaters and blouses is such an occasion of sin I have to lock myself in a toilet cubicle and interfere with myself and I have to be quiet for fear of being discovered by someone, a Puerto Rican busboy or a Greek waiter, who will run to the maître d' and report that the lobby houseman is wankin' away in the bathroom.





Eddie Gilligan says I'm paid two dollars and fifty cents a week more than the dishwashers and I have opportunitites for advancement they'll never have because all they want to do is not learn English and make enough money to go back to Puerto Rico and sit under trees drinking beer and having big families because that's all they're good for, drinking and screwing till their wives are worn out and die before their time and their kids run the streets ready to come to New York and wash dishes and start the whole goddam thing over again...





In America, a torch is called a flashlight. A biscuit is called a cookie, a bun is a roll, Confectionery is pastry and minced meat is ground. Men wear pants instead of trousers... The lift is an elevator and if you want a WC or a lavatory you have to say bathroom even if there isn't a sign of a bath there. And no one dies in America, they pass away or they're deceased and when they die the body, which is called the remains, is taken to a funeral home where people just stand around and look at it and no one sings or tells a story or takes a drink and then it's taken away in a casket to be interred. They don't like saying coffin and they don't like saying buried. They never say graveyard. Cemetery sounds nicer.





Your mind is a treasure house that you should stock well and it's the one part of you the world can't interfere with.





Some old Irishmen tell me there's nothing wrong with hard work. Many a man made his way in America by the sweat of his brow and his strong back and it's a good thing to learn your station in life and not be getting above yourself. They tell me that's why God put the pride at the top of the Seven Deadly Sins so that young fellas like me won't be getting off the boat with big notions. There's plenty of work in this country for anyone who wants to earn an honest dollar with his two hands and the sweat of his brow and no getting above himself.





The army doctors at Whitehall Street don't look at my eyes at all. They tell me read that chart on the wall. They say Okay. They look in my ears. Beep. Can you hear that? Fine. They look in my mouth. Jesus, they say.





This is your rifle, ya listenin' to me, your rifle, not your goddam gun, call this a gun and I'll ram it up your ass, your rifle, soldier, your piece, got that? This is your rifle, your M1, your piece, your girlfriend the rest of your army life. This is what you sleep with. This is what comes between you and the goddam gooks and goddam Chinks. Got that? You hold this goddam piece the way you hold a woman, no, tighter'n a woman. Drop this and your ass is in a sling. Drop this piece and you're in the goddam stockade. A dropped rifle is a rifle that can go off, blow off somebody's ass. That happens, girls, and you're dead, you're fuckin' dead.





It's a surprise on Sunday morning when Di Angelo asks me if I'd like to go to Mass with him, a surprise because you'd think that people who sing the praises of Chinese Communists would never step into church, chaple, or synagogue. On the way to the base chapel he explains the way he feels, that the Church belongs to him, he doesn't belong to the Church, and he doesn't agree with the way the Church acts like a big corporation declaring they own God and it's their right to dole Him out in little bits and pieces as long as people do what they're told by Rome. He sins every week himself by receiving Communion without first confessing his sins to a priest. He says his sins are nobody's business but his and God's and that's who he confesses to every Saturday night before he falls asleep.





Why is it the minute I open my mouth the whole world is telling me they're Irish and we should all have a drink? It's not enough to be American. You always have to be something else, Irish-American, German-American, and you'd wonder how they'd get along if someone hadn't invented the hyphen.





I ask Buck if there are mass graves under the tablets and he says there's no need for mass graves when you burn everyone and that's what they did at Dachau, the sons-of-bitches.

Weber says, Hey, Buck, I didn't know you were Jewish.

No, asshole. Do you have to be Jewish to be human?





Sometimes I think I'd be the best Catholic in the world if they'd only do away with priests and let me talk to God there in the bed.





All the years I grew up in Limerick I watched people go to dances at Cruise's Hotel or the Stella Ballroom. Now I can go myself and I needn't be a bit shy with the girls with my American uniform and my corporal's stripes. If they ask me was I ever in Korea and was I wounded I'll give them a small smile and act as if I don't want to talk about it. I might limp a little and that might be enough of an excuse for not being able to dance properly which I never could anyway.





The girls along the wall laugh even harder. Even the men who can't get anyone to dance with them and spend their time drinking pints are laughing and I know I might as well leave because no one will dance with me after the spectacle I made of myself. I have such a desperate feeling and I'm so ashamed of myself that I want them to feel ashamed and the only way to do that is to put on the limp and hope they'll think it's a war wound but when I hobble toward the door the girls shriel and turn so hysterical with laughter I run down the stairs and into the street so ashamed I want to throw myself into the River Shannon.





He marches to the door and roars down the hall, Apollo, get your ass in here, and there's Apollo's voice, Yes, sir, yes, sir.

You, goddammit, you. Did you supply this unit with this tube?

In a way, sir, yes, sir.

What the hell are you talking about?

He was suffering, sir, screaming with his eye.

How the hell do you scream with your eyes?





When they're not talking about their averages the students argue about the meaning of everything, life, the existence of God, the terrible state of the world, and you never know when someone is going to drop in the one word that gives everyone the deep serious look, existentialism. They might talk about how they want to be doctors and lawyers till one throws up his hands and declares that everything is meaningless, that the only person in the world who makes any sense is Albert Camus, who says your most important act every day is deciding not to commit suicide.





All I have to do is take these women's hats, neutral colors all of them, dip these features into different dye pots, let the feather dry, match the color against the hat, attach feather to hat. Easy, right? Yeah, that's what you'd think, says Mr. Meyer, but when I let some of my Puerto Rican help try this job they come up with color combinations that would blind you...

I want to ask him if there are colors that match and colors that don't but he's gone. I dip feathers into pots and when I attach them to the hats the Puerto Rican women and girls start to giggle and laugh. I finish a batch of hats and they take them to shelves along the walls and bring me another batch. All the time they try not to laugh but they can't help themselves and I can't stop blushing. I try to vary the color schemes by dipping the feathers into different pots for a rainbow effect. I use a feather as a paintbrush and on the other feathers I try to make dots, stripes, sunsets, moons waxing and waning, wavy rivers with fish waggling along and birds roosting, and the women laugh so hard they can't operate the sewing machines...

In three days, Mr. Meyer returns and when he sees the hats he stops inside the door like a man paralyzed. He looks at the women and they shake their heads as if to say there's madness in the world. He says, What did you do? and I don't know what to say back. He says, Jesus. I mean are you Puerto Rican or what?

No, sir.

Irish, right? Yeah, that's it. Maybe you're color blind. I didn't ask you about that. Did I ask you about your color blindness?

No, sir.

If you're not color blind then I don't know how you can explain these combinations. You make the Puerto Ricans look dull, y'know that?





Some girl would let you touch and feel and kiss but they wouldn't let you go all the way and they were know as ninety percenters. There was some hope for ninety percenters but the all-the-way girls had such a reputation no one in town would want to marry them and they were the ones who would pack up one day and go to New York where everyone does everything.





If you had a car and a girl said yes she'd go with you to a drive-in movie you knew she was expecting more than popcorn and the doings up there on the screen. There was no sense in just going for a kiss. You could get that in a regular movie house. The drive-in was where you got the tongue into the mouth and the hand on the breast and if she let you get the nipple, man, she was yours. The nipple was like a key that openes the legs and if you weren't with another couple it was into the backseat and who cared about the goddam movie?

The GIs said there were funny nights when you might be making out but your friend was having trouble in the backseat with his girl who was sitting up and watching the movie or it might be vice versa where your buddy is making out and you're so frustrated you want to explode in your pants. Sometimes your buddy might be finished with his girl and she's ready to take you on and that's pure heaven, man, because not only are you getting laid the one who rejected you is sitting there stonefaced pretending to watch the movie but really listening to you back there and sometimes she can't stand it anymore and climbs on you and you're caught between two broads in the backseat. Goddam.





Then on the way down in the elevator she tells me I said the wrong thing to Grandma, that Grandma is sixty-five and works very hard cooking and keepng the house clean and doesn't like people's smartass remarks about taking a few minutes on the couch.

What I want to say is this, Oh, fuck your grandma and her cooking and cleaning. She has plenty of food and drink and clothes and furniture and hot and cold running water and no shortage of money and what the blooding hell is she complaining about? There are women all over the world raising large families and not whining and there's your grandmother lying on her arse complaining she has to take care of an apartment and a few people. Fuck your grandma again.

That is what I want to say except that I have to swallow my words in case Mike Small might be offended and never see me again and it's very hard going through life not saying what comes to your tongue.





... I looked up and down the river and felt sorry for myself till the sky brightened beyond and the sun coming up traveled from tower to tower turning Manhattan into pillars of gold.





In a way I'm glad her father punched her because she came to me instead of Bob and that surely means she prefers me. Of course Bob is unhappy and in a few days there he is at the door calling me a sneaky little bogtrotter and telling me he's going to break my head but I move my head to one side and his fist crashes into the wall and he has to go to the hospital for a cast.





Zoe says, Make yourself another drink, Frank. That means she wants one, too, and when she tells me to go easy on the Coke, it kills her stomach, I double her rum dosage hoping it will knock her out so that I can have my way with her granddaughter.





Now, surely, with Zoe snoring away in her room Mike will visit my bed but, no, she's too nervous. What if Zoe woke suddenly and discovered us? I'd be out on the road hailing the bus to Providence. It's a torment when Mike comes to kiss good night and even in the dark I know she's in her pink baby doll pyjamas. She won't stay, oh, no, Grandma might hear and I tell her I wouldn't care if God Himself were in the next room. No, no, she says, and leaves, and I wonder what kind of world is this where people will walk away from a chance of a wild fling in the bed.





Most of the vacancies are for vocational high schools and friends have already warned me, Don't go near those vocational high schools. The kids are killers. They'll chew you up and spit you out. Look at the move, The Blackboard Jungle, where a teacher says vocational schools are the garbage cans of the school system and the teachers are there to sit on the lids. See that movie and you'll run in the other direction.





... piece of advice in case you go to graduate school. When you take a course always find out what the professor wrote for his doctoral dissertation on and give it back to him. If the guy specializes in Tennyson's water images then pour it all over him. If the guy specializes in George Berkeley give him the sound of one hand clapping while a tree falls in the forest. How do you think I got through these fucking philosophy courses at NYU? If the guy's a Catholic I give him Aquinas. Jewish? I give him Maimonides. Agnostic? You never know what to tell an agnostic. You never know where you stand with them though you can always try old Nietzsche. You can bend that old fucker any way you like.





There are suggested activities, with insertions penciled in by a former student. Call a family meeting and discuss your family finances with Dad and Mom. Show them from your study of this book how they might improve their bookkeeping. (Insertion, Don't be surprised if they beat you up.) Take a tour of the New York Stock Exchange with your class. (They'll be glad to get out of school for a day.) Think of a product your community might need and start a small company to supply it. (Try Spanish fly.) Write to the Federal Reserve Board and tell them what you think of them. (Tell them leave a little for the rest of us.) Interview a number of people who remember the crash of 1929 and write a one-thousand-word report. (Ask them why they didn't commit suicide.) Write a story in which you explain the gold standard to a ten-year-old child. (It'll help him sleep.) Write a report on what it cost to build the Brooklyn Bridge and what it might cost now. Be specific. (Or else.)





I don't know how I'll be able to stand before these American teenagers and talk to them about the branches of government and preach the virtues of saving when I owe money everywhere myself.





When I call Mike to tell her the good news about the new job she wants to know where I am and gives me a lecture on the stupidity of staying out drinking beer the night before the most important day of my life and I'd better get my ass home if I know what's good for me. Sometimes she talks like her grandmother who always tells you what to do with your ass. Get your ass in here. Get your ass out of that bed.





And what am I supposed to do with this class, the first in my whole teaching career, students of Economic Citizenship, pelting each other with chalk, erasers, bologna sandwiches? When I walk in and place my books on the teacher's desk they'll surely stop throwing things. But they don't. They ignore me and I don't know what to do till the words come out of my mouth, the first words I ever utter as a teacher, Stop throwing sandwiches. They look at me as if to say, Who's this guy?





I pick up Your World and You and tell them, Okay open your books to chapter, ah, what chapter were you up to?

We weren't up to no chapter.

You mean you weren't up to any chapter? Any chapter.

No I means weren't up to no chapter. Miss Mudd didn't teach us nothing.

Miss Mudd didn't teach you anything. Anything.

Hey, teacher, why you repeating everything I'm sayin'? Nothing. Anything.





All right, open your books.

A hand.

What books, teacher?

This book, Your World and You.

We ain't got that book, teacher.

We don't have that book.

There you go again repeatin' everything we say.

We have to speak proper English.

Teacher, this ain't no English class. This is Ecanawmic Cizzenship. We supposed to be learnin' about money an' all an' you ain't teaching us about money.





Put everything away and open your books.

What books?

Whatever books you have for English.

All we got is this Giants in the Earth and that's the most boring book in the world. And the whole class chants, Uh huh, boring, boring, boring.

They tell me it's about some family from Europe out there on the prairie and everyone is depressed and talking about suicide and no one in the class can finish this book because it makes you want to commit suicide yourself.





There are two lines waiting to be served in the kitchen, a boys and a girls. Jake tells me that's one of the big problems, keeping the boys and girls separated. He says they're animals at this age, especially the boys, and it's not their fault. It's nature. If he had his way he'd have the girls in a separate cafeteria altogether. The boys are always strutting and showing off and if two like the same girl there's bound to be a fight. He tells me if there is a fight don't interfere right away. Let the little bastards go at it and get it out of their systems. It's worse in the warm weather, May, June, when the girls take off their sweaters and the boys go tit crazy.





They tell me, We don't want to read no dumb books.

You mean you don't want to read any dumb books.

What?

Oh, nothing. The warning bell rings and they gather up their coats and bags to pile out the door. I have to shout, Sit down. That's the warning bell.

They look surprised, What's up, teacher?

You're not supposed to leave at the warning bell.

Miss Mudd let us leave.

I'm not Miss Mudd.

Miss Mudd was nice. She let us leave. Why you so mean?

They're out the door and I can't stop them. Mr. Sorola is in the hallway to tell me my students are not supposed to leave at the warning bell.

I know, Mr. Sorora. I couldn't stop them.

Well, Mr. McCourt, a little more discipline tomorrow, eh?

Yes, Mr. Sorola.

Is this man serious or is he pulling my leg?





Is this what I'll do the rest of my life, take the subway then the ferry to Staten Island, climb the hill to McKee Vocational and Technical High School, punch in at the time clock, extract a bulge of paper from my mailbox, tell my student class after class day after day, Sit down, please, open your notebooks, take out your pens, you don't have paper? here's paper, you don't have a pen? borrow one, copy the notes on the board, you can't see from there? Joey would you change seats with Brian? come on, Joey, don't be such a, no, Joey, I didn't call you a jerk, I just asked you to change seats with Brian who needs glasses, you don't need glasses, Brian? well, why do you have to move, never mind, Joey, just move, will you? Freddie, put that sandwich away, this isn't the lunchroom, I don't care if you're hungry, no, you can't go to the bathroom to eat your sandwich, you're not supposed to be eating sandwiches in the toilet, what is it, Maria? you're sick, you have to see the nurse? Okay, here's a pass, Diane, would you take Maria to the nurse's office and let me know what the nurse says, no, I know they won't tell you what's wrong with her, I just want to know if she'll be coming back to class, what is it, Albert, you're sick, too? no, you're not, Albert, you just sit there and do your work, you gotta see the nurse, Albert? you're really sick? you have diarrhea? well, here, here's the pass to the boys' room and don't stay there all period, the rest of you finish copying the notes on the board, there will be a test, you know that, don't you? there will be a test, what's that, Sebastian, your pen ran out of ink? well, why didn't you say something? yes, you're saying it now but you could have said it ten minutes ago, oh, you didn't want to interrupt all these sick people? that's nice of you, Sebastian, does anyone have a pen to loan Sebastian? oh, comeone, what's that, Joey? Sebastian is a what? a what? you shouldn't say things like that, Joey, Sebastian sit down, no fighting in the classroom, what's that, Ann? you gotta go? go where, Ann? oh, you got your period? you're right, Joey, she doesn't have to tell the whole world, yes, Daniela? you want to take Ann to the bathroom? why? oh, she don't ah doesn't speak good English, so what does that have to do with her having her? what's that, Joey, you don't think girls should tall like that, easy, Daniela, easy, you don't have to be insulting, what's that, Joey? you're religious and people shouldn't talk like that, okay, easy, Daniela, I know you're defending Ann who needs to go to the toilet, the bathroom, so go, take her there, and the rest of you copy the notes on the board, oh, you can't see, either? you want to move up? okay, move up, here's an empty seat but where's your notebook? you left it on the bus, all right, you need paper, here's paper, you need a pen? here's a pen, you need to go to the bathroom, well, go go go to the bathroom, eat a sandwich, hang out with your friends, Jesus.

Mr. McCoy.

McCourt.

You shun't swear like dat. You shun't say God's name like dat.





All along the avenue there are shops with gourmet foods and if I ever enter such a place I'll have to bring someone who grew up respectable and knows the difference between pâté de foie gras and mashed potatoes. All these shops are obsessed with French and I don't know what they're thinking of, Why can't they say spuds instead of pommes or is it that you pay more for something printed in French?





There's no sense at all looking in the windows of antique furniture shops. They'll never let you know the price of something till you ask and they'll never plant a sign on a chair to tell you what it is or where it came from. Most of the chairs you wouldn't want to sit in anyway. They're so upright and stiff they'd give you such a pain in your back you'd wind up in the hospital. Then there are little tables with curved legs so delicate they'd collapse under the weight of a pint and destroy a priceless carpet from Persia or wherever people sweat for the pleasure of rich Americans.





The man at the Beneficial Finance Company says, Do I detect a brogue? He tells me where his mother and father came from in Ireland and how he plans to visit himself though that's be hard with six kids, ha ha. His mother comes from a family of nineteen. Can you believe that? he says, Nineteen kids. Of course seven died but what the hell. That's how it was in the old days in the Old Country. They had kids like rabbits.





He takes a moment to ask me what I'm doing with my life.

Teaching.

I was afraid of that. I thought you wanted to be a writer.

I do.

So?

I have to earn a living.

You're falling into the trap. I beg you, don't fall into the trap. I nearly fell into it myself.

I have to earn a living.

You'll never write while you're teaching. Teaching is a bitch. Remember Voltaire? Cultivate your garden.

I remember.

And Carlyle? Make money and forget the universe.

I'm earning a living.

You're dying.





I told me students I wanted neat, clean, legible work but they handed in whatever they had scribbled quickly on buses and trains, in shop classes when the teacher wasn't looking, or in the cafeteria. The papers were dotted with the stains of coffee, Coke, ice-cream, ketchup, sneezes, and a lusciousness where girls had blotted their lips. A set of such papers would so irritate me I'd fling them over the side of the ferry and watch with satisfaction while they sank below the water to create a Sargasso of illiteracy.





When they asked for their papers I told them they were so bad that if I had returned them each paper would have been given a zero and would they prefer that to nothing at all?

They weren't sure and when I thought of it I wasn't sure myself. Zero or nothing at all? We discussed it for a whole period and decided that nothing at all was better than zero on your report card because you can't divide nothing at all by anything and you can divide zero if you use algebra or something like that because a zero is something and nothing at all is nothing at all and nobody could argue with that. Also, if your parents see a zero on your report card they're upset, the ones who care, but if they see nothing they don't know what to think and it's better to have a father and mother who don't know what to think than a father and mother looking at a zero and giving you a punch upside your head.





The official said, Do you promith to love, honor, cherith? and I struggled to keep myself from laughing. How could I survive this wedding conducted by a man with such a powerful lisp? I'd have to think of some way of controlling myself. That's it. The umbrella on my arms. Oh, God, I'll fall apart. I'm caught between the lisp and the umbrella and I can't laugh. Alberta would kill me for laughing at our own wedding. You're allowed to weep with joy but you must never laugh and here I am made helpless by this man with the lisp, promithing thith and that...





In the summer of 1963, Mam called to say she had a letter from my father. He claimed he was a new man, that he hadn't had a drink in three years and worked now as a chef in a monastery.

I told her if my father was a monastery chef the monks must have been on a permanent fast.





Instead of going home after that class I took the subway to West Ninety-sixth Street in Manhattan and called my mother from a street telephone.

Would you like to have a snack?

I don't know. Where are you?

I'm a few blocks away.

Why?

I just happened to be in the neighborhood.

Visiting Malachy?

No. Visiting you.

Me? Why should you be visiting me?

For Christ's sake, you're my mother and all I wanted to do was invite you out for a snack. What would you like to eat?

She sounded doubtful. Well, I love them jumbo shrimps they have in the Chinese restaurants.

All right. We'll have jumbo shrimps.

But I don't know if I'm able for them this minute. I think I'd prefer to go to the Greeks for a salad.

All right. I'll see you there.

...

She ordered her feta salad and when I asked her if she liked it she said she loved it, she could live on it.

Do you like cheese?

What cheese?

The goat cheese.

What goat cheese?

The white stuff. The feta. That's goat's cheese.

'Tis not.

'Tis.

Well, if I knew that was goat cheese I'd never touch it because I was attacked by a goat once out in the country in Limerick and I'd never eat a thing that attacked me.

It's a good thing, I told her, you were never attacked by a jumbo shrimp.





The nurse took the child to a corner to clean and wash her and when she finished beckoned that I might now see my daughter with her red astonished face and her black feet.

The soles of her feet were black.

God, what kind of birthmark have you inflicted on my child? I couldn't say anything to the nurse because she was black and might be offended that I didn't find my daughter's black feet attractive. I had a vision of my child as a young woman lolling on a beach, lovely in a bathing suit, but forced to wear socks to conceal her disfigurement.





... I called Malachy to tell him the good news, that a child had been born but that she was afflicted with black feet. He laughed in my ear and told me I was an ass, that the nurse probably took footprints instead of fingerprints.





Happy the man whose wish and care
A few paternal acres bound
Content to breathe his native air,
In his own ground

Alexander Pope
Ode on Solitude





When Malachy calls at three in the morning he doesn't have to say the words. All I can do is make a cup of tea the way Mam did at unusual times and sit up in bed in a dark darker than darkness knowing by now they've moved her to a colder place, that gray fleshly body that carried seven of us into the world. I sip my hot tea for the comfort because there are feelings I didn't expect. I thought I'd know the grief of the grown man, the fine high mourning, the elegiac sense to suit the occasion. I didn't know I'd feel like a child cheated.

I'm sitting up in the bed with my knees pulled to my chest and there are tears that won't come to my eyes but beat instead like a small sea around my heart.

For once, Mam, my bladder is not near my eye and why isn't it?





He says we could do it for eighteen hundred dollars, embalming, viewing, cremation. Malachy asks why we have to pay for a coffin if it's going to be burned anyway and the man says it's the law.

Then, says Malachy, why can't we just put her in a Hefty trash bag and leave her outside for collection?

We all laugh and the man has to leave the room for a while.





Maggie kneels by me, looking on her grandmother, the first dead body in her ten years. She has no vocabulary for this, no religion, no prayer, and that's another sadness. She can only look at her grandmother and say, Where is she now, Dad?

If there's a heaven, Maggie, she's there and she's queen of it.

Is there a heaven, Dad?

If there isn't, Maggie, I don't understand God's ways.



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