For the Love Of Erin
By J.L. Casey
Brian sat by the window of his apartment, a cigarette burned in his fingers as he watched the street below. He looked down at the paper beside him, Remembering Bloody Sunday. He’d forgotten it was the anniversary. His chest tightened, memories of the long ago day came back to him. The morning was as clear as yesterday.
The traffic was moving slow. Brian’s father hadn’t turned on the radio. After listening to them argue about whether to go to church, even an awkward silence was welcomed. His mother was a devout Catholic. She was going to be a nun, until she met his father. Her big childlike eyes shown her faith and innocent trust in God. That day they were filled with something more, honor and determination. The anxiety in his father hadn’t penetrated her.
Brian’s Sunday best made him itch, though every attempt to scratch was swatted away by his mother’s hand. For this trip, she’d joined him in the backseat of their '71 Citroen Duck. Father turned off the car, but no one moved for the door. The yelling in the street around them made Brian fearful. He could see large signs being carried but was unable to understand their meanings. Bottles were thrown in the street at the families walking toward the large stone church. He looked to his father for reassurance…all he found was trepidation.
“Bridget?” Father said, “Please?” He was begging.
“I’m sorry Patrick” she said softly, she knew how deep his love for them ran. Always reminded by his hard work and gentle eyes, but she couldn’t give in. “They aren’t going to frighten me away from the house of God.” Her tone stayed calm even as her eyes met his in the rear view mirror.
His father got out of the car, pulling his seat forward offering a hand to help his wife. She took in a deep breath and stepped out. His parents stood outside for a moment, talking though he couldn’t make out the words over the angry mob only yards away. They embraced-for a moment the shouting in the background seemed to fade away, the barricades more distant. A dozen other families walked behind them through a barrage of black hoods.
Lost in his thoughts for a moment before his Mother opened the door and held her hand out; it closed around his own. Her grasp was powerful but gentle, firm and filled with love. As he looked up his eyes caught hers and for a moment he saw her strength and endurance, an immortal heroine in his eyes. She guided him out of the car as he looked at her and he wasn’t afraid. Nothing bad would happen to him, her face told him so.
His father’s eyes darted through the mob obviously not as sure of their safety; his faith was weak in comparison to his wife’s. His true love was his family. His blood and sweat was the price of giving them everything they needed. He never complained and even after his long days in the fields, he found enough time to go fishing with his son. Brian’s memory shot back to an early morning he shared with his father sitting on the front steps of their small home.
“…Sometimes it’s hard to follow ALL of God’s rules, so it’s a good thing we have your mother to make up for it” smiling as he took a sip of his coffee and continued, “She’s a good woman- she has enough faith to get us all into heaven.”
They made their way toward the church with families just like their own, all of them walking alongside each other. Some praying as the violence along the barricades escalated. As the shouting got louder Brian glanced at his mother; her eyes never left the old stone church in front of her. The stairs so grand and intricate it could’ve been the gateway to heaven. He thought she looked like an angel and smiled softly. She squeezed his hand as if to acknowledge his smile. They entered the church and for a while the chaos outside disappeared, even Father seemed to calm himself as the Priest spoke the word of God. At the end of the service, his Father grabbed his hand and they walked out of the church. A group of protesters had made their march to the center of town. The streets were full as far as Brian could see. The sight was awe inspiring until a shot rung out, beginning a barrage of gunfire. Everything was in slow motion and Brian couldn’t see. His father had covered him, his full weight bearing down on his frail six-year-old frame. He yelled for him again and again. A searing pain burning his chest like nothing he’d felt before. It was an eternity before the fighting silenced. He heard his Mother coming toward him, but something was wrong. She was screaming, the terror in her voice echoed even now. It was then he realized why his father hadn’t answered. His blood covered Brian’s little hand mixing with his own as he touched his chest.
Almost twenty-seven now, it was another Sunday and he was protecting the entry to the same church. He‘d only been there twice after Bloody Sunday, once for his father's funeral and eight months later for his Mother's as well.
He was done for the day and sat in a worn chair as he watched a news crew on the sidewalk interviewing a shop owner. His one room apartment looked out onto the busy street and in the distance he could see the muted sun bleached bricks that made up the bell tower of the church.
He flicked his cigarette ashes into the full ashtray. His bare chest revealed a small round scar, left by a bullet from the gunman who had taken his Father’s life.
There were no British troops this time only protesters from both sides. His was the only unit in the street. He’d done this a dozen times with no threat to the peaceful protestors. When the sound first echoed in the street he thought it was a car backfiring and startled when another shot fired into the crowd beginning another battle on the streets of Derry. It didn’t last as long, Brian shot down the sniper in the bell tower, but not before his best friend Conner took a bullet protecting a family much like his own.
Brian took another long drag off his cigarette while he poured two shot glasses of Irish whiskey; numb to the burn as he swallowed the first shot and snuffed out his cigarette. He reached for the second shot. "To you Conner," he mumbled quietly and paused. The tattoo on his right forearm caught his attention; he studied the large black letters as though he’d never seen them before. What did they mean? The day they were put on him, the letters meant he would be a hero, a soldier dedicated to a United Ireland. A voice and a weapon for men like his father. The letters meant he would be the avenger of the innocent lives taken that faithful day. He was the hope for the future. He gulped hard as he swallowed his second shot.
Today the letters meant watching the life drain from a brother in arms.
IRA FOR LIFE
J.L. Casey resides in Topeka KS with her husband and 3 children and is currently working on her first novel. Contact J.L.