At Swim, Two Boys Part 64

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Jim answered, "Doyle, sir. Citizen Army."

"So it is," said the officer. "May God rest his soul. He would best be removed to a hospital. I'll detail two men."

MacMurrough said, "No. He's a soldier. He'll be coming inside."

The officer looked him up and down. "Do you say so?"

"So," said MacMurrough. He bent down again to Doyler. His hand passed through the scrag of his hair and under his head. The man with the prayer had closed his eyes. Gently again he lifted his body. The pain seared up his arm to sway his head. He looked at Jim, who cold and unseeing stared. "Come now, my dear," he said. "We'll bring him in now."


They were walking as they had often walked, dosey-doe together, with his arm round Jim's neck and Jim's head bending to his shoulder. He said, Will I tell you a story of Johnny Magorey? Tell so, said Jim. But he didn't tell. His arm squeezed a pinch and he danced out ahead. Jim had a notion of his shirt loose in the wind and his black hair flowing. Then he dipped below the sand dunes. Come on, Jim heard him calling-Slow as a wet week, so y'are. Amn't I coming, said Jim.

It was a place they knew very well, where they always came to swim, though when Jim tried he could not think the name. Doyler was already tugging off his clothes. Jim was far too fond to watch. He just smiled in the direction the shirt dazzled, where the gleaming black hair coursed in the wind. Are you straight, Jim Mack? Straight as a rush, Jim told him. Come on with me so. He was out in the waves where the breakers rolled and the sound came like far away. Will I tell you a story of Johnny Magorey? There isn't any story, Jim told him laughing. Not much, said Doyler. His hand held out, and Jim reached for it, but he tricked it away and Jim pushed through a wave.

He dived under his legs and came back on the surface with his feet on the sand. Doyler was gone, and for a moment Jim couldn't find him. Then he saw him back over by the dunes and he ran out of the water shouting, Doyler! Where you going?

It was hard work climbing them dunes and when Jim got to the brim he saw that Doyler was gone even farther away. He was walking up this slope, just walking up this slope, and Jim didn't think if he'd ever catch him. Doyler! he called. Doyler, will you wait a minute! He was getting angry now and he called out, I'm not following you any more! But Doyler kept to his walking. Please stop, Jim cried. Won't you stop it now? Doyler, please, you can't leave me! Don't leave me here!


He sat up bolt on the floor. His breath drew fast and shallow. Men coughed in the dark, they moved in their sleep. By the door the sentry horse-like stamped. He smelt the reek of slop-pails. From very close behind, MacEmm said, "Are you all right, Jim?"

Jim nodded. He felt the miss of something in his hand, and he started, checking for his Webley. But the British of course had that taken from him. He leant back on MacMurrough's shoulder and MacMurrough's arm came round his side. They seemed alone in the vaulting barrack hall: a curtain of dark removed the other prisoners. He had that way, did MacEmm, of finding a place apart, or just by being there making it apart.

"MacEmm, I'm frightened," Jim said.

"Yes, my dear," said MacMurrough, sounding tired and low, "we're all a bit frightened now that it's over."

"No, I'm frightened if they don't shoot us."

MacEmm's arm gave a squeeze of his side. "Nobody's going to be shot now."

"They will too be shot," said Jim. "But I'm worried they won't shoot me. They'll say I'm too young or something and I'll be left out."

"You're being silly, Jim. We're prisoners of war. There's nothing like shooting going to happen."

"You don't understand."

"Well, what is it so?"

"I know what I'll become if they let me go. And I don't know can I bear to be that."

"You'll be a schoolteacher, of course."

Jim thought of that a while, trying to make sense of the sound of the word. A school, a teacher, schoolteachering. "I suppose there will be such things," he said. "All that will go on, I suppose. But it won't for me."

He leant on his elbow, looking up at MacMurrough's face. "You know, don't you, MacEmm, what I'll be. I'll be ruthless with them. I'll shoot them easy as stones. I won't never give up. I'll be a stone myself. Tell me you know that." MacMurrough's hand just patted him. "If you loved me, you'd tell me."

"You're tired, Jim. You'll feel better in the morning."

Jim weighed his head again on the shoulder. "I don't know why you won't tell me."

MacMurrough's hand come round his chest. It fiddled with his shirt buttons, doing them up. "You'll be a schoolteacher," he said. "I'll find an island where we'll live. A small island all to ourselves. There'll be sand and dunes and cliffs. We shall call it Noman. Do you know why we shall call it Noman?"

"Go on so."

"Because no man is an island. Listen to me now. We'll have a cow and a pig and hens. We'll go swimming every day. The weather will be atrocious. I shall smoke a pipe."

"And who'll I teach on an island all to ourselves?"

"There'll be other islands convenient with whole families of gurriers crying out for pandies."

Jim smiled, feeling the crack in his face. He was kind was MacEmm to think of these things. And he would try to be with him on his island when he could. But he wouldn't be swimming no more. He would be a stone and he would sink. He knew it annoyed MacEmm, him speaking this way, but he could not help it, and he said, "You know I'll be a stone. Why won't you tell me you know, if you love me?"

"Shush now, Jim. There's men trying to sleep."

"You don't love me at all."

The arm came tightly round and the hand pressed upon his heart. MacEmm's breath was in his ear, telling him it would pass, it would all pass, it would one day be over. "You won't forget any of it, my dear, I promise you that. But you'll swim again and smile. I swear it."

But no, it would never be over, Jim knew. This was only the beginning. They had to do this to learn how to hate. They had forgotten to hate the British. Now they'd learn. And they wouldn't be playing soldiers no more. Next time would be murder. And he'd murder every last one till they were gone of his country. That he would. "Every last one," he told MacMurrough. "And still I'll kill them. I'll kill them for fun if there was any fun to be had."

"Stop it, Jim. You'll get no comfort thinking that way. It's not what anyone would have wanted. Not anyone," MacMurrough repeated, holding Jim tightly still.

"Sure don't I know," said Jim, and he heard his voice flinty and frail. "He'd never want me this way. Nor you too, MacEmm. That's why I hope they'll shoot us all. I don't know can I bear to become what I'll be."

"You'll be my lovely boy," said MacMurrough, "and you'll grow to be my lovely man. That's all now. You must try get some sleep." He bent down and kissed Jim's head, pulling his fingers through the drag of his hair. Then he laid back his own head against the wall.

The smell of smoke and burning oils wafted in the window draughts. He would murder this minute for a cigarette. A Rosary was being told by some of the men and he listened a while to the soft-spoke rhyme. Every now and then his hand lifted of itself and patted the boy's side. He was settling at last, curled inside MacMurrough's shoulder.

Distantly, intermittently, a Mauser barked-some kid on the roofs who had not heard, or would not heed, the general surrender. It was told Pearse and Connolly yet lived, though it was difficult to conceive anyone's surviving the GPO. Those last nights the conflagration had helled all Dublin.

"Think of it," the woman they called Madam had said to him while they watched the fires from the Surgeons roof: "that's not Rome burning, that's Dublin."

And yes, there was a certain grandeur to it. "When this is over," MacMurrough had murmured, "they'll crucify us."

"Won't they!" Madam replied.

And MacMurrough had quizzed her face, under the blue startling light of a British flare, this incongruous banditta who was officer second-in-command of their troop: like no one so much as his aunt, but his aunt corrected, unfettered to the past.

"Will they see this from Glasthule?" Jim had broke in.

"They will, my dear." Yes, they would be crowding Killiney Hill for their view.

"My poor father."

MacMurrough had seen him then, Mr. Mack in his straw boater, up on the Hill, among the crowd but not of it, an eavesdrop on the general consternation, his eyes never shifting from the flickering sky; and the words muttered on his great fatherful face, Jim, my son James, Jim, my son James, while the fires burnt, the fires of Dublin, Dublin burning. MacMurrough had felt the terrible onus to survive. while the fires burnt, the fires of Dublin, Dublin burning. MacMurrough had felt the terrible onus to survive.

Though in its way, a childish Irish way, it had proved a civil enough fight for them at the Surgeons. Unofficial lulls thrice daily for the Angelus; the decided ceasefire every morning, eleven sharp, when the park-keeper fed the ducks in the Green. Childish too the caprice of their rations: finest plum jam but no bread to scrape it on, tea brewed of cabbage water, cake. And a kid-soldier who stopped MacMurrough to inquire were they winning: "Only," said he, "I never been in a revolution before." The bombardment of the GPO had fascinated MacMurrough: the annunciatory puffs of smoke and the flames that roared to greet them; then the crashing gun's report, the shell's eruption-an illogical sequence, effect before cause, an object lesson in the madness of war. In the incomparable weather of that week, under that bluest of skies after the Tuesday rain, the domes and spires of the city's soul had seemed curious idlers watching a quarrel.

And they too had seemed idlers who watched from the Surgeons roof. All week had grown a sense of disengagement. The occasional fire fight, bloody at times, but mostly the hours of waiting, of potshots and Rosaries. Typical to find oneself in the unfashionable end of a rising. For one by one the British had cut off the rebel outposts. Surrounded them, and more or less disregarded them; to concentrate their ire on the GPO, where the flag flew over Connolly and Pearse, the genius perhaps and certainly the heart of the fight.

The order to surrender came on the Sunday morning. There was some rankling among a part of the men who fabulously all week had sustained the persuasion that all was well. MacMurrough found Jim in the makeshift chapel in the college anatomy-room, where the rebel dead were laid out on slabs. He was staring with that unblinking gaze that newly had come upon his face. A dust of rubble powdered his cheeks, and he stony and still the way a tear would crack him. "Come, my dear," MacMurrough said. "We must leave him now."

"What will happen?"

"He'll be treated with respect, I'm sure. They're soldiers."

"I mean with us."

"Well, we'll be prisoners."

"I see."

His rosary beads had dropped by his side and MacMurrough crouched to pick them up.

"You can keep them," the boy said. "I won't be needing beads no more."

The British marched them through the streets. All hungry Dublin crowded the way. In all that taunting spitting mob one man gravely had lifted his hat. That little, lovely, silent act recalled MacMurrough to Wilde, when Wilde too had been paraded for the crowd. And MacMurrough had wondered could there truly be something to this business-that stooping so utterly low one should rise again to gain all.

Now the British held them prisoner, in their temporary jail, a barracks hall. MacMurrough lay against the wall and Jim lay sleeping on his chest. They stretched ahead, the years, of military confinement, convict labor. How many, he wondered, would the British shoot? If yet they lived, Connolly and Pearse, they were walking dead. They said his aunt was dead. Caught in a cross fire at the Castle, they said. MacMurrough reached his hand in his pocket where he kept Jim's beads. There was a comfort in the childhood shapes, the aves and gauds that rolled in his fingers.

He remembered the moment in the street with a dream like vividity. He had grabbed Jim's rifle and fumbled to fire it. The bullets everywhere zipped driftingly by. He had taken a breath, and in its inspiration he heard his aunt's voice telling him again and again to be brave, to be proud. Then he had felt it, all about him, the wind of the beat of magnificent wings. Here was splendor at last, splendor indeed, splendor enough for a lifetime. In that confusion of senses, it was no wonder if the rifle sighted by ear. He picked up the boy's body in his arms and the shreds of a heart walked beside him.

When later in the week they brought him news of his aunt, he had not needed to be told, for the scene had revealed itself while about him that wind had beat. She was slumped on a Castle balcony, her death-face grim and ghosted still with exhilaration. Shorty lay beside her, though whether he had given his pistol for her to fire, or she had seized it from him, he was now too mum to tell, indominatably . . .

MacMurrough brought his hand to his head where the ache all week had not ceased. He closed his eyes, and wove through the pain till he summoned the form of an island home. He would build that home for Jim. Brick by brick he would build it. He had never built before, but now he would begin. He wished to God it would all be over. It was tedious of the British to delay him this way. He wanted to be making a start, to build.

It was true what Jim said, this wasn't the end but the beginning. But the wars would end one day and Jim would come there then, to the island they would share. One day surely the wars would end, and Jim would come home, if only to lie broken in MacMurrough's arms, he would come to his island home. And MacMurrough would have it built for him, brick by brick, washed by the rain and the reckless sea. In the living stream they'd swim a season. For maybe it was true that no man is an island: but he believed that two very well might be.

Jim's eyes had fallen closed, and when he opened them again morning already blew through the curtains. Will I tell you a story of Johnny Magorey? Jim looked from the bed and there he was, sitting on the window-sill. What are you doing here? Jim said. Get up out of that, Doyler told him, sure it's a grand day out.

It was too. A bluey smoky morning where the dew on the grass looked live and lovely. Doyler dropped on the lawn and Jim slipped out through the window behind him.

Who's that, your man inside with you? Oh sure you know, said Jim shyly. Doyler grinned, but Jim didn't look at him grinning. He didn't need to, the grin was all round him. Will I tell you a story of Johnny Magorey? Tell me so, said Jim.

Will I begin it? said Doyler laughing. That's all that's in it, he laughing said.

Oh sure that grin. Oh sure that wonderful saucerful grin. Jim sat on the grass and he plucked at the blades. He knew for certain sure that Doyler would be turning from him again. He said, You'll be walking away from me soon, won't you now? There was no answer. Jim plucked the grass and stared beyond where the waves broke on the island shore. He said, I wish if you wouldn't, Doyler. It does break my heart when you walk away.

Old pal o' me heart, said Doyler.

But already he had turned, and he was walking away. Walking that slow dreadful slope with never a leaf or a stone. Walking; and though Jim tried to keep pace, he could not, and sometimes he called out, Doyler! Doyler! but he never heard or he did not heed, only farther and farther he walked away. And when Jim woke from these dreams, if he did not remember, he knew he had dreamt, for the feeling inside him of not feeling at all. And it was hard then to make his day, hard to make anything much save war; and those years that followed had plenty war.

After a time he learnt to harbor the share of his heart was left him, and he did not look for Doyler, not in crowds nor the tops of trams, nor in the sudden faces of lads he trained and led to fight. Even in his dreams he did not look for him, but stared at the sea while behind him he knew Doyler so dreadfully walked away; and after he woke he stayed where he lay, fingering the revolver he kept by his side.

He never looked again for his friend, until one time, though it was years to come, years that spilt with hurt and death and closed in bitter most bitter defeat, one time when he lay broken and fevered and the Free State troopers were hounding the fields, when he lay the last time in MacMurrough's arms, and MacEmm so tightly held him close: his eyes closed as he drifted away, and that last time he did look for his friend. Doyler was far far away on his slope, and his cap waving in the air. "What cheer, eh?" he called.

At Swim, Two Boys Part 64

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At Swim, Two Boys Part 64 summary

You're reading At Swim, Two Boys Part 64. This novel has been translated by Updating. Author: Jamie O'Neill already has 156 views.

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