The Quotable

And Oh, the Fun they had that Friday Night

(read an interview with the author about this story)

I watch from the lowest step of the stairs, hearing the hallway ring with warm Autumn busyness.

Sunset sends an amber light through the front door glass— framed in a flurry of sleeves and scarves, in a scurry of protests and sighs, there is my mother, always on exasperation’s edge, coercing my brothers into heavy jackets, nagging them into gloves and hats.

Held in cloth of yellow light I sit and listen and slowly lace my new black shoes—my mother’s voice, my brothers’ hoarse laughter, their stubborn feet upon the wooden floor.

My mother sighs; the line is crossed, exasperation reached.

She abandons the hats and gloves where they lie. My brothers will brave the Autumn cold like real little men.

She turns to me, face lined, haggard, her look a challenge: how will you make my day worse?

But on the steps I stand: silent, defiant. I am ready. I wear my best for this night.

For this night I am naked.

Rough hands rose in the dark, took my clothing from me; bursting buttons, ripping seams, stripping me to nothing. Less than nothing.

In the darkness I stand, waiting, knowing they will return.

I look down at the forlorn clothing, riven into rags, trampled into the dry uneven concrete floor by muck-shod feet.

No matter. They will not be worn again.

Soon I will have no body to wear them.

My mother takes me by the hand and leads me down the garden path, out into the street.

My brothers run on ahead, calling to each other, calling to their friends marching in the crowd with us. All marching down the street together.

The Autumn sun abdicates, surrendering light to the street lamps, their heads bowing, bathing us orange, bathing us amber. Throwing shadows long and black.

I look up at my mother. The lines on her face know no peace — stark, sitting in furrows, shadowing her eyes and mouth.

Though our hands are clasped together, the gap is still between us, and I know I will never know this woman.

As different as the black and amber.

The crowd carries us on; around me voices rise.

Around me soft noises: the rattle of a key, the dull clunk of a handle turned, heavy boots scraping, the yawn of an iron door opened.

No point in crying out for help. I know who lies beyond that door and what they want with me. I know no help will come.

Long I’ve made my lonely peace.

A switch cracks; electric light lurches into life, casting anaemic amber light upon my surroundings. Black shadows flung—faces in the doorway hidden from me.

Look at my bruised nakedness, this decrepit gauntness captivity has inflicted upon me. I do not know this body—these skin and bones of strangeness.

Taken by the arms they lead me out, down the path and into unforgiving night.

At Gallows Hill the crowd wheels right, marching nine abreast down that sloping way. Deferent street lamps glow their amber honour guard, making all our flesh in unison glow.

The butcher, Kenny, is talking loudly to my mother. I catch only a few of his slurred, drink-heavy words.

“They’ll be puttn’a yoke on’m now, s’pose,” he says, pointed finger weaving. “Ah sure bless’m, ah bless’m sure’t has to be done, has to be done.”

His massive hand is on her shoulder; I see the hook-thumb stroke discretely. I feel the air thickening with things unsaid.

Red-faced, the butcher stutters: “And we’ll—we’ll—” the back of his hand along his lips, beer spattering on the tarmac. “And then there’ll be time—” he breathes.

Something changes in her grip, the hand that holds mine stiffens and electric unease passes between us.

Those things unsaid. I want no part of them.

Mother does not meet his wet unfocused eyes, she offers him no words. She is stone.

Mumbling, Kenny wobbles on his heel and reels away. I lose sight of him among the crowd.

And it dawns on me all eyes have turned upon us.

Carried along by a sea of watching faces.

They are watching me.

Nine men, the amber floodlights behind breaking forms, melting them into shadow black. No eyes to focus on, no faces to meet.

There is no time; days and hours have fled; only moments remain.

No words are spoken; let their purpose remain unsaid—I want no part of it.

A figure approaches from behind, rests a rough hand upon my shoulder and leads my sleep-heavy feet stumbling on tarmac. I catch a glimpse of flushed and flabby features, hear wordless mumbling.

A woolen stocking is softly pulled over my face, then comes the upsetting shriek of tape wrenched from the roll. Around my neck the tape is stretched. My window on the world a ragged woolen slash. My face has been taken from me.

A rope is placed around my neck. I feel it: the yoke upon me gripping flesh, tumbling the length of my stomach. A stab of ice cold on my belly skin— I look down with blurred unfocused eyes. On the end of the rope swings a long curved hook.

For the life of me, for the short, doomed life of me, I cannot see its purpose.

The air grows thinner, colder— what punishment awaits me?

We pass the secondary school where next year she will send me; we pass the Pitch and Putt club still behind the yellow caution tape. Further on the crowd turns, leaving the road through white gateposts and heading toward the break of sandy flatness beyond.

There the crowd splits in two, flowing to either side of the desiccated square of pitch, made orange and alien by unforgiving floodlights. My eyes now attuned to streetlight amber, it seems to me that this angled square of turf floats unmoored in total black.

For a moment I stop to stare, to try and make the thing make sense, but Mother pulls me forward, indifferent or unconscious to my confusion.

Sand gives way to gravel, gives way to dry and crunching grass, and Mother drags me down to stand behind the hoardings, behind the chicken wire where eagerly my brothers hang by fingers curled.

Bodies close on every side; the buzz of voices drives my thoughts away until a change in the air calls the crowd to fall so deathly silent.

I return to myself in time to see black shadows stretch across the amber grass.

Something is happening out on the pitch.

I am led out on to the pitch.

Footsteps follow mine as I am taken from the darkness of the clubhouse, on to the blazing orange grass of the field.

Long condemned to the black, my eyes take forever to adjust to this searing caustic amber.

The dry grass unpleasant on the soles of my feet.

This place, fenced by faces, deafens with silence; the furious rolling thunder of five hundred breaths barely held.

The town has gathered here to witness this: the world itself, waiting to burst. I recognise the two men walking on either side of me. Frank Darby. Tom Carroll.

They say no words, look not upon the man they drag between them. Darby takes hold of the rope, parades me in a circle in the centre of the field.

I stumble, weak from my weeks in the clubhouse. I fall to my knees.

And in that instant of my weakness a great roar rises from the crowd.

And I cower. Like an animal I cower.

Bursts over me like a wave, that rolling belch of violence, the roaring of the crowd. Shoulders hunched upon myself, I wish to curl and cower away.

Take me from this place. Take me from these people.

The twins are giddy, red mouths wide with laughter, pointing at the man sprawled naked on the grass. “Get up! Get up!” they shout, hoping that he will fall again.

But he does not rise.

I lie there. The cold of the dirt, the smell of the grass, so suddenly pure, precious to me—

In the crowd I see them passing round black and amber flags. See the lines of red-mouthed children, holding the limp unmoving things.

These people... These animals...

Mother takes one from the bundle offered and thrusts a black and amber flag at me.

But I do not want it. I will not grin and shout and wave along with my brothers, with their bawling school friends.

She grabs my wrist with one hand, forces the stick into the white-curled flesh of my fist.

Against my will I hold it.

“Wave it,” she spits, her mouth a hole of fleshless chalk, “Wave that flag and show them we belong here.”

Her cold hand takes my wrist again, limply shakes my arm for me.

And I look at her. I look at the face of her, cut from stone.

And in the crowd I see her. Her pale face, her black dress.

“No... no... please no...” I whisper.

She should not have been brought here.

Nothing would have stopped the twins from coming; no force of nature could stop my boys, but not her. This town should have no claim on her.

I don’t want her to witness this, to see and know not what she sees.

Pulled to my feet, still I can’t take my eyes off her.

Her delicate face, the pale skin, the slender nose, the thick dark eyebrows, the dark lips, the dark and shining eyes.

She will be beautiful.

The only one not braying with the rest of them. The only one not filled with hate.

The only one.

Alone the man stands, amber-blushed by floodlights. But none of us can see his face.

“Why won’t they let us see him?” I ask. “What are they scared of?”

The annoyance on my mother’s face should have stunned me silent, but something makes me bold.

“Why?” I ask “Why? What did he do?”

I throw away the flag.

Her eyes are black flint in yellow sockets.

“A bad man,” she mutters. “A crook and a criminal. Dangerous.”

“But what did he do that was so terrible?”

And my voice fails as I stare through the crowding mass. “What could possibly deserve this?”

Figures approach the amber man and I whisper one last time “Who is he?”

My mother is silent. Impassive.

But I know it doesn’t matter who he is. My father would never have stood for this.

The man. The man in amber...

My girl. My girl in black.

I can barely stand.

I just wanted to take her away from this place.

She deserves so much better than this failing town. These slowly failing people.

She isn’t like them. They should have no hold on her...

I tried.

She’ll never know how hard I tried.

Following its shadows across the grass, a figure cradles a package.

The crowd roars when the bleeding rawness of meat is held aloft, struck black by caustic yellow light.

The sound rumbles around the pitch as the rope around his neck is seized.

They pierce the meat upon the hook, drag the rope around and let it go.

I feel the wet mass bump horrid upon my coccyx; drip its sorrow blackness upon the backs of my legs.

The stink of the thing, rising in the Autumn evening.

And then nails.

Nails and a hammer.

Shine in yellow light.

They reach down; blunt fingers graze my ankles, and seeing my chance, I swing wildly, swing with my last and leaving strength—

The word wells up in me—“Fight!”—I care not for my mother‘s glare, care not for the outrage of the crowd or my brothers’ jeers.

“Fight!” I scream.

Alone I scream.

With ease they catch my fist, feebly drifting through the air.

My breath dies in my mouth— the feeble “No” lost amid resurgent cries.

Amid the clots of laughter.

My arm— caught and twisted up the length of my back, no breath in me to gasp. Darby growls, “None of that. Go easy or go hard.”

“And you have no stomach for hard.”

No strength could resist the pull that wrenches me downwards, bending me until my hand is flat against my foot.

Feel the rancid bumping of black meat...

A nailpoint placed on the back of my hand.

And the hammer raised.

And I think: Please don’t watch this. My girl, don’t watch, don’t watch.

The thump of metal through flesh is so loud.

And the man in amber too weak to scream.

His other hand is readied, his foot held steady.

And the nail, poised to join foot and hand together—

I flee my mother’s restraining hands. I flee.

I have fled beyond pain.

Bent double and pierced I can no longer see the crowd, the faces, my girl in black.

But I can hear. Shouts. Laughter.

And now— gasps. Cheers.

As the dogs are released.

Pushing past people, banging into knees, stepping on feet.

She does not follow. She watches. Every moment.

I cannot.

I cannot sit among these animals, and bray and shout and urge the slavering dogs on.

Not like my twin brothers, down at the head of that screaming scrum, eager fingers curled into chicken wire. Their mouths stretched wider than the rushing dogs.

And I run, as fast, as fast I can.

But I can’t outrun the sounds.

I can’t outrun them. I can’t outrun the dogs.

Foolish to try.

Yet still I try, knowing I will fail.

I run.

And though the crowd is screaming, still I hear the noises of the dogs.

Wet and grizzling growls so loud, the clunk of closing teeth...

Hands over my ears, my eyes pinned shut.

Running into darkness from the unflinching amber of this place.

And I fall.

The dogs do their work.

I lie on the pitch, prey to the mouths of this place.

Yellow light making my skin glow amber.

Yellow light making my blood deep black.

I look upon that black and amber.

The dogs do their work.

I lie on sand at the mouth of this place.

Yellow light making the sandstains amber.

Yellow light making my dress deep black.

I look upon that black and amber.

And the noise of the crowd simply fades.

And the sound of feeding dogs means nothing.

And there is pain but pain is so far away.

And the ground is cold, and the grass is fresh.

And I think of her.

And I know

And sitting there I see them wave black and amber flags as sated dogs are pulled away.

And then a barbecue and a dance for the older kids.

And everyone gets balloons.

And I think of the fun they have.

And I know.

I know this town will not contain me.

 

--

Graham Tugwell is a PhD student with the School of English, Trinity College Dublin, where he teaches Popular and Modernist Fiction. The recipient of the College Green Literary Prize 2010, he enjoys writing work of abiding strangeness, aimed at provoking that apocalyptic oscillation when the brain cannot decide what is appropriate— laughter or grief. He has work forthcoming in Kerouac’s Dog Magazine, THIS Literary Magazine, Jersey Devil Press, Anemone Sidecar, Plain Spoke, Sein und Werden, and Pyrta. He has lived his whole life in the village where his stories take place.

 

Subscribe or Buy
Tips

Like this story?

Support the artist!

Share This

Get Updates on The Quotable!