Thursday, May 26, 2016

Murfin Juvenilia III—The Final Tomorrow of Emmet McCarthy

William Street, Tipperary.  Couldn't find one suitably rain soaked and dreary.

Note—I have been inflicting evidence of my callow youth on the put-upon and faithful readers of this blog.  As painful as this has been for everyone, I can’t seem to help myself.  You may recall that I have been reprinting pieces that appeared in Apotheosis, the annual literary magazine published by Niles West High School in Skokie, Illinois back in 1967.  As I explained last week I was writing a lot about death under the assumption that it was what great writers do.  I was also recklessly fearless about writing about places and people I didn’t know fuck all about.  Take this piece which may have been the result of Hemingway for breakfast with a side of romantic Irish claptrap.  Read it and weep for youthful delusion….

Unstated in the story, but surely in my mind and imagination was the comfort she would give the lad from Boston after their encounter,

The Final Tomorrow of Emmet McCarthy
It was a dingy day. There was no other adequate way to describe it.  Everything was quite different than he imagined it would be. There were  no  broad  green  fields,  low  stone  walls, pleasant  country  houses.   Instead  there  were  narrow,  ungraceful   streets,  grey  and  brown  walls of buildings  rising  from  the  very  edge  of   the  srtreet.   The weather was  gray, wet, and  cold.
Tipperary.  A name  out  of  a  song.  The forgotten  home  of  forgotten  ancestors.  Wars   of valor lost in some half-remembered age of heroism. The baa  of  sheep  and  the lowing  of  milch cows on shortly distant hills—the rattle  of  machine  guns  down  the  street.  Celtic Cross, church  bells, Confession, Holy Mother.   Tipperary.
He took a slow drag on his cigarette and looked out the greasy  window.  He  did  not  like British  cigarettes,  but  he  supposed  that  he  would  get  used  to  them.   It was   not   really bad here, the place did have a certain quiet, restful charm and the house was full of good company. Actors and singers just in from Dublin to perform in the  pleasant  provincial  hinterlands.  He stayed  with  them  sleeping  on  mattresses  and  cots  strung   around   the  house,  he  ate  the  stew  that they made from vegetables and  odd  cuts  of  meat  that  they  half-begged  from  the  good  people  of  the  town.
She came to him, pale skinned, and red haired.  Her eyes were a strange green-brown—sad and Irish suffering. Uncombed hair swept fiery over and around her  oval  face.  Her lips were pale and thin, uncolored.
She was an actress who played proud wenches and country  colleens  and  sang  softly  in  Gaelic.    But  at  this  moment   she  was  not  an  actress.    She had come  to  talk   with   him.    “It’s a   long   way   from Boston.
He crushed his  cigarette  on  the  ledge  of  the  window  and  half-turned  to  her  and  smiled. “Yes, it  is  a very  long  way  from Boston.”
“Why did  you  come?
“It was my  Grandfather's  country.   You should see your  Grandfather’s country.”
“You don’t travel over a whole Ocean to see your  Grandfather’s  land.  Most young Americans come over here to get drunk on  their  way  to  London.  Youre different—you’re  staying  and  you’re  quiet.  Are you looking  for  something here?”
“I was   looking  for   a  pretty   country   filled  with   pretty  colleens   with  red hair.”
“For  all  the  notice  the  red-headed  girls  in  this  house  get,   you   wouldn’t know  it.   You   seem   easy   in   this   melancholy   land.”
“And maybe all I was looking for was a happy land.“No.”
He turned  to  her  fully.   He  was   now   silently   questioning   her—questioning    the   why   of  her  question  and  if  she  rea1ly  needed  the  answer.  He  satisfied  himself  that  she  had  need  of the  answer,  that  she  could  understand  it.    “I  came  to die.'”
She  nodded  her  hair  and   said  nothing.  She  knew  of   nothing  to    say.
“Not rea1ly to  die,  but  to  be  buried.  A  person  can  die  anywhere,  but  where  he  is  buried is  important.  I’ve  bought  a  small  plot  and  a  head   stone.   I’ve  seen  the  Priest   and  I’m  getting   a  simple coffin.”
“But here,  so  far  away   from  your  family and  friends.”          . .
“That’s  it.   I want no  family  or  friends. I want no  mourners  at  my   grave.   They would feel awfully bad if they had to stand  by  and  watch  me die.  And then  I  would  be  dead  in  the back bedroom or in the hospital and they would not know what to do. It’s not that they love me  so  awfully  much  but  they  would  feel  bad  that I had to  die  and  they  would  be   reminded of it every time  the  flowers  were  sent  to  the  house,  or  they  got  a  call  of  sympathy,  or  they  had to see me in  my  casket,  or  every time  they  would  find  something  of  mine  in  the  house.  That  would  he a  mean thing.
But  now  they  just  get  a  telegram  and  it’s  over.  They will  feel  bad  because   it  is  unexpected, but they won't have to brood over it  for  days.  They’re not  going  to  make  suffering martyrdom out of my death. They know from my letters that I am among good friends and they will say I died happy in a land I have always dreamed of. They dont  know of  my sickness,  so  it  will  be  sudden  and  without  pity.   There   will   be no   mourners at  my   grave.”

And what of us?  Are  we  so  unimportant  and  so  unfeeling  that  you  do  not  expect  us to grieve.  You have.  become part  of   us.   Who   is  going  to  mourn   for   us  at  your   passing ?   Who will   mourn   the   guilt   of   your   family   at   forgetting   your   face ?    Who   will   mourn   who is left behind?”
“I will mourn you all before I die.” “And are you r  tears enough?”
“They  are  too  much  for  me,  yet  I  will  shed  them.”
There  in  the  half-light  of   the  window  they  under stood  that  they  could  never  understand-themselves or   each  other;
The Banshee calls for souls crucified upon the Celtic cross and bleeding. Death waits and howls at the eternity of its wait. And on the earth walks man in company of the beast—his wait differently  interminable.   Found here in Tipperary.
—Pat Murfin, ‘67


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