|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. You’re 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 don’t 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;
—Pat Murfin, ‘67