Romance and Revolution
by Kevin O'Rourke
A selection by guest editor Jamie O'Connell. To receive a PDF version of this story to read offline / export to Kindle, please email longstoryshortjournal(AT)gmail(DOT)com
September 30, 1962: James Meredith
enters the University of Mississippi.
There were no walls in the shack and no interior doors. When Louise and Big Hank had sex in the night, ten-year-old Padraig covered his ears. It did not help. The grunting and moaning kept him awake.
Louise and Big Hank sent the children to the nearest church, Church of the Messiah, to have two hours to themselves on Sundays. Even though ten-year-old Padraig thought the family was atheist, he led siblings up the dirt road to the blacktop that crossed Route 6. The church at that corner reminded him of a chicken house, with tall flat sides, a single sloped roof, and a rectangular steeple tall as a granary.
Kate attended Sunday school at that church. She was his sister Eileen’s best friend from Mrs. Tikkanen’s fourth grade class. Blond hair in bangs above her eyebrows, she could run faster in cheap white-buckle girl shoes than boys her age. When she played kickball in the dirt lot behind the elementary school, Padraig recalled her dress lifting, revealing thighs and calves powerful from biking uphill and downhill along the blacktop and gravel roads to swimming holes.
Padraig became an altar boy, wearing white surplice over red cassock, small Celtic cross dangling from a chain around his neck. He lit candles and carried a brass cross on a staff to the congregation singing of Onward, Christian Soldiers! Marching as to war with the cross of Jeeesus... He studied the catechism in confirmation class to take Holy Communion. It was not his idea. The Ten Commandments seemed useful enough, a basic government.
Toward the end of the fifth grade, Padraig fantasized rescuing Kate from bullies in the schoolyard. He would defeat them in a fight, the bullies’ jackknives sticking out of his chest, and Kate nursing him back to health. These fantasies triggered a pleasant buzz through his body.
Padraig had not yet been in a real fight even though his biological father had taught him boxing before the divorce. His father had given him the paratrooper ring, 14-carat gold inset with two tiny rubies. In the meadow and the woods, Padraig and siblings wrestled hard and fought with cudgels like Robin Hood and Little John. He wanted to be like his hero, John Shippee. A former altar boy at the Church of the Messiah, the wiry eighteen-year-old Metis man won the wood-chopping contest at the town fair, beating the New England champion from Maine. From that contest, Padraig kept a wood chip the size of a brick on the windowsill.
Chopping wood with Big Hank until his arms and shoulders burned, and swinging a mattock to dig out tree stumps in the garden, he torqued his body with intent.
Louise seldom stepped inside a church. She joked, “Thou shall not covet thy neighbor’s ass or thy neighbor’s wife’s ass.”
She was big with her seventh pregnancy. Big Hank was home from Friday night to Sunday afternoon. It was a five-hour ride on the Greyhound from Rose’s State-Line Diner to New York City. Her husband worked a five-day stretch in Brooklyn as a carpenter and painter.
“Newspaper is sterile,” she told Padraig. “If I have this baby at home, spread the newspaper on the floor.”
They never mopped. Kangaroo mouse turds gathered in the corner behind the woodstove.
With no phone, the only hospital in Providence, Padraig might deliver a baby at home or drive to the hospital if her contractions were not too close. Eleven years old, he hoarded unread copies of The Providence Journal.
It was a relief that Big Hank was there when her water broke. Big Hank drove his wife to the hospital. They used the newspapers to light the woodstove.
June 12, 1963:
Medgar Evers assassinated.
The law student who fought to end Jim Crow had been murdered in Jackson, Mississippi. Padraig studied the photos in LIFE Magazine: blood up the sidewalk and on the steps of Medgar Evers’ house, and the bushes where a sneaky little man hid behind as he took aim.
The next day Padraig scrapped with Jimmy Patterson and Butch Reed like game cocks at the wood’s edge of the schoolyard. Those boys called him nigger. Jimmy Patterson, missing two fingers from his left hand, punched hard.
Big Hank found out. That night by light of kerosene lanterns around the woodstove, he told stories. The Klan burned his family’s farm in Mississippi for growing peanuts instead of cotton. The Klan shot an uncle for not stepping aside for a white man. One family member from the Choctaw branch hunted rabbits with a throwing stick in the city park in Jackson. The State of Mississippi locked him in a lunatic asylum.
Big Hank carried a nickel-plated .38 with a mother-of-pearl grip. He recited the rhyme concerning race in America.
“If you white, all right. If you black, step back. If you red, you dead.”
November 11, 1963:
“Stop staring out the window,” said the sixth-grade teacher. It was the week before Thanksgiving. Padraig wished for snow.
The school janitor entered the classroom. He had fought in Sicily in World War Two. During a show-and-tell he allowed the kids to pass around his bullet collection. Somber faced face he now stood in front of the teacher’s desk and faced the students. He announced, “President Kennedy has been shot.”
With disbelief, Padraig watched the teacher smirk. He wondered what the teacher was supposed to do. Make them sit under the desk? Curl into a fetal position and wait, faces in knees to prepare for incineration from Russian hydrogen bombs?
School closed early that day. Padraig felt dread, old and familiar, as he walked the winding and frozen dirt road through leafless trees against a gray sky. Pebbles crunched beneath his thin leather shoes all the way to the shack where he found Louise listening to the radio and weeping. She could not fix him. Nobody could.
His bookshelf contained books his grandad had given him. He opened The Journals of Albert Camus and read notes for The Plague.
It was spring. After school in the sixth grade, Padraig lay in his bunk and daydreamed he rescued Kate from timber rattlesnakes near the brook that ran behind the elementary school. He carried her in his arms, blond hair against his chest and set her down in the meadow. With his lips he’d suck the venom from the bite in her calf. He repeated the daydream, working out details like flowers in the meadow. Dandelions. Wild violets. Black-eyed-Susans. Her blue eyes looking into his.
March 4, 1964: Malcolm X
leaves Nation of Islam.
Five months after President Kennedy’s assassination, Padraig turned twelve. John Shippee came back from Vietnam. At the Church of the Messiah, Padraig admired the green fatigues, scuffed and polished combat boots, and the sharpshooter medal on John’s shirt pocket.
Padraig looked up at John. “I saw pictures in LIFE magazine of GIs in advisory positions to the South Vietnamese army.”
John Shippee shook his head. “Lies. We’re fighting Ho Chi Minh’s army.”
Padraig rolled the gold paratrooper ring on his finger. He wanted to join the Army Rangers like his biological dad.
The Metis man watched. “I have something for you.” He took from his back pocket a Bowie blade bayonet sheathed in a metal case.
Padraig walked down the dirt road to the shack balancing the knife across his index finger. It held steady. He stashed it above the sill of the chicken coop door.
June 21, 1964: James Chaney,
Andrew Goodman, and Michael
Schwerner murdered in Mississippi.
School ended for the summer. Padraig, his brothers and Butch Reed went fishing for bass and pumpkinseeds at the Scituate Reservoir. Padraig thought about the three voting rights workers shotgunned and stuffed in an earthen dam by the Ku Klux Klan.
He cast his line from the dam at the reservoir, fishing like jigging for his own body, baited hook snagging bullheads and perch.
“We could be murdered,” he said to Butch.
They joked about jacking-off in the back pews at church.
They smoked Marlboros to keep the mosquitoes at bay.
Padraig looked at his brothers, one blond and blue-eyed, one bronze and wooly haired. He faced Butch. “What the fuck are we?”
Butch took a long draw of his smoke. “Full-blood Fuckarwees.”
Padraig flicked ash from his Marlboro into the water. “Ma says we’re Black Irish Choctaw renegades.”
Butch smacked his chest with a closed fist. “My old man says we’re white slaves mixed with Cherokee and Apache.” Padraig noticed the pride in his voice when he said it.
He and Butch were flush with cash. They had gone on a quahog expedition with Butch’s family to the tidal marsh in Quonset. With a bushel basket floating in a car inner tube, Padraig reached arm’s length through the saltwater as the tide came. Quahogs rose to the top of the mud. He fingered around and sometimes found a periwinkle. Mostly he plucked clams with the band of blue inside the thick shell. The Wampanoag and Narraganset people made beads for belts of wampum from these shells. The fishmonger at the wharf paid $10 for a bushel of quahogs.
Padraig sold one bushel and kept the other for a family clambake. He helped pay for gas in Mr. Reed’s pickup and had money left.
He and Butch invested in cherry bombs and M-80s. The son of the Grand Wizard of the local Ku Klux Klan, Jimmy Patterson—the boy Padraig had fought with often, sold fireworks to schoolmates. Patterson had lost those two fingers on his left hand from relighting a cherry bomb with a partial burned fuse.
After one fistfight, Padraig wiped his split lip.
“Sell me some bottle rockets.”
Joey tilted his head to keep his nose from bleeding on his shirt. He shrugged.
“I don’t care if you’re a nigger, as long as your money is green.”
Butch unrolled cherry bombs and poured black powder into a copper pipe with one end flattened. He handed the cherry bomb fuses to Padraig.
Padraig rolled them in his fingers. The fuses were green with a spiral twist. “These burn underwater?”
“Aye-yup,” said Butch. “Give me a fuse.”
Padraig gave him one and watched as Butch inserted the fuse through the hole of a whittled wooden plug and jammed it in the pipe. He pointed with his chin to a broad oak.
“Let’s duck behind that tree.”
They went behind the tree and squatted down. Butch held the pipe bomb.
“This is a five-second fuse, so I’m tossing it as soon as you light it.”
Padraig struck a wooden match with his thumb; he let the flare die before putting the flame to the fuse. The fuse ignited. Butch tossed it.
They both counted. “One, two, three, four...”
The explosion sent shrapnel from the pipe flying by them. They came out from their hiding to look at the damage.
“Fucking-aye!” said Butch.
Padraig widened his eyes and raised his eyebrows. “That crater is big as a bushel basket.”
“Let’s head to the reservoir and go fishing then.”
Besides cherry bombs, between the two of them they had a pack of cigarettes stolen form Butch’s mom, a bottle of Kruger beer swiped from Big Hank, and a worn out deck of cards with pictures of naked ladies.
Later that summer, Padraig helped Big Hank and Grandad build an attachment to the shack, one room with bunk beds and bookshelves. They had electricity, a wire from poles that ran up the dirt road. Grandad had adopted Louise when she was a little girl. He drove a 4-cylinder Porsche and lived in Boston, a one- hour drive when out of the commuter traffic.
In September, Padraig rode the bus to Metacomet Junior High School. After school, he chopped wood and hauled water and then lay in his bunk. Padraig imagined living in a tipi in the woods and finding Kate injured from a fall from a small cliff. He lifted Kate in his arms and carried her to the tipi. There he treated her injured leg as she lay on a camp cot. First, he bathed her ankle, and then her calf, and then her knee, and her thigh, higher and higher, his erection getting hard and sweet. When he ejaculated, he knew it was a sin. If you sin with your eye, according to the Sunday School teacher at catechism and confirmation class, pluck it out. If you sin with your hand, cut it off. And his dick? Is a sinner supposed to make a eunuch of himself? And the new wiry black hair on his groin, at first sprouting just a couple at a time, now a full black bush, his cock as long and hard as a coke bottle.
“Why?” said Big Hank. “You know why. Atheism is not the only point of view that matters. One day of church a week has done nothing for any of you. You behave like barbarians. To live in the world, you need to quit acting like a barbarian.”
Big Hank invited Jehovah’s Witnesses into the house so the eight children could study the bible.
More likely, Padraig figured, Big Hank and Louise exploited the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Kathy and Peter, as free babysitters. Stepdad and Louise were never around during bible study.
He figured to stump the blonde Kathy and her pacifist husband.
“What about Darwin’s theory of evolution and the dinosaurs?”
Peter’s hair combed in a greaser pompadour, he looked to Kathy.
Kathy’s hands opened her New World translation of the bible to Genesis. “Seven days of creation allow for the Theory of Evolution because one day in Jehovah’s time may be infinite, as Jehovah is infinite.”
This made sense to Padraig. Besides, Kathy didn’t dismiss him or sound patronizing.
Padraig found another of her views interesting. And unlike his mother, Kathy never swore.
“In the Aramaic translation, man’s soul is the physical body. The Psyche is the spiritual body.”
From Padraig’s understanding of the Jehovah’s Witness teaching, the Old Testament god was so ruthless as to be existential reality. This might be compatible with atheism. But he had memorized the Nicene Creed and Apostles Creed in catechism class at the Church of the Messiah. The concept of a trinity and of a God-Man stuck with him.
“There is no trinity,” explained Kathy. “Christ was a man, a teacher like Socrates with a consciousness that made him the messiah. In the End Times, when humans destroy the world, what we call the Armageddon, those who survive and those reincarnated will live according to a theocratic government. This comes from within the individual as all humans become the messiah.”
Padraig went slack-jawed. “Self-government? Then Jehovah’s Witnesses are anarchists. No wonder the Nazis murdered you in the concentration camps alongside the Jews.”
“No wonder,” she said.
That means, thought Padraig, a realist and existentialist is a Jehovah’s Witness. And Christ was struggling to overthrow empire through nonviolent means, same as Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King. Then who is the contemporary equivalent of John the Baptist? Che Guevara? Malcolm X?
Padraig studied late by the light of a fluorescent desk lamp, rewriting notes taken during the day, using colored pencils to separate different subjects. Pre-algebra in red, biology in blue, diagraming sentences in different colors.
Mr. Blacksmith’s shop class, a required class same as gym, was his least favorite. Hand-sanding pieces for the standard spice rack that each of the boys had to build was like a stroll in the desert with no water, or walking barefoot on broken glass.
When he received his report card, he had an A in science, A in pre-algebra, A in English, A in history. A in gym, even though that didn’t count, and a C in shop that also didn’t count because, like gym, shop wasn’t academic. Straight A’s.
Students gathered around the school bulletin board to see the posted names of those on the honor roll and high honor roll. Padraig looked over shoulders. His name was not on the list. He checked again. Not there. He went to the office to ask if someone made a mistake.
“It’s because of the C in shop.”
“But shop isn’t academic. C’s in gym don’t count.”
“Talk to Mr. Blacksmith.”
Padraig built stuff—with no power tools. He helped Big Hank frame up and build a 12-by-12 foot chicken coop and another attached coop with nesting boxes, storage shed for feed and tools, and an open run with a sloped roof for cockerels raised for slaughter. They pounded bent and salvaged nails straight and recycled them. Under instruction from Big Hank, Padraig roofed the entire project with lapping shingles.
Padraig built corrals and pigpens. He carved beams and posts for doorframes with an ax. His World War I model airplanes were perfect, with tiny struts between the wings, a tail drag hook, perfectly placed decals, and an anti-aircraft machine gun in the cockpit. Anyway, Padraig had read Plutarch’s description of the Spartans and their roughhewn houses. That is how he wanted to live. No use for sandpaper, he smoothed woodcarvings by planing them with a blade of broken bottle glass, a trick Big Hank had shown him.
Mr. Blacksmith shook his head. “Your work is slipshod; I won’t change your grade.”
What was the point of studying if adults in the school cheated him? He would never fit in.
February 21, 1965:
Malcolm X assassinated
Louise went to pick Big Hank up from the Rose’s State Line Diner on Friday night. When they came home, Big Hank laid the New York Daily News on the table near the woodstove. The headlines read MALCOLM GUNNED DOWN IN THE AUDUBON AUDITORIUM.
The month of April in shop class, Dickie Duquette took Padraig’s gold paratrooper ring and crushed it in the vice. Padraig took the ring to Mr. Blacksmith to show him. Blacksmith shrugged.
Duquette gloated. He was poor and dark skinned. Though Padraig looked Irish, Duquette resembled members of his family, those mixed with African, and the Metis branch.
Padraig saw the set-up. If he fought Duquette right there, he would be suspended or expelled.
A fight could establish his reputation as a bad kid destined to become a criminal. The teachers would push him to drop out of school. They pressured all the poor brown kids that way. He fought down rage. Padraig likened his identity to the changing patterns of a kaleidoscope. People would hate him for that advantage unless he hid it.
After school, walking alone in the woods, he removed the crushed ring from his pocket and threw it far into the marsh. Fuck his biological dad.
He opened up the Social Studies textbook to write a report about the poor whites of Appalachia. The photo on the page showed a trailer attached to a shack covered with ragged scraps of tarpaper, a galvanized washtub in the yard and a hound with ribs sticking out. It looked like his house and his dog.
For the rest of the school year he quit turning in homework.
June 30, 1966:
National Organization of Women
founded in Washington, DC.
Padraig waited with Eileen and Kate at the mailbox where Spears Path met the blacktop. Eileen wanted to pick up the mail before Big Hank or Louise came up the road. The mailman drove along the shoulder. He steered with his left hand, arm extended from the passenger seat of his car, U.S. Postal Service RURAL ROUTE DELIVERY printed on a cereal box sized placard hanging from the windshield shade. His arm reached out the passenger side window to stuff mail in tin mailboxes. He handed Eileen a parcel containing a free sample pack of cigarettes.
Eileen had found the coupon in TEEN magazine.
The three of them traveled like foxes, scooting underbrush or leaping from rock to rock, exploring the brook behind the elementary school. It ran for miles through the woods, away from houses and roads.
Padraig rolled his own from a package of Bugler. He brought along the homemade fishing pole—made of a dowel with eyelets and a wooden spool that once held sewing thread. He didn’t intend to fish. This was an excuse to hang with Kate.
They kept sneakers on when they waded in the water and herded brook trout through the shallows. Kate rubbed her arms and face.
“Too many mosquitoes. I need to clean off the stink.”
“Me too,” said Eileen.
They came to a small pool, water up to their waists.
Kate pulled a slender bar of Ivory soap from her jeans pocket, unbuttoned the top of her pants and slid them down over her hips. She removed her panties, folded her clothes and placed them on a lichen-covered boulder. Padraig saw sunlight through her bush below the hem of her jersey. She rolled the jersey up over her belly, revealing navel and breasts. Padraig didn’t want to undress. His boner pressed his pants. Kate didn’t seem shy or embarrassed and smiled at him. She lay in the water, submerging buttocks, back, shoulders.
Eileen stripped naked. She lay beside her. “This water is wicked freezing!”
Padraig’s heart pounded as Kate soaped under her arms and her waist, thick with muscle from hauling water and chopping wood, hands calloused from using farm tools. She lathered her breasts. Larger than apples but smaller than cantaloupes, she lifted them as she soaped ribcage, belly and crotch. Bending over to stretch one shoulder and arm into the pool to pull up a handful of sand, she soaped the grit and scrubbed her thighs, solid from riding bicycle up Dolly Cole Hill, and her buttocks, the pair of them in the shape of a heart. A pad of fat, also heart shaped, lay above her buttocks at the small of her back. Eileen’s skin was olive, but Kate’s skin was pale, buttery. A layer of softness over a muscled stomach, blond pubic hair narrowed and came to a peak below her navel. This was holy. He could paint a picture of her, bathing in a pool of the brook, dappled light in the shape of leaves falling through the canopy of trees.
Kate peed, arching her groin forward, the urine stream leaving the split between her legs and splashing in the pool.
Padraig tried one of Eileen’s cigarettes, savoring the smoke that tasted of spearmint menthol.
Black Panther Party founded by
Bobby Seale and Huey Newton
That autumn, Padraig entered the ninth grade at Metacomet Regional High School. Almost five-hundred students attended Metacomet. Most caught the school bus where rutted dirt roads through the woods met the blacktop.
Near the end of the school year, the vice principal’s voice came over the intercom telling Padraig to report to Mr. McDonald’s office. McDonald was the school guidance counselor. Lunch had just ended.
Padraig walked the corridor, fear knotting his gut. Did the vice principal nail him for tucking notes under homemade clear sheet plastic book covers and cheating on Latin tests?
He entered McDonald’s office.
Mr. McDonald read Padraig’s face and smiled. “Good news.” Bushy eyebrows peered over thick spectacles.
Padraig liked Mr. McDonald. He had retired from the army with the rank of major. Padraig found out from Mrs. McDonald, the school librarian, that they were Unitarians.
Almost Quakers, he thought. His great grandmother, who lived on Cape Cod, was a Quaker. A Mohican mongrel from Connecticut, she joined the Mashpee Wampanoag who survived genocide by converting to a faith committed to nonviolence.
Behind the closed doors of his office, Mr. McDonald smoked a pipe. He packed it with tobacco from a leather pouch, puffed it lit it with a Ronson lighter. The sweet smelling smoke hung in a haze around his head.
Padraig gazed out the window and contemplated Metacom after whom the high school was named. In the 1670s Metacom, or King Phillip, and the Wampanoag nation organized the first pan-Indian war against white settlers. When the Wampanoag army ran out of gunpowder, Puritans wiped them out and sold the remaining men, women and children to Bermuda, Barbados, and the slave block of Cadiz. A diaspora of others, his ancestors on his mother’s side, fled to Canada.
“You scored highest in the state on the ninth grade SATs. Phillips-Exeter Preparatory School is offering you a work-study scholarship.”
Did he win something? Everybody in New England had heard of Phillips-Exeter.
Mr. McDonald tapped the bowl of his pipe on his desk. “Phillips-Exeter has been around since the end of the Revolutionary War. Daniel Webster was a graduate. The Du Ponts, Winthrops, Buckminsters, Plimptons, Coors and Rockefellers, writers John Irving and James Agee and the sons of senators and presidents graduated from Exeter.”
The following week Padraig’s grandad drove the four-cylinder Porsche from Boston to deliver him to the interview at a slate roofed campus in Andover, Massachusetts. That same week the Minutemen, the armed wing of the John Birch Society, raided an old style Quaker settlement just over the Rhode Island/Connecticut state line.
The men of this sect of Quakers, often confused for Amish, wore black brim hats and used horse and buggy instead of cars. Undercover agents from the Highway Patrol had infiltrated the Minutemen and thwarted the attack. A gunfight ensued. One Minuteman shot and killed.
Grandad had been a starving artist as a young man, but his service as the secretary of the Boston Artists and Writers Project of the WPA panned out. Now, as editor-in-chief of Progressive Church Press, he published books on Liberation Theology.
They drove. Padraig looked out the window. He'd been wondering long enough and decided to ask.
“Why does Louise hate you so much?"
“It’s not me she’s infuriated with. Her father, Dick Campbell, and I were best comrades. He was a life-long member of the Communist Party. What do you know apropos the year 1936?”
“I read Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia. Hitler came to power in Germany. There was a civil war in Spain.”
“Hitler and Mussolini supplied Franco with weapons to overthrow the ruling democratic coalition. Louise’s dad had the responsibility of recruiting and organizing the Abraham Lincoln Brigade and then joined them in the fight. We lived in a commune in Maine. I married his wife and adopted Louise so he could do that work. Dick very nearly died.”
He paused. Padraig knew he held back something.
“When Dick returned to the United States, he remarried a Harlem Renaissance poetess and worked full time in the Civil Rights Movement.”
“Louise has been writing to him.”
“You’re similar to Dick. Perhaps you’ll meet.”
The closer they came to the school, Padraig observed more stone mansions, golf courses and swimming pools. The mansions had running water and flush toilets for sure, probably a dozen toilets in each house. Not the same as shitting in the woods and using wild grape leaves to wipe. Plenty of families in the woods didn’t have running water. Nothing to be ashamed of. In the colder months Padraig’s family heated water in milk cans on the woodstove and bathed in a galvanized washtub, one kid after another using the same water. A good thing he took gym class and could shower in the locker room. His mother and stepdad and the elementary school kids didn’t have that luxury. In the summer, kids and adults from his town carried a bar of Ivory soap in their jeans pocket. The swimming hole was the communal bath, where folks went after a day of cutting firewood or rototilling garden plots.
He compared himself to David Copperfield. He lived Third World and his grandad was rich. Not like the mansions around him now, but a Camelot of books and art and bohemian friends.
They pulled into the campus and to the stone administration building. Padraig’s heartbeat increased. His stomach contained bats that gnawed and fluttered. When entering the Headmaster’s office, he felt overwhelmed with stupidity and awkwardness. Grandad entered behind him. They sat in large leather-upholstered chairs. The Headmaster sat behind a walnut desk. Ancient walnut trim and crown molding made the room that of a king’s Merlin. A granite fireplace lay at one end of the room. Padraig saw through a large window the green sward and ancient oaks.
By the interview’s end, the Headmaster confirmed Padraig’s acceptance into Phillips-Exeter Academy. Padraig could work in the kitchen to allay the scholarship expense.
“It’s mitigating any loss of dignity,” said the Headmaster. “We wouldn’t want to harm you with charity. I look forward to seeing you in the autumn.”
They shook hands.
Grandad drove Padraig back to Rhode Island.
June 12, 1967: Supreme Court
declares state prohibition of
interracial marriage unconstitutional
Back at the shack, Louise advised him not to go to Exeter.
“Work-study means you’ll be the pet nigger among rich white boys. They have the power to destroy you because of our communist family history.
“Grandad said Dick Campbell was wounded in the Spanish Civil War.”
“My real father almost died when the blue shirts—Irish who had joined Franco—shot him.”
Padraig clenched teeth and said nothing. That’s why Grandad had hesitated in his telling. At the World’s Fair in New York, the Irish auntie from Brooklyn told Padraig they had been Irish Catholics for a thousand years. The auntie claimed that the Irish great-grandfather, for whom Padraig was named, sent a million dollars during his lifetime to the Irish Republican Army.
Irish Catholic. Black. Choctaw. Metis. Atheist. Communist. Quaker. The father and mother of his biological dad had died of tuberculosis. That grandmother was a Polish Jew. What other cultural identity had he assimilated? What about Nietzschean? In his jacket pocket he carried a paperback edition of Bob Kaufman’s Portable Nietzsche and read it the way Malcom X read the Quran. What is normal anyway? Normal to be a superman, he was sure, but it might take time to develop.
“And always remember we are Nova Scotia Metis, with our own flag.”
Padraig knew the story. Ancestors flew the flag of the Nova Scotia Metis, a white infinity symbol upon a blue background, in the war of 1812 when invading Washington, DC. The Scots-Irish-Indians razed the presidential palace. The slaver-President James Madison fled for his life, leaving his wife behind. After the battle, Brits and Metis returned to Canada. The Americans rebuilt Washington, the char of the palace scraped and whitewashed, from then on known as the White House.
August 25, 1967: American Nazi,
George Lincoln Rockwell, assassinated
August 30, 1967: Thurgood Marshall confirmed
first Afro-American Supreme Court Justice
Eight siblings grew larger every day, crowding the shack and trailer. Padraig and Big Hank yelled at each other.
“Let him move in with my folks in Boston.”
Padraig, plenty glad for the opportunity to quit eating commodity cheese and bullheads, contacted his grandparents.
They agreed that Padraig could live with them while he attended school.
September 1, 1967: Ilse Koch, “the
Bitch of Buchenwald” who made
lampshades from skins from Jews,
commits suicide in a Bavarian prison.
Enrolled in the 10th grade, he attended the all-boys Boston English High, a school filled with Irish, Italians, Portuguese, Greeks, Chinese, Blacks and Jews. A marching school color guard shouldered rifles at the weekly gatherings in the auditorium for alumni slaughtered in Vietnam.
We sacrificed more boys than the other schools combined, intoned the headmaster in memorium as the student body pissed in the aisles and hissed the national anthem.
Irish boys from South Boston and Dorchester invited Padraig to join in rolling queers in the Boston Common.
“How do you do that?” he asked.
“You sit on a park bench after the sunset. One comes up, you go with him. We jump out from behind the trees and hit him in the head with a baseball bat. Then we take his wallet.”
Padraig shook his head. He had enough money from an after-school job at his grandad’s office. Also, they ate dinner once a month at Uncle Ferdie’s. Ferdie played concert piano. Above his mantel hung a classical painting of a naked Herculean man, hands stuck in split of a tree stump he might have been trying to pry apart. A lion was attacking and raking his tight-muscled buttocks bloody with extended claws.
October 9, 1967: Che Guevara
killed by CIA in Bolivia
He took the Blue Line from East Boston at Maverick Square. At Government Center he walked up a level to the trolleys and got off at Park Street beneath the Boston Common. Park Street station, an underground city of vendors and commuters, reeked of pizza and pigeon shit, fresh newspapers and cigarettes. He walked across the tracks to climb aboard a Green Line trolley. When it emerged from the tunnel, it ran alongside Huntington Avenue, past the Art Institute and Fenway Park. He got off a block after the baseball stadium and walked the rest of the way to Boston English.
When school ended, he rode the trolley to his grandad’s office on Charles Street. After work, he and grandad took the Porsche through the tunnel beneath the harbor, back to East Boston.
It was an early October evening when his grandfather opened the Boston Globe. The front page featured a photo of Che Guevara, riddled with bullets, laid out on the jungle floor.
That following morning Padraig rode the trolley up Huntington Avenue to Boston English. Books upon his corduroyed lap, catching whiffs of sharpened cedar pencils in his jacket pocket, he watched out the trolley window with his hand on beardless chin.
Robin Hood will win. John the Baptist a guerilla leader. Jesus a communist. He believed that.
March 16, 1968: Mai Lai
massacre goes unreported.
A merchant seaman, a youth from Greece, wandered off the waterfront into the East Boston backstreets. Padraig and Sicilian pals found him in the schoolyard juggling a soccer ball on the top of his feet. He was talking up Sophia. Richie, Vinnie, Bobby and Alphonse let him do so in peace.
Sophia bridged the language divide.
“Catholic girls stay virgins until our wedding night. That’s why I can’t be with you.”
“Don’t speak that Greek tongue around hee-yah.’ Ya betta stay on ya freighta,” Richie said, looking grim.
When gangsters down the block held a knife to the sailor’s throat there was nothing Padraig could do. Eyes wide, the Greek made no sound as they kicked him with patent leather shoes, pointed and black. Padraig knew himself a piece of shit, a fifteen-year-old coward. No soldier for the local Mafioso, he walked away.
He learned to French kiss from Marie in the vestibule of the tenement where she lived. Tongue entwining tongue, he reached under her blouse and fondled her breasts. His other hand found her soft hair in her panties, labia wet. She moaned. They inhaled kisses until quitting at 10 p.m. He said good night. As he walked up the hill, he put his fingers to his nostrils, the bouquet like the mild homemade yogurt made by his grandmother.
One afternoon Richie shook his head. “Why do you kiss her? She’s a whore.”
Padraig furrowed his forehead. His neck stiffened. “How is she a whore?”
“You don’t know? We got her drunk at the shack on the wharf and pulled a train on her.”
“Me, Vinnie, Bobby, Alphonse, all of us. If she wasn’t a whore, she wouldn’t go there.”
Padraig thought about Vinnie. Black leather capretta, pointed shoes, hair combed in a pompadour. He confided to Padraig he talked with a psychiatrist after he tried to OD on his medication. His brother died during the Tet offensive. Maybe Vinnie felt ashamed of raping Marie and that was why he tried to kill himself.
The gang planned enlisting as a group, except Padraig who supported Ho Chi Minh. They hung out in front of Marie’s wooden stoop and threw black-handled stilettos underhand. The line with Padraig they hadn’t yet drawn as they debated pulling out the troops until dawn.
“Fuck you. She’s a fucking queen.”
Richie and the boys quit talking about Marie in front of him. Padraig considered the fact they weren’t bell-bottomed hippies smelling of patchouli. They were fated to slog in Mekong mud and never return to eighteen-year-old widows in the neighborhood.
He kept it concealed he saw Old Glory burn at an anti-war demonstration in Cambridge.
April 4, 1968:
Two weeks before Padraig turned sixteen; James Earl Ray shot Martin Luther King. The week before, Padraig had compared the influence of Dr. King to Eugene McCarthy and Robert Kennedy, the latter two running on the democratic ticket for party nomination. Compared to Martin Luther King, those guys weren’t even leaders.
Now there was no leader.
On the corner where he hung out, his friends were elated.
“Somebody finally shot that niggah,” said Alphonse.
“I’d done it, if I had the chance,” said Bobby.
Padraig shouted in rage. “The Greatest Man since Jesus Christ is murdered and you fucking idiots talk like Mussolini!"
Richie stuck out his chest. “You aw’ a niggah-loving faggot.” He raised a hand in a Hitler salute. “Mussolione!”
Alphonse and Bobby returned the salute. “Mussolione!”
Padraig strode away and swore to kill those sons of bitches. Even now, people in the streets burned neighborhoods in Detroit and Chicago. He would burn East Boston.
His grandparents rented the downstairs apartment to Gene and his lover Brady. Brady, a hippy security dick, owned a Smith and Wesson. Padraig needed to borrow it. He knocked on the door.
Brady listened, then handed him a joint.
“This is dynamite,” said Brady.
Padraig got high. It was the first time he could remember that he didn’t suffer from anger or depression. That night Padraig dipped a thread and needle in India ink. He tattooed a peace symbol on his left forearm.
The following night during supper, his grandmother noticed the black inked welt. Her shoulders slumped with exhaustion.
He recalled that during school conferences he watched from the window of his second year Latin class as she climbed off the bus and made her way up the sidewalk. Her arthritis shaped her to tumbleweed. Then she slipped and fell on the ice. His mouth dropped open. He loved her and wanted to protect her. Four floors up in the largest public school in the USA, he couldn’t help her. He considered punching himself in the head.
They sat across from each other at the dinner table. He spun spaghetti on a fork and put it in his mouth.
She waited until he swallowed.
“Padraig, your grandad and I are too old to do this for another school year.”
May 13, 1968: One million
students march in Paris.
Before the end of the school year he explored the sub-basement of his grandparents’ house. He took a flashlight. Getting there required crawling through a trap door and descending a steep ladder. The walls, covered with efflorescence, when he breathed he could taste the soft clay brick in decay on the back of his tongue. He dusted cobwebs from himself. The floor comprised hard packed earth. He expected Mephistopheles to show himself. With the flashlight he located the cord for an incandescent bulb. He turned on the dim yellowed bulb, the light not reaching the corners of the room. On the earth floor sat a trunk. The latch unlocked, he opened it. Within lay a stack of books and 1950s Pogo comics. The trunk had belonged to his uncle, an ex-pat in Paris. He carried as many books and comics as he could up the steep ladder, including Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell, How to Talk Dirty and Influence People by Lenny Bruce, and The Rebel by Albert Camus.
June 6, 1968: Robert
Padraig read in Ramparts Magazine that several LA detectives distrusted evidence around RFK’s death at the hand of Sirhan, noting the shabby logic that thirteen shots could exit the barrel of an eight cartridge .22.
As the Jordanian stood in front of Bobby, the killing bullet came from another gun, discharged at a range of one inch and entering behind the right ear.
He weighed what it meant to be raised by his stepfather, who faced oppression every day for the color of his skin, for whom history was fresh and not erased as it had been for Irish Americans. A man who kindled Padraig’s own racial memories one after another, whose Choctaw family sent food and aid to the Irish during the Famine, whose slave ancestors the Irish brigades had freed. A man who did not abandon Padraig’s mother, Louise.
It was a fucking conspiracy. Bobby Kennedy organized Black Folks and Irish to quit torching each other’s neighborhoods over who had it worse. Bobby took Holy Communion with Cesar Chavez in the fields as Irish had done when the English outlawed Catholicism and forced the surviving Irish to the reservation of Connacht. Irish physical and cultural genocide became the model for genocide upon Native Americans and Jews. The reservation system carried out upon the Irish became the model for concentration camps and reservation systems around the world. Anti-literacy laws forced upon the Irish became the model for anti-literacy laws imposed upon the slaves of African heritage in the United States, and the Congo under Belgium, French and American colonialism. The transport of Irish slaves became the model for transport of Africans in the Atlantic Slave triangle. Irish arrived in America from the 1600s to the twentieth century as disposable slaves. They lived in conditions as bad or worse than Auschwitz. People lived and died twenty to a room. Irish children worked in in factories fourteen hours a day seven days a week from the time they could walk. They didn’t have Hitler’s gas chambers. Starvation, disease, fires, work accidents and violence did the job.
The Irish were fucked-up as Blacks. Why did they think they were white?
July 1968: American Indian Movement
founded in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
July 23-28, 1968: Black militants in gun
battle with police in Cleveland, Ohio.
Padraig had returned to Rhode Island. He dug stumps from the expanding family garden with a mattock, cleared brush, rebuilt pens for the pig, sheep and pony, and hauled water for the shack.
When he had time, he read books in front seat of the junk Willys Jeep Wagon, rusting among the aspens. He kept a journal and wrote poetry.
Over the state line, at the secondhand store in Danielson, Connecticut, he discovered a copy of Andre Malraux’s Anti-Memoirs. Like Albert Camus and Jean Paul Sartre, Malraux had been a member of the French Resistance.
He found a crate of odds-and-ends of tools: a jackknife with a screwdriver blade and a saw blade, several drill bits, and a black metal seven-inch pipe threaded at both ends—a gas fitting. He dug around and found a pair of end caps.
On the hood of the jeep among the trees, Padraig gripped the bit with his right hand and the end fitting in his left hand. It took twenty minutes to twist a small hole, big enough for a fuse, in the center of the cap. He didn’t have the powder yet but would get it from the usual source.
Not even the state police knew the whereabouts of the unlicensed firecracker factory. Padraig knew it was deep in the woods in Greenville, the next town. Printed on every package of firecrackers, whether Black Cats, M-80s or cherry bombs: MANUFACTURED IN HONG KONG. With the many commercial chicken farms in the region, the factory processed saltpeter for the black powder from dried chicken shit. They purchased refined sulfur by the tractor-trailer load through the local Feed and Fertilizer store. The best charcoal, from birch, came from Steve Putnam who made it in a military surplus fuel tanker. His setup likewise served as the local meat smoker.
August 21, 1968: Congressional Medal of Honor
awarded posthumously to James Anderson, Jr —
first Afro-American U.S. Marine to receive the medal.
His stepdad used to be his best friend. Now they hated each other. Padraig’s stomach knotted during the lecture from his stepdad. It always did that.
Big Hank wore a beat up fedora with a cardinal feather in the hatband. The only black man in town, he chomped a half-smoked cigar between his teeth. He relit, took a few puffs before punching the air with it.
“I stop at Breezy Hill for a glass of beer, and every man at the bar says his son will enlist. You doing the same.”
“I’m sixteen and I will not enlist. I’m gonna to dodge the draft. I’m a communist same as grandpa Campbell.”
“I don’t give a damn. You think a communist can’t be patriotic? If you live in this house, you will serve in the armed forces like any other man.” Big Hank flared African nostrils.
Padraig stifled his response. House? A tarpaper shack with no flush toilet or running water. Fine. I won’t live here.
“Besides, I don’t want you to end up like your pal Butch. He stole a bottle of vodka from the liquor store. Now the highway patrol is looking for him. I’m glad you weren’t with him to bring shame upon us.” Big Hank reached in his back pocket and pulled out a green alligator hide wallet. “Take this.” He pulled out a ten-dollar bill and extended it toward Padraig.
August 24, 1968: Northern Ireland
Civil Rights Association, Belfast.
August 22-30, 1968: Democratic
National Convention, Chicago.
There was no work for someone without a car. No girlfriend either. Couldn't somebody have suggested that as long as he had a job in Boston, to save up and buy a car? Who could he blame? Himself. He felt like a fucking idiot.
And there was a revolution in the streets of Chicago, Paris and Belfast. Was there a way to escape the woods to go fight?
To get his mind off his mind he ran up the dirt road to the blacktop and three miles to Ramtail Pond. He ran barefooted. Maybe not owning a car had an advantage. Then he ran ten miles each way to Killingly Pond over the Connecticut State Line. That run resulted in blisters from toe to heel. Running came easy. He would run a marathon someday. The best long-distance runners in New England came from his town.
At Ramtail Pond, he soaped himself and swam. Now he stood on the bridge overlooking the pond. He rolled a cigarette from a package of Bugler. The pipe bomb stuck out of his back pocket. A car rolled by with a couple who lived along the road. He waved at them. They stared and drove on, kicking up dust from the gravel.
That evening at the family shack, he heard a long whistle from the woods. That was signal from Butch. Padraig went outside. He found his friend and they went to sit on the Big Rock, a meeting place in the forest.
“Gossip spreading through town from the general store. Someone saw you rolling reefers on Ramtail Bridge.”
Padraig recalled the couple.
“Small town, small minds. I just rolled a cigarette. When I get the powder, I’ll twist more fuse onto this bomb and set it under their car.” He handed the pipe bomb to Butch.
Butch rolled the bomb in his fingers and checked the gas fitting. “Better not.”
Padraig slapped his forehead. “Oh fucking-yeah. The fucking dog.”
“Used to chase us when we trick-or-treated.” Butch rubbed the pipe bomb against his jeans, wiping his fingerprints. He handed it back.
“The only truth is the revolution.” Padraig put the bomb in his back pocket.
During his year in Boston, he looked at photos in Ramparts Magazine of the War in Vietnam that included naked children on fire from napalm dropped by American planes. He learned that Ho Chi Minh modelled his constitution on the constitution of the United States, fought Japanese colonialism, and that the French and the Americans screwed him. Padraig liked to fight, but not for an unjust cause. The men in his family were proud to fight fascism. Now America was fascist.
He and Butch walked through the woods and smoked a joint. They took turns throwing the k-bar into trunks of white pines. Pitch oozed from the wounds. Later the pitch turned white as dried snot.
September 6, 1968: Atlantic City, New Jersey
–women led by Robin Morgan protest against
the Miss America Pageant.
In September, Padraig entered the 11th grade at Metacomet Regional High School. The first one on the school bus at 6a.m., Padraig rode the whole route up gravel roads that snaked through hills and swamp to farmsteads or trailers. He left the k-bar at home.
At Metacomet, teachers who had been his friend in junior high school and ninth grade now turned on Padraig due to his radicalization. They never caught him smoking cigarettes in the lavatory or selling drawings copied from Evergreen Review BDSM Barbarella Comics. In his adapted illustrations, Padraig included sexual organs, pubic hair and bare breasts with nipples, Barbarella on her knees giving blowjobs. The boys in the locker room, none of whom had ever gotten a blowjob, gathered around the portfolio and shelled out five dollars a drawing. The teachers assumed Padraig sold weed. His single ally was Miss Houlihan, who taught English Composition. In her young twenties, the sexiest flesh and blood woman that walked on earth, they shared a love of books.
When the bell rang for junior and senior lunch, Padraig hurried to the cafeteria/auditorium to claim a table. Eileen and Kate, both sophomores, milled among peers on the way out.
From a brown paper grocery bag, Padraig unfolded a sheave of the Providence Journal as a picnic cloth and unpacked a lunch. He set out a quart mason jar of skim milk mixed from powder, and half a green tomato pie with a crust tough enough stay intact in the grocery bag. Next to the milk and pie, he placed the sandwich made of homemade baking powder biscuits and headcheese from last year’s family pig. Padraig used to feel embarrassed carrying homemade lunch. Others teased him for being different. No more. Padraig spread the rumor he boxed at Boston English and threw gasoline bombs at federal marshal cars. He was trying to be respectable. That created problems other than teachers hating his politics. Tough jocks and bullies wanted to box Padraig. He was never on a team, but the Irish dad, an AAU boxing champion, had schooled him from the time he could crawl. That was before his mother and father divorced. When Padraig lived in the Sicilian neighborhood of East Boston, boxing was useless. They brawled, kicked, used lead-weighted saps, brass knuckles and black-handled stilettos. Gladiator school 101. Not respectable. He didn’t consider himself tough, another reason he lied.
A few sat with him at the lunch table. He swigged milk from the Mason jar and examined lunch companions. Jean played in the band. Karen was the captain of the girls’ basketball team, Mary was the editor of the school newspaper. Shelly, the smartest girl in school, regarded as ugly because she was cross-eyed, wore nylons over hairy legs. Her boyfriend sat beside her. Tony shaved every day. His black hair combed in a pompadour, he was the most handsome, muscular and oldest student at Metacomet.
Padraig set the Mason jar on the newspaper. “The only thing that matters are the Four Rs—Romance, Revolution and Rock-and-Roll.”
The girls’ basketball team captain looked up from beneath a blond mono brow. “Padraig, you’re the smartest guy I ever met.”
He tried a different one. “God is dead. What me worry. Alfred E. Nietzsche.”
The cross-eyed girl stopped eating. Eyebrows raised, her laughter turned to a howl. She didn’t care if students at other tables looked.
Tony grinned at Padraig.
“Shelly knows what you’re talking about, so it must be good.”
Shelly caught her breath. “Why hasn’t Mad Magazine done it yet, Alfred E. Newman on the cover wearing a thick red Fredrick mustache?”
Padraig nodded. He was glad she had such a cool boyfriend. Shelly’s self-confidence spread to others. He could use more of it.
Tony has a car. If I sell more drawings, then I can help with gas and we can double date.
He and the girls’ basketball team captain had looked up the word masturbate in the Oxford Dictionary in the school library. Etymology from the Latin: masturbatus, to sin with the hand.
Padraig didn’t bring up his idea concerning the double date. He imagined stomping himself in the head.
The bell rang. Everybody got up and went to their various classes.
Padraig repacked his lunch bag and went to his locker to stash it. After that he headed to Miss Houlihan’s College Prep English Composition. His afternoon erection lifted the right thigh of his polyester slacks, glans of circumcised cock outlined. He could not walk into class. She would always greet him and ask what he was reading. Padraig pushed the lavatory door open and entered a toilet stall.
Mondo, the greaser chief, smoked a cigarette in the next stall. He was in the 11th grade, same as Padraig, but not college prep, not even Future Farmers of America or auto mechanics. Mondo attended school to occupy a seat until the army drafted him. He wore a dark sport jacket with lapels, ruffled cuffs extending from coat sleeves, slight flares to pant cuffs, black ankle boots with a tall heel and pointed toe.
Padraig did not wear pointed shoes. Worse. Big Hank picked up a pair of size 11 alligator skin loafers, slightly used, to wean his stepson from collegiate wingtips.
Alone in the stall, Padraig faced the toilet, unbuckled his belt and opened the zipper to adjust his cock. He stood it straight up against his belly. Dick shape still visible, Padraig untucked his shirt. Now dickhead protruded above beltline. Padraig opted for dick straight up with shirt tucked, and exited the restroom. Not late for class yet, he passed his sister Eileen and pal Kate in the hallway. Kate smiled and punched his arm. He smiled back.
Kate’s blonde hair curled to her shoulders. Her family, more shit-poor than his, lived in a Quonset hen house by the side of the road where everybody could see. He’d been there. The earth floor was covered with linoleum, the windows and doors whitewashed, and the roof shingled. An Iroquois longhouse the length of an average house-trailer, it was better than the trailer/shack where he lived through the swamp and up in the woods where nobody could see.
At night Padraig beat off thinking of Kate. He no longer prayed to Jesus to deliver him from the sin of masturbation. If Jesus was a man then he wanked too. Plenty of times Padraig thought of Kate while he hauled water in milk cans from the spring in the woods. He set the cans on the ground and beat off until spilling seed in the fallen oak leaves. The bible said not to spill seed onto the ground. Fuck the bible.
Padraig made it to class before the bell. Miss Houlihan glanced at his crotch, pursed her lips,
and looked up at the ceiling. He took his seat. She relaxed.
“What are you reading?”
“Frantz Fanon, Wretched of the Earth.”
“Tortured people torture others. Fanon says if we ask Who am I? then we have been colonized.”
She sat on the front of her desk, short skirt hiked up, high heels dangling from nyloned feet. Padraig’s priapism ached more to look at her. He figured every boy in the class had an erection except Daryl Medusa. Daryl’s figure made him look girlish—wide hips and slender waist, narrow shoulders. Everyone knew Daryl was homosexual. Nobody teased him. Daryl carried a switchblade and read the tabloid, MIDNIGHT.
October 5, 1968: Royal Ulster Constabulary
beat Irish civil rights demonstrators in Derry.
The fight in the gym ended before the gym teacher, Mr. Avedisian, showed. Dickie Duquette wanted to box. Dickie weighed 25-pounds more than Padraig.
Padraig recognized himself in Dickie—the desperation to not be at the bottom. There were differences. Padraig hauled water, chopped wood, mattoxed two acres of garden and wrestled seven siblings at a time. Padraig weaved when Dickie swung. He grabbed Dickie by the front of his shirt, swung him around until feet lifted off the ground, then let go. Dickie got up off the gym floor for another round. This time Padraig pulled Dickie over his leg, tripping him.
In the boys’ restroom, Mondo exhaled smoke from a Marlboro.
“You fight well.” He passed the Marlboro.
Spearchucker. Liver lips. Timber nigger. That’s what Dickie Duquette called Padraig. Why? They were both Metis, but Dickie was too dark to pass for white. Padraig could pass for Sicilian, Irish, black, Jew, Slavic, American Indian.
Padraig took a drag and gave the cigarette back to Mondo.
October 2-16, 1968: The Mexico
Olympics and the Tlatelelco square
massacre of 500 student protesters.
Metacomet High played Scituate in the runoff to the state basketball playoffs. Padraig popped Benzedrine scored from Mondo. Now he sat way up in the gym bleachers and raised a black gloved fist as home team made a score. He noticed below a pack of male teachers, meanest of the entire red white and blue jag-offs. They gathered and pointed at him from the gym exit door.
Fuck those psychotics. Expel me for my creed. Two black athletes sprinting at the games in Mexico City looked down in shame and raised their fists as they received Olympic medals for world record speed done in America’s assumed name. What of five hundred murdered and maimed students machine-gunned in the plaza, the C.I.A behind the deed?
October 31, 1968: President Lyndon
Johnson announces the cessation
of bombing North Vietnam.
Halloween was the night of the Church of the Messiah youth group harvest moon hayride. Too dark to take the shortcut through the woods, Padraig walked along the blacktop to the church. The youth group gathered around the hay wagon. The designated chaperones, Mr. and Mrs. Shippee, sat in the drover seat. They held the reigns for a pair of draft horses in tracers to haul the teenagers around the countryside. Railroad lanterns hung from the side panels of the wagon and on posts up the drover seat.
Padraig looked for his date. Dianna, the minister’s daughter, hadn’t arrived yet. It took courage to ask. Dianna was intellectual, dramatic, and said she went by herself weekends to New York City. She claimed she was sexually active and had an abortion but her father didn’t know. Padraig tried to be cool in the face of her frank talk. He liked brilliant literate women.
He stood beside Kate. She waited for Roy. Roy drove a 1957 Lincoln convertible, robin’s egg blue.
Other teens arrived. Mr. Shippee called out, “All aboard!”
Kate looked up at Padraig, smiled sheepish. Padraig recognized the pained look in her eyes.
“I guess Roy ain’t coming,” she said.
“Dianna stood me up, too.”
Self-consciousness punched him in the stomach.
Kate took Padraig’s hand and tugged him to the wagon. They climbed aboard and crawled beneath the hay. The horses pulled out on the shoulder of the blacktop. The hayrick rolled on rubber pickup truck tires. Horses’ hooves clopped and the hayrick swayed like an infant’s cradle. A few teens stood and held on to the sides of the wagon. Others sat at the end with legs dangling. As Mr. and Mrs. Shippee made the turn onto the gravel topped Cucumber Hill Road, Kate lit a Marlboro and exhaled smoke into Padraig’s mouth. Tongues met. Kate sat up, stubbed the cigarette out so as not to catch the hay on fire, and put it back in the box.
Beneath a starry night, a full moon, the horses’ hooves clopped, reminding him of the Mother Goose rhyme to market-to-market to buy a fat pig, home-again home-again jiggity jig. Padraig and Kate snuggled in their embrace and kissed. Padraig had learned to French kiss in East Boston from Marie. Kate kissed with confidence and put his hands to her breasts. He caressed the soft mounds of flesh, then slid his hands under the back of her sweater and unhooked her bra. He learned that from Marie too. Hands beneath her sweater massaged her flanks, back, belly, breasts and nipples. The adults sat in the drover seat and passed a bottle between them. Padraig knew if he put his hands in Kate’s panties she’d moan. Another thing he learned from Marie. So he did not. Kate wriggled and pressed against him, unable to get enough of his lips and breath and tongue. Mr. and Mrs. Shippee steered the horses on another gravel road, Central Pike, two miles to the blacktop that ran from the center of town. It took two hours before they arrived back at the church on the corner of the highway. Parents waited in cars. Kate kissed Padraig goodbye and climbed from the wagon. He waited for Kate to get into her mom’s car before he crawled from beneath the hay and walked home.
November 5, 1968:
Richard Nixon elected President.
Padraig flared his nostrils and tasted the weather. Cool. Sharp. He looked over the swamp and hills. The leaves of the red oaks had turned russet, the maples burgundy, the birch yellow. Big Hank adjusted the block and tackle on the limb of the oak tree.
“Go get the hog.”
Milk cans of water boiled on the stone barbecue pit. A claw-foot bathtub to scald the hair off the hog sat among the trees.
Suey had wandered freely over the summer, foraging for acorns and yellow jacket nests.
Lately, to acquire more lard, the pig had been kept in a pen along the drystone wall through the woods.
Padraig spoke to Suey as he tied a rope around the pig’s neck.
“I read a lot of books while visiting you by this stone wall.”
Suey danced and frolicked all the way to the killing tree. Padraig kept slack in the rope. This is Suey Jesus’ last day alive, his last moment.
Big Hank loaded the single-shot .22, placed the barrel just above the pig’s eyes, and pulled the trigger. Suey fell to his knees. Sharpened butcher knife in hand, Big Hank leaped on top of the pig and drove the blade into its throat. Big Hanks forearm halfway in the wound, he twisted the knife up and down, the gash huge and gushing blood.
So that’s how to kill a man.
November 14, 1968:
Yale University agrees to admit women
Padraig came home from school to find the shack freezing and the woodstove fire too low. Big Hank, sick with flu, lay in bed. He asked Padraig to chop wood and bring it inside.
Padraig hunched his shoulders. “Seven younger brothers and sisters. Can’t they ever chop too?”
“Look Son you the oldest. I’m sick and can’t do it.”
Padraig, pissed off, went outside. He chopped the deadfall he dragged through the woods earlier in the autumn.
Why always me slinging brush ax and mattock why always me building corral and fence? Why always me chopping and chopping and carrying wood?
He brought in armload after armload and stacked it behind the woodstove, floor to ceiling from wall to wall. When Padraig brought in the last armload his stepfather without a word got up, set a chair by the stove for Padraig to sit, and then lay back in bed.
One night while doing homework at the kitchen table, he watched Eileen standing by the woodstove. She was trying to thread a needle to sew a button back on a blouse.
Big Hank stood beside her.
“I told you to pull the thread between your teeth before you twist the end.”
He spoke to her gently, with humor.
It was a side of Big Hank that Padraig hadn’t seen before.
After Eileen sewed her button on, she returned to her room in the trailer part of the shack. She put a 45 on her record player. A song by Gary Puckett and the Union Gap scratched the air.
Young girl, get out of my mind.
My love for you is way out of line.
You better to run girl,
You’re much too young girl.
Padraig was chopping wood when Eileen got home. He had missed Kate over the weekend and had not seen her at school on Monday. Padraig swung the ax and stuck it into the chopping log.
“Where is she?”
“Let’s go for a walk.”
They walked the mile-long dirt road from the shack, woods on both sides of them, thin crust of ice over pothole puddles broken where a car drove through it. They went along the woodlot trail and stopped at the big brook. Eileen dug for a cigarette in her purse, found one and lit up.
“Kate went to a kegger with the school football team. She got drunk and gang-raped. The whole town knows.”
Padraig clenched teeth, clenched fists, and said nothing.
The next day Kate still had not returned to school, nor the days after that. Not at church either.
Every afternoon after school and after chores, he threw the k-bar into the exterior wall of the shack until dark. He practiced aikido rolls, somersaults, cartwheels, thunking the blade into the wood. While spinning on his back in the dirt, legs in the air, he flung that knife and just missed Big Hank stepping around the corner. Big Hank looked at his stepson and said nothing as the k-bar vibrated in the heart of a chalk-drawn man.
He skipped school Monday morning to hitch to the Providence Public Library. He hitched home in the afternoon. Walking backward on the shoulder of Route 6, he lit a cigarette, opened Kerouac’s On the Road with his left hand and read, right thumb out. A car pulled to the shoulder and stopped. He caught up with it. It was Miss Houlihan. He climbed in the passenger seat. She sped back to the highway.
“The school administration has targeted you. I agree with your politics but can’t risk losing my job by letting them know what I think.”
“Do you understand what it means?”
Padraig looked out the window and into the woods. He shrugged his shoulders. “It already happened to Butch Reed. He’s always on the run. Targeting means being criminalized, forced to quit school, have the highway patrol search me every time I walk or drive down the road. It means being arrested on trumped-up charges, police dogs hunting me through the woods, death if I am caught and there aren't any witnesses. My stepdad told me all about being targeted.”
He imagined Miss Houlihan pulling in at the dirt road by the swimming hole, taking the cutoff to the old graveyard, and fucking him.
“Yeah,” she said. “You understand perfectly. And I could become a target by helping you.”
By the time she let him off at the end of his dirt road, snow fell, the flakes large.
Padraig went off the rutted track to walk through the woods. He studied the six-pointed snowflakes on his coat sleeve. No two snowflakes alike, same as people. As he approached the Big Brook, he heard a car radio. Stepdad’s Belvedere with the Batmobile rear window parked on the woodlot trail, out of sight from the road. Big Hank and fifteen-year-old Eileen making out in the front seat.
That weekend Padraig took out the single shot .22 from the closet and a box of long rifle shells. He trudged through the snowy woods to a high spot where he could watch the dirt road. As Big Hank drove up, Padraig’s hand steadied as he aimed. He found his stepdad’s face through the windshield, and followed it the way Oswald might have done. He lowered the rifle, walked in his tracks back to the house.
His stepdad watched him come through the woods to the frozen mud-ruts of the driveway.
Padraig carried the gun, barrel downward. He pulled the back the bolt and opened the chamber, removed the bullet.
“This is for you.”
Big Hank extended an opened hand. Padraig observed the left pocket of his stepdad’s leather capretta, hanging low with the weight of the mother-of-pearl handled .38.
Padraig waded through the snow in the woods, lit up by a starry night. It was mid-November. He needed a smoke and had no money to buy any. Snow weighed the boughs of the white pines. No trail to the church, he brushed against the smaller pines. Snow slid off the boughs, branches springing up from the release of weight. He could use release from his mind’s weight. Why should he allow Big Hank to live?
He came through the trees to the back of the church. The door unlocked, so it wasn’t breaking and entering. He found a Chesterfield cigarette butt in the basement kitchen and made a pot of coffee. Alone and thinking of Kate, he still had no car. She had no phone. He beat off in the sink. He fantasized of Miss Houlihan, her skirt riding up her thigh, unbuttoning her blouse, her breasts swelling above a lacey bra. He beat off again. After drinking another cup of coffee, he cleaned his dishes and rinsed the sink.
His plan required that he make a purchase. No cash, no problem. The region often practiced a moneyless economy, everything for trade, except gasoline. Locals used gallon cans of maple syrup as cash. Some folks carved hickory ax handles. Anyone who raised a pig smoked it at Steve’s charcoal tanker, a bank of sorts. Bushel baskets of homegrown sweet corn, venison, even a live snapping turtle had value.
On Friday, after sunset, Padraig hiked by the side of the blacktop to the center of town. The center of town consisted of a small post office with wanted posters on the wall, a red painted one-room schoolhouse that served as the town library, the town clerk’s office the size of a four-seater outhouse, and the volunteer fire department and headquarters of the young Ku Klux Klan.
He entered the firehouse through the side door. The card table, dollar bills in the pot for a poker game, sat alongside an old green fire engine. Someone had tacked a confederate flag to the wall.
He heard a gruff voice.
“No timber niggers allowed.”
Padraig lifted his chin and threw back his shoulders.
“Fuck ya, ya white peckerwood motherfucker.”
Jimmy Patterson shoved his chair back and stood, swelling his chest.
“Come on then, ya prick ya.”
The others kept eyes on the two young men as they walked to each other, dueling samurai ready to hack each other to pieces. Instead they embraced.
Joey held him by the shoulders.
“You come to play cards?”
“Came for twenty M-80s and a five-minute fuse.”
“As long as your money is green.”
“I have something better.”
Padraig slid his backpack from his shoulders. The others put their cards face down. From his pack he removed the portfolio. He untied it and spread the drawings of Barbarella over the cards and dollar bills.
“Four drawings, 10 bucks each.”
Joey pulled a Kruger from the case, opened it and passed it to Padraig. It wasn’t ice cold. It tasted fruity. Apples added to the grain?
The guys stood up and walked around the drawings. Padraig knew by the sharp inhalation and the ogling that he’d get what he came for.
“I’ll take those. They’ll be worth a fortune someday.” Joey pointed at two drawings, one of Barbarella strapped onto a sci-fi gurney, her face expressing exquisite delight, her breasts exposed, her vagina exposed, futuristic mechanical dildo inserted. The other drawing, aliens with humanlike male genitalia stood around Barbarella on her knees, her spacesuit rolled to her hips as she pulled a warty and veined cock with each hand, one cock in her mouth.
Padraig nodded. It was ridiculous. These fools would buy anything he drew that had tits.
Joey opened a cardboard box and gave Padraig four packages of M-80s, five per package. Each red cardboard tube of M-80s, 1-1⁄2 inches long and an inch in diameter, contained 3 grams of black powder.
“I’ve been winning,” said another. “I’ll take this one.” The new owner of the third Barbarella pulled a 10-dollar bill from his wallet.
Another card player purchased the fourth drawing.
Padraig had fought every guy at the table, fished beside them, played on the Little League team with them. He turned and walked out the door, knowing the drawings would soon adorn the fire station wall just beneath their stupid fucking confederate flag.
The following Monday as school ended and Padraig just sat down in a school bus seat, a bomb exploded in the male teachers’ lavatory of Metacomet High. It took out three toilets, the panels between the toilets, and cracked the urinals. School closed for a week. The state police investigated.
When detectives visited Padraig in the shack, his mother bristled at them. The house was chilly. Padraig excused himself as he built a fire in the woodstove. He knew the detectives weren’t used to the cold or the smoke of a woodstove fire. The slop bucket in the passageway closet between the house and trailer was near overflowing, just in case they had to piss.
Padraig sat in his chair and shook his head.
“I can’t help you. Every boy in the school can get materials to make a bomb, and they know how. Mainly those white supremacists. Did you help uncover the Minutemen attack on the Quakers in Connecticut?”
The detective nodded. He shook Padraig’s hand and left.
Padraig remembered something from the year his family squatted in an abandoned dentist’s office on Stony Island.
That year Dick Nixon ran for President. He drove up Stony Island in his motorcade. South Chicago black men, white men and Puerto Ricans made a gauntlet along the route. A cannonade of bricks and bottles became a wave breaking along a concrete strand.
Richard Nixon’s motorcade sped up. Mayor Daley’s motorcycle cops knew well this was no trick or treat Halloween. Eight-year-old Padraig threw a rock big as his fist-sized heart. It skipped once on the blacktop then hit the door of the second limousine.
He felt powerless as he watched Louise grab Eileen by the hair and drag her across the trailer floor. Big Hank was there. Eileen threw her arms in front of her face to ward off punches. She tried to twist from Louise’s grip, and looked up at Big Hank.
“Please help me,” she cried.
“I can’t,” said Big Hank.
Louise threw Eileen out the door and into the snow.
Padraig went out to help her. He led her through the woods to the spring where he bathed her bruised face and split lip.
“Do I have a black eye?”
He brushed her cheeks with his fingers. “Two black eyes.”
“She found out Big Hank was fucking me twice a week in the Belvedere in the pull-off down the dirt road.”
“I’m going to kill him.”
She knelt on the snow covered sphagnum moss. “Don’t. It’s my fault. I thought I was in love and had to take care of him.”
“How can it be your fault? How can I not kill him?”
“If you kill him, his children will have no father. And you will go to prison for the rest of your life. You’re not a coward if you let him live.”
Padraig didn’t feel sure about that.
December 10, 1968:
Father Thomas Merton
The Trappist monk, silent months at a time, died December 1968. Padraig suspected that they killed the monk for the workings of his mind. They killed him for the Gnostic mountains that he climbed to be with his beloved, and his debate that U.S. handiwork in Vietnam was lifted from the Nazi paradigm.
While at a conference of Buddhist and Catholic monks in the jungles of Bangkok, Thomas Merton died adjusting a fan, electrocuted as he stood in his bath.
Who placed that fan? That is so fucked-up. An easy set-up by pro hit man.
Padraig walked through the snow in the woods to the church. When he arrived, there was a surprise going-away party for him in the basement. Louise had organized it. They played albums by The Cream, Jimi Hendrix, and The Young Rascals. Padraig danced with Kate, her forehead lined with grief, her lips pressed together. They slow danced to Groovin’, on a Sunday Afternoon, his face in her hair and smelling the heat of her body.
He smelled her sweat that mingled with the scent of Ivory soap. To him it was a good smell.
She put the side of her face to his chest and spoke in a hard voice, quiet enough for only him to hear. “They pulled a train on me. Everyone in town says it’s my own fault, I’m a whore.”
“You’ll never be a whore.”
They danced with his arms encircling her waist, one palm in the small of her back. Her arms under his wrapped to the back of his shoulders. She clenched her fingernails into his lean muscles.
The next morning Padraig’s grandad drove from Boston, picked him up and drove to Logan airport. He flew to Chicago to move in with his biological dad. Books filled his suitcase along with journals. On the Boeing 707 he opened up The Rebel and began to read. He was sixteen years old. He would never again see Kate. It was 1968.
If you have been moved by the issues in this story, the author has nominated the ASDIC Metamorphosis programme as a worthy cause affecting change in the eradication of racism in the USA. Donations may be made at their website: https://www.asdicircle.org/donate/
Kevin O’Rourke, a working class poet and a former bargehand on the Mississippi River, took second place in the long poem section of the Scottish International Open Poetry Competition. The following year he took the first place trophy. For 20 years he conducted poetry therapy circles at Stillwater Prison, Shakopee Women's Prison, and Oak Park Heights Maximum Security Prison, the Veterans Hospital, and runaway shelters. When the C.I.A. ran crack cocaine and guns to inner cities to finance illegal wars, Kevin did youth intervention with art and outdoor programs from a storefront in Minneapolis. Police murdered the most intelligent and outspoken of those youths. Kevin practices the Lakota Sundance religion, and bridges the historical trauma of Irish, Afro-Americans, and Native American people. He is the foster dad to an American Indian teenager.