Fiction - Gerri Brightwell

A Disgrace by Gerri Brightwell


No one lingered outside the house. After all, when Old Leary had heard that his youngest boy had been shot by the Gardaí in Dublin, he’d hanged himself in the parlour and hadn’t been found for three days. It was Mam who noticed the stench, for it was summer and his window left open. No wonder the place stood empty afterwards nor that, when people passed by at night and caught a creak like dry hinges, they remembered what was left of Old Leary swinging from his rope and hurried home.


The boards nailed over the windows gave the place a raw look. I stared at them from my window when I’d been sent upstairs for my homework being a disgrace, or not finishing my supper, Mam calling after me I couldn’t get away with it now my da wasn’t here. He’d been gone for months, working in Dublin she said, but he never came home, not even for Christmas. Besides, everyone knew he’d only taken off after the mayor’s son had been left for dead with three bullet holes in him and the Gardaí came in over our back wall and smashed in the kitchen door. They’d upended the table and knocked a pot of soup over the floor. But they hadn’t caught my da. When I was a man, I’d be quick as him, and as fearless. At night, though, when Danny had fallen asleep in his cot, I was always afraid. I dreamt of old Leary swinging from his rope, and the dark rush of uniforms into our house, and I’d lurch awake in a sweat.


One night I woke and the darkness was thick as treacle. I opened the window and rested my chin on the sill. Just as the cool air was softening the panic of my dream, I glimpsed a shadow moving against the darkness of the street. It gathered itself up outside Old Leary’s doorway then vanished with a sigh. After that, I slept with the window open and kept watch. Another night I heard the low singing of rope pulled over an edge. The next, a desperate whispering that clung to the air like cobwebs.


The cold coming through the window woke Danny, and that was how Mam caught me. Her face seized up and I thought I was in for a beating. Instead she hugged Danny against her and said over and over, “Don’t be scared.” To me she said, “You must leave a ghost alone, Brendan, if it’s to go on its way. You know that.” Mrs. O’Donal came over the next evening for tea and the talk was all of ghosts. She fixed me with her wet eyes and said they mustn’t be bothered or there’d be a terrible price to pay. Then she pushed her lips together and lifted her chin, and I knew she was making it up.


That night when the house fell quiet, I crept across the road and hid beside a car. I waited. I waited so long my fear congealed into a strange loneliness. I wasn’t ready when the blackness of the doorway twitched and rushed at me, wrenching my hair and shoving my cheek against the car door. I cried out with all my might. I heard, “For Christ’s sake—it’s my boy,” then in my ear, “Quiet—or you’ll regret it.” His hand was at my throat, and I held onto it so hard he had to push me away.


Lights were coming on in windows along the street, and he ran.