Down With Jazz

[Hi, readers:

This one is super-long for a blog entry. That’s because it’s a short story draft–you know, those things you skip past in the _New Yorker_ or stopped reading after your Leaving Cert–so don’t feel you have to plough through it. YouTube is always right next door on the internet.

But if you’re interested, the story is inspired by an RTE radio documentary of the same name from 1987, and I’ve imagined it taking place in my grandparents’ hometown in Roscommon. I didn’t know them very well, so those bits are entirely made up. The awesome letter to the Catholic Herald is real, though, and so are the slogans. And one description of country life is swiped from a commenter here.

Oh, and I haven’t written a full-length story since my own Leaving Cert, so this took for-goddamn-ever. Making stuff up takes me even longer than reporting it. I’m posting a draft so’s I can see it with some distance and then patch it up.

As the phone company would say, “We know you have choices for your blog-reading needs, and we appreciate your business.” Thanks for stopping by.

-D.]

…you danced with her the best slow dancer
Who stood on tiptoe who almost wasn’t there
In your arms like music she knew just how to answer
The question mark of your spine your hand in hers
The other touching that place between her shoulders
Trembling your countless feet lightfooted sure
To move as they wished wherever you might stagger
Without her she turned in time she knew where you were
In time she turned her body into yours
–David Wagoner

 

The bicycles go by in twos and threes
There’s a dance in Billy Brennan’s barn tonight
And there’s the half-talk code of mysteries
And the wink-and-elbow language of delight.
–Patrick Kavanagh

Main St, Mohill

After Mass, Charlie Hanley offered Margaret Kelly a bar to the Saturday dance in Elphin. The fellas had bicycles, and the girls did not, and it was better that way. It meant a High Nelly was a ticket to ask.

The light girls were popular. They’d back up to the bicycle bar like little high jumpers, pretending to be more delicate than they were, and with a laugh and a wobble you’d be away. Margaret was middle-sized–two wobbles, maybe three–but when he reached for the handlebars on either side of her good frock, with her hair tickling his chin, he was glad of every mile of the seven from her home place to Elphin. She was cushiony enough not to complain about the iron slap from each rut in the road. Instead she gripped the bar and pointed her knees primly ahead, like a Strokestown House mistress riding sidesaddle.

They passed Billy Carmody and his donkey, bringing home the churn from evening milking. They saluted Jonjo Sharkey and his old bitch Gypsy, who even though her eyes were milky still snapped at Margaret’s dangling feet. These days the sheep obeyed Gypsy only out of habit, or pity. Jonjo would have to get the shotgun to her soon.

All day Charlie had turned turf. The sods already smelled warm and nearly meaty, as they would when stacked beside the range in winter. At the dinner hour they unwrapped their mother’s bread and drank strong tea from milk bottles. There was just him and the brother to cut their plot of bog. Margaret had a rake of brothers, but they were still young lads, and when she walked out to bring their dinners to the bog she often stayed on to work harder than they did. Though Charlie had known her since she was in High Babies and he was in Second Class at the schoolhouse, it was only in the last few years had he liked to watch her work from across the bog. She looked stronger than she was; rheumatic fever in Sixth Class had given her a bad heart.

In the evening Charlie and the brother walked back, stopping as they always did for a smoke on two flat mossy rocks in the bottom field. They shared a Sweet Afton and listened to the land. Half of life was winding down and half waking up; a change of shift, you might say. It was sweet now to stretch out on a warm rock and do nothing but draw in smoke. He thought about Margaret Kelly’s hair. As the night went on they might be dancing a rumba. Close-to-close dancing like that, it was bolder than the proximity of a bicycle ride, because there was no reason or excuse but the pure pleasure of it. The thought made him feel so alive it was barely bearable. _O yes, we have no bananas…_

Noel was too young for the dance, and his mind was on Under-16s hurling. Why, he wanted to know, did Father Treacy have Lennon playing centre field again tomorrow? Anyone with eyes in their head could see Lennon should be centre-forward and Noel should be midfield. Lennon was more skilful and a better scorer, and Noel was fitter, bigger, and more controlling of centre field. How else were they to beat Tulsk? Charlie agreed it was a senseless thing. Noel would puzzle it further, but Charlie was inclined to get to the dance. He stubbed the butt and rose towards home, hungry for his tea. The milk bottle rolled in his jacket pocket. Noel followed, slapping a sliotar from hand to hand, still complaining.
Continue reading “Down With Jazz”

Swings

On the walk home from Max’s reading last night, we stopped off at a playground in Park Slope. I’d been tempted by the swings here two Saturdays before. These are cool municipal swings, not like the truncated little set in our back garden when we were growing up. Long, solid chains, wide seats, and smooth tarmac underneath. I knew these swings would let me be a safety-harnessed Tarzan, but I didn’t want to be near the bored, jostling 14 year olds who claimed them that day.

At 1.30 last night, though, they were mine. At first, I felt exhilarated. Then I couldn’t go much higher and I started to realize I was going nowhere. Back and forth, back and forth, an endless revving up for nothing. Drunkenly, I tried to calculate how drunk I was, which made me nervous. I imagined what would happen if I let go at the top of an arc. There were butterflies in my stomach as the swing dipped each time.

Someone said that a fear of heights is really a fear of our impulse to jump, and it’s true.