Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction and Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel and post Colonial Asian Fiction, Yiddish Literature, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality historical novels are some of my Literary Interests





Thursday, May 31, 2018

“They Were Like Family to Me”. - A Short Story by Helen Maryles Shankman, 2017, from the collection of that name












They Were Like Family to Me by Helen Maryles Shankman is a collection of eight interrelated short stories.  Most take place during the German occupation of a Wlodawa, a city in Poland.  The collection has received very high praise, it mixes magic realism with vivid descriptions of people and events.  The times were terrible.

As the title story opens, set not in the past but in contemporary Wlodawa, two men, one a priest, are looking at a map.  An old man 
approaches them and asks if they are Jewish.  They say no and he tells them most of the visitors they get are Jews come to explore the past of the town under the Germans.  Here is their opening interchange 

““Well. Obsession, really. I’m traveling around Poland, Russia, the Ukraine, trying to collect stories of what the Nazis did. Before the people who witnessed them are gone. Things that didn’t make it into the history books.” The old man’s lips compressed into a thin line. “The history books,” he said contemptuously, dismissing the entire genre. “All they ever tell you is what happened to the Jews. Never what happened to the Poles.” He added hastily, “It’s not their “Well. Obsession, really. I’m traveling around Poland, Russia, the Ukraine, trying to collect stories of what the Nazis did. Before the people who witnessed them are gone. Things that didn’t make it into the history books.” The old man’s lips compressed into a thin line. “The history books,” he said contemptuously, dismissing the entire genre. “All they ever tell you is what happened to the Jews.....The priest nodded. Encouragingly, the old man thought. “The first thing the Nazis did when they got here was round up anyone with a brain. The mayor, Jablonski. The superintendent of the schools, Wygand. The judge, Wiesneski. Slipowitz, who was something important in industry, I don’t remember what. Anyone who could think for themselves. They marched them all off to the forest and shot them. But do you see that in the history books?” The priest nodded sympathetically. “Terrible,” he agreed. “The Jews, that was later,” the old man continued morosely. “In 1942.”

The priest realises the man could be a very valuable source of information.  He tells how he survived, as an orphan during the war.  His best friend was Jewish, his family became like family to him.  They fed him and he searched in the woods for food for them.

As the anti-Jewish activity picked up an order went out for all Jews to report.  It was common knowledge they were to be shot.  His friends hid in a cave in the woods.  

I do not want to tell more of this wonderful story.  I tried to imagine the tremendous guilt the old man carried all his life.

The closing reveals a deep irony.  I greatly look forward to reading the other seven stories.


About the author 

Shankman’s writing appears in The Kenyon Review, Gargoyle, Cream City Review, Grift, Jewishfiction.net, The Jewish Standard, The Times of Israel, and numerous other fine publications.
Two of her stories, They Were Like Family to Me and The Jew Hater, have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. She was a finalist in Narrative Magazine’s Winter Story Contest and earned an Honorable Mention in Glimmer Train’s Short Story Award for New Writers competition.

Shankman spent four years working in Tribeca as an artist’s assistant, followed by two years working at Conde Nast as a graphic designer, assisting the great Alexander Liberman as he did a radical redesign for Self Magazine. After Self, she returned to school to study classical technique at the New York Academy of Art, where she was awarded a Warhol Foundation Scholarship. Shortly after earning her MFA, she was invited to become a member of the First Street Gallery. Her artwork has been displayed in numerous exhibitions in and around New York City. She has painted many commissioned portraits, including one of Hillary Clinton that was presented to the White House while she was First Lady.

Her parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts are Holocaust survivors. Many of the events in her fiction are based on personal family stories of Holocaust loss and survival.

From the author’s website 

Mel u






Wednesday, May 30, 2018

“The Great Blue Open”. - A Short Story by Ethel Rohan, August 12,2017






The Great Blue Open” by Ethel Rohan

Ethel Rohan on The Reading Life - included is a very interesting Q and A session, my posts on her work and a post by Ethel Rohan

Ethel Rohan’s Website



My main purpose today is to make sure all into quality short stories have the link to a recent story by Ethel Rohan published in the Irish Times, “The Great Blue Open”.

My thoughts on Ethel Rohan, from March 2014

“Last year I read a story, "Beast and the Bear" by Ethel Rohan, a totally new to me at the time  writer.    I read it during Emerging Irish Women Writers Week.   I never expected to read a story during this week that I would end up regarding as belonging with the greatest short stories of all time.  I read it four times in a row I was so amazed.   Since I read that story for the first time, I have read, I estimate, at least 1000 other short stories including most of the consensus best short stories in the world.  After reading "Beast and the Bear"  again yesterday and this morning I am completely convinced it should already be counted among the world's greatest short stories.  I was in fact so shocked by the power of this story that I wanted to be sure I was not overreacting.  I sent a fellow book blogger whose taste I know to be exquisite and educated through decades of reading short stories and she said only the very best short stories she had ever read, she is noted lauthority on Virginia Woolf, could compare to it.   I know this sounds hyperbolic but it is how I feel.  I do not lightly say a short story written by an author I had never heard of the day before I read it belongs with the work of the greatest of short story writers but that is my opinion.  In a way I felt a sense of satisfaction in that I am open enough in my perceptions and judgments to be able to make such an assertion.”

Since I wrote this Rohan has published three collections of short stories, a memoir about Dublin and a highly reviewed debut novel, The Weight of Him.

Today’s story opens in a Dublin park.  A young mother is pushing one of her daughters on a swing.  Then something is wrong

““Higher,” Sorcha begs. I put everything I have into my next push and right as my arms extend I am gripped by pelvic cramps and spurt blood. Sorcha complains that I’ve stopped pushing her, but then realises something is wrong. She jumps from the swing, calling to her older sister.

Maeve runs toward me, her little face creased with panic. Despite being the eldest, she is our nervous child, afraid of monsters in her pillow, bacteria eating her flesh, her bellybutton popping open, and everything else her imagination serves up to terrorise her. My uterus contracts again and a large, warm clot leaves me. The gelatinous blood streaks down my bare calves in much the same red as the king swan’s beak. I feel like I’m emptying. Feel like it won’t stop.
The heavy bleeding persists over the next several days. I grasp at benign explanations – early menopause or harmless fibroids – anything to defer an invasive exam and possibly sinister results. My husband, Damien, insists I go to the doctor and get myself sorted.”

Rohan does a very good job letting us inside the mind of the narrator.  Her doctor takes a biopsy, it will be a few days before the results come back.  As you would imagine these are long stressing days.  The narrator begins to think about her mother.  She was a wonderful cook.  Her never realised dream in life was to start a restaurant.  Her fate, unknown the narrator does not want to die with her own dream unrealised.

Rohan brings the family to life.  It was fun to listen in on her conversation, she is a solicitor, with a difficult client.  Her husband seems a decent man.

The ending, which I will leave unspoiled was emotionally gratifying and moving.

I will be soon posting on her novel and will continue following her career.

Any fan of short stories will enjoy “The Great Blue Open”.


From the author’s website 


“Ethel Rohan’s writing often centers on the body—its joys, secrets, memory, urges, splendor, and horrors. When she writes, she’s stolen away.
Rohan’s first novel, The Weight of Him, published from St. Martin’s Press (US) and Atlantic Books (UK) in 2017. The Weight of Him won a Northern California Publishers and Authors’ (NCPA) Award and a Silver Nautilus Award, was shortlisted for the Reading Women Award, won the inaugural Plumeri Fellowship, and was named an Amazon Best Book, among other distinctions.
She is also the author of two story collections, Goodnight Nobody and Cut Through the Bone, the former longlisted for The Edge Hill Prize and the latter longlisted for The Story Prize. She wrote, too, the award-winning chapbook Hard to Say (PANK, Editor Roxane Gay) and the award-winning e-memoir single, Out of Dublin (Shebooks, Editor Laura Fraser).
Rohan was longlisted for The Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award, winner of the Bryan MacMahon Short Story Award, and shortlisted for the CUIRT, Roberts, and Bristol Short Story Prizes. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, World Literature Today, PEN America, The Washington Post, Tin House Online, The Irish Times, and GUERNICA, among many others. She has reviewed books for New York Journal of Books, and elsewhere.
Her stories have also published in various anthologies including Without You: Living With Loss (Ballpoint Press, 2018); Reading the Future: New Writing from Ireland (Arlen House, 2018; THE LINEUP: 20 Provocative Women Writers (Black Lawrence Press, 2015); Winesburg, Indiana (Indiana University Press, 2015); DRIVEL: Deliciously Bad Writing by Your Favorite Authors (Penguin: Perigee, 2014). She is also a contributor and associate editor to the anthology Flash Fiction International (W.W. Norton, 2015).
Rohan has taught writing or was a featured author at Listowel Writers’ Week, Belfast Book Festival, The London Short Story Festival; The Abroad Writers’ Conference; Los Gatos-Listowel Writers’ Week; the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Festival, Book Passage Corte Madera; San Francisco State University; San Francisco Writers’ Grotto; San Francisco Writers’ Conference; Green Mountain Writers’ Conference; among others. Born and raised in Dublin, Ireland, Rohan lives in San Francisco where she received her MFA in fiction from Mills College and is a member of San Francisco Writers’ Grotto.”

From the author’s Website 


Mel u


Tuesday, May 29, 2018

“Actors” - A Short Story by Cynthia Ozick, first published in The New Yorker October 10, 1998


Please share your experience with the work of Cynthia Ozick with US.


“Actors” is the fourth work by Cynthia Ozick I have had the pleasure of reading.  Previously I read her novel, Heir to the Glimmering World
and her novella, Dictation.  I like works in which the characters read, where books play an important part.  Heir to the Glimmering World is centred on the family, Jewish immigrants from Nazi Germany.  The husband is a world class scholar, his wife a once famous physicist now gone quite mad.  Dictation is about what happens when the secretaries of Joseph Conrad and Henry James meet.  I also read her beyond praise Holocaust story, “The Shawl”.

“Actors” has wonderful characters.  The lead is a late middle aged stage actor, in New York City.  He fancies himself a great actor.  He has not worked much lately though he was once successful.  His wife Francis is the main breadwinner in the family.  She is crossword puzzle editor.  Every week she is obligated to produce three puzzles, one easy, one of the middle range, and one very challenging.  She is a very erudite polyglot.  They both speak some Yiddish and Matt is very much from the Yiddish theatrical tradition.  She had four miscarriages. He thinks he should not have to audition or seek out roles.  His wife wishes he would work more.

A lot of the fun of this story is following the actor as he visits theatres.  We see the vivid personalities involved.  He is offered a role playing Lear, but not that Lear.  It is a part in a play set in New York City about an elderly man with three adult daughters.  Of course he at first refuses the part saying he is not old enough but he agrees.The playwright has just died but the director says that does not matter.  There are very well wrought minor characters and the depiction of the relationship of the couple is very well done.  The opening of the play was 

“Actors” was a great pleasure to read.  The collection in which “Actors” appears Dictations: A Quartet, has two short stories I am looking forward to reading, in addition to Dictation.

“Her parents were immigrants from Russia – her mother came as a child, her father at 21 to escape the tsarist conscription. They ran a pharmacy together, addressed each other in public as Mr and Mrs O, and brought up their two children in what Ozick now sees as the tail end of the 19th century. "Certainly there were plenty of cars, but the milkman came with horse and truck, in the Bronx, and in the summer the horses turds would be on the sidewalk and the sun was very hot and the streets were made of tar and these straw turds would sink into the tar and they had this fragrance of barn and country and it was not an unpleasant olfactory experience.”  From The Guardian 

The digital list price for the book is $14.95, it is now on sale for $1.95.

Mel u





Monday, May 28, 2018

Call it Sleep by Henry Roth. - 1934 - 462 pages







“Call It Sleep is the most profound novel of Jewish life that I have ever read by an American. It is a work of high art, written out of the full resources of modernism. It subtly interweaves gutter, cellar, sexual and religious taboos with the overwhelming love between a mother and son. It brings together the darkness and light of Jewish immigrant life before the First World War as experienced by a very young boy, really a child, who depends on his imagination alone to fend off a world so hostile that it begins with his own father.” - Alfred Kazin

1906 - Born in Tysmenitz, Galacia, Austrian-Hungary

1908 The family immigrates to New York City

1934 Call it Sleep is published

1985 Dies in Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA

Set in New York’s lower east side, the first stop for many Yiddish speaking immigrants Call it Sleep is an amazing, complex work of art.  The novel intermingles bits of Hebrew, Aramaic, Yiddish along with English to show us how it felt to be an eight year old boy in this environment.  The story takes place maybe 1908 or so.  The streets are half motor vehicles and half horse carts.

David lives with his father and mother.  The father has a violent temper which costs him a series of factory jobs.  Finally he gets a job that suits him, a milk man.  The relationship between the David and his mother is very close, he is afraid of his father.  I don’t wish to say a lot about Call it Sleep but will just say a few of the things I liked about it.

The wive’s younger sister Bertha arrives from Austria.  She is as bold and foul mouthed, in great contrast to the timid mother.  Her and Albert, the boy’s father, have some monumental verbal battles.  It was a lot of fun to see this and I also greatly enjoyed the lead up to Bertha’s eventual marriage to a Russian Jew, a widower with two daughters.  The dinner where Bertha brings Nathan home to meet her family is a classic.  The constant exchange of insults between Albert and Bertha was a lot of fun.  Just before Nathan arrives Bertha tells Albert not to scare off Nathan by acting like a barbarian, Nathan’s response is he will do nothing to prevent her leaving.  He tells Bertha he cannot wait to meet a man so desperate as to marry her.

After a few months David goes to visit Aunt Bertha’s Candy shop.  The screaming match between Bertha and her two step daughters was perfect, down to the “You are not my mother”.  Bertha is kind of a stock character, the abusive loud mouthed woman married to a very mild husband.

The mother has a terrible secret, one that eventually causes a horrible fight.

Roth captures the feel of the tenements, the mixture of languages, cultures, religions and nationalities.  Above all for the Family it is a struggle to adjust.  We see David very slowly growing up, learning English and going to Hebrew school.  In one harrowing scene he gets lost and ends up at the Police Station.  Of course the Police man who helps him is Irish.

I laughed out loud several times, I enjoyed How Roth made use of a Yiddishized English.  All The characters were very real.  

This is truly a great novel













Sunday, May 27, 2018

Tales of Bialystock: A Jewish Journey from Czarist Russia to America by Charles Zachariah Goldberg, Translated from Yiddish by Phyllis Goldberg Ross, 2017,published in Yiddish in the 1930 and 40s.




A few days ago I received an E Mail listing all book length translations of works from Yiddish into English.  I was very glad to find a Kindle edition of short stories set in Czarist Bialystock.  I must 

confess the image below flashed in my mind, from the very much in the tradition of the Yiddish 
theatre movie from Mel Brooks, The Producers of Lee Meridith demonstrating to Zero Mostel and 
Gene Wilder how elegantly  she could answer their future office phone with a sultry “Bialystock and Bloom”

 



Tales of Bialystock - A Jewish Journey from Czarist Russia by Charles Zacharia Goldberg is a delighful collection of stories based on the author’s experiences before he escaped from the city of that name in North Eastern Poland in 1906 at age twenty, taking a steam ship from Hamburg to NYC.  He was born in Bialystock in 1886 and died in NYC in 1954.

His daughter, the translator, tells a very interesting story about how these stories came to be first written in Yiddish roughly between 1930 and 1950.  She tells us her father, not a highly educated man, began to submit brief stories to Yiddish language Newspapers in New York City.  The stories were about the lives of Jewish people in Czarist Bialystock 
often focusing on their conflicts with  Christians. ( There is a vivid story about Jews organising to fight Cossacks in an anticipated program.  The narrator hid in the stair well while a Cossack, on his horse, ransacked his house.) He kept his stories in a notebook.  When he died the translator’s mother kept the notebook, her daughter found it when her mother died in 1982. For about thirty years Phyllis kept the notebook, she could understand spoken Yiddish but not read it.  She wanted to share these stories so she learned to read Yiddish and published this delightful collection of stories.  Some of the stories were based on Goldberg’s experience, other on things other Yiddish immigrants had told him.

In one of the stories, I have not yet read them all, “Stealing Across The Border” we follow along as a young man makes very difficult decision to go to America.  His brother was in NYC and his cousin in California and they sent him fare money.  There is a system for getting to the port City of Hamburg.  

There are twenty three stories in the collection and a Cultural survey of Bialystock by a noted historian, I. Shmulewitz.

This collection is very fairly priced at $3.95 as a Kindle.  It is a valuable edition to translated Yiddish short stories.  I will read all the stories and hopefully post on a few more of them.

Mel u





Tales of Bialystock - A Jewish Journey from Czarist Russia by Charles Zacharia Goldberg is a delighful collection of stories based on the author’s experiences before he escaped from the city of that name in North Eastern Poland in 1906 at age twenty, taking a steam ship from Hamburg to NYC.  He was born in Bialystock in 1886 and died in NYC in 1954.

His daughter, the translator, tells a very interesting story about how these stories came to be first written in Yiddish roughly between 1930 and 1950.  She tells us her father, not a highly educated man, began to submit brief stories to Yiddish language Newspapers in New York City.  The stories were about the lives of Jewish people in Czarist Bialystock 
often focusing on their conflicts with  Christians. ( There is a vivid story about Jews organising to fight Cossacks in an anticipated program.  The narrator hid in the stair well while a Cossack, on his horse, ransacked his house.) He kept his stories in a notebook.  When he died the translator’s mother kept the notebook, her daughter found it when her mother died in 1982. For about thirty years Phyllis kept the notebook, she could understand spoken Yiddish but not read it.  She wanted to share these stories so she learned to read Yiddish and published this delightful collection of stories.  Some of the stories were based on Goldberg’s experience, other on things other Yiddish immigrants had told him.

In one of the stories, I have not yet read them all, “Stealing Across The Border” we follow along as a young man makes very difficult decision to go to America.  His brother was in NYC and his cousin in California and they sent him fare money.  There is a system for getting to the port City of Hamburg.  

There are twenty three stories in the collection and a Cultural survey of Bialystock by a noted historian, I. Shmulewitz.

This collection is very fairly priced at $3.95 as a Kindle.  It is a valuable edition to translated Yiddish short stories.  I will read all the stories and hopefully post on a few more of them.

Mel u



































Saturday, May 26, 2018

Georges Perec by David Bellos - 1994 - 824 pages







I offer my great thanks to Max u for the Amazon Gift Card that allowed me to acquire this wonderful biography 

George Perec’s parents immigrated to France from Poland in 1924.  His father was killed in 1940 serving in the French Army.  His mother died at Auschwitz in in 1940. The great  Yiddish writer I. L. Peretz was a distant relative.  Perec spoke some Yiddish but had little sense of being Jewish.

March 1, 1936. Born in Paris

1958 to 1959. Served as a Paratrooper in the French Army

1961 to 1978. Worked as an archivist for The Hospital Saint Antoine in 
Paris

1969 La Disportier, a 300 page novel without an “E” Is published 

1978 Life a User’s Manual is published, to great acclaim 

March 3, 1982 dies. Paris

Last month Amazon recommended Life a User’s Manual by Georges
Perec, translated from the French by David Bellos.  I had never heard of the author but the book did sound interesting to me so I took a gamble and acquired it.  Now I regard Life A User’s Manual as one of the very best novels I have ever read as well as being just a delight to experience.  I was stunned by the creativity and brilliance behind this book and wanted to learn more about the author as was very happy to learn Bellos has written an 824 page biography of him


David Bellos is considered the authority on Perec.  His book starts with Perec’s grandparents back in Poland.  It is very detailed on all aspects of the life of Perec, from his long career as an archivist, his marriage and romances, his role in French intellectual life and his prolific literary output.  (A comprehensive bibliography is included). He offers very insightful commentary on his fictions and his work in the cinema and theater.  His long commentary on Life A User’s Manual for sure increased my understanding of the complex fascinating structure of this marvellous novel.  I hope to reread it pretty soon and will, I hope, see deeper into this very Parisian book because of the guidance of Bellos.

I offer my appreciation to Bellos for making Georges 
Perec available to the Anglophone Reading Life World.


DAVID BELLOS is Professor of French at Princeton University. He won the Prix Goncourt de la Biographie for Georges Perec and has been chiefly instrumental in introducing this author to an English-language public. He is the English translator of Life A User’s Manual (for which translation he won the IBM-France Prize). Things: A Story of the Sixties, W or The Memory of Childhood, and “53 Days”, all by Georges Perec. He has also published studies of Honoré de Balzac. His biography of Jacques Tati is also published by Harvill in 1999...from the publisher 

Mel u



























Thursday, May 24, 2018

“Night of the Frogs” - A Short Story by Jaki McCarrick - author of The Scattering A Collection of Short Stories and Belfast Girls






A Wide Ranging Q and A Session with Jaki McCarrick


Today I’m very happy and honoured to present to my readers a short story by Jaki MCarrick, “Night of the Frogs”.   I posted upon her wonderful debut collection of short stories, The Scattering in March of 2013 during Irish Short Story Month III.  Since then I have followed her work closely.

From my post on The Scattering 


The Scattering - A Collection of Short Stories by Jaki McCarrick is an amazing body of work, with shimmering incredibly entertaining stories that go deep into the heart of many of the issues facing contemporary Ireland.  This book deserves tremendous success and a very wide readership.  

It both confirms and rises above the common elements of the Irish short story: the weak or missing father, the presence of the stage Irishmen, the uneasiness of the relationships of men and women,  the heavy reliance on alcohol, the temptation toward arrogance as a way of dealing with the humiliating consequences of colonialism, the obsession with death, and the false rebellions of posers of all sorts.

Jaki McCarrick is an award-winning writer of plays, poetry and fiction. She won the 2010 Papatango New Writing Prize for her play LEOPOLDVILLE, and her play BELFAST GIRLS, developed at the National Theatre London, was shortlisted for the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize and the 2014 BBC Tony Doyle Award. BELFAST GIRLS premiered in Chicago in May 2015 to much critical acclaim (Windy City Times Critics’ Pick) and has since had numerous international productions. The play opens in Australia in May 2018. Reviews: http://www.samuelfrench.co.uk/p/58614/belfast-girls 

Jaki has also recently been selected for the Irish Film Board’s Talent Development Initiative to adapt BELFAST GIRLS for the screen. 
Her play BOHEMIANS was read at RADA on January 18th 2017, starring Imogen Stubbs and Rob Jarvis, and is due to be staged in 2019. Another new play is soon to receive its world premiere in New York. In 2016 Jaki was shortlisted for the St. John’s College, Cambridge’s Harper-Wood Studentship for her short play TUSSY, about Eleanor Marx, a piece she is currently developing for Kibo Productions.

Jaki won the 2010 Wasafiri prize for short fiction and followed this with the publication of her debut story collection, THE SCATTERING, published by Seren Books. The book was shortlisted for the 2014 Edge Hill Prize. Formerly longlisted for the inaugural Irish Fiction Laureate, Jaki is currently editing her first novel and a second collection of short stories (provisionally entitled NIGHT OF THE FROGS) which will include the Pushcart Prize-nominated story, Fogarty.

She has held numerous residencies including Writer-in-Residence at the Centre Culturel Irlandais in Paris & also regularly writes arts pieces for the Times Literary Supplement (TLS), The Irish Examiner and other publications.



Night of the Frogs

‘Myra Hindley, the notorious child murderer, has this evening died of respiratory failure,’ the presenter says. The news fills Mother and I with happiness, but it is also deeply and unexpectedly sad, because of Alfie, my twin. 

Later, I escape Mother’s persistent sobbing by going for a walk to the docks. I walk along the back of the town, on the new path along the Ramparts River. The November evening is grey and misty and there are puddles of rain all over the roads. I stop off at Mullens’ Takeaway and buy a bag of chips, eat them outside on the street, save a few for the swans. I’ve discovered that the swans have a penchant for Mullens’ chips and it makes me smile when I think of this secret I have about them. I walk on, through Seatown. En route, I see numerous yellow-green frogs on the ground, some alive, some dead. I kick at one and it thrashes about in the wet and leaps off. I wonder if perhaps it has rained frogs as there are so many. I wonder if perhaps the frogs are some kind of sign.

When I get to the harbour, I see that it is unusually full of boats. In the middle of a long row of vessels is a cargo ship I’ve not seen before. The ship’s name, Boisterous, reflects onto the dark water, each letter fractured slightly by the current. Its cargo lies scattered in crates on the pier yet there is no sign of anyone on board. I move closer, inch over the yellow strip on the rim of the pier. There are lights on inside but no sound. To the right are three fishing trawlers, festooned in red and pewter-coloured lobster cages. These are familiar to me, and I imagine their owners in the nearby Wine Merchants’ bar, warming their hands by the fire, enjoying a drink. 

I turn to see three figures outside the bar. I wonder if they’ve something to do with the scattered crates. The three are talking, animatedly. I try to listen but can’t make out what they’re saying. They speak at turns in Polish – which I recognize because of Theodore - and in another language, Russian, perhaps. One of the three is short, around Alfie’s height, a child perhaps, and another seems familiar to me, but I can’t be sure who it is in the darkness. As I study this figure, a truck, blaring Elvis, screeches into the yard. It turns by the end of the pier and stops dead outside the tannery. A man jumps out of the truck, walks towards the group. Again there are sentences I do not understand thrust loudly into the air.

Turning from this scene, I look out at the harbour. The moon is a scythe in the charcoal sky, around it a grey corona. The dim light permits no view of the mountains towards the border, allows for an outline only, a sense of there being a buttress, an end-point to the town. This quality of boundary is something I like. It makes me feel safe in a way the open moors of Saddleworth did not. 

As my eyes adjust to the shadowy light, I see that further out the swans are grouped together in the centre of the river, on the long marshy island where they nest. They make no attempt to come to me. I always look forward to feeding the swans when I come to the docks but now there’s no room for them on the crowded pier, and the sadness with which I’d left the house begins to rise up again within me. I shake the cold chips into the water, watch them float out to sea. Suddenly, I see her face in my mind, smiling down from the driver’s seat at Alfie and me. I shake the image free, take a deep breath. I turn to leave the harbour but tread carefully, watching for loose grain on the pier.  Within a few paces, my shoe loosens and I stop to clasp the catch. The newly prescribed shoe has been giving me corns and these put pressure on my foot when I walk. Hunkered down, I hear a cry and turn to see the three figures running after the truck as it speeds from the docks. When it’s quiet I shake grain from my trousers, walk slowly towards the bar. As I approach, I see a man on the ground. Closer, an ink-dark pool with steam rising from it. I touch the stricken man’s face: still, rubbery, cold. As I reach for the shiny object that lies beside him, the door of the Wine Merchants opens. I look up at the horrified face of the owner, Marcus Brown.

It has long been Marcus Brown’s dream to transform the docklands area of the town into a sort of Left Bank district. He’s been featured in many local newspapers stating as much, punches it out like a mantra whenever I’ve been in his bar. Says he has his eye on the tannery next door and plans to turn it into a restaurant. Therefore, I quickly grasp that the horror I see in Marcus’s eyes is due not only to the sight of the bloody corpse - and the knife in my hands – but also to the impact this situation may have on his dream. I know what the publican will ask me to do.
                                      
Theodore and I both check delivery paperwork in the former GNR Customs Clearance Depot, which was established during Partition and is now a distribution point for goods arriving from the northeastern ports. The depot sidings are a colourful, shrub-filled place where foxes roam freely, often in daylight. Behind the depot are fields, several brooks, large detached houses. Whitethorn spills from the fields to the tracks in May. In summer, the line is bordered by honeysuckle, fuchsia, montbretia. Outside, along the Ardee Road, are a couple of factories, a petrol station, a few new bungalows, a row of redbrick houses - one of which is home to Mother and I. 

Theodore is a tall, elegant, slightly pocked-face man of forty. He’s popular at work, and often takes it upon himself to single-handedly check the contents of the crates that come in from the docks. He makes jokes, and once pulled a piece of Polish coal from a crate and ate it, ‘to warm my heart in a cold country,’ he had said. He boasts of a training at Jerzy Grotowski’s Laboratory Theatre in Krakow, and claims a degree in Classical Studies from the University Of Gdansk, though he himself hails from the banks of the Vistula, near Torún – which is the home of gingerbread, Theodore says, and Copernicus. But despite his upbeat and chatty disposition, in repose, Theodore often seems sad. It has occurred to me that perhaps he regrets coming to Ireland, where he’s found little opportunity to implement the peculiar-sounding stage practices he describes to me so passionately. ‘When I’ve saved enough money,’ Theodore says, ‘I will start the Poor Theatre right here in this town.’ 

The stationmaster seems not to like Theodore, however, and is dismissive of the Polish man’s humour, his clever banter, practical jokes. A burly, ashen-faced man, who likes to start each working day with a single shot of rum alone at his desk, the stationmaster is married to my cousin Arlene (who was responsible for putting me forward for the job of clerk once I’d left St. John of Gods) and, despite his controlled alcoholism, he’s a real jobsworth. Arlene often brings her husband his lunch - then stops by my and Theodore’s office to chat. She seems always to enjoy her cultured exchanges with Theodore. Sometimes, I sit in the half-gloom of the shed-like workspace he and I share and think myself the luckiest man alive to have found such a job, be in such company, partake in such good conversation. Arlene, like me, is one of the Manchester Quinlans. After many years in the North of England the Quinlans moved back to Ireland, to the same border town in which my and Arlene’s fathers were reared. Sometimes, when we are alone, we talk about Manchester, and I detect a slight tension between us, as if she blames me, or what happened to Alfie at least, for having changed the course of her life. Though, in truth, what happened to Alfie changed all the Quinlans’ lives.

A few weeks after the incident outside the Wine Merchants bar, the body of a man is found on the swan islet in the river, tangled up in samphire and bulrushes, as is the suspected murder weapon, on which, eventually, are also found my fingerprints. I am called in by the Guards to ‘help with their enquiries’. I help with their enquiries for around nine hours. When the Garda asks why I’d picked up the knife, ‘I don’t know,’ is all I can muster, because it’s the truth. At the time, memories of Saddleworth had flooded my mind.  The lack of closure; all the years of not knowing, for certain, what had happened to my brother had pulled me towards that shiny object like a magnet. I recount my movements that night, all of which I remember clearly because it is the night of Hindley’s death – and the awful night of the frogs. I should not have picked up the knife, I know that. And I tell the Garda as much. The murdered man, the police inform me, had been repeatedly stabbed, and I - though it seems ridiculous given my physical weakness and placid nature - am their only suspect. Eventually, I am released. This is because, during my questioning, Marcus Brown takes it upon himself to walk into the station and inform the Guards that he moved the body - because he had not wanted it discovered on the doorstep of his pub. ‘There would have been too much negative publicity,’ he says. Marcus confirms he asked me to help and I had obliged. He apologies for his stupidity, explains how we moved the man with great care, reverence almost, over to the islet. The publican is conceited enough to think I helped him move the dead man in order to protect him. When I am let go from the station it is impressed upon me just what a serious offence it is to move a body from a crime scene. It’s not as if I don’t know this.

On the Sunday after my questioning, Theodore and I arrange to meet in a bar in town. I don’t tell him about my detainment. We discuss what we’ll do for Christmas and he reminisces about home, describes a city filled with Gothic architecture, surrounded by lakes and forests. ‘You must come with me one day to Torún, my friend,’ he says, and I beam. After a few pints of stout, we walk up the Dublin Road - to a visiting circus, at which we plan to spend the whole afternoon. Halfway there he stops. ‘You’re not yourself, Sean,’ Theodore says.
‘I’ve been thinking about my brother, Theodore, that’s all.’
‘How was your mother with the death of that woman?’
‘Never said much,’ I say.
 ‘You should not keep things all locked up, Sean. Let it out once in a while. The hidden things, they must surface. They will you know, whether you like it or not.’ 
We come then in sight of a row of red-and-white-striped tents pitched in a field. Cheery organ music fills the air. We carry on past the parked caravans, the stands selling toffee apples and candyfloss, a female tattooist, a tarot-card reader. Theodore holds my arm, guides me over the muddy path into the main marquee, towards the wooden benches in front. His touch is gentle and assured. (Sometimes, it seems to me that Theodore alone is able to break through the carapace of shyness I’ve managed to construct for myself since Alfie’s death.) A dwarf in clown’s make-up ushers us to our seats at the end of the bench. There is something familiar about the dwarf, his stance, tone. My heart sinks as I remember where I’ve seen him before. He and Theodore speak in another tongue, which I am almost sure is Russian. I look across the grassy circus floor and see my cousin Arlene waving and smiling, not at me but at a gushing Theodore.

Weeks pass, and I begin to notice how much Mother has brightened, as if Hindley's death has taken an enormous weight off her. I, on the other hand, have become far more morose.  Everyone has commented on it: Theodore, the depot staff, the stationmaster, Arlene. And when the murdered man’s name is finally confirmed, it sends me deeper into my despair. I know that soon the truth will emerge. I hear the first intimation of this announced on the radio: The body of a man found recently in the Castletown River has been identified as Slavic Janecki, a Polish truck driver who had been living in the Seatown area of the town. On hearing this, I am unable to swallow my tea. My toast sticks in my gullet. I am just about able to make it to the bathroom to get sick. I hear Mother pace up and down outside, listening to me cry out to a boy who disappeared off the face of the planet forty years before.      


When I had been in St. John Of Gods, recuperating from surgery on my foot, it was a lonely and bitter time. Unlike the other men in the ward, I received no visitors apart from Mother. I realised something in the four weeks I was there: I was becoming old, though in my mind I was still a boy. I considered that my life had barely moved on since the day our family had left England. I was stuck. In my memories of the moors, in a life that had barely got past childhood, and I felt suddenly annoyed with myself that I’d not made a greater effort to be in the world; to socialise, to forget. It racked me. After all, it was Alfie, and not me, who’d gotten into that car. Alfie had always been the healthy one. But he was always the one, too, to break the golden rule which Mother had drilled into each of us: don’t talk to strangers. I’d pleaded with him not to take the ride with the blonde lady with seagull eyes but Alfie hadn’t listened. Alfie was effervescent, believed in everyone and everything, while I was – and am still - cautious, overly ponderous, sensitive to the darkness in others. She had smiled at us, promised us sweets and a lift home in the front-seat from Friezland School across the stark yellow moors. Yet I knew, even at that age, that she was blackhearted, cold as hoarfrost. Still, it may as well have been me who had taken the ride for all I’d done with my days since. I resolved then to turn my life around - if only for Alfie’s sake. I promised myself (and my twin) that, henceforth, I would exit completely all my comfort zones. I would get out of the house more, find work, make friends.  On my last day of physiotherapy, I walked the length of the male ward, stopped at the Thought For Today picture at the end of the corridor. The caption across the image of two young boys read:
     To have a friend be a friend. 
I realised in an instant that I’d been doing it all wrong.

                                        
By the time I return to work, the stationmaster has been fully informed of what had happened at the docks. I do not mention to him that there are likely to be repercussions for me - having interfered with a crime scene - nor that it was a risk I was willing to take in order to help a friend. For now, I wish to forget the whole bloody affair, return to the comfort of my daily routine at the depot, of feeling I belong. But the news of what appears to be my peripheral involvement in some kind of gangland activity on the harbour docks has traveled fast. It is news the men at the depot find too interesting to ignore. Wisecracks fly around my workplace. These are, or are versions of:
- You’re a dark horse, Sean Quinlan.
- Didn’t know you were thick with them kneecapping smuggling gangsters, Sean.
- Didn’t know they let handicaps in the Ra, Sean. 
- What d’ya be doing at night be the docks with all them sailors anyways, Sean? 
It occurs to me then that I have never been this popular. Though the Guards’ continued presence around the station (despite Marcus Brown’s explanations, there seems to be police on every street corner, sometimes parked right outside the depot) is unnerving: it might lose me my perfect job. And while I am haunted by the fact I’ve contributed to a delay in the trucker’s family knowing his fate, the fact of the matter is, I’ve pieced something together about that night on the docks and I cannot share it. Theodore is right, it is wrong to keep things locked up, but what can I do?

Arlene stands in the lane at the end of the sidings, by the old steam engine. From the window of the office I watch my cousin shake a stone from her shoe. As the stationmaster has gone home, I wonder why she waits outside in the wintry cold. I watch the petite buxom figure pace the stony pathway, her long hair loosened now to her waist. I notice how the silky locks catch and hold the light. I watch her break the branches of the faded honeysuckle, inhale what’s left of its perfume, then stop to stroke Blackie, the depot cat. A lapwing swoops down to the hedge and Blackie skulks into the undergrowth, ready to pounce. Arlene shoos the cat and so saves the bird. I watch Blackie turn his attention then to a yellow-green frog making its scissor-like jumps towards the roadside stream. I smile at this simple scene, my cousin engaging with the sidings’ wilderness - when Theodore emerges from one of the cargo sheds, walks towards her. I back away from the window. He turns, it seems to me, to see if he’s being watched. Arlene flings herself at Theodore, wraps her arms about him. He lifts her high into the air, causing the posy of honeysuckle to scatter onto their clothes and hair. They kiss. The sight of them like this shakes me. Though I am happy for them both, I am keenly aware of the danger they are placing themselves in. And I am jealous: Theodore is my friend, not Arlene’s. The jeopardy I have placed myself in has been all for him, all for our friendship. Has he not understood this?

Suddenly, the sound of sirens closes rapidly on the depot. I leave the office as quickly I can. In the courtyard I see two armed Guards race in through the entrance. They pounce on the couple, walk them forcibly out front. A Garda indicates to me to keep back. I watch as Theodore is handcuffed, stuffed into the back-seat of a squad car parked in the middle of the road, with Arlene bungled into another. I take a moment to breathe, get my bearings. I have feared this day might come ever since the night Myra Hindley died. But Theodore is my best friend, has dreams of making theatre in the town. Surely, I would have jeopardized those dreams had I let it be known that it was he who was the figure in the darkness that night, outside the Wine Merchants, he who had run from the scene towards the red truck? (I had long figured out that the child-like figure who’d spoken in two languages was the circus dwarf.)
As the squad cars speed off, I make a slow trek back to the office. I’ve been the best friend I could to Theodore and still I’ve lost him. The thought of this weighs heavy. The phone rings as I approach the door. I get to the desk, pick up the receiver. It is Mother.  She’s at once talking and crying and yet sounds elated. ‘What is it?’ I say.
‘Are you sitting?’ she says. I want to blurt out all the events of the day, to tell her how tired I feel, that Cousin Arlene and my only friend in the world seem together to be involved in some kind of murderous scam, perhaps to do with smuggling, and that it is now likely the end of our friendship. I want to tell her how low I’ve sunk so as to protect him.
‘Yes Mother, I’m seated,’ I say, and sit down.
‘I’ve just received a call from the Greater Manchester Police,’ she says, ‘they’ve found him, Sean. They’ve found him at last.’ My wrist goes limp – it’s some kind of involuntary response. The receiver clatters to the desk. I hear Mother’s small and bristly voice continuing to explain that almost forty years after he’d gone missing, the remains of eight-year-old Alfie have been found on Saddleworth Moor.  It is undeniably him. The bog has preserved items of clothing: the Friezland blazer, the grey flannel shorts, the black-rimmed spectacles. ‘Sean, Sean are you there?’ I hear her say, over and over.  I pick up the phone, tell her I’ll be home soon. I sit dazedly, in silence, not fully feeling the cold of the room nor hearing the winds pick up in the fields outside. My thoughts swing from the moors - to the docks on the night of the frogs. I am aged eight and watching the white Mini-Traveller speed away with my brother inside – then I’m in a small boat with Marcus Brown bringing the trucker across the river to the swan’s nest. How white and peaceful he looks. The Polish trucker and Alfie: proof that eventually all things hidden will come to light, just as Theodore had said.

End

I offer my great thanks to Jaki McCarrick for allowing me to share this delightful story with my readers.

This story is the sole property of the author and is protected under international copyright laws.

Mel u