My story part one
You might call me bitter but then I have need to be.
My father came to England with my mother, my brother and myself. We landed at Liverpool
and I saw for the first time the joy money could buy. T'wasn't the shops filled
with fripperies for the fashionable ladies that caught my mother's eye but the
joints of fine ham and the sweet smell of freshly baked bread. She had seen nothing
like it in Galway and seeing it made her realise how poor we truly were. The light
died in her eyes my father said, as if she knew how hopeless it was from the very
We stayed with relatives off the Scotland Road, in the room they gave us that once
was their cellar. We were fortunate since some of the rooms slept eight or nine
at a time. My mother was so ashamed of this - that we came from two rooms to one.
She wore her pride like a cloak around her and it wore away so quickly in this
England till there was naught but the very threads left.
My father was a hopeful man but even he knew that Liverpool was not the place for
him. He loved his books and his ledgers. This place was a rowdy bustling seaport
and there was little opportunity for a couple as quiet as my parents. They had
so many hopes and no way to reach them. We moved to Manchester and there my father
got a position in the office of the biggest mill in the city.
He worked long hours for little money so my mother made lace collars for the gentry
out of cotton so fine it quivered in a breath of air. Each stitch a remembrance
of love for us, so small, so perfect. A labour that helped us eat and put clothes
on our backs. Gave her headaches too and made her cry but we were lads filled with
the devilry of our nature and we neither noticed or cared. Until the days came
when cholera walked the streets of the city and took her. Then we noticed the gaping
hole in our lives and Jesus Christ, we cared.
My father was lost without her and soon succumbed to grief which left me and my
older brother Matthew. Now Matthew had ideas about where his life was going and
they didn't include me. At the time I hated him for leaving off the way he did
in the halflight beore dawn, when the carts were coming round for the horse shit
and the gaslights were turned out.
I never heard of him for weeks until he wrote to me on some fancy paper that smelled
of cabbage. Turned out the sneaky bastard had gone and got himself a position at
Eton as a general handyman. Fixing and repairing was right down his line although
his real dream was to learn a foreign tongue. He wrote his letters to me in the
kitchen which explained the stink of cabbage but I loved the smoothness of the
paper and the pictures his words brought to my mind. Food mostly -stories of what
the lads there ate. Bread and butter pudding, jam rolypoly, spotted dick , thick
creamy custard. Never mind the stories of the roasts and chops. I dreamed of food
fit for a king many a night after.
His letters began to change after a few months there. I was busy making my way
in life. Doing some fixing and repairing of my own, mainly with my fists and feet,
and I'm not ashamed to say it. I'd hooked up with a loan shark who, when he needed
the money repaid, called on a few good men to make people see it his way. One of
those good men used me to look after a few streets.
I wasn't that intimidating...too much of an ear for a sob story but he said I'd
go far one day. Said I had a clever way with words and picked up all sorts of things
that were useful to him. Taught me ways of dealing with people that used my words
and I found they hurt far more than fists.
... there were times when I felt the red mist of anger over my eyes and the blood
of Brian Bhoru run in my veins. Then I would let the anger take me to a different
place where the Danaan sang the war cries of old. The result would not be pretty
and my body would not be soothed for many a day but there was no help for it. I
needed something more in my life and there was nothing but what I had. It made
my soul yearn for something more and my mind fill with discontent.
The only diversion I had was lying on my bed reading the letters from Matthew.
Here it was that I began my first experience of .....
My story Part Two
Such recollections make for a disturbed nights sleep. Last night I dreamed of Matthew
and my parents. Even Orlando's caresses could not stop me dreaming.
All must be told for it is in the telling that truths reveal themselves and lies
are exposed. I still do not know if I have found my truth. As for the lies...well,
time is on my side.
Matthew was transfixed by Orlando. Plain and simple.
'He is beautiful, Dominic, like something from those tales mam used to tell us'
Dark and exotic. Sensual and appealing. My Matthew fell for him.
Fell so hard.
Oh he didn't say so for after all I was his brother not his priest. I could tell
though by the way he spoke of him, with bated breath and half formed thoughts that
sprang out at me from the paper itself.
Orlando spoke to him, treated him like a human being and did not think of him as
Matthew began speaking of the way Orlando was teaching him French. The way Matthew
would sit by the kitchen range and Orlando would read to him from the grammar books.
'It was like the most vivid poetry - such wonderful sound and it was all for me.'
I envied him those quiet times. Shared with someone who mattered.
There were other names he mentioned but I took no notice of them. It was Orlando
that I was curious about. In the cold mornings I would read the letters and imagine
what he could be like. Sometimes, I would stroke myself as I read and imagine someone
there with me. I called him Orlando but in truth it could have been anyone. To
be wanted, desired by another. It seemed a dream I would never see fulfilled.
At first I didn't notice how the letters changed. Talk of a great scandal but then,
what is an uproar in quiet halls is a mere pinprick in the real world, so I ignored
it. Matthew was beginning to sound like a lovesick fool, mooning over a button
fallen from Orlando's jacket, or a word spoken in a loving way. I had no time for
such things. My world was harsher, with the tears of the frightened and the threats
of the bully my constant companions. I was getting sick of it but it paid well.
I was not short of cloth or food but I knew this was not for me.
'He has gone. They have taken him from me.' One line on smooth cream paper with
the crest of the school proudly displayed. I heard no more then for weeks. It didn't
worry me unduly. Matthew was his own man and I had no right to interfere.
It was only when I opened a letter written in a perfectly formed copperplate hand
that my blood ran cold.
My brother, my poor deluded brother, was so far gone in his foolishness that he
could not bear to be abandoned so by his beloved Orlando. His work had suffered
and the school had determined to release him from his obligations. The night before
he was to leave, he hung himself.
I got drunk that day. Raging stinking drunk. Got into fights. Wrecked a flower
sellers barrow on Deansgate. Roared my anger and my guilt to the world. Stupid,
stupid to leave himself open to such charms. They were not for the likes of us.
All my family gone except for me. Alone -me a man who loved the company of others,
the craic and the laughter.
Yet I did not condemn Orlando. For him it would have been a kindness to Matthew,
no more than that. It was Matthew who made the choice to open his heart to that
which wasn't there. To pretend that love was there for him when all he had was
the fantasies in his mind.
I sold my things and left Manchester, travelled to Eton and they allowed me to
speak to the household staff who knew Matthew. They had some kind words for which
I was grateful. I asked to see where he was buried and they looked at me askance.
I should have guessed there and then, but the warmth of the kitchen range seduced
me into believing these people were his friends. Finally I found where his remains
lay. They had not cared about Matthew - only the need to keep it quiet and respectable.
He lay in an unmarked grave where all the other paupers of the parish rotted till
No marker and no mourner had my brother. No family there to mark his passing. No
friends to give him the semblance of a decent burial.
Only me and I was not much of a brother. I came late and with no way of providing
a stone to tell the world of what he was.
I sat by the grave in pouring rain, soaked to the skin, feeling sorry for all that
could not be undone. Sorry for myself too.
I determined to travel to London to find this Orlando, find some connection to
my brother. Find out about words they had spoken, what if anything they had shared.
All my family, dreamers every one of them, lost to me.
I had to find something of Matthew to hold fast to.
I had to find this Orlando.
So I began my journey, shivering and ill, pretending all was well.
I do not remember certain times except I was feverish and in one inn the landlady
said I called for my mother. It does not matter in the scheme of things although
the smoke of London makes me cough even now and the fever sometimes returns.
I walked like a man possessed, remembering Matthew's longings and recalling the
emotion this Orlando seemed to excite.
I pulled out the old letters from my knapsack and read the things I had not paid
much attention to before.
Oh Matthew, he was so beyond you in so many ways.
Such extremes of emotion from all those Orlando met.
Love and deadly hatred.
Who was this man?
I realise many might wonder
why I make these entries. It helps me to think. He is such an enigma even when
I share his bed. My head whirls with my feelings. I need the peace and the scratch
of my pen to make sense of this world.
I knew it was vast. I'd heard the stories and I don't mean the ones where the streets
are paved with gold.
It was bigger than I'd ever dreamed, with more money on view, more avarice, more
greed than I could have ever believed. For those who had nothing it was a sewer
of poverty and desperation.
I'd made some enquiries and my footsteps led to Soho. I plunged into that desperation
like a suckling babe.
No innocent yet I behaved like one. Looking back I cannot fathom my own foolish
actions. Even now Orlando roars with laughter at the way he found me.
Yes, I was looking for him and he found me. Such a child I was even though I was
past the age of 24 years.
I came to Soho and my mouth was still asking questions, in shops and pubs.
From match sellers to costermongers, from barbers to prostitutes, I asked them
all. I took their frightened expressions as fear on seeing me. Southerners have
these strange ideas about northern England. By now I'd lost the Irish lilt and
my vowels were harsh and quaint to London ears. My clothes were worn and my hair
It did not once occur to me the real reason they were so afraid.
I was asking about Orlando and he had power in this world. His word was law. His
whim was life or death to all within his jurisdiction and here I was, unaware of
the morass I'd stumbled into.
Such a fool deserved the welcome I received.
As twilight fell, the streets became deserted. I searched for lodgings but suddenly
all was closed to me. No room was the constant reply to my question. So many refusals
and even I began to get suspicious.
I resolved to find a deserted yard and sleep where I could but even here I was
There was nowhere to go. Everything locked and each barred entrance marked with
one of two marks. There was no business or livelihood free of these marks.
I remember wondering what it could mean. I had no idea of the simple way men had
of marking their territory in these quarters.
I knew I was being watched when the hairs on the back of my neck rose. My instinct
for self preservation is strong. I picked up a discarded piece of wood and walked
on, my eyes darting into alleys and courts trying to see something amongst the
I heard the steps before I saw them. There was no place I could run to but I ran
all the same.
Across the greasy cobblestones and down alley after alley, followed by clicks and
whistles. Always they seemed to know where I was heading for until I realised what
those clicks and whistles were - a code, a signalling system. These men were organised.
It was only a matter of time before I was trapped into a dead end. I saw the brick
wall and knew this was the day when my blood would stain a London street.
I turned to face them, hefting the piece of wood.
"Come on lads, lets see what you fuckers can do.."
I reasoned they would charge in a blur of energy and wasted effort. If I went in
swinging and kept going there was a good chance for breaking through.
My first mistake - believing them to be like those I'd faced on the Moss Side.
"Ere, nark, wot you doin' ere? Eh?"
The gentleman talking to me was built like a brick shithouse and smelled like one.
His words were strange sounding but I had a good ear for accents and I got the
Nark meant informer. Police tool.
"I am no nark" I made it mild - didn't want to annoy the natives.
"That's wot you say, but, nah, we doesn't believe you."
I was so tempted to tell him what he could do with his fucking belief.
Maybe I'd got soft on my travels and maybe I was tired of hunting for this elusive
I let my guard down and forgot the simple rule of street fighting.
While you are busy talking there is always someone coming up behind you.
First thing I knew, I was knocked to the ground by a blow from a billy club to
the back of my legs.
Then all hell broke loose.
I lost count of the kicks and blows -they hurt like all fuck but after a while
it became one blur of pain and I began to ride it out. This wasn't the first beating
I'd ever had and won't be the last. At the time though I wasn't sure but something
I heard a man with Yorkshire vowels yell to leave me and I opened my eyes to see
through ribbons of blood. He was giving the fucking orders, watching me bleeding,
and they were obeying him. Backing off and leaving me alive.
Leaving me alive. That was what was wrong with this. If they really thought I was
a nark then my brains would have been splattered from here to Hyde Park.
They didn't know what I was.
I crawled to a sitting position and wiped the blood from my eyes. Some bastard
had caught my head with his iron tipped boots. I felt sick and fuck every part
of me howled in agony. Riding the pain was one thing but afterwards, thats when
you missed your mates.
I was alone here with no friends and plenty of enemies.
I waited to see if my legs worked again and tried to think on matters.
They could have killed me but didn't. They could have crippled me but, God willing,
that hadn't happened.
So what the fuck was their plan? Make me an amusement? Some sort of street sport?
If I was a nark I'd be staggering off to one of Scotland Yards safehouses by now.
Only I'd be dead before I got there. The route I'd take would mark me straightaway.
They'd know where they were.
I was no nark but I'd have to move all the same. I needed help. I'd cracked some
ribs that's for sure, my vision was strange and the pain from my shoulder was beyond
words. Every movement took an age. I needed to get out of here.
Somehow my legs remembered their task in life and I managed to stand. Using the
slime covered walls I made my way out of the alley. Before I reached the end I
knew I was in trouble. Each breath was like a hot knife in my vitals. I felt sick
to my stomach and my sight even more distorted.
It was dark and I had no idea where to go. I could have been heading to a safe
house and not know about it until the knife cut my throat.
At that moment I doubt I'd have cared.
How long I staggered I do not know even now.
What I remember was that after a time I fell and I screamed.
All of me burning with an agony I could not stop or control. I surrendered to it.
Let it take me.
I remember there were footsteps and I saw the man again. Standing over me, curious.
"He's still alive."
"We cud take 'im to the boss an' show him wot we did. 'E'd be right impressed
"We are taking him anyway. Those were his orders. Lift him onto the board."
They lifted me and I reached a new level of pain. My throat was hoarse.
"Please...for the love of God...the pain..."
I'd never begged before. I hated it and I'm saying here and now there is nothing
and no one I will ever beg for in this life again.
The look of power in the man's eyes. The satisfaction of seeing another man demean
himself in the hope of aid. The pleasure of awarding life or death.
Never in my most terrible of nightmares did I expect what happened next.
Even in the worst of street fights there was nothing that matched this.
He leaned further and examined my eyes.
"Can't give you anything..might kill you" I begged still more. Release
from pain was all I wanted.
He shrugged. "Fair enough but you might not survive it."
I had no idea what he meant until his hand fastened across my nose and mouth and
the air was gone.
I fought until I drowned in pain and darkness.
Such fear and helplessness I will not allow again.
Although I have since made the acquaintance of this man and have had dealings with
him, I have not forgotten.
I have a very good memory and I can be patient.....but one day he will experience
what he put me through.
He knows its only a matter of time, don't you Bean?