Normally when I have a story published in a journal, I like to make a little fuss. It’s not The New Yorker, and it’s normally unpaid, but I still like to tell people….Hey look what I did!
Below is the opening from a story of mine called The visit; it was published last month by The Ilanot Review.
In the seconds before the visitor pulls a balaclava over his five o’clock shadow you already know he is bad news. A solitary figure slouching up the long farm path, no friendly wave, no shouted greeting. Skin tight denim, drainpipes your father would have called them. No dungarees, no boiler suit, you know this is not the unrecognised younger son of a neighbour, come to borrow a half pound of staples for a barbed-wire fence.
Just before his face swims into focus he pauses and pulls on the mask, taking all your attention, and you gasp in amazement as two other wraiths materialise from the shadows behind you.
Strangers on your land, in your yard. How strange are they? Let’s find out.
“Dia daoibh,” you say, strong and loud. “Dia is Muire dhuit,” replies the first stranger, “God and Mary, be with you.” The words in the Irish language roll off his lips without thought, as automatic as the responses at Mass on Sunday. If you had intoned “The Lord be with you,” he would have chanted back “And also with you.” The man behind you to your left is more fluent still; “God’s blessing upon the work,” is his reply. The third man is silent.
Ok, so what’s wrong with that? A good strong start, promise of more to come. Why has it taken me so long to get around to sharing it?
The Ilanot Review is a really great magazine. It’s hosted by wordpress, as a matter of fact, you can link straight to it on the list of blogs I follow. Ilanot is run by the English department of a respected University, it’s well edited, publishes good work from around the world. Why am I so shy of sharing the Review and more particularly, my story?
I think it’s a kind of shame really. A fear of being thought hysterical, claiming my place in the hierarchy of suffering.
My story is a story based on my childhood experiences in Northern Ireland. That’s not to say it’s autobiographical, or thinly disguised memoir. It’s fiction. And yet. And yet. There’s a lot of me in it. A lot of the pain that came through living in Northern Ireland during the 70s and 80s, seeing the suffering, but more importantly seeing the suspicion, the reservation, the secret nod and the silent sign. The utter lack of transparent honesty. Seamus Heaney said it best; “Whatever you say, say nothing.”
Twenty years later I wrote a story. The bare event, the visit of the paramilitaries to the isolated farmhouse, happened to dozens of rural families, never, to my knowledge, with the conclusion I have invented. But it was real, it happened.
I wrote a story and I sent it to a journal and they published it.
And then they invited me to drink wine and eat cheese at the launch party. And I would have loved to have gone. But I didn’t go. Because the University is in Israel and the party was in Jerusalem and even I wouldn’t fly thousands of miles for a glass of wine. And before the wine glasses were washed and returned to their cupboards, Israel and Gaza were at war. Again.
How can I enjoy my little story, when people are dying? How can I enjoy sharing my news and spreading the word when more people have died in the last 7 weeks than died in Northern Ireland during the whole thirty year horror that we call The Troubles?
I am being silly? Probably. I am being melodramatic? That’s part of what I am afraid of. Am I comparing the Middle East to Northern Ireland? God, no. I don’t understand what happened in my own homeland, I’m not going to start claiming understanding of the decades-long history of Palestine versus Israel.
The only thing I know for sure is that killing people doesn’t help. Yes, I know that much.
If you are interested in reading my story you will find it here.