his head, deciding that philosophy was the best method of defence. He nodded towards Conn.
‘The sad thing is. Children tend to follow their parents. Even to the gates of Hell.’
‘We’ll be company fur each ither then.’
The priest shook his head again, as if Conn’s father had unsuccessfully been trying to answer a question.
‘What would your father say?’
‘Exactly whit you tell ‘im tae say. Ye’ve maybe made a blown egg o’ the auld man’s heid. But mine’s still nestin’. An’ ye never count yer chickens till they’re hatched. Ah’ll let ye know.’
The priest shook his head again, thought for a moment, turned suddenly, and walked away, back down towards the Foregate. Conn looked after the priest, elation mounting. His father had won. Turning to share his sense of victory, he saw his father’s face inexplicably bleak as he flicked his cigarette stub on to the wet road and went back into the entry.
But even his father’s strange lack of satisfaction couldn’t curb Conn’s delight. The giant who came to their door had walked away an ordinary man. The street resumed its own identity, became again simply a good place for playing in. Conn carefully lifted the discarded butt of his father’s cigarette. It was damp, and spilling shag. He held it gallously between his thumb and the middle and index fingers, and walked around impressively, exhaling manly clouds of air. He felt both security and excitement. It was a stimulating mixture, a boyish version of a sensation quite a few adults had known. If you were a friend of Tam Docherty, his proximity could be exciting. It was like being friends with Mount Etna. The lava never touched you.
That night Conn had something to tell Mick and Angus. It gave him importance. They listened carefully, asking him a lot of questions, and where he didn’t have an answer, he made one up. It was one of the first things he had hoarded up to share with them which wasn’t diminished by their reactions. He felt as if that one incident had bestowed a status on him.
He never fully lost it again. If not yet the equal of either of his brothers, he was at least an initiated member of the secret lives they led in the darkness of the bedroom, someone with a separate identity. The separateness thrilled him, but it was a pleasure which had to be paid for. There came a phase when he lay awake at nights, drowning in waking dreams, while his brothers slept. He lost himself down strange thoughts, stared for minutes into frightening and bottomless possibilities, got himself trapped within incomprehensible fears where he wrestled for release in a sweating panic.
One night, so long after he had started to sleep in this room that he had forgotten he had once slept somewhere else, he suddenly remembered the box-bed beside his parents’. Mick and Angus were asleep, Mick restless and making strange breathing sounds like a language Conn didn’t understand. Conn had been poised for more than an hour on the edge of terror. The room welled with a darkness that lived. Desperate with loneliness, Conn thought of the box-bed, the safety of having his mother and father. He wanted to be there.
Rising, he felt his way out of the room. The coldness of the floor made marble of his feet. He stepped stiffly around Kathleen’s bed and saw the fire red below the dampened dross, seeing it not as a fire, something with edges and form, but just as a redness, an inflammation on the dark. Its reassurance weakened him. Wanting to cry and luxuriating in his security, he wondered whether he should just climb into his old bed and be found there in the morning, or should waken his mother and have her voice to comfort him. He had started to move into the room when a strange sound halted him. He realised at last where it came from: his mother and father’s bed. But they weren’t in it. It was voices which weren’t voices, noises only, eerie, involved secretly with each other. He looked towards the darkness of
Under An English Heaven (v1.1)