Friday, February 16, 2018

Between Two Doors

For some odd reason, this night has been hanging in my head the past few weeks. The names and some details have been changed, but the feeling is accurately captured from that July night in 2001 in Belfast.

            He looked a moment at his "unsteadfast footing," then let his gaze wander to the swirling water of the stream racing madly beneath his feet. A piece of dancing driftwood caught his attention and his eyes followed it down the current. How slowly it appeared to move! What a sluggish stream! Ambrose Pierce Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge

It was so cliché, but all I wanted after two weeks in Belfast was some fish and chips. Two weeks and not one fish fry. It could have been the six or so pints at Lavery’s that also made some greasy food a good idea before we made our way back to our flat.

            As Erin and I walked into the shop, the sounds of Simple Minds Belfast Child intertwined with the harsh accents of those also attempting to quell the Guinness from their nights. I chuckled to myself because it was that song that I listened to over and over and over while writing my screen play. And there I was, in Belfast, in a chip shop, listening to that song.

            My mind also wandered to the lovely lad that I’d been seeing for the past week. It was nice to be seeing someone taller than me, that never happens. As my mind wandered between Simple Minds, Brendan, and the Guinness, the counter girl was pretty fed up with me.

            It was the best fish and chip I had ever eaten to that point in my life. Erin and I chatted about the night and about our work that had to be done the next day. We were both interning at a Northern Ireland civil rights office. We were both two naïve girls who were drawn to Northern Ireland and its strife. We were going to save the world and, of course, end 800 years of oppression.

            Happy with our greasy consumption and ready for some sleep, we left the shop and headed towards our flat. Maybe we were feeling too confident, forgot where we were, recessed several incidents over the past two weeks into a corner of our mind, or were let our guard down. We both sensed it quickly when we turned down our block.

            Our street, mind you, was only one block. However, when we turned the corner and felt the presence of two men following us, the one block became the length of ten football field plus the distance to the moon. The pin prickly feeling kicked in as we both agreed in whisper to walk faster and don’t look back.

            They walked faster.

            I could only hear the sound of feet and breathing. The entire city of Belfast had seemingly melted away. The only block that existed was this block and seemed to take forever to get even a few feet. My mind wandered but everything around me slowed down.

            It still seems like this took an hour to run to my door. It was only about 30 seconds and now we were running. They too were running behind us. They did not yell one thing the entire time and neither did we.

            I fumbled for my keys, but this too felt as if my body was in slow motion. Up the steps and I prayed I could unlock the door before they reached us. Damn it. I dropped the keys, and while still kneeling after picking them up, I unlocked the door. Erin and I feel in and then propped ourselves against it. The second door, with the key code was in front of us, but we didn’t want to move.

            They slammed against the door. “We know you’re in there.” They banged their fists against the door over and over. We were afraid to breathe. My mind finally caught up to my body and I realized how scared I really was as every possible scenario flooded my brain as we were caught between two doors.  

            In two weeks, I had been chased, hit with a whiskey bottle crossing the street, fled three bars because of bomb threats, almost walked right into the barrel of a soldier’s gun as he crouched in a crevice in a bridge, was stranded because riots closed roads, thought we were going to get thrown into the bonfires on July 11th had it not been for an angel, and the fact that there was a pledge to kill Catholics. Why not top it off with torture, assault, or who knows what else.

            It was our mistake.

            Everyone knows everyone in Belfast. They know your comings and goings. Who you are. Where you come from. They know who you work for. We put ourselves in the position of letting our guard down. We walked the same path every day. We walked the same path through centuries of lines drawn in the sand. We worked for the minority.

            Silence. We both eyed the second door. I knew they would be able to see me if we moved so it had to be quick. What was the code?

            Sure enough as soon as the beeps of me entering numbers began, the banging began again. Same thing. We fell in and held the door shut with our bodies, pretty certain we would stay there until morning when someone else in the flat went to work. We quickly assessed that they couldn’t get in any other way and felt a little more relaxed to move away from the door. Looking back, the funny thing was, we never mentioned what had just happened.

            From that night on, we always walked different routes. We never walked without a local escort (or Brendan). We never, ever talked about what could have happened in the violent summer of 2001 in Belfast.

            To this day, I dread when people walk too close behind me when it is not warranted. It takes me back to the time between those two doors when the world seemed to slow down and melt away except for our street in East Belfast.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Where Two Roads Meet - continuing the journey

'Tis a new year and this year marks the 20th anniversary of the Peace Agreement in Northern Ireland. And I am bound and determined to finally turn what used to be a screenplay into something a bit larger. I am working on developing the characters even more and working on my weakest area: show don't tell.

This is a bit of a sad part of the story, which is loosely based on the Irish myth of Cuchulain. And if you know your myths well, you know that Cuchulain not only cheat on his wife but also inadvertently kills his son...and no, I haven't given away the whole story.
Thank you for your patience and please please please ... ask questions and give feedback!

            Liam marches down the hallway towards the emergency department. He opens the door and heads straight for the front desk. “I need to speak to Abbi.”
            The nurse hesitates, “Is everything ok, Liam?”
            “I need to speak to Abbi, now.” His serious tone causes the other nurses to turn.
            “She’s in the break room.” She points down the hallway.
            Liam takes a deep breath and walks in the direction of where the nurse points. After he takes five steps, Abbi exits into the hallway. The two stop and stare at each other. Liam runs his hands through his hair.
            Liam takes a step back when Abbi advances. He notices the ballast in the light above him is beginning to fail. The light swirls in a sickening gaseous flow above his head from dark to light.
            “Liam?” Abbi moves closer and exhales, “David?”
            He can’t do this here in the hallway. He moves towards Abbi and takes her by the arm into an exam room.
            “Liam, what is going on? Did something happen to David?”
            He shakes his head no and holds her by both of her arms. He hesitates, “Bobby.”
            “Is he hurt? Where is he? ” Her body and mind not accepting the worst yet.
            Liam stares at her, his reddened eyes confirming her nightmare.
            Abbi pushes Liam away. She stumbles a few steps backwards before accepting that she cannot stand on her own legs anymore.
            As Liam rushes to help her, a cry escapes her body that is inhuman. As if her own soul is being exorcised, she trembles and cannot catch her breath. Two of the nurses rush to help but Liam won’t let them near her. He cradles her in his arms, rocking her to soothe himself as well.
            Finally, she is able to get the words “no” out of her mouth. Over and over, “no, no,no.”
Liam cannot hold back his grief anymore and begins to cry with her. Grief for the loss of his godson and grief for the agonizing pain he has to see his best friend suffer. He feels every muscle tremor in her body with every no and every sob that escapes.
            She tries to fight again, but his grip is too strong on her. She finally collapses into him, his arms wrapping around her, rocking her and their tears mixing together.
            “Liam,” the nurse kneels, “where is David?”


            David sits in a place he knows too well, the interrogation room at the local Royal Ulster Constabulary barracks. The lights are on too bright and the room is as hot as a furnace, the simple ways of trying to make him uncomfortable. He’s waited for two hours for anyone to come and talk to him.
            In Northern Ireland, anyone can be held without being charged with a crime. They try to wear you down, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. David tries not to let the thoughts about why he is in there overpower him. “I’m too careful,” he thinks to himself. His mind scans his body making sure his body language doesn’t show fear, frustration or fright. He must choose his words carefully, remembering what he says, in case they try to use his own statements against him.
            He wonders if this will finally be the time when they put the pieces together and send him away to the Maze. He knows Abbi would be financially ok, but couldn’t imagine her raising Bobby on her own. He’d ask Liam. His thoughts wander to how Liam would finally get the opportunity he’s been waiting for – surrogate husband to the woman he’s worshipped for as long as he can remember.
            He knows that what he could face is nothing like what his father faced during the internment round up of 1971. His brother told him stories of what it was like that August morning when their father was taken away not be charged with a crime and imprisoned for over a year. What stood out in his brother’s telling of that morning was not of how their father was plucked from their home without shoes on his feet. It was how that day he saw their mother cry for the first time. He’d never seen her cry when their father’s fists hit her over and over. The British Army took the only little bit of pride she had when they broke everything in her home. That was her home. She made sure it was filled with love and whatever food she could buy for her sons. They always had clothes to wear and books to read. David soon began to wonder if the army was going through his house as he sat there.
            Finally, two detectives enter the room laughing. One throws a folder on the table. They both sit, ignoring David for a minute. David crosses his arms and stares at them. “At any time is anyone going to tell me why I’m here?”
            The detectives look shocked that someone would actually speak without being spoken to. “Your act is very convincing, David,” says the older one of the men. The other slides the folder towards himself.
            “What act? I don’t know why I am here and I have done nothing wrong.” He leans his elbows onto the table.
            “Next you’re probably going to tell us that you’re a political prisoner and that you don’t recognize the system, right?” The older detective looks down his glasses at David. “Please, we’ve no time for that today.”
            The younger detective speaks up, “for someone who just lost his son, you’re handling it very well.”
            They wait for his reaction.
            “I’m not falling for that.” David truly does not believe this.
            The younger detective opens the folder and slides some photographs towards David. “
            David does not lower his gaze, “This is pretty low even considering your standards.”
            “David, know, we’ve played enough games. Do you know who did this?”
            “David, do you know who did this?” The older detective taps on the photo.
            David stares at the detectives.
            “Your father in-in law was able to confirm that a Mrs. Claire Kennedy was watching your son. Sure you’re close with her husband.”
            Still not wavering, David slides the photo back to the middle of the table.
            “I don’t believe you.”
            “Obviously, because if I were just told my son was dead I wouldn’t be so calm. This is, unless I knew this massacre was going to happen.”
            “Where’s my son?” David’s façade finally begins to change.
            “The question would be where isn’t he? Damn shame what those automatic weapons can do, but you know that.” The detectives look at each other and shake their heads.
            “You’re free to go. We’re sorry for your loss.” The two men stand, leaving David still seated.
            “You’re lying.”
            The older detective leaves. The younger one walks around to the same side of the table as David. He sits on the table. “It’s not a lie, happened about four hours ago. Shoe’s on the other foot now, boyo. Maybe you should get home to yer wife.”


             David walks through the front door almost three hours later and is immediately berated by Abbi’s father.
             “Where the hell have you been?”  His anger is no match for the desperation in David’s eyes.
            There are others present but David doesn’t hear words, just noise. The smell of whiskey, stale perfume and cigars hang in the air.
            David, in a trance, brushes past him, “Where is she?”
            “Upstairs,” his tone mixed with disappointment, sadness and anger.
            David rushes upstairs, but each step feels like it takes an hour. Anger, sadness, guilt, shame, and fear mingle with each movement. In the rush to get home, he has not fully comprehended the situation. He’s still in survival mode, at least until he sees his wife.
            He walks past his son’s room, the door thankfully closed. He treads quietly to their bedroom door. There is no crying, just hushed and soothing voices. Before David enters, Liam exits the room unexpectedly into the hallway.
            The two embrace as Liam begins a litany of I’m sorry.
            “How is she?” David takes Liam by the shoulders.
            “Better now. Better than most of us now actually…go, she needs you.”
            For the first time ever in his life, Liam witnesses David not only hesitate, but be fearful of something.
            Liam stands aside, leaving David to take the final steps alone.
            As his footsteps creak into the bedroom, he hears her take a sharp breath in before letting go of her sadness once more. His mother stands, leaving Abbi sitting on the bed. She walks towards David, who is still standing in the door as if not entering will cancel out the fact that his son is dead and his grieving mother sits inside.
            Finally, he moves beyond the door jam, Liam looking over his shoulder. David takes his mother into his arms, but somehow she seems larger than him as his head sinks to her shoulder. She squeezes him once and then gently pushes his away. Her hands rest on his chest as she turns towards the bed, her eyes again filling with tears as she turns back to him. Mary sighs and walks past David to Liam who stands waiting in the hallway.
            She quietly shuts the door behind her. They both wait for any sound of the room. As Liam places his arms around David’s mother, the unmistakable sound of a hand slapping against a face can be heard behind the closed door. And then the sobs of a mother in mourning.

            Abbi’s mother sips tea while David’s mother tends to her Irish coffee while Abbi cleans dishes in the sink. Liam and his mother Grace enter through the back door to the kitchen. Abbi turns the water off before hugging Liam and his mother.
            “Can I do anything, Abigail?” Liam’s mother touches her face gently.
            “Just keep the dirty dishes coming so I have something to do.” Abbi shrugs and then speaks softly. “You can keep David’s ma company, mine’s driving her insane.”
            “Can I get ye something to drink, ma?” Liam is already reaching for the coffee mug as he asks.
            “I’ll take mine like Mary’s, please.” Grace reaches for the whiskey.
            Abbi goes back to washing dishes while the three women sit at the table.
            “How is she today?” Grace looks at both women as her coffee is placed in front of her.
             “She’s washed everything in the house, I think.” Mary shakes her head from side to side.
            “Poor dear. No one can prepare you for this.” David’s mother reflects in her statement.
            “And no one should have to. Is David still outside?” Abbi’s mother looks around as if searching for a way out sitting at the table with two women in which she has nothing in common.
            “He needs his time, too. I didn’t know what to do when Samuel was killed.”
            Without missing her opportunity, Beth Murphy picks up her tea, looks at Mary with an icy stare and delivers the following statement: “Well, Bobby was an innocent child, Mary.” She sips her tea with precision.
            The red builds in Mary’s face, her blue eyes narrow.
            Liam’s mother looks astonished as what just transpired in front of her. “Ladies, please. Have some respect. This is not the time nor the place for the two of you to start.” She tries to calm them in a hushed tone. .
            “Liam dear, why don’t ya have David come inside?” Liam’s mother touches him gently on his arm as he brings a teapot to the table.
            “I’ll go talk to him.”
            “Wait a minute, Liam.” Beth flags David towards her and whispers to him, “Liam, have you heard anything new?”
            “No, nothing.” He tries to walk away.
            “Someone should be talking to the authorities. It’s like no one is doing anything.”
            Both Abbi and Liam’s mothers look down at the table.
            “Ma, just stop it.” Abbi turns, grabs a towel from Liam and dries her hands. After quite the stare down between mother and daughter, Abbi leaves the room.
            “This is all Claire’s fault.” She takes another sip of tea. “Her husband had too many enemies. That’s why this happened. She never should have been watching Bobby.”
             “Mrs. Murphy, we can’t jump to conclusions.” Liam walks towards the back door.
            “Claire was her best friend, you can’t forget that.” David’s mother is growing impatient.
            “Put yer coat on dear, its cold out.” Liam’s mother tries to hand her son his coat.
            “I’m fine, Ma.” Liam kisses his mother on the cheek. He grabs two beers before heading outside.