An extract from Jack Byrne’s second novel, Across The Water, published by Northodox Press in March 2022 and available from the publisher here.
May 17th, 1974 – 5.30 pm
The train rattled and wobbled its way along the coast; Paddy looked at the sea. The ever-present sea, even inland, its waves were felt in the half-empty villages, in the faces of old men whose sons were off to earn a bit. It filled the songs and poetry because it had taken from every family. More potent than politics, it outlasted everything, its pull a constant, leading people to new lives, death, or exile, most never came back.
The train clattered through the villages and towns of Greystones, and Bray, eventually it sliced its way through the overcrowded city, houses, bridges, and walls built within inches of the track. They resented the space the train took and so built right up to its face. The colours were reddy browns and greys, bricks and slates.
The passengers were the usual mix of hope and endurance. You could see the hope of youth turn line by line into faces of endurance.
The spring afternoon was as moody as Paddy felt, he walked out of Connolly station. Why do they celebrate failure? He knew the answer before he asked: because there are so few victories. Paddy looked at the name she had written down – The Shelbourne Hotel – Stephen’s Green. He was convinced she only invited him because she thought he would never show up to a party in Dublin.
He left through the main entrance. The station’s Italianate central tower looked out of place on Amiens Street, busy with shoppers and commuters, the hands of the station clock marked 5.28 pm.
Dublin was busy, the streets were full. Women and workers, everyone had a purpose. He looked up at the unusually blue sky.
‘Av ye got any change mister?’
Paddy looked down at the boy, around ten, his big eyes darted around ready to move on to the next mark if this one went nowhere.
‘Do ye know the Shelbourne Hotel?’
‘I do, mister, av ye got change?’
‘Here, you can have a shilling, if you get me there.’ Paddy dug around and produced the coin.
The boy snatched at it.
‘Not so quick, when we get there.’
‘Right ye are, follow me. A shilling now, you promised.’
‘I know yeah, a shilling.’ The boy’s hair was curly and uncontained. He wore jeans and a blue anorak and underneath Paddy could see a thick woolly jumper.
‘Come on then, what are yeh waiting for?’
‘Alright take it easy.’
‘What are you doing out here asking for money, shouldn’t you be at home?’
‘Nothing there mister, me mam’ll be out at her mates, have you got fag?
‘No, I haven’t. What about ye da?’
‘He’s in the jangle.’
They walked side by side, the little fella chest out arms swinging commanded his space on the street.
‘What’s the jangle then?’
‘The old jingle jangle my da calls it.’
‘What’s that when it’s at home.’
‘Mountjoy, he’s doin a year.’
‘I dunno, summat or other, that he got caught for, that’s why yeh usually go.’
‘True enough,’ Paddy agreed.
‘What’re ye doing there like? It’s a posh place, so it is.’
‘Meeting a woman,’ Paddy winked at him.
‘Ahh going see ye tart are ye?’
Paddy clipped him round the head. ‘Ye little bastard, what do you know about such things.’
‘Hey hands off, I’ve had me share, don’t you be worrying about that.’
‘How far now?’
‘Couple of minutes mate, straight on across the river now.’
The boy’s presence suddenly made Dublin brighter, the troubles just something to be walked through, head up, chest out, the Dublin way.
Then the world stopped. The air shook with sound, faces gaped and grew wide with terror. Ahead the street disintegrated. In the flash, colours and shapes dissolved, cars and people and glass and bricks were flying through the air in pieces.
Paddy was on his back, for the longest time he looked up at the blue sky in silence. Slowly at first, then all at once, the sky disappeared in swirls of smoke and dust, the silence that burst his ears was now replaced with low deep moans broken with shrill cries. Someone helped him up, he didn’t know who. The boy was not beside him.
He walked through the devastation, the blood in the gutter was not his, the leg on the sidewalk was a woman’s, the headless body, a young girl. A handbag, a platform shoe. No boy. A man moaned, a large piece of metal ran through him. Paddy stumbled on, the dust and smoke and glass and bricks and bodies had now settled on the ground, scattered like confetti at a wedding. He walked on passing the blackened centre, some people were standing motionless, others laid where they were blown, some blown together, some blown apart. But no boy. People rushed to help, alarms and bells began to take over from moans and cries, and then again, the air shook and sky roared and again somewhere close by the street and the people in it were confetti.