More than four dozen pieces of microfiction set in (or conceptually around) the northern Irish city of Derry explore an edge of the world that will keep you enthralled.
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A Certain Place of Dreams - River Foyle Press
Begin with a child born in a city that would achieve late 20th century notoriety at the centre of the Irish "troubles" - mix in a character as desperate to escape his circumstances as he is in love with his homeland - and tell the tale through dozens of gemlike "very short stories" that combine extraordinary detail with wondrous language, and you have A Certain Place of Dreams.
The stories may wander to Dublin, and even New York, but they remain embedded in the rich wet soil of Ireland's oldest, most fabled city.
She's the Belle
“I’ll tell me ma when I get home, The boys won’t leave the girls alone, They pull my hair, they steal my comb, But that’s all right till I get home...”
There are names that I do not mention to my Ma. I do not say “Michael” and I do not say “Sean.” If I do she cries for her lost children, and I do not have the power to help her heal. So when we talk of the past it is an edited version, of course. And if I tell stories I reconstruct them carefully, filling up seats that now must be left empty with scenery, or reframing the picture so that certain figures now stand outside the frame.
“She is handsome, she is pretty, She’s the belle of Belfast city, She’s a courting one, two, three, Hey, won’t you tell me, who is she?”
My father had a favourite holiday, Halloween. He brought American-style celebrations to our street, he even found gourds, if not pumpkins, to carve, and no one carved more elaborate, complicated, or scary lanterns than he could, though he never demonstrated another artistic inkling. Wild, arched-backed cats screamed from the eyes of his monsters, and the mouths leered like drooling demons. He died on Halloween thirteen years ago now. My Ma lights a candle in a tiny ceramic pumpkin in his memory each October 31st.
“Albert Mooney says he loves her, All the boys are fighting for her, Knock at the door and ring the bell, Hey, my true love, are you well...”
My Da’s favourite song was “I’ll Tell Me Ma,” which he’d sing loudly every Sunday morning, and many others, inserting his name in the appropriate slot. He had met my Ma in Belfast, at the American-run hospital at Musgrave Park out on the Lisburn Road where she was a very young nursing assistant. He had courted her on canvalescent walks through that city on the Lagan. First in the leafy south suburbs, then in the darker city centre. Then, along the river opposite the shipyards. And later, around Derry after they had both transferred to the hospital at Ebrington Barracks, and he had come and met the family.
“Out she comes as white as snow, Rings on her fingers, bells on her toes, Our Jenny Murry says she’ll die, If she doesn’t get the fellow with the roving eye.”
He would begin singing as he shaved, and keep going as he came down the stairs. If it was a particularly good morning he would pull me along playing the pipe. If it was a great day and the sun was lighting the hills surrounding us he would get Michael to play the fiddle and Sean to bang on the bodhran, and he would reach the kitchen and swoop Ma away from the stove and into his arms and they would dance through the front room, and once in a great while, right out the door and into the street.
“I’ll tell me ma when I get home, The boys won’t leave the girls alone, They pull my hair, they steal my comb, But that’s all right till I get home. She is handsome, she is pretty, She’s the belle of Belfast city, She’s a courting one, two, three, Hey, won’t you tell me, who is she?”
But when I remember that in the conversations with my Ma it is just Da singing, and me playing my wee flute, and she laughing, and the neighbors smiling. And those other memories, the boys lost to strange and sad wars, are left tucked softly beneath the green grass of Ireland and America, where they might leave this beautiful woman in peace, as much as might be possible.
“Let the wind and the rain and the hail go high, Snow come tumbling from the sky, She’s as nice as apple pie, She’ll get a fellow by and by. When she gets a lad of her own, She won’t tell her ma when she gets home, Let them all come as they will, It’s Albert Mooney she loves still”