A Mad and Wonderful Thing

Mark Mulholland


I was six years old when I watched the gun go into Dad’s mouth. Another would think that was the beginning of the whole thing — like it has to have one. Another would think that’s what made me what I am. I’m not so sure. There were other incidents, too; another would call these pivotal events. Another would; I don’t. I just think some of us are made this way. I had it all worked out. Okay, maybe not all of it, but I knew what my role was, what sacrifices needed to be made, what needed to be done, what I needed to do. Another would wonder about my role, and about the how and the why. That’s fair enough — we are a curious animal. I don’t know if I could give an answer, like wrap it up in a there-you-go-sir bundle. War isn’t like that — not when you actually do it — but there is them and there is us and there is homeland, and that is the cause of the conflict. Anyhow, I had it all worked out. And then she came and everything is not where it was.

Eight days. That’s how long I’ve known her. Mad, but that’s what girls do, they wreck your head. She just came out of nowhere — I mean, not really nowhere, but she wasn’t part of it, and now she is, like she was always there. Even when I’m thinking of something else, she is there, and that’s not good when you do what I do, when nothing must be in my head but the gun and the bullet and the kill. But she is in my head, like now, and just then as I left my room, and all morning, and before that when I woke early and there was nothing for it but to lie there with her — well, not physically with her — replaying those first conversations with her, extending the real here and there, redrafting, inventing. I am unable to think of anything else. Only the girl will do. And you know something? I’m happy with it. I hear her voice — as if her face and body were not torture enough — and I am thinking of her as I step from the house into the bright morning. I tidy the fall of my overcoat and pull at my blue scarf. The dog slides in alongside, and I am ruffling my hand across his head as I reach the end of the drive where the gate is closed, tied with an old shoelace. The gate is low, and with one hand on the top bar I’m stepping over it when I hear the porch door slide behind me.

‘Your mother asks if you will pick up the Sunday World on the way back?’

I turn. It’s my dad. He is standing in the porch, with one hand holding the sliding door.

I lob a protest over the low gate: ‘I’m not buying trashy newspapers.’ I shake my head at the dog, and he barks once as if he agrees.

I look to the house where Dad, now retreated from the midday air, relays the refusal down the central hallway and then stands nodding with his big, dopey smile as he absorbs a long reply from the kitchen at the far end. I mean, the whole show is pure theatre.

‘She says you won’t be wanting dinner, then,’ he summarises, his head re-emerging into the sunshine. This is Dad all over — he finds the middle ground and plays for loose change.

I look on a face that is held wide open to catch my answer. He knows he has me. ‘Fair enough,’ I say. ‘The Sunday World it is.’ Well, sometimes you just have to lose, and lose fast.

‘That’s great,’ he replies. ‘I love to see a man stick to his principles.’ And he laughs.

‘Will I get you anything?’ I ask him.

‘What are you getting, yourself ?’

            ‘The Times and the Tribune.’

‘Pick us up the Indo, will you? And the People, if there’s any left?’

‘Sure, Dad. No bother.’

‘Right you are, Son. Right you are,’ he calls from the porch, as I set off on the short walk to the late-morning Mass. It is Sunday. It is April. It is 1990.

A Mad and Wonderful Thing Mark Mulholland