Mum and I are sitting watching television. It’s August, and because the school holidays are in full swing we’re sitting together in the middle of the day watching a rerun of Dallas. I know, I’m a nine year old boy who likes soap operas. It happens, my mum tells me, it’s nothing to be ashamed about. But I’m pretty sure I’m the only kid in my class – all boys – who likes this show. I really like JR, see. He doesn’t take any shit from anybody.
And so we sit, mum in the light brown sofa with the stains in the arms, me on the floor by the television.
The front door bell rings.
“Nicky, son,” my mum says, one of her eyes still bruised from dad’s most recent beatings, “you take yourself outside and play. Go and see what Seamus McLaverty is up to. “
“But I want to watch this,” I half say, half whine.
Mum’s getting up from the sofa now, and walking towards the front door. “Nicky,” she says as she looks around at me while walking, “don’t make me tell your da you were misbehaving.”
She twists the latch and opens the door. Three men are standing there, and straining my neck I can see them.
“Mrs McKevitt?” one says.
“Hang on a second love,” she says to him, then turns back to me. I’m still on the floor, but looking at the front door. “Nicky,” she says, more insistently than before, “how many times do I have to tell you?”
I sigh, making another whining sound. I’m a very whiney kid, I don’t mind admitting that. Because for ten years I’ve been the youngest, I’m a mummy’s boy.
A right annoying little cunt.
“Okay, okay,” I say as I lift myself up off the sofa, my hands on the brown patterned carpet, lifting myself up. “I’m going, so I am.” I walk towards the front door. “Mummy,” I say, “who are the men?”
“Don’t you worry, son. They’re here to talk to me about something important.”
I squint at her, then squint at them, as if I don’t believe here but I do, really. I’m just wondering what the something important is. I walk through the doorway, and the men make a path for me, looking at me as I look at the in turn.
“Alright son?” one says.
“’What about ye, wee lad,” says another.
“’What about ye.”
“Come on, kid,” says the third “I’ll stay out here with ye, let themuns talk among themselves.” He rubs my head, rustling my hair.
“Thanks love,” I hear my mum saying to him.
The front door closes, and I stand what this man, while his friends are inside with my mum. He looks at me.
“What’s your name, kid?”
“That’s a nice name.”
“What’s yours?” I ask. He’s taller than my dad, but younger. My dad’s five foot eight, so he keeps telling me, and this guy must be a head taller. He’s got a shaved head, but some stubble. He’s well built and wearing a bomber jacket.
“Sean,” he says, “but people call me Papser.”
“Papser?” I look up at him quizzically. “Why do they call you that?”
He smiles. “It’s a long story, Nicky son.”
“So,” he says. “Where does your mate live?”
We live on a cul-de-sac, and he’s looking around at all the other houses, waiting for me to point one out.
“Oh, just next door,” I say, pointing to the house to the left of ours, “but he’s not in.”
“No. He goes to see his granny on Tuesdays, so he does.”
We look at each other, and I look away and kick the wall in front of our house.
“Do you ever go into the forest?” he asks me. We have a forest behind our house, it’s huge. It must take me a good ten minutes to walk from one side of it to the other. I nearly got lost in it once, I thought I was going to die. But I figured if I walked in a straight line then
eventually I’d get somewhere and I did. I was crying when I got to an exit, a hole in a fence, but it turned out I was only the next street over from where I lived, so it wasn’t too bad.
“Aye,” I say. “Sometimes. Sometimes I play Japs and Germans in there with my mates?”
“Do you now?”
“Aye, I do.”
“And Cowboys and Indians? Do you play that?”
“Nah,” I say, “that’s boring.”
He laughs, but I’m not sure why.
“Sometimes,” I say, “I take my gun into the forest and shoot at the trees.”
His eyebrows go up as he looks at me. “Really?”
“You have a gun?”
“Yeah,” I say.
He laughs. “What kind of gun is it?”
“It’s a peg gun.”
“A peg gun,” I say. “Do you want me to show you?”
He smiles. “Aye, son, go on.”
“It’s round the back.”
We walk around the side path to the back garden, where we have the dog pen. The dogs come out of their box, up to the wire, and start barking until they see it’s me. Then they get exciting and start making all those exciting noises dogs make. They’re lurchers, my dad uses them for hunting rabbits and hares. I go with him sometimes, but if I’m honest I don’t really like walking for hours across fields while my trainers get all wet.
When we get to the back garden, we look through the living room window. Mum’s sitting on the sofa with a hankey, and she’s been crying, I can tell. She wipes her eyes with the cloth when she sees me, and she and the two men wave at me and the man and we wave back. The three of them are talking about something.
“Don’t worry, Nicky,” Papser says to me. “She’s fine, everything’s fine son.”
I walk over towards the back door, where my peg gun is sitting in the corner. I pick it up.
“Here it is, mister,” I say as I hand it to him.
He smiles then starts laughing.
“Fucking hell,” he says. “Did you make this yourself?”
His smiling makes me smile and as I look up at him admiring my gun I feel really proud. “Aye,” I say, “I did.” Then I say proudly, “I invented it.”
“You did?” He looks really impressed now.
“Aye.” I can feel my chest puffing out.
“No you didn’t,” he says, making it obvious he doesn’t believe me.
I get offended. “I did mister,” I say. I really did.
I should probably tell you about my invention. One day I was really bored, so I took a small plank of wood. It’s smaller than the length of my arm, very big. Then I took a clothes peg, one of the wooden ones with the spring in the middle. I took two actually. One of them, I put it on its side and put a nail through it, nailing it to the plank of wood. The nail went through the hole of the spring, so you can still open and close it. I took a second nail, and drove it into one of the edges of the wood.
Then I took the other clothes peg, and took the spring out of the wooden parts. I threaded an elastic band through it, and that was my bullet.
You’re probably wondering how you fire it, but it’s really easy, so it is. You just take the bullet, and attach the elastic band to the nail on the end. Then you pull the metal bit back and open the peg that’s nailed to the wood. Then you put the metal bit into the mouth of the peg and close the peg again.
And that’s it. To fire it, you aim like you would with a proper gun, like the Brits and IRA have, and you just squeeze the peg. The metal bit with the elastic band flies out and off you go.
Papser asks me how it works.
“Hang on,” I say, and I go to open the back door.
“No, don’t go – “
Before he can say, “in there,” I’m running up the stairs to my bedroom, and I grab half a dozen of my bullets from beside my bed. As I run downstairs, I shout to my mum.
“Sorry mummy,” I shout, “I’m just getting something to show Papser.”
“That’s alright love,” she shouts back.
I close the back door, and it’s just me and Papser again. “Do you want to go fire it?” I ask him
I point to the back gate. “We can fire it at the tree just out there.”
He looks into the window and catches the eye of his friends, letting them know he’s taking me out for a bit. Mummy waves at me again.
We walk through the gate, and it squeaks when we open it and when we shut it we hear the damp wood on damp wood as the gate hits the fence. It’s always damp here, it really is.
“Go on then,” Papser says, “show me.”
“This tree’s too close,” I tell him. “But we don’t need to move,” I say, “I can hit that tree over there.” I point at another tree – the forest is full of them – about half of our cul-de-sac away.
“You can hit that?”
I’m feeling really proud, because he’s obviously amazed. “Aye,” I say, “I can.”
“Go on then.”
I load my gun, putting the elastic around the nail at the edge and loading the metal into the peg. I aim, making sure the tree trunk is at the end of a line that runs from the centre of the clothes peg down to the end of the elastic. I slowly breathe out – from all the books my brother has I can tell it’s important to breathe out before you pull the trigger.
I fire, and the bullet flies out of the gun, through the air and hits the tree just off centre, bouncing off at an angle.
“Fucking hell, kid,” Papser says. “That’s brilliant. Get you.”
“Thanks mister,” I say. “Do you want a go?” I hand him the gun and a bullet.
“So what do I do?” he asks, and I think he’s humouring me but I show him anyway. He takes aim and fires, and his bullet hits the tree dead centre and doesn’t even bounce off at an angle.
“Wow,” I say, looking at him with a newfound admiration.
And then it dawns on me, the reason for the visit from the man and his friends. My dad beat my mum up again yesterday afternoon, but dad hasn’t been back since.
Back at the house, the men are saying goodbye to my mum just as Papser and me walk around the side towards the front door.
“Did you two have fun?” my mum asks.
“Aye mummy,” I say, “we did.”
Papser shakes my hand and I say thanks for looking at my peg gun and you’re a really good shot.
“So, Kate,” says one of the men to my mum, “if anything else happens just let us know. You shouldn’t be scared of him, it’s no way to live, love.”
“You’re angels, so you are,” my mum says, and gives them both hugs. They shake my hand, one of them says, “nice gun, kid” and they get into their car. Mum and I watch them reverse then drive out of the cul-de-sac.
I look up at my mum. “Mummy,” I say, “those men were in the IRA.”
“I know son,” she says as she puts her arm around me to guide me inside. “Let’s get you some dinner.”