Chapter 5 is finally here in time for your last-minute solstice shopping and may also be found along with the story so far here
In which Finbar’s mother causes him further mortifying embarrassment, we see a sample of how the youngest boys are molded, we meet the ancient crone who assists Br. Loughlin, the Brothers receive some troubling news and some boys temporarily escape humiliating retribution.
‘Mr. Scully, sor, you can stay standing. I think we will have a change of environment for you, eh? Keep you close to hand, out of the way of pernicious influences, where you can come to no harm, ha?’
Mr. Pollock’s face belied any levity that might have been in the words that came out of his mouth. He had obviously seen Scully’s encounter with Brother Loughlin at the mass.
‘Mr. Farrelly, take your bags, chattels and belongings and change places with Mr. Scully.’
‘But, Sir, I can’t …’ began Farrelly.
“No ifs, no buts, now wherefores, Mr. Farrelly. Move yourself!’ Pollock cut in.
Farrelly, who had chosen to be near the front because of his weak eyes, reluctantly took his things and moved to the back where Scully had been sitting. The desk beside Rutledge remained empty. Mr. Pollock returned to taking the roll.
‘Here, I mean, Anseo.’
‘Here, eh, Anseo.’
‘Still no sign of the elusive Mr. Sullivan.’
Mr. Pollock finished the roll and then went to the large cupboard. He opened it wide to reveal stacks and stacks of tattered books. A gentle tapping on the glass of the door caught his attention. He tilted back his head in acknowledgment and strode to the door. He opened it and, turning to raise his eyebrows in preemptive warning to the class, stepped outside into the corridor.
After a few moments the door opened and Finbar Sullivan walked in followed closely by Mr. Pollock.
‘Bye now, love, be good!’ came Mrs. Sullivan’s shrill mothering voice from the corridor. Finbar’s guts turned to dust in embarrassment. He glanced cautiously at the sea of stony scrutiny in the faces in front of him.
‘It appears we have found the mysterious Finbar Ó’Súilabháin,’ announced Mr. Pollock and moved to his desk. He sat himself on his high stool and tucked his black gown around him like some balding ginger-haired bat. He reopened the roll book and started to make some notes in it. Finbar stood at the top of the class feeling very exposed. There was not one welcoming chink of light as his eyes darted from one hostile face to the next.
A new boy presented all sorts of possibilities. Briefly at least, even the most picked-on and bullied boys in the class could entertain the hope that here was someone weaker than them, with a worse stutter or bigger ears; anything that might put him at the bottom of the totem pole and move them up a notch. Finbar felt himself blush hotly under the intensity of this evaluation.
From outside in the corridor his mother’s voice echoed around mercilessly: ‘He’s a very good boy, Brother, very bright and always has good reports. A lovely hurler, a fine footballer and very well-behaved and mannerly. Brother Morrissey in Cork was very sorry to lose him. He was a well-liked boy. Indeed he was. I’m very sorry that Finbar missed the first day of school. I hear there was mass. It’s a pity Finbar missed that. I am sure there will be plenty of masses for him to attend. He was an altar boy, you know.’
‘Indeed. I’m sure he will fit in very well here, Mrs. Sullivan,’ said Brother Loughlin’s voice in an unmistakable Head-Brother-signaling-end-of-conversation-to-tiresome-parent tone. Finbar breathed a sigh of relief and went back to trying to suppress his beetroot blushing.
Out of the corner of his eye he saw two of the boys in the front row point to the door and laugh. Silently, almost telepathically, the signal passed through the class and more and more of the boys began to look towards the door. With a horrid dread in the depths of his spirit, Finbar turned to see his mother grinning and smiling and waving enthusiastically at him like she was at a parade. He made an odd movement combining a reluctant return of her wave and gesture of barely suppressed fury shooing her away.
‘Mr. Sullivan, you will take a pew at the back there beside Mr. Rutledge,’ announced Mr. Pollock without looking up from the roll book.
With huge relief Finbar ran to the desk and sat down. Rutledge did not even look at him. Finbar was now far enough down the class to be spared the sight of his mother at the door. There was little doubt that she was still there for when Mr. Pollock finally looked up from the roll book he was compelled to wave farewell to her before she would leave.
‘Finbar Ó’Súilabháin?’ he called.
‘Anseo, a mháistir!’ answered Finbar.
Mr. Pollock made a tick in the roll book with an extravagant flourish. The respectful and fluent sounding ‘a mháistir,’ equivalent to a gratuitous ‘Here, master,’ when a bare ‘Here’ was all that was required, brought an approving glance from Mr. Pollock. Perhaps there might be a pearl among these swine, he thought, who might be coaxed into a command of the sweet tongue of the Gaels. Unsolicited and unaided use of the vocative case showed promise. In direct and pointed contrast to Pollock’s approval, Finbar could feel the air around him bristle with hus classmates’ hostility and suspicion. He put his head down and stared hard at the top of his desk. He felt his ears burn and the lead bag in his chest and the prickling feeling in his eyes assured him that he was indeed feeling miserable.
‘Now, back to the matter of books.’ said Mr. Pollock from his perch on the high stool behind his desk.
Before Mr. Pollock could begin to distribute the books there was another knock at the door. Mr. Pollock beckoned the caller in. A first year of diminutive size with outlandishly large ears entered bearing a note. He wore a uniform that he was obviously expected to “grow into” sometime in the next decade. A perceptible ripple of derision ran around the class. Finbar, glad for a moment to have someone else be the focus of malign attention, joined in the feeling of superiority to this hapless first year.
‘Well, what is it?’ clipped Mr. Pollock.
‘Ehm, ehm, ehm, a note, sir,’ stammered the poor unfortunate.
‘From whom?’ pursued Mr. Pollock.
‘From the Head Brudder, sir.’
‘And who is the Head Brother?’
‘Ehm, ehm, ehm, I don’t know sir.’
‘And what is your name, Mr. Ehm, ehm, ehm, I don’t know sir?’
‘Well, “Antney, sir” Brother Loughlin is the Head Brother,’ Mr. Pollock patronizingly informed him, slyly mocking the boy’s accent.
‘Ehm, ehm, ehm, Brudder Loughlin, sir,’ repeated Anthony carefully.
‘Now write it on the blackboard,’ said Mr. Pollock and tossed a piece of chalk to Anthony.
In his effort to catch the chalk, Anthony dropped the letter and sent the chalk skittering across the floor to the other side of the classroom. Mr. Pollock expansively motioned him to retrieve the chalk and whipped the note off the floor. He read it with interest and then turned to see the first year standing hesitantly at the blackboard.
‘Brother…’ he prompted him.
With the squeaky chalk Anthony nervously wrote: B-R-O-O-T-H-E-R.
‘Loughlin,’ Mr. Pollock informed him. Anthony stared blankly at him.
‘Loughlin,’ repeated Mr. Pollock making writing gestures as if to an imbecile.
Anthony turned to the board and hesitantly wrote: L-O-C-K-L-I-N.
Mr. Pollock took the chalk from him and wrote ‘BROTHER LOUGHLIN’ on the board above Anthony’s effort: ‘Now correct yours.’
Anthony laboriously corrected his work then handed the chalk back to Mr. Pollock.
‘Go raibh maith agat. Tell Brother Loughlin they will be there in a moment.’ said Mr. Pollock.
‘Yessir,’ said Anthony and bolted from the class in relief.
‘Mr. Ferrara, I see by the smirk on your face that you enjoyed that little interlude. Let us see how you enjoy your visit to Brother Loughlin’s office. Out! Now!’ barked Mr. Pollock.
Ferrara stood up and slowly moved towards the door.
‘And you can join him Mr. Miley,’ Mr. Pollock added.
Miley got up and he and Ferrara walked slowly out the door. The puzzlement abroad in the rest of the class was not evident in them. They knew well what they were in for.
Mr. Pollock managed to kill the rest of the double class by firstly inspecting all the books in the cupboard and making each boy sign for what he received. A collective sigh of relief greeted the bell that signaled the ten minutes of small break.
Outside Brother Loughlin’s office was not a pleasant place to be. There was nowhere but Mrs. Broderick’s office to wait in. She had been there longer than anyone. Some of the younger lay teachers speculated that, unable to get into the nuns, she had promised her soul to the devil in exchange for the post of Principal’s Secretary in perpetuity. She gave every impression of being at least two hundred years old and each year had only added to the soured milk of human kindness that festered inside her. She also looked like she would continue for another two hundred years, just out of spite. Some of the more articulate sixth years had christened her “Only The Good Die Young.”
Miley, Ferrara and Slater from 5-F stood awkwardly half in and half out of the office. Mrs. Broderick ignored them and harrumphed her way through whatever it was she did to keep the school running. They said nothing. Slater and Ferrara rubbed their palms together behind their backs to work up some heat that would dull the inevitable leathering they were going to receive. Small break had come and gone and still nothing had happened. The waiting was the worst. They knew it. Brother Loughlin knew it. It wasn’t subtle but it worked.
Miley, Slater and Ferrara were not new to this experience but this was one of the most severe raps they had been got on for a long time, even counting the fire in the toilets that had never been conclusively pinned on them. But this time they were in for it. There was no doubt about it this time. The three of them had been seen carrying Mr. Laverty’s tiny car into the middle of the waste ground beside the St. Francis Industrial School sports field at the end-of-year sports day. What annoyed Mr. Laverty more than the moving of his car were the sugary sticky multicolored spits that they had left on the door handle and windshield.
They watched the brown door behind Mrs. Broderick’s desk. On the right hand side was a little gadget with lights on it. At the moment the red light read “Engaged.” When it changed to the green “Enter” they would have to go in. They were unsure if it would be a group beating or if they would be broken down individually and then punished as a unit. Their hearts sank as they heard the unmistakable hurried squeaking of Mr. Pollock’s crepe-soled brothel-creepers approaching. Mr. Pollock entered, glowered at them and wiped the sweat from his head.
Seconds later a gaggle of angry Brothers crowded into the doorway.
‘I told you I would deal with this,’ Mr. Pollock snapped at them.
‘Out of the way!’
‘This is an emergency!’
‘We have to see him now!’
‘Brothers! Gentlemen!’ weaseled Mr. Pollock in a pitch honed to cut through even the most uproarious cacophony of voices.
Brother Tobin broke past Mr. Pollock and barged into Brother Loughlin’s office waving the newspaper: ‘Take a look at that then!’ he shouted.
Brother Boyle and Brother Whelan followed Brother Tobin and soon there was a shouting match going on. Mr. Pollock strode into Brother Loughlin’s office and closed the door behind him with a sickening vacuum-like clunk.
The boys could make out the agitated rising and falling tones inside Brother Loughlin’s office but none of the words. Mrs. Broderick too was obviously trying hard to hear what was going on but, as soon as she noticed the boys were aware of this, she glowered at them contemptuously and went back to stapling bits of official-looking paper to other differently colored bits of official-looking paper.
Mr. Pollock’s head suddenly appeared in the crack of the open door: ‘You boys! Yes you boys there! Back to your classes! We’ll deal with you later.’
A reprieve? No way. They were dead. It was just a question of time. Whatever was going on it was just temporary. They were going to get theirs but nonetheless they were all pleased by the worried look on Mr. Pollock’s face. They were so elated that on the way back to class they stopped in the outside toilets for a smoke.
Well, what do you say to that?’ challenged Brother Tobin as he pushed the paper into Brother Loughlin’s pudgy hands. Brother Loughlin and Mr. Pollock went into a little managerial huddle over the paper and read:
“I Fionn O’Tuarisc hereby make known my application for planning permission for development on the site of The Brothers of Coercion for Our Lord School for Young Boys of Meager Means at Greater Little Werburgh Street, North in the city of Dublin for the construction of a storage and warehouse facility to service the nearby Port and Docks on this day of September nineteenth. . . .”
‘This is outrageous,’ blustered Brother Loughlin, ‘This cannot be right. There must be some mistake. We’ll get to the bottom of this and there will be no more about it!’
‘They’re out to destroy the Brotherhood,’ hissed Brother Boyle.
‘That O’Tuarisc and his cronies whoever they are.’
‘Probably with the Labour Party.’
‘I don’t remember ever teaching any O’Tuarisc. I’d remember a name like that.’
‘Brothers, Brothers, stop this nonsense! I will take care of this. It is some silly misunderstanding. I’ll get to the bottom of it,’ cried Brother Loughlin above the din.
‘When?’ asked Brother Boyle, unconvinced.
‘Now! So please get back to your duties and I will take care of mine.’ Brother Loughlin waved his hand imperiously towards the door.
‘I don’t like the sound of it, I tell you, not one bit.’ worried Brother Boyle as he left.
‘No, that’s fine I’ll wait. Yes. Thank you,’ Brother Loughlin muttered into the mouthpiece of his telephone. This was his fifth call. Mr. Pollock paced the room nervously and looked out through the wire-reinforced glass onto the drab street and the burnt-out garage across the street. Brother Loughlin was finding the slow badly-oiled wheels of local government a little trying. He was on his third cigarette already and he normally never smoked until after lunch when Mrs. Broderick brought him his two o’clock cup of tea.
‘They’re putting me onto someone higher up,’ he informed Mr. Pollock. Mr. Pollock was not at all concerned by the seeming threat to the continued existence of the school. He was convinced it was a prank. He just wanted to be sure so they could wholeheartedly get back to dealing with Miley, Slater and Ferrara. It was the best excuse for vindictiveness that had come his way since May and he was not going to let it slip by. It was always good to start off a new year with a good public punishing of recidivist troublemakers.
The Concerned Reader: Hello? Anyone home?
TDIA: Don’t you ever knock?
The Concerned Reader: Oh you’re here? I dropped in the other day and you were in the shed. I met your intern.
TDIA: Oh yeah, the Flustered One. She’s attending some new media workshop this afternoon.
The Concerned Reader: [Pointing at mess on draining board] Is this your bank?
TDIA: Yeah. It’s almost finished but some of the credit cards keep falling off. Now all I need is a name and I can submit it and see if I can get bailout Bill to shovel some money at me because he thinks what I am doing is senseless. That seems to be how it works.
The Concerned Reader: Maybe you could nail the credit cards onto that bit of spandex bikini there. So? Names?
TDIA: Abscond Witchur Savings?
The Concerned Reader: Sounds a but like Made Off With Your Money. Mind you a lot of people gave their money to someone whose name sounded like “Made Off” so you could be onto something. Any other ideas?
TDIA:: Hound of Hell Holdings?
The Concerned Reader: That too has a familiar ring. Wasn’t there a Baskerville bank, or a Pit Bull Investments or something like that? Oh, now I remember. Cerberus! Yeah, don’t know that anyone would want to hand over their money to an entity named after the guardian of Hades but then maybe they don’t know. Like the way they keep naming huge SUVs after near-extinct animals and National Parks. But what do I know about naming banks?
The Concerned Reader: Anyway I have to go I’m double-parked.
TDIA: And you are driving a…?
The Concerned Reader: The new Pristine Wilderness Snow Leopard, 8 mpg city, 10 highway. It has eighteen speakers!
TDIA: Double-digit mileage? I never knew you were such a tree-hugging hippy.