Gordon Ferris – Empty

grGordon Ferris was born and reared in Dublin.  He left school at sixteen, worked as a barman in Dublin into his twenties. He fell for a Donegal woman, got married, moved to Donegal and has lived there for the past thirty-four or five years doing various jobs to support his family.  He has had stories and poetry in A New Ulster magazine and poetry in Hidden Channel, a Sligo magazine.


Empty

By Gordon Ferris

I peel open my eyes, slowly. Ah, let me sleep for just a little bit longer, the sleep has left a tiny solid annoying substance in the corner of my eye. Which for the life of me I can’t remove; I poke it out eventually, looking at the little white round substance thinking, so much bother for something so  soft and delicate, before flicking it unceremoniously away.

I look at the ignored alarm clock on the dresser and moan to myself, “Ah it’s only twenty past.” Time enough to turn on my side, count to a hundred, lay on my back, count to a hundred again, and then onto the other side to count again to a hundred.

I often wonder how that ritual lasted twenty minutes. Insane I know, but allowances should be made for a teenager’s reluctance to get out of bed on time, it is after all expected of them to sleep late. It is one thing all us teenagers have in common. We do not wake up, or we do not think straight until at least midday. They should have the commencement time in schools changed to eleven in the morning instead of nine when all the pupils are still in noddy land.

My mother’s angry shout from the bottom of the stairs has me out of bed and dressed in no time. Quick slash, the toilet is at the top of the stairs, I splash some water on my face to get those annoying specks in the corner of my eyes out completely. They keep coming back, persistent buggers.

My Mother always forces us to take something before we went out, either a mouthful of tea or milk with a bit of toast because we haven’t left ourselves enough time to eat. I shouldn’t be speaking for my brothers and sisters, but I’m sure they agree.

Off to school now, my days are numbered there, it’s the last day in tackling the Inter Cert for me, that’s what the Junior Cert was called back in 1973, and I hadn’t any idea what I wanted to do at that stage, leave or stay on.

The walk to school has remained the same route and routine for the past three years.  I move warily up the avenue trying to avoid the psychologically unbalanced dog doing sentry duty at the end of the street. As long as I can remember there always seemed to have been a dog on the green at the end of the street to be wary of. There was always one waiting at the top of the road preventing people coming onto the street or leaving it.

At one stage there wear two dogs, both called Max, father and son, the pup heading in daddy’s footsteps. Max and his trainee max.  How strange is that, calling both dogs Max?  It was a great relief the odd time there was no dog there, and today was one of those days. He must have had his therapy session that day.

I walk out on to Cappagh Road, rambling on past the church with its giant spire that is visible as far away as the Navan Road.  I rumble past the church, the grounds of the school follow briskly after. It was on the Cappagh Road, a Vocational Education establishment and this is where the real apprehension started, if you thought the dogs were hard to deal with what awaited those who arrived late was far more frightening. Mr O’Tuama used to close the door at the entrance to the school at exactly the time we were supposed to be there, it seemed deliberate.

Just inside the door stood Vice Principal Jack O’Tuama, the little beast himself. He seemed to take a great delight in interrogation, trying to find out my reason for being late. If the excuse wasn’t up to scratch, and they never were, he would shout abuse at you, pull your sideburns or your hair, whichever you have more of until I’m on my tippy toes.

Then after all that he would give me a hundred lines. Corporal punishment will surely be outlawed soon. The hundred lines should be enough without the physical abuse, not an addition to it. The rest of the day seems easy after that.

I’ve been looking forward to this year for a long time, 1973, it’s my final year. I’m to be free of school at last, out into the workplace, having my own money in my pocket. I’ll be an adult at last.  It’s assumed by my family that this is what I want and in many respects, they’re right. Even though I have the option of doing another two years, it’s assumed I don’t want that.  I’m not considered academic material. I’ve never had any interest in the schoolwork until this year.

Two teachers with a different approach to teaching have had a profound effect on me. They have a way of making their subjects interesting and above all they speak to us like adults, not as children. They don’t drill the subject into us and discuss them instead. It has made an immense difference with me.

One of the teachers became a lifelong friend of my family; she attended all the weddings, funerals, and baptisms with us. She was a dedicated teacher, never married, teaching was really her vocation; it was her purpose on earth, she was a wonderful person.

She taught me English and history and brought those subjects alive for me and let me read my own choice of books in English class and then discusses them with me as if they are on the curriculum. The other teacher teaches us science and maths, his secret is treating us like adults and speaking with the same accent as us with a spattering of profanity thrown in, which with what remained of our childishness we found amusing.

School for the rest of the last week is confusing, until recently I had no interest in staying on in school at all, and there was no one in my family pushing me to stay on either. Nobody suggested any direction I should follow. That’s the way things look in my mind anyway, I am more or less oblivious to the important things in my life, or to what any advice offered or suggested to take. All I am interested in at this time really is football and music.

I prefer to spend my free time with the few mates I have, and of course, I’m starting to get interested in girls too. At this age one is being bombarded from so many angles. My Family want me to be like them, to think there way, and follow there ideals, even if there negative and detrimental to your future. Then I have the school trying to guide me in the right direction, they probably are the ones I should listen to, because they have only my interest at heart, they have nothing to gain.

It is a messed up time in my life. The way I see things, my perception of what’s happening and being said around me is confusing. However, the biggest challenge I face is from within, there is so much happening in my body and mind at this stage, I’ve started start to seek independence, and resent outside influence and want to decide my own future.

That’s fine if you’re one of the few teenagers, like me, who are mature enough to make important decisions for themselves. Most of my peer group think they can, but few are capable of making mature choices at this stage. Luckily, and in my humble opinion I am more than able to make my own decisions and am very mature for my age. Yes- I -am.

I come out of the school at about one in the afternoon having completed my last exam, I managed to get through the work, at least I had some idea how to approach and execute the questions that was more than I had expected.  I chatted for a short spell with a few of the acquaintances I had.  I have some close pals in the school, but none of them outside of school.

There was one I person who I occasionally hung around with until I discovered he was a bit volatile, he seemed to be a bit paranoid and got into trouble for fighting a lot. He was one of the most feared people in the school, and eventually was sent to a remand home for robbing and beating up a newspaper seller.  He would later die after taking a plunge off Ballymun flats, out of it on heroin. What a waste of life.

I walk back out  to where my day had begun only in reverse this time , exiting the school gate onto Cappagh Road and I stroll on home contemplating, wondering why nothing feels any different, I’m free now. I’m no longer a school pupil. I don’t feel anything new from yesterday, what was I expecting.

Ah we’ll see what’s happening when I get home, I’ll quick dinner and head into town to get the bus out to my sisters house in Tallaght, that’s where  I go every Friday to do a pools round and babysit my sisters daughter. Yes, I babysit my niece, keep that to yourself; if that gets out my rep is ruined.  A Man has to get his money from somewhere.

I scamper in the front door hurriedly. “Is the dinner ready?” I shout, throwing my plastic bag of school paraphernalia under the stairs. There is a small space under the stairs; it had been turned into a closed storage space. It’s where we hang our coats and store the spuds and assorted vegetables.

The gas metre is there too, which has been interfered with occasionally, never by me. I never could figure out how to rob it, although me Ma had a few metal washers which she used when she was short. Which was quite often as we were growing up; times were hard. Occasionally she used to buy her fags loose in fives and had to stretch them by stubbing them out and keeping the butt for later.

She ate the head off me for demanding my dinner, “Where do ya think you are, in the Gresham, coming in shouting orders like lord Muck?” she said in her mild Kilkenny accent.   “I’ve to be in Mauves house at four thirty to get me pools round done before dark, if it’s too late they’ll all be gone to the pub and I won’t get me money. “ Nonsense” she replied with a smile, “I know you’re just trying to be there in time for a second dinner, are ye sick of my cooking or what?” she said in a slagging tone.

Our little exchange was interrupted by my older sister Angie, Ma preferred Angela, so we called her Angie, or bitch. She was two years older than me. Mauve was eight years older, married with one child.  Angie came in and went straight to her room without speaking to anyone, she was like that now and then, moody, if you asked her what’s wrong she would tell you to fuck off or some other mouthful. So I kept my mouth shut when she was in a bad mood.

She was really a softie behind it, really regretting when she would lose it. She would try to make it up to you later.  Diner was fish and chips. Me Da used to get a big bag of fish from Howth every week. He seemed to have loads of contacts for getting all sorts of things, washing powder, and blocks of cheese, ice cream, and popcorn. Then one day a week he would bring home bags of sweets, usually on a Sunday, never said where he got them from, I wonder.

I eat the dinner quickly, and have to disturb my Mother enjoying one of her favourite pastimes, smoking, to get the pocket money of her. I need it to get out to my sisters place, I haven’t a penny to my name so I have to ask. She goes to her old weathered leather purse and rumbles through it, hands me the few bob, it’s all she can afford, and I’m lucky to get it she would say.

 

 

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