Billy Fenton – Gunshot

Billy Fenton lives outside Waterford City and he writes poetry and short stories. His work has been published in the Irish Times, Poetry Ireland ReviewBangor Literary Journal and Cattails. He was shortlisted for a Hennessy Award in 2018.


By Billy Fenton

Below my fallen body, the river drains past, taking away what’s left.

The green of crumbling banks.

The flow of fading dreams.

The wastes of man.

Above me, a kingfisher-blue sky, clouds of egret-white screeching past.

Warmth of blood oozing from this accidental gunshot; time draining into sleep. The draw of life resisting.

Mammy’s finger is wagging, her voice scolding me, her eyes brimming with anxiety and love. She tells me not to play with guns. That I might hurt myself or someone else. Daddy says he needs to know, that he’ll be all right, wasn’t he, when he was my age. My sister looks on, she is silent, but her eyes are with me. I see her in that dress of snow, her hair bound into little ringlets, her blue eyes drowning with anticipation. The church is full, she is at the altar rail, a big fat priest pushing Jesus into her mouth. She blesses herself and turns back into the world smiling. The priest moves on, long trails of perspiration on his forehead and down his cheeks, a single drop swinging from the tip of his nose. Water turning into blood. Brother McGinley is on top of me; his dragon breath and spit across the side of my face. I cannot see, but can hear him. His grunts always turn into little whimpers. He always says things after, frantic words that I can’t string together. Good boy. Our secret. God loves me.  I tell Mammy that I fell. She tells me to be more careful and to say my prayers. I kneel beside the bed, the scratch of the floorboards on my knees, mouth words I don’t understand, get no answer. Next Saturday, it’ll be the same. Yes, Saturday’s on the riverbank. My time of escape. My favourite place. The crash of the dogs through the rushes, the flutter of birds, my eye tracking, my finger pulling, bang and rebound, birds falling from the heavens. Dogs returning with gifts.

Breath is slowing.

Blood-like sky.

The feel of my body ebbing away like the tide beneath me. Don’t let it. Fight back. Fight fucking back. Why bother? FIGHT BACK.

I’m outside the church. The drooping head of Christ looks down at me. The same picture on Mammy’s wall, big red holes in his hands, a big sad look in his eyes. Mammy has the same look in her eyes after Daddy dies. No tears, just big open eyes, like openings in an empty sea, barren and lifeless. Daddy grunts too, whimpers too. I hear them through the walls. Mammy makes noises too, long gasping sounds, then nothing.

Is that Venus overhead?

A humming noise. Inside me? Outside?

Is that Venus overhead?

Is that Seamus poking at me? Is that his wet tongue on my face?

Seamus is running, his body stretched out like a cheetah, his tongue dangling, his breath coming and going like a storm. I whistle and he comes back, nudges his body against my legs, looks up at me and waits. I tell him to go. He runs into the bushes, birds volcano upwards and outwards. A battle field of guns. Dead birds stacked high. Seamus’s tail is wagging. A stadium of hunters is watching, they are clapping, fists banging together.

Is that the moon above me?

Or a hole in the sky?

A line of upright shadows fanning the sky. Trees maybe?

So cold, so fucking cold.

Some part of me is twitching, or maybe it’s the ground?

Is that Seamus barking?

Brother McGinley barks like a dog. He is a tower above me, a black tower with a red roof that spits out blood. I scramble for air. Thirteen times thirteen, he shouts. I stutter. He swings. I fall. Get up. Get up. I can’t. His boot or something hard in my belly, then in my face. He is looking at me when I come out of the darkness. I think he is worried. I’m not sure.

So cold, so cold. Is that water under me?

I can’t move.

Is that Seamus barking?

Polish the gun, make it pure, be sure you don’t miss. Rod up. Rod down. Polish. Polish. The barrel’s dazzle is blinding, like a new sun beats from its heart.

Is that Seamus barking?

He is far away.

Far away.

There is light on the river bed. Seamus arcs along like a joyful seal. Weed dances to his rhythm. He annihilates all around him. Grows and grows until there is only darkness punctured with pinpricks of lights. I head for the brightest. A pool of crystal, that descends downwards, a dazzling swirl of colour. I cannot find him. He is gone. Reappears. Then is gone again.

Is that Seamus barking?

He is far away.

Very, far away.

The statue of a crucified Christ outside the church, the one with three women underneath, one the Virgin Mary, the others I can’t remember. His drooping head is in my gun sight, my cross over his. I hesitate. His crown of thorns, the nails through his hands, the sadness in the women’s bodies. He died this death for us. And I am guilty for something that happened before I was born. Before Mammy and Daddy. Before sister. Before Brother McGinley. Before the sweating priest. Before Seamus. Before all the birds in the sky. Before all the fish in the ocean. Before every blade of grass that greens this Earth. I am guilty. My cross moves back up along his body, past his punctured feet, past his torn side, past his outstretched arms, settles on his bloodied face, on his painted eyes. Slowly my finger pulls back, then freezes, like I have turned to stone. His face looks down at me and nods, says that it is time. I unfreeze, finger completing its motion, and his head bursts into a thousand pieces, and everything turns to light.

Is that Seamus barking?

Human voices?

My body is rising.

Am I dead?

Am I alive?



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