Mick Fitzgerald

The first seven noughts

The first nought came trudging down the Railway Track to Rathdrum in Co. Wicklow, Ireland, in 1951. It was the Chinese Year of the Rabbit and for some strange reason there was also an outbreak of myximatosis round Rathdrum and when his mother took him off the train, the surrounding fields were cluttered with rabbits of all shapes and sizes.

His mother carried him to the Lower Street and after that there was no life outside the Lower Street of Rathdrum. As a four year old in the summer he walked barefoot in the warm mud in the lane outside his granny’s house. With a wooden sword that his father had made he protected all around him.

He wanted to discover everything. He got chalk and a blackboard one Christmas but instead of drawing on the blackboard he ate the chalk and got violently sick and he just kept eating the chalk.

Then once a month came the Fair Day in Rathdrum where he saw horses and donkeys and heard music and saw his grandfather dance.

“… I saw the nest of the blackbird as she took to the air, setting off in the direction of Rathdrum Fair. I had come with the dawn bringing silver to buy, hoping wits and good fortune would aid me”.

Two weeks before the second nought he sat at his desk in Dublin looking out at the dewy grass on the green around the school, counting the magpies. He could see the tops of double-decker buses every so often just above the school wall. One of them had to be the 37 going by his house. Then he got the slap on the side of his head which caused it to hit the side of his desk.

“What was I talking about?” screamed the Christian Brother.

“I don’t know“, he answered with hands above his head. He was expecting the second slap which came down on the back of his neck.

Two weeks later for his tenth birthday he and his father gathered all the kids on the street and unleashed them on a table full of food in the small dining room. There followed two hours of screaming and singing and laughing and crying. His best friend spilled a large glass of lemonade on his mother’s best shoes. She said nothing but her face said: “You little fucker“.

When it finished his father and himself left everyone home. One of them got sick on the road. There were no more kids parties after that.

Add one to the third nought and you get his 21st birthday. He had new best friends by then. He didn’t want fuss and had no party for family and relations. Instead he went out and decided that the first people he met who were friends would drink with him for the night if they wanted to. Oddly enough the first person he met was the best friend from his tenth birthday. With a few more friends they took up two tables and drank all night.

It was his first time to be arrested for being drunk and disorderly with his old best friend and two others. The police kept him awake all night coming in every hour and shouting into his face. They had taken away his belt and shoelaces. He wondered why they just didn’t take away his shoes. He got sick twice in the toilet which had no chain.

They were thrown out at 6 a.m. to be in court at 10.30 a. m. It took him half an hour to get his shoelaces back into his shoes he was so hungover. Maybe that’s why he was made to take them out.

There were two prostitutes in front of the judge before it was their turn. They were both given six months’ sentences and immediately they started to laugh.

“Why are you laughing“, shouted the judge.

“Because she is three months pregnant, judge. Do the math“, said one of the ladies.

There were muffled sniggers in the courtroom. “Then she should consider herself lucky“, said the judge missing the irony. “Sentence suspended. Get out of my sight. “

Then he stood before the judge with his three friends. “What have you got to say for yourselves?“, he demanded. “We’d like to apologize“, one of his friends said out of nowhere. The judge looked at them for what seemed like an eternity before saying: “It’s your first time before me, is it not?“

“Yes“, they answered in terrified unison. “Well I am giving you a year’s probation. If I see you in front of me again I won’t be so lenient … next.”

By the fourth nought he thought he had seen the last of broken hearts but he hadn’t. She had gone three months and yet she was everywhere in all the corners of the apartment, in all the towels, in all the sheets and when her card arrived it had the same smell. It was like a visit from her.

But she wasn’t there and 30 is a stupid age. She was 24. He drank early that day and sang with people he didn’t know. He sang Beatles’ songs. Beatles’ song covered everything. He went home to his mother’s house that night and watched “Singing in the Rain“ on video. His mother gave him money that would cover tomorrow. Dole money the day after. Everything sorted.

But that’s why she left him. The future wasn’t sorted. She wanted a future.

By the fifth nought he had no future. He found himself in the chair of a dingy one room apartment at 5 a.m. covered in alcohol and mud. There ware bloodstains on his shirt. There were bottles on the floor and the apartment door was open. He had a vague memory of a woman somewhere in the night. He had stayed away from his family. There was half a bottle of vodka on the floor. But it wasn’t working anymore.

Two years before the sixth nought he knew the game was up. No matter how hard he tried he could not drink himself into normality. Normality refused to cooperate. He threw in the towel and was still in a heap when the sixth nought found him. He was fragile, starting again, wiping the slate clean.

There was a surprise party for his fiftieth and after the two years his head began to clear and he sang Beatles’ songs again slowly but surely

There was an ambulance called for a girl who fainted outside the pub. She came around pretty quickly when she was being put in the back of the ambulance. She told the medics she was a nurse and would check into the hospital in the morning to make sure everything was all right. She had been on nights all week and got very little sleep. The medics took her at her word.

He stood watching with his friends holding the remains of his birthday cake in the box. Rather than let it go to waste he offered it to the medics to have with their tea later on. They were delighted and he smiled wryly at the thought of his 50th birthday cake ending up in A & E.

On the seventh nought he ended up in Rathdrum again. It was a conscious decision. He took a B & B and visited relations who each in their turn were annoyed that he didn’t stay with them. He drove past the railway station, from where his mother carried him down to his granny’s house which was no longer in the family and had an extension built on. He stood outside it and looked up the hill to the big church along the dirt track where his little feet skipped every Sunday.

“You never married“, said an uncle.

“Not with my bloody life“, he answered.

“Well that means you will never make the same mistake once”, his uncle laughed.

The next morning he stood at the church and looked down on the house before he drove off through the Lower Street of Rathdrum towards the Grotto. The square was a car park and the Fair had long since gone. He set off down the Lower Street again by his granny’s house and into the beginning of the seventh nought.

“… and the old mare will stumble and bite at the wind, while you sleep in the saddle with your collar turned in. The year will grow old when the traders have gone but the blackbird won’t follow the heat of the sun. “


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