A blog dedicated to the creative output of R.P. Brown email@example.com
I had some errands to run that day.
The bakery felt abrasive and hostile, despite the warm smell of bread wafting in my nostrils. A sense of dread, was building in my stomach and the hunger didn’t help. I’d skipped breakfast that morning. There didn’t seem much point.
As I approached the top of the queue, I loosened the purple tie I’d stolen from my Da’s wardrobe and wiped the sweat from my forehead. I wondered if they would see the over-dressed schoolboy or see me scared beneath the surface.
I was prone to daydreams.
I’m tall, over six foot, lanky, awkward with fair hair. My ma says I have a nervous disposition, calls me a wee lamb and flashes me worried glances. Da is more vocal with his disapproval. Sure it’s all just banter son.
“What can I get you love?”
“Um… just a loaf.”
“We’re a bakery son, we’ve got a lot of them.”
“It doesn’t matter. Just a loaf” I mumble.
“Soda? Plain white crust? Wheaten? Rye?
I could tell she didn’t like me. I don’t know if it’s the smell of my skin, the look in my eyes or my peculiar mannerisms. Call me paranoid, but she can tell, somewhere in her subconscious she can tell there’s something to hide.
“That one” I say and sort of wave my hand loosely. She picks one for me, irritated, and places the bread into a bag.
“Anything else love?”
“No, thank you.”
“That’s one fifty”
I hand it over and place the package into my satchel, then leave the shop as if running from a lynching.
Outside, I took a deep breath of Belfast’s salty air and enjoyed the cold wind kissing my face. I’d been into the lion’s den. I’d come out with my body. However, my relief didn’t last very long as I walked down Royal Avenue. It seemed as though I could feel the fires of hell licking my heels and the weight of God’s eternal damnation contributing to my bad posture. A woman, with a quer set of lungs as my ma would say, was singing the lords song and preaching her convictions. She was no angel. She was a banshee wailing. Her soulful gospel voice went through me but it wasn’t the Lord I feared. These people think you’re vermin. They look at you like you’re plagued. They shut the gates of their heaven to you. It’s their hatred, I fear.
I turned into Fountain Street and went into the offey.
The eyes of the man behind the counter were on me. I like to think he undresses me as I pick out my bottle. I’m seventeen and with my height I could get served most places, but he makes me feel sexy. I’m trying to be nonchalant as I browse, though I’m not even looking at the wine. When I finally turn towards him, my stomach is in knots and I can feel the beginnings of an erection. At night I imagine, him taking me through to the backroom and when I’m finished, I feel the guilt my parents have given me.
I’m a still a virgin but I’m not completely inexperienced. I can’t give blood.
He smiles through his beard as I approach, wrinkling his forehead. His blue, intelligent, kind eyes are soothing and cooling. I’m more at ease. He must be in his early twenties, a student probably. He often has a book in his hand, usually about philosophy.
“You’re starting early; it’s not even twelve yet.”
“It’s for later”
“That’s a classy bottle. I usually just go for the cheap ould pish. Is it a special occasion?”
“Um… not really…”
“Tell you the truth I hate wine. I usually just stick to the larger.”
I pay for the expensive bottle and in it goes beside the bread. I’ve also got a marker in there, some string and a sheet of thick card.
“Take it easy lad”
It’s difficult for me to communicate. I’m a good listener; I’m empathetic but I’m so terribly afraid of people. I’ve been ridiculed so much for the way I was built, for how they would say I was designed. I see these people, confident in their own skin and the shit they throw at them. It’s okay to be gay, as long as you don’t scream about it; as long as you stay behind doors; as long as you accept what’s given to you and don’t ask for the same rights as ‘normal’ people. People here just want us gone and more than anything I wish I was brave enough to stand against them but I just wither.
I was walking towards Corn Market at this stage, thinking about martyrs. The concept had been playing a lot on my mind over the last few months. I’d been learning in my History A-Level, all about the Republic and the rebels who died fighting for it. My parents would probably have a fit if they knew; think the school was putting ideas in my head.
It’s not their politics that interests me, it’s their effect. I mean you don’t have to be a nationalist to appreciate what they did for their cause. It’s as though their life force breathed fire into it. Robert Emmet said “When my country takes her place among the nations of the earth, then and not till then, let my epitaph be written” and over two hundred years later we remember it. He inspired a few renegades in 1916 to fight as well and they were spat on. They become martyrs, suddenly everyone is on side and up sparks the Irish War of Independence.
Every Remembrance Sunday, my parents and I go down to our church. My priest is an ignorant bastard but when he talks about the soldiers who fought and died, he’s poignant and his words rouse a sense of nationalism. In the minute’s silence, my body tingles with the sheer scale of admiration. These long dead people died for something much bigger, a cause more important than anything they could ever have achieved in life. After the service, we go down to my great-grandfathers grave and leave a wreath of poppies. I’ve been proud of him for as long as I can remember. My unmet relative who died for democracy. There’s power in death.
On Castle Street, I entered a mountaineering shop and I made my last stop. For some reason I already knew it was going to be more difficult than buying the drink. Probably because I had no Idea what I was doing.
I began browsing the walking boots, trying to think of what to ask the sales assistant but nothing was coming to mind. I slowly edged my way over to the rope and began to get a feel for it.
“Can I help you?”
I nearly jumped out of my skin.
“Um… yeah which ropes the strongest?”
“Well when I climb, I usually use this one, sturdy and long. Should be all you need for any climbing you’ll do in Northern Ireland.”
“Thanks… I need a tent pole too, please”
“Sure what size is the tent?”
“Em… not really sure”
“Is it a two man? Three man?”
I just picked one that looked long enough but I could see he was dubious.
“Where are you camping? Heading out soon?”
“Ah… I’m heading out with my dad, not sure where.”
“Some of the best trips I ever had with my dad before he passed on. I remember once climbing Slieve Binnian, no I tell a lie, it was Slieve Meelmore and he said to me, son there’s no air in the worlds like the air in the Mournes. So breath it in deep.”
I wasn’t listening past this point, I hadn’t realised that all this stuff was so expensive. I’d barely been out of East Belfast, no matter scaling mountains.
“Is something the matter son you look pale.”
I didn’t even think. I just did it. I grabbed the bag of stuff and I just legged it out of there.
Except I tripped and fell over one of the stands and he was right behind me, I towered over him and I pushed him. I didn’t even turn to see if he was okay.
I could feel the adrenaline coursing through my veins and I didn’t stop running until I was at the Lagan. I felt like my lungs were going to burst, I’d never run that fast in my life. When I got there I sat down on a bench and looked at the new bridge, barely even thinking of anything. The irony of any of the officials here managing to build bridges.
After I’d got myself together, I dug through my bag and took out the marker and the card and wrote my own epitaph. Then, I opened the bottle of wine, thank god I’d picked a screw cap, and poured it over my head and soaked the bread. Not one drop, not one crumb would I put in my mouth. I ripped the deep red doughy centre and filled my pockets with it. I made sure the packaging was visible, they should know where it came from. That one fifty was blood money.
I made the noose, before I walked over the bridge. I was a scout, didn’t you know? To do my duty to God and to the Queen.
People were giving me looks as I crossed to the centre but they’d all seen stranger things walking the streets of Belfast. It was during the week and there weren’t many on the bridge at this time of the day anyway. I tied the rope tight to the railings, I didn’t want to fall in because the point was to be seen. I placed the sign I’d written and put it round my neck. Then I took off my jacket, pushed the tent pole through the sleeves and placed it back on. Finally the noose went round my neck.
There was a thrill in the falling. I thought of the headlines. I thought of the world watching the footage of me hanging there. My neck snapped. My shirt soaked red. I’d be like Jesus on the cross, another martyr not to be forgotten. I thought of my parents and wondered if they’d feel shame or sadness.
One final leap towards my maker. Ready to be judged for the curse he placed upon me. Our cruel and terrible Lord.
Let him judge me, not these small minded people in this wee country on this tiny hateful island. Let them fight each other, let them hate but let them feel something for me. Let their hearts fill with something less bitter. Move them to change, so that no one need ever feel like a second class citizen again. A little bit of progress in a country fixated on the past.
But who am I trying to convince? You can live and hope but all these people have ever known is segregation, fear and ignorance.
The sign I’d made myself, it read;
“Faggots beware. Ye have entered Northern Ireland”