Helen Macdowell gets hit in the face with a hockey ball. That's how it starts. Yes. The beginning of the end. All downhill fromthere. Helen's beautiful. She's got this light brown wavy flowy hair that curls back from her forehead. Her face is round, and her nose is soft and slightly ski-slopey.
Her lips are browny pink, but shiny with lipgloss. And her eyes, Jesus, her eyes are crystal blue, really clear blue, no dirty bits in the blue. She's beautiful and she's going to be a nurse, or an air hostess, or a private investigator. At least that's what my sister Fiona says, and she should know. Fiona and Helen used to knock around together before Helen became too beautiful to have friends. They were best buddies once upon a time, and used to cut their fingers and stick the bloody bits together and pretend that they were witches and all the rest. Then Helen got boobs, nice hair and beautiful skin, and stopped knocking round with anyone except herself.
So, she's standing there, the best-looking girl on the black gravel pitch, wearing make-up and everything. Bully one, bully two, bully three's all done, and the sun's streaking down, battering the hockey girls good and hard. They're sweating in their short slate-gray gym skirts and their tight light-blue aertex tops, and we're cheering from the sidelines.
Go on now, ye ride, get them off ye, ye sexy little who-ers!
The nuns are looking round, scowling, pointing fingers, and we're loving it.
School's out, summer lovin, havin a blast.
And Helen's just standing there. Center of the pitch. Staring.
I don't notice it at first, but the lads do.
They say, all giddy, Ooooooh, Finnegan, she's looking at you!
Looking at me?! Bollocks!
Yeah, looking at your bollocks all right!
But it's obvious, yes, she's looking straight at me. I turn my face away and go puce. I count to five while looking at the sideline grass and thinking about my whole family getting squished through a giant mincer like in the song on telly. But the funny thing is, when I turn back I notice that she's not really looking looking at me. Not giving me the eye or anything. She's just kind of staring into space, but at me.
Even so, the lads are going wild, saying that she wants to ride
me, and touch me mickey, and all that stuff, only I'm feeling a bit sick from her stare. Her lips are curled downish, and her crystal-blue eyes are fizzing fire at me. She looks sad too, like she's feeling sorry for me, like she wants to shake her head and say, "You poor poor prat."I feel dizzy. I need to stand up, shake my head and turn away again. I want to go home to my mam.
But before I can do anything, it happens.
Holy fuckster! one of the lads yells, as everyone goes spare. Helen Macdowell has just got a hockey ball in the mouth. There's teeth-bits everywhere, red teeth-bits. She opens up her mouth in agony and you can see that her lips are all puffed and slit and stabbed with bits of red teeth. Her face swells up in front of us. Blood pours out of her mouth. Like she's getting sick, and instead of puke there's blood coming out. The girl who hit her, Mary Davit, a big bruiser of a thing, is sitting in a heap on the ground, crying. Helen isn't crying yet. She's pawing her face, trying to feel the outline of her lumps and bumps. She's surrounded by the nuns, like a flock of nervous magpies, who keep the girls away. The others are still sweating in their skirts and shirts, but they're mostly whispering to each other and comforting Mary Davit. Someone whispers, Stupid bitch, that'll teach her!
After tapping and tipping her face for a few seconds, Helen lets her head drop to her chest and just screams the whole hockey pitch to pieces. Really screams. Like when you're being chased down a dark alley by a fella with a big carving knife in a Halloween horror flick. That loud! And to prove it, she lashes out at the nuns and starts to run for her life. Seriously. She runs straight off the hockey pitch, through the long grass, and out the main school gates on to the Ballydown Road. Screaming all the time, that carving-knife-horror-flick scream. And running, not stopping.
Maura Connell saw her running full pelt past Quinnsworth's at two o'clock that afternoon. Helen Macdowell, the most beautiful girl on the hockey team, with her browny wavy hair flowing away from her, her crystal eyes on fire, and her battered minced-meat face shiny with blood. Blood pouring down her neck from her slash-hole mouth, all over her aertex gym shirt.
The rumor going round The Rise says that Helen was eventually wrestled to the ground by two shopping center security guards inside Murray's chemist shop. She was in deep shock, and trying her damnedest to buy a jumbo refill of lipgloss.
We'd never seen anything like that around our place before. Not right in front of our eyes. You always heard about it, though. Through friends of friends. Or when The Mothers got together for coffee mornings. They'd sit around in a steamy kitchen circle like four mad witches, and dip ginger-snaps into Maxwell House until they went wobbly warm, and take turns at saying, Jahear about so-and-so, Lord rest his soul, only thirty years old, poor creature!?
They were brilliant at it. Scaring the shite out of each other, grinning inside, but on the outside all sad, just breaking up the day between ironing, washing and making sausage, spuds and parsnip dinners for the dads on their way home from work with their newspapers and their tired faces.
Of course, they'd go all hushed if they saw one of us coming in from the telly room. They'd lean in together and start talking with their mouths closed, or speaking in code. But most of the time, sitting in silence on the floor with the telly on low and the door half open, we got the gist.
For instance, there was Kent Foster, died of skin cancer aged twenty, God rest his soul. Kent was mad into the sunbathing. Every summer, down there on the black tarmac behind the five-a-side pitch, in his brown speedos, lathered in sunflower oil, like a Malteser covered in spit.
English blood! The Mothers would say.
With that name!
Right you are, Maisie.
Then one summer Kent just disappeared. No one knew where. No one except The Mothers.
Jahear about Kent Foster? No? Well, poor soul's down in the gym, he spots a little black freckle on his thigh, and two months later he's stone dead. Cancer! Riddled with the stuff! Only twenty years old, God rest his soul!
Cancer, death, only twenty! It's music to their ears, like the sound of a starter gun.
And so, stories at the ready, champing at the bit, they're off.
Gary's mam is thinking, I can beat that one hands down!
Mozzo's mam is racking her brains, scratching her fag packet and trying to remember that recent tragedy she heard about from her brother-in-law in Finglas.
And Maisie O'Mally, the crinkly septuagenarian from number 43, is faking it, saying, Did you hear about what's his name, who fell into the river?
Luckily, Gary's mam, the old reliable, cuts her dead. Not as bad as Neil Cody! she says.
Neil Cody is this boy from Mount Merrion, only fifteen. He's a bit of a swat, and likes to read his daddy's newspaper every day. So one Sunday morning, still in his pajamas, he grabs the paper, the Indo, hot off the kitchen table and, dead excited,
brings it up to his bedroom for a good ole read. Half an hour goes by. No sound from above. An hour. Nothing.
Imagine it! says Gary's mam, Silence from upstairs, what do you think? He's fallen asleep with the papers, the little dote, yes?
Well, no one's heard a peep out of Neil in three hours, so his mam runs up the stairs, knocks on his door, goes into his room, and there he is, dead as a dodo, flat out on the bed, a stream of blood coming out of his nostrils and down on to the funnies.
He's had a brain hemorrhage and died. Just like that!
The Mothers all bless themselves and mutter things about St. Anthony and Jesus and the apostles. Gary's mam is feeling happy with herself, and everyone thinks that she's won the competition hands down when Mozzo's mam lights up a John Player
and says, dramatically, And of course, you've all heard about poor June Shilaweh?
Gary's mam freezes and, furious, aware that she's going to be trumped, shakes her head.
Mozzo's mam nods gravely to herself, as if she's not sure whether she should continue.
My mam tells her to hurry up and put them out of their misery. The Shilawehs, Mozzo's mam says, are an African family, black as night, who've moved to the Villas.
The Villas! everyone goes in unison, groaning at the thought of that long line of little boxy terraced houses down the back of the estate. To hell or to the Villas! They couldn't've picked a worse spot if they tried, the eejits. Worse than the bloody jungles
they've come from.
The Mothers all laugh at this, though they hold their hands over their mouths as they do.
So, the Shilawehs are trying to settle into life in the Villas. They say, Hello, good morning, to all their neighbors, even the ones who say Fuck off nigger to their faces. They send their only daughter, June, to the local girls Catholic school, Mother of Sorrow, or just The Sorrows for short, which is the one that my sisters go to, and the one that Helen Macdowell went to before she lost her face. And Mr. Shilaweh gets a job stacking envelopes at Ryan's post office. The one thing that's missing is a bike. Little
June Shilaweh has never had a bike, and now that she's in the free world and out of the jungle she wants one.
Indeed, interrupts Maisie, what would you want a bicycle for in the jungle? It'd only get whipped by the monkeys!
The Mothers do their hand-covering-mouth laugh again.
Anyway, little June Shilaweh gets a bike from her dad, who's saved up all his post-office money to pay for it. She hasn't even had it a week when she cycles up Clannard Road, gets overtaken by a juggernaut, swivels and turns, falls off the bike and goes right under the rear wheels. Crushed to death on the spot.
The Mothers all sigh in silence and avoid looking each other in the eye.
And you know the worse bit? says Mozzo's mam, teasing and toying. Johnno Mac, who works in Mangan's Hairdressers right outside the crash spot on Clannard Road, said he had to clean up after the truck was gone. Said that little June had no head left, swear to God, it was popped like a pimple under the weight of the truck. Ambulance just dragged a headless corpse inside, and the poor Shilawehs had to identify their daughter by the handlebars that were still stuck into her innards when they arrived.
Mozzo's mam has gone too far. My mam shoots up, leans against the sink, and says that she's doing sprouts tonight and you know how long them feckers take to peel. Gary's mam says that she'll walk Maisie home, even though it's only four houses down. Mozzo's mam, quickly getting the message, stands up to leave.
She sticks her head into the telly room and tells me that Mozzo's coming back today and he'll be dying to see me.
Mam, Gary's mam and Maisie mess about with coats until Mozzo's mam is out the door, and then they agree that she's a lovely girl, but a bit crude.
The fella left her, of course, says Gary's mam, left her with that little animal!
From The Fields by Kevin Maher. Copyright 2013 by Kevin Maher. Excerpted by permission of Hachette Book Group.