Monday, August 1, 2022

Love In Troubled Times - Ch. 1

Hi there fiction blog readers,

it's been a long time. I'm still writing and working on stories and I just can't stop writing about disabled male protagonists 😉 and the women who adore them. 😍 To say the least, life has been a doozy for a while, lots of stuff going on in the world and I definitely think it has dramatically affected people. 

I'm almost finished with this story and have worked on it for at least two years if not longer. It's different from everything I've written and published so far. It also involves much research about certain historic events and political structures. My regular readers who enjoyed my other stories may be disappointed with this and if you are, I'm sorry this is so different. I promise I'll try to work on something more familiar once this story is done. I plan on self-publishing it hopefully in the spring and have other ideas in my head and some works in progress already. 

This story takes place in the early '80s, so between 1981 and 1982 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. From a young age, I've always had a fascination with Northern Ireland, not sure why that is, and have read a lot about it and all the things that happened there over the centuries. I've tried as much as possible to be truthful and correct in historic and landmark descriptions. You'll see that I'm using a slightly different dialogue between my characters, trying to stay true to how people there talk. I've also inserted some footnotes explaining some expressions you may not be familiar with. I've also tried to stay true to location descriptions like streets and landmarks.

This story is more than just a simple romance for devotees. I'm not sure what will come out of this story. I've been sitting over it for a long time and it has taken much of my energy. Somehow it was important to me to write this, I really don't know why. Again, it's different than what I've done so far, but I hope it's not too unusual and can maybe find its place in our sub-genre of romance involving disabled characters. 

So, I'm sorry if you are "weirded out" by it, but I hope some of you will still enjoy it. Let me know if you do. This first chapter is pretty long already. If there is enough interest, I may post another chapter in a week or two. I also hope I'm doing it right here, it's been so long since I posted here on the Blog.

Thank you to everyone who's been out there buying my novels on Amazon. You mean so much to me. Find me out there on Amazon and Instagram Dani Deveaux. 

Hugs, Dani

Love In Troubled Times - Chapter 1

A cool breeze of an autumn night at the beginning of October was moving in from the river Lagan. Chill air penetrated Brendan’s clothes. He made a mental note to get out his warmer coat at home. The jeans jacket he wore over his T-Shirt wasn’t keeping him warm. Monday through Friday at about eleven-thirty at night, he waited for twenty minutes for the last bus into Belfast city center. 

Usually, until eleven at night, Brendan staffed the main employee access gate as a guard at the Harland & Wolff shipyard. Paddy, the night shift gate guard, normally started at ten o’clock. After passing his duties off to Paddy, Brendan was done for the night at eleven-fifteen and allowed to go home. He was always the only person at the bus stop. The workers on the second shift were long gone with the earlier bus, and the workers on the third shift had already arrived two hours earlier. The last bus came through at nearly midnight.

A flock of seagulls soared and snickered above Brendan, and the wind rustled the leaves on the few scraggy trees across the street. Behind him in the distance stood the giant Harland & Wolff dry dock cranes, Samson and Goliath. The dark silhouettes of the two heavy-duty work machines stood like guardians overlooking Queens Island. Since their construction in the early seventies by German engineers, their work had slowly declined due to fewer contracts and a decrease in shipbuilding in Belfast.

While Brendan pulled his cigarettes and matches from inside his jeans jacket, he glanced at the crutches leaning next to him against the bench. He clamped the cigarette between his lips and, leaning forward and holding his hand in front of the cigarette to block the breeze, lit it and deeply inhaled. The end of the cigarette glowed in a deep orange. He flicked the used match away onto the asphalt. Dark strands of his hair hung in his face as he stared at the ground, took a few puffs from the cigarette, and blew the smoke into the air.

His legs were stretched out with the heavy braces buckled snug over his jeans and attached to his boots. Since being in braces, he hadn’t worn any other shoes because the braces were mounted into the heels of the work boots. When he had been fitted for the braces he would permanently need if he wanted to walk, he had not been given many choices for shoes. They had shown him two pairs of sturdy boots, explaining that the boots needed to last a while. Brendan chose one of the pairs, and the orthotist had jokingly remarked that at least Brendan could wear the boots with anything, his jeans or even his good church pants. The boots weren’t what one would call stylish, but Brendan doubted he needed to look fashionable anytime soon. They were heavy black work boots attached to the bulky braces, helping him walk.

Sitting under the covered, simple bus stop, he leaned against the wall behind him and puffed on his cigarette. While he thought about his work day, he exhaled small smoke circles, watched them float away, and eventually bust. Production at the shipyard had been turned to full capacity; additional men had been hired to fulfill two contracts promptly, and the ships had to be delivered within a year. Brendan was tired but glad to have a job. It wasn’t exactly exciting and merely a mundane position, but there weren’t many job opportunities in Belfast, especially not for Catholic men and definitely not for a disabled Catholic man as he was.

Engine noise pulled Brendan from his thoughts, causing him to look up. It wasn’t his bus, but a car came speeding down the street and, with squealing brakes, came to a halt on the side of the street not far from the bus stop. Brendan sat up, alert and tense, and when he put his hand to the waistline of his jeans, he remembered that his pistol was at home. He quickly took another puff from his cigarette, blew out the smoke, and pushed the cigarette against the plastic wall of the bus stop. It extinguished, and another burn spot was added to the many others. Brendan dropped the cigarette butt on the ground and kept his eyes on the car.

The car had stopped with the engine still running. Brendan heard muffled voices from inside it, but he couldn’t identify what the people were saying. It was obvious that they were arguing and when the passenger side door opened, a woman awkwardly exited the car, yelling loudly.

“You’re a right piece of shite! Leave me alone and get on away from me! I don’t ever want to see you again, you fecking bastard!”

Brendan remained quiet, hoping they wouldn’t notice him. He lowered his eyes and glanced cautiously from behind his hair in the car's direction.

The woman stumbled onto the sidewalk. A purse was flung out of the car, and it landed next to the woman on the ground. It was too dark for Brendan to distinguish any detailed features, but he noticed that she wore a short skirt and had long hair.

An angry male voice shouted from inside the car, “And you’re a right whore! Nothing else…just a skanky whore!”

The woman yelled at the man, “Get the feck away from me!”

The man revved the engine, and the woman slammed the door shut, kicking against it and screaming obscenities and curses as the car drove off with squealing tires. The woman took a shoe from her foot and hurled it after the car but missed it. Instead, the high heel shoe landed not far from the bus stop. Brendan glanced at it and wondered if she had even noticed him there.

She cursed into the night about how much of a bastard the man was and how she hated him. She gathered her purse from the sidewalk and looked around, sniffling her nose and wiping her face. Brendan was sitting quietly at the bus stop. Her red shoe was not far from him.

The woman took off her other shoe and came toward the bus stop, barefooted. With the mini skirt, she wore a short black leather jacket. Her purse was as red as her shoes, and when she bent down to pick up her shoe from the street, she finally noticed Brendan sitting at the bus stop.

Startled, she jumped up. “Jesus fecking Christ, what in the bloody hell?”

Brendan shifted on the bench and didn’t know what to say. She picked up her shoe and stood there, not far from him, wiping her face and pulling snot up in her nose.

“What are you gawking at?” She hissed at him with a teary voice.

Brendan shrugged and tried to ask in a non-threatening tone, “Are you alright there, miss?”

Her red high heels dangled from her hand, her purse was over her shoulder, and she stared at him for a moment before she blurted out, “Aye, I’m alright.”

Brendan didn’t say anything else; she came closer and scanned the area around the bus stop.

Standing only a few feet away, she glanced curiously at him from behind her long, red curls. Brendan looked away, thinking about what to say to her. Obviously, she had been in trouble with the man who had kicked her out of his car. In his peripheral vision, he saw her long, smooth legs and bare feet. She didn’t wear any stockings. He didn’t want to stare at her too obviously, but his heart was beating faster. He noticed her toenails were painted red, just like her shoes. He wondered how long it would be until she got cold. It was the beginning of October; cool mist and fog lay over the shipyards during the night, causing an uncomfortable chill in the air.

She asked sharply, “Where in the fecking hell am I?”

Brendan looked up and was about to answer, but she made him nervous. In her voice, though, he heard a trace of apprehension.

When he didn’t answer immediately, she repeated, “Are you deaf? Where am I?”

He felt tense at her rude comment and debated if he should answer. As it started raining heavier, she shuffled closer, taking cover under the roof of the bus stop.

She dug around in her purse, and when she didn’t find what she was looking for, she hissed to herself, “Fecking shite, I left me fegs in the bastard’s car.”

Brendan pulled out his cigarette pack, tapped on its back to let a cigarette slide out halfway, and held the pack out to her. The woman looked at him suspiciously before she stepped closer and quickly pulled the cigarette from the pack. She held it between her trembling fingers, and Brendan pulled out the matches and nodded at her to come closer.

With the cigarette between her lips, she leaned over toward him. Brendan pulled a match from the small box and struck it against the side. A spark ignited a flame, and he held the match to her cigarette. As he lit her cigarette, their eyes met for a few seconds. Immediately, she inhaled deeply from the cigarette and exhaled the smoke into the air.

With the cigarette hanging from the corner of her mouth, she mumbled a thank you to Brendan. He nodded but didn’t say anything. She rubbed her hands together for warmth.

Looking around, she asked again, “So where am I?”

Brendan glanced at her and explained, “Sydenham Road, close to the shipyards.” 

A seagull screeched above them, confirming the proximity to the river Lagan. The woman looked up and took a puff from her cigarette again.

She asked in an annoyed tone, “So, is this a wee bus stop then?”

“Aye, the last bus should get here in about ten minutes.”

She leaned with her shoulder on the flimsy wall of the bus stop and took another puff from her cigarette, curiously scanning Brendan with small eyes.

“Is that the one you’re taking then?”

Brendan nodded without saying anything. She pulled her short leather jacket tighter and wrapped her arms around herself, holding the cigarette between the trembling fingers of her right hand and dangling her high heels in the other, taking a few puffs from the cigarette. It was pouring rain now, and a cold breeze blew through the street. Brendan felt the chill sneak through his thin jeans jacket and T-shirt. He knew the woman was looking at him, and he kept his eyes on the ground.

After a few seconds, she confirmed, “So, the bus goes into the city center then?”

He looked over at her and repeated, “Aye, it stops at the main terminal on Glengall.”

She cleared her throat and mumbled, “Shite.”

Brendan didn’t say anything. He was nervous about the woman there; she was obviously frustrated and angry. He caught a faint scent of perfume mixed in with the smoke from her cigarette.

After a few moments and several puffs of her cigarette, she asked, less tense, “What are you doin’ out here then?”

“I work at the shipyard.”

“That late?”

“I’m on the second shift.”

She took another puff from the cigarette and asked icily, “What do you do then?” He didn’t miss her skeptical glances at his braced legs.

Brendan pondered how much he should tell her about himself. He looked up; her face had a warm expression, not matching the tone of voice she had been communicating with over the last ten minutes.

“I work at the entrance gate, ensuring only the right people get in.”

She blew a smoke circle in the air. “Sounds boring.”

She wasn’t wrong about that. Brendan’s job wasn’t exactly exciting, but it was a job, and he needed the money. After coming home from the hospital and rehab, he had been without work for a few months.

He started looking for a job immediately but couldn’t work what he used to. After he left school at age fifteen, he had trained as a welder on the drydock for Harland and Wolff and worked there for nearly ten years. He had learned the trade on the job and had become a skilled welder over the years. Considering he couldn’t stand for extended periods and could walk only with leg braces and forearm crutches, he couldn’t do this type of work anymore. The company didn’t have another regular job for him, and it wasn’t only because he was disabled now. Over the past several years, with increasing tensions in Belfast, Harland and Wolff employed fewer and fewer Catholics. The majority of the workers nowadays were Protestants. Only a small group of Catholics still worked for the company, and they usually kept to themselves and were shunned by the Protestant workers.

For a meager hourly wage, the shipbuilding company had offered Brendan the gatekeeper position, but at that time, he wasn’t picky with the type of work he would do. He needed to make money to support his brother and mother. The gatekeeper position didn’t entail much; Brendan checked the employee badges as the men came to work or opened the gates for trucks or shipments permitted to enter the Harland and Wolff property. He issued visitor passes, entry badges for new employees, and temporary permits. Always in fear of losing his job, he was a quiet employee.

Brendan glanced at the woman and replied to her last comment, “It’s a job, so it is.”

She didn’t say anything and kept smoking her cigarette. The bus came around the corner; it was the last bus into the city every night at almost midnight. Brendan was always the last passenger; the bus was usually empty. Brendan grabbed his crutches and slid his arms into the cuffs, grabbing the handles tightly. He sensed her curious glances at him and was nervous about getting up with her watching.

His legs were rigidly strapped in the braces, and he pulled up awkwardly, holding the handles tight and finding a balanced stance with his small backpack on his back. Brendan was embarrassed but stood there, waiting for the bus to stop right in front of him. Arlo, the bus driver, always parked with the front door directly next to Brendan so he could get on with the least difficulties.

The woman came up behind him just as the doors opened.

Arlo was a big-bellied, red-faced man, sitting behind the large steering wheel and greeting Brendan, “Hiya lad, how’r’ya getting on the night?”

“Ach, you know yourself, Arlo.” Brendan had a monthly bus pass for public transportation in Belfast. Since he was a regular on this route and Arlo knew him, he never had to show his bus pass.

Arlo leaned over the large steering wheel and looked out at the woman. “So we’ve got another guest the night?”

She came closer, and Brendan gestured for her to get on before him. He felt awkward; it always took focus and coordination to go up steps, even if only two.

The woman looked up at Arlo and asked, “How much is the fare?”

Arlo smiled and crooned in an extravagant voice, “Good evening, young lady. It’s fifty pence after nine o’clock, so it is.”

She started digging in her purse and cursed, “Shite, I left me wallet in the bastard's car.”

Arlo had no idea which bastard she was referring to, and Brendan remarked, “I got it.”

She looked at him and muttered a thank you. Brendan let her pass, and Arlo curiously looked after her as she got on the bus and walked through the center aisle a few rows to the back. Arlo met Brendan’s eyes as he awkwardly put his foot on the first step, his leg stiff in the brace. He pulled up with his crutches, pulled his other foot up, and slowly got on the bus. Arlo lifted his eyebrows with a discreet and curious nod toward the woman. When Brendan wanted to give him the money for her fare, Arlo waved his hand.

“Aye, never mind, lad. It’s quite alright.”

“Thanks, Arlo.”

Before Brendan was about to take his seat in the first row where he always sat, he glanced at her where she had sat down three rows back, and she met his eyes. Arlo managed to turn around in his seat and looked back at her.

“Young lady, you’re welcome to sit up front with us eejits. We don’t bite, so we don’t.”

He turned to Brendan, and his belly rose and fell with the chuckle. “Brendan, lad, tell her we don’t bite.”

Brendan turned around to her and tried to sound funny but realized it sounded forced, “We don’t bite.”

He was surprised to see a smile brush over her face, but she didn’t move. He didn’t think he had sounded funny at all.

Arlo tried again in a friendly voice, “Och, c’mon lass, sit yourself up here with us two lads. We’ll have us a right [1]craic the night. ”

She didn’t get up, and Arlo looked at Brendan, who shrugged his shoulders. Arlo didn’t try again and turned his eyes to the road, put the bus in gear, and stepped on the gas. Rain was hitting the large windshield, and the long wipers moved quickly from side to side as Arlo pulled the bus onto the main road and headed toward Belfast city center. 

While driving, Arlo asked Brendan about his workday as he did every night. The woman was quiet in the back, and Brendan hesitated to talk freely with Arlo. He didn’t want her to learn too much about him, his work, or his life. Arlo didn’t even question why she was at the bus stop in the middle of the night, where usually only Brendan was.

At night, the ride into the city took fifteen minutes. When they arrived at the central bus station, it was pouring rain, and puddles formed on the streets and sidewalks. Few people were out and about on a rainy night like this. Arlo was done with his route for the night.

From the central station, Brendan normally took a connecting bus to West Belfast, where he lived in Clonard. Arlo wished him goodnight, and Brendan slowly got off the bus; the woman came behind him. It was raining hard enough that quickly his jacket was wet.

She held her short jacket halfway over her hair, and several curse words escaped her lips as she stepped off the bus behind Brendan and hurried under a nearby covered bus stop. Brendan didn’t have much time; he usually had to hurry to his connecting bus and turned to her.

“Are you gettin’ home alright from here?”

He couldn't see her face clearly in only the streetlights and with her jacket over her head. Her high heels were on her feet now, but she wasn’t taller than Brendan. 

She answered, “Aye, I’ll just take a taxi.”

She looked around and Brendan pointed out where a black taxi was parked, waiting for customers.

“Over there!”

She nodded, and Brendan was about to head to his connecting bus when she said, “So, your name’s Brendan then, is it?” He didn’t remember telling her his name.

Like she could read his mind, she added, “I heard the bus driver call you by your name.”

Brendan nodded. “Aye.”

He pondered if he should ask for her name and decided not to, hoping she would tell him her name voluntarily.

All she said was, “Thanks, Brendan.”

She seemed hesitant, and he thought she would tell him her name, but she merely said, “Goodnight, Brendan.” Her voice had changed to a friendlier tone. She wasn’t as harsh as when she first stumbled out of the car.

“Goodnight.” Brendan nodded at her.

She turned and headed toward the only black taxi waiting at this hour of the night. Brendan stood there, getting wet and holding on to his crutches, watching her walk away. He turned toward the last bus with the lights on; usually, Marty drove the connecting bus, and the final station was in West Belfast, not far from where Brendan lived off the Falls Road. His stop was always at the Royal Victoria Hospital.

As he was about to get on the connecting bus, he suddenly heard the woman calling him.

“Brendan, wait up!”

Brendan turned around, and with her high heels clicking on the wet asphalt, she was jogging over, still holding her jacket over her head to keep from getting too wet. It didn’t help, it was pouring, and she wasn’t dry anymore. Brendan worried she could slip and fall, but she was obviously skilled in running wearing high heels.

As she neared him, she called, “I don’t have any money for the taxi. Will you lend me a few [2]quid?”

Brendan was getting drenched as he stood there in the rain. He held himself steady on one crutch, and with the other crutch dangling on his forearm, he awkwardly pulled his wallet from the inside pocket of his jacket, where he also had his cigarettes.

He pulled out a ten-pound bill and held it out to her in the rain. The money was getting wet, but she quickly snatched it from his hand.

He asked, “Will that be enough?”

“Aye, it’s enough.”

Brendan nodded, and she added, “I’ll get it back to you some time. Thanks a mill!”

She kept her eyes on him for a moment before hurrying back to the taxi. Brendan was worried watching her, but she seemed remarkably confident running in high heels. He was surprised when she stopped and turned around.

Looking back at him, she shouted, “Me name’s Ava, by the way; thanks, Brendan!”

He was distracted by Marty’s grumpy voice from inside the bus behind him, “Get on with it, lad. I’m wantin’ to get meself home to the missus!”

Ava disappeared in the rain and darkness, and Brendan got on the bus. Two people were already on the bus, sitting a few rows back, talking in muffled voices and glancing at Brendan curiously as he sat down awkwardly. Marty wasn’t as pleasant as Arlo and never talked much.

When Brendan finally sat, he looked out of the window, trying to see if Ava was still out there, but the rain running down the windows made it impossible. His braces and jeans were wet, and his hands were cold from holding the crutches while standing outside with Ava. The shoulders of his jeans jacket were wet, and cold moisture seeped through to his T-shirt. He made another mental note to wear warmer clothes from now on.

On the way home, he kept thinking about Ava. He wondered if she had lied to him or if this was her real name. He remembered her long copper-red curls framing a pale face dominated by large, green eyes. She had watched him curiously, and though he would have liked to get a better look at her, he had been nervous and hadn’t wanted to be too obvious. He remembered catching the flowery fragrance of her perfume as she stood close to him under the roof at the bus stop. Though he couldn’t make out anything, he still looked through the window. Streetlights and shapes of buildings were distorted with the rain hitting the window. As they drove out of the city center, the buildings became less lit, and the streets veering off the Falls Road became darker as they neared the bus stop close to where Brendan lived.

Marty pulled into the bus stop next to a boarded-up and abandoned building. A mural on its side depicted the Irish flag colors of green, white, and orange with an image of an Armalite rifle in its center. In large red letters meant to look like blood was dripping, it read: Keep fighting for our Irish freedom! Never give up! The mural covered the entire side of the run-down building. The other two patrons got off the bus in the back, and Brendan got out in the front, carefully placing one foot after the next on the steps to get down with Marty’s wary eyes on him.

“Have yourself a good night then, lad.”

“You as well, Marty.”

Marty would drive his bus to the depot and park it behind a locked gate for the night. Brendan had about a twenty-minute walk. When he could still walk without braces and crutches, he would have jogged home in five minutes. Now, he was slow; it wasn't easy to walk with the braces, but it was the only way for him. Brendan stood on the sidewalk next to the building, and Marty pulled out, leaving Brendan in a cloud of exhaust. He looked around, scanning the immediate area for anything suspicious, but it was quiet. Only a dog barked through the night from somewhere nearby.

Brendan crossed the Falls Road and turned into Cavendish Street with its seemingly endless rows of terrace houses on both sides of the narrow street. The houses only had small front yards, and cars were parked on the street in front of the houses. The dark, debilitated terrace houses seemed even darker at night, and the street appeared even bleaker. Breathing quickly, Brendan shuffled along the sidewalk, moving stiffly in the braces. He was in pain; his hips and knees hurt, and his ankles felt swollen in the boots. He gripped the crutch handles tightly and was glad to be close to his house. His breaths came quicker, and he realized how exhausted he was. Working was exhausting for him, and the daily commute was tiring and strenuous. He turned off from Cavendish Street into Violet Street, where he lived. Rows of narrow, run-down terrace houses were on both sides of the street; these houses didn’t have front yards, but the entrance doors were right on the sidewalk.

Another dog barked in a back garden behind one of the houses. Each house had a narrow, short back garden, separated by walls from the neighbors. Some of the back gardens were grown over with bushes, bricks were falling out from the walls, some had a door in the wall to the neighbors, and others were cluttered with old broken things. Behind the back garden was a narrow one-lane street where residents could enter their houses through the back garden and where most people kept their garbage bins. Most people on the street had lived here for generations; everyone knew everyone. Brendan lived with his brother, sister-in-law, and their mother in the ninth house on the left side of the street. It was the house he had grown up and lived in all his life.

Holding on to his crutches, Brendan clumsily unlocked the front door. His legs hurt, and he took quick breaths and was ready to sit down and take off the braces. The dog kept barking, and it echoed through the otherwise quiet street. When a car slowly drove through the street, Brendan didn’t turn around to see if he knew them. Sometimes it was better not to meet anyone’s eyes, especially in the middle of the night in West Belfast. With recent tragic and difficult events, it had been a tense and dangerous year. 1981 would probably go down in the history books as another one of Northern Ireland’s darkest times. 

Brendan shuffled over the threshold, closed, and locked the front door behind him. It was one o’clock now; his brother Liam, his brother’s wife Aisling, and their mother Maureen were asleep. In the sitting room off the hallway to the right, a small reading lamp was on. Liam always left a light on for Brendan.

With the dim light illuminating the hallway, Brendan leaned against the door for support, and with his crutches dangling from his arms, he pulled off his wet jeans jacket and hung it on one of the hooks next to the door. Several other jackets and coats hung there already. Several pairs of shoes were lined along the wall under the coat hooks. At least it was warm in the house; the last bit of a fire in the fireplace was still glowing.

A narrow hallway led through to the back of the house. The steep staircase to the left leading up to three small bedrooms was decorated with faded family photos on the wall. At the end of the hallway, a small foyer had a door to the kitchen and a door to the only bathroom attached to the back of the house.

The sitting room to the right looked out to the front of the house. It connected to a small room leading into the kitchen. The kitchen could also be entered from the hall. 

Growing up in this house with his parents and three brothers had always been crowded. The house used to be full of life and laughter; relatives frequently used to stop by or stay over, usually sleeping on the sofa or an armchair in the sitting room, sometimes at the table in the kitchen. When the younger cousins used to stay over, they slept with the boys in the upstairs bedrooms.

Now the house was occupied only by Brendan, his brother Liam and Liam’s wife, Aisling, and their mother, Maureen. Maureen’s younger sister, Fiona, usually came in the morning to help take care of her, help get her dressed and feed her. Often she took Maureen to her house in a neighboring street of terrace houses. Most days, Fiona stayed at the house on Violet Street all day. When Maureen came home from the hospital and rehab, it was immediately clear she could not be left alone. After her stroke, the onset of dementia was also diagnosed, and Maureen couldn’t be left alone. With only Liam and Brendan, Fiona cared for her older sister so Maureen’s sons and Liam’s wife, Aisling, could keep working. Fiona usually helped with dinner and ensured Maureen was ready for bed, so Liam and Aisling didn’t have to do much more for his mother except get her into bed. Maureen was usually very calm and endured her fate without much protest. 

Brendan shuffled through to the kitchen, where a small lamp over the stove was on. He checked that the backdoor into the yard was locked. The curtain on the small window in the door was drawn, but he pushed it over and looked out into the narrow, dark back garden again. It was quiet outside. Only a dim light fell into the yard from a weak lantern in the alley behind the houses. In the distance, he still heard a dog barking.

Brendan stood by the stove, and with his crutch dangling on his arm, he ignited the gas, and blue flames licked around the smallest burner on the stove. The kettle already had water in it, and he pushed it onto the flame.

He sat on one of the five chairs at the kitchen table, holding on to his crutches with his legs stiffly sticking out in the braces. He pulled his arms from the crutches and, leaning back on the chair, took a deep breath. His calloused hands hurt from holding the crutches. Pressing his left thumb into the palm of his right hand, he massaged it and then did the same with the other hand. It felt good. He wanted to get out of the braces but waited until the water was boiling.

A basket with a few apples was on the table, and next to it, The Belfast Telegraph lay open on the obituary page. Maureen loved reading the obituaries. The date was Thursday, October 08, 1981. Brendan turned the paper to the front page and was relieved that no explosions or shootings had made it into the headlines on that day. Most of the headlines over the last months had been about the Maze prison hunger strikes, the death of Bobby Sands and several other inmates, and the recent breakout and escape of eight prisoners from the Crumlin Road Prison. Brendan knew some of the men by their names and wondered where they were hiding.

He turned the page and glanced at the news. The kettle whistled softly, indicating boiling water. Brendan pushed himself up with his hands on the table. From the table, he could reach over to the kitchen counter and hold on. With his legs still locked straight in the braces and without using his crutches, he dragged his feet across the worn black and white checkered linoleum floor to the kitchen counter.

With leverage against the counter, Brendan switched off the gas on the burner and poured hot water into a large mug. He dropped a tea bag into it; the inside of the mug was stained brown from hundreds of teabags that had steeped in it. Years ago, Brendan’s father had bought a mug for each one of his sons while he had been on holiday in Bangor in County Down. Brendan’s name was imprinted on a green four-leaf clover held by a cheerful grinning green-clad leprechaun. It was a whimsical children’s design; Brendan had been seven years old when his father had gifted him the mug. Now the name was faded and barely legible. The mug had been washed so often that the colors of the clover and the leprechaun clothes were faded.

Brendan was tired, but he always had a mug of tea before bed. Lost in thoughts, he dipped the tea bag up and down and eventually dropped it in the stained kitchen sink. He couldn’t get the mug over to the table and remained leaning against the counter, blowing onto the steaming tea for a few moments.

His legs hurt as he stood there, and he couldn’t wait to get out of the braces. He stood there, looking around the dimly lit kitchen, blowing on the hot brew and wondering what had been for supper. Eventually, he took a careful sip from his hot tea.

After finishing his tea, he grabbed his crutches and slid his arms into the cuffs again. He used the toilet in the bathroom next to the kitchen. Fatigue overcame him, but he brushed his teeth, and as he washed his hands, he looked at his reflection in the mirror over the sink. He looked tired, and his dark, longish hair was still damp from the rain. Strands of his bangs hung into his eyes, and he ran his hands through his hair, pushing it from his eyes. Flickering, dark eyes looked at him from the mirror. His mother used to say he had fire in his eyes. Nowadays, she barely looked at him, and even when she did look at him, she looked through him. She often didn’t recognize her second youngest son, born in 1953.

Brendan switched on the television set in the sitting room before sitting on the large, worn-out sofa. The curtains on the window were drawn. While a late-night sitcom was on, he finally took off his leg braces. They were made of real leather, dark brown, with cuffs and buckles around his thighs and shins, leather knee pads, and metal struts on the inside and outside of his leg, holding him upright and helping him walk. The metal struts were mounted into the heel of his black work boots. A drop lock mechanism behind the knee unlocked the brace and enabled Brendan to bend his legs.

The pain of his broken legs before the shooting had been nothing compared to the pain after they had shot him. As several bullets had penetrated his knees and ankles, the nerve damage had been extensive. Arteries in both legs had been injured, and Brendan had nearly died from blood loss.

Brendan took a deep breath and untied the laces on his boots first before he unbuckled one leather cuff after the next. The braces loosened around his legs as the cuffs came undone. When all the straps were unfastened, Brendan leaned over and pulled the boots off his feet. His legs were finally freed from their contraptions, but the pain was always there. It kept him awake at night and hurt when walking too far or doing anything at all. When he didn’t work, his chronic pain usually kept him in his house. He had pain medication but didn’t want to get addicted, so most days, he didn’t take anything but suffered silently through the permanent state of pain.

Walking in the braces was difficult and unnatural, affecting his back and spine up to his neck. It would have been easier if he had used a wheelchair, but the wheelchair from the hospital was stored in the shed in the back garden; after he had come home in it from the hospital, he had never used it anymore. They had given him the old, banged-up wheelchair for free at the rehab department. He couldn’t use it in the small house anyway; it was too bulky and barely fit through the hallway, and he could have never reached his bedroom upstairs. Even in his braces, he barely made it upstairs. Though it took longer, and he had to be very careful going up the narrow staircase, he could at least sleep in his bedroom. Sometimes, he sat on the stairs without the braces and scooted up that way.

Brendan dropped his braces on the floor, rubbed with his hands over his legs, moaning from relief at the sensations. Sometimes he wished they would have amputated his legs, but they had not deemed amputations necessary since he could still use his legs. His damaged legs were still attached to him, and they had sent him on his way with pain medication, leg braces, forearm crutches, and an old wheelchair. Barely able to walk, it had been a challenge when he had come home. His bedroom was upstairs, the bathroom was downstairs, and though he enjoyed his bedroom and the comfort of his bed, sometimes it was easier to sleep on the sofa.

He massaged his legs for a few minutes, arched his back, and stretched his neck from side to side, moaning from pain and relief. As he sat there, staring at the TV, exhaustion overcame him. His eyes fell shut, and he didn’t wake up until he heard his brother’s voice saying his name over him.

Brendan blinked into the room and saw his brother hovering over him.

Liam concluded, “Brendan, you fell asleep again on the sofa with the tele on.”

Brendan was still sleepy and could barely hold his eyes open. He was in a semi-sitting position on the sofa.

Liam said calmly, “Let me help you lie down.”

Brendan didn’t have time to object as his brother grabbed his legs still in the jeans and pulled them up onto the sofa. He bit his lips and hissed through his teeth because his legs hurt when Liam lifted them. Brendan shifted to get comfortable on the sofa, and Liam turned the TV off.

Brendan blinked at his brother. “What time is it?”

“Five; I’m leavin' for work. I’ll leave a note for Fiona to wake you on time.”

Brendan was too sleepy to say much else.

Liam remarked empathetically, “You must’ve been [3]knackered.”

Brendan didn’t say anything. He was always exhausted, but they needed the money, and he had to keep working. He was lucky even to have a job in his condition, and he could not let his brother down.

Liam stood beside the sofa, looking down at Brendan with a concerned expression. Liam’s dark eyes looked tired. He usually kept his hair trimmed, and a thin shadow of a beard was showing on his face. Liam was always worried and tense, and it was obvious that holding everything together for his brother, mother, and wife had been exhausting. He worked a lot, often overtime, and on Sundays in church, he sometimes fell asleep.

Brendan forced his eyes to stay open and asked, “How was your night?”

Liam sat on the coffee table next to the sofa and yawned before answering, “Ma was in good spirits with some lucid moments; we had ourselves some laughs over [4]tea.”

Brendan nodded. “Aye, that’s grand altogether.”

“Aye, she also asked where you were.”

Brendan was surprised because, on most days, his mother didn’t know who he was. He was disappointed he had missed her moments of clarity. As time passed, they seemed to become rarer. 

Liam added, “I told her you were at work. She also asked about Da, Niall, and Connor.”

Brendan looked at Liam with a gloomy expression. “What did you tell her?”

Liam took a deep breath and shrugged. “That everyone’s at work.”

The two brothers looked at each other, and Brendan tried to lighten the moment. “Surely, I’m glad she had a good evening.”

Liam nodded, slapped his thighs, and got up. “Aye, so she did. I’ve to get meself ready for work. Try to get some sleep again. I’ll see you the morrow or the night. Have a good day. That’s me off then.”

“Aye, you too.” Brendan yawned and closed his eyes.

Liam started work at six in the morning. He usually shared a ride with another man from Clonard who worked at the same loading dock down by the cargo terminal at the port. Liam’s wife, Aisling, worked in a household goods store on the Falls Road. She usually started at nine. Liam and Aisling had been married for about two years. Due to Maureen needing care and Brendan’s disability, Liam had moved Aisling in with him. From the beginning, Aisling was agreeable and willing to help Liam with his family. Aisling came from a Catholic family in Clonard. She grew up only a few streets away from Liam’s family. She and Liam had known each other since primary school and Aisling had always known the O’Shea boys.

Liam walked to the kitchen to prepare his lunch, and Brendan stayed on the sofa. With closed eyes, he still pondered in his thoughts for a few moments, but despite the pain in his legs, he soon fell asleep again.

The next time he opened his eyes, his aunt’s gentle voice was over him, “Brendan lad, wake you up now! It’s nearly eleven, so it is.”

Brendan opened his eyes slowly and blinked at Fiona. His aunt was four years younger than his mother, Maureen. She was also a widow, and her daughters were grown. Her husband had died of a heart attack two years earlier. Many years of their marriage he had spent behind bars as he had been an active member of the Provisional [5]IRA.

Fiona lived in a small terrace house on the next street. Her two daughters had left Belfast and lived in Dublin, one was married, and one was still at university. Since Maureen had come home after the stroke, Fiona had taken on the task of caring for her. Though her daughters wanted her to move to Dublin, Fiona always declined and insisted that she wouldn’t leave her sister and nephews. Besides that, she said she wanted to be close to her husband, who was buried at the cemetery not far from where they lived. And her main reason was that Belfast was her home; it’s where she was born and where she wanted to die.

Fiona kept on, “Brendan, are you wakin’ up?”

Brendan mumbled sleepily, “Aye.”

Fiona walked away, and Brendan heard her talking to his mother in the kitchen. He shifted and hissed through his teeth from the pain in his back from sleeping on the sofa. He needed to get into the shower. Lethargically he sat up, and with his elbows on his thighs, he held his head in his hands, yawning and blinking his eyes open and shut, trying to wake up.

Fiona peeked around the kitchen door and called out to Brendan, “You up?”


He grabbed his crutches from the floor and slid his arms through the cuffs. With a deep breath, he pulled up, but immediately, he felt pain in his ankles and knees as he stood up. He pressed his lips together and squeezed his eyes shut, breathing through his nose and hoping his legs wouldn’t let him down. Sock-footed, he stood there and just held himself up with the crutches but didn’t have a good stance. Without his braces, he could only walk a few steps and hold himself up for a short time.

Fiona peeked around from the kitchen and called again, “You alright there, Brendan?”

He nodded without looking at her.

Aisling came into the sitting room. “Good morning, Brendan!”

“Good morning, Ais! Why’r you still here?”

Usually, Aisling left at eight in the morning. Brendan wondered why she was still at home.

She smiled. “Ach, I had a wee appointment this morning. Just got back, so I’m startin’ late the day. I’ll be closin’ the shop the night.”

Brendan nodded. “Fair enough.”

Aisling glanced at his legs and the braces on the floor. “D’you need me to get anything for you from upstairs?”

Brendan held on tightly to the crutches and replied, “Would you be so kind and get me a fresh pair of underwear?”

Aisling sighed but smiled. “Of course.”

Brendan thanked her. Upstairs, Aisling and Liam occupied the front bedroom looking out to the street. The second bedroom in the middle was the smallest and was Brendan’s bedroom, looking out over the back garden. His mother occupied the third bedroom over the bathroom, also looking out over the back garden.

Just like Fiona, his sister-in-law was always worried about him. When Liam was there, Brendan had help to get up the twenty-two steps to his bedroom or get fresh clothes. Most nights, he didn’t fall asleep on the sofa after he got home at night and made it up the stairs. Now Liam was at work, Brendan was out of his braces, and only the women were there.

Aisling left him there and hurried upstairs.

Fiona called from the kitchen, “D’you need help there, Brendan?”

Brendan called back, “I’m okay.”

Focused, he moved one foot forward, but his legs were weak and hurting. He used mostly his arm strength to move the crutches and his body along. He dragged his feet on the floor with only weak bearing. Slowly, he shuffled into the hallway and to the bathroom at the back of the house.

Brendan wanted to do as much as he could on his own to keep Aisling from having to help him and so Fiona could focus on his mother. He felt bad enough that Aisling had had to move in with them because of Maureen and him, and he didn’t want to be a burden to his sister-in-law. Brendan felt bad for Liam and Aisling, and he always thought they deserved to live happily in their own house. Instead, Aisling had moved in with her husband’s family because her mother- and brother-in-law were disabled.

His legs cramped as he shuffled along, and his left leg started shaking. It took a few minutes and immense strength for Brendan to walk without the braces.

He was focused, pressed his lips together, and dealt with the pain. Managing one step after another, his weak legs dragged along as he hauled himself to the bathroom.

The smell of food drifted from the kitchen, and Fiona was inside, clanking with dishes and babbling with Maureen. As he passed by, he glanced into the kitchen, but the two women didn’t see him. Brendan closed the bathroom door and leaned on it from the inside, just breathing.

Usually, he managed everything in the bathroom. It just took more time and strength; in those moments, he hated the people who had done this to him. He wanted nothing more than for them to get caught and prosecuted. It was wishful thinking; no one was looking for the perpetrators. They were still out there and probably watched him at times, laughing and pondering if they should kill him and put him out of his misery.

Brendan sat down on the bathtub's edge, thinking about his fate and the people who had done this to him. They had achieved what they had set out to do: disable him, break him, and put fear in him and others they thought knew things. He didn’t have the information they had wanted to get out of him. He didn’t know where the weapons they had been looking for were hidden or stashed.

Brendan never fully knew what his father, Rory, had participated in. His father had always made sure not to involve his two youngest sons, Brendan and Liam, in any IRA-related activities. Maureen had begged him not to get the boys interested, but instead, protect them and despite poverty and struggles, let them have a normal childhood. The O’Shea’s may not have had much, but they always had had love, family, and a warm home. A devoted Catholic, Maureen O’Shea always believed that God would provide for them whatever they needed.

All the nights Rory O’Shea was gone, disappearing for a weekend or showing up in church on Sunday morning, quietly squeezing into the pew next to his wife and putting his arm around her with a small kiss on her cheek, Maureen had always known her husband had done dangerous and terrible things for the cause. His entire life, Rory had been a rebel, fighting for Irish freedom and standing up against oppression and segregation of his people. He believed that his Catholic family, relatives, and parents should have the exact same rights living in Northern Ireland as anyone who came to settle there after them. Long before any Protestant settlers, the Catholic O’Shea’s had lived in Belfast, Derry, and Coleraine for generations. Over centuries, they had lived in Ireland and tended the land. No one should have had the right to chase them off, persecute them, and take their land away. Rory O’Shea had always been fiercely determined to fight for the cause as long as it would take. He was determined to give his sons and their families the lives they deserved in the place that had been their home for hundreds and hundreds of years.

Rory O’Shea’s fortitude had cost him and his two older sons, Niall and Connor, their life. Left behind were his son’s widows with children, and his wife, Maureen, with the two younger sons, Brendan and Liam. And even after his death, Rory O’Shea’s rebellion almost cost his son Brendan his life but instead of death, they had left him broken and disabled. On his father's legacy, Brendan had suffered his fate. After Brendan returned home from the hospital and rehab, his father’s friends came by the house, patted him on the back, praised him for his courage, and commended him for not giving up critical information. They had promised him protection and all the help he needed and assured him that he would have the support of the Provisionals because they were his father's friends. All in the name of freedom for Northern Ireland, these men had done and seen terrible things.

About a year earlier, on a rainy night when Brendan was walking home from a pub off the Falls Road, he had not known that night would change the rest of his life.

Sitting on the bathtub edge, he wriggled his jeans off his legs, then his underwear and socks. He stared at his skinny, bony legs, with visible deep scars and deformations of his knees and ankles. Fortunately, all his toes were still attached but useless in helping him walk or stand when the rest of his legs were damaged and broken. Two bullets into each knee and two into each ankle had destroyed nerves, ripped through muscles, and splintered the bones of his once healthy and strong legs.

He used to be a fast runner, always outran his brothers or the other children in a game of tag or running sprints in competition with the boys in the street. Sometimes his father would tell him how he could surely outrun the police or the soldiers patrolling their area. Then Maureen would scold her husband and tell him how Brendan would never have a reason to outrun the police or the soldiers because he was a good boy. And she would usually throw her husband a stern glance. Rory then would put his arm around his wife, squeeze her to him lovingly and say he knew Brendan was a good Catholic boy and would never get in trouble. Usually, Rory laughed and told Maureen how much he loved her and appreciated her raising good, well-behaved boys. All her life, Maureen had worried about her husband and sons.

Rory would have never put his sons in danger. And the night Brendan walked home from the pub, his running speed didn’t help when he was surprised by a car stopping on the street next to him. It happened so fast when four masked men jumped out, tackled him to the ground, pulled a sack over his head, and hog-tied him before they shoved him into the car's trunk and drove away with him. He was the late Rory O’Shea’s son, and they assumed he knew things and had important information they needed. That night was the brutal beginning of an incredibly painful rest of Brendan’s life, one he should not have survived. And it was a life that his father could not protect him from because three years earlier, he and Brendan’s older brothers, Niall and Connor, had been ambushed on the road from Derry to Belfast, transporting very important and dangerous cargo in a truck. They and two other men were found dead, shot with single gunshots in their heads, in a field on the side of the road; the truck was gone.

[1] Fun time

[2] Pounds – British currency/money

[3] exhausted

[4] dinner

[5] Irish Republican Army


  1. Dani, love this story. So interesting about this period and many dev moments to enjoy 😊

    1. Thanks Jeanie, you are always a beacon of a reader

  2. Love it! The only things that pulled me out of Brendan's world were some Americanisms like "backyard" and "bathroom". I would have expected "back garden" and "toilet". Please keep posting!!!!!

    1. Thank you and yes, I have definitely considered these words and others when I wrote the story. I thought I'd leave the "American" words when narrating, but I've tried to use the "Irish" words when in dialogue. I may change them all in narration as well. This is a new experience for me writing something like that, so thank so much for your feedback and for reading.

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    3. I've consulted with other authors and though, it's a tricky situation, I will change most of these words even in my narration, but will definitely have to consider these expressions throughout the story. It's a challenge, but hopefully, I can get it all right or close to right at least. I have to find a good balance in when to use which expression. Thanks again!

  3. A cool beginning! I find it enriching that the story is in a different era and differs from the "mould" of a typical romantic story.
    Thank you so much for writing and posting!

    1. Thank you for your feedback and for reading. It's definitely something different and not a mainstream romance.

  4. Thanks for the new story. The blog has been so quiet. I like the setting in Belfast. Looking forward to the next chapter.

    1. Yeah, the blog has been quiet. We used to have so many stories going at the same time. Anyways, I'm glad you like it and thanks for reading.

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