Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Love In Troubled Times - Ch. 2

 Hi Blog readers, 

So I posted the first chapter of my current WIP last week. Thanks to the few people who commented; it means a lot. 

I posted the second chapter today and realized it is so long. I almost made it into two parts. I hope that's okay. Just know, I'm still working on this story a lot, and due to its nature, topics, storyline, and taking place in another country, it has been keeping me very occupied for a long time, like probably about two years or so. The topic itself has been an interest of mine for many, many years. 

I've spent much time trying to put a story down that is as close to authenticity as possible. I'm trying to have a balance between explaining and not using terms that are too unfamiliar to you, my readers. I did add some footnotes, and unfortunately, you find them at the very bottom of the chapter, but they are there. If you have any other questions, please let me know. 

I know this story is different in a way, but then also still written in my "ways" and with types of characters that you are familiar with. I really hope you enjoy it, and I would love to know what you think, just to get an idea if what I'm doing here is not too weird. 

So, thank you for reading and giving me feedback. Again, this is still a work in progress, and it's a challenge, but I hope it's still a story you enjoy. 

Hugs, Dani

Love in Troubled Times - Chapter 2

Brendan sat on the plastic stool in the bathtub, and with his eyes closed, he let the warm water run over his body. Every bone hurt, and every muscle was tight; the hot water was soothing. He wanted to stay under the water forever. For a few minutes, life was far away; he didn’t have to struggle to move about; the hot water eased his pains and calmed his nerves. His dark hair was dripping and hanging into his face. As he thought about the day ahead, he wished he wouldn’t have to go to work and could rest for a day instead.

He also thought about the woman, Ava, from the night before. In an unruly way, she had been beautiful, and he still wondered about her situation. He remembered how her copper-red hair had flown in the breeze and how she had looked at him with her large green eyes, and he had been intrigued. Even her initial harsh words had been lined with a trace of fear, like she had been just a bit scared of him. He smiled about this thought because he wasn’t a threat to anyone these days and would never hurt a woman. She had scrambled out of a BMW, and Brendan wondered what sort of man could afford this car in Belfast in 1981.

The hot water ran over his shoulders, and he sat up and stretched his back, moaning from the pleasant sensations. He had heard of places in the city where one could get a massage, but he assumed it cost a lot of money, money he didn’t have. He stretched and arched his back as the water ran over the scars forever etched on his skin. Small round scars were visible on his arms where they had put out cigarettes on his skin, trying to extract information from him he didn’t have. He was lucky they hadn’t shot him in the elbows or wrists. At least they let him keep his hands and arms to drag his body around on crutches and in leg braces.

When he was young, he had always been curious about where his father was off to on weekends and why his mother was sometimes angry with him but also worried. Brendan remembered how his mother used to light a candle before the Blessed Virgin Mary statue on nights when his father was gone. Rory O’Shea knew it had been a mistake to involve his two older sons, Connor and Niall, in his dangerous affairs, and he had sworn to his wife he wouldn’t do this to their two younger sons. Brendan remembered playing in their bedrooms and crawling on the floor, playing “soldiers” and “rebels” with Liam, and how one day, he found a case under Niall’s bed and was curious enough to open it. He found several pistols in the box and had been tempted to pull them out and inspect them closer. When Liam entered the room, they stared at the weapons briefly. Then Liam shut the box and told Brendan never to tell anyone they had seen this. He also remembered when Niall, Connor, and their father were gone on a weekend, the case under the bed was also gone.

The water ran over Brendan’s muscular arms and back. Nowadays, his strong arms helped him get around on crutches and in leg braces. He had always been a strong boy and young man, running everywhere, jumping or climbing walls and fences, pulling himself up anywhere he could, sometimes even on the clothesline posts in the back garden. Maureen used to worry about him breaking a bone, and she used to complain about why God had given her such a wild child, a reckless boy who never sat still and was always running. Until criminals intentionally and maliciously broke his legs, Brendan had never broken a bone in his life.

Liam usually reprimanded Brendan about wasting water and “washing money down the drain” if he took showers too long. As this thought crossed Brendan’s mind, he washed his body and hair and soon turned the water off.

As he was drying off, he heard Aisling outside the door, “I’m hanging your underwear on the doorknob.”

Brendan had to smile at this but replied, “Thanks, Ais.”

Feeling refreshed from the shower, he dried off while sitting on the simple stool before transferring onto the tub's edge again. He picked up his crutches from the floor, slid his arms into the cuffs, and stood up. He shuffled to the door and quickly grabbed the fresh underwear from outside. Right by the sink was a simple chair, and he sat down. His shirt and jeans were still clean, and he would wear them one more day. He sprayed on deodorant and pulled his T-Shirt over his head and underwear and jeans over his legs. While sitting on the chair, he brushed his teeth over the sink and combed through his dark hair. Looking at his reflection, he realized he looked tired still, and his dark eyes flickered nervously. When he was done, he shuffled back to the sitting room, where his braces were still on the floor next to the sofa.

Fiona entered the sitting room and asked, “Everything alright there, Brendan?”

Brendan said he was okay and sat on the sofa, setting the crutches beside him. With his butt right on the edge of the sofa, he pulled the first brace over and awkwardly attempted to slip his foot into the boot attached to his brace. His leg was shaking, and it would have been easier to have someone help him strap his braces on, but he didn’t want to bother Fiona. He heard her talking to his mother in the kitchen. Gasping, he roughly handled his foot and leg. It was always a hassle, but he would manage without help. It was strenuous, but finally, he sat there with his legs sticking straight out in the braces. He unlocked the braces and could bend his legs to tie the laces on his boots. When he stood up with his crutches, the braces clicked into the locked position with a quick jerk of his legs, keeping his legs straight and rigid again.

He shuffled into the kitchen; Fiona had the table set with soda bread, fried eggs, ham, and her homemade pickles in a glass jar. Brendan’s mother sat on the bench in the corner, staring at the newspaper on the table. Physically, she appeared like a regular, healthy woman sitting there, but mentally, she wasn’t well. Maureen wasn’t very old yet; at barely seventeen, she had given birth to her first son, Connor. She was already married to Rory, but the baby had been conceived out of wedlock. No one in the family mentioned it, but Maureen’s parents had insisted that Rory marry her, and he had not objected. Throughout the years, their love grew and remained deep. Three more sons were born, but with her youngest son, Liam, Maureen had been bleeding so severely that she had to have a hysterectomy right after giving birth. It was for the better. Four sons were enough; life in the O’Shea house had never been boring or quiet with the boys running around. With the war and conflict in Northern Ireland, Maureen had always worried about her sons; she had prayed and cried a lot.

As Brendan walked in, his mother didn’t look up, but he still greeted her, “Good morning, Ma.”

Maureen didn’t budge and kept staring at the newspaper.

Fiona smiled at Brendan and said, “Aye, have a seat there, Brendan. Everything’s still warm.”

She put a plate in front of him and let a slice of fried ham and two fried eggs slide straight from the pan onto his plate. Then she poured steaming tea into a mug.

Brendan thanked his aunt and grabbed a piece of soda bread and some pickle slices. Fiona turned around, tending to the dishes in the sink.

Brendan glanced at his mother. “How’r you getting on the morning, Ma?”

Maureen looked up and across the table, meeting Brendan’s eyes. He smiled at her, and it made him happy when she smiled back at him. Sometimes, Maureen recognized her sons and even talked to them, but most days, she was absent-minded and had difficulties articulating herself.

While Brendan was eating, Fiona babbled about the weather and the neighbors. He mostly listened, only sometimes replying with a low mumble and full mouth. His mother looked up and stared at him. He looked into his own dark and nervous eyes. Maureen kept looking at him, and Brendan finished a bite of his sandwich, wiped his mouth with a napkin, and smiled at his mother again.

A few minutes had passed since his initial question, but Maureen finally answered, “Not too bad; how’s about you?”

Brendan looked up at her. “I’m grand, thanks.”

Maureen smiled, and Brendan was startled when his mother moved her hand across the table and put it on his hand, holding the fork. He let go of the fork and looked from his mother’s hand to her, swallowing the lump in his throat.

Maureen asked, “Brendan, what’s the matter with your legs?”

Brendan was stunned, and even Fiona turned around at the sink, looking at him and her sister. Maureen had never asked Brendan about his injuries and had not said his name in a long time. She sometimes called him Niall, Liam, or Connor, mistaking him for his brothers.

Brendan swallowed again, pondering what to say. He looked at his aunt for guidance, but Fiona shrugged her shoulders.

His mother’s dark eyes stayed on him, and he cleared his throat before speaking, “Ach, you know, I’ve been injured, Ma. So, I’ve wee problems with me legs and can’t walk all that well.”

Maureen looked at him but didn’t seem to comprehend.

She said matter-of-factly, “I keep telling you that one day, you break your wee leg with all them wild things you do. And look at yourself now, will ya?”

Brendan realized his mom was not in the present and didn’t know she was talking to her adult son. He pondered what to reply and looked at Fiona. His aunt shrugged again.

Brendan smiled weakly at his mother. “In all fairness, you always say that, Ma. And look at me now, so.”

Maureen focused on the newspaper and mumbled, “Lads will be lads.”

Brendan didn’t reply to that. His mother was not focused on him anymore. She moved her index finger over the newspaper page in no specific order but appeared to read everything with interest.

Brendan kept eating in silence, and when Fiona walked by, she gently put her hand on his shoulder in a gesture of compassion regarding his interaction with his mother, before disappearing into the small room between the kitchen and the sitting room. Brendan glanced at his mother from behind his hair, watching her looking at the newspaper and turning the page. It saddened him to be so disconnected from her. Brendan and his brothers were close to their mother when they were younger. When she wasn’t worried about her sons and husband, she enjoyed singing and dancing, often in the kitchen while cooking dinner, washing the dishes, or washing clothes. 

Brendan finished his breakfast, and it was time to head out to work. Getting to work in the afternoon was less complicated as he didn’t have to switch buses. He usually got on the one-thirty bus down to the shipyards on the Falls Road, closest to his house by the Royal Victoria Hospital. With several stops, the bus drove directly down to the river, where Brendan got off and only had to walk a few minutes to the shipyard.

Fiona came through the hallway as he was getting ready to leave.

“Surely, it’s nice that she talked to you, aye?”

Brendan stood by the door, holding his crutches and nodding.

Fiona gently put her hand on his arm. “I know it’s difficult for you lads that she doesn’t know sometimes. It’s difficult for me too. She’s me closest sister, so she is, Brendan, but sometimes she doesn’t even know who I am, and it’s right painful.”

He lowered his eyes, pressed his lips together, and nodded. When he looked up, he noticed his aunt’s eyes were glistening.

He didn’t know what to say, but Fiona took the word again, “I’ll always take care of her, Brendan. It breaks me heart to see her like this, forgettin’ life and the people who love her, but I’ll always be here for her, so I will. I promise that to you.”

Brendan didn’t want to talk about his mother’s progressive dementia. It pained him too much to talk or think about it, so he often pushed it to the back of his mind. As his mother was losing her memory, he mostly shied away from interacting with her.

He thanked his aunt, and Fiona leaned over and hugged him.

“Have a good day, lad. I’ll take her for a wee stroll ‘round the [1]ward now. She enjoys chattin’ with the neighbors, so she does.”

Brendan nodded and left out the door with a goodbye.

During the day, the street was busy with people, kids, and cars driving through. Sometimes police cars or an armored military truck would drive through the Catholic areas, reminding the residents of their presence and deterring anyone from getting defiant ideas. 

“Aileen’s Things”, a small convenience store, was at the corner of Violet and Cavendish Street. Customers were exiting and entering; several children came running out of the store with much commotion, almost bumping into Brendan as he entered behind a woman holding the door for him.

He thanked the woman with a nod and shuffled into the store. Cara, the checkout girl, nodded at Brendan with a friendly smile.

It was always strenuous for Brendan to walk with the braces. They were locked, so they supported his legs and kept them straight. Without the braces locked, his knees buckled, and his ankles were unstable. His kneecaps were damaged; muscles and tendons had been torn. Even after several surgeries, the doctors could not repair his knees and ankles in a way that would support his body without any assistive devices. They tried as best as possible, but the intentional injuries inflicted on Brendan’s knees and ankles had left him with permanent nerve damage. He would never be able to walk without the braces, or he would have to use a wheelchair. Walking with only the crutches was nearly impossible. He could take a few steps, but it was exhausting. He had to hold himself up with mostly his arms as his legs weren’t strong enough, and he didn’t have sufficient sensations guiding his steps and gait.

In the store, Cara assisted him in picking up two chocolate bars and two small bottles of Coca-Cola. As he stood at the cash register, paying, she asked in a cheerful tone, “Brendan, what’s the craic?”

Brendan smiled. “Sure, nothing much, you know yourself; I’m alive; I guess that’s a good thing.”

Cara laughed. “It’s always a grand day when you’re alive in this city, so it is.”

Brendan grinned at Cara’s comment as he pulled money from his wallet and handed it to her. She put the items in a thin plastic bag and took the money from his hand. He let her keep the change, and with the bag dangling on his right crutch handle, he told Cara goodbye and wished her a lovely day.

A young man entering the store held the door for Brendan, and he thanked him in passing with a nod.

With the bag dangling on his crutch and slightly affecting his balance, he still managed to get to the bus stop on the Falls Road. He would stuff the items into his backpack once he was on the bus.

At the bus stop, several men were already waiting. Brendan knew most of the men from his area, Clonard. He greeted them as he walked up; everyone nodded at him or greeted him in a mumble and inquired how he and his family were doing. Brendan was known in the area for two reasons: he was the son of legendary IRA man Rory O’Shea and the O’Shea boy who had been kidnapped, taken to a secret location, held hostage, and tortured for two months but still survived.

For two months, Brendan’s capturers had tried to extract information from him that he didn’t have. They didn’t believe him; he was Rory O’Shea’s son, after all. It was known all over West Belfast that Rory O’Shea had been part of a [2]Provo cell that had planned and executed a bombing of a pub in East Belfast, killing seven people. On his father's reputation, Brendan had been tortured, humiliated, and starved for two months in an unknown location. For two months, he had been kept blindfolded or with a sack over his head and didn’t know where he was. They initially planned to kill him, when they finally became tired of him not giving them what they wanted. It was decided at the last minute that breaking him down and letting him continue his life in misery as a warning to anyone considering crossing the enemy would be more effective.

When Brendan came around the pub, he never missed the whispers and curious glances of the people. Sometimes they patted him on his back and thanked him for his loyalty to the cause. Sometimes they remembered his father and told him that Rory had been a prime example of a man who loved his family, country, and Irish-Catholic heritage. People believed that Brendan should be proud to be the son of such a great and patriotic man.  

Brendan didn’t feel pride about anything of that sort. In his mind, he wasn’t anyone special; he was just a young man caught in a seemingly never-ending useless war between two groups of people fighting in the streets of his hometown.

The bus came, and the men let Brendan get on first. He didn’t like the attention, but he knew that the people did it out of respect for him and his family, so he awkwardly got on the bus under the curious glances of the other commuters. Marty greeted him, and Brendan was relieved when he was in his seat.

As the bus drove off, he took his arms out of the crutches, placed the crutches next to him, slid his backpack off his shoulders, and stuffed the bag with the grocery items into the backpack. It was his dinner for later at work.

He didn’t want to talk to anyone and pulled out the book he had brought to read a few pages before getting off at his stop. On the route to the shipyards, the bus stopped at several locations, and Brendan was on the streets for thirty minutes. Patrons got on and off the bus, but the majority of the men, including Brendan, remained until they arrived at the bus stop closest to the Harland and Wolff shipyards, where they got off.

It was a ten-minute walk down to the shipyard gate, and Brendan walked in a group of men, all heading to their workplace, chatting, laughing, and having a cigarette before starting their shifts. He was slower than most men with functioning legs walking with quick strides, their lunch boxes dangling from their hands.

Brendan arrived at the entrance gate shack and shuffled into the small building. It wasn’t very warm inside, and he assumed the space heater didn’t work properly again. Brendan greeted Murray, the dayshift gate guard. Murray was busy checking men coming in for the second shift and only quickly replied to Brendan’s greeting. Brendan deposited his backpack in its usual place but didn’t take his jacket and hat off. The small building had windows in all directions and was often cool inside. There was only enough space for up to three people. A rickety desk stood against one of the walls, and in front of it were two worn chairs with wheels. On the desk was an instrument panel with several buttons for the gate operation or, if needed, to call back-up security. Two phones connected the entrance shack to the foremen and management in the shipyard. A small refrigerator was available to cool food or beverages, and a small gas burner was there to heat water. A variety of tea bags was next to it; several cups, plates, and dishes were on the shelf. Brendan put his Coca-Cola bottles into the refrigerator and then took a seat. He got comfortable and placed his crutches beside him. He wouldn’t need them during his shift. The space was small enough to hold on to the walls or the furniture if he needed to get up. Mostly he stayed on the chair during his shift. Murray finished at three when all the men for the second shift were inside. He talked briefly with Brendan, informed him about the day, gathered his things, and left for the bus stop. The next group of men working in the shipyards would trickle in for the night shift around eight-thirty. Until then, Brendan opened the gates for the various delivery trucks, turned on the lanterns when it got dark, and ensured that no one who wasn’t allowed would come in. The job wasn’t difficult but very mundane, and time passed slowly. Brendan had his book, got comfortable, and started reading. Since he started working there, he had finished several books. During his shift, he usually had a visit from security patrolling the vicinity. Sometimes, men came by needing a new badge because theirs was worn, or a new employee needed a badge.

Like every night during the week, Brendan made it home at almost one o’clock in the morning. It was raining, and he was glad to get inside. He closed and locked the door. After he dropped his backpack on the floor and hung up his jacket, he was about to head to the toilet and kitchen. As always, light shone from the sitting room into the hall, and it startled Brendan when Liam came out. He hadn’t expected anyone still be awake.

Not to wake Aisling or Maureen, Liam hushed, “How're you doin’?”

Brendan shuffled into the sitting room. “Liam, what are you still awake for?”

“I thought I’d wait for me brother to get home so we can have a wee chat. It’s the weekend after all.”

Brendan didn’t go to the kitchen as usual but sat down in the second armchair in the sitting room.

Liam announced, “I’ll put the kettle on.”

Brendan was exhausted, but a cup of tea sounded appealing, and he was glad he didn’t have to do it. While Liam got busy in the kitchen, Brendan started to unbuckle the straps of his braces. His legs hurt and trembled; he wanted to get out of his braces.

Liam brought in two mugs and set them on the coffee table. Brendan just finished taking his left brace and boot off. He moaned from relief but also pain.

Liam stood by and asked, “You need a hand with the other?”

“I’ve got it, thanks.”

Liam walked away again; Brendan loosened his right brace and slid the boot off his foot. His feet were warm in the socks. It was cold in the building where he worked; a breeze was always blowing through the shipyard from the river, and the chill seeped in under the door. The small space heater in the guard hut didn’t provide enough heat to warm the place. Brendan had to dress warm while at work.

Being in the warm house now, his hands tingled as circulation returned, and he rubbed them together and massaged his palms. They were tight and calloused from years of hard work and recently from holding the crutches.

Liam brought in the teapot and poured some into Brendan’s mug and then for himself.

Brendan thanked him for the tea. He leaned back in the armchair, blew the surface of the hot brew, and sighed.

“Sweet Jesus, I’m sure glad it’s the weekend.”

Liam squinted his eyes and looked at his brother across the coffee table.

“You should look for a different job. In your condition, it’s too much trouble for you to get down to the yards. I’ll keep lookin’ around for something else for you.”

Liam wasn’t wrong, but with Brendan’s inability to walk without assistance and the pains and aches he dealt with daily, any work was difficult to find for him. He was fortunate that Harland and Wolff had taken him on and let him have the position after his lengthy time away while recovering in the hospital. 

Liam added, “I’ll ask for more hours, and you can stop working for a while or perhaps fewer hours.”

Brendan shook his head. “You don’t need to work more. You’re tired, too, and need to be with your wife. I’m alright.”

Liam sighed. “We’ll still look for something different for you. Aisling’s askin’ ‘round too.”

Another reason it was difficult for Brendan to find other work was the reluctance of prospective employers to hire him, not only because of his disability but of who he was and what had happened to him. If people knew Brendan and who his father was, there was a reluctance to hire anyone connected to the IRA, and before he was killed, Brendan’s father had been a wanted man. Even with what had happened to Brendan, employers feared retribution from Protestant loyalists or paramilitaries, the [3]RUC, or British Security Forces if they found out that an O’Shea boy worked for them, especially the one who was let go to live his life in misery and pain and be a warning to anyone. Brendan O’Shea wasn’t meant to have a good life after they released him from over two months of torture. The last thing they had said to him after they thrust him into the shallow and wet hole at an abandoned industrial lot outside of Belfast was that he would be killed if they ever got their hands on him again or if he made any accusations or tried to find them.

Brendan took the mug in his hands, blew on it again, and took a careful sip.

Liam drank his tea and asked, “How was work? Is production in full gear?”

“Aye, they’re pressing the men to work faster.”

He told Liam about his uneventful shift but explained he had heard that the foremen were pushing and firing people who didn’t meet their productivity goals. In reply, Liam told Brendan about his workweek at the loading dock.

When they were caught up on the workweek, they sat quietly, drinking their tea.

Brendan wanted to tell Liam about the woman he had met at the bus stop the night before.

He started hesitantly, “So, there was a wee situation at the bus stop the other night?”

Liam drank and put his mug down, looking at Brendan curiously, “A wee situation? What do you mean?”

Brendan took a deep breath and nodded. “Aye, I was waitin’ for the bus, and this car came speedin’ down Sydenham.”

Liam listened attentively now, curious and anxious about the story his brother was about to tell him.

Brendan described everything that happened with the woman and ended when he and Ava were at the central bus terminal in the city. He had intentionally changed the language to be more appropriate.

Liam was sipping from his tea and listening, obviously very interested.

“Was she a pretty lass then?” Liam smiled.

Brendan remembered Ava’s long red hair and large green eyes. He also remembered how he was nervous as she had stood there under the bus stop and looked at him strangely. He wasn’t very confident around women nowadays. Before his abduction, he had enjoyed the company of women, and several girls from his area had been interested in him. However, after coming home from the hospital injured and disabled, he had not even contemplated pursuing or giving any woman a reason to go after him. Nowadays, he stayed away from women because he didn’t think anyone would still be interested in him.

Brendan nodded and replied, “She was a pretty bird, alright, but I think she may not be in a good situation.”

“What do you mean by that?”

Brendan shrugged his shoulders. “When she got out of that fella’s car, he said some things. He used words.”

“What words like?”

“Bad words for a woman.”

Liam looked at him questioningly. “Just go on and say it already!”

Brendan took a deep breath before saying, “He called her a whore.”

Liam’s mouth was open from surprise, and he finally found his voice, “That’s a strong word.”

Brendan shrugged again and nodded. “I know.”

“So, what do you think?” 

“I don’t know; she was wearin’ a very short skirt and them high-heeled shoes. Her fingernails and even her toenails were painted red, and she had make-up on her eyes and lipstick.”

Liam grinned. “You saw all of her legs and her toes?”

Brendan chuckled. “Aye, she took off her shoes and didn’t wear any stockings either.”

He thought about Ava and added, “She also used bad words for the fella.”

Liam tipped his head to the side. “So, what do you think her situation is?”

Brendan took a deep breath and nodded. “I don’t know.”

Liam took a deep breath, sipped his tea again, and looked curiously at his brother.

Liam asked warmly, “Why do I get the feeling you’re still thinkin’ of her a wee bit?”

“I just hope she made it home safely, so.” Brendan tried to sound indifferent.

“I’m sure she did. You gave her ten quid; that should’ve been enough, aye?”

Brendan nodded. His mind had drifted to Ava and the situation with her. He knew of women taking money from men for services of a sexual nature, but he had never encountered one. If Ava was such a woman, he was fascinated just as he was distracted.

Liam then asked, “Do you know her name?”

Brendan was distracted and looked at Liam. “Ava.”

Liam smiled. “Ava, aye?”

Brendan nodded again, and Liam remarked, “It’s a nice name.”

Liam recognized that Brendan seemed taken with Ava’s existence. How his brother had talked about the woman made it obvious he was interested in or at least intrigued by her. Though Brendan had tried to sound indifferent and didn’t want his brother to think he was attracted to Ava, Liam knew his brother too well.

Liam didn’t say anything else, and they watched TV and had tea. After Brendan had used the toilet and finished his nightly routine, Liam helped him get upstairs so he could sleep in his bed that night. It was difficult for Brendan to lift his feet; his ankles and knees were unstable. The sensations in his legs were mostly distorted or distant because of the extensive nerve damage. He had undergone several surgeries on his legs; at first, the doctors didn’t know if they could save his legs or have to amputate them. Sometimes, Brendan wished they would have amputated, but then he was still thankful that despite difficulties, he could still walk with the braces. However, sometimes, the pain and the struggles didn’t feel like it was all worth it.

Brendan made it up the stairs with his arm around Liam’s shoulders. It was still difficult, but Liam was strong, and Brendan had lost weight over the past year and was skinny and fairly light. It was much easier when Brendan was in his braces, but even then, Liam usually stayed behind him when he would take one step after the next with his legs in the braces. And even when Brendan walked in his braces, he had to focus on his legs and take solid steps. 

Sometimes, Liam put his arms under Brendan’s, locked his hands in front of his chest, and dragged his brother up the stairs. It was usually when Brendan wasn’t in his braces, exhausted, and in pain.

Brendan was glad to sleep in his bedroom that night. The lumpy sofa was uncomfortable for an entire night or several nights. He sat on his bed and undressed while Liam went downstairs to use the toilet. 

Soon, Liam stood at the door again. Brendan sat in bed, resting against the headboard, looking at his brother.

Liam asked, “Do you want to see that woman again then?”

When Brendan didn’t answer, Liam said, “You know, Mary Magdalene was a woman with a difficult life, but our Lord Jesus granted her forgiveness because she deserved peace in her life. Do you remember that Jesus let her join him in his journey to proclaim the gospel? Mary Magdalene was truly a good woman and deserved happiness.”

Liam was a practicing Catholic, whereas Brendan had mostly turned away from the faith.

Brendan was amused at Liam’s comparison, shook his head, and grinned at him. “What are you sayin’?”

Liam added warmly, “If you see her again, you should get to know her.”

“I doubt I’ll ever see her again.”

Liam shrugged his shoulders. “Who knows? God works in mysterious ways.”

He grinned at his brother and added, “Goodnight, Brendan. The morrow we’ve got a good Saturday, it’s tourney day, so it is. I can’t wait to go ‘round the pub, have a few pints, and throw the darts.”

Brendan nodded. “Same; goodnight, Liam.”

Liam didn’t shut the door in case his brother needed him during the night. Brendan often had nightmares, waking up in cold sweat and trembling at what haunted him in his dreams. During his captivity, he had not only suffered physical wounds; the invisible psychological wounds were sometimes much harder to deal with.

He lay in his bed with the bedside lamp on. A small stack of books he had been reading was on his night table. He enjoyed stories or watching television shows with detectives and policemen solving crimes in big cities like New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles. Over the years, hearing from families who had left Belfast and moved to America had always captivated him. Thoughts of leaving Belfast often crossed his mind, and before he had been kidnapped, he was sure he could have left and easily found work as a welder in America. So many Irish and even some of his relatives lived in New York that he always imagined he would start there and surely would find work with his fellow Irishmen. In America, the conflict in the North of Ireland seemed far away. He knew connections between the IRA in Northern Ireland and America still existed, but he imagined he wouldn’t be confronted with it daily. And he could leave it all behind and start a new life in America, meet a woman, maybe an American or Irish woman, and have children. He would have even brought his mother and Liam over if they wanted to come, which he would have liked. Though her husband and two older sons were dead, Maureen would have never left Belfast. Liam was also too attached to his life in Northern Ireland, so Brendan had never continued forging concrete plans for leaving Belfast. These dreams would never come true now that he was disabled and could barely work anymore, a broken man with nothing left.

He grabbed the book on top of the pile and opened it to the last page he had been on. For a few minutes, he read before he couldn’t hold his eyes open any longer and fell asleep with the lamp on and the book on his chest.


Saturday morning, Brendan was awakened by heavy rain drumming on the roof. During the night, his book had dropped to the floor next to the bed. Judging by the clanking of dishes in the kitchen and a radio blasting pop music, Brendan assumed Liam was already awake and downstairs. His wife, Aisling, worked every Saturday morning until two in the afternoon when the shop closed for the weekend.

The walls and ceilings of the house were not very thick. Brendan sometimes heard Mary O’Donnell next door talking in her sleep or to her cats when it was quiet at night. She was their elderly neighbor who lived alone with only her four cats. Her two daughters lived in Derry with their families. And even when her daughters had tried to convince Mary to leave Belfast, she refused because she said if she lived in Derry, she would be too far away from her beloved Thomas, who was buried in the same cemetery Brendan’s father and brothers were buried. It was the cemetery of “St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception” Catholic Church three streets over. 

Brendan pushed up on his hands and sat in bed, looking over at the window. Raindrops were hitting the windowpane and running down in streaks. Grey clouds hung low, causing a layer of fog over the city. Brendan remembered his braces were downstairs; he needed Liam to help him.

He pushed the blanket over. After he had come home from the hospital, they had moved the small patch rug he used to have next to his bed. With the toilet downstairs, there was a urinal under Brendan’s bed for him to use when he couldn’t get downstairs fast enough. He pushed his legs over the edge of the bed and just sat there with his naked feet planted on the worn wood floor. With his hands by his side, he sat on the bed and looked at the window again. The wind lashed the rain against the window, and Brendan pondered staying in bed.

He leaned down and pulled the urinal out from under his bed. He opened it, pulled his penis out of his pajama pants, and pointed it into the urinal. It didn’t take long, and the urinal became warm in his hand, filling with light yellow liquid. His naked feet were side by side on the floor, and though he felt the floor under his feet and everything looked like he could just get up and walk downstairs, he couldn’t.

The nerve damage had been too extensive, and most areas on his legs didn’t have accurate sensations; his muscles and bones had been torn and broken, and the doctors could only repair them to some extent. When Brendan stood up without his crutches and braces, he had to hold on to something; his knees tended to buckle under him, or his ankles would twist. Even if he had a walker, it would not be easy to use mostly his arms and hands to hold himself up.

After peeing, he popped the urinal lid back on and set it next to his bed. He would later tell Liam to bring the urinal downstairs so he could empty it, rinse it out, and bring it up again. In those moments, Brendan longed to have a toilet on the house's first floor or a bedroom downstairs. Belfast’s old terrace houses weren’t made for disabled persons who couldn’t walk or merely with assistive devices. When endless rows of terrace houses had been built in the last century, no one had considered men unable to walk due to attacks, bomb explosions, or knee cappings. At that time, women and men worked in factories and shipyards and needed housing. Terrace houses weren’t built to be accessible for disabled persons. If someone could not work due to disability and didn’t have a family to care for them, they most likely ended up in one of the institutions for the sick and disabled.

The night before, Liam had put Brendan’s crutches in the bedroom, leaning them on the foot end of the bed. Brendan stuffed his penis inside his pajama pants, grabbed his crutches, and slid his arms through the cuffs to pull up. He stood there and found his balance before taking a step. Slowly and with his lips pressed together, he barely made it out to the landing just as Liam appeared at the bottom of the stairs.

“Jesus, Brendan, why didn’t you call me?”

“I managed to pee in me bottle, thank you.”

Liam jogged up the stairs, complaining, “You shouldn’t be gettin’ up like this. Here, let me help you.”

Brendan hated the stairs, and he had considered not sleeping in his bedroom anymore but maybe on a cot in the small room between the kitchen and the sitting room. It was too much of a hassle with the toilet downstairs.

It was always easier with assistance to get his morning routine done or have Liam fetch his clothes or anything he needed, but his stubbornness sometimes prevented him from asking for help.

Brendan grumbled, “You don’t have to coddle me.”

His comment relayed that stubbornness, but Liam smiled and said, “Surely, you got up on the wrong foot, did you not?”

Brendan took a deep breath and found the statement ironic, replying dryly, “Wrong feet indeed, so.”

Brendan held on to the railing. Liam took the crutches from him and let them slide down the stairs. Brendan then put his arm around Liam’s shoulder. He held on to the railing with one hand, and Liam was on his other side as they carefully descended the stairs. Liam kept his eyes on Brendan’s feet, watching him take one step at a time, focused and breathing heavily. It hurt him to walk like this, and he anxiously pressed his lips together to deal with the pain. Downstairs, Liam repositioned and helped Brendan get into the bathroom to sit on the chair. While Brendan waited, Liam got the crutches and clothes from upstairs. Music was playing from the radio in the kitchen; the smell of food lingered in the house.

When Liam returned with the items, Brendan thanked him and assured him he would be okay and had it. Liam closed the door and promised Brendan he would have a delicious breakfast ready.

Brendan used the toilet again, just in case, and a few more drops of urine landed in the toilet before he sat on the bathtub again and then slid onto the stool in the tub. It’s how he took a shower and sometimes even brushed his teeth in the tub. The shower felt good, and he took longer than necessary, enjoying the water running over his battered body.

There wasn’t much of his body that didn’t hurt. He was still a young man, but sometimes he felt like he was eighty. He had grown up with his brothers and parents in this same house. For the first twenty-seven years, life had been reasonable for him by Belfast standards of a poor Catholic family. Despite the dangerous connections his father and two older brothers had, living in the small terrace house had been filled with laughter, love, and gossip. It was never quiet in the house with four boys, a busy Catholic mother, and an easy-going father who didn’t take life too seriously despite dangerous interactions with secrets he never openly discussed.

Everything changed when his father and two brothers were found shot five years earlier. Maureen fell into mourning and depression before she suffered the stroke from which she never fully recovered, initiating the deterioration of her brain. Liam and Brendan were left with their disabled mother. Without hesitation, Fiona jumped in, helping her nephews care for their mother. The night Rory and his two sons were killed, three women were left behind as widows; Maureen, and Niall and Connor’s wives. Four young children and Brendan and Liam, were left without their fathers.

Brendan sat there, thinking about life and how things were for him and Liam; it’s what he often did. The outlook of possibly being stuck in Belfast with their situation often weighed heavy on his mind. He had imagined his life so differently. Liam seemed content with how things were; he was married to Aisling, who loved him very much and was loyal to his family. Liam never complained or expressed unhappiness. He didn’t have the yearnings to be anywhere else and live a different life. Having a wife and relying on his faith was important to his contentment. The next logical thing would be to have children. They followed the natural way of birth control advised by the Catholic Church. A calendar hung in the kitchen where Aisling and Liam kept track of Aisling’s cycles with small red dots marked on the appropriate days. Brendan had never said anything about this, but he realized that on certain days of the month, the young couple would be in bed earlier than usual. Soft love-making noises and the bed squeaking were usually a sure sign of the two consummating their marriage.

On the other hand, Brendan always longed for a different life. Confronted with his disability, though, and knowing he would never leave Belfast, he sometimes felt like a caged animal.

The water ran over his scarred body, and as he focused again, he realized he had been sitting in the shower for a few minutes already and knew how Liam felt about the water usage. They had to be frugal when it came to their finances. Brendan turned off the water and hooked the showerhead on its holder.

He still felt tired, and after a moment, he grabbed the towel and started drying off while sitting on the stool in the shower. He heard Liam clanking with dishes in the kitchen and singing along with the songs on the radio.

Brendan pushed himself onto the bathtub edge and then moved his legs over with his hands. A thin layer of dark hair covered his legs in some areas; his hair didn’t grow anymore in others. Deep scars marked his knees and ankles. Light pink, smooth patches of scarred skin indicated where his injuries and the surgeries had healed. 

About fifteen minutes later, Brendan was in the kitchen. He sat down at the table, and his legs trembled from exhaustion.

While the radio played the “Top of the Pops” weekly hits, Liam sang along cheerfully, scooping food onto the plates and placing them on the table. He filled two mugs with steaming tea and set them next to the plates. Then he took a seat across from Brendan at the table. During the week, Fiona and Aisling cooked for the men and Maureen. When Maureen was still well, Liam had always spent time in the kitchen with his mother, learning to cook some dishes. Liam was a surprisingly good cook. Brendan found it interesting how his brother liked cooking so much. He had never considered it, but nowadays, he was glad that Liam knew how to cook simple meals, as no one could do this for them anymore.

As Brendan regarded the plate with food before him, he felt the need to thank his brother.

“Thanks for breakfast, aye.”

Liam looked up from his plate and smiled. “Aye, it’s no bother, you know.”

Brendan nodded and added, “Well, we’d be starvin’ without your cookin’, so we would.”

Liam chuckled. “Ach, we wouldn’t, but I like doin’ it, aye. It’s not that difficult, so.”

“Sure, it’s a good thing you like doin’ it.”

Liam nodded and kept eating, looking at the Saturday edition of the “Belfast Telegraph” beside his plate. Brendan noticed the headline on the front page: Suspected Bomb at Victoria Train Station Disengaged.

Liam remarked, “It’s surely been gettin’ worse again. Ever since Bobby died in May.”

Brendan knew what Liam referred to regarding what was happening in Belfast. At the beginning of the year, a group of suspected IRA men imprisoned for various charges had gone on hunger strikes at the Maze prison. They demanded to wear their own clothes, not a prison uniform, and be acknowledged as political prisoners and not common criminals. The hunger strikes triggered a surge of violence erupting in Belfast. Ten men died during the hunger strikes; one was their leader, Bobby Sands, who died in May. During the hunger strikes and as the men were starving to death, the IRA followed through with several bomb attacks and killings.  

Brendan wasn’t too interested in how things were in Belfast. They had been exposed to violence and mayhem all their lives, and their father, Rory, and their brothers, Connor and Niall, had been involved with the IRA. Ultimately, all three had paid with their lives, and in a way, it had also cost Brendan his life.

The perpetrators were still out there, and often he thought about how they may finish him off if they ever got to him again. He remembered how their leader, a man whose face he had never seen, had declared that Brendan would be let go again “to warn all them Catholic pope cock suckers” who were trying to overthrow and betray the British Crown. They wanted everyone to see what they would do to them if they suspected them of working for the IRA or any Republican organization planning any violence targeted at loyalists of the Crown. With their behavior, they didn’t realize they were just as criminal as any IRA man. In any other country, an arrest warrant would have been out to find these people and punish them under the constituents of the law. But in Belfast, politics and law enforcement worked differently and were usually never on the side of the Catholic population. Brendan was just an unlucky young Catholic man caught in the crossfire because his family had ties to the IRA. He still didn’t know to this day who his abductors had been. He assumed they were paramilitary loyalists, possibly from the [4]Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), but he wasn’t sure.

While eating, Liam read some articles in the paper aloud, and Brendan listened. Saturday was always a day to relax and, if needed, get the grocery shopping done. On Saturday nights, the two brothers were always found at “The Ballyhoo”, a pub near where they lived. Sometimes Aisling tagged along to meet her sisters or friends there.

After breakfast, Liam cleared the table and washed dishes while Brendan glanced over the newspaper. He didn’t read much of it; Liam had already filled him in on the most important events. Liam planned to take Aisling to dinner and a movie on Sunday, so the theater schedule was important.

When Liam was done in the kitchen, he helped Brendan into the sitting room where his braces were. Brendan sat on the sofa, and Liam spread out the first brace next to Brendan and assisted him in getting his leg in the brace, his foot into the boot, and ensuring that his jeans weren’t too crumpled when they buckled the straps. Brendan could do this independently, but with Liam’s help, it was always easier and quicker. After a few minutes, he had his braces on his legs and grabbed his crutches. He didn’t need Liam’s help since he was in his braces now. As much as he hated the leg braces, they did allow him a limited range of independence. He stood up; with a quick jerk, he clicked the braces into the locked position to keep his legs straight and supported, and he made it to the bathroom.

Liam made a grocery list adding the items Fiona and Aisling had told him they needed for the following week. Fiona usually compiled a list of the items she needed to cook for Maureen and her sons during the week. Liam bought the things on Saturday, so Fiona had everything on Monday.

Liam was ready to go in the afternoon, and Brendan was in the sitting room, watching TV.

“Do you want to come with me to get the [5]messages?” Liam stood at the door.

“I don’t know; I might just stay here, like.”

“In all fairness, you haven’t been out of the house much, Brendan.”

Brendan couldn’t object to that statement but replied, “Aye, I work all week. I don’t want to be tired the night, so.”

Brendan had a point, and Liam knew it. Even with his braces, walking was difficult and strenuous for Brendan. It was possible, but he was in constant pain, and walking with the crutches and his legs locked in the braces wasn’t very pleasant. He barely left the house besides going to work. Liam understood but felt bad for Brendan’s lack of social life. Another reason Brendan barely left the house was the possibility he would cross paths with his abductors. It scared him to think about the risk of being spotted or putting Liam or other family members in danger.

Liam tried again, “We could have a coffee in that fancy teahouse ‘round the corner from the grocers.”

Brendan grinned and replied, “That, my deary brother, is surely not gettin’ me out of the house.”

Liam realized it was a bad idea; the teahouse was too elegant for them anyways, but he did want to take Aisling there soon.

Liam shrugged his shoulders. “Well then, I’ll be back as soon as possible.”

Brendan thought he had to ease Liam’s mind. “Don’t rush yourself; I’m fine. I’ll be watchin’ the tele and have me a [6]feg here in a moment.”

Liam nodded, and Brendan added, “Which reminds me – buy me another pack, will you?”

“You should really stop smoking!”

Liam never seized to reprimand Brendan about his smoking habit, but so far, it had not stopped him from smoking. He had started at a fairly young age, when he was only fifteen, and though he had slowed down with it, he still smoked about two to three packs a week.

Brendan tilted his head to the side and grinned. “Surely, I’ll stop next week, so I will.”

Liam sighed and chuckled. “It’ll be your demise sooner than later.”

“Something surely will be.” Brendan chuckled.

With everything he had been through and how he had almost died about a year earlier, dying from smoking didn’t scare him. His father also had smoked, and though never inside, Maureen still always complained about it, even when he smoked in the back garden.

Liam’s light blue Ford Pinto was parked outside the house on the side of the street. It was a smaller sporty model, dented and rusty, with worn tires and stained seats. Liam seemed to have to get their neighbor to jump-start his car every other week.

Brendan left the TV on, pulled up from the sofa, found his balance on his crutches, and walked toward the kitchen. His cigarettes were on the counter in the kitchen right by the back door leading out into the small, narrow back garden. He never smoked in the house; his mother had not allowed it for his father long ago, and Brendan didn’t break this rule either. When Maureen first found out about him smoking, she angrily slapped the cigarette out of his mouth. She insisted it was a bad habit and said she never wanted to see Brendan smoke around his family. From then on, he had adhered to the order. For a few years, he smoked little, but after leaving the hospital, he started smoking more again.

He grabbed the pack and matchbox, stuck them in his back jeans pocket, and went outside. Two steps led into the back garden from the small, covered concrete patio. One rusty metal folding chair and an ashtray on the ground beside it took up most of the patio space.

Brendan carefully sat down on the chair; he had just enough room. With his legs locked in the braces, they stuck straight out as he sat on the chair with his arms still in the crutches. Not wanting to crush the cigarettes in his back pocket, he barely sat on the chair edge with his butt. He pulled his arms from the crutches and leaned them against the backdoor. He then unlocked his braces to bend his legs and pulled the cigarettes from his jeans pocket. With his legs bent, he scooted onto the chair. It was always a hassle with everything, sitting, standing, or walking. He had to think about every move and situation. Protecting the cigarette with his hand so the wind wouldn’t extinguish the flame, he lit it with a match. Usually, he didn’t use the ashtray but merely flicked the ash into the wet grass.

He exhaled a puff of smoke, and squinting his eyes, he looked out over the back garden. It was a narrow strip of brown grass, just as wide as the house. There were three clotheslines, an old, weathered shed in the corner, and a worn path of concrete squares connecting the steps of the patio to the door in the wall at the back of the yard leading out to the narrow alley behind the houses. On each side of the yard was a wall separating the neighbors. When Brendan sat on the concrete slab, he could see Mary O’Donnell’s backdoor opposite theirs. She also had a small patio; if she was on it, she could see Brendan.

The neighbors on the left side were a young married couple with two small children, the McFarlands. When Bobby McFarland smoked a cigarette, he also stood outside the house on their patio but could not see the O’Shea’s backdoor or Brendan smoking. Neither Bobby McFarland nor Mary O’Donnell was outside. It was a dreary Saturday with constant drizzling rain and low-hanging clouds.

Brendan looked out into the back garden; the brown grass was dead. The leaves on any scrawny trees turned green to yellow, red, and brown as autumn arrived. On the flower beds along the wall bordering the McFarlands, only dead and wilted remnants of summer blooms were hanging on. Maureen had planted the flowers years ago. Though they sprouted every spring, and Fiona tried to tend to them, they now lay dead and wild weeds had taken over. The bushes on the side of Mary’s yard were dying as well.

Brendan took another puff from his cigarette and blew a smoke circle in the air, watching it float away in the breeze and scramble as the rain hit it. His mind drifted to Ava, and he wondered if she also lived on this side of town, West Belfast, with its poor and debilitated Catholic ghettos, walls separating it from the Protestant neighborhoods to curb violence and fighting. He wished he would have talked more to her and not been so unfriendly. However, Ava hadn’t been exactly friendly to him when she had first stumbled out of that car.

Brendan also wanted someone in his life, and he envied Liam and Aisling. They were happy; she was a good woman and a loving wife to Liam. She had had choices of suitors in Clonard, but she had chosen Liam. Liam had confided in Brendan that he had not been the first man Aisling had been with. Before him, she had had sex already with two other men and had entered the marriage definitely not a virgin. Liam was fine with it; Aisling also hadn’t been his first girl. Times were changing, and people were changing along with it.

Contrary to their faith, Brendan had also not abided by waiting until marriage, a manner many Catholics adhered to. With Erin Fogarty, he had had many splendid times. Erin had gone off to England, and she would not have made a good wife, but at that time, Brendan didn’t want a wife; he was just a young man with one thing on his mind.
Then there had been Claire Kinnon, with whom he had fun. She switched boyfriends often, and Brendan never imagined that Claire would settle down one day, but she did and had been married for three years already.

The only serious relationship he had been in was with Shelley O’Mara, and it had been five years earlier. She was married now, had two kids, and lived in Derry. He had loved her, but his determination to leave Belfast had been strong during that time, and Shelley would have never left Northern Ireland. Their relationship ended, and soon after they had separated, Brendan’s father and brothers were found dead, and his plan to leave Northern Ireland was shattered. In his current state, he was certain he would never be with any woman again. How could he protect and provide for a wife and children if he could barely walk? He didn’t think that women would consider a broken man as he was to be a boyfriend or husband.

Brendan was twenty-seven years old. At that age, his mother and father were parenting four boys already. He blew out another puff of smoke and thought about how young his parents had been when Niall, his oldest brother, was born. It had been a different time then, but he knew that his parents loved each other very much despite the hardships and his father’s involvement with the IRA. After Rory and her two older sons had been killed, Maureen lost her grip on life. Her heart had been broken, and her health declined; the stroke she suffered had taken even the last bit of strength from his mother.

Brendan wanted what his parents had had in their good times, but now he was sure no woman would consider him husband material any longer. He also often thought about his brother’s wives, who were left widows with young children. He didn’t want to put any woman through this. Even if he found someone despite his disability, paired with the chance he could be killed next time they would get their hands on him, he had shied away from pursuing any women. He didn’t want to add another widow and fatherless children to the population of a broken city. Going away still seemed the best option, but he didn’t know how and was discouraged even to forge plans to leave when he could hardly walk. Being a broken man, he barely survived in Belfast with his family here; how would he survive in a city like New York without any close family?

He glanced at his legs in the bulky steel and leather braces and felt it was a ridiculous sight. The only alternative to the braces, though, was a wheelchair. In his opinion, if he had to use a wheelchair to get around, he could just as well jump into the river Lagan and kill himself.

At least with the braces, he could still get around somewhat, but he never missed the whispers when he was out, when people saw him, or when the young women in his neighborhood glanced at him curiously and demeaning. He hated being this way and the people who had done this to him. He had his family on his side, and men who had known Rory, Connor, and Niall would have loved to kill Brendan’s capturers. It was just that no one knew who they were. The only thing Brendan was sure about was that they were not Catholic. They had robbed him of his dignity and pride, violated him on all levels, and left him broken in a city plagued by violence and segregation. They had done to him the same thing many IRA men had done to loyalists.

He puffed on his cigarette, and Ava entered his thoughts again. It had been a long time since he had talked to a woman besides his sisters-in-law, aunt, and mother. He was sure he hadn’t been very confident in his approach.

He flicked the ash off the end of his cigarette, and it landed in the grass. He didn’t worry about flicking it in the ashtray; it was raining, after all, and it wasn’t that they had a beautiful, landscaped back garden.

He sat outside for a while and let his mind drift with different thoughts. When the telephone rang in the kitchen, he quickly grabbed his forearm crutches, slid his arms into the cuffs, and pushed up to stand, but by the time he awkwardly opened the back door and shuffled inside, it had stopped ringing.  

Brendan was frustrated with his lack of speed regarding these things. He hoped it wasn’t anything important from whoever was trying to call. He had read about these answering machines that could be hooked up to the telephone and record a message from the caller. His cousins in New York already had these machines, and Brendan imagined how practical it would be, especially with his walking problems and not getting to the telephone quickly enough. He was sure they could not afford one of these devices yet.

He closed the back door and went to the sitting room to watch television.

Brendan could see the street from the sitting room. It was busy this Saturday afternoon. Neighbors were coming from the shops on Cavendish Street and the Falls Road. Kids were playing in the street, scattering out of the way when cars came through.

It knocked on the front door, and Brendan called, “Just a minute, I’ll be right there.”

He repeated his process, grabbed his crutches, stood up, locked the braces, and slowly shuffled to the door.

He called through the closed door,  “Who’s there?”

A young boy’s voice answered, “It’s Billy Kershaw; I’ve got a message for you from your brother Liam.”

Brendan hesitantly unlocked the door, opened it a crack, and found the boy outside his door. Quickly he scanned the surrounding area and said, “Aye, what is it?”

Billy seemed intimidated and stammered nervously, “Your brother…Liam tried to ring you, sir. He…he sent me with a message to let you know that he’s at Aisling’s ma and da’s house for a wee bit before comin’ home.”

Brendan tilted his head. “Alright, is that it?”

Billy nodded enthusiastically, and Brendan asked skeptically, “And how do you know this?”

Billy quickly answered, “I’m Aisling’s nephew. Aisling’s your brother’s missus, is she not, sir?”

“Aye, she is.”

Billy added nervously, “He also said he’ll be home ‘round six, and you should have yourself ready for the pub then.”

Brendan chuckled. “Alright, are you going back to Aisling’s house?”

Billy nodded obediently. “Yes, sir!”

“Tell me brother I’ll be ready.”

Billy nodded hectically again. “Yes, sir!”

Brendan said, “Hold on before you leave. Wait right there!”

“Yes, sir!”

Brendan turned around and walked to the wardrobe in the hallway. His wallet was there, and he took out fifty pence and stuck it in his pocket, then shuffled back to the door from where Billy was watching him shyly.

Brendan pulled the fifty pence from his pocket and handed it to Billy.

Billy was very happy. “Thanks a mill, mister!”

“Me name’s Brendan, aye. Call me Brendan!”

Billy seemed unsure if that was appropriate but nodded shyly. “Fair enough.”

Brendan smiled. “Brendan.”

“Fair enough, Mister Brendan.”

Brendan chuckled and said, “Now go on, hurry back to me brother, and tell him I’ll be ready when he gets home.”

“Aye, Mister Brendan!”

Billy turned and ran down the street, nearly pushing over Mary McDonnell, shuffling along the sidewalk with small steps, pulling a small cart with her Saturday grocery shopping. Billy apologized hectically and ran along.

Mary looked up and saw Brendan at the door. “Ach, Brendan, how’re you getting on the day?”

Mary was hunched over with a curved back tormented by scoliosis but looked up at Brendan with a mostly toothless smile.

“Not too bad, Mary. How’s about yourself?”

Mary stopped on the sidewalk before Brendan and started, “Ach, not too bad. Jaysus, ‘tis such a bother at the shops. Sure, it’s [7]up to ninety, and everyone’s there to catch the wee sales. Seems everyone in the street is out gettin’ the messages, so.”

Brendan replied in a friendly tone, “Aye, it’s Saturday, Mary, so it is. In all fairness, it’s the day for the messages.”

Mary smiled. “Aye, I saw your brother and his lovely missus. He offered to bring me home in that wee race car of his. Said I should’ve told him, and he would’ve taken me to get the messages too, so he said.”

Liam had often offered Mary to take her to the grocery store or buy things for her, but Mary insisted on walking and doing it all by herself. She was eighty-eight years old, but despite scoliosis curving her back, she was still quick on her feet and stubborn just the same.

“Aye, Mary, sure, you know he’ll give you a lift if you want, so he will. You just have to let him know.”

“Brendan, lad, walking on me own two legs to get the messages on Saturday and to Mass on Sunday is the light of me week, so it is. And it does me old bones good; I need to keep movin’ as long as I can, lad.”

“You’re right about that, Mary, so you are.”

Mary glanced from Brendan’s legs up to him again. “Ach, I’m still overcome by what’s happened to you, Brendan. A young lad as yourself shouldn’t be limpin’ about with them contraptions. Surely, your da’s turnin’ in his grave; I just know it. I sure hope his ghost haunts the bloody evil scumbags who’ve done this to you every day until the end of their lives. And on judgment day, when they face the Almighty God, may they get punished for what they’ve done to ya. May they scream and burn in the eternal fires of hell!”

Mary had expressed explicit forms of punishment and voiced her opinion about the people who had done this to Brendan many times. It’s something she always brought up and was angry about.

Brendan didn’t know how to respond, and Mary didn’t wait for him to say anything.

“Ach, Brendan, I’ve to hurry on along. I’ve got a wee frozen thing in me bag. I love you, lad.”

Mary had known Brendan and his brothers since they were born. As they had never met their grandparents, she was something like a grandmother to them. She was often at the house for holidays such as Christmas, Easter, or Sunday dinners.

Brendan replied, “Have yourself a lovely afternoon then, Mary.”

“I will, lad.”

Just as she was about to keep walking, she turned to Brendan again, “Is your ma ‘round at her wee sister’s then?”

“Aye, she is. Fiona takes her to her house on the weekends.”

“Aye, that Fiona’s such a good soul, so she is. Poor Maureen didn’t deserve any of it.”

Brendan hoped that Mary wasn’t going to keep talking about these things. She did tend to drift into melancholy and sadness.

Pulling her shopping cart, Mary then continued to walk toward her door. “Have yourself a good night, lad.”

“You too, Mary.”

Brendan looked up and down the busy street and greeted the neighbors across the street. Mary disappeared into her house, and Brendan went inside and locked the door. At least he knew that Liam had tried to call. He settled down in the sitting room, turned on the television, and watched football.

Though Billy had relayed a message about Brendan being ready to go to the pub, Brendan had nothing to do to get ready, so he watched TV until Liam got home around six-thirty.

He and Aisling scrambled in through the front door with several bags of groceries.

Liam peeked into the sitting room. “Hiya, everything alright?”

“Aye, I got the message from the wee lad.”

Liam smiled. “Ach Billy, aye. Did you know him at all?”

Aisling entered behind Liam and smiled. “I told Billy to give you the message. You didn’t know him, did you? He’s me sister’s youngest.”

Brendan shook his head. “I didn’t know him.”

Liam explained, “I tried to ring you.”

“I’s having a smoke outside and couldn’t get to the phone quick enough.”

Liam nodded. “I thought so or that you were in the toilet.”

Brendan suggested, “Maybe we should get one of those wee machines that record messages when people ring and no one’s at home or something, like.”

Liam laughed. “Aye, those cost a lot of money. We can’t afford it. I think Billy’s cheaper.”

Brendan grinned. “Right, he cost me fifty pence.”

Liam smiled, and while walking to the kitchen, he said, “I’m going to empty these bags.”

“D’you need help?” Brendan asked to be polite; he knew Liam wouldn’t make him help.

He was already making noises with the bags in the kitchen. “I can manage. Thanks!”

Brendan turned his attention to the TV again, and when Liam and Aisling were done putting the groceries away, Liam asked, “Is that us heading over to the pub? The first match starts at seven-thirty.”

With the match, he referred to a dart tournament between three teams. Liam and Brendan belonged to one of the teams and had been preparing and looking forward to the tournament.

Soon, they were in Liam’s car again, pouches with their darts in the back seat, heading to the pub. Though it wasn’t far to the pub, it was somewhat far for Brendan to walk. On the weekends, when he didn’t have to work, he didn’t walk anywhere or much. Walking during the week was strenuous enough, and he wasn’t very fast. So, on the weekends, Liam usually drove when Brendan was with him.

“The Ballyhoo” was a historic public house off the Falls Road, a few streets from where Brendan and Liam lived. The pub had been there since the early eighteenth century and was only frequented by Catholics. Though it had been remodeled since its original construction, it was still a traditional public house where on any given night, locals from the area gathered for a pint, a game of darts, make music, or watch football on the television. When Brendan didn’t work in the evenings, he used to go for a pint after dinner.

The O’Shea men always had been regulars at “The Ballyhoo”; it was also the pub their father and older brothers used to frequent. When they were boys, they sometimes came with their father but waited outside because Rory would be drinking and probably give them some money to buy chocolate or candy. As soon as Brendan and Liam were of legal drinking age, they always came to this pub.

When Brendan and Liam entered, several guests immediately greeted them, and Gerry, the pub owner, waved at them from behind the bar as he was filling glasses from the tap.

The dartboards were in the pub’s back room, and Brendan and Liam made their way through the crowds, greeting everyone they knew, laughing, chatting a few words here and there, and receiving pats on the back from men who knew them. Three teams were in the tournament; three dartboards were ready for the men. Brendan and Liam greeted everyone, all the men were from around Clonard, and all patrons in this pub were Catholics. Their team name was “Cavendish Lads”, referring to the street they all lived off. Four men were on the team, Brendan, Liam, Martin, and Paddy. Except when Brendan was recovering in the hospital, they played darts together for years. They had known each other since they were in primary school. Brendan had just recently started playing again.

There was laughter and chatter; everyone was in good spirits this Saturday night. The tournament began, and spectators were cheering and clapping. Gerry’s wife, Laoise, took everyone’s order, greeting the men warmly and familiarly.

Brendan could usually stand long enough and set his right crutch to the side, keeping his hand on his left crutch, balancing himself, and aiming and throwing the dart with his right hand. It had taken some practice at first. He managed to stand long enough and only rested against the wall between his turns. His aim was flawless, and he hit the target points ninety percent of the time. He was the most skilled man on their team, and the “Cavendish Lads” had won their last two tournaments. This third one decided if they would move up to the next level to play against teams from other parts of the city and eventually the country, so a lot was at stake.

Laoise brought another round of pints and set them on the tables around the dartboard area. The space was roped off, so the spectators wouldn’t get in the player’s way. There was cheering and clapping but also silence not to break the player’s concentration. Brendan did excellent, hitting his target values and counting down the numbers in the game of 501. The three teams played against each other until only one remained the tournament's winner.

Brendan always felt apprehensive when he competed in front of an audience. Most people knew what had happened to him, but he still got looks of pity but also admiration. With what had happened, most people usually rooted for him and the “Cavendish Lads”. It had been a celebration when Brendan finally came out to rejoin the team. He made it a point to practice often and do well in the games. Playing darts allowed him to forget everything for a few hours a week.

The evening was exciting as the “Cavendish Lads” won, granting them a spot in a city-wide tournament in a couple of weeks. When the game was over, the area was opened, and all the spectators congratulated the “Cavendish Lads”, patted their backs, or shook their hands. Brendan was slightly overwhelmed by all the attention, and it was difficult for him to stand there and let all this happen. Through the crowd, he locked eyes with Liam.

Liam came over next to Brendan, asking, “Are you alright there?”

Brendan nodded wearily. “Aye, just getting tiresome to stand, ‘tis all.”

Liam didn’t wait, walked up to a table with several young men, and demanded, “Let me have a chair for our Brendan.”

The young men didn’t question or hesitate; all four were willing to give up a chair. Liam took one, thanked them, and brought the chair to Brendan. Everyone was still gathered by the dartboards, chatting and celebrating, and Liam positioned the chair next to the wall. Brendan thanked him with a nod.

“Go on and sit yourself down already.” Liam nodded at the chair, and Brendan slowly let himself down. His legs stuck straight out in the locked braces, and he quickly loosened the drop lock behind his knees to bend his legs. He put his crutches beside him, and Liam handed him his pint.

Brendan thanked him, and the brothers tapped their glasses with everyone and drank. Everyone was in a cheerful mood. The tournament had been exciting, and even the members of the other two teams who didn’t take the first spot still gathered around, drinking and celebrating. In West Belfast, most people’s lives were hard, so nights at the pub with a dart tournament made for a pleasant distraction in the everyday rut of trying to survive or dealing with the constant trauma and heartache of the ongoing war.

The beer flowed through Brendan’s veins as his vision blurred, and everyone seemed especially loud; he had had three pints already, and another was almost finished. People were talking, laughing, and joking. The night became late, and when Gerry called for last rounds, Liam told Brendan it was time to go home.

Brendan put his arms in the crutches and pushed up. He felt unsteady and was worried about getting to the car. Liam realized this, and after paying the tab, they said goodbye to their teammates and friends still lingering. Brendan slowly made his way through the pub. People patted him on his back, congratulating him and Liam again on the win and telling them they were looking forward to the big tournament in a couple of weeks. The brothers smiled, thanked people, and left the pub. Liam’s car wasn’t parked far away, but he noticed Brendan’s walking difficulties.

“Why don’t you wait here, and I’ll bring the car ‘round?”

Brendan leaned against a wall and nodded. “Aye, I’ll wait here.”

Liam sprinted to the back of the building to get his car. Brendan’s vision was off, and he was uncoordinated, holding on tightly to his crutches. He had to be careful not to fall and risk bending or damaging his braces.

The sound of approaching steps made him look up, and two British soldiers in full combat gear strolled along the sidewalk. Brendan lowered his eyes again and only glanced up at them from behind his dark bangs when they were closer. The soldiers stopped right before him, scanning him up and down.

He avoided meeting their eyes but mumbled a shortened greeting, “Evening!”

One of the soldiers stepped forward and said, “Look at me when you address me!”

Brendan looked up, and his hands trembled on the crutch handles as the two soldiers curiously looked at him.

The soldier asked, “What’s wrong with you? Why are you standin’ out here in the middle of the night?”

Brendan tried to sound confident, “Just waitin’ for me brother to bring the car ‘round. Just left the pub, and can’t walk too good.”

The second soldier asked sarcastically, “What happened there with yer legs? Got a good old knee-capping or such god-awful things you Catholics do to each other? Someone messed you up, then?”

The two soldiers laughed, and Brendan glanced at the automatic weapons in their gloved hands. They weren’t pointing them at him, but they had them at the ready-to-shoot.

He looked at the soldiers again and countered, “Aye, t’was probably one of yer people messed me up.”

The first soldier sighed heavily and stepped closer; Brendan smelled cigarette smoke on him.

The soldier sounded cold, “Our people?”

Brendan looked directly at the soldier and nodded. “Aye.”

“Well, if OUR people did this to you, there must’ve been a valid reason for such a penalty. ‘Bit too deep in your rebellious ways, are you not, young fella?”

The soldiers didn’t look much older than Brendan.

Brendan swallowed but didn’t say anything else. It was no use talking back to the soldiers. And though the people that had done this to him had probably not been soldiers but most likely loyalist paramilitary, it didn’t make a difference to Brendan. He had only hate in his heart for the military and the other side.

Just as the soldier was about to say something else, Liam came driving up with the car.

He parked next to them on the side of the street, quickly got out, and hurried over while speaking cheerfully, “Good evening, sirs; everything alright here? I’m just comin’ ‘round to fetch me brother.”

The soldiers turned and looked at Liam, surprised. He was pleasant like he talked to friends, not the presumed enemy. From behind his hair, Brendan glared tensely at the soldiers. He felt the pints running through his veins but kept himself in check from saying anything that could get him in trouble.

Liam was there, chattering with exaggerated cheerfulness, “Me brother’s not that quick on his wee legs, as you can see yourselves, gentlemen. I’m just gettin’ him in the car so that we can go on home. Had a wee darts tourney at the pub the night, so we did. Sure, we’ve had a [8]whale of a time, and our team advanced to take part in another big tourney in a few weeks, so.”

Liam babbled like a child, but with his quirkiness, he kept the soldiers from saying anything. They seemed confused, and with his cheerful behavior, he had taken their power of intimidating Brendan any further.

Liam grabbed Brendan by the arm and said compassionately, “C’mon then; let’s get you on home and into bed. Everything alright then, gentlemen?”

Trying to sound intimidating, the soldier found his voice again and said, “What the feck’s wrong with his legs?”

Liam gibbered on, “Aye, he’s disabled, you see. Just a wee bit a walking thing; that’s why them braces and sticks. Helps him walk.”

Brendan listened to Liam and looked at him from the side. He sensed Liam’s anxiety, but by pretending cheerfulness, he covered up his anxiety and didn’t let the soldiers get the better of him.

Liam tugged Brendan toward the car. “Come on along then, brother. Have yourselves a splendid evening, gentlemen!”

Liam’s cheerfulness had prevented the soldiers from saying anything else. They seemed perplexed and merely watched him and their subject of intimidation and bullying get in the car. Liam helped Brendan get in while chattering enthusiastically. Brendan scrambled into the car and stared at his brother in amazement. Liam shut the door and turned to the soldiers once again.

Friendly and upbeat, he called toward the soldiers, “Again, gentlemen, have yourselves a right wonderful and peaceful night then!”

The soldiers didn’t reply but stood there astonished. Liam jumped in the driver’s seat, stepped on the gas, and drove off.

Brendan glanced at him from the side, and Liam mumbled in a completely different tone of resentment and anger, “That fecking shut ‘em up. For feck’s sake, what are them scumbags doing in these parts, then? They’ve no business over here. They need to be getting’ their pasty faces, feckin’ thick arses, and cock extensions back to their fecking barracks.” With cock extensions, he referred to their guns.

Brendan was tired and exhausted but smiled at the completely different wording his brother used now.

Amused, he mumbled, “I’s worried you’s going soft on them feckers. Thought you were going baloobas there for a wee moment, like.”

Liam looked over at him and chuckled. “Did I worry you, my deary brother? Makin’ friends with the enemy, so I am?”

Brendan was slumped in the car seat as far as his braced legs let him. “Aye, you’ve surely worried me there.”

Liam laughed now. “I’d never dream about going sweet on them fecking bastards.”

Brendan closed his eyes as fatigue overcame him. Liam drove the few blocks to their street and parked in front of the house. He roused Brendan and helped him get out of the car. The street was empty and quiet; on a few houses, parlor windows were dimly lit behind curtains or shades, but at night, everyone stayed in. There used to be curfews for the residents in Catholic neighborhoods, Clonard being one of the areas. And though there weren’t currently any official curfews, most West Belfast residents stayed in their houses after dark. Too deep were the wounds of all the years of sectarian violence. The city was still a war zone, and things always happened. Kids were told to be in their houses when it got dark, men hurried home from the pubs at night, people didn’t drive their cars too far at night in fear they could get stopped and searched, and all doors were locked in the hopes that houses would never get raided by British security forces or the RUC.

Liam locked his car and locked the door after he and Brendan were in the house. It was after midnight now. Brendan was used to this time of the night, but several pints had him tired and wanting to get into his bed.

When Liam asked if he wanted a cup of tea, he declined. Brendan just wanted to get finished and get upstairs to his bedroom.

He made his way into the bathroom. As he leaned with his waist on the sink to support his stance, the forearm crutches still dangling from his arms, he looked at his reflection in the mirror. His dark, longish hair was stringy and unkempt; dark, fiery eyes from behind his hair looked back at him; a thin, dark shadow of facial hair was visible. The evening in the pub had been warm and smoke-filled; Brendan was sure he smelled like smoke, but he would shower in the morning.

Everyone always said he looked like his father, Rory, and when he had seen pictures of his father as a young man, he noticed the resemblance. His father had had the same eyes, dark and daring but also suspicious. His mother and aunt always told the stories of all the girls in Clonard chasing after Rory because he had been such a keen and rebellious young man, turning all the girls' heads and having most of them dream of him at night. With her calm and warm demeanor, Maureen was the one he had chosen. She had never disclosed how much she thought of him or never focused during Mass because she only had eyes for Rory O’Shea, sitting a few pews in front of her.

Brendan looked like his father, and before he was captured, tortured, and left with a broken mind and body, he had been the same type of young man. Recently, he often felt like a shadow of his former self. Though winning the dart game for his team that night had been fun, and everyone was proud of him, he didn’t feel the excitement inside. No one knew how difficult it was for him to stand there all night when his body hurt, his legs throbbed from pain, and his arms weakened from holding the crutches. He had perfected covering up his daily pain and how difficult it was for him to move about like this. Sometimes the braces felt more like torture than assistive devices to help him stand and walk. The crutches were a nuisance, but he couldn’t do anything without them, so they were basically attached to his arms. The only option would be using a wheelchair, but he wasn’t ready to give up. At least standing and walking made him feel not yet completely broken as a man.

He supported himself, holding on to the sink, and stared at his legs in the heavy braces, then back at his reflection. His eyes glistened as he remembered how they had beaten him and shot him in his knees and ankles as he had lain there, begging them for mercy. They hadn’t shown any mercy, and after weeks of torturing and starving him, they finally had broken him, destroying his mobility and disabling him for the rest of his life.

The words he remembered were, “You can thank your fecking [9]Fenian father for this, you Catholic piece of shit.”

Brendan shook his head to rid himself of the memories and thoughts. Usually, they bubbled up after he had been drinking, and every time he promised himself not to drink too much, it just happened on a night like this. There was so much excitement about the tournament, a bright spot in many people's normally bleak lives in West Belfast, and the celebration had called for pints. He had had a few; he didn’t remember how many.

He splashed water on his face, brushed his teeth, used the toilet, and washed his hands. When he came out, Liam was still in the kitchen, drinking tea.

Brendan stood at the door to the kitchen. “I’m going upstairs.”

He could make it up the stairs in his braces easier than coming down.

Liam set his cup down on the table. “Hold on there, let me help you!”

Brendan needed Liam to hold his crutches and carry them upstairs for him. He could hold on to the railing and ascend the stairs while in his braces, but he needed his crutches once he was up on the landing.

With Liam holding on to the rail behind him, Brendan took the first step, stiff-legged in the locked braces. It was a strenuous task, and he was slow. Taking heavy breaths, he took one step after another with Liam behind him, watching him closely and ensuring his brother got up the stairs.

Once Brendan was up, he took his crutches from Liam and said, “I got it now, thanks.”

Liam smiled. “No bother! Hey…you did brilliantly the night. Your throws were fierce accurate and fast as lightning. Thanks to you, we advanced. It was a good craic the night, was it not?”

“Surely, it was.”

Liam sounded excited, “We’re going to the city-wide tourney; it’ll be grand. We could win us some money, Brendan.”

Brendan smiled. “It’ll be grand.”

Liam lowered his eyes briefly, then looked back at his brother. “I love you, you know.”

Brendan nodded and replied, “I love you too.”

“Goodnight, Brendan.”

Brendan told Liam goodnight, and Liam left the room and skillfully jumped down the stairs.

Brendan breathed a deep sigh of relief as he sat on his bed. He slid his arms out of the crutches and dropped them next to the bed on the floor. Then he unbuckled his braces, two wide leather cuffs around his thighs, the knee pads, and two cuffs around his shins. He loosened the laces on the work boots, lethargically pulling the boot from his foot, and the brace dropped to the ground with a thump. His legs were warm in the crumpled jeans, and he unbuttoned and unzipped his fly and slid his jeans over his limp legs and feet. He didn’t care about anything and dropped the jeans on the floor beside the bed. He pulled his T-Shirt over his head, and just wearing his underwear and socks, he pulled up on the bed. His mouth felt dry, and he regretted not having water before coming up.

The deep connection he shared with Liam was that his brother came up the stairs just at that moment, knocking on his door and coming in with a glass of water.

“I thought you might be a wee bit parched since you didn’t have your tea.”

Brendan pushed up on his elbows and was glad that Liam was attentive like this. Liam eyed the braces, crutches, jeans, and T-Shirt scrambled on the floor next to the bed. Brendan thanked Liam as he handed him the glass.

“What a mess you got there?” Liam laughed as he said it, and while Brendan took a large sip from the water, Liam arranged the crutches and braces orderly on the floor next to the bed, gathered up Brendan’s jeans and T-Shirt, and draped the clothing items over the chair by the desk.

He watched Brendan drink from the water and glanced at his feet. “You want your socks off?”

Brendan shook his head.

Liam nodded. “Alright then, goodnight now, Brendan!”


Liam turned around and walked toward the door. Just as he was about to walk out, Brendan said his name.

Liam turned around. “Aye.”

Brendan swallowed, and looking at his brother, he said, “Thanks…thanks for being such a good brother to me. I know it’s not always easy.”

Liam smiled, and his green eyes were lively and friendly. “In all fairness, I don’t have a choice, do I?”

Brendan bit his lips, shook his head, and Liam added seriously, “I’ll always be your brother, and I’ll always be there for you.”

Brendan nodded. “Thanks.”

Liam nodded with a smile and then walked out. Brendan drank again, put the glass on his night table, grabbed his book, and leaned on the headboard, reading a few pages before his eyes no longer stayed open. He pushed down into the bed, switched off his bedside lamp, and fell asleep within minutes.













[1] neighborhood

[2] IRA unit – Irish Republican Army unit

[3] Royal Ulster Constabulary – police force (RUC)

[4] Protestant paramilitary organization in Northern Ireland

[5] Grocery shopping

[6] cigarette

[7] Very busy, hectic

[8] Fun

[9] Derogatory term for an Irish Catholic


  1. Thank you a lot for this long chapter.

    1. It was somewhat long, but thanks for reading it

  2. Lovely story, wishing to read more about Ava

    1. Yeah, she'll be back in his life for sure. Thank you for reading

  3. Loving this story. Such great detail and love the cadence of the language you have going. Hoping we see more Ava

    1. It's been a challenge for sure and I'm worried it was a bad idea, but thank you for reading and commenting. It means a lot