￼ A Death at the Hands of
by Meghan Rose Allen
“I don’t deserve this,” she might have said. “Do I?”
They shot her in the head and buried her on the beach where the dunes meet the sand. Wrapped and weighted. I wasn’t there when they dug her up. Someone must have been. Someone must have found her. The Garda in Ireland or the army or a man walking a dog, a big dog as hairy as a Shetland pony, digging in the brown sand until it found something. A piece of plastic. A hand. I don’t know. I wasn’t there.
Mary goes on the news.
“I don’t care,” she tells the newscaster, her accent muddled about from all those years in London and then Sydney and then Montreal. “They can retaliate all they want to. I saw who came to the door that night. Three of them had masks, but two didn’t. I saw and so did half the people on the estate. No one’s been willing to speak up for forty years. Fine then. I will. I’m only back here for one more week. Let them try.”
Mary says she will talk to the police, if they ask.
“No one in power wants to rehash all that, especially for some poor washerwoman from West Belfast,” Mary says. “Derailing all the good work that’s been done since then. I do understand. But in another way, they killed my mother. Why shouldn’t someone answer to that?”
Mary calls my mobile from the cab driving her back from the studio.
“They’re going to shoot you too,” I say. “You know that.”
“It’s all a bluff,” Mary says. My phone crackles and I lose the connection. I never remember to the plug the damn thing in. I only have one because Mary insists. For emergencies.
“It’s all a conspiracy by the Prods, bringing this up now so close to the election. It’s all rubbish, all these accusations.”
Someone elbows the fellow in the side and points. I drink my beer and try to watch the rugby on the television.
Don’t look over. Don’t react. The bartender gives me another pint.
“Compliments of those gents.” They won’t meet my gaze.
“Cheers,” I say to no one in particular.
Eleven a.m. Third beer of the morning.
My mobile rings. No one at the other end.
It rings again. Still dead air.
I shut the bloody thing off.
The house phone rings. I pull the plug out.
Easy enough for them to come, me out here alone, back from the road, no human neighbours, just birds. Mary wants me to emigrate, to come live with her in a poky little at in a foreign country that says failure. No thanks. I’ll stay here, alone, and risk my luck rather than spend my final days with my harridan sister.
Mary gets me copies of the transcripts. I’m not supposed to have them. Her neither.
They come in a thick manilla envelope, the tops and bottoms of the pages cut off so I can’t see how she got them, who from.
They force feed you, the transcript says.
They jam your jaws open with a spring and force a block of wood to the back of your throat. Through a hole in the wood, they put a tube and on the end of the tube, the end not in your mouth, they put on a funnel. Into the funnel they pour whatever they’ve mixed together that day. In large jugs, they pour the sludge down your throat. You struggle, you vomit, no difference, it all goes down. Not until you’ve passed out that they know you’re choking, if they even notice. They’ll let you choke for a bit to watch you die. They don’t care about you. They don’t even care about themselves.
We stopped the van near the border. We bought her some chips, which she didn’t eat. Later I stopped the van again to buy her some cigarettes. She didn’t want them either.
I thought maybe they’d shave her head or rough her up some. She was alive when I took leave of the van.
On the radio.
“This is all a ploy by radicals within the PSNI. I will not, no, we will not be intimidated by such tactics. I staunchly disavow these sham accusations.”
I fall asleep before the sun sets, dozing in my chair while the radio plays. The cats wander between my ankles.
Kicking the door down.
Choked like being force-fed.
The string from around my glasses pushes against my Adam’s apple. Someone’s knocking at the front door without menace.
“Sir?” says the young man from the village who just joined the police. Doesn’t even look eighteen. The cleaning woman says he’s Catholic, like that’s some sort of reassurance to me. He asks me if I am who I am.
“Yes,” I say.
“Your sister Mary says she hasn’t been able to get a hold of you now for almost a week.”
“I turned my mobile off.”
“And the other’s off the hook.”
“Any reason for that, sir?” He asks like he needs my answer to justify his driving out here. Lucky. Probably too young to remember it being bad.
“The phones wouldn’t stop ringing.”
“And any reason for that, sir?”
“I guess someone must have wanted to speak with me.”
“Well, your sister does. She called us all the way from America to come check on you. You live here all alone?”
But Mary doesn’t live in America. I put my glasses back on. The boy’s not in uniform.
He smiles. His front two teeth overlap. I start to close the door.
“Call your sister back,” he says. “She worries about you.”
He could have been anyone.
“What laundry did Mam work for?” Mary asks from across the ocean. I take myself out with the mobile to sit under the hawthorn trees in the garden.
“I don’t know. Did she even work at a laundry?”
“Of course she did,” Mary snaps. “Don’t you remember anything?”
My memory’s not as good as Mary’s. Mary’s memory is so good that she remembers things she wasn’t even there to see. Like the night Mam disappeared. Mary wasn’t there for that.
“Not everyone can say with absolute certainty where they were on a random date forty years ago, but I can. Prison.”
General laughter from the crowd.
“Anyone who says I had anything to do with her disappearance is trying to besmirch my name. Think on it: those Americans interviewed men and women unhappy about the peace process, unhappy with their lot, some in prison, some exiled, all with an axe to grind. They’d say anything if it meant upsetting all the hard work we’ve accomplished and plunging us back into the chaos from which we all barely escaped.”
“This whole business is a bunch of hullabaloo. Everyone knew her husband was a no-good, philandering drunk. Worse yet, a handsome one, which got him out of most of the trouble he found himself in. I said to her plenty not to stand for that sort of treatment. Finally she listened to me and upped and left is all.
“No, I can’t explain why the Provos admitted to killing her. Who knows why they do much of anything? But there was no screaming and no fighting and no whatever those two children have been saying all these years. I lived right next to their flat and if someone had been screaming and carrying on, I would have remembered it then, which I didn’t, and I sure don’t now recollect anything of the sort having happened.”
“They can question me all they want, wasting PSNI time and resources all the while. It doesn’t mean I had anything to do with her disappearance.”
Mary calls again. It must be late in Montreal because it’s late here or maybe that means it’s early in Montreal. I can never remember. “They found a transmitter when they searched the house. Why would Mam have had a transmitter? She barely had a brain cell and a half to rub together on a good day.”
“Maybe she wasn’t smart enough to know better,” I say. “Or maybe the transcripts,” I’m assuming she got this information about the transmitter from reading further into the transcripts than I did, “Maybe the transcripts are false. Remember Oona Twomey? She was our neighbour when–” When what? Describe what happened the RUC man stood over me. I felt like pissing my trousers, brown corduroy, too-small castaways from some cousin. Where’s your mam, son?
“Oona Twomey was on the radio saying Mam left of her own free will to get away from Pa.”
“She must be over a hundred now and as gossipy a cow as ever,” Mary says. “Jesus.”
Then, “I’m thinking more and more it was a case of mistaken identity. Mam didn’t even work at a laundry after all. Or she did, but not by then. She had in the sixties but stopped in 1968. The powder and the chemicals were making her sick.”
I don’t care how Mary knows this now but not when she called me before. She must have called around, found someone not too angry to talk to her.
“So it wasn’t that. You know about the laundries the army was running to spy on us? Recruiting locals who needed the money.”
“This is all from so long ago, Mary,” I say. “Maybe it’s best–”
My phone loses its charge again and flickers out.
The cats have made a nest from the papers. I pull one up:
We usually used their bodies as a warning. A deterrent. Put in a public place. But this, she had two kids. I don’t know how old but we didn’t want for them to see that. No one wanted that.
I shove the whole pile under the grate and light a match.
Then I’m driving towards the border, not even sure when I decided to, how long I’ve been driving. The border’s so different now. Just fly right over.
My mobile goes off. By the time I pull to the side of the road, the ringing’s done. A string of numbers grouped in that overseas way. Mary. The mobile beeps for voice mail. Her message can wait.
A few other people on the beach. Throwing sticks. Yelling. Teenagers. I’m ancient now. Walking on sand hurts my shoes. It’s too cold to be walking.
Then I slip and fall and stay sprawled on my back in the damp, brown sand. Wind rushes through the long grass at the beach’s edge. My eyes close.
I wish Mary sounded drunk. “I never asked,” her voice, recorded in my voice mail, an earlier message from the one, from the many, she left me in the car. “All these years, I kept myself from asking but I’m tired now. I’m so tired. I just want to know. Maybe you did it out of spite because Pa was always on about why you wouldn’t join the Provos and then Mam lied to protect you and you let her because you didn’t know she’d already been warned once about fraternization. Because you wouldn’t have let her go if you’d known, right? You wouldn’t have. Because otherwise, none of this makes any sense. It wasn’t as if she was doing anything other than cleaning houses and mending clothes and she would never have ever have ever –”
The message cuts her off.
I’m in my room reading.
“Mam,” I yell. “Someone’s at the door.”
The knocking continues.
“The door,” I shout again.
“Fine,” I yell when she doesn’t answer. “I’ll get it.”
This was where she was. Here. If I wait long enough, if my weight pushes me down a bit more, maybe the wind will blow enough sand over me that I’ll know what it was like. Someone might find me, like they found my mother, and this time I’ll be here. This time I’ll know who and when, and when they pull me out from the ground, I can thank them.
This time I’ll be here.