Sunrise with Sea Monster

BOOK: Sunrise with Sea Monster
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SUNRISE WITH SEA MONSTER

BY THE SAME AUTHOR

Night in Tunisia

The Past

The Dream of a Beast

The Crying Game
(screenplay)

Shade

SUNRISE WITH

SEA MONSTER

A NOVEL

NEIL JORDAN

Copyright © 1994 by Neil Jordan

The lines quoted are by Emily Dickinson, Poem 712.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission from
the publisher except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information address Bloomsbury
Publishing, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010.

Published by Bloomsbury Publishing, New York and London

Distributed to the trade by Holtzbrinck Publishers

First published in the United Kingdom in 1994 by Chatto & Windus Limited First published in the United States in 1995 by Random
House as
Nightlines
This Bloomsbury paperback edition published 2004

All papers used by Bloomsbury Publishing are natural, recyclable products made from wood grown in well-managed forests. The
manufacturing processes conform to the environmental regulations of the country of origin.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Jordan, Neil, 1951-

Sunrise with sea monster : a novel / Neil Jordan.

p. cm.

eISBN: 978-1-59691-821-4

1. Spain—History—Civil War, 1936-1939—Prisoners and prisons—Fiction. 2. Triangles (Interpersonal relations)—Fiction. 3. Fathers
and Sons—Fiction. 4. Prisoners of war—Fiction. 5. Irish—Spain—Fiction. 6. Aging parents—Fiction. 7. Stepmothers—Fiction. 8.
Ireland—Fiction. I. Title.

PR6060.O6255S86 2004

823'.914—dc22

2004047659

1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2

Typeset by Hewer Text Ltd, Edinburgh

Printed in the United States of America

by Quebecor World Fairfield

For Brenda

NOTE ON HISTORICAL

BACKGROUND

I
RELAND WAS NEUTRAL during the Second World War, a policy that led to much that was sinister, much that was ridiculous. The
country had achieved independence from Britain, but at a cost. The War of Independence (1918—21) had led to a treaty with
Britain that was rejected by the more radical factions within the Irish Republican Army. These divisions led to a civil war,
where those for and against the treaty fought with a savagery that surpassed that of the War of Independence itself. Eamon
De Valera led the anti-treaty faction, Liam Cosgrave the pro-treaty government. Normal politics resumed when the Civil War
exhausted itself, and in 1932 Eamon De Valera won a majority and was elected Taoiseach (prime minister). He was to dominate
the politics of Ireland for the next forty years. His former comrades in the IRA who disagreed with any accommodation with
the treaty were then outlawed and suppressed. As the Second World War drew closer, the IRA itself split into factions that
mirrored the divisions in Europe. One faction supported the fight against fascism, particularly in Spain. The other regarded
England's enemy as its natural ally and was thus drawn into support for Nazi Germany.

De Valera pursued his policy of neutrality during the Second World War with extraordinary rigor, ruthlessly proscribing the
splintered remnants of the IRA, censoring the press, and effectively sealing off the Irish Republic from any contact with
events in Europe.

For further information, see the Glossary.

I

T
HEY FILE OUT with the first light and let us stand there for an hour or two. The light will change, we know, from dim silver
to a blinding white during our stasis and, for the few minutes of what they properly call dawn, the giant hoarding of the
Virgin will have a sky of ribboned magenta behind it. Almost a halo, of the quite conventional kind, which adorns as an afterthought
the hoarding of the Spaniard to her left and the Italian to her right. Though their shared glory will take some time to arrive.
Both Mussolini and Franco flap against their wooden supports in the wind the heatening sun drives before it, wearing similar
hats, painted with the same monumental rigidity, flicking with each thwack, as if mildly epileptic. She smiles in between,
moved only by the same occasional twitch, a sad smile on her face, a rigid smile, a monumental one but not too different really
from the smiles on the statues back home.

Behind her, on the wooden box-towers, the Moroccans stand, half-sleeping in their uniforms, one of them banging the nails
of the boards that hold him with his rifle-butt. He doesn't care for the light changing behind him, maybe because he has to
stand all day. I can imagine anything behind those monastery walls, but nothing that would generate a flicker of interest
from his eyes. We care, since we know that the nauseous riot of colour behind her is only there to signal the procession out
of the barred doors, the priest coming last behind his peasant altar-boys, their vestments grubby and white, barely concealing
their khaki uniforms.

The Spaniards to one side, feet swollen under knots of rags, resigned already to what they know will face them. The dark stains
on the monastery wall, twenty yards from the Virgin's left hand, catch the eye only in so far as every eye tries to avoid
them. The Jewish kid from Turin, his large eyes forever regretting whatever immoderation drove him here. And the rest of us
stand bound by a common tough thread. Not being our fight, it could well not be our execution, a thought that plays with a
sly unwitting smile behind each face, the way a child who hears of death for the first time can but laugh, then suppresses
it with the most appropriate demeanour. So we stand there, tough, resilient and apparently bored.

I remember my father, and what got me here. We would lay nightlines, in our rare moments of tranquillity, on the beach below
the terrace where our house was. Thin strings of gut between two metal rods strung intermittently with hooks, much like the
barbed wire that joins the box-towers, on one of which the Moroccan still bangs with his rifle-butt. We would jam them in
the hard sand at low tide; evening was always best, when all the water had retreated and the low light hit the ridges of the
scalloped sand. A mackerel sky behind us, more tranquil than the one now forming behind the Virgin's head. The lines pulled
taut, each hook neatly tied, his trousers rolled around his calfs, bare feet against the ridged sand. A shovel, and a rapid
succession of holes dug, around each ragworm cast. There were rags and lugs, I remember, the one all arms like a centipede,
the other like a bulbous eel, both adequate for the task in hand. Which was to walk back to where the lines were strung, shoes
in one hand, squirming mass of worms in the other, feet splaying sideways over the ridges of sand and skewer a worm on to
each waiting hook. By which time the sun was almost gone and the rags and lugs would swing gently squirming, dark against
the dying light. We would turn without a word after watching for a while as if words would have fractured the moment's—peace,
I would have said, but that would have implied a continuity of such moments between us, which there wasn't. Respite would
be truer, respite from the many gradations of awkward speech, and more awkward silences. Whatever the word, we both knew this
moment and would let nothing broach it, would walk back along the ribbed sand, my feet splayed to save them discomfort, his
firm, set flat across the scallops, bigger, harder, infinitely older. Shoes in one hand, shovel in the other.

The next morning there would be the catch of course, when the tide went out. A couple of plaice, a salmon bass, a dogfish,
swinging between the lines which would be bent with the weight, silver against the silver tide. We would walk out and could
talk now; I being the kid would run towards them, he being the father would identify each in that didactic way of his. I'd
walk towards him, my arms full of poles, wet fish and catgut. The reaping was never as rich as the sowing, somehow. I knew
that then and would connect that paradox with speech. The words, the sunlight, maybe the fact that the tide had come in. In
the house behind us she would already be being lifted from her bed for Sunday dinner. I'd deliver the fish to Maisie, who
lifted her, as she prepared the roast, and know they would be served and stay uneaten, at tea.

My memory of her is more uncertain, probably because she died before it could harden. The large bed which must have been theirs
before she fell ill, the rolls of toilet paper on the table to her left which her hand would make a handkerchief of when she
coughed and the mounds of discarded paper on the floor, which Maisie would clear up, periodically. I assume now we were only
let see her on her best days, which must have been infrequent. The bottles of perfume and quinine on the table, the smell
of that perfume, which reminded me of churches, and a harsher odour, something medicinal. There were pictures ranged about
the walls, of her with him, her with her numerous brothers, all with belts low and pot-bellies hanging over, hats at rakish
angles, cigarettes hanging from lips and fingers.

She would smile weakly when I came in and I would resist the urge to snuggle up beside her, stand by the bedstead playing
with the pearls she had draped round the metal, until her hand stretched over the pillow to grasp mine. Be a brave boy, Dony,
she'd say and draw me slowly down to the bed, where some infant urge would take me over and I'd reach across the mounds of
the quilt to clutch her shoulder and lie there, listening to both of us breathing. I would look from her face to the picture
of her in her wedding dress, smiling, holding a bouquet, veil slightly askew, then to the one of him in his IRA uniform. I
would ask her to tell me again the story of when the Tans came to catch him in the house near Mornington and she hid him among
the potato drills and beat them out of the house with a broomstick.

He was from the country, she was from the city, and the difference for some reason seemed to me significant, though I didn't
understand why. Her brothers would fill the house at weekends, ruffle my hair and press pennies in my hand and they spoke
with a wit and a freedom that seemed to have passed him by. He would spend hours with her in the room, the door closed to
any intrusion, nothing to indicate life inside but the low murmuring of their voices together. I would sit outside there,
pulling wool from the carpet and rolling it into balls, like some guardian of their privacy. Or I would take the opportunity
to wander through his office where the makeshift bed was that he slept in, the mass of papers on the green felt table by the
window, the inkpot and the fountain pen, the sheafs of government notepaper and in the drawer beneath it, when I found the
courage to open it, the gun in its leather shoulder-belt. It was significant in their union, I understood dimly, redolent
of a time and a series of events that united them, despite her illness, despite his accent and the fact that he slept in the
camp-bed by the corner. I would run my finger over its greasy surface and want to be beside her again, hearing her tell me
of the Black and Tans, the potato drills and the broomstick.

I was clearing nightlines with him when the end came. Both of us barefoot again as we jerked the fishes' gullets from the
hooks, whacked their heads on the hard sand, the white gills gasping and the cold blood streaming my fingers when I looked
up and saw Maisie on the promenade rubbing her hands in her smock with a distracted air and the doctor with the small black
bag, running. Wait here, my father said and he began to run too and I heard a strange cry from him as he ran, like an intake
of breath or the squawk of a herring-gull as he left me with the handfuls of half-dead fish. I knew the immensity of it because
he had left his shoes beside mine; it was most unlike that monument I thought my father was, scrambling over the layer of
pebbles between the sand and the promenade wall. The tide was way out, so far out it seemed impossible that the thin white
line by the horizon could have represented water. And it would be a dream I would have, many times later, the two of us walking
towards the lines we had placed the night before. The nightlines in the dream would be so far out it seemed impossible we
could have placed them but there, after all, they were, miles beyond the promenade wall, where the sand was sculpted in huge
soft curves and the fish our hooks had gleaned were not the comforting plaice and sole we were used to, but odd misshapen
creatures, pallid, translucent because of the depths they inhabited, huge whiskers and eyes, mouths shaped like tulips. We
would approach these fish with circumspection, so unexpected were they, but they were fish after all, could be torn from the
hooks and bleed like any others. And halfway through the work I would hear the roar, I would turn and see the white line of
the sea had become a wall, bearing down on us and we would run from this tidal wave dragging fish, irons and catgut towards
the distant haven of the promenade where the maid rubbed her hands on her smock with a distracted air and the doctor ran with
unseemly haste towards the house.

But then I stood there with the fish; I knew I should follow but couldn't. I turned and walked towards the sea away from the
house where what I didn't want to know was happening. They found me four hours later, by the rocky inlet round the Head. The
tide had come in and my feet were bleeding from the stones. The black car pulled up by the road on the headland and Maisie
walked from it. She clambered down the rocks towards me and said, you come home now. She's dead, isn't she, I said and Maisie
repeated, you come home now. So I went home.

So the light is up and the Moroccan is still banging his wooden support. It won't be long now till the priest walks out, stiff
as he was last Sunday, alb and cincture blowing in the same wind. Here it's easy to imagine that nothing changes. The pattern
of blood on what was once a monastery wall grows; each day another is shot and somehow nothing changes.

Death, I was to find, brought its privileges. As Maisie patched my knees and cleaned my feet she gave me goldgrain biscuits
to quieten me. I sat by the warmth of the range and heard my voice coming out, piping, almost cheerful. She's dead, isn't
she? Hush you, said Maisie, and gave me a biscuit. Tears came to my eyes and she gave me one more. And later, when I was brought
upstairs, the hush that fell on that sherry-filled room told me of a new dignity I had been blessed with. The priest and all
the uncles rose at once. I walked past the skirts of aunts with the gravitas of an actor who knew his hour was come. I wept
when the priest touched my hair, wept more when the priest stroked my cheek and the tears were real, even though they arrived
on cue. The arms of the grandfather clock held some strange fascination so I stared at them rather than at the faces around
me. They leapt forwards and the chimes sounded. Father entered and stood with his face by the window. I felt that we were
vying for this moment and that somehow I was winning hands down. Hand after hand touched my cheek, pennies were pressed into
my palm and all I had to do was stand and weep. And my father stood, stared out the window. His retiring soul kept the grief
intact and his reserve seemed shameful. He would suffer with it for years, both the shame and the grief, whereas I being young
had only the grief and an adequate stage upon which to display it.

Mouse came down later that evening. Mouse, who lived in the cottage up in Bloodybank, who was brought up by the aunt with
the dyed blonde hair and the bedroom slippers for shoes. He had been sent to get a bottle of milk by his brother and had taken
the longest of detours to get me to come out. I could see from his expectant face under the black hair that he hadn't heard
the news. Come on, he said, down the promenade to the amusements and to the corner shop and back. I can't, I said, my eyes
still wet. You leave him be now, Maisie said, coming from the dark of the kitchen with a tray of fruitcake.
Pourquoi,
said Mouse, who liked big words. Maisie pulled me back and slammed the door and I tried to imagine the sangfroid with which
he would accept the rebuff. Turning, shrugging, or walking backwards from the door, jingling the coins in his pocket. She
drew me upstairs, the tray in one hand, my collar in the other, and introduced me to a room full of a different set of mourners.

They drifted through for what seemed like days. The bell would ring and Maisie would run down and those I had known in other
guises would enter, their faces now set in masks of condolence. Maisie kept an endless supply of fruitcake sashaying up the
stairs, of cups of tea, glasses of sherry, goldgrain biscuits. After a while I must have fallen asleep for I remember being
carried upstairs, the wool of his suit brushing off my cheek, an intimacy to which I was quite unaccustomed. He laid me down
in the darkened room and said, don't you worry about anything. I could see him standing above me and his cheeks were wet now,
as if here he could allow himself tears. My voice came out calm and this surprised me, but now that we were alone, it was
as if my show of grief could be let vanish. I won't, I said. We'll make do, he said, won't we? And there was that hint of
uncertainty in his voice, as if maybe we wouldn't. We will, I said and felt resentful at being the one who must provide the
reassurance. What's my name? he asked me. It struck me as an odd question so I didn't answer for a bit and when he repeated
it I said, you're my father. No, he said, what's my real name? Sam, I said. Your name's Sam. That's right, he said, and he
wiped his cheek and left.

BOOK: Sunrise with Sea Monster
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