Read The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne Online

Authors: Brian Moore

Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Literary, #Women's Fiction, #Single Women, #Literary Fiction, #British & Irish, #Psychological

The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne (5 page)

BOOK: The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne
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‘Ahh, give over,’ Lenehan said. ‘Sure, that’s all you Yanks ever think of. Blowing about how big and grand everytki is in the States. What would be the point of building a b bridge over the Lagan, or the Liffey? Answer me that no, And if it’s bridges you want, we were building bridges in Ireland before America was ever thought of.’

Why isn’t he at work, instead of sticking his nose in where he’s not wanted? But he remembered that it was Saturday a Lenehan had all the time in the world on Saturdays. No good talking, he concluded sadly. He’ll just ball it up. Better speak to her later, when we’re alone. Maybe ask her out, something.

‘Good morning all,’ a soft voice said and they all looked at the door. Bernard, his dressing-gown trailing, his plum body in red silk pyjamas. Mrs Henry Rice smiled fondly at her boy.

‘Come and sit down, Bernie. Have a cup of tea.’

‘I rang my bell twice and not a sound out of that girl Bernard said. ‘i suppose she was out all night gallivantin with some soldier or other. I’m starved, lying up there, waitin for her.’

‘Maybe some bacon and egg?’ Mrs Henry Rice said coaxingly.

Miss Friel, Mr Lenehan, Miss Hearne and Mr Maddel looked up, anger plain as hunger in their faces.

‘Bernie’s very delicate,’ Mrs Rice said to no one in par ticular. ‘The doctor says he has to eat a lot to keep his strength up.’

Bernard sat down and seemed to think about food. Then gleefully watching the boarders, he gave his order. ‘Two eggs: Mama, four rashers of bacon. And Mary might fry sour bread to go with it.’

Mrs Henry Rice, submissive, jingled the little bell. Marry, came to the door and was given her orders. The boarder exchanged glances, united in their hatred. Miss Friel, with the air of a woman storming the barricades, picked up a piece of

toast, buttered it, then re-buttered it so that the wedge of butter was almost as thick as the toast itself. There, she seemed to say. If it’s a fight you want, I just dare you to say a word.

Mrs Henry Rice ignored the butter waste. Her eyes were on her darling as he sipped his tea.

‘Well now,’ Bernard said pleasantly. ‘What were we talking about when I interrupted? The wonders of America, was it?’

Mr Madden bit angrily into a hard piece of toast. Ham and eggs for him. Nothing for me, her brother.

Miss Hearne, watching him, saw that he was angry. And no wonder. Really, it was a bit thick, feeding up that fat good-for-nothing while the boarders, not to mention her own brother, went without. Still, it was better to pass these things over. Bad temper, bad blood, as Aunt D’Arcy used to say.

‘Yes, we were talking about America,’ Miss Hearne told Bernard. ‘About how wonderful it must be.’ ‘And what’s wrong with Ireland?’ Mr Lenehan wanted to


‘O, I suppose when all’s said and done, there’s no place like Ireland,’ Miss Hearne agreed. ‘I know. Most of my friends have travelled on the Continent and you should hear some of the things they say. Backward, why you wouldn’t believe how backward the Italians are, for instance.’

Mr Madden coughed. ‘Pardon me, Miss Hearne, but there’s nothing backward about the States. Why, the States is a hundred years ahead of Europe in most things. And ahead of Ireland too. Why, Ireland is backward, backward as hell.’ He stopped in confusion. ‘If you know what I mean,’ he finished lamely.

‘America sells refrigerators for culture,’ Bernard said. ‘They come to Europe when they need ideas.’

‘Culture! What do you mean, culture? Why, we’ve got the finest museums in the world, right in New York City. Grand opera at the Met, a dozen plays on Broadway, the finest movies in the world. Anything you want, New York’s got it.’ ‘Now James—’ Mrs Henry RAce said. ‘No need to shout.’ Mr Madden smiled an angry smile. ‘What have you got here in the way of entertainment?’ he asked Bernard. ‘A few


movies - British movies. And a few old ‘B’ pictures. No clubs, and a couple of plays that wouldn’t last a night anywhere else. What have you got, eh?’

‘That’s not the point,’ Bernard said. ‘I’m not talking about


‘And what are you talking about then? What do you know, a kid of your age that never was further than Dublin?’

Bernard grinned at Lenehan. ‘The atom bomb, Mr Lenehan. That’s the American contribution to Western civilisation. Am I right?’

‘Damn right,’ Lenehan said. ‘And they didn’t even discover that. Sure, it was the Europeans who worked out their sums for them. They got the theory right and then they let the Yanks build it.’

‘And who else could of built it?’ Mr Madden shouted. ‘Who else had to build it?’ Bernard said. ‘Sure, they’d never have beaten the Japs without it. And now they want to ruin Europe while they try it out on the Russians. Culture, he


‘And doesn’t somebody have to stand up to the Prussians?’ Miss Hearne said indignantly. ‘Godless atheists, that’s what they are. They’re worse than Hitler, far worse.’

‘No worse than the Protestants and Freemasons that are running this city,’ Mrs Henry Rice cried. ‘Hitler was no worse than the British.’

Mr Madden brought his fist down hard on the table, upsetting his teacup. ‘Okay! Okay! Tell me the Russkies arc nice guys. But don’t ask us to help you when the commies come running up this street, yelling, “throw out your women!”’

The very thought of it gave Miss Hearne the shudders. ‘Quite right, Mr Madden. The Pope himself has denounced them. It’s a holy crusade is needed, and America will be in the van.’

‘In what van?’ Mr Madden wanted to know. ‘America will be out front, that’s what.’ He glared at Bernard, who had started to giggle. ‘We didn’t ask to get in any of Europe’s wars, did we? We didn’t ask to come over and win them for


you. But brother, you hollered loud enough for us to come running when the chips were down.’

‘You’re in Ireland, remember that, Uncle James,’ Bernard said in his soft, compelling voice. ‘Ireland stays neutral in anybody else’s troubles. So don’t belabour me about intervention. What are you anyway, an American or an Irishman? When you came home from the States, you hadn’t a good word to say for the place. But let anyone else say a word against it and you’re up like a tiger.’

‘That’s what I’d like to know,’ Lenehan said, cocking his birdy head sideways. ‘That’s just what I’d like to know. If it was so blooming terrific in America, why did you ever come home? And why is all the Yanks flocking over here every summer and telling us how wonderful Ireland is?’

Mr Madden gasped like a big fish landed on a dock. But he said nothing. Miss Friel, who had read steadily throughout the discussion, closed her book and stood up. ‘I suppose that clock is right?’

‘Right by the wireless. I set it just when the pips struck eight,’ Mrs Henry Rice said.

‘Well, I must run then,’ Miss Friel announced to the company.

The others appeared not to notice her departure. Bernard received his ample breakfast from the maid and settled in to eat it. Mr Lenehan slurped his tea, watching Mr Madden over the rim of his cup. Mr Madden surveyed the scene, then stood up. He nodded pointedly at Miss Hearne. ‘So long now,’ he said.

‘O, are you off, then?’ She smiled up at him to show she was on his side.

‘Well, I guess I’ve got more to do than sit here listening to a couple of Irish minute men.’

Lenehan put down his teacup with a clatter. ‘Is it me you’re referring to? And what’s a minute man, if I might ask?’ ‘Bunch of guys around New York hand out leaflets. Irish-American patriots, they call themselves. Screwballs.’

Lenehan pecked his head forward like a rooster in attack. ‘What d’you mean, Irish?’ he said thickly. ‘Are you implying that…?’


Mr Madden chuckled. ‘We get all kinds of screwballs in New York. Now, take these guys, they’re just like the people in Belfast. No matter what the argument is, they always drag Ireland in. Always handing out leaflets against the British. Why, nobody in New York, or anywhere else, gives a good ghaddam-pardon me, ladies-what happens to the Six Counties.’

‘Is that a fact?’ Lenehan shouted. ‘Well, the British give a damn, for one. And…’

‘There’s the whole wide world to worry about. So why bother about Ireland?’ Mr Madden said. ‘The Irish, I’ll to you the trouble with the Irish. They’re hicks.’

‘Look who’s talking. You were a hick once yourself.’ ‘Hicks,’ Mr Madden repeated, smiling happily. ‘They think everybody is interested in their troubles. Why, nobody cares nobody. A little island you could drop inside of Texas an never see, who cares? Why, the rest of the world never heard of it.’

‘Is that a fact?’ Lenehan shouted. ‘And you call yourself a Irishman. An Orangeman, more likely. Well, I’ll have yo know, my fine Yank, that there’s more famous men eve came out of Ireland than ever came out of America. And I’ have you know that there’s plenty of better Irishmen in States than you, thanks be to God. And furthermore…’

Mr Madden’s drink-red face was beaming now. ‘Yeah?’ he said. ‘That’s what you think.’ And he turned his back on the shouting clerk. He walked slowly out of the room, dragging,. his left leg a little.

Outside in the hall he burst out laughing. I got him. The slow burn he was getting up when I told him about minute men. Both of them, never saw anything but their backyard. Miss Hearne saw my point. An educated woman

He climbed the stairs to his room. Bernard, the fat slob. couldn’t insult him. That - ah, forget it. Forget it. Don’t le him get you down.

His fedora went down over his right eye. From the wardrobe he picked his fall coat, imported mohair, light tan, the coat he bought to come home in. So’s I’d look good. And who


cares? In this town, nobody’d know the difference. He slammed the front door as he went out.

But walking into the city, his anger disappeared like bubbles from water turned off the boil. Instead, the heavy depression of idleness set in. Walking alone, he remembered New York, remembered that at ten-thirty in the morning New York would be humming with the business of making millions, making reputations, making all the buildings, all the merchandise, all the shows, all the wisecracks possible. While he walked in a dull city where men made money the way charwomen wash floors, dully, alone, at a slow methodical Rice . In Belfast Lough, the shipyards were filled with the clang and hammer of construction, but no sound was heard in the streets. At the docks, ships unloaded and loaded cargoes, but they were small ships, hidden from sight behind small sheds. In Smithfield market, vendors lounged at their stalls and buyers picked aimlessly at faded merchandise. In the city’s shops housewives counted pennies against purchase. In the city’s banks, no great IBM machines clattered. Instead, clerkly men wrote small sums in long black ledgers.

Mid-morning. James Patrick Madden walked into town, favouring his bad leg, home, back home in a land where all dreams were calculable and only the football pools offered outrageous fortune. A returned Yank who hadn’t made his pile, a forgotten face in the great field of Times Square, an Irishman, self-exiled from the damp hills and barren rocky places of his native Donegal. No lucky break, now or ever. Nothing to do.

Before the accident he had worked twenty-nine years in New York and at no time had more than three hundred dollars to his name. On the credit side, he had educated his motherless daughter, sent her to a convent, seen that she never wanted. On the credit side, America had always found him jobs: subway cleaner, ticket taker in a stadium, counter help in a cafeteria, janitor, hall porter, club bouncer, and, last and best, hotel doorman. A good job, with good tips.

There had been other comforts. Drink to warm and cheer, the odd fast buck, joyfully spent, the blowhard talk, passed


hopefully among the boys. Companionship in a land of lonely joiners. And being Irish, you could wear it like a badge in New York City. Religion, a comfort for the next world, not this. And good to know you were on the winning team.

And then there was the dream. The dream of all Donegal men when they first came across the water. The dream that some day the pile will be made, the little piece of land back home will be bought and the last years spent there in peace and comfort. A dream soon forgotten by most. Making good means buying goods. Goods attach, they master dreams and change them. The piece of land in County Donegal becomes a two-tone convertible. The little farm that Uncle Sean might let go changes to a little place in Queen’s. Making your pile means making your peace with the great new land. But the dream still has its uses. And its addicts. It serves for the others, for the men under the el on a December night, for the hundreds of thousands of Irish who never had a gimmick, a good connection, a htmdred dollar bill, or a piece of a business. For them, for Madden, the dream was there for warming over with beer or bourbon. The little place went Hollywood in the mind. The fields grew green, the cottage was always milk white, the technicoloured corn was for ever stooked, ready for harvest.

The harvest never came. But it had come for him, for James Patrick Madden, a lucky sonofabitch. It had come out of nowhere on a City bus, making a quick getaway in traffic against a changing light. It had come with sudden pain, then vomit and oblivion in a careening, screaming ambulance headed through all lights for Bellevue. It had come fast in an out-of-court settlement. Ten thousand dollars in his fist and a chance to make the hom.ecoming dream come true.

And so, James Patrick Madden, home, reached the centre of the city and stood there undecided. Behind him, Donegall Place and the formal pomposity of City Hall; before him, Royal Avenue, Fifth Avenue of the city, a jumble of large buildings, small to his eye. The centre, where he stood, Castle Junction, to him a streetcar re-routing stop, an insignificance, an insult to senses attuned to immensity.


He boarded an Antrim Road bus, escaping his disappointment, and sat up top on the double-deck, thinking of Fifth, of the parades, of the clear brilliant fall weather, the hot reek of summer, the crisp delightful nip of winter. But saw the grimy half-tones of this ugly town, saw the inevitable rain obscure the window-pane, felt the steamy sodden warmth rise from the clothes of his fellow passengers.

BOOK: The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne
12.42Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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