Never Say Die
Oh you, oh you at fifteen.
Your little finger held mine
but nothing else touched.
Wish I’d swept us away
from the worst thing we could be -
a nothing ever happened.
So somehow we’re fifty
other old school friends nod
and say I’m wise to have
walked away, not knowing
you never asked and if you had
I would have been foolish.
Because who you are and what
I feel for you have stayed
teenaged and unbearable.
Because, back then,
was never say die.
Friday 29 September 1978. Fermanagh/Cavan Border 03.15 hrs.
It had rained steadily for three days and it showed no sign of stopping. The walls of the hole wept and every now and then threatened to bury them alive. Both radios were dead and hypothermia was a fluttering heartbeat away. Four poly bags of shit and a gallon and a half of piss so far, and nothing.
When they were younger, both A and B had enjoyed it all. You could come from the biggest shithole and the worst family, you see. It didn't matter. It hardened you up and it channelled your aggression, they said. A and B were true brothers now in this hole, but when you hit thirty you just knew that your time was nearly up; but if you were brothers - you didn't have to talk about that at all.
Nevertheless, here they were doing what one Rupert in the other squadron had termed the 'Petite mort of bore': days and weeks of crushing introspection interspersed with moments of indiscriminate ferocity.
B slid down from the platform and shone the dull red pencil-light into the face that was wrapped in the sodden shemagh. Its pallid half moon convulsed as if there were tapeworms beneath the skin, but it was only the incessant rivulets of moisture slowly trickling through his stubble. Instantly alert, in a state of dynamic somnambulism, the sleeping man swapped places with his comrade - steadfastly ignoring the obscene hand gesture that signalled his turn on 'stag'.
He yearned to be back in the sand. There was something magical about the sloe-black nights over there. Such respite from the oven of the day. And the stars, dear Jesus, the stars! They had another week of this shit left. He didn't want to admit it, but this one had bitten hard. It was the building really. You couldn't imagine anything more fucking ridiculous, but it was true. Whatever it was about the configuration of that building, and those trees, produced a kind of utter revulsion in him that he had never experienced before. And he was a true connoisseur of revulsion. Wearily he hefted the long, and its cumbersome sight, and with absolute reluctance peered again at the target. A decrepit two-storied house with a buckled zinc roof oscillated in a circle of bile-green light: the empty windows and doorways a pirate flag amongst the sinuous foliage. Nothing moved.
Normally that would have been just tickety-boo - but not here. It was as if he was being observed rather than the other way round. Usually you'd see birds and small mammals. At night little bright orbs would dance somewhere in your narrow field of vision. Life would be present. Here, it was as if life was absent. That was the best way that he could put it. It was profoundly unnerving. Worst of all was the shadow high up on the mildewed whitewash of the gable wall. For some reason its shape reminded him of his Mother's frozen features when he had found her that day after school. It was not there during the daylight hours, but after dark it materialised unerringly and drew his focus like the stealthy approach of a spider.
Suddenly, and miraculously, the field piece crackled into life. Desperate hopes of an H-vac flooded through their chilled marrows. They had heard Belize called a green hell, but it was a paradise compared to this soaking hinterland. Slowly the static dispersed like a burst wave, and then the singing began. The troopers stared at each other in amazement, but it was unmistakeable - faint though it was. They strained to listen to the voices, a multitude it seemed; a throng. And then the screaming started. Frantically they fumbled with the controls, but to no avail. B reached for the AR15 and smashed the device to pieces with the butt. That horrific noise had been too much. They were compelled to act as if they were compromised now. It was over. Methodically, they filled both bergens with everything in the hide, and their robotic responses filled the void of the unspoken and the unsaid. Both knew the protocol now; they would head out for the rendezvous point and trigger the beacon.
'A' stood on the birch platform and used the stock of the long to lever the sod covered tarp to one side. The frigid air and lancing rain assaulted both, but it was as nothing compared to what they next encountered.
The field was littered with dead rabbits.
Dimly illuminated in the puce coronas of their light beams, hundreds lay slain in the rain. Some were arranged, quite artistically, in crude pyramids and a few twitched spasmodically at their feet. Many more hung impaled upon the branches of the trees that lined the lane. The troopers unlocked both weapons in unison as the house tore the eyes from their heads.
In the gashes of each black opening crooked light burned with a steady flame, unaffected by the pissing wet and the wind. And then the discordant little choir began again. Some things refuse to be forgotten you see, and the trouble with people is that we always forget.
All of our little victories are pyrrhic in this respect.
One could only describe the atmosphere as electric. Some unholy purpose was palpable and the cold drizzle sizzled like hot fat on a griddle. As the soldiers made a terror-stricken staccato retreat, the screaming they heard came from deep within themselves.
Why the fully laden troopers ran willingly into the dark depths of the adjacent lochan will never be known.
Their disappearances were never investigated or acknowledged.
They remained family right until the end; which was something - at least.
The house still lies in ambush in the trees, but no-one ever ventures there. The locals give it a wide berth. No-one farms the land because nothing will grow. No animals make their homes there. Only the rain dares to enter.
Some people say that these events really happened as described.
Some say that they are myths hopelessly entangled in the minds of a romantic people.
Yet others say that there is no such thing as pure evil.
I say they are the beasts of time.
I say that sometimes some things never say die - but they should.
I say these things as the lord is my witness.
And then I forget.
My little brother never cried
But the rest of us did
He was too determined
And beautifully stubborn
And gloriously unrelenting.
My brother never gave up
Even as a child he wouldn't
Cry "uncle" or surrender
His secret place in a game
My brother, the reader
Never like to say 'The End'
To a favorite book, or compelling
Story, nor see the credits
Roll on a provocative film.
My brother never uttered
"Farewell" or "bye" when
Leaving for school or camp
Or an overnight. But with a smile
Crooked and true, he'd promise "Later."
My brother never stopped
Making plans or marking
Calendars with holidays and special
Events. He woke each day steeled
With hope and will and believing.
My brother never worried
That he would be forgotten
Nor did he squander Precious
Time left worrying about wishes
He might never wish.
My brother was more
Than a man born in his time
He knew we would always
Know him and we would
Never say this is over.
My brother was brave
Seeking answers to questions
The rest of us would never ask
He knew the answer too
Which we couldn't believe.
My brother was brilliant
In all that he knew and trusted
Despite the prognoses damning
All promise and dashing
All of our hopes.
My brother was handsome
Like a movie start, stoic
Like young Brando, certain he
Would still be somebody
Even if Time would deny him.
My brother was funny
And warm with the wit
Of a writer and a man
Without a deadline, like
A soldier without a question.
My brother was certain
Self-assured he would outlive
All of us, becoming a great Uncle
With lustrous silver gray hair
And his blue eyes lovely with wrinkles.
My brother said never,
No way, not me, not in my
Lifetime. He whispered prayers
But bellowed with the spirit
Of a sports fan that never give-up.
My brother died before
He ever succumbed to death
He lived on and on, despite,
Defiantly outlasting his doctors'
Predictions and the ominous statistics.
My brother never said die
To me, or his mother, or his
Family, or students, or friends,
Or to Tuesdays, or ice cream, or
Weekends, or to summer vacations.
My brother still helps us today,
Say always to love, forgiveness,
Remembering, kindness, laughter,
Learning, living, believing, and he
Refused to say done, fine, or die to himself.