Always Fighting Fire

Entry by: Sémaigho

16th March 2018
Always fighting Fire
He looked like a little boy holding his father's hand as he tried to keep pace. Not that I had any memories of Declan walking hand in hand with his daddy since he had scarpered when Declan reached four. He was handcuffed to the left hand of a prison warder as the black uniform steered a direct line towards the prison van.
“Declan”, came the shout of a girl’s voice from the pavement opposite. She considered it safer to keep her distance, even with Declan secured to the arm of the law. He had received a life sentence, which wouldn’t have warmed his humour.
“I wish life meant life. Every right-minded citizen will express disgust at your actions.” the judge said.
Chloe is his girlfriend, and she shouted his name again. I thought Declan blew her a kiss but then realised he was miming a request for a cigarette.
I wore my good walking shoes although I had knocked the good out of them with my six mile treks every evening for the past three weeks of the trial. One last stroll to clear my head; in that town where I no longer walked unknown since they showed me up on the television every evening during the trial.
"Showed me up," is right. I would return next day to my little village by the sea and from the kitchen window watch the same waves pounding the strand. Neighbours would express their sympathy with my situation but I know they will blame me when they chatter among themselves. Perhaps they’re right. The prison van pulled out into the traffic and I started my walk in the opposite direction. Reality of his plight would hit Declan that evening. He had the diversion of the trial for three weeks, but would now be cut off from the world for maybe fifteen years, perhaps a couple off if he behaved himself which seemed unlikely.
Hard to believe how it came to this. It only seemed yesterday he held my hand tightly as we walked to his first day in school. He was the big boy then. Christy, his father, had walked out the year before. That changed Declan, ever since he realised his father wouldn't come home anymore. It’s hard for a woman to manage a boy’s full blown tantrums on her own. Besides, I owed him because he blamed me for letting his daddy run off. I found it easier to buy peace than to demand it, so I developed my gimmicks and games to remedy his rage.
“Let Declan win and I will give you all a special treat,” I would say to the other children, out of earshot. We paid the days he lost. You would see the change coming in his face. He would throw or smash anything in his reach. The other children stayed out of his way; mainly his cousins because no other children wanted to visit.
I bought the little chair because it looked cute. I had no plan for its use. But that chair earned its way over the next couple of years. I made a little throne decorated with nice coloured cloths and cushions, and a little footstool covered in red leatherette. Cousins came over to play the day after I finished decking it out. He lost a game and erupted. I got from the kitchen to find pieces of the game scattered all over the room and a child howling with a lumpy lip. The chair came into my daft head; first thing.
“I’ve got something special for my little man,” I sang, and all the time I made foolish sounds like playing one of them shiny instruments, and Declan paused mid swing on the curtains delaying his intention to pull them down. He pulled down the curtains so often I had attached a Velcro hem at the top. He yanked down the curtains, and I put them back up again. Same way as I got unbreakable glass replacements every time he broke a window. Firefighting became my best game.
“Who’s the king of the castle?” I chanted, arriving back during the ceasefire having retrieved the chair from its hiding place.
“Who’s a dirty rascal?” sings his little cousin; and her innocent response threatened to upend the ceasefire.
“No, no, no” I panted.
Declan shook strands of his cousin’s hair from his hand, as I raced to the punch line.
“This is the special throne for the king of the castle,” I said. “Who’s the king of the castle?”

No mistake in the response when I repeated the question and the children cheered his coronation. For the next four years I worked that plan. I knew the other mammy’s meant well when they told me about their bold boy corners, but they could see for themselves the calm after every coronation ritual.
The wind blew before me and it chilled. I had walked further from the town than on the other days. With the trial over I allowed myself try to make sense of everything. I shouldn’t have let him leave school early. He stacked shelves in the supermarket in town for a while, but early morning didn’t suit him, especially after the late nights, drinking outdoors with friends.
At sixteen we had the first visit from the police, with Declan taken in drunk after breaking a window. For his seventeenth birthday he got his first court appearance.
"Interfering with the mechanism of a car" the charge sheet read. He didn’t like that.
“Makes me sound like a pervert," he said “I tried to rob it, except the fucking thing wouldn’t start.”
Next time, his friend Costello got behind the wheel and the car started. Costello got three months, which made him worse. He came home as proud as a college graduate with a first class degree. He now had a reputation to keep. That’s difficult. There’s always some knacker trying to knock the hard man of his pedestal. The local losers wanted to hang out with Costello, the hard man who had done jail. Declan’s claim to hard man status only stretched to killing the Kilcoyne girl’s rabbit and hanging it on the family clothes line. Besides, he was eleven at the time.
They hung out drinking and smoking weed in the woods overlooking the supermarket. Handy that, for drawing up drinks from the cheap off-licence. I joined the Tidy Town’s Organisation because I owed them for having to clear up the broken bottles after the drinking sessions. I helped Declan to show his best behaviour since he got a chance in court after riding with Costello in the stolen car.
“One wrong move and you’re serving a month” the judge said, and I slept easier at the thought someone might keep control over him.
Easy sleeping soon got broken when the cat incident brought a new low. I remember him restless that day, so I could imagine him pacing with a nose itching for trouble. He told me later how a black cat came down, attracted by the heat. Before anyone could stop his messing, he grabbed the cat and chucked it in the fire.
“That’s not cool, Declan” Costello said when the girls hanging out all cried and snivelled.
"You’re disgusting, Declan," Chloe said.
"Ah, Chloe, I thought you loved me."
The girls left, with Declan still trying to put a brave face on things.
“If you play around the fire, you’ll get burnt” he yelled after them. Turned out that cat belonged to a neighbour of one girl, and she had played with it as a child which wasn’t long ago. She cried and told her mammy, and they dragged the police into it. Declan got his month in jail and missed the birth of his baby girl over that cat incident. He would have got an extra month if he hadn’t promised to volunteer at the dog rescue place. The dog people didn’t want to have him, which was understandable given his history with cats and rabbits.
Costello got it right when he called the cat burning a bad call. Declan should never have proved his imbecility beyond doubt. Only for the same Costello stood by him he would have been a loner too. They had done everything together; played as toddlers, started school, smoked their first cigarette and drank their first can of cheap imported piss. That meant they understood why they did things that didn’t add up to other people.
I blame the sons of my cousin came over from England for a holiday; two lads his own age.
“You’re a chav” The English lads told him.
When they explained the working model of a chav, he bought in. Next thing himself and Costello are wearing designer label shiny tracksuits stuck into their socks, tartan baseball caps and white runners; except the labels were fake as the macho image. Declan stood outside the chipper spitting on the pavement, primed for trouble.
“What you looking at?” he said to a man, heading in for his fish and chips. The guy didn’t like disrespect and approached Declan explaining.
“Something a dog dropped, that I'm thinking of kicking outa me way”. He replied, and up so close his spittle was on Declan’s face. Declan ran home; probably needed to change his fake pants.
Ever since Costello did jail Declan got left behind. The business with the cat didn’t help.
“You can’t burn cats without consequences," Costello explained.
He was then called him Little Pussy after some character on television. He had a serious chip of the old block on his shoulder that led to disputations over small stuff. Except he usually got a beating, and that made the chip heavier to carry. That’s why he waited one evening for a lad that had shown him up. He knew the guy would walk home alone after the pub and he lay in the bushes for him, armed with a thick lump of timber that left his victim in the head repair unit of a city hospital.
After the episode with the wood he carried a knife. The incident had caused a certain disconnect between himself and the family of the lad in intensive care. He accepted nature hadn’t numbered him among her great forces, which left him entitled to reduce the odds with the help of some tools. I warned him where that knife would take him but I wasted my talk as usual.
“Don’t be talking soft,” he would say, of any advice that didn’t suit him. He said it like his departed father. Just like his father he had a jackass or two loose in the top field.
It came as no surprise when I opened the door to two plain clothes officers
"Your Declan at home," they asked.
“No, I haven’t seen him since yesterday. I suppose he’s in trouble?” I replied.
“Maybe,” said one, like he’s weighing up if I am lying.
“Do you want to come in?” I said, matter-of-factly to emphasise my truth.
“No, it’s all right for now,” the second one said.
“We’re investigating a fatal stabbing of an elderly gentleman. They found him with several knife wounds, down a back lane this morning. It looks like he was attacked as he wandered home from the pub last night. It’s early in the investigation, and we’re still waiting on the state pathologist.”

The detective played safe, but I knew it was Declan. After all it’s what he had been training for.