Paddy war stories
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From a Belfast dock to the beaches of Normandy


Paddy O'Driscoll is born on the Shankill Road, Belfast. He and his two brothers steal coal from the back of a cart.

Paddy shivers in the cold and flinches at the pop of air between his father's open palm and his mother's cheek.

On the day of Paddy's death, Betty calls their son William in Australia to tell him his father is nearing the end. William speaks to Paddy for the last time. He says he forgives him.

Paddy replies but William doesn't understand because Doctor Panwala has increased Paddy's dosage and all he hears is gibberish.

William decides his father has made his apologies, although...he'll never be sure.

Paddy and his brothers stand on the pier of a Belfast dock waving union jacks as The Hood slinks into harbour. Sailors wave caps from the ship's perimeter. Paddy feels a rise.

Standing next to him is a man with no jaw. He has deep-set eyes and makes a grotesque sound. Paddy feels the man is trying to warn him.

At four in the morning, Betty is woken by a commotion in the bathroom. Paddy is on the floor naked and all at sea.

He was trying to escape the engine room and now there is a woman standing over him with a waddle of skin flapping under her chin.

Doctor Panwala tells Betty, "Paddy has had a mini-stroke and there will likely be more."

Betty puts on a brave face. For the next five years. She will say she is managing but will occasionally wish Him dead.

On his first day at sea Paddy is reprimanded for puking in the engine room. On deck he lets the salty spray wash across his face.

He marvels at the scores of other merchant ships alongside, chopping through the Atlantic.

Paddy is pottering around in the garden. Betty thinks it's becoming too much for him. Paddy disagrees vehemently. A week later he changes his mind after catching a "Maori-boy" in the backyard.

Trev Tremaine shows them a quiet little place at the end of a cul-de-sac.

Paddy doesn't like the way Trev keeps calling him "mate" but shakes his hand after a rousing conversation about the natives and how their bread is always buttered.

Depth charges boom, the bulkheads whine. The engine room doors are locked. Des Miller goes mad on the spot. An explosion. Paddy waits for the ocean to come flooding in.

He prays for a quick death. Afterwards, he stands on deck clenching and unclenching his fists as the men from the sinking ship scream in the burning oil.

Paddy wells up when they are ordered to leave the men behind when the look-out spots a periscope in the distance, carving the ocean's surface.

Paddy is making a trip to Belfast after fifty years. He finds his older brother Albert in the Horse and Tackle hiding from his landlady.

Paddy and Albert do whisky shots and talk about the old days. It doesn't all seem that bad now. He tells Albert about the love of his life and how proud he is of William.

They are on leave in New Zealand. Paddy spots Betty from across the room. She is wearing the mahogany ball gown her mother made. His olive skin and harsh phloemic vowels excite her.

She ignores her brother's opinion about the Irish being broody and insular. On the day he is called away on special operations he asks for her hand.

Her friends think Paddy looks like Frank Sinatra so she hears herself say yes.

At the airport, Betty cries while Paddy breathes a sigh of relief. William is flying away into the world.

Paddy wonders how long it will be before William returns looking for answers about the self-loathing. That evening they drink two bottles and Paddy slaps Betty across the face.

Betty takes herself to bed.

Paddy helps the young men over the side. They struggle to climb down the rope ladder. The acrid smell of vomit wafts up. The barge labours away and dissolves into the melee.

A geyser with a red hue erupts into the sky. Bodies begin to appear in the swell. Years later William will ask about it but Paddy will say he was only doing his job.

Paddy will never admit to anyone that he had never been so afraid.

William is red-eyed and wearing a multicoloured shirt when he shows up to pick up some things.

Betty is slurring and falling about the place and tries to stop William as he leaves with a blanket and pillow. She stands on the front lawn hurling insults at William's Hillman Hunter.

Across the road Baldy and Hazel Myers roll their eyes.

At the reception Betty's older brother Harry is tight. He is having a quiet word with Paddy.

Harry sways and tells Paddy that he didn't stand for any nonsense at El Alamein and certainly won't be taking any in regards his sister.

Paddy will always loathe Harry for his big-noting and doubts he ever knew real fear. Bride and groom spy each other from opposite ends of the hall. Both decide they've made a mistake.

They run through the confetti and into the Morris Oxford. Harry is behind the wheel.

They sit in the living room and watch William play along to Roy Orbison's Pretty Woman on his new drum kit. Mr Burns from school is there.

Betty is in denial about the reason William is failing at high school while Paddy hopes Burns will see a normal boy with everything he needs.

Paddy and Betty are oblivious to the fact that everyone: neighbours, work colleagues, the entire congregation at Betty's church, all Bettys extended family, Williams friends,

Williams friend's parents and Mr Burns all know about the drinking and the wife bashing. In a few years, William will wonder where all the humans were.

Wilson J. Wilson(c)2019

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