An Early Childhood by Paddy Flanagan (Ch 8 Part 1)

Continued from Chapter 7.


                My brother Larry was touched in the head, he was “little, mad little, crazy,” as he used to say while he rocked himself gently back and forth, sitting on his roof tile with his rotten sack of spuds under it, moving the sledgehammer in his hand slowly from side to side, occasionally swinging it suddenly into his feet with a fierce crack to open his skull slightly in an attempted self-trepanation in order to release his inner demons. The hand of his other arm would remain in his mouth constantly, and occasionally Larry would look around the room and shout out prophetically, “Paddy Flanagan write a book!” Then he would look around the room and noticing an absence of mystoperia in the house, he would shout out, “Where’s Larry?”

                “Larry’s right here, macushla,” Mother would respond, pointing at the fellow who’d asked the question, adding some biographical information to impart a little personal identity into his deformed noggin. “He was shot dead a few years back by Mad Leopold Cassidy That Jewish Bastard. He was only shot in the teeth, though.” And she would point at Larry’s teeth, sprouting out of his deformed legs, to make him feel better. But the fact is, Larry was as good as dead in Mother’s eyes, her comforting tone being a pretence, what with the way he’d ostracised the family from his life when he got the bit of success in his life, and Father sending him to the Tuberculosis Colony to start off with. But right now, with what could be regarded as a cartoonish inconsistency, he happened to be at home enjoying the company of the family.
                The beginnings of Larry’s hostility towards the rest of the family had its origins in the beginnings of what could be described – for want of a better phrase – in a kind of a hostility, towards the rest of the family.
                Larry had been sitting cross-teethed, on the floor. Having been ignored and chastised by all of his brothers and sisters – and of course, Mother and Father – in the first two years of his life – he had found a place for himself in the corner, using the potato sack as a bean bag. Mother was going down to the shops one morning on her broken roller blades, and she had decided to bring Larry with her.
                “Are we going down to the shops?”
                Larry shook his head, not wanting to go to the shops, where he knew he would be left outside in the wheelbarrow, and made a mockery of by the local Indian children.
                Incapable of speech, Larry grunted a No that sounded more like a “Numph”.
                “Awww, does the little baba not want to go down to the shops?” Mother taunted. “Are you not a big boy?”
                Larry frowned, a little confused, and nodded.
                “Alright, love. Get dressed then and we’ll set off!” Mother said.
                Larry couldn’t dress himself – not only was he just two years of age, but he was also crippled with Mystoperia – a condition wherein he had teeth for legs and legs for teeth. Mother put her hands on her hips and waited while Larry sat, doing nothing.
                “I thought a big boy like you would be able to dress himself! Does the big boy not know how to dress himself?” Mother protested, mockingly.
                Larry’s head dropped onto his chest, and he let a wail out of him, not unlike a whale, and he scuttered across the carpet and grabbed a piece of slate and a piece of chalk from the hands of Mary-Wallace his sister and – using his teeth and with something of an assiduous strain, he scrawled across the piece of drawing slate.
                When he was finished, with a supreme effort he dropped the slate from his teeth onto the floor before Mother’s eyes, tapping his writing with his tooth to show her what he’d done – her face already glistening with tears at this attempt at communication. All the children gathered around too, and Father appeared over the heads of them all, to see the words that Larry had penned on the small blackboard:
                “Stop undermining me by subverting convention.”
                Larry developed a love of the fair as a “Chung Fella”, when he was temporarily adopted by the local Asian community. There was a kind of a Vietnamese sangwedge he enjoyed during his stay – called the Banh Mi – and when he returned home from his three week fostering by the motherly medical herbalist who had tried to cure him – Dong Xia Wishyu Gufweng Wasat Lyk Mi – he came down with a case of yellow fever, wherein he pined for the medical herbalist and he kept on asking for the delicious sangwedge. Not knowing what a Banh Mi was exactly, it led to his exclusion from a lot of family activities.
                The one game he used to play chronically with an inveterate passion at the fair was Moles in the Holes, wherein the pretend moles were in their holes and each time one of them popped up, they had to be dispatched with a clinical blow to the head from a plastic bat. Larry relished that game. The whole family would go to the fair, which arrived in the parish once a month, and we would all watch Larry, eyes shining, feet beaming with delight, as he struck each ascending mole with the bat clutched in his teeth where his feet should’ve been, and he would roar with laughter as the mole’s head disappeared back into its hole.
                A new medical practice had come into being known as dolphin therapy, and it was decided by Father, on one of his holidays back from England, that Larry could do with the therapy. A pod of killer whales had been living in the harbour so we decided to go down to the strand. A few months before, the killer whales had beached themselves and the villagers had come down and helped them back into the sea, so as a result they were gregarious and sociable creatures. Off we went, the entire family, down to the strand, and we stripped Larry down to his teeth and threw him into the sea. Larry, who had never swum before in his life, had a spot of bother carrying his roof tile, his sack of rotten potatoes and his sledgehammer through the water, but he managed all the same, and he swam out to the pod of whales almost on the horizon so far away were they, and I watched through a pair of home-made binoculars made out of tubes of kitchen roll stolen from the Protestants and the bottoms of pint glasses and half-pint glasses stolen from the Pioneer Association, as he approached them in the water. One of the whales surfaced to greet Larry, and Larry drew back his sledgehammer and gave the whale a good whack on the head.
                I could tell from the sledgehammer’s recoil off the whale’s head that it was a powerful blow the sea mammal was after receiving, and the whale disappeared below the surface again. A second whale broke the water to introduce itself, and the delighted Larry gave this creature a good smack in the head with his hammer. As he continued hitting them on the head one at a time with the sledgehammer, the first whale surfaced again, this time below Larry, and bounced him into the air. Up Larry flailed, teeth akimbo, sack of spuds and the roof tile gone flying, still clutching onto the sledgehammer for protection on his return to the water. Larry never reached the water. I watched as the second whale shot out of the water to hit Larry again. This time Larry went higher than his first ascension, and he was met on his downfall by a third whale who slapped him upwards again with its tail fin. At one point, a great white was near the whales, but somehow Larry managed to jump the shark, and the whales scared the great white away. A dozen other whales soon joined in the game of volleys, and I watched in horror as they disappeared over the horizon, the flailing and ecstatically thrilled Larry being the last thing I ever saw of either the whales or Larry. We had a great day on the beach all the same, and Larry came back again later on, of course, cartoonishly inconsistent as he was.
To be continued in Chapter Eight Part 2.