Welcome to Hello and Goodbye : two dark tales from two deceased narrators - bottled-lightning treats that will make you gasp, gurn, shiver and squirm. HELLO MR BONES : two damaged souls have, thanks to each other's love, turned their lives around. But as London's weather takes a turn for the worse, so do their fates, when raw evil runs riot the night of the impossible hurricane. GOODBYE MR RAT : an IRA bomber watches over his ex-lover as she takes his ashes back to his rural hometown. This girl from northern Indiana may not be ready for rural Ireland, yet the townsfolk of Iron Valley certainly have plans for her... Stark, blackly humorous and compressed to the point of detonation; McCabe writes like M. R. James took a dread wrong turning on an Irish country road.
Release date: September 4, 2013
Print pages: 288
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Hello and Goodbye
Chris Taylor had given birth to her son Faisal in the autumn of 1975, the unfortunate consequence of a brief and ill-fated liaison with a fellow student in training college.
Embittered though she had been by her abandonment – her former partner had returned to Palestine and was never seen again – Chris Taylor had rallied impressively. It was their ‘bubble of love’, she declared – her and her son against the world.
Thus affairs had proceeded – until Valentine Shannon had appeared, arriving into their private emotional fiefdom in the spring of 1987, having being appointed to the staff in Tower Hamlets – and placed in charge of Class 6M.
A development which had been the occasion of much rejoicing for the former Christian Brother Valentine Shannon – who, having immigrated from Ireland at the end of the previous summer, had all but given up hope of securing employment, regular or otherwise.
And now, even though at the age of forty-two he was still a virgin – was there anyone in London who would have credited such a thing? – he had found himself also deeply involved with a woman whom he loved.
His appreciation of his good fortune knew no bounds. Which was a fact he daily acknowledged. For, whatever his trials might have been in his former school of Glassdrummond College, they had not succeeded in breaching the walls of his faith. No, in the secret city of Valentine Shannon’s heart, his faith in the Godhead remained unassailable.
Which was why, to the bewilderment of his beloved Chris, he continued to insist that when the time came to seal their union, it would have to be within the bosom of the Catholic Church.
That was his wish, what he desired, he had informed her many times – and she respected that.
In Chris Taylor’s youth, as an ardent feminist, she would promptly have scorned such antediluvian orthodoxies – brazenly welcomed the opportunity of doing so, indeed.
But the appearance of Valentine Shannon had altered all that. As indeed had the cold procession of nights in her Cricklewood flat – where the relentless polemicism of the past now only affronted her with its unyielding certitudes, as did the memory of the routine collegiate defiance of those years, when her absurdly healthy, quite indomitable coterie of humanities students assembled on the university quad cobblestones for yet another march – against student fees or some comparable grievance. Now seeming as significant as some anonymously humdrum suburban family photograph.
She liked Valentine principally on account of his lack of deviousness. In that respect he resembled her progeny – that is to say, her partially deaf boy he had nicknamed ‘Wee Fysie’.
—You love him, don’t you? she would say to her son as she combed his hair, you love your new daddy. Because he’s so dependable – you just know he will always be there. Isn’t that right, Faisal?
And her son would agree because he didn’t know any better. Except that Valentine Shannon was anything but free of deviousness. As I, to my cost, have known for some time. Just as Christine will – and soon.
Or my name isn’t Balthazar Bowen.
In the past, in spite of his relative youth, Valentine Shannon had been considered something of a traditionalist, and was respected for it, imperiously patrolling the halls of Glassdrummond College like some latter-day ‘Mr Chips’ – a text which, coincidentally, had been set for his pupils during the current academic year. And which he missed no opportunity to deride, casting his head back haughtily as, yet again, he found himself pouring scorn upon it, mocking its sentiments – rather badly, it has to be said – in an exaggerated public school accent:
—Yes, boys, the years for Mr Chipping seemed now to pass like ‘lazy cattle’ moving across a landscape.
As he himself, like some old sea captain, who still measured time by the signals of the past, listened anew for the faint cries of alumni – Pettider, Pollett, McKenna, McCartan …
Alumni – well-respected traditionalist or not – that he himself most certainly would never be likely to encounter again. As he came to realise when news of the ‘Glassdrummond Scandal’ finally broke. That is to say, when details of ‘The Martin Boan Affair’ began to seep out. And Valentine Shannon was forced to leave his place of employment in disgrace, banned forever from Glassdrummond College.
That was some years ago now, of course. Not that it was on his mind, sifting through some more essays on the subject of that very same ‘bagatelle’, a description he insisted on applying to the Hilton novel, which he claimed to be of so little worth that, far from being ‘the classic novel of school life’, represented nothing but a waste of both his and his pupils’ valuable time. He had even, fleetingly, considered a class viewing of the 1930s Robert Donat film for the purpose of ridiculing it even further. Even going so far as to contemptuously dismiss the very notion of ‘boarding school’ as a way of life. Although one wonders why such a simple and innocuous account of a now almost vanished way of life ought to have assumed such a degree of importance in his mind. After all, if it was of so little consequence, why did it seem to irritate him so?
It was a question, however, which I knew he would never ask – and I didn’t expect him to. As he continued to lift those copybooks from a pile, one evening in October – it was actually the 16th – in Class 6M. Before becoming momentarily distracted – he could have sworn he heard a rumble, like the faintest tentative roll of far-distant thunder. He leaned forward, listening attentively – no, it had been nothing. The air outside was still and clear.
Giving himself once more to fond thoughts of Chris – who was waiting at home in Barnet along with Faisal.
Yes, this was the behaviour of the man named Valentine Shannon, as I observed him intently, listening to his intermittent sighs as he absently tugged at the sleeves of his plaid jacket. Which was of the ‘sports’ variety, complete with the obligatory pedagogical leather elbow patches.
—There’s a phone call for you, the young boy announced, poking his head around the door.
At which point the custodian of Class 6M arose from his chair and, with impressive purpose, came striding along the main corridor of John Briory School.
An innocent indeed, I mused with some considerable bitterness. Asking myself why had I not heeded my brother’s constant and insistent warnings? My beloved twin Bailey they could call remote and even cruel – but in truth my dear relative, certainly in the grander scheme of things, rarely ever got things wrong. He would stand by the window and upbraid me, remorselessly:
—You’re much too tolerant, Balthazar, can’t you see? You ought not ever to have invited that boy Shannon up here to The Manor. It will, all of it, come to a bad end yet – believe me.
Mother had lived in the house with us until long after Father’s death. We had never gotten along – it might have been better if she had hunted me from the place – for that, in her heart, is what she secretly desired.
—You’ll never be anything – nothing compared to Bailey! I used to hear her complain with bitter regularity – at least that’s what I think she was saying. It’s what I remember – over and over, flouncing in and out of rooms.
—Do you realise that? she would carp in that deadening drone of hers, routinely commending his stern moral principle and clipped, reserved bearing at the expense of my purported dissolute emotionalism. Until the day came when I could endure it no longer. I distinctly remember the episode, if you could call it that – it was as if my brain was splitting – ultimately, however, parting so cleanly it might have been a satsuma. As a cascade of tears came flowing down my cheeks.
But, whatever she may have said over the years, I bear my brother no grudge for having been her favourite.
For it could get lonely up there in The Manor, particularly being confined to one small corner of the building which, like so many of its kind in the modern age, was no longer financially viable. Only for his company I don’t know what I’d have done – my stern and remote twin brother I mean.
Not Shannon. Oh, no.
May the curse of seven kingdoms light upon him.
We had been in Rosses Point, I remember, one day – Valentine Shannon and I. I kept my yacht The Morning Star moored there six months of the year. I had just treated him to a fabulous slap-up meal, and he had practically cleared the plate, as I recall. Had quite an appetite, this young chappie from the terraces. Yes, displayed quite a voracious enthusiasm indeed, throughout what was to be our last meal together. Not that I could possibly have been aware of that. After all, he had neglected to inform me that he had more or less decided to pay a visit to the local police station. No, I hadn’t as yet been acquainted of that regrettable fact.
Now, if you don’t mind, Valentine Shannon actually found himself singing as he came along the corridor, jauntily approaching the staffroom door. Which gives some indication of how confident and self-assured he had become. Why, it was as if the college scandal had never even happened. Once upon a time, believe me, the announcement of something as innocuous as a telephone call would have been enough to pitch him into a state of the most profound distress and apprehension. Not now, evidently.
—Chris Taylor, I love you, he heard himself murmur as he pushed the door of the staffroom open.
—The forecast is good for this evening, I’m happy to say, remarked the school principal, looking up from his desk – according to the BBC, at any rate – and our old reliable weatherman, the ubiquitous Michael Fish!
—Yes indeed, Valentine replied, which is good news for me for I don’t see myself leaving here until well after six this evening.
—Not long now until half-term, Mr Shannon! laughed the principal. It doesn’t take long for the backlog to pile up!
—It certainly doesn’t, Valentine agreed, as the headmaster nodded towards the receiver on his desk.
—Thank you, he said, and reached over to pick it up.
The headmaster excused himself, exiting the room.
It was hard to believe, Valentine thought, that they had met at Camden Market, Chris and he – a place to which he had been only twice in his life. Chris had mounted a stall there, selling various trinkets and knick-knacks – leather goods, bead necklaces and assorted items of oriental jewellery. She and Faisal were well-known there – all the traders greeted them by name.
He would never in his wildest dreams have expected them to have anything in common – which, as it transpired, they didn’t. In her blouson leather jacket and heavy lace-up boots, not to mention her constant deployment of roll-up cigarettes, her attitude and lifestyle seemed light years away from his own. But they’d gone for a coffee and, surprisingly, had discovered that a kind of comfort existed between them.
—I like your accent, she had said to him, I like its sound.
That was all she had said that day. In the Golden Spoon café in Camden Town. As Faisal, quite oblivious to the racket he was making, stirred some melted ice cream in a glass, with his jet-black hair hanging down across his face. Valentine couldn’t, for the life of him, believe it was happening. Her comments regarding his voice – he had actually blushed upon hearing the words.
But already that day belonged to a somewhat remote time. Almost, in its way, as distant as those last few miserable weeks in Glassdrummond College. He was a new man now – composed, with an inner resolve. All thanks to Chris and her lovely son Faisal. He smiled and cleared his throat, drumming his fingers on the padded surface of the principal’s office desk.
As he raised the telephone receiver to his ear, he imagined it was probably Chris who was calling – most likely wondering would he be home late this evening. Because of course she knew that his half-term reviews were coming up. He smiled to himself as he thought of her sitting there at home – with Faisal beside her, legs up, lying on the rug – wholly absorbed, as usual, in his jigsaws.
—Play with me, Mr Valentine! the boy would cry.
Shannon spoke deliberately into the mouthpiece:
—Hello, is that you, Chris?
There was no reply.
—Hello? he repeated.
Still nothing – which was odd. Not that he was worried. It was just inconvenient.
As he thought of her tucked up there on the settee with her boots off, turning the pages of one of her magazines – the New Statesman, most likely. And was on the verge of smiling. But just at that moment the muscles in his neck stiffened and he became aware of a face at the window, staring directly at him. It was that of a boy – in fact he looked quite hideous, pressing his face grotesquely against the glass. He held this unmistakably repugnant pose before, quite dramatically, with a shrieking laugh – inexplicably disappearing again. A draught was blowing some papers across the desk. Valentine Shannon gripped the receiver tightly.
—Is that you, Chris? he continued – with some considerable impatience.
There was a hiss of static, then silence once more.
—Is that you, Faisal? If that’s you, Faisal—!
He was suitably agitated now, and I primed myself for a telling whisper.
—It’s not Chris, I said, it’s not her. It’s me – Mr Bones. Say hello, dear Valentine. Please will you say hello?
I was rewarded with a dumbstruck silence.
Then, just at that moment, the principal returned, brushing past with some files and other papers, before retrieving a forgotten item from his desk. As, with equal brusqueness, he disappeared once more.
—Hello? repeated Shannon, tapping the receiver.
But no sound was to come. Even the static had dissolved into silence.
In the light of what happened, at least as far as the caretaker’s wife was concerned, the fact that John Briory School had been playing an important second-round league match was not important. She had been insulted by the Class 6M teacher, she claimed.
—Took the face off me in front of everyone, she explained vehemently, just who on earth does he think he is?
Prevailed upon by the headmaster, Valentine Shannon had, with some reluctance, eventually consented to apologise.
What had happened was this: he had been in the middle of correcting some of the essays on his desk when he had found his concentration broken by what he had later described as an ‘unholy riot’ taking place outside the classroom.
—Perhaps if I’d never received that bloody telephone call, he later considered.
Then he might not have found himself, with scant appreciation of what he was doing, rushing headlong out into the playground in order to confront the boys concerned – and coming very close to actually striking one of his pupils. Demanding hoarsely:
—In the name of Christ, what do youse think you’re doing? Don’t you know I’m trying to do my half-term reviews?
Any manifestation of blasphemy was deeply frowned upon in John Briory school – and certainly from a member of staff.
A number of youthful faces regarded him perplexedly. As it dawned on the teacher what it was he had just done.
Having returned to his classroom, a flush of deep embarrassment was seen to colour his countenance. The shrill cries once more had also returned to the playing field, as if – at least that was his impression – with the intention of humiliating him. A bitter taste was forming in the schoolmaster’s mouth. As, facing him, a single blurred line seemed to compound the felony:
—Authority must depend for its legitimacy on formal rules and established laws.
All of sudden he felt quite disquieted. Before a small item on the desk caught his eye. It was approximately three inches in length – shaped like a pearl-white, narrow scallop. He was on the point of picking it up when an abrupt knock sounded on the door. Without realising it, he had already turned around:
—Yes, for heaven’s sake – what is it now? Isn’t it possible to get a minute’s fucking peace?
Before realising he was confronting Mrs Beggs, the caretaker’s wife. Who was responding to this new and quite unanticipated outburst by glaring back sullenly and resentfully towards him. Later he would come to accept that this display of tetchiness on his part had been both unnecessary and unacceptable. Which was why he went down to the kitchens in order to deliver a full apology to Mrs Beggs. But the caretaker’s wife was nowhere to be seen. And when he returned to his classroom, he was ashamed to discover that the item he’d assumed to be a bone – a bone, for heaven’s sake! What had gone and made him think that? – turned out to be nothing more unusual or remarkable than a child’s plastic hairgrip, presumably mislaid by one of his students.
The woman on the upper deck of the bus had been staring at Chris Taylor for some time but Faisal’s mother had continued to remain quite unaware of the fact. And it was only when she eventually snapped out of her reverie that she came to appreciate the source of the lady’s concern – and how unnecessarily protective she was being of her son, whose limp, fleshy hand was lying prostrate in her lap.
—That hurt me, Mummy! Faisal cried.
Without thinking, Chris had been clutching it ever so forcefully – something of which she was now deeply ashamed. Because it wasn’t the first time, as she well knew. From her bag she produced a packet of Emerald caramels – a present from Valentine, confectionery which Faisal absolutely adored.
—He’s happy now, said the woman sitting opposite, settling her own hands on her lap with relief.
Chris Taylor smiled – but still remained uncomfortable. Once upon a time, she knew, she would brazenly have confronted her fellow passenger – demanding to know what business it was of hers. But, over the years, Chris Taylor had mellowed considerably, for a variety of reasons. And now such sallies into battle were reserved solely for issues she considered to be of major importance. Gone were the late-night debates on the subjects of abortion and rape and the inhospitability of the streets for women – which had taken up so much of her time when she’d been employed in the Hackney Women’s Centre. Supplanted now by issues of a much more trenchant nature – ones which directly affected marginalised children, such as Faisal. On whose behalf she’d been labouring tirelessly – in an effort to ensure him a place in Kingsbury Senior. Because very soon the time would come when he would have to leave Coles Green Special School. She had been experiencing nothing but resistance in this regard, however. A fact which contributed considerably to this tendency towards over-protectiveness, not to mention the anxiety attacks which she had been experiencing recently. Which, being a rationalist, she found difficult to comprehend. In general, she attributed the episodes to nothing more dramatic than simple everyday overwork – it just came with the job, she persuaded herself. But sometimes these attacks could become so overwhelming as to almost debilitate her in the most alarming fashion. And which I have to confess tended to make me laugh – one time I watched her actually stumbling in the street, as though afraid that someone was pursuing her. There was another occasion when she became convinced that Faisal had sustained the most terrible accident. All of which turned out to be in her head. But had nonetheless seemed so vivid and real at the time. She had even been sure she’d heard him call her name. Then there was the so-called incident with the band-saw – when she had become obsessed by this idea that he’d had the most terrible accident at his carpentry in the sheltered workshop. In which his thumb had been severed – nothing could seem to put her mind at rest. Except that when she arrived, in quite a state, at the workshop, the first person to meet her was, in fact, her son Faisal. Standing waving in his tracksuit, with his rich black hair obscuring his face.
Before wrapping his arms around her neck, and as he did so ostentatiously displaying what might be described as nothing less than the healthiest complement of thumbs, if that’s not a little flippant and unfair. Which isn’t my intention – at least, not yet.
Simply because my plans for Chris Taylor are much more ambitious, really, than that – as they are for her partner Mr Shannon. Plans not unconnected with a report in the Evenin. . .
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