Young Connor Bryan sat poised on the edge of his bed. His Dad’s wire snips in his right hand, the miniature Child of Prague in his left.
He could hear his mother preparing dinner and the high pitched noise of girl talk from his sisters in the kitchen below him.
It was Wednesday and the usual smell of pork chops on the frying pan was making its way up stairs and through the gap in his bedroom door.
Beautiful, if it wasn’t for those damn turnips he thought. He liked pork chops and floury spuds but despised their common accompaniment of boiled turnips.
“The head is just going to ping right off this thing” he said to himself in a low voice.
The figure was about three inches tall, made of soft metal and was painted gold. It sat on his window sill for years although he didn’t know exactly where it came from.
He guessed that his Mam put it there to protect him from all kinds of potential evil. The Big G was a bit of a big deal in his house.
Of course the idea of good vs evil was a load of oul bollocks to Connor. All this religion stuff just felt way off the mark for him – too many rules.
Every Sunday his Mam would send him to mass at Ballygall Church, but Connor would find a way to avoid it. Most of the time he’d just keep walking past the church door and on to the park down the road.
He’d make sure that he had his 10 pack of Carroll’s No.1’s, a few matches, a bit of brown and the all important packet of Wrigley’s Extra Mint for the way home.
His Smoke of Choice
Carroll’s No.1’s were his smoke of choice because that’s what his Dad smoked. It meant that he could cover his tracks and have a reasonable excuse available if he was caught.
He had his explanations well rehearsed. “What these? Sure these are your’s Dad, what would I be doing with 10 smokes? You left them in the toilet – Here you go. You should really give them up, it’s a disgusting habit”
Likewise if he was quizzed by his Mam. “Mam, sure these are Dad’s. Do you really think I’d be smoking? It’s a disgusting habit! I found them on the ground in the garage. Here, give them back to him will ye.”
He’d take his sweet time walking around the park having a few smokes and thinking about all kinds of shit.
Like why the street lights had that halo around them that nobody he knew could explain. Or what that gear was that oozed out of pork chops when they were being cooked. Or how he and everyone else got here.
Connor’s timing was spot on.
He’d leave the park for home, up the road and past the church just at the moment the doors opened.
“Look at that, perfect,” he’d say.
As he watched the people flood out the door after their weekly dose of cleansing he’d wonder; why do people do this? Who was this God they were praying to and why were they so afraid of him? If it was a him at all.
He couldn’t understand what the oldies meant by “God fearing”. He thought God was supposed to be all loving and all forgiving. What would anyone want to fear from a loving God? It just didn’t make sense.
This Isn’t God
Connor was curious, inquizitive, always asking questions. Most of the time the answers he got from adults just didn’t cut it.
“I have a remarkable highly tuned bullshit radar” he’d exclaim. “you’ll need to do better than that.” This was his usual response to less than satisfactory adult answers to his questions.
Right now he wanted to see and feel the ping of the snips as it cut through the soft metal of the statue.
In his head he heard his religion teacher quote Exodus 20:3 from the Bible the week before;
“I am the LORD your God, who has brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before me”
“You shall have no other gods before me…Well, that’s me covered right there” he whispered to himself.
“Sure this isn’t God it’s just a statue. And if it were God what kind of power would he have?
“This thing was made by some bloke in a factory somewhere – it means nothing. A statue didn’t create me, or the trees or my Mam or Dad, or the sky or the Universe.”
“These Catholic holy Joes are missing something really big here and they don’t even realise it. The head is coming off this thing and that’s all there is to it”
The job was done.
“Bollocks” he said out loud as he wondered where he would stash the dead body. “I’m fucked if my Mam finds this thing. Right, now where did that head go?”
He looked everywhere for that damn head but couldn’t find it. He knew from working with his Dad, pinging the head off brass screws when he was bored that they shot off at high speed.
Jesus Christ that head could be anywhere he thought. I need to find that head!
Then the voice said “You think Jesus Christ is going to help you now, are you for real? You just murdered The Child of Prague for crying out loud!”
An Appetite For Destruction
“Connor! Dinner is on the table” His mother shouted from the kitchen.
“Right, I don’t want to raise any suspicion here. I’ll find it later” he said.
“I’ll be there now!” he shouted back.
Down he went for his dinner. His Dad was still at work as usual so it was him, his Mam and his 4 sisters around the table.
“What were you doing up there, is your homework done yet?” his mother asked.
“Nothing. Just listening to music” he said. “I’ve just some spellings left that’s all”
“Right, no more music until you finish your homework ok. I don’t like you listening to that heavy metal music anyway. If I had my way it wouldn’t get near this house”
A couple months earlier Connor was away with the scouts in London and got his hands on Appetite For Destruction. He was really getting into tunes and Guns N’ Roses were hitting all the right chords for him.
It was the original album cover featuring the infamous rape scene. If the music wasn’t bad enough the album artwork really didn’t sit well with his Mam.
She was only looking for an excuse to get rid of it and he knew it. One false move and his cherished GN’R album was dust.
He knew his Mam could be harsh, that was part of being the only boy in this house full of girls – quite the opposite to what most people believed.
And even though less than fair was a regular thing for him, even he didn’t see what was coming.
Page 3 Girls
Time for a shit, Connor thought.
He used to look forward to taking a shit because the jacks was the only place he could get away from the less than reasonable female forces at no. 25.
Not to mention the anticipation of the latest page 3 girl in The Sun newspaper that his Dad would leave folded behind the radiator.
It was almost like his Dad gave him unspoken permission. Like a silent Dad/son agreement. Every time without fail there it was, folded in two, dried out from the heat.
Linda Lusardi, Kathy Lloyd, Jo Guest… They were the best. Maria Whittaker and Sam Fox were very popular but they did nothing for Connor.
They were way too brassy, their tits were too big and they lacked something he just couldn’t put his finger on.
So there he was admiring the latest Page 3 display from Kathy Lloyd when his concentration was abruptly interrupted.
BANG! BANG! “Get out of that toilet now!” his Mam screamed.
“Oh shit, what’s this all about?” he said.
He thought the toilet door was going to come in on top of him.
“Get out of that toilet now before I smash that door down”, she screamed again.
Fucking hell this is serious he thought. Connor scrambled to wipe his arse, pull up his jeans and put The Sun away as quickly as possible before he was caught in an extremely compromising position.
Quickly but very nervously he pulled the brass bathroom latch open. Before he had a chance to open the door his Mam forced her way in almost knocking him over.
“What did you think you were doing? Is this some kind of Devil worship!”, his Mam said as she held her hand out with the murdered Child of Prague and a manic fire in her eyes.
Paying The Price
He felt the blood drain from his face. Jesus, the Child of Prague, I forgot to stash it last night. How could I have been so careless he thought. Now the shit is going to hit the fan big time.
The voice in his head said “You’re going to get it now young man. You don’t get away with sacrilege that easy. God is always watching you and now you’ll pay the price”.
His Mam turned for his room and reappeared in seconds, Appetite in her hands.
“This is the end of it now. No son of mine will take part in devil worship as long as I have breath in my body”, she screamed.
With the vinyl still in its sleeve she took it with both hands and smashed it over her knee. Grabbing it again she tore the album from top to bottom right in front of Connor’s face, bits of vinyl spitting out all over the landing carpet.
In a final act of brutality she flung the broken and torn masterpiece to the floor.
“Now get to your room and pray to God for his forgiveness you disrespectful little bastard!”, she said as she swung her left hand with unmerciful force to the back of his head as he passed.
Connor was devastated. His eyes began to well up and although he didn’t cry, he felt like his heart would break.
She’d gone further this time than he ever thought she would. Broken, he sat with his head low, lamenting the destruction of appetite and his extremely poor effort at covering his tracks. He sighed a deep sigh as a single tear trickled down his cheek.
“Fuck it anyway” he said.
“The Page 3 Girl & The Child of Prague” is the first in the “People From The City” series of short stories detailing the everyday challenges of people from Dublin City.
A Bit of Background
Catholic icons held a lot of meaning for Irish people back in the day (and still do for many) but I never really got it.
Statues of Mary The Mother of God in the middle of the road…
The photo of the bleeding heart of Jesus…
The Child of Prague above the front door…
This Jesus Christ bloke nailed to the cross…
All that religious iconography just never really clicked, I thought it was a little bit crazy and a bit scary too.
On the wall behind my grandmother’s bed in a that tiny 2 bedroom council house in Cabra there hung a giant picture of the last supper…
It was very intimidating and I suppose that’s how it was meant to be. I didn’t dare step into that dark musty smelling room alone.
My father’s mother worshiped an autocratic God, one that you dare not cross, but kids like Connor weren’t willing to accept that like previous generations.
Ireland in the 80’s was a car crash state, with the economy in the toilet, unemployment as high as 17% and the church ruling the roost.
Back then church and state simply told people what to do and how to do it. Cap-in-hand was the order of the day for millions.
For people to achieve success they had to leave, and they did. Hundreds of thousands left the country for the States or the UK in the pursuit of work and a better life.
For everyone else the only other option available was to throw themselves on their knees and say a decade of the rosary. Thankfully, kids like Connor had a different idea.
We Lost Our Sense of Power
Ireland was in a post British rule hangover state and was lacking leadership. Religion filled the vacuum and for a long time had little opposition to their authority.
They ran the schools, they dictated to politics, they influenced the legal system, they managed the hospitals and care systems, they had a hand in everything related to Irish life.
We gave up our freedom to the Brits and when they left we gave it to the church. Lost were the days and the powerful minds of the great clans of Ireland.
But things were changing.
Conor’s opposition to church authority was symptomatic of a broadening idea of self that Irish people were developing. Thank “God” for that!
In recent times we have begun to grow up just a tad. The marriage equality referendum result has been the strongest indication yet of this.
Kids like Connor are the one’s shaping and changing Irish society for the better now.
Church has little power in the affairs of the state and people are beginning to realise themselves as independent and interdependent.
Thankfully we are a people moving away from the need to be led by others. We still have a long way to go, that’s for sure. But we are moving in the right direction