By Andy Hamilton
The boy sits at the kitchen table, huddled over a book.
I circle the room slowly, slippers klitter-klattering on the cold tile. I pass the sink, again, scrubbed clean this morning with bleach and a metal scourer. A glass of water on the next lap. Definitely on the next lap.
“Sir. What about the conflict between Collins and…”
“Stuart. For the last time, this isn’t school. You don’t have to call me Sir.”
“Sorry Sir. I mean, sorry Mr Walsh…”
“Yes. Of course. John.”
His smile is delicate. Thin, like ice forming in a birdbath.
“Well? Out with it then.”
“I was thinking about Collins and de Valera.”
“A worthy topic Stuart. One that many an Irish boy has spent useful time in contemplation.”
“The thing is... am... John, I don’t understand why they had to be enemies. In the end I mean, they wanted the same thing after all. Didn’t they?”
“Well, yes and no Stuart. If you ask me, I think it’s about desire. All men are born with it. In many ways, the fact that they wanted the same thing made their conflict inevitable.”
His eyes narrow and then turn to large kitchen window – searching the clouds for a sliver of understanding.
“I don’t get it," he says at last. "If the Irish are free, then they both get what they want. They should both be happy.”
“It’s true that they both desired freedom but, and this is the real point, they both also desired to be the man to win that freedom.”
For a moment he is silent. He exhales deeply, in acceptance rather than agreement, and returns to his book. I return to my circumnavigation.
“Besides," I say after a moment. "None of this will be on the exam. You stick to the topics I’ve set you. Okay.”
The water was a mistake. I’ve finished two full glasses and now I need to urinate. This wasn’t part of the plan. I'm a fool.
“Stuart, you’ll have to excuse me. I must…”
“Look at this Sir. I’ve finished the US history essay. In just… in just 38 minutes!” His face lights up.
“Good man Stuart. Good man. Let’s see it.”
I walk to his chair and place my hand softly on his shoulder.
“Read it Sir. Tell me what you think.”
I lean over him until my chest is resting on the back of his head. He smells of adolescence – rich, intoxicating, fermented. His breathing is quick, I feel his body bobbing against mine.
“What do you think Sir? Will this get me the B? Will it Sir?”
He is vital, exhilarating. A quiver of excitement forms in the tips of my fingers, electricity coursing through my whole body, a wet warmth is running down my leg.
“Stuart! It’s time to go. Now. You must leave.”
“But Sir, can’t you just read the essay first – I think it’s good.”
His words are intoxicating, alluring. I grasp the table.
“No Stuart. It’s not good. It’s not good and it’s time for you to go. Go!”
Breathing. Footsteps on wood. A door slams.
The kitchen is silent.