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'A Noise Like Gristle When You Cut It'

November 24, 1996| From "The Last of Deeds" in "The Last of Deeds & Love in History" by Eoin McNamee

Six months before that there had been a bomb at the telephone exchange and the explosion made every phone in the town ring madly at three in the morning like a pond full of black frogs.

But there hadn't been any bombs for a long time. The only things left were empty spaces and those cold ovens inside the grey Land Rovers. I put my head down and pulled my collar more tightly around my neck, with the sleet going past my skin, the touch of cold and tactile angels, winged bodies with women's legs, the feathered, dexterous touch you imagine.

The car came towards me without dipping its headlights and I looked at the pavement because the light was burning my eyes. The car went past and I looked up again. Then I heard the wet slither of tyres as it did a tight, fast turn in the road behind. I started to run, but it mounted the pavement just in front of me so that I ran into it and fell across the bonnet. My knees were numb from the impact against the front wing of the car and I felt sick. I heard a hubcap fall off one of the wheels after it struck the kerb. The hubcap rolled across the road. It seemed to take a long time. From where I was lying across the bonnet I could see the headlights pointing against the wall of a shop beside the bus depot. There was only about a foot between the lights and the wall, so that you could see every detail in the texture of the plasterwork, puckers and stretches like marks on skin, crossed by white flecks of rain and sleet. I could feel the heat of the engine through the bonnet. It made me feel sleepy.

They were in no hurry but when I heard the doors of the car open I knew I had to move. I slid off the bonnet. My legs took the weight and I put my back against the metal grille which covered the windows of the shop. They came in fast with the light behind them . . .

They got in close and the fists started coming. I slipped down the grille and put my chin into my collar, making them strike from above, but that didn't last long. They lifted me and threw me face down across the bonnet. I felt kicks on my legs and punches on my kidneys.

One of them pulled me off the bonnet on to the ground.

"Keep your hands off her, Taig bastard," an unfamiliar voice said.

"Fenian get," another said, and then there was one last kick in the ribs which made a noise like gristle when you cut it with a knife, so that I felt my mouth open and a sound come out of it as if it was coming out of someone else's mouth.

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