We live on a small avenue, thirty-two houses in a U-shape; all with perfectly square front gardens and identical red-bricked facades. We know everyone who lives on our cul-de-sac, and they know us. Living next-door to us at number ten are Tom Cahill and his wife, Dotty.
The Cahills love gardening. Roses and begonias fill the narrow beds of earth in their front garden. Their back garden, four times the size of the front, is filled with fruit trees we eye enviously: apple, pear, plum, and peach.
My parents are some seventy miles from the city visiting my dying grandmother in a nursing home. My auntie is looking after, and it’s a hot September day, the type my mother declares an “Indian Summer.” I’m in the back garden with two of the lads, looking at the Cahill’s trees, which are sporting some large shiny fruit.
Along the wall separating our garden from Cahill’s are shards of broken glass sunk into rough cement. Cahill is certain his neighbors are focused on stealing his fruit.
We leave his property alone for the most part-the splintered bottles a perfect deterrent for ten year-old boys. This day however, we’re emboldened by the absence of my parents, and my aunt is asleep in our sitting room, snoring away.
The plan is to lay a plank across my mother’s flowerbed up against the wall, take a run up the incline and spring into the lower branches of the apple tree. Once over we’ll throw across the wall as many apples as possible. Rock-paper-scissors, and I’m the advance scout.
The plank’s uneven sides wobble, and I suck in a deep breath and approach the platform. I imagine being on a large jumper at the Dublin Horse Show, galloping toward the big wall in the Puissance: ready to leap. The plank slips, despite the boys anchoring it on either side, and with my fairly average balance I am falling forward. I reach out my hands to stop my head from hitting the wall and my right arm slams onto the shards of glass on top of the wall. A flap of flesh hangs from my forearm and the blood splatters everywhere.
The lads take one look at my arm and flee, town criers to the world. Their cries awaken my aunt who meets me in the kitchen. I hold my torn left arm out to her. I don’t panic at the sight of the bloody mess and quite calmly ask for a bandage.
“Jesus, Mary and Joseph! What have you done?”
“I fell on the wall and cut my arm. It’s okay. I’ll just have a big scab in a few days.”
She runs to the kitchen drawer to find a tea towel to wrap around my arm. I’m shepherded across the road to our neighbors’ house. The wife is a registered nurse and she takes one look at my arm and dials 9-9-9 for an ambulance. I’m near to fainting from loss of blood and she sits me down on a chair in her kitchen while we wait for the ambulance. and exasperatedly leads me out to their Mercedes Benz, and bundles me into the back.
Her husband is the richest man on our road and the only one who owns a Mercedes Benz. The husband smells of cigars and whiskey; wealth and power. A neighbor at the top of the street has a Spanish au pair called Mercedes.
I’ve never been in such a posh car before, and the leather interior smells of money. We head off for the hospital, me waving at my poor aunt, and a cluster of nosey neighbors who have gathered on the street.
My parents arrive at the hospital just as the doctors begin their surgery to reconnect the severed nerves in my hand. When I wake up in the recovery room, my parents are arguing. My mother turns to my father and tells him, “You’d better fix that man and his bloody wall before I do!” Her cat’s eye glasses underscore her sharp mood. “Look at the poor boy. He could have lost the use of his arm for good.”
I’m discharged and go home with my parents, this time in my father’s tiny Austin Healy. The car is manky; ripped upholstery, stained roof where the rain leaks through. My arm is held together with twenty-eight stitches and the guarantee of a scar for life. We drive the four miles home in silence, and I am ushered to bed the minute we’re in the door.
The next day my father goes to see Mr. Cahill, and curses him from a height, telling him how he’d better have the glass removed before our solicitor gets involved. From my bedroom window I see old man Cahill’s bumpy back on a stepladder, and him smashing the glass with a hammer and plastering over the remains with wet cement.
My mother and I take the bus to town when the stitches are ready to come out. We sit on the upper deck as it teeters around Kelly’s Corner by the greyhound-racing track. Nassau Street is a sea of gray faces like inside-out gloves. Pushing our way through the crowds, we move towards the outpatient’s clinic.
As I sit on a chair in the doctor’s room, he prods and pokes at the wound. He notices a bluish-yellow bruising, frowns and mutters to the nurse. My mother squeezes my good hand.
“I’m afraid it’s turned septic, Ma’am,” he tells my mother. She nods, tight-lipped. “I’ll have to lance it.”
My mother has a pinched look to her. “You’re going to have to be a brave little soldier now,” she tells me. “The doctor is going to drain the fluid in your arm. I want you to look away and keep your eyes on me.”
The nurse, a fat, red-faced woman with a thick country accent, holds my arm down.
“Don’t budge, like a good fellow,” the doctor warns me.
I ignore my mother’s warning not to look, as he takes a long needle called a bodkin, and plunges it into my wound. Pus and blood squirt up from my arm and I scream in pain.
My mother grips my good hand. “All done now, there’s a brave soldier,” she says.
The nurse cleans and drains the wound and dresses my arm with gauze and cotton wool.
“Mhaith a buachaill, mhaith a buachaill,” My mother tells me.
I know I‘m a good boy for not crying too much. I’m my mother’s little soldier.
On the walk back to the bus terminus we stop at Hector Gray’s, a knick-knack shop on the North side of the city, and she buys me a plastic zoo set, with lions, tigers, giraffes and brown plastic fences.
Back at school my friends all want to see the scar, and I charge them a penny a look at the zigzag stitching. I’m the first one of us with proper stitches, and the oohing and aahing lasts for weeks. I jealously glance at the crimson plums in Cahill’s back garden as they ripen in the late-autumn days, figuring out how soon it’ll be before I can climb the new wall and steal the forbidden fruit.