Across the Room and Into the Fire, Pt. 5



In our early teens,  my brother and I got into a bit of trouble.

It wasn’t anything that unusual for boys our age, and at that time, but we were held up to a different light by our teachers, our clergy, and most of the townsfolk.

And so when the news of our arrest spread through our little culchie-cauldron of a town, there was much excitement—rejoicing, even—amongst our teachers, our clergy and most of the townsfolk.

“Oh, they think they’re so high and mighty, what with their cordless phone and “the” central heating! We’ll see what they say now, with two of the three boys in jail!”

(No one said that, but I know they were thinking it.)

We were in jail for a few hours only, which was very good. But it was our mother that came for us, and that was very bad indeed. She had (and has still) that very special power that Irish mothers have of inflicting soul-searing guilt with just a look. It works something like this; your mother arrives at the police station looking her natural age, maybe a bit younger even. She pauses, and a wind whirls around her; she is transformed into a piteous, trembling crone. She enters the station, looking at the policemen with a look that says, “Surely it wasn’t my boys that done it? Oh, Jesus how I’ve suffered in raising them, giving them all that I had, so I did! And this is how they repay me? Surely the judge will show them mercy, at least the young one, there?”  And the policemen stare at their shoes and shake their heads sadly, and for a moment you think, Well, she’s torn to shreds, which is bad enough, but at least we won’t be punished at home. But by Christ you are ever so wrong, because once you are outside said police station, the whirlwind comes back and transforms your mammy into a wrathful demon that doesn’t care if you’re sixteen and taller than she; she grabs you by the ear and whispers that she knows you were the instigator, and as such will bear the full brunt of her anger—here she pauses and says in a cold piercing whisper–“And your father’s, too!” All the while your younger brother is dancing wildly behind her back and making faces and pointing at you and you’re trying not to laugh and/or piss yourself with terror.

(Individual experiences may vary.)

What made all of this so much worse is that my father was recovering from surgery at the time and was in a weakened state. (Actually, in retrospect that was probably a good thing.) And so when we arrived at home, instead of receiving the beating of a life time, my brother and I were ushered into a room where my father sat behind his desk. He looked unbelievably weary. My mother left and closed the door behind her. For a moment I wished I was still in jail. My father stared at us for a long time. Finally he pointed behind us, at a plaque on the wall that bore our family name.

“Do you see that name?”

We nodded mutely.

“That’s my name, too.”

Four words.

Knocked the breath right out of me.

He dismissed us, and that was that.

A few days later, he came into my bedroom with a paperback book. He handed it to me.

Johnny Got His Gun, by Dalton Trumbo.

“I want you to read this.”


“You need to read this.”


Johnny Got His Gun is a book about a young man who is hit by an artillery shell on the last day of WWI. He loses his arms, his legs, his powers of sight, speech and hearing. He has no way of communicating with the outside world and is forced to live out the rest of his life drifting between dream, memory and reality. And just in case that isn’t bad enough, there is a special surprise for Johnny at the end of the book—and you’re invited!

After a day or two, I’d finished it, and knew why my father had wanted me to read it in the first place.

“Finish the book yet, soldier boy?”


“Still feel like playing soldier, soldier boy?”

“Nah.” I felt wretched after having read it, but at least seeing me so lifted my father’s spirits.

There are some things you can learn a little about from books, but you don’t really know until you’ve experienced them in real life.

One of those things is war.

Another is love…

(to be continued…)




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45 Responses to Across the Room and Into the Fire, Pt. 5

  1. Ameena k.g says:

    I agree. some things can only be fully learned via life Experience. BTW, Nigerian mothers also have mastered “the look”… Been there 😂

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Monochrome nightmares says:

    An excellent and most entertaining
    read Oglach.
    I look forward to the next instalment.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. You’ve got a good memoir going here.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Gripping. I think most of us recognise that look 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Pleasant Street says:

    I am glad to continue your story.
    I gave that look to a boy at the grocery store once, and he stopped misbehaving

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Loved your description of the mother’s transformation to a demon! Brilliant! It’s really a universal talent I believe 😉
    Looking very much forward to chapt. 6! 😃

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Oh, and the picture is great! WW I martial I believe? Do you happen to know more about it by chance?

    Liked by 1 person

    • oglach says:

      It is a WWI photo, and I believe the men are of the Inniskilling Royal Fusiliers, an Irish regiment of the British army. I’m not sure where the donkey is from.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Wow! Thank you for these details! I´m kind of fascinated by WW-related pictures and the stories that are behind them. I think we can assume that the donkey was irish as well 😉 Though it´s hard to guess, with the mask and everything 😉

        Liked by 1 person

      • emmylgant says:

        It so happens that I am doing some research on WWI. Many were brought in from Algeria. Less fragile than horses, by 1917 10,000 donkeys, better adapted to the treacherous terrain, moved ammunition, food, and the dead and wounded from the front lines to the rear.

        Liked by 1 person

      • oglach says:

        That makes perfect sense. I had imagined that the donkeys would have been from whatever region the men were fighting in, but had no idea about some of them coming from Algeria. Thanks for the information!

        Liked by 1 person

  8. skat says:

    Trying to get to the first piece. Not easy through the WP app, but I’ll get there!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. skat says:

    Tell me. Are you some well-known Irish author with a few awards behind his name? Is that why the enigmatic pseudonym? Go on, you’re really Roddy Doyle in disguise, aren’t you?

    This is great stuff. Seriously good – get thee to a publisher man!

    Remind me to tell you about how I left my father standing by a highway in the pouring rain during a driving lesson. Good times. I blogged memoirs on something called “Blasts From the Past” a number of years ago. They’re all hidden on Poetikat Unbound. Some of them are not too bad.


  10. Loved the narration. You have made me so intrigued about that book…I’m surely gonna read it, soon!

    “the whirlwind comes back and transforms your mammy into a wrathful demon that doesn’t care if you’re sixteen and taller than she; she grabs you by the ear and whispers that she knows you were the instigator,”:-D 😀 Irish mothers sound like typical Indian mothers 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  11. You really have something grand here — books have touched you in every chapter of your story. What an amazing book your stories would make!

    Your dad was a wise man. That short conversation he had with you was extraordinary. It gave me goosies.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. inesephoto says:

    Such a lesson! God bless wise parents.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. There’s a comment I have been meaning to polish and make at the end of this splendid series. Just in case the series continues longer than I do, I will make it now.

    When I was in my teens, there were 2 standard books about that stage of life. Young people read *Catcher in the Rye* voluntarily, but only until the shock value of the crude language wore off and they realized that the protagonist was just an arrogant twit who would now be about Donald Trump’s age and like him in other ways also. Young people did read *Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man* all the way to the end, but only because it was assigned in courses.

    Now (at last!) *Across the Room …* is something that young people might well read all the way to the end voluntarily, and with substantial benefit. Civilization can still advance.

    Liked by 2 people

    • oglach says:

      I am touched, and I will treasure your kind comment for the rest of my days. You may be interested to know that there will be only two more chapters; your mention of Catcher in The Rye is interesting because it is briefly mentioned in the next chapter. The telling of the story here is much abbreviated, and every chapter is a first draft; maybe someday, I will tell the tale it’s entirety, or just let it stand as is and from the heart. Thank you for reading and commenting, as always.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. jac forsyth says:

    This is SO good. Reading it feels like sitting in a coffee shop with an old friend.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. emmylgant says:

    Another wonderful installment. I agree with the many comments above: Publish.
    It is too good not to. I will definitely buy the book when it comes out. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  16. skat says:

    It’s a hell of a book. I’ll never forget it.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. this journey in books is a great idea btw.
    i like seeing how each book came about as the result of a life experience or as a suggestion afterward. it’s kind of like how a sense of smell picks up a certain fragrance and sparks a memory. i have similar backgrounds in songs and stories myself.

    Liked by 1 person

    • oglach says:

      I get that from your writing. So many of the moments in our lives have music, literature or art attached to them somehow. Thanks for reading and commenting, Samantha.


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