The Interloper – An excerpt from Max Power’s ‘Little Big Boy’ coming in 2015

It turns out, your best friends will hang you out to dry and watch you dangle while they save themselves when danger lurks.  That was the valuable lesson I learned at eleven years of age.  It started with a smile and a giggle, as Colm Dunne pretended to fart and made faces, dangling his tongue and rolling his eyes like he had either just suffered from, or was relieved at the passing of his fake gas.  It didn’t matter what he was trying to portray, or whether he was giving an accurate account of the feeling.  What mattered was that he cracked me up and the titchiest burst of a spit-laugh couldn’t be suppressed by my hand.

Normally at that point, Brother Donnelly would have simply roared down the classroom, demanding to know what I found so amusing and imploring me to share with the rest of the class.  However on that particular occasion the fact that he didn’t was ominous.  The truth was he had just asked the class a question while my attention was diverted and I hadn’t heard it.  Worse still it appeared that he was now directing that very question at me specifically.

“Well….boy…?”

I looked up at him, standing against his big desk with his buttocks supporting his weight against its edge as he faced the class of forty boys.  My memory may play tricks, but I am sure that I released just the tiniest amount of wee from the fear that he instilled in me in that very moment.

“Answer the question… come on, come on, I’m waiting!”

Now it was at that point that I recognised the betrayal.  Of course I’d witnessed it and been party to it many times before in similar circumstances, albeit with another boy-victim in the Brother’s line of sight, but I’d never seen it for what it was until that precise moment.  All around me hands shot up, waving eagerly, accompanied by the call of ‘Brother, Brother’ to attract his attention to them so they could offer an answer.  The hands were everywhere and many of them had no clue what the answer was to that question, which I had not heard.

It didn’t matter if they didn’t know the answer.  I was the Brother’s target.  As long as he had me on a string they were safe.  If he chose one of them before I answered, it wouldn’t matter that their answer was wrong, so long as I was in his sights; once he had a victim lined up they were safe.  The moment he finished with my humiliation the hands would drop but for now, they hoped to be eliminated by being selected to answer, right or wrong, before that moment arrived.

But for some reason Brother Donnelly only had eyes for me that morning.  I was one of his best students, well behaved, clever, studious, always did my homework and normally I would never be in trouble.  Maybe it was my half-chocked snigger or perhaps he just wanted to show that even the good boys got punished if they crossed him.

“Come up here!”

It was a simple terrifying instruction that could lead to a clip around the side of the head or worse, the leather.   Of all the Christian Brothers that taught us, Donnelly was strangely the least quick to whip out the leather, but when he did, his handling skills ensured his wrath was felt on both hands with the accuracy of a man who must surely have practiced in his free time.  Eventually I assumed the shame-faced, head-bowed stance beside him facing the class of wiggling, enthusiastic hands.   Even my best friend was waving his hand to gain kudos with the sadist in our midst.

“I will ask you again and I had better hear an answer.”

He slipped his right hand into the folds of his cassock and produced the wooden tipped leather strap, which he placed beside him on the desk.  He folded his arms and never once looked at me.  He looked straight ahead and I shot a furtive glance at his spectacled face.  I knew he saw me for while he didn’t look down, a familiar cruel smirk grew at the side of his mouth. The fear was now all consuming and finally, he repeated the question that I hadn’t heard and therefore couldn’t answer.

“What…” each word was separated by a long carefully chosen pause and spoken with the crispest, poshest, clipped country accent “… is …the…Mass?”

My God it was such a simple question for boys like us.  Two things were beaten into us with fervour second to none, the Irish language and religion.  It should have been so easy.  All I had to say was, “A blessed sacrament Brother,” and I might have gotten away with a telling off, but oh no, my mind went blank.   All I could see, was a room full of traitors waving frantically, afraid to be singled out by keeping their hands down, for fear that would single them out after me.  I could imaging the leather strap slapping down and the follow through, as Brother Donnelly would surely grab my hand by the tips of my fingers, raise it high and arc it backwards for maximum impact then…wallop!  That picture in my head overcame my ability to say the four words that would save me and my mind went blank.

Liam Corcoran, a ‘refugee’ from the troubles in the North was in the front row directly in front of me, his hand raised impossibly high, a smile across his face.  The others I understood.  They were afraid.  They had no choice, it was self-preservation and although I recognised their lack of loyalty, I knew I had done exactly the same in the past.  Corcoran was different.  He was a smart ass and always wanted to impress.  Despite the fact that his family had to abandon their home in  Belfast, we had no childish sympathy for him and worse still, he had a better standard of education than we had, so was therefore way ahead of most of us.  Brother Donnelly loved him it seemed, but that sneering smile made me despise him in that moment.  I just knew that he would be the one that Brother Donnelly would ask to answer the question, to prove to the rest of us that this interloper was smarter than all of us.

“For God’s sake boy, what sort of heathen are you? Everyone knows what the Mass is!  What is the Mass?  What is the Mass?”  He repeated the question and was shouting, spiting, fuming as he turned to face me, raising to his full height, a monster in black about to consume me and I thought that in that moment my life was over…but then a miracle happened…

‘Little Big Boy’ is a story of adversity, crushing heart break and triumph to touch your heart and make you smile. Follow Max Power on Facebook for news of the release date.

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The wrong tears…

My mother cupped my little face when I was sick and cradled my pitter-patter heart in her arms, when she held her soft face next to mine.  Her lips were full and red and left lipstick on my forehead when she kissed me there.  Where other boys might swiftly move to brush it away, I didn’t care to wipe away the mark of love from my wistful face.  Kisses were gifts that salvaged fragments of light from the darkness and being sick, meant all the more might come.  It is therefore unsurprising I suppose that while my mother was fraught with worry, my diagnosis with scarlet fever, was greeted by me with more than just a touch of happiness.  Being sick brought me special attention.

Not just attention, but dedicated, greedy, selfish, all to myself motherly love, that would otherwise have to be hard fought for; in the melee of the madness that was our home.  Sure I was ill.   Very ill it transpired, but bizarrely it was not just sufficient for the doctor to check me out, our neighbours on either side were invited to give their considered opinion also.   Mrs. Boyle was a soft woman, a bit deluded and slightly without substance who really tended to just nod in agreement with everyone else.  Mrs. Kelly by contrast was a harsh country woman with a face that had cracked stones, a gravelly smoker’s voice and a pair of intrusive nosey hands that felt like ice.

The blankets were pulled back as the giant women in head-scarves examined me from the end of the bed.   My mother volunteered my naked chest and back for examination and in later life I understood their process of sharing and caring, helping to educate each other about the symptoms and dangers of such disease.  In that moment it was only an embarrassment, but part of the price for alone time later with my mother, feeding me soup and triangle sandwiches with the crust cut off.

Besides, I had suffered worse humiliation the time that I caught me little boy-man bits in the zipper of my trousers.  It wasn’t the pain and the struggle to get the door unbolted when my mother came running at the sound of the screams that I remember most.  No, when between us we couldn’t release my soft flesh from the trap of the zipper, the next logical step for my mother was to bring in reinforcements in the form of Mrs. Boyle and Mrs. Kelly.  Oh sweet lord the humiliation, as I stood there while they took turns kneeling to examining the trapped protuberance with a view to releasing me from my predicament.  I have shut out the final moments of that episode, perhaps with good reason.

In the height of my fever, I was by all accounts a small boy with massive hallucinations.  I screamed and cried, imagined creatures all over me and slept in fits and starts.  I recall one particular awakening after a bad night of feverish nightmares.  I opened my eyes to see my mother’s face on the pillow beside me.  Her lipstick seemed less bright and her mascara was less than even.  My Mam was breathing ever so softly and I was cradled in her arms.  I could smell her face make-up, the most comforting smell imaginable just inches from my tiny little nose.  Her hair smelt of lacquer as it always did and I watched her sleep.

My Mam was a strong woman who dealt with much adversity, but in that moment as I examined her face like never before, she looked vulnerable, older, tired.   I recall it made me sad and I carefully raised my hand to touch her cheek.  She barely moved.  I had kept her awake all through that night and she was exhausted.  My hand looked so small on her face and I swear she smiled for just a second when I touched her.  A lump formed in my throat.  Her face was so cold and I was all snuggled beneath the blankets wrapped in her arms.  I wanted to cover her shoulders but I was trapped by the blankets and her weight.

Older boy tears welled up in my eyes.  They weren’t supposed to be there.  I was only supposed to have little boy tears, the ones that come from a grazed knee or maybe even a selfish tantrum.  These were the wrong tears.  I shouldn’t have known or seen the things I knew and saw, but I did and big boy tears trickled from my little boy eyes.  Each eye shed a single tear that individually and in their own time, rolled across my fevered cheeks and button nose.  I remember looking at my Mam as my hand rested on her face and feeling those two, very solitary tears I whispered,

“One for you…one for me…”

 

This is an extract from Max Power’s new novel ‘Little Big Boy’ was released early in 2015.

You can find all Max Power books on amazon as e book or paperback http://www.amazon.com/Max-Power/e/B00LGPWHN6/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1

This one’s for him…

When I was a boy I was quite the melancholic little soul.  No one really knew, well my mother did I guess, as outwardly I was the funniest little, wise cracking, smiley faced boy one could imagine.  But when I was alone, I found most comfort in that solitude.  In the summer, I would somehow climb to the roof of our shed at the end of the garden and lie in the sun, reading the most incredible stories.  In winter, I would invariably be trapped in our little house, so I had to seek out or more often than not, create or even imagine my own little nook or cranny for privacy.

Many is the time my mother would have to slide my little, skinny, short-trousered self from under our sofa, fast asleep book still in hand.   I made hidden fortresses in the small, dark cloakroom beneath the stairs.  I would surround myself with the boxes stored there, filled with Christmas decorations or the fancy plates for when guests might come.  Then, I would take down my mother’s coat to wrap around me for warmth and its comforting , familiar smell of ‘Tweed’ and read by torchlight

What lay beneath those pages was a different and wonderful world.  I read the strangest things for a little boy.  One day I read Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness which I think would have put most small boys off reading for life, but instead I was fascinated, enthralled even.  It was hard work but that didn’t matter. I was in no hurry.  The next day I was back to reading more childish adventure stories.  It was a weird and wonderful world when I was alone and I read everything.

However, I was quite often a frightened little boy and I wanted so much to be brave.  Perhaps that is why, between science books, Treasure Island and books like Douglas Bader’s ‘Reach for the Sky’ I sought out and found, some darker tales.  Moby Dick absorbed me.  I instantly got Captain Ahab and his fanatical hatred.  I loved Dracula and again I recall that at such a tender age, it was a chore at times to read and on my first reading much of it went past me, but oh the darkness, the fear, the love.  I got it.  I got it all and I knew the answer to my own crushing anxieties, lay in the pages of these books and I had to find it.

Edgar Allan Poe wrote about it, M. Night Shyamalan evoked it, Bruce Springsteen wrote a song about it.  I loved it, the fear outside the door, the frightening unknown monsters in the night, the darkness on the edge of town.   I am fascinated by the way people react to fear in all its guises.  But I am not talking about tales of horror.  I am talking about human nature in every simple story and finding a character’s true potential, by placing them in danger, be it moral or mortal.

Some may find it odd that when I began writing Darkly Wood, I started with a notion of love and loss as the primary drivers.  However those that have read it know that there is more than a touch of darkness blended through the pages.  Writing the sequel, I began with that notion of a darkness on the edge of town as it really appealed to me, but something strange has started to happen.  Something else has crept in to my new book and it has surprised even me.  I know it will surprise my readers and it has perhaps even created the possibility of a third book from Darkly’s simple beginnings.

That’s how it happens when I write.  The idea is planted in my brain and the basis of a plot sprouts up.  As the idea grows, as I write, the leaves grow and branches form and every writing tree looks different.   I know every writer is unique and we all have our own way of getting from start to finish.  But I have a secret.

Behind every story that I tell there is a little boy.  He is really quite a little wisp of a thing.  He has a smiling mouth, but sad eyes and he sits, hidden in the dark beneath the stairs where no one can see him.  There is a torch in his hand and he is opening a book.  It is the book I am writing now and I know he has touched the binding and smelt the pages before turning to the first page.  He is full of expectation and hope.  I know this one’s for him and as I write, I know exactly where I want to take him…

More than hope beneath the tree.. another seasonal extract from the forthcoming novel ‘Little Big Boy’ by Max Power

… The Christmas of 1972 I took being good to a whole new level.  Santa only came to good little boys and I must not have been a very good one in ’71 because I never got the Meccano set I asked for.  My mother said that Santa probably ran out because all the boys wanted the same thing that year.  My father said he didn’t know and I was probably lucky I didn’t just get a lump of coal the way I’d been behaving.   My birthday was only three weeks before Christmas and usually, I didn’t ask for much because I knew we didn’t have a lot of money.  But when my mother woke me on my birthday with her soft, warm hand on my face, I knew by her smile that she had the birthday present I wanted.  What it was in itself was not as significant as what it would become when Santa came, if Santa came.

You see, I had a plan.  If Santa wanted good, then he would get good.  I was going to be the best little boy he ever came across.  It was genius, but I never imagined how hard it was going to be and I was in for a long three weeks.   I was going to ask Santa in my letter, for a pair of white guns in a holster filled with bullets, a fringed cowboy waistcoat with a sheriff’s badge and a white cowboy hat.  The guns were all important.  I had very specific requirements.  They had to have a revolving barrel so I could spin it around and they had to flip open to reload.   They had to be white.  Oh how I pictured myself in my hat and waistcoat, twirling my guns in my white hat, shooting Indians from their pie balled horses, or being fastest on the draw outside some saloon to defend some pretty girl’s honour.

My choice of birthday present was part of my ‘being good’ plan.  It was a rifle.  Not any old rifle.  It was a white, Winchester rifle with a silver barrel and it was simply the most beautiful thing I had ever set my little eyes on.

“What do you think?” My mother’s question went unanswered as my jaw fell open.

“Will it do?”

She had no idea, but then again maybe she did.  The perfect gift was encased in a box which in itself was a thing of beauty.   My dream rifle sat nestled in a box decorated with the most incredible artwork.  There were pictures of Indians riding fast and kicking up dust, a perfectly drawn fort manned by riflemen, with the cavalry charging through the gates shooting their Winchester rifles as they rode, reins between their teeth.  I had only ever dreamt I could feel that good.  My mother went to make me some porridge and left me to play with my gift, but I didn’t.  I couldn’t.

Playing with this fantasy gift was going to have to wait, for I had my plan.  That year, Santa was going to witness the ultimate demonstration of self-sacrifice, something surely no other boy in the whole wide world could manage.  I was not going to pull the trigger on my rifle even once, until Christmas morning three weeks away.  To prove my worth, to show my goodness, I would sacrifice my pleasure for three weeks and he would know just how special a little boy he was dealing with.  This time Santa couldn’t possibly make any mistakes on his list or run out of my choice of toy.

I remember thinking that there would never be anything harder in my life.  That was on day two.  By the time one week had passed, I was unfaltering.  My mother couldn’t understand it but I didn’t explain.  I only told her that I was waiting for my guns from Santa before I played with it and ominously she told me that I shouldn’t.   Santa had so many children to get to and it was always possible that I might not get the exact thing I asked for.   But she didn’t know my secret.  My mam didn’t know the way Santa thought.  Lists… naughty… nice… no way would he let me down this year, not after what I had done to prove my worth.

On Christmas Eve, I went to bed at seven.  It was ridiculously early but I didn’t care.  I placed my rifle still in its beautiful box on the locker beside my bed, so it would be the first thing I would see when I woke up on Christmas morning.  It was impossible to go to sleep, but somehow it happened and then as if I had just blinked and not slept at all, it was Christmas morning.

I opened my innocent eyes and in the dim light I saw my birthday rifle.  I smiled the biggest smile and listened.  For a few seconds there was no sound and then I heard it.  My mother was already downstairs.  I was like a greyhound out of the trap and in a single fluid motion; I jumped out of my bed, hit the floor running and grabbed my rifle.  I took the stairs two at a time, my little legs straining all the way and half fell into the hall at the bottom.  Taking a deep breath, I opened the door into the living room.  It was dark except for the lights on the tree.  They were all multi-coloured and blinking and I saw the shape of my mother sitting next to it in her favourite chair, drinking a cup of tea, waiting for me.  In the shadows, I could only make out shapes beneath the tree so I moved closer, my little boy heart ready to burst, confident that Santa had seen the good in me yet uncertain because of my childhood scars that should have taught me not to hope.  But in that moment, in that glittering half-light of a Christmas morning, that frightened little boy that I was, hoped like never before.  I was a good boy. Wasn’t I? …

At Christmas ..

At Christmas ..

‘Little Big Boy’ by Max Power, is the harrowing tale of a young boy growing up in a dysfunctional family. This is an extract, re-blogged as a reminder for us all I hope, to think of others less fortunate this Christmas.

…Strangely, watching my father stagger confidently towards the supermarket across the street from our house to steal the Christmas turkey seemed normal.   When he arrived home to be greeted by my mother on the day before Christmas Eve blocking the doorway, demanding to know where he had been and where his wages were, I knew only half of what was to come.  My expectation was of an argument and I was not to be disappointed.  I stood behind her in the doorway and we watched him quite literally stumble up the path towards us.  He was so drunk and we both knew that his wages had been left at the bar.  But he was a proud man and when my mother abused him on the doorstep for destroying out Christmas, he simply said;

“Turkey?  You want a turkey?  I’ll get you a turkey!”

With that, he turned and set off for the supermarket without a bean in his pocket.  I was ten years old.  My mother couldn’t comfort me in that moment.   I was afraid and cold and suddenly very lonely, as I watched my dad struggle to cross the road.  It was such a terrible thing to have to witness at ten years of age.  The events that followed surprised me, even though I had seen him do some terrible things in the past.  He simply disappeared into the supermarket.  We stood there in silence, watching the vast expanse of glass through which we could see the check-outs, illuminated so brightly in the dark of that cold winter evening.

It was freezing, but my mother and I were glued to the spot.  Eventually my hapless father emerged, a massive lump concealed under his coat as he tried to appear sober passing out through the entrance, without paying for the turkey he had just stolen.   It was more than embarrassing.   He was even a useless thief.  The curtains twitched around us reminding us that our neighbours had heard the argument and were watching.  They only added to our embarrassment.

We watched the security man grab my father and haul his drunken backside into the store.  We watched the police car arrive and then stared in disbelief, still unmoving and freezing, as they bundled him into the back of the car before driving away.  He never stopped shouting as though he wanted the neighbours to know.

When we finally turned to go back inside, my mother stared back at the peering eyes, to close the curtains of our nosey neighbours.  Although she tried not to show it, her humiliation was complete, but mine was not.  That day, the day before Christmas Eve, the day I was supposed to be excited, counting down the final hours to Santa’s arrival, my mother crushed my dreams and I grew old in an instant.  It was not her fault.  It was his.  She had no choice.  We had nothing and no hope and Santa was not coming.  So she told me simply.

“There is no Santa.”

It was only four words and she kissed me and squeezed me and a pair of perfectly balanced tears rolled down her cheeks, and I thought for the first time in my life that my Mam looked old.  Hope was gone in that moment and looking back, I am amazed I ever found it again.  But discovering that Santa did not exist in such a shocking fashion, was not to be the worst thing to happen to me that night.  For the next thing my mother explained to me, was that she couldn’t go down to the police station after him.  She hated him.  I knew she loved him.  Incredibly she loved him with all her heart, but she could not face him in his shame.   My mother, my bedrock, went to the cubby beneath the stairs and got my coat.

In silence, she slowly helped me put it on my tiny little frame.  She softly brushed my wispy, fair hair from my face and tied a scarf around my neck.  My dad was a giant and the policemen at the station were terrifying to the little, scrawny thing that I was, but I was being sent into the lion’s den.  I didn’t argue.  I couldn’t.   In truth I had no idea what to do once I got there.  There was no real instruction from my mother, other than to find out what was happening, but even that seemed to be task beyond my abilities.  That Christmas I grew up.   That Christmas my heart was broken.  That Christmas, I was a little boy lost but there was worse to come…………

First Kiss

I had a Special request to re blog this one.. Enjoy

Maxpower's Blog

My first kiss was pretty rubbish.  I was fairly young to be fair and it goes without saying inexperienced, but even so by any standard it was gank. In fairness I had practiced my kissing face and head tilt in the mirror many times in preparation for the moment … and I won’t admit to any more, but still…  ooof!

In my first book ‘Darkly Wood’ the main character Daisy, has to meet the challenge of her first kiss in the most extraordinary circumstances.   I can lean on life experience when writing about most things but when it came to first kiss – I couldn’t let Daisy suffer the let down that I had to endure.

But in my case, it’s not that she wasn’t a lovely girl and I’m quite confident that she has had better kisses since then too,( I certainly hope so for her sake ) but it was…

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