The whirlwind…an extract from Max Power’s latest book Little Big Boy coming March 2015

I didn’t ever think I was going to be big.  It never occurred to me that I was little either if the truth be told, but I was just a tot. Some things are inevitable and it is often easy to see a thing coming long before it happens.  Well it is for some people, big people, grown-ups.  But I was just a little boy and I had no way of knowing what might lie ahead.

The third earliest memory I have, the third earliest full memory is from when I was five years old.  I know I was five because that was the year my little sister was born, just before my fifth birthday.  That was when it all started and I couldn’t have known what was waiting for me.  I was still very much a baby.  I was the baby, my Mam’s baby.  But then she came along and everything changed.

I don’t actually remember her being born but I do remember my fifth birthday.  I can’t say anything bad happened because nothing happened.  My mother was kept in hospital, I have no idea why but I know that in her absence, my father somehow forgot my birthday.  To this day I don’t recall what I wanted for my birthday.  I doubt if it was much, but to not even have my special day acknowledged was so terrible it stuck with me.  But of course there are worse things that can happen to a little boy than to have his birthday forgotten.

Maybe it is the same for everyone, I don’t really know because I’m not everyone I’m just me.  When I look back at that time now the big feeling I get is sadness and while there were still some good moments that shine through, there were just not enough.   One of those good moments was meeting my sister Lo-Lo for the first time.  She came home some days after my missed birthday and while I’m sure my Mam would have tried to make up for that lost day, for whatever reason that memory is lost to me.  I do remember Lo-Lo though.  My Dad insisted she be called Lorraine I have no idea why but I called her Lo-Lo and it stuck.

She was tiny, even littler than me and she held my finger tight so I liked her.  Everyone liked Lo-Lo even our dog Rex and he hated everyone except us.  Rex guarded her like she was the most precious bone he could ever imagine, even though as she grew, she pulled his tail and poked his face.  I knew he loved her because I did too, despite the fact that she stole my birthday and took my place as the baby of the family.  I loved being the baby.

“Mammy, am I still your baby?” I enquired one day while she changed Lo-Lo’s nappy.

“Of course you are darling.  You’ll always be my baby.” She thought that would be the end to it but I was five.

“But Lo-Lo’s the baby now?  She’s a baby. I’m a big boy.”

It was half question, half declaration and I wasn’t even sure if I really wanted an answer either way.  I sort of wanted to be both, maybe a baby in private and a big boy to the world.  My mother was efficient and focused in everything she did and without taking her eyes from the task of nappy changing, she simply replied,

“Lo-Lo’s my baby girl and you’re my baby boy.”  But then she finished, swept lo-Lo up into her arms and kissed her, before lying her down in her basket and finally, she grabbed my little face in her warm hands and said, “You’ll always be my baby boy,” and then she kissed me too and that was that.  Only it wasn’t.

Something had changed between us and I couldn’t quite figure it out.  How was I to know?  Despite my mother’s protestations to the contrary I was a big boy now, even though I was still a baby.  Babies get special attention.  They get special care.  Babies get protected.  Big boy’s discover that they have to fend for themselves and I was about to find that out.

Strangely, I can’t say I ever blamed or resented my sister, but she is certainly at the heart of what happened.  I just loved her.  I loved everyone and everything.  My Mam had given me just the right amount of love and enough confidence, to feel like nothing could knock me down.  But that was when I was the baby.  As the baby, she brought me everywhere, talked nonstop to me, held me, cuddled me and I was her special little man.   She led by example, a strong woman with no fear and I was cast in her die.

I can’t blame her either.  She loved me.  She did her best.  The whirlwind that was coming was beyond even her foresight.  So I guess looking back, those were the happier times, before the storm, before I had to be a bigger boy than I really was, before the devastation …..

Little Big Boy is Due for release March 2015. Check in to my blog for updates or facebook.com/maxpowerbooks
http://www.amazon.com/Max-Power/e/B00LGPWHN6/fblink/ref=cm_sw_r_tw_nu_cVkeub0HGNS16

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The weapon of the weak..

The weapon of the weak..

From Little Big Boy by Max Power –  chilling, tragic, funny and heart-warming ..coming to your local amazon store soon

My face hurt. It stung where my father’s big hand had smacked my little cheek. I looked up at him and silent tears rolled down my face. I knew better than to cry out loud.

“Tears are the weapon of the weak.”

That’s what he had told me. I didn’t know what it meant. I didn’t know why he hit me or why it hurt inside more than it did on the outside.

It wasn’t him. It was the drink. That’s what Mam said anyway and she was always right. He grabbed my face placing his thumb on my cheek and then relaxed his grip. For a moment I thought he might say that he was sorry. He gently wiped away the tears from one side of my face with his thumb.

“Do you want a Coke?”

I didn’t but I was afraid to say no, afraid to be ungrateful. If I answered I knew I couldn’t hold back a sob so I nodded instead.

“Grand. You wait there. I won’t be long.”

He climbed out of the car, slammed the door and walked straight across the road and into the pub without looking back. It was still bright when he left but when he returned it was dark and the noise he made woke me from my sleep.

“Feckin’…. ” He seemed to be angry at something but was so drunk he struggled to be coherent. I lay still and quiet, huddled beneath a layer of old newspapers on the floor behind the passenger seat. I had been freezing and they were all I had for blankets.

“…..arseholes!”

I had no idea what had happened. I could smell the drink from where I was curled up and for me that smell always meant trouble.

Dad swore and cursed as he struggled to get the key in the ignition and I tried not to move. He’d forgotten I was even there. Now that I had woken from my sleep, I felt so cold and I began to shiver. I tried not to but it was impossible. If I could stay quiet, I could stay safe. But I was seven. I was tired and thirsty, hungry and cold.

I stretched a little and my dad noticed the rustle in the back of the car . He slowly turned his head and looked at me. I could see something in his face that I recognised. I saw anger. I saw something a small boy shouldn’t see in his father’s face. I saw his disappointment . But then, as he sneered at my little frame, all curled up trying to be quiet and keep warm, I saw something altogether more terrifying…..

… Little Big Boy, Max Power’s fourth book, will be available on amazon early in 2015.

 For updates follow facebook.com/maxpowerbooks or go to amazon.com/author/maxpower or find max on Twitter@maxpowerbooks</em

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A fearful assignation

From Little Big Boy by Max Power –  chilling, tragic, funny and heart-warming ..coming to your local amazon store soon

“Bless me Father for I have sinned, it’s been one week since my last confession.  I killed my father.”

I could have told him anything.  I was going to lie regardless, why not a big one?  They were all complicit in my lies despite their desire for me to confess them.  But that one wasn’t going to be an option.  I was too afraid although I wished I had the guts to say it anyway.   The choices were pretty much always a selection from the same list for almost all of us.  I could go for ‘I told a lie’ or ‘I used a swear word’ or ‘I disobeyed my parents.’  The last one was dodgy depending on the priest, it could easily backfire and it was important to know which priest was in the confession box before you went in with that one.  For some reason they all had their own particular pet hate when it came to prepubescent boy sins.

We arrived at the church, a mass of boyhood; six classes of forty boys at a time so there would inevitably be the possibility that you could get a nice(ish) priest, or a fire and brimstone merchant.  One might perhaps get Father Connolly, a bit nuts but generally quick and painless, although on occasion he could dish out extraordinary penance for relatively minor offences.   I once got twelve Hail Mary’s and twelve Our Father’s for no more than a few lies and a couple of curses.

On the other hand you could get a priest who would be pedantic about your prayers, or just torment you and make you feel so terrible for being such a bad little boy, that you would want to cry.  Sometimes I had to Steel myself before I left that box.  Tears were often ready to burst from my soft eyes and it sometimes it seemed impossible to hold them back.  You couldn’t cry of course, for the moment you stepped back out of the confession box, the eyes of your classmates were on you, looking for signs of what it had been like, or just looking for a sign of weakness.  Being first in the queue was the worst place to be, because then you didn’t know who was inside.  Regardless of where I was in the queue, my stomach would be churning so bad that I usually thought I might get sick.

Seven, was way too young to feel that level of anxiety.  In today’s world, it seems hard to imagine that terror was a currency for so many of the adults that were charged with the physical and spiritual welfare of such precious and often delicate little children.  Being hard didn’t help those that toughened up early, it only brought extra wrath.  Softness was never tolerated, so there was a fine line that needed to be tread which I remember being impossible to find.  Sometimes I’d freeze and forget all my made up sins and you couldn’t have no sins, that was worse than having loads.   At least when you had sins you could be forgiven.  That was the rule.  No priest in our Parish could possibly accept the insane possibility, that a seven year old boy could have gone a week without committing at least one minor atrocity.  That was the first thing they drilled into us before our first confession.

“Bless me father for I have…” I remember Tony Dunne doing the rehearsal at the top of the class with Father Kelly before our First Holy Communion.  He went through the ritual until he came to; “…These are my sins…” but then he was stuck.  He didn’t have any.

“Go on lad…go on…these are my sins…”

Poor Tony hadn’t a clue.  Brother Matthew had thought us the sins but Tony had simply forgotten them in his fear of the priest.  Rather than make an eejit of himself he stayed silent.

“I’ve told lies boy… come on, come on!”  Father Kelly didn’t seem to get the irony of teaching a boy to lie about telling lies and it was way too philosophical for us to kop on.

“I’ve told lies…”

“You’ve told lies…?” Clearly an insufficient answer, Father Kelly needed more and we could all see poor Tony’s brain working overtime.

“I’ve told lies…”  His brain had abandoned him.  “…Father.”

“And?” Father Kelly was already exasperated but Tony was still struggling.

“And…I’m…sorry Father?”

“For the love of God boys! This’ll never do, not at all. Do you think God wants to hear your silence after the sins you’ve committed?  Well?”

“No Father.”  We answered him as one, but we had no idea what he was talking about, it just seemed like the answer he was looking for and we stuck together as one, a herd being stalked.

“No of course he doesn’t.  You are all sinners.  I only have to look around and I can see the sins on your faces.”  He began waving his pointing finger across the room.  We all sort of half bowed our heads instinctively, least it fall on us to be shamed for some terrible sin that he could see on us.

“You’ve lied.  You’ve taken sugar from the sugar bowl (a sin I was guilty of, but more out of hunger than wilful sinning) and you have cursed, or had impure thoughts or God forbid, touched yourself inappropriately.”

I had no idea what the last two were but I was making mental notes to use if asked.  We all were.  By the time we got to our first confession, we each had a selection of sins lined up, made up, all ready to satisfy God’s desire to forgive us through the priest.   By the time we had gone to confession five or six times we were hardened veterans, exchanging notes with each other in whispers before going into the confessional least we repeat our predecessors sins when it was our turn.  But it was still a terrifying ordeal. I once made the mistake of using the ‘impure thoughts’ sin without knowing what it was only to be challenged by the monster in the dark.

“Have you been interfering with yourself son?”  It was an even more confusing question that came back at me and afraid to confess to something that could be as bad as murder maybe, I answered,

“No Father.”

It got me off the hook – that day anyway.  But my abiding memories of that black box are filled with fear, anticipation and dread.  Even then, particularly then, I felt so tiny as I knelt before the grid a foot above my head in the darkness.  It was designed for adults and no concessions were made for those that should be seen and not heard.

More often than not, you were left to sweat in the darkness, sometimes listening to the rumblings from the other side, until eventually and with a suddenness that always startled, a sliding wooden window was whipped back just leaving a metal grid between you and the priest.  I could never see them and was afraid to look anyway.  The ritual was always the same, there was Latin from their side and rehearsed lines from ours and sometimes, we would have to listen in terror while we waited our turn, if the boy on the other side of the priest was getting a torrid time.  Ours were double barrelled confessionals, so that while one boy confessed to the right of the priest, the next victim could line up on the left.   It was brutally efficient and always left you in the dark for at least a couple of minutes, filled with dread, anticipating the worst.

And so it was on that cold November morning, as I waited and my skinny little knees ached on the hard wooden step inside that dark smelly box.  I didn’t know this priest.   He had come from ‘the missions’ that was the rumour anyway and after he finished tormenting the boy to his right, I heard him slam his shutter and I waited in silence for my turn.  For what seemed an age, I listened to his unintelligible mutterings in the pitch dark, until at last the shutter door was pulled back.  Startled and against my better judgement, in reflex I snapped my head up to stare at the grill…

… Little Big Boy, Max Power’s fourth book, will be available on amazon early in 2015.

 For updates follow facebook.com/maxpowerbooks or go to amazon.com/author/maxpower or find max on Twitter@maxpowerbooks

Two doors

My mother always opened the front and back doors to our house at midnight on New Year’s Eve, to let in the new and let out the old.

I still do it to this day although she has long since passed. Her name was Mary but everyone called her May and May lives on I guess in all of her children, sometimes though small traditions like this one. I can no more let that tradition fade, than the memory of her face or her familiar and comforting scent when she softly kissed me.

We tend to make resolutions at this time of year – we banish the mistakes of yesteryear and promise to fulfil our potential in the tests to come.

I know my destiny is a mystery to me, but I also know that I tinker with it every day. Tomorrow will be no more or less that I allow it to be and the past holds lessons not regrets.

This year as always I opened both doors as the beautiful May once did and time flowed through our happy home, heading for the destiny we choose to seek.

The significance of the moment – that dramatic, singular, tick of the clock that swings us from one year to the next, is that we allow ourselves to dream of what might be possible… and what’s wrong with that?

I know what I want next year. I want the feelings that touched my heart and made me smile through the years to be my guiding light. I want to love more, smile more, laugh more. I want to kiss and be kissed hug and be hugged. Importantly I want to use the time I have been graced with to have value not just in the moment but later on reflection.

I’m sometimes serious, often frivolous but always filled with the spirit of the love, kindness and smiles that I have inherited from loved ones I have lost. I have the good fortune, to daily bask in the warm love of the kind hearts that surround me and keep me safe. So for them, May, Paddy and Brian, for those I love today and for me, I very much intend this to be a Happy New Year indeed…