The Fish Shop
Her finger is curled as if she is beckoning me. Gold ring and red polished nail, the flesh blackened and bloodied. The girls arm lies in the road not ten feet in front of me.
Where is the rest of her?
Looking across the open sights of my rifle, between the smoke, amongst the glass and debris I see more body parts, flesh… blood, a shoe. A mans shoe.
My shoulder hugs the wall that I’m knelt beside. I Lean in for comfort, wishing the bricks would swallow me. The explosion still rings in my ears merged indistinguishable with a dozen alarms.
The shop windows are blown in. curtains flailing, metallic strips of the Venetian blinds flapping. I can taste it now, the semtex smoke, dampened by Belfast drizzle, sweetened by charred flesh.
Sirens, I can hear the sirens… they are coming, thank God!
From the smoke filled fish shop, a scream, then a sob, big sobs.
“There’s someone alive in there! Karl, can you hear? There’s someone in there.” I shout to my oppo, all of three feet away. The blast has robbed us of volume perception.
“Don’t go!” he shouts back, Don’t go, there may be another bomb… wait for orders… Wait for orders!” His voice is cracking, his eyes pleading. I’ve never heard him sound scared.
I stand, wanting to go to the sobbing, but my head spins, my legs are jelly, I think of a thousand reasons not to go. I’m a cowardly fuck.
The scream! Ever heard the scream of a mother who finds her lost child... the one she’s been looking for frantically? When she finds the child, she finds the child decapitated. She finds the child beheaded. The scream, it enters your gut like a knife, a stiletto. It stabs you, piecing the stomach low down, then it rips upwards… upwards towards your heart… its hurts, it never stops hurting and it’ll put you in hell – that scream. It’ll put you in hell forever.
The mother falls to her knees and holds the dead child to her chest. Her screams are now silent, yet I can still hear them.
“Yer fucking Scots pig…”
the old lady appeared from nowhere, is covered in blood and dust, her glasses are broken and she’s kicking me.
“I’m English” I reply through my teeth, without looking at her.
“That’s worse… yer fucking English pig!”
“Why can’t you stop them?” she shouts.
“Fuck the IRA… Fuck the IRA… Fuck their Boston dollars!” The kicks keep coming, she's lost her shoes and her feet are blooded, cut to pieces by the glass. She must be eighty if she’s a day and her rant breaks down into indistinguishable wailing. I lay down my weapon, grab her shoulders and sit her down on the pavement with her back against the wall. Her eyes are wide and wild with shock and she clicks her dentures into place with her tongue, then says, “Where’s Billy, where’s Billy?” The tears streak the dust on her cheeks, diluting the blood.
“He’ll be along in a minute” I lie, like I know who the fuck Billy is.
A big gloved hand grabs my flack-jacket at the shoulder, turns me around. Sergeant King, he looks grim.
"There’s dead, dying and injured people here son, he nods towards the smoke. "We gotta get in there… do what we can. Do you understand?"
I don’t, but I say “Sarge” in the affirmative, toss my rifle to Karl in exchange for his morphine and field-dressing pack and follow the King twenty yards up the street to slaughterhouse central.
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