“High Five, Danny O’C.”
by Graham Tugwell
“Get out, get out, save yourself, get out, the fucking car’s on fire, it’s on fire!”
He put his hand on my shoulder and he started shoving me. I think I’d hit my head on the dashboard or on the steering wheel or something. I wasn’t thinking right. I know I kept asking him stupid things like: How are your legs? Are your legs alright?
“They’re trapped, Jimmy, they’re fucking trapped! I’m done for, I’m fucking done for!”
I remember saying: Should I have a go at pulling them out for you? I think the smoke and the swelling in my head was having an effect on me by then.
But he kept shoving me and thumping me in the shoulder and pushing me into the door and shouting “The fire, the fucking fire, get out!” and the door swung open and I was lying on the tarmac and everyone was looking at me, and the burning car, and the big mess we’d made.
And I looked at him in the seat, and the fire was up around his head and black smoke was pouring out of the windscreen and he looked at me, and I looked at him and he says, he says: “Run Jimmy!”
And then the car blew up.
And that was the end of my friend, Daniel O’C’ Connell (1775 – 1847/2010).
. . .
Okay… I’ll start at the beginning.
They had me sweeping up fags or piss or something outside the back door of Whimpers when I first saw him.
Daniel O’ Connell.
I couldn’t get the pan and brush to pick up the butts properly so I was on my knees gathering them by hand and I must have gotten something in my eyes because tears were rolling out of them too.
And then I heard him talking, and he had one of those celebrity voices: “So, what do you do around here for kicks?” he says.
I looked up and there he was, like off the £20 pound note back when we had £20 pound notes. He had that big mop of black curly hair and he had on a long leather jacket and cool jeans. He was smoking a cigarette and grinning at me.
I think I said something like: I like your cool jeans. I should’ve said something better, I know, but.
“Do you?” he said, “I got these when I was over in London in 17something and something. And he laughed “Ah-ha-ha,” that was how he laughed: “Ah-ha-ha!” and he took a big long drag on his cigarette and blew the smoke down into my face.
I coughed loads and when I could look up again he was brushing his hair behind his ear and grinning and shouting, “I’m Danny O’Connell! Liberator of Ireland, I’m the fucking Emancipator! and I said: “I’m Jimmy but I don’t have any nicknames,” and we shook hands, and he helped me up off the ground and gave me a cigarette to hold.
“Do you work here?” he asked, winking, and he looked round the door and into the bit behind the bar I wasn’t ever supposed to go into.
I said: No, Da is in at the bar and I’m to wait out here and not go anywhere and make myself useful if I could.
“That so?” said Danny, grinning, and before I could get in his way he was through the door and I didn’t know what to do, I wasn’t supposed to leave that spot and I was supposed to stay out of trouble and that was the part of the bar I wasn’t ever supposed to go into.
But then he was running past me, knocking over stools, with the cigarette glowing in his mouth and a bottle under each arm. I heard a bellow from inside Whimpers -Da, and in one of his “moods” too and Danny shouted from across the car park: “C’mon Jimmy you piece of shit, get movin’ and I made up my mind and got movin.
I didn’t dare look behind me. I could hear Da growling and falling over the stools.
As I ran Danny shouted: “Go on! Turn around, give your old man the fingers! Go on Jimmy! Fucking live a little! Give him the fingers!”
And I did. I did!
“Ah-ha-ha,” laughed Danny- that was how he laughed.
And we high-fived as we ran.
We were best friends from that day on!
. . .
We would do loads of things, Danny O’Connell and me.
We’d leave the boring village and go off down the fields and he’d let me have a go with his knife and he’d teach me how to smoke, though I wasn’t much good and kept coughing and dropping his cigarettes and starting small fires in the grass.
Once he even let me try on his cool jeans but it felt a bit strange and we didn’t do that again.
Danny knew all sorts of things. He was great- he knew about knots and records and how to play poker and Five Card Doris and he could do wheelies for nearly a minute on my bike. And he knew about girls. He said he’s even kissed one once and tried to put his hand on her chest and she’d almost allowed him.
Sometimes I’d let him in through the bathroom window and he’d sneak into Da’s room and steal a bottle of whatever and we’d go down the fields and he’d show me his dancing and I’d have another go at smoking.
And he’d tell me I didn’t have to listen to Da, not all the time, and that if he came at me again in one of his “moods,” I was to run and hide. It never was my fault and I didn’t have to lie there and just take it.
And some days when Danny had the money we’d go for chips and we’d take them up to the Monument in the graveyard, and sit there eating them even if it was raining.
I liked it there. I really liked it there. Watching the traffic whiz by and looking at the two white sheep and the one black sheep in the field across the road beside the school. They seemed happy.
And Danny was always full of stories.
He’d tell me about the laughs he had when he was training to be an oriental stuntman, and the time he punched that cyclist square in the hip, or when he and three supermodels rented a dirigible in 1828..
“Fucking great times, Jimmy,” he’d say. “Fucking great times.”
But sometimes Danny would get angry, specially if we’d gotten our hands on some schnapps and he’d be smoking his cigarette in that fierce way he had and he would look up at the Monument, look up at Jesus and Mary and the other woman alongside her.
I don’t know why but it would make him very cross.
“Smug fucking prick,” Danny would say, “Fucking prick up on the cross. Looking down at us. Thinking he’s the fucking bee’s knees because he knows he can just die and come back smiling and we’ll bow and scrape and tug our fucking forelocks.”
I’d nod and say something like: Yeah, yeah or You don’t say.
And he’d shake his head and say, “Not me. I’m not going to.”
No, no; I’d say or: You’re right Danny.
He’d shout, “Didn’t I sink the HMS Thunderchylde? Didn’t I ruin that wedding in Carlow? I never asked him to die for my sins. I never fucking asked him.”
And once he got so angry he jumped to his feet and pointed his finger up into the statue’s face and stared at it and his voice got all low and serious.
I remember what he said to me.
He looked down and he said, “I’ll wipe that grin off his fucking face if that’s the last thing I fucking do.”
I never liked it when he got like that.
I looked down at my chips getting wet from the weather and said something like: We can’t take down the Monument, ‘cos everyone in the village paid good money for it and it was only last year that they had it painted all yellow.
“Fuck the monument,” he said to me, “Fuck the people,” and he sucked on his cigarette. “Fuck them,” he whispered, crouching, “in the eye and in the ear and in the fucking mouth. And when they think the fucking is over and they’re thanking me for not fucking them anymore I’ll fuck them in the mouth again. Just to show them. Just to fucking show them.”
I could never curse like that, not even if I tried!
“We’ll show them,” he said to me.”Everyone in this fucking hole of a town. Looking at us. Noses in the air. Mouth’s like cat’s arses. I’m the Emancipator, Jimmy. The Emancipator.”
And he stubbed out his cigarette on Mary’s lap.
So that was the plan. We’d show them. We’d show them all. Even if I didn’t want to. Didn’t want to at all.
. . .
Danny’s first plan was to write a couple of rude words on Jesus’ chest.
We’d gotten some blue paint out of the garage and since we couldn’t find brushes we’d use the end of a rolled up newspaper. I’d measured the statue and Danny was sure he could fit in at least three swears if he was neat and if he wrote “Bollix” instead of “Bollocks.”
That would shock the squares in the village, Danny said, that would shake up their world good and proper.
I think it was on a Tuesday, or it could have been Wednesday because Da had done the lotto, but it was night-time anyway and we’d worked it out so that Danny could sit on my shoulders and I would hold the paint and he the newspaper.
We had two-and-a-half swears done when some lights shone on us and I dropped the paint in fright and Danny said “Fucking leg it!” so I did and we ran off, high-fiving, Danny laughing “Ah-ha-ha! Ah-ha-ha!”
But it rained that night and Danny had been a bit sloppy anyway. You couldn’t make out the c-word at all and “NIPS” looked more like”MRS.” Another shower fell at lunchtime and after that you’d never have known anything had been painted on Jesus at all.
Danny got quiet. He was planning what we would do next.
. . .
We were going to grab a bra from next door’s line and do it up on the statue of Christ.
Danny said he had plenty of experience with bras.
He put his arm around me and said to me “Can you imagine Jimmy? They’ll come out of Mass or out of the shops, all the stuffy bastards in this village, and they’ll look over at the Monument and what’ll they see? They’ll see a lovely silky number spread across the chest of their Lord. And their world will crumble down around their shoulders.”
And I know I said I wasn’t sure, that I thought he might be going too far but he wouldn’t listen.
He said: “No rain will wash that away. It’ll be there to stay Jimmy! We’ll make our mark on this stinking town!”
But it didn’t work out that way.
We got into the back garden alright and we got the bra off the line; that was easier than I thought it was going to be.
And Danny let me hold it for a while. It felt lovely.
But we had to put the bra on during the day, if we tried it at night Danny wouldn’t be able to see what he was doing.
Bras were tricky.
We had a go at lunchtime.
Danny was on my shoulders again but we’d forgotten Jesus was hanging on a cross and was a bit bigger than Sandra next door anyway and we couldn’t get the bra to close properly.
Danny started cursing and slapping the statue and I think part of the clasp came off in his hand.
A couple of people had stopped on the pavement.
I told Danny, I said: People are looking, people are looking, Danny.
And he told me to take off my belt and give it up to him, he’d use that, he said, that’d work.
It didn’t work.
Then Da was running across the graveyard, shouting and screaming. They must have told him what we were up to and got him out of Whimpers. I watched him get bigger and if Danny hadn’t pushed me and pushed me I would have just stood there, waiting for him.
“Split up!” Danny shouted, and he pushed me over the wall and he went out the gate.
I ran down the street with the bra flapping in my hand and I was running as fast as I could and my trousers came down and I couldn’t stop to do them up in case Da caught up with me and I was crying, I couldn’t stop crying I couldn’t stop crying.
And everyone was laughing. Everyone was pointing at me and laughing. Everyone.
That’s why I said yes. That’s why I agreed to help Danny steal the car.
. . .
Dr. Proutfot’s car was sitting outside the funeral home.
Danny had found a half-brick somewhere and he put it through the driver’s side window while I kept watch.
He knew how to hotwire cars ‘cos his uncle in Monasterboice had shown him two summers ago.
And when he had the car up and running I got in and we were off. Fast!
I think we went wrong when Danny came round by the hearse and clipped the headstone. We weren’t supposed to hit the Monument that hard.
When I woke up again Danny was laughing. There was blood in his teeth, but he kept laughing: “Ah-ha-ha! Ah-ha-ha!” and he shouted, “They’ll remember this! They’ll remember this forever!” and he pointed.
Jesus’ head had come clean off and was poking through the windscreen.
Danny smiled at me, gave me a high-five though it hurt a bit. “We did it Jimmy. We did it. We showed this town. We showed your Da.”
And then his smile went strange. And he said “Do you smell smoke?”
. . .
And that was when I started the story earlier.
I don’t know what else to tell you…
No, I’m not lying. I’m telling the truth!
That all happened, tha’s what all happened.”
No, all of it.
Why would I lie?
Check the car again, he’s in there.
Will you let me… will you let me go please?
My hands are swelled up from the ropes.
I don’t know what… is my Da here?
They’re hurting me, Da, oh they’re hurting me. Daaaa!