- Oranges from Spain
It's not a fruit shop any more. Afterwards, his wife sold it and someone opened up a fast food business. You wouldn’t recognize it now—it's all flashing neon, girls in identical uniforms and the type of food that has no taste. Even Gerry Breen wouldn’t recognize it. Either consciously or unconsciously, I don’t seem to pass that way very often, but when I do I always stop and look at it. The neon brightness burns the senses and sears the memories like a wound being cauterized; but then it all comes back and out flows a flood of memory that nothing can stem.
I was sixteen years old and very young when I went to work for Mr Breen in his fruit shop. It was that summer when it seemed to rain every day and a good day stood out like something special. I got the job through patronage. My father and Gerry Breen went back a long way—that always struck me as strange, because they were so unalike as men. Apparently, they were both born in the same street and grew up together, and even when my father's career as a solicitor took him up-market, they still got together occasionally. My father collected an order of fruit every Friday night on his way home from work, and as children we always talked about ‘Gerry Breen's apples’. It's funny the things you [End Page 249] remember, and I can recall very clearly my mother and father having an argument about it one day. She wanted to start getting fruit from the supermarket for some reason, but my father wouldn’t hear of it. He got quite agitated about it and almost ended up shouting, which was very unlike him. Maybe he acted out of loyalty, or maybe he owed him some kind of favour, but whatever the reason, the arrangement continued.
If his name is mentioned now they never do it in front of me. It's almost as if he never existed. At first it angered me—it was almost as if they thought I would disintegrate at its sound—but gradually I came to be grateful for it. I didn’t even go to the funeral, and from that moment it was obvious my family sought to draw a curtain over the whole event. My mother had taken me away for a week's holiday. We stayed with one of her sisters who lives in Donegal, and I’ve never had a more miserable time. Inevitably, it rained every day and there was nothing to do but mope around and remember, trapped in a house full of women, where the only sounds were the clink of china cups and the click of knitting needles. It was then the dreams started. The intervening years have lessened their frequency but not their horror. When I woke up screaming for about the tenth time, they took me to a special doctor who reassured them with all the usual platitudes—I’d grow out of it, time was a great healer, and so on. In one sense I did grow out of it—I stopped telling anyone about the nightmares and kept them strictly private. They don’t come very often now, but when they do only my wife knows. Sometimes she cradles me in her arms like a child until I fall asleep again.
I hadn’t even really wanted a job in the first place. It was all my father's idea. He remembered the long weeks of boredom I had complained about the summer before and probably the nuisance I had been as I lazed about the house. I walked right into his trap. He knew I’d been working up to ask if I could have a motorbike for my next birthday. The signs weren’t good, and my mother's instinctive caution would have been as difficult a barrier to surmount as the expense, so it came as a surprise when my father casually enquired if I’d be interested in starting to save for one. I took the bait...