belfast shop
Chapter 2 — Section 2
Pages 35-3937-4128-32
POVMr Mack
WhereMacks' home and shop
WhenWednesday lunchtime, May 5 1915
ww1 map
... have to mark that down on the
"Hark! Hark! The Dogs Do Bark!", satirical map of the war, 1914 – from

“‘Memorable Scenes at Dardanelles.’ Now that’s a further development. ‘Race to land before dawn.’ We’ll have to mark that down on the map. ‘Australasians’ Gallantry.’ Australasians means Australians and New Zealanders, them both. No word of the Dubs, but we know they’re out there.”


Dinner was cold bacon and cold cabbage, the cabbage adrift in a murky water. Mr. Mack brought his fork as far as his lips. “Eat up your greens, Jim. World of goodness in cabbage.” He waited while his son obeyed, then back to the news.

“‘Fight for Ypres. Use of Stupefying Gases.’ Now that’s shocking. That’s beyond the beyonds. ‘Canadians’ Gallantry.’ Still no mention of the Dubs. Mind you, don’t know why we’re supposed to be shocked. The German soldier has no tradition of honour. That’s the case with Germany. See it with the Kaiser. All Prussian gas and gaskets, but no command of honour. And that’s the sad truth.”

Cezanne, rosary
Cézanne, "Old Woman with Rosary", 1896

He gave the sad truth a moment’s commiseration, staring at his fork. From out the shop the Rosary came, Hail Mary low and Holy Mary high. He leant closer over the table. “I’ve a small something inside needs seeing to after.”

“I’m finished now, Da.”

Out in the shop Aunt Sawney disremembered her Rosary sufficient to bang her stick and bawl, “Boys don’t speak at table.” Mr. Mack half turned to the open door. A stickler for decorum, no harm in that. “Have you finished your dinner, Jim?”

“Yes, Da.”

Again the bang of a stick on the floor. Mr. Mack frowned. He looked doubtfully at the mess of cabbage. Best thing for it was to say grace and get back in the shop. “We give Thee thanks, Almighty God, for all Thy gifts, who livest and reignest world without end.”

Over which, as though in competition, Aunt Sawney brayed: “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.”

It was a race to Amen, which Aunt Sawney won. Mr. Mack rose. The Rosary of course was good and proper, but had she forgotten there was socks needed knitting for the Front? “I’ll take over now, Aunt Sawney. You come back to your chair.” Confidentially to Jim he said, “Fetch the shop bike out of the yard and meet me inside.”

The boy’s face creased and he said, “But Da, I’m due back at school.”

“Papa,” Mr. Mack corrected.

“Papa,” said Jim.

“Better put some juldy in it so. Chop-chop.”

durer, mother
... beckoned hither and beckoned thither
Durer, "Portrait of the Artist's Mother", 1514

He watched his son as he loafed through the scullery. Keen as mustard a moment since, now he’s hanging dogs. Would want to catch on to himself.

“What use is a chair to me?” Aunt Sawney complained as she came in from the shop. “I’m beckoned hither and beckoned thither like a common shop-miss.”

“Now now, I’m only thinking of your health. You’re only over the bronchitis and you needs your rest.”

When she drew level with him, she abruptly jutted her chin in his face. “I’m still the name on the lease of this shop. And while there’s saints in heaven, ’tis stopping that way.”

Bacon cabbage potatoes
... crumbi rumpitita
Bacon, cabbage and potatoes – national dish of Ireland

When his son had fetched the bike, Mr. Mack muttered, discreetly closing the inside door, “Crumbi rumpitita. Latin for cabbage warmed up. Save that wasn’t warmed up even.” He thought a moment, recollected himself. “There’s plenty would walk to Dublin for a plate of cold cabbage.”

“What do I need the bike for, Da?”

Mr. Mack said Aha! with his eyes, and from under the shelves pulled out an onion box. He lifted it on the counter. “I want you to deliver some advertising-bills round the local populace. What do you think? They’re hot off the printer’s press.” He showed one to his son, running his finger along the words at the expected rate of reading. “It’s the modern way of drumming up trade.”

Modigliani, Raymond Radiguet
... nose the length of the
Modigliani, "Raymond Radiguet", 1915

The boy gazed into the box, his face growing longer and plainer. Makes a comical sketch, thought Mr. Mack. Eyebrows straight and nose the length of the Shannon. Has a face like a capital T. He thought—did he think that?—the box held his birthday present. All in a rush, he spluttered, “I’ve a cake for you after out of Findlater’s.”

“What, Da?”

“Deliveries first.” His son flicked through the pile and Mr. Mack had to check himself from cautioning against creasing the sheets. “Don’t crease them now,” he said, defeated by the boy’s shiftlessness.

“You want me to distribute these?”

“Deliver them.” Though in point of fact, distribute was probably the more appropriate sentiment in this particular instance. Fair dues. Comes from having a scholarship boy for a son. “Distribute them if you choose. But you needn’t do it all the one go. Do a couple of streets now, the bulk after your school.” 

The Capital T was for Tragic on his face, till the boy shrugged. “All right.”

“Hold your horses, do your buttons up first. Don’t you want to know where to deliver them?”

“You said the local populace.”

“But which local populace? Have you not the horse-sense to ask?”

Barrie, Quality Street
JM Barrie, "Quality Street", illustration, 1902

“Which local populace, Da?”

“Well, up Glasthule Road towards Ballygihen. Do you know where I mean?”

“The posh houses.”

Quality Street,” said Mr. Mack. “We’re on the up, Jim, never forget it. Juldy on now. And don’t be late for school. And remember, that bicycle is shop property, not something to hare up and down with.”

He had ushered his son to the door, but at the door his son said, “Papa, do I have to?”

Incomprehension creased Mr. Mack’s rotund face. “What does it mean, do I have to?”

“It’s just that, some of the boys at school, that’s where they live.”

“Some of your schoolfellows?”


Mr. Mack stroked the end of his moustache. “That tops it,” he said. “You can ask your schoolfellows to put in a good word for the shop.” He tapped his nose. “Word of mouth, a personal recommendation. But see they gets the bills first.”

A sudden notion and he jabbed his hand into a jar of Lemon’s sweets. He emptied the handful into Jim’s jacket pocket. “Distribute these to your schoolfellows. They’ll think the more of you for it.”

“Yes, Da.”

Papa,” said Mr. Mack. “That’s three times, four times you’ve called me Da.” But Jim was already out of tongueshot, pushing down the road.

harnett, old violin
... hangs up his fiddle when he's
William Harnett, "The Old Violin", 1886

Peculiar case, thought Mr. Mack. He’s not sullen, nor yet very gamesome. Is he cheerfuller in the street? Hangs up his fiddle when he’s home, that’s for sure. Sixteen: hobbledehoy, neither man nor boy. Might have perhaps wished him a happy birthday. But he’d be looking for his present then, and we’d be Christmas Day in the morning before them bills got delivered.

Now what’s this the commotion is up the hill? Something going off whatever it is. And that whiff. Recognize that whiff.

A woman in dark bombazine walked by holding a clean child by the hand. Mr. Mack mimed a tweak of his peak, then patted the child’s head. “Open till late,” he said.

Seurat, cart
Seurat, "The Cart, or the Horse Hauler", 1880s

Way up Adelaide Road, over the railway bridge, undriven came a low cart. That smell, thought Mr. Mack. Then: “Herrings above! Aunt Sawney, where are you? Get up out of your chair, Aunt Sawney! The dungcart is coming. They’ll be here in the hour and we’ve nothing prepared.”