The first installment of QR’s ‘Prose and Pints’ series: Belfast’s Pádraig Ó Meiscill’s performing his short story ‘The Waste Land’
The Waste Land
“Name.” My Da’s moustache twitched, his left hand clasped a little tighter around mine, his right hand remained inside the pocket of his denim jacket. Name supplied. “Address.” The soldier with the strange accent looked like he was lost inside his oversized camouflage coat, his baggy green trousers and his long black boots. His gun was slung across his chest, allowing him to hold a small notebook and an even smaller brown pencil. His eyes squinted in concentration behind thick, round spectacles. ‘Milk-bottle head’ was the name given to the kids in school who were forced to wear these contraptions – that and the less imaginative ‘specky four-eyes’. Address supplied. “Date of birth.” The drizzle continued to fall on my Da’s uncovered short back and sides, and on my nose sticking out from under my hood. The soldier seemed to be sweating beneath the green and brown helmet designed for somewhere that wasn’t streets of black tarmac and red brick. It must have been a Sunday, a holiday or too early because the mechanics on the corner was closed. Date of birth supplied. “Where you coming from?” Coronation Street! That was it, the soldier sounded the same as the men in the show my Ma watched while doing the ironing in the living room. He was from Coronation Street and he was covered by a soldier crouching on the corner who would sometimes have been called ‘chocolate face’ by old men as a foot patrol passed a pub. Point of origin supplied. “And where you going to?” My Granda’s. I knew that much. Probably for steak and kidney and carrot pie, mashed potatoes, thick gravy with lumps left in and diluted pineapple juice in the tall glasses with the pineapple trees engraved on them. There was a strip of wasteland on the way to his house that was always littered with shards of glass, so my Da would take me on his shoulders and navigate his way through the mess. Nature of destination supplied. “Where’s he live?” My Da took his right hand from his jean jacket pocket, ran it through his hair and sighed. The left hand holding mine sagged a little. Additional address supplied. “Wait here.” The soldier retreated to a colleague outside the chemists who carried a massive radio on his back like a steel schoolbag. An aerial extended far above his head. They consulted briefly before Milk-Bottle Head relayed what he’d written in his note book back to Coronation Street. He stared at my Da while waiting on the radio to tell him what to do with us. My Da sighed again. “Right, you can go.” We emerged onto the main road to hail down a taxi while the foot patrol made its way down our avenue, eyes peeled for shifty looking locals and suspect cars. As usual, I sat on my Da’s knee on the back seat and watched his moustache. It was still twitching. When we got to the wasteland, my feet remained firmly on the ground. Somehow, I knew not to ask for a lift.
Pádraig Ó Meiscill is a writer from Belfast who is currently working on a collection of short stories.
More of his work can be found www.theflexiblepersona.com
Follow QUB Prose and Pints on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/QUBproseandpints/
Recorded in the QR studio by Lucy Smith and Emmet McGonagle.