s t e p h e n m o r a n
- introduction -
cLoco the clown
the silver circle
[a] live reading
[image : ringsend gasworks : andrew lovatt]
t h e s i l v e r c
i r c l e
b y S t e p h e n M o r a n
[a] for live reading : click here
The Brothers held a weekly raffle called
the Silver Circle, with the
primary school children as their runners. Joseph Murphy counted the addresses
on his card again - less than a page full, and some of those hardly ever
paid. It was amazing that other boys had forty-five good ones. They would
be allowed to keep sixpence for every page of twenty. He looked at his
lines: Glencree Road, MacDonagh Road, Casement Avenue. No purchase houses,
that was the problem. There was only one car in his street, a black Ford
Popular with running boards. He closed the textured blue card, with its
holy logo. 'I'm just going to collect my Silver Circle,' he called out,
but they were having their Saturday morning lie-in.
Joseph in the rain, barely light morning, the concrete a palette of greys.
Rapids in the gutter. Knock and give the code words 'Is your Mammy in?'
to the kids who answered. Sometimes it was hard to tell. Discussion could
be heard with coarse male voices. Many times no answer came, although
clearly there was someone home. Others frankly admitted they could not
afford the sixpence this week. Little zeros instead of ticks in the column.
'Another duck!' Brother Nicholas would exclaim, making sure everybody
heard the humiliation, as he checked against the number of coins handed
in when the children lined up with their returns.
The parish of St. Floncus was a frontier territory where disused farms
met pebbledashed houses. Green algae clogged ditches of frog spawn and
tadpoles. Stopcock shores made dungeons for bees the kids captured in
jamjars. Rivers that rose in the gutters in torrential rain, when the
drops splashed off the ground, were waterways for sailing ice-pop sticks.
Joseph walked through a gap in the bramble hedgerow to cross to the lower
reaches of Corporation terraces in South Finglas. Ahead lay the fields,
thistled and wet, with vinegar plants and dock leaves in the grass. Tinkers'
horses ruminated, tethered or sometimes free. It was a local sport for
rough boys to rope them and ride bareback. In the back of his mind were
stories about gangs from West Finglas who would torture you with burning
sticks. The kind of boys who got a kick out of throwing a cat on a fire.
On every edge of the suburbs were hayfields, waste lands, ditches and
culverts. There was a sense of adventure and foreboding, never knowing
what would lie on the other side of a hill. The animals were mostly tame,
but some of the people were wild. Children were left to wander in a wilderness
of cliffs and river gorges, when they were supposed to be in school.
The travelling people came and went leaving a trail of unwanted clothes.
What you would call a bluff maybe, he had just crested, and there to
one side stood a wire-haired young man, lashing a tethered horse with
a rope, so that the horse ran as it could, only in a circle around its
stake. Joseph knew instantly that there was no way in the world he was
going to get past without paying some sort of toll.
'What are you looking at?' the man snapped. It was the standard impossible
question. It was certain he would take exception to whatever answer Joseph
'I said what are you looking at!'
No answer at all would be worse.
'Are you calling me nothing? Come here!'
Seeing it would be futile to run and the horse man was already walking
towards him, Joseph paused. Before he had time to think, the man had
come and hit him in the face. Joseph dropped to one knee, blood trickling
from his nose. He wiped the blood away with the back of his hand. The
man stood over him, holding a doubled rope poised like a whip.
'What's that?' he demanded, pointing at the blue card in Joseph's hand.
'It's just the Silver Circle,' said Joseph, 'I'm collecting for it.'
The man raised the rope to strike but refrained, smirking, half surprised
and half amused to find in himself a twinge of pity.
'I could kill you here and nobody would know,' he said. 'Hand over the
'I can't,' Joseph said. 'It's for the Silver Circle.'
But even as he was saying it, Joseph was turning out his pockets. He
handed the coins to the man who then walked away and resumed baiting
the small black and white horse. Joseph pushed on through hoofprints
and knotted grass, till he was out of sight, and then ran.
The way to the Brothers' house was through the school playing fields,
along a path lined with poplars. He was late and the prefab classroom
where they queued to hand in the money was closed, so he had to go to
the house. It was secluded from the school by evergreens on three sides,
and from the street beyond by a ten-foot wall. Entering the gardens Joseph
passed by a large aviary, neat vegetable plots and flower beds. Ahead,
at the end of the path, steps led up to double doors standing open. In
a large office near the entrance, Brother Nicholas sat behind a leather-topped
desk. Seeing Joseph knock at the open door, he closed a drawer under
the desk. There was a clinking sound of bottle and glass sliding together.
He continued writing something in a ledger, balancing columns of pounds,
shillings and pence.
'Well,' Brother Nicholas said eventually, looking up with an exaggerated
grin. 'And what have you got for us this week Mr. Murphy?'
'The money was st-st-stolen, Brother.'
'The money was st-st-stolen,' Nicholas mimicked in a little voice. 'Well
somebody will have to pay. And how did this happen, pray tell?'
'A fellow beat me up and t-t-took the money, when I was crossing the
'Did he indeed?' he said. 'A likely story!'
copyright © 2005, stephen moran, all rights