The Bluebottle Boys – Birmingham, 23 March 1962: Penance and Father Fitzgerald

The Bluebottle Boys – Chapter 10, Part 3 – Birmingham, 23 March 1962: Penance and Father Fitzgerald (Section 2 of 3)

[The featured picture is of a rectory parlour much like the one Father Fitzgerald would have had.]

Father Fitzgerald“At the end of the hallway to the left is a small parlour,” Father Fitzgerald said. ” My housekeeper will have tea and biscuits for you there directly. I’ve some matters I wish to discuss with my parishioners and the officer assigned to your case.”

Ian, our parents and I adjourned there, but although the biscuits were good, no one had much appetite for them; none of us did much more than sip even the tea. Fifteen minutes after tea and biscuits had been served, Father Fitzgerald and D. S. Higgins joined us.

D.S. Higgins spoke first. “Father Fitzgerald’s had a gud lung talk wid ever’un, an’tseems ’ey all agree ’at ’ere’m nothen t’be accomplished by putten y’on trial, an’ runnen y’through th’ system. Y’m gud boys, th’ both o’ yow, ’oo got a bit carried away.

“Now, I cud gie the tew ‘f’yow a caution loike I did y’mate, an’ be dun widit, but I personally fink a bit o’ penance moight still be in order.

“So, I yav a tiny lickle proposition fer y’both. Y’knoo… paperwork’s been pilen oop at the staytion, an’ Om getten jus’ a toiny bit forgetful in me ald age. An’ ‘f yow both do wot the gud Father aks y’to ’tween now an’ Easter, I may forget t’note those cautions ‘n the foile – ‘nfac’, wid all’at paperwork, this foile moight jus’ disappear altogether – includen y’fren’s caution – meanen all ‘fyow walk away froom this with no record wotsoever – ‘sif none ‘fit ever actoo’ly took place. Am y’int’rested?”

We both nodded. “Yes, sir.”

He turned to our parents.

“An’m this acceptable ter ya?”

Dad, Mrs. Tippins – even Mr. Tippins – said “yes” immediately. Mum hesitated for what felt like a good ten minutes or more, though in reality it was likely no more than a few instants, before she gave out a very long sigh.

“Very well… alright then… yes… yes… thank you… thank you, very much….”

I think I know where I’ve inherited my tendency to flash a reassuring smile, when I’m the person I’m actually trying to reassure. I often wondered if mine resembled the one she flashed just then. In her mind, Grammer and Gramfer must’ve been thumping her on the head at that moment – hard. But she’d clearly decided that my unblemished record – or rather lack of a record with the law altogether – was, like Paris, worth a Mass. So thump away if you must, Grammer and Gramfer.

Father Fitzgerald took over from there.

“I’m so glad, truly glad, and grateful you’ve all come to this decision. I think you’ll find it will be a very good thing for us all.” He turned to Ian and me. “The first thing I want you to do is to go straightaway into the chapel and say a prayer for Rufus, Quentin and Drusilla.”

“We will if you want, Father,” said Ian, with a slight whine, “but I don’t see how it helps any of us to do them any favours.”

“You’re not doing it as a favour to them.” Father Fitzgerald smiled at Ian’s and my confusion a moment before continuing.

“The more you pray for them, the more one of two things will happen: One, you’ll find the enmity between you dissipates, the rifts heal – in which case you destroy your enemies by making them friends. Two, they resist your entreaties; they can do this, but only by resisting and cutting off their own source of power and good in the process. Once they do that, their power over you dissipates. Either way, you win. So pray for them as a favour to yourselves.

“But before you go, I want you both to promise me you’ll be here from seven to half past eight on Wednesday nights.

Your ‘penance’ will be to sing at the children’s Mass this Easter, and you’ll need to rehearse. With a whole church full of parishioners of Irish descent, you’d think we’d have a surplus of good choristers. But most of the kids have grown up thinking singing is for sissies. So you’ll fill in for a nonexistent children’s choir, and maybe inspire a few kids to change their minds.

“Incidentally – I don’t suppose either of you boys are of Irish descent.”

We shook our heads.

“English,” Ian mumbled.

“Welsh, Cornish, Scottish, English, French – erm, Breton, actually – and… and… and… and… wotever they are on Holyhead,” I blurted out.

Father Fitzgerald chuckled. “I believe that, too, counts as Welsh, Reggie. So, no Irish blood from either of you. Catholic?”

We again shook our heads.

“Excellent. Good. Good. Good. Very well then, boys, off to chapel, say your prayers and I’ll see you this coming Wednesday night.”

I did dutifully offer up a prayer for my tormentors, though I still prayed to keep Tiny out of Sandhurst; but even as perfunctory as I otherwise thought my prayer had been, Ian left well before I’d finished. It was then that I offered a far, far longer prayer of thanks to St. Cecilia for having saved our necks once again.

© 2017, 2016, 2015 G. H. McCallum and Duvanian Press, all rights reserved.

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G. H. McCallum

G. H. McCallum is author of the Reggie Stone series, the first of which, Walking Backwards for Christmas: A Tale of Woe from Soggyhall, was released on 12 December 2014; look for the second, The Bluebottle Boys, in late spring of 2016. He blogs principally on the 1960s, Victoriana and magic realism.