The following is from Rob Doyle’s Here Are the Young Men. Doyle’s fiction, essays, and criticism have appeared in The Dublin Review, The Stinging Fly, The Irish Times, The Sunday Times, The Sunday Business Post, and elsewhere.
Dear Mr and Mrs Connelly,
We regret to inform you that Matthew has been forbidden from attending next Wednesday’s graduation ceremony, due to his unacceptable behaviour and the lack of respect he has shown for the school, for his teachers and for his fellow pupils throughout the year. This will not affect your son’s academic record with the school.
My da flung the letter down on the table and turned away in disgust. I said nothing. I sat there and waited for it to be over. My head was still in bits from all the vodka and spliff the day before. My ma looked on from behind him.
‘What the hell is goin on with ye?’ my da said.
We were in the kitchen. A pot was simmering and there was the smell of sizzling grease from fish fingers on the grill. I didn’t answer. ‘Well,’ he demanded. ‘What is it? Aren’t ye happy? What a fuckin disgrace. We can’t even see our own child graduatin. Do ye have any idea how humiliatin that is for us?’
I kept looking at the table, saying nothing. These were rhetorical questions. I wondered whether the lads had been barred as well. Surely they had: we were all as bad as each other.
‘When that letter arrived this mornin the first thing I did was get on the phone to Mr Landerton,’ my da went on. ‘From what he says, ye’ve been lyin through yer teeth to us for months. He says he’d be very surprised if ye so much as passed the Leavin Cert. And he said it’s a shame as well, cos ye used to be one of the brightest lads in your class, until ye started gettin all moody and actin the prick. What in the name of God is wrong with ye?’
I shrugged again, but sensed that if I kept doing that he might take it as a provocation. I said, ‘I don’t know. It’s all … I don’t know.’
‘What’s that supposed to mean? “I don’t know.” Can ye not even speak, is that the problem?’
My mother broke in: ‘Leave him, will ye. Jumpin down his throat like that isn’t goin to help anything, is it?’
‘You hang on a minute. I was speakin to him, let me speak to him before ye go defendin him when he’s not even answerin me properly!’ My mother had placed the lid of the pot at a slight tilt, so some of the heat escaped and it wouldn’t boil over, and now she sat back down at the table with us. ‘We’re just worried about ye, Matthew, that’s all,’ she said softly. ‘Ye always done well at school before. But now there’s this. A whole year of it and then this. What’s gone wrong with ye at all?’
I wanted to tell them that I was miserable and could they fix everything, like I was a child still. Instead I shook my head and looked intently at the surface of the table. ‘I’m alright,’ I said. ‘Don’t mind Landerton, I’m sure I did alright in the exams.’ I started wondering if I could get away with smoking a spliff out the window of my room, or whether I’d have to ‘go for a walk’ as usual, smoke it out in the cold and the rain, then skulk back in and up to my room to listen to music and fuck around with lava lamps. Or maybe they would go out tonight because it was a Friday and I’d be able to smoke my joints freely, rob some vodka or Bacardi from their press, and get out the porno.
‘Look at your sister,’ my ma was saying. ‘Never so much as a word from her teachers, unless they’re singin her praises. Why couldn’t ye have been more like her?’
I considered some nasty, sarcastic reply but I didn’t have it in me. I kept looking at the table and shrugged limply.
My da started up again.
‘Do ye not realize how lucky ye are? Ye don’t, do ye. Look at all the opportunities that are out there, waitin for ye. This country has never had more money in it than it has now. Jesus, we used to be hardly any better off than a Third World country, and I don’t even mean a long time ago. And now our economy is the envy of the bleedin world, and all you and your mates do is sit there mopin. I’ll fuckin tell ye now – I envy you, and everyone else your age. Ye can sneer all ye like, but this Celtic Tiger they’re talkin about, it’s no joke. Ye just don’t appreciate it cos ye don’t remember what it was like before, when we had sweet fuck all. Back when I was eighteen, nineteen, Jaysus, I’d have given me right arm to have what all youse have. But ye don’t lift a finger. Ye just can’t see it, can ye.’
He looked like he was going to say more, but instead he just scowled and shook his head. I looked hard at the table.
‘It’s true, Matthew,’my ma said.
I saw that she was nearly in tears and there was a feeling in me like a rising heat. But I hated them both.
‘What the hell are ye goin to do with yer life?’ my da said. ‘I’ll tell ye one thing, if ye really did make a balls of your Leavin Cert because ye were too busy dossin and feelin sorry for yourself, ye better not expect us to support ye. The way yer goin, ye might end up on the fuckin street. Have ye thought about that? I suppose ye’d expect someone else to sort it all out for ye if ye did. Just like me fuckin brother. What’ll ye do for the summer? Have ye started lookin for a job yet?’
I scowled and said, ‘I just did me last exam yesterday, how could I have had time to find a job?’
‘Well ye better get lookin for one soon enough, cos ye needn’t think ye’ll be mopin around here all summer long.’
‘What’ll ye do if ye don’t get into college?’my ma said desperately. ‘I will get in,’ I said, still not looking them in the eyes.
My da sighed in exasperation and clattered up from his chair. He hissed and muttered as he banged out of the room.
‘Ye’ve just upset him,’ said my ma. I looked at the table for a moment longer. Then I opened my mouth and was about to say something. Instead, I shook my head, exhaled sharply through my nose, stood up and went to my room.
I rolled a spliff and then I went out for a walk.
From HERE ARE THE YOUNG MEN. Used with permission of Bloomsbury USA. Copyright © 2014 Rob Doyle.