All Stories, General Fiction

Borrowed Fragments by Vince Barry


“. . . ?”

How can you help? Hmm, how can you—

“. . . ?”

My mother? . . . Okay, we can start there. . . . My mother—my mother  came from a large family, a very large Irish Catholic family. Do they make them any more? I think not. . . . At any rate, as a boy, a young boy, no more than eight or nine, I would employ the template of the Baltimore Catechism to sort them out and keep them straight—the Faheys I mean . . .The catechism’s set formula, y’see, helped me convey the essential and fundamental content of the Fahey family. Beginning—

 Who is your mother?

     My mother is Mary, also known known as Mamie. I received my soul in her womb.

      Of course, I didn’t really know what a womb was. I imagined a well-stocked pyramid.

“. . . ?”

Uh-huh, a pyramid. . . . Sister Sylvia said the Virgin Mary had a blessed, fruitful womb. So, being a loving son with a genuine love of the Virgin Mary, I naturally extended this attribute to my own mother—prospectively, of course, since Mamie still stood topside this earth. . .  .Then one day the gentle nun whispered low in my ear of my slip of the ear. “It is not, lad,” she said, “your mother’s tomb whence you received your soul, but her womb.”. . . Alas, the good nun failed to cure my mondegreen, for I rushed home to search for souls in my mother’s room. . . .

      Who is your mothers family?

      The Faheys.

     How many Faheys are there?

     There are six living Faheys—

Then I’d name each of the six brothers,—there were no sisters, and none of the brothers, like myself, ever reproduced—, careful to recall everything I could about them, beginning with the eldest, Mikey, then Tommy, then their considerably younger brothers, Eddie and Vinnie. Two others, Johnny and Jimmy, were younger than Mikey and Tommy, but older than Eddie and Vinnie; and, unlike their four brothers, both were married, to women named Marie—whom I distinguished as “Johnny’s Marie” and “Jimmy’s Marie.”. . .  The diminutive names of all the Faheys, you may have observed, as well as the names of their mates, ended with the long E sound. Whether by accident or design I can’t say, and as a young boy I no more thought to inquire as to question the doctrine of the Virgin Birth; but, funny, when I said “long E” very, very fast, it sounded like—like “longing.” . . .   And oh yes,  of course, I almost forgot, there was another long E brother, . . .  Joey.

“. . . ?”

Yes, absolutely. I included Joey in the Fahey catechetical recitation, even though, mind you, even though I didn’t like it—no, not a bit—when Mamie spoke of him, ’cause, y’see, when she did she would look distant with distressed eyes and recall how she used to give Joey piggy-back rides when he was so sick with “bad kidneys,” and that made me feel sad —

“. . .?”

—for my mother, as well as for Joey. . . .  Of course, I didn’t know what “bad kidneys” were, and Mamie never said, and I never asked. But I knew well enough that Joey had

died of bad kidneys at thirteen,

which I uttered with dread, as one might an incantation to ward off the source of one’s fated imperilment. . . .

My mother’s faraway look deepened whenever she spoke of two other siblings, though try as she might she could never name them, . . . and she felt bad about that.

“Sure, ’s a terrible thing,” she’d go in a tremulous voice with a slight Irish brogue between pathetic sobs, “to be dead and nameless.”

“. . .?”

Me? What could I say?  I’d just nod and mumble something like: “Maybe they didn’t have names, Ma, bein’ DOA an’ all.”

“. . . ?”

DOA? Oh, I probably picked that up from the pulp noir with a sweaty Edmund O’Brien, . . . and from a nurse in another saying, “How shall I make out the report, doctor?” and the doctor suggesting gravely, “Better make it ‘dead on arrival.’”

“. . . ?”

What could she say? She’d just shrug and mutter between her teeth, “The poor twins,” or more plaintively, “the poor  SBTs,” but always as if pricked in a tender place.

“. . . ?”

Still born twins. . . .Of the two I preferred “SBTs”— for my recitations I mean, and my transcriptions. I don’t know why.

“. . . ?”

Oh, didn’t I mention that I wrote everything down?—in a black marble composition book with lined pages and taped spine.

“. . . .?”

No-no, this isn’t it. But mine was exactly like this one—in appearance, I mean.

“. . . ?”

Well, that’s the thing, isn’t it?— what’s become of mine. That’s the  thing, the great thing, the dark thing really—what’s become of mine. . . . I search for it. . . everywhere—flea markets, junk shops, yard sales. They tell me it’s an obsession. . . . Or is it an addiction? . . . I always confuse—what’s the dif—


“Why search for it?”  Why, to fill in the gaps, of course.

“. . . ?”

The gaps in my story—in my life—in my life’s story.

“. . . ?”

Yes, yes I do think that’s important. Absolutely. I mean-I mean that’s where the meaning lies—the deeper meaning—in the gaps. . . . That’s why I search—whenever the otherwise dull and careless melody of my life turns dark and sad; or, like some modern day Ishmael, I find myself studying my reflection in store windows or my shadow in puddles, I search for my composition book. . . . Yesterday some undercurrent from some half-opened window somewhere made me shiver with a dumb melancholy, and off I went, to flee the disagreeable draft . . . to find fragments to shore against my ruins. . . . It’s out there— somewhere. . . . time past—in a black marble composition book with lined pages and taped spine. I just know it is, and I’ll not cease my-my exploring till I find it!

“. . . ?”

“What then?” . . . Well, then— I mean  when I find it— I’ll-I’ll know the place where I started, won’t I? for the first time.

“. . . ?”

Oh, you know Eliot! . . . I like “What the Thunder Said”: “These fragments I have shored against my ruins.”. . . Yes, yes, me too, I’m fond of Eliot, though not particularly of cats. . . . They look at me with their vertical slits as if I’m crazy. . . . People too.

“. . .?”

Well no, not everyone. Mostly the ones who say I’m obsessed—or is it addicted?—, specially when I tell them I am offering one hundred dollars to anyone who can produce my composition book with lined pages and taped spine. . . . Yesterday, y’know, I thought I’d found it, but—

“. . . ?”

Uh-huh, this one.

“. . . ?”

I don’t know why I bought it. . . . It was waiting to be found, I guess. . . . . Let me read—

The mise en scene—

I guess that’s French. Anyway, the missin’ scene:

    —the stygian living room on the upper floor of the Fahey brownstone on Garden Street—

     “ . . . ?”

     I’m laughing ’cause it doesn’t really say Fahey.I just slipped that in to—what? personalize it, you could say. . . . I find it interesting, nonetheless, how I couldn’t let my artifice pass unnoticed—I mean without giving it up with a chuckle. Don’t you?—find that interesting, I mean.

    “. . .?”

    Okay, I’ll go on. . . . Now where was I? Oh yes,

    The room is putrescent with

“Putrescent”— I had to look that one up—

creaky old fold-up chairs and odoriferous flower sprays  and faded black and purple crepe retrieved from the flat top trunk that had made the voyage with them across the sea of mystery.

     I wonder about that, you know—whether they knew when they were crossing the  Atlantic that they were crossing the “sea of mystery.”

A casket sits just below a bay window, overlooking Garden street, fronting a step-down candy store, where one might expect to see as usual its bald-headed proprietor, Luigi, plopped on the top step like a patient Buddha, arm draped over railing, eyes half-shuttered. But not this time, mournfully gazing over at the crepe streamer tied to the doors brass knocker. Not this time.

     I wonder about that too, y’know—I mean why, slighting practice, this-this Luigi character wasn’t there this time. I mean: Would it all be different had he been? Did his absence constitute some-some road not taken, so to speak—some-some life unlived? . . . Or do you think I’m meddling too inquisitively with the workings of fate? Y’know, Jung said—

“. . . ?”

Okay, you’re right, you’re right, I digress. Where was I? Oh yes—

     When they raise the boy, he glimpses darkly through the bay’s Nottingham lace curtains. . .  he glimpses darkly, not Luigi’s glabrous head, but—

      Now, now, this is what I’m getting at, right here. I think maybe this is what made all the difference. Listen.

     — the long lean legs of Luigi’s tall and well shapen daughter, sunning on the steps, drawing her long black hair out tight and fiddling whisper music on those strings.


     He squirms with blood shaking his head to see more,—

    Hear that?

— but he is bent, squirming and craning to see more,—

     Y’see what I mean?

— to kiss some waxy forehead, some cold, waxy forehead above bone-rimmed sockets so as—what is it? “so as, dontcha see, so as not ter be missin’ so much—” . . . ’S when he beholds a shadow pulsing on the pavement below.

     Hmm, the shadow . . . the shadow strikes me now as—well, not so much pulsing, but more—more, more—what? crouched, I’d say, yes, and humped, yes humped—crouched and humped, in silence, I’d say; but that, I grantcha, that could be Eliot again, I’m not sure. At any rate—

      They were right. The boy doesn’t remember whose square-domed brow he kissed. But that shadow he glimpsed through the bay’s lace curtains freckling the squares on the fissured walk—that he can’t forget. And, too, the long lush legs of Luigi’s daughter, live and alert, and coated in stripes of light—

       “. . .?”

“Make of it”? . .  . Oh, I don’t know what to make of it—anymore than I know what to make of—

God’s own mad lover dying on a kiss—


     the Adagietto—

—or the Catechism. . .  or the azoospermic uncles. . . or Sister Sylvia  … or the SBTs. . . or—no, no, I don’t know what to make of it, any of it—it doesn’t make any sense to me, any sense at all. . . . But then again, I suppose, come to think of it, y’know, why should it?

“. . . ?”

Well, I mean—I mean it just seems to me that-that the fragments we shore against our ruins only make sense against—well, against our own ruins.

“. . . ?”


“. . . ?”

Oh, I get your point. . . . Yes, well, I suppose you could say I am borrowing them—yes, yes, that’s what I’m doing— I’m borrowing these fragments . . .  till I can find my own.

“. . . ?”

How can you help? Hmm, how can you—?


Vince Barry.

Banner Image: By Maker of marbled paper unknown. Scanned by Aristeas from a book in his possession. (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


4 thoughts on “Borrowed Fragments by Vince Barry”

  1. Hi Vince, welcome to the site.
    I hope you have more stories that are executed with similar style and skill!
    A very hypnotic piece of story telling.


    1. Thanks so much, Hugh, for your warm welcome. It’s a genuine pleasure to become part of the LS family.


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