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Sample piece from Loose Head By Tommy Frank O'Connor

A BLAST OF AIR

It was only a balloon, and I was only five. But, as I drew that mangled rubber from the monkey puzzle, Christmas emptied itself into where the morning's excitement had buzzed in my tummy. My sister and brother also played with their balloons and didn't seem to notice my tragedy. Dad steered them away from the thorny monster while casting an occasional glance back at me and the ruins of my Christmas.

My head filled with what would have been tears had I allowed them to escape. But being the oldest of the family I couldn't be seen to be a crybaby. after all in five weeks time I would be six. Those tears tried everything - tried bursting out through my ears, and tightening my throad as if to strangle me, but I just folded up the string and its pluckered bit of blue rubber and threw them on to the firewood pile.

Dad returned with Margaret's and John Joe's excitement still dancing in their balloons. he teased the hair on my head and said: "now there's a brave litle man7quot;, and looked at me in a way that Margaret and John Joe could not possibly understand.

We went back inside to the aroma of the kitchen where the makings of dinner were obeying Mom's hands. She noticed the balloon missing from my face. Dad told her I'd be grand, but she must have known what was going on inside me. She gathered me into her movements, took my face in her hands and fitted a kiss just where it was needed on my forehead. Then she gave me her special look, and the feeling in my tummy wasn't quite so bad.

Uncle Mick arrived on his bicycle, and gave me a message bag of mystery to pass on to Mom. I examined the bicycle and wondered why balloons couldn't be made as strong as those tyres.

While I was inventing a better quality balloon, Dad drew the cork from the brown jar outside the back door and poured black porter from it into two mugs, and a small drop into a cup, even though Mom didn't drink the stuff. It was hard to blame her, it reminded me of what rested in the stagnant pools around the dung heap.

Dad handed a mug to Mick, the cup to me and lifted up his own mug. Mick looked at Dad and then they eyed me as if they were waiting for something to happen. They ddn't invite Mom to join in because she was basting the goost in the big oven. they raised their utensils; I copied them. They sipped the porter: I did what was expected of me. Dad and Mick swallowed, released a long Aaaahh, and winked at each other, as if they enjoyed it. I held the vile brew in my mouth. this time the tears almost escaped. Disregarding what the stuff might do to my already unsettled tummy, I forced myself to swallow. A blast of air came automatically along with facial contortions I could not control. Dad and Mick smiled and noddded, saying something to each other about nourishment.

"He did it", Dad said with a pride in his voice like when I swam across the river in the summer. Now I understood it all. This was something med had to do, like taking medicine and pretending to enjoy it, just like Mom seemed to enjoy her dinner when the meat that started on her plate gradually found its way on to mine and Margaret's and John Joe's.

But today was Christmas and there would be plenty for everybody.
And it was only a balloon, a burst blue balloon.


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