The Queen is Dead


I spent the best days of summer at the river with Martin and Peter. One of the farmer’s boys had got hold of an old inflatable tractor tyre and we had a craic with that, sinking into the great rubber donut and emerging with wet skins, before shaking the river out of our hair. We dried off in the sunlight and swung from a rope suspended from the railway bridge.
“Whit about a game o chicken?” Martin suggested.
Peter and I couldn’t really say no.
The first challenge was to walk on the bridge. It was a good hundred yards long. We went round the side, avoiding the hogweed, and climbed onto the iron structure. It was easy to hear trains coming so crossing the bridge wasn’t that risky. We would spice things up by staying there as a train went by.
“No way, ya’ll get sucked under.”
After five years in Breogan, the local twang was discernable in Peter’s speech.
Martin simulated a chicken flapping its wings.
“Puck, puck, puck.”
Then he flicked a 2p piece up in the air.
“That’s shite anyway, Pete. It’s an auld wives’ tale yer mammy telt ya. Wanna toss for it?”
“No need,” I said. “I’m game if you are. We live or die together.”

We shook on it and walked onto the bridge. The late afternoon train was approaching. It crossed my mind to run to the other side. Instead, I slapped my palms against the warm ironwork and tried to blank out all thought. I felt the blood pumping in my ears and the rattling of carriages. Fortunately, there were few. The noise and terror was replaced by sun and silence. Then the cry of a gull. I looked up and saw Peter standing opposite. He must’ve run onto the bridge at the last minute. Martin went onto the line and picked up a piece of flattened copper. It was the remains of his 2p piece with the Queen’s head mangled beyond recognition. He chucked it to Peter.
“Keep it,” he said. “You’re nae a feart Sassenach efter aa.”

Excerpt from Countries of the World (and photos) ©2011 Steven Porter

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