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Fiction, Short Fiction
Over the Bank
by: Stiubhard Og
It's strange the things we remember and the things we forget. A hundred yards from the street in which I grew up the trains of the Belfast and County Down railway ran from 1860s until the line was closed in 1950. For nearly a hundred years the locomotives had chugged and clattered to Dundonald and Comber along a high earthen bank, their wheels clicking along level with the rooftops of the small terraced houses that marched off Ravenscroft Avenue. By the time I was 10 years of age the line had been closed for almost two decades .The rails had long been lifted, but the impressive earth bank remained. What else could we have called it except simply 'The Railway Bank' ? It was a structure that divided our world as surely and certainly as the Great Wall of China, or the Grand Canyon. Our parents would send us out with the admonition "Don't be going over the far side of the Bank", and to describe someone as "living over the Bank" was to mark them as alien indeed. I had often stood on top of the Bank looking at the lockup garages and yard walls of the houses on the other side, but they were intractably foreign, unknown and somehow threatening.
There was a family who lived in one of the streets "over the Bank" whose members were all easily identified by the tangle of red hair that was the physical badge of their clan. They were known as the McKays, or more often 'the Mad McKays', as each of the children in turn had what would today be termed special educational needs. In the simpler and non-PC world of the 1960s they went to the 'Dafty Class'. Children from the Dafty Class attended extra lessons in remedial maths and english , and so got out of school slightly later than me and my peers. This educational apartheid only added to the legend and the perceived strangeness of the Mad McKays, so much so that the merest glimpse of a red hair on what was known as 'the Finvoy side' of the Bank was enough to send us running for the safety of Lena Street or Beechwood Street.
On those days when there wasn't a McKay in sight my friends and I used to play round a part of the Bank known as The Devil's Chimneypot. This was a rusted iron structure, that stuck out of the earth at the top of the Bank to a height of about two and a half feet. It was four-sided, each side measuring approximately a foot, and was choked with earth. It looked for all the world like an old Victorian chimney growing out of the ground. It was entirely obvious and logical to us children that if there was a chimney pot then beneath it had to be some sort of dwelling, and as that dwelling was also obviously subterranean then it was only common sense that the tenant was Aul' Nick. Whether we really believed it or not I cannot now remember, but we really, truly and completely believed the story of the Murder House.
The Murder House was a derelict Victorian terraced, the back yard of which abutted the bottom of the Bank on the Finvoy side. From the top of the earthwork we could see through the broken windows of what had been the first floor bedrooms. However the room in which the grisly deed had been done in the Murder House was, supposedly a bathroom. On our side of the Bank in 1967 none of the houses had bathrooms; the baths were universally tin and hung from a nail on the yard wall. On bath nights (which for me was a Sunday) the baths were taken down and filled with water that had been boiled in the kettle on the gas cooker. However, as the Murder House was on the Finvoy side ,and therefore undeniably strange and different to begin with, the fact that it had a bathroom and a proper bath was accepted without question. The details of the murder were vague with regards to when and why, but the accepted version was that a mother had killed her son, a boy of just our age, by beating his head off the bathroom wall. I'm not sure if I was ever told exactly what the child had done to deserve his terrible end, it was probably enough to describe the mother as 'mad', however we all knew that inside that house, in one of the rooms that we couldn't see from our grandstand on top of the bank, the walls were still caked with the blood of the unfortunate boy, and no-one had ever lived there again.