Where Old Ghosts Meet

Growing up in the poverty of 1940s Dublin 10 Year old Danny Flynn relates the roller coaster events of his childhood as his mother tries to hold her family of 6 children together in the face of overwhelming odds.

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6. Bosco's Boots

   The problem of new footwear for Bosco was eventually resolved by Dublin welfare services, although it was boots rather than shoes they supplied. Presumably they viewed boots as being more boy proof and therefore a more economic use of the public purse. Bosco wasted no time in pulling on the shiny new footwear and sat holding his feet out in front of him smiling in admiration.  They were a sight of rare magnificence, warm and strong and with the exciting smell of new leather. Best of all in Bosco’s opinion were the silvery metal plates on the heels that would click as he walked.

Sarah fussed around him pinching the gleaming toe caps to check for growing room and ordering him to parade around the kitchen. ‘Are you sure they fit you alright?’ she asked for the third time, and for the third time got the same answer. ‘They’re great Ma - they’ll last me for ages.’ With the air of a connoisseur of boys’ boots Sarah placed a finger on her cheek and pursed her lips in a pensive muse. ‘Lift your heel up a minute Bosco,’ she ordered, still appraising the footwear. Bosco didn’t quite know what aspect of his new boots needed this particular pose. Sarah poked her finger into the space around his ankle and seemed satisfied that the welfare had not passed her off with an inferior item. Had she but noticed the small letters CV nestling in the arch of the boot, Bosco might have been spared the humiliation and threat of the law that were to later send him home in tears.

‘Take them off now Bosco,’ she ordered him, ‘they’re for school and not gallivanting around in.’ ‘Could I just walk up the street in them Ma - just to break them in a bit?,’  Bosco entreated her. She looked at her son’s earnest face and hadn’t the heart to refuse.

‘Well just as far as Sherlock’s, and then put them away in the pantry.

’‘Aw thanks Ma,’ said Bosco full of gratitude and swaggered out the door to show the world his new boots. The boots with the mysterious letters on them were duly put away to await the opening of school on Monday and Bosco thought how fine he would look in front of his class mates. Sarah’s thoughts about the boots were of a more commercial nature. Her mental picture was in the pawnshop in Clanbrassil Street and money being handed over the counter for their temporary incarceration on Mr Goldstein‘s shelf. The boots would have to be taken to the pawnshop while they were still in pristine condition to extract the maximum price from the Jew. This meant an early move on her part to convince Bosco to part with them, on a temporary basis of course.  It would be complicated as Bosco was the one in the family with pawn experience and knew how to work the system.

Later that evening when Bosco was sneaking yet another look at his boots Sarah set her plan in train. She assumed the most woeful expression she could as she pretended to look for something in the cupboard. She gave out deep sighs intended to be heard and responded to by Bosco.  The display of worry left Bosco unmoved as he closed the lid on the box. ‘Bosco,’ she pressed on, ‘would you sit down a minute there’s something I want to ask you?’ While he was becoming used to being consulted in matters since his father had died, it was still novel enough for him to enjoy his new status. He sat as he imagined his father might have and waited to hear what was being asked of him. Sarah sat down beside him and pushed the door closed on Vincent and Josephine who were arguing in the hall over a school jotter. ‘Bosco,’ she began,  ‘I think you’re old enough to understand how hard things have been since your father died.’ Bosco nodded his understanding and wondered where this was leading to.  Past experience told him that some mission in connection with their constant lack of money was in the offing and that he was to have a starring role in carrying it out. Maybe it was another note to be taken to Corrigan’s for tick or a trip to McCoy’s for an advance on next week’s Widows and Orphans pension book.

The last thing Bosco contemplated was the pawning of his beloved new boots. ‘Look Bosco, I know this is going to be a big disappointment for you,’ Sarah began, paving the way for her thunderbolt, ’but there’s something I want you to do for me,’ and then the emotional blackmail, ‘for all our sakes really.’ Even before she spoke the words Bosco knew his new boots were destined for Goldstein’s. ’Your new boots Bosco,’ came the confirmation, ‘I don’t like doing this but I need the money. I’ve nothing in the house and I don’t get my pension till next week. I’ll get them out for you as soon as I can’ While Bosco was deeply disappointed, his loyalty to the family overcame the bitter feeling inside him. He could not have worn the boots anyway knowing he had deprived them through his selfishness. ‘That’s alright Ma,’ he managed to say at last, ‘I suppose you’ll want me to take them in the morning.’ ‘God bless you son. You’re a good boy. If you wouldn’t mind could you leave early so I can get something in for the dinner?  You can take Vincent with you for the company.’ ‘How much will I ask for?’ came the familiar question from Bosco. ‘Try for five bob son and I’ll make a nice pot of stew when you get back.’ Sarah knew that Bosco would do anything for a plate of her stew. ‘Five bob?’ echoed Bosco in a doubtful voice. Then after some consideration, ‘I might get that - depends whose on at the counter.’ ‘Say a wee prayer you’re lucky son,’  Sarah suggested and left to sort out the squabbling Josephine and Vincent.

At half past nine the following morning Bosco lifted the brown parcel from the kitchen table and went to look for his younger brother. He found him throwing stones at Sherlock’s black cat from their back garden. ‘Come on Vincent, we’re going to Uncles,’ Bosco called from the back door and went back inside to collect the parcelled boots. Vincent glared for a few seconds at the cat defying him through a hole in the hedge and fired the stone. It bounced off a concrete pillar and rebounded into Hennessy’s back garden causing pandemonium among their three chickens.Their frenzied squawking sent him running to join his brother in the house.Vincent was very excited about his first trip to the pawnshop. He had often listened with great interest to Bosco’s stories after a visit to Goldstein’s.

There was a protocol to be observed that added an air of mystery to the whole affair. The intention was to deceive the neighbours into thinking that the journey was something other than a trip to the three balls. While it didn’t fool anyone the routine was observed anyway. The sight of someone carrying an anonymous brown parcel down the length of Clover Road could hardly be anything but a furtive outing to Uncle’s. The only benefit from the whole pretence seemed to be the self deception it gave to the bearer. Even within the confines of the pawnshop and in full view of neighbours non de plumes were used. The Flynn’s were known to Mr Goldstein as the Bradley's. Bosco tried to hold the parcel in a nonchalant fashion as he and Vincent set off with the hope of returning five shillings richer. First he tried it under his left arm but thought it too conspicuous. Then he tried swinging it at his side but found the string in danger of coming off and spilling the boots onto the street. Finally he handed the bundle to Vincent pretending it was his first lesson in becoming a pawn man.

When they arrived at the pawn shop  their own parcel seemed tiny in comparison to some of the others queued up outside. There were parcels as big as Vincent himself and those of less sensitive nature hadn’t even bothered to wrap theirs. Clocks, chairs, radios and even an old  moth eaten pair of curtains moved slowly forward to be swallowed up in the dark doorway of the shop. The inside of Goldstein’s was a gloomy den divided in two by a long black counter that separated staff from clientele. On the far side of the counter there were rows and rows of wooden shelves groaning under the weight of goods of every shape and size. The whole shop had such an air of urgency that Vincent felt his very life depended on keeping up with the mad scene he was witnessing.

The focal point of the turmoil was around the bald headed man sitting at a high desk writing furiously and never taking his eyes from the ledger in front of him.  Three men were taking in the items and chattering as they negotiated a price. They shouted the name of the item and the agreed price to the high speed writer. The item was then snatched from the counter and processed for the shelf. The completed ticket and money would then be shoved to the waiting client. Vincent felt frightened as their turn got nearer and nearer. He saw the hustling men as hostile creatures who could very well deposit him on the shelf. If one of them would even smile, he might feel more reassured of a safe return to Clover Road. Bosco moved into the space vacated by a fat woman with a wheezing chest and dropped their parcel on the counter with a thump. He quickly tore off the brown paper and folded it neatly beside the boots. Vincent stood beside him and stretched his neck to see over the high counter. They waited wondering which of the men would come to inspect the boots. A sour faced man who reminded Vincent of Mo from the Three Stooges came over blowing down his nose. ‘What have you got?’ he snapped and fixed Vincent with a look that sent him scurrying behind Bosco for safety. ‘Boys’ boots - black,’ replied Bosco in the parlance of the business.

Vincent was impressed by his brother’s skill as a pawn man. Mo lifted them as though they might bite him and dropped them on the counter with a clatter. He cast an expert eye over the boots before picking them up again. ‘Umm,’ he mused holding his head back to appraise them further. ‘How much were you expecting?’ the sour faced man snapped again. ‘Five bob Mister,’ came Bosco’s hopeful reply. ‘Five bob?’ Mo retorted in a voice full of disbelief. ‘Well four and a tanner then,’ Bosco pleaded. There was something about the boots that caused the man to peer closer at them. Vincent mistook it for a look of admiration for fine workmanship and felt he should not have been so quick to lower his price. Still blissfully ignorant of the letters on the soles of his boots, he watched the man turn them over and inspect the underside. Mo looked at Bosco and then back at the interesting soles. ‘Wait here a minute young fella’ he could hardly get the words out for his sudden excitement, ‘ don’t go away now.’

  The man had a look of smugness on his face as he hurried over with the boots to consult Mr Goldstein who was peering into a dusty ledger.  Mo tugged him by the sleeve of his tweed jacket and whispered into his ear. Mr Goldstein took off his small wire glasses  and looked up to see what had interrupted him from his balance sheets. While Bosco found the behaviour a little unusual he was not unduly concerned by the two whispering men who were looking over furtively at him and Vincent. He could see the pair examining the soles of the boots and then Mr Goldstein nodding his head in a decisive way. Bosco’s quiet turned to disquiet when he saw Mr Goldstein take the boots from his employee and advance to the counter. ‘Where did you get these boots?’ he snapped in a loud voice, bringing the shop to a sudden silence.  

All eyes turned towards Bosco and Vincent who had turned a deathly white.  It only occurred to Bosco at that moment that he had not actually seen the boots being purchased and his first sighting of them was when his mother produced them in the kitchen. He struggled to speak but couldn’t find an answer to the apparently illogical question. Bosco started to say something but the raging Jew stifled the words in his mouth. ‘You stole them didn’t you? ‘No I didn’t,’ Bosco retorted, his voice quivering, ‘ me Ma sent me with them.’What’s your name young fella?’ Mr Goldstein asked. ‘It’s Bosco Flynn,’ Bosco answered forgetting to use his pawn name in his fright. ‘Where do you live?’ Mr Goldstein continued without mercy. Bosco was near to tears. He didn’t understand why Mr Goldstein was shouting at him like this. He hadn’t done anything wrong. ‘370 Clover Road Mr Goldstein,’ Bosco replied getting ready to run out of the shop. The pawnbroker put on his glasses and moved as close to the counter as his large stomach would allow. With a flourish he turned over the boots and brought them close to Bosco’s terrified face. ‘Do you see these little letters?’ he challenged Bosco, peering through his glasses, ‘Here on the soles?’

Bosco looked and confirmed there were indeed letters on the soles. ‘Well Bosco Flynn, those innocent looking letters tell me that these shiny new boots were supplied by Dublin welfare......’

The sarcasm in his voice changed to a frightening official tone to deliver the sting. ‘...and it’s a criminal offence to try and pawn them!’ Bosco’s white face turned even whiter and Vincent felt an urgent need to pass water. The words Criminal Offence hung in front of his eyes in huge white letters. He thought of Mountjoy jail with its tiny claustrophobic windows and saw the gates opening to admit himself and Bosco. His brother stood looking at the offending boots on the counter then at the fearful face of the pawn shop owner looking at him and didn’t know how he was to be extricated from this living nightmare.  The only defence was to stand there looking remorseful and hope for clemency. The alternative was to run but Mr Goldstein already knew his name and address. In a single move the fat Mr Goldstein reached across the counter and grabbed Bosco by the front of his jumper. He lifted him up like a bag of potatoes and shouted. ‘If I ever see you in here again with anything that’s the rightful property of the State I’ll have the Gardai on you.  Do you understand?’ Bosco nodded meekly, the shame of it all making him feel that life would never be the same again. ‘Now pack up your boots and go home and tell your mother she should be ashamed of herself.’ Like whipped pups Bosco and Vincent slunk out of the shop too devastated to even discuss the awful episode with each other.  Their journey home was walked in shameful silence.  

 

 

 

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