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Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Troubles: 1968

Professor MacKenna teaches his children to spit through their gapped front teeth at the American flag. When asked, they are to say they’re not from America. Ameri-k-a, he spells it out in conversation. Boann MacKenna cringes each time.

The children don’t question. Well, Siobhan, the baby, six, asks: “Why can’t we be American, Da? My friends are.”

Her elders stifle groans. They’ve heard it, all.

“Shuvvy, my love,” Mam coos.

“You’re no more American than my R’s,” MacKenna lectures his giggling brood, his brow knitted all over in a complicated cable pattern.

Even the older kids think he means arse. They’ve been taught to call it bum.

Mam shakes her fair head. “Gair,” she murmurs.

Gair. His Irish name. Some of the neighbors call him Gary and he seethes.

Gaping teeth aside, the five of them look American, Boann thinks. Red, brown, blond heads. Wide-striped T-shirts, frayed jeans, sneakers with rubber-capped toes. (Trainers they’re called back home, which the children know is not Home anymore).

At school, where they wear St. Margaret Mary’s chosen plaid, they look much like the others, the Americans. Their names are anything but: Breandan, Aedan, Boann, Emer, Siobhan.

Boann—a misery of a name to wear to middle school, where she is called Boo Ann. “Close enough, Sister,” she says each September, a small smile painted on her face.

She’s stuck in the middle at home, too. And what’s she called when she’s at home? Her nickname’s worse: Bobo. She doesn’t explain to Da that he’s given her a clown name, that they’re all clowns. Worse, she doesn’t tell him the neighbor kids call him Mr. Magoo. A cartoon character. Well, aren’t they all?

Boann drives her father mad with her American desires, habits, terms. Her dreams he only guesses at. She cocks her hip out when he lectures, sticks a tolerant look across her face like a plaster. Boann has a friend, an open-faced Proddie girl from down the block who came to the house once. Da answered the door to her trusting knock and glared until she ran back down the messy front walk.

Now they only speak at school, and to and from. They stow their friendship at the corner every day.

Da is not all bad. It’s hard on him that he’s not allowed in Belfast anymore. What was he called when he was at Home, then? His friends there knew MacKenna as Mac Cionaoith—“sprung from fire.”

It’s a derivation his children never can forget.

© Erica Jeffrey 2008

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