New Disability Horizons contributor, Peter Street, tells us about his new book, “A Kind of Village”, and how this touching story reflects his own experiences.
But how about Thomas Conroy? “Thomas who?” you ask. Thomas is the hero of my novella: “A Kind of Village”. He’s a normal teenage boy of thirteen going on fourteen, but he also has epilepsy, dyspraxia and dyscalculia.
Keeping his balance he got to his feet the best he could. “You, teacher’s pet” they shouted, picking up stones from the cinder path. The first two or three missed. Their aim got better and the stones got bigger. And they started chanting: “Conroy is going to fit. Conroy is going to fit. Ee- aye-addy- o, Conroy is going to fit.”
The story stands somewhere between Philip Larkin’s “This be the Verse” and Stanley Spencer’s “The Resurrection, Cookham”. It is a story about three young people, who not only have their own individual disabilities to contend with, but also their parents’ attitudes and failings. From over protective parents, to parents who just give up on their kids, or in Pauline Smith’s case, her Mum, a single parent, is also severely disabled.
Pauline was stopping from time to time to check her Mum’s long list. To also check the amount of money Mum had given her. She was making sure it coincided with the amount of groceries needing to be bought. In past times, she had had to make adult decisions because once, Mum, didn’t give her the right amount of money for the items needed. So at the checkout with too many items and not enough money: well, she wanted to die there and then. Tears were welling, when Susan Carol who she once thought of as a school friend purposefully joined the checkout queue just to see what the fuss was all about between Pauline, the checkout woman and the Manager. Pauline’s so called friend took great delight in telling the rest of the school about how she saw Pauline trying to convince everyone she wasn’t trying to cheat or steal the costly items.
Pauline was still feeling someone was there… sometimes behind her, sometimes next to her. Yet no-one was there. Strange. Frightened. She shrugged it off and put it down to the horror film: The Omen, she had been watching the night before. She was walking up Seymour Road when a gang of girls jumped out from the side of the old school yard.
The girls laughed at Pauline screaming. One of the girls kicked one of the carrier bags from her hand almost breaking the bag. The girl stood with her arms folded across her chest, asking: “Do you have spots because you can’t afford shower cream? I bet that’s why no-one wants to sit with you in class. Or did you get those spots from kissing that spas boyfriend of yours?”
“Get lost,” Pauline said. While trying to walk on, but one of the other girls: Jane Curtis, with the red hair, snatched one of the carrier bags out of Pauline’s hand and emptied its tinned contents of peas and beans over the pavement asking: “Is it true your mums’ a cripple, who smells because she can’t wash herself and pees in bed?”
This story is about me, it’s also about you. Yes, we, the disabled community have our very own heroes. OK, they may not be tall with the perfect teeth and bodies to die for, but Thomas Conroy, Pauline Smith and Billy Cartmell are still heroes; our kind of heroes.
“Does, your Mum still go on about it?” asked Thomas.
“Not like she did. It’s more like when I’ve not done the ironing how she likes it. Or when I burn her toast. I really don’t mean too, it’s just… Or, I’ve boiled her egg longer than three minutes thirty seconds. I forget. I have my school assignments.”
She looked across the cemetery taking her time to get her words together; she didn’t want to scream out her thoughts. She even tried to hold back, but it was no good it just came belting out: “I hate boiled eggs.” She shouted as loud as she could.
“Is that better?”
“Have you ever stood on that hill?” asked Thomas pointing to the dead church on the far left of them.
“What do you mean?”
“Come on, I’ll show you.”
They walked over to the hill, and from there Thomas stood right on the edge of the small hill, shouting, “I hate epilepsy.”
“What happens if someone hears us?”
They started running up and down the hill, each time they reached the top they shouted out the things they hated most. Both were getting out of breath when Thomas helped her to the edge, she breathed in and screamed out: “I want my Mum to get better. I hate boiled eggs.” They both laughed. Pauline gathered her thoughts. Thomas put his arm around her. They kissed.
This is also a coming of age story for their parents, the community and themselves. With heroes like these three young people, who needs John Wayne Angelina Jolie or Steve McQueen?
I shall finish on a little poem, written for everyone with dyspraxia and dyscalculia.
Hallgrim’s Church, Reykjavik
That church from
where I’m standing
here bottom of the hill
and yellow houses
south side of Reykjavik
I’m sure is the space-ship
let me draw in her maths class
in ’59 while all other kids
were busy working
It has a stair case
on the outside like the one
I pretended to climb
sit, close my eyes
and wait for the count down
By Peter Street