A Gift From Erin: A Short Story about the IRA

Last night I went to Enoch’s, our town’s Irish pub to hear Jeffrey Phillips perform.  Tom and Wayne from the Scottish Society were also recording the evening for a live CD.  And as usual when at Enoch’s, my friends and I discussed Irish and Scottish politics and the historical oppression of the English. I woke up thinking of that discussion.  Sometime ago, I wrote this short-short story about a girl in the Irish Republican Army for a contest. It’s about 1,200 words.  Let me know what you think of it. rickeyp@bayou.com.

WHEN THE TRAIN FROM NEW HAVEN STOPPED AT GREENWICH, FIONA SPOTTED A MAILBOX ON THE TRAIN PLATFORM. She told the conductor she’d be right back and exited the train, briefcase and coffee in hand. She dropped a letter addressed to her sister, Martina, now in Maghaberry Prison in Northern Ireland, and then walked back to the train.
After returning to her seat, she laid her briefcase in her lap, and drained the Starbucks café au lait. She searched the blank eyes of the travelers waiting on the train platform. All seemed distant, as if they sought to look through her, beyond her. None appeared to be policemen. She felt suspicious about one man, but when his eyes met hers, he indifferently raised his newspaper.
“Wall Street bastard,” she whispered. “Just like the Fleet Street English.” She remembered the suited British detective who had arrested her sister last year in New York’s Grand Central Station, then taken her in handcuffs on the next flight to Belfast. At her trial, Martina was given a life sentence for her supposed role in a bombing. When Fionna heard of her sister’s extradition, she promptly joined the IRA and was given the task of raising money in America for guns and assistance to IRA children whose parents were being brutalized in British jails. At Yale, she had mounted an effective letter writing campaign to encourage the many IRA POW’s, and this past summer had gone to Cuba for special training. The result of that training now lay in her lap—a briefcase full of gelignite, a present for a visiting British diplomat—a gift from Erin. The Englishman was scheduled to deliver a speech outside Grand Central Station at two o’clock. Fionna had been directed to get as close as she could, and at 1:55 p.m., set the briefcase down and walk away. A pre-set digital timer would ensure the death of another enemy of Ireland.
She lifted her wrist and looked at her watch. It was only noon. She should reach
Manhattan ahead of schedule.
Across the isle sat an old man with a long, white beard. Next to him sat a young girl. The little one held an hourglass, holding it up and giggling as she watched the sand flow down.
The image brought her grandfather to mind. Fionna had gone to Ireland to visit him one summer at his small farm outside Baliná. One day she helped him in his garden. As he hoed, she followed, scattering seed along the shallow furrow. When they finished planting, her grandfather scooped up a handful of the sandy soil and let it run through his hand. “I am glad you came to see me. I wish Martina could have come.”
“She’s busy, Da.”
“Yes, I’m sure the Irish Republican Army keeps her very busy. But those she has chosen to work with will bring her and our family nothing but grief. Life is too short to give yourself to a cause one cannot win.”
Shaking her head to clear away the daydream, she whispered, “We will win this struggle, grandfather, we ourselves.”
At Portchester, a young man boarded and sat next to her. “Hello,” he said.
An Irish accent. Christ, she thought, these Irish buggers are everywhere. After she opened a copy of An Phoblacht/Republican News, he said, “An Irish girl, are you?”
“Name’s Seamus,” he said. “And you?”
“I come from Ulster. Where is your family?”
He glanced at the newspaper. “Are you with the IRA?”
“What’s it to you?”
“I don’t care much for them. They knee-capped my brother with a Black and Decker drill when he wouldn’t join.”
“I am sorry for your brother, but war always has casualties. Every soldier knows that. Besides, if you want to compare bad treatment, I could tell you of how the British broke my sister’s jaw when they arrested her.”
“Sinn Fein is not an army. They’re a bunch of thugs.”
“Why don’t you fuck off if you don’t like my politics. Anyone truly Irish is committed to uniting all of Ireland. Only then will Ireland have peace.”
“You’re living in a dream-world. The Irish, even Irish-Americans, won’t support the IRA anymore. You try to look like noble freedom fighters, but running drugs and guns and killing innocent people with sniping and bombs make you look like terrorists. Anyway, let’s change the subject. I don’t like arguing with a pretty girl. Where are you going?”
She looked out the window. The train still had not pulled out of Portchester. “To Grand Central Station. I’m going to leave a gift with someone. And you?”
“I’m going to hear the SallyMacs. They’re an Irish band from Memphis playing at some reception for an English big-wig.”
“He’s a British diplomat.” Glancing at her wristwatch, Fionna saw the time had not changed since Greenwich. “Damn it,” she said. Slipping the watch off her arm, she shook it, then banged it against the window. The second hand still would not move. “My watch has stopped. I’ve got a deadline, and I don’t want to be late. What time do you have?”
“I forgot my watch this morning, Colleen. Sorry.”
“Don’t call me a Colleen. My name’s Fionna.” She leaned toward the old man across from them. “Sir, do you know what time it is?”
He shook his head. “But it’s always later than we think.”
“Shit,” she said as she slumped back into her seat. “Crazy old man.” Finally the train began moving, and after what seemed an eternity, pulled into Grand Central Station. Seamus left his seat before the train stopped and stood at the door, talking to the conductor. They both turned and looked at Fionna, and Seamus smiled and shouted, “Erin go bragh!”
As soon as Fionna stepped out of the train, a Transit Officer stepped in front of her.
“Miss, please come with me,” he said.
“What’s the problem?”
“I’m sure there’s nothing to it, but a passenger complained that you attempted to sell him drugs. We are obligated to check these things out, so please follow me.”
He led her to a small room and pointed to a chair. “Have a seat. A female officer will join us in a few minutes.”
After several minutes, Fionna said, “Look, I resent this harassment, and I have no intention of being strip-searched. You Americans better wake up and see the rights you’re losing.”
“I’m sorry, Miss. Things here have changed greatly since 9-11.”
“There’s an appointment I’ve got to keep, and you’re going to cause me to be late. You better have a hell of a good lawyer.” She cursed herself for not bringing her pistol with its silencer. “What time do you have?”
“It’s 1:59. What time is your appointment?”
Fionna glanced at her briefcase and laughed. “Two o’clock.”
“What’s so funny?” the officer asked.
“You’ve had anti-terrorist training?”
She handed him the briefcase. “So you know what gelignite is. I intended to present this to a British diplomat. It’s a gift from Erin and the Irish Republican Army.”
“Shit!” he said.
Fionna glanced at her watch. The second hand was now moving.