Why Me?

#WQWWC – Writers Quote Wednesday Writing Challenge – Memories


“What the fuck are you smiling at, Tommy, you look like the cat’s got the cream?”

Tommy carries on, oblivious, his smile, a secret smile, he thinks. Everybody thinks they have a right to know your business but are too quick to tell you to fuck off, if you get in their’s.

Tommy’s got news, from the doctor in the community medical centre and for that news he’s smiling. Why? because he’s dying, that’s why and that’s enough to make me smile, he’s thinking.

And why would he want to tell any eedgit in the street? he thinks, knowing the question is no more important than the answer to them but, in the language of these mean streets, it’s a way inside your head, your pocket and with any luck, your bottle.

And speaking of bottles, Tommy does have one, hidden away this morning, knowing he’ll need it later, he wants it now, that bottle, but first, he has to lose the entourage.

He glances, swiftly, over his shoulder and there’s at least three of them, closing on him like a moving target they’re trying to focus on; Phonsie, the fucking eedgit who asked the question, shuffles after him, leering, a slime of grey drool, hanging from the edge of his unshaven chin, one eye, half shut and bruised, from falling or fighting, or both, his clothes a jumble of charity offcasts, the running shoes, incongruously new; Mary, a sharp, purple faced harridan, her hair a knot of unkempt grey, shoulder length, her teeth, once like sawtooth serrations, now yellow, gapped and broken and George, tall, thin and once, distinguished, now desperate, craven and beaten, without a trace or shadow of the dignity he once wore, like a badge.

All they know is Tommy’s smiling so Tommy’s got a bottle.

And all Tommy knows is that bottle’s for him and him, alone.

Five metres ahead of them, he quickens his pace, steps, deftly, into a side street where he breaks into a run, through a gap in a fence and out across a vacant lot of scrub and demolition waste.waste1

Everybody knows Tommy, he’s thinking, when he has a bottle, they’re like flies around shite.

Tommy slows down. He’s short of breath, his clothes stuck to him, stained by sweat and ingrained dirt. His feet hurt. There’s a tightness in his chest he wants to ignore. He’ll get that bottle first. It’ll settle him, better than the pills the doctor prescribed, he’s thinking, tapping the script, folded scrappily, in his trouser pocket.

Then he’s at his hiding place where he stashed his bottle only that morning. But there’s five young fellas here, boys from the neighbourhood, he recognises, because he knew their fathers. He slows himself, looks away and down at the ground. He’ll walk past them slowly and they won’t notice me. He can come back, he thinks. He can smell the weed they’re smoking as they pass a flagon of cheap cider, between them. He hopes he’s invisible. It’s worked before, he thinks.

Not this time. ‘Well, Tommy. Is that you, Tommy?’

He keeps staring at his feet as they pass before him, his feet, that is. Don’t answer, stay invisible, he thinks.

‘Hey, Tommy. Tommy Guns. I’m talking to you.’

One of them steps in front of him, blocking his progress. He keeps his eyes on his toes, his own toes. Stay invisible, he thinks.

‘I’m talking t’ye, Tommy Guns, ye stinkin’ wino.’ This one puts his hands on him, a flat hand on his chest, halting his progress, entirely.

‘D’ye know this is the famous Tommy Guns, boys, the one that got away, the hired killer who never got caught?’

‘Except by a bottle of Dago red,’ one of the others answers and the rest of them laugh and whoop.

‘Careful there, Jimmy, he might be packing,’ one of them goads Jimmy, the one who has stopped him and put his hands on him.

Tommy feels his head split apart, bone and cartilage grind and splinter, blood and spittle splash, sticky and wet. He feels a whoosh as his breath leaves his chest, the kick has hit him mid-sternum, causing as much discomfort, he knows, to his attacker as himself.

Now they’re standing around him as one pours the last drop of the cider on his head while another relieves himself. Tommy stays quiet, stares at a tiny square foot patch in the dust, blood and piss stained pool before him. He hears their steps recede and waits.

Satisfied, he stands up, shrugs and disappears inside the shell of the building, roots in a corner, upends a loose patch of floorboard, reaches inside and scrabbles about before emerging with half a bottle of whiskey. He slumps back in the corner, ignoring the reek of piss, his splintered nose, the smudge and smear of blood, sweat and snot on his face. He bites the cork from the bottle and in one fluid move, swigs and gulps its fiery, amber content.

He shuts his eyes tight and remembers. A young soldier, pimple faced, hardly shaving, sitting in the back of an army patrol vehicle and he, in a hooded parka, holding the nine millimetre Parabellum, emerging from the shadows and pointing it into the face of that boy his own age, who stared at him and said, ‘why me?’ before he shot him.


Tears run down Tommy’s messed up face, tossing his head about, violently, as though to cast the memories from his mind. Death will come soon, but oblivion, he believes, is at the end of the bottle.



33 thoughts on “Why Me?

    • Thank you. I wrote that in one sitting, this afternoon, in response to a writing prompt of ‘Memories’. It is loosely based on a story I was told once by a real life IRA hitman who told me he would never forget the first person he killed.

      • The aspect that weighed most powerfully (the word bears using again), was of this man who once who have warranted a measure of respect or awe or authority or fear in his community was now reduced to a figure of mockery by a later generation. Secondly the shattering of the old myth of the stone-cold killer.

      • He told me the story one night when he and two friends turned up at my apartment, unannounced, with a dozen cans of beer and a bottle of whiskey. We listened to music and talked and drank and talked and drank and sang and talked and drank. In the wee wee hours of the morning, when his two friends had fallen asleep where they sat, I asked him if the rumours about him were true? He looked at me and this was a cold, hard look that lasted close to a minute, then he said, simply, yes. He had been a successful businessman for many years and then lost it all when his wife left him and his health took a bad turn. Yes, he told me, he was in the IRA. I was a soldier, was how he put it. He couldn’t remember how many deaths he was responsible for but, he said, there was one he’d never forget. The shooting described in the story really happened. I researched it, later. No-one was ever arrested for it and it was one of the first British soldier’s deaths in Northern Ireland. ‘Tommy’ is dead now, although I’m sure he wouldn’t have objected to me writing and publishing that story. It was why he told me. He was a very mannerly man, polite and helpful and had the chilling capability to drink neat whiskey, all night, and not show it. He regretted nothing he ever did while in the IRA, with the exception of that first shooting.

      • In the most non-judgemental and respectful way all I can say is ‘wow’
        (My wife comes from Birmingham, we lived there at the time of the IRA campaign in the 1970s and the pub-bombings, so I still have certain shall we say ‘issues’…but then you read about the individuals and people and whereas you still might not loose your tribal feeling…you still get the ‘wow..factor).
        Wars start, but they can also stop and swords put down, so the tears might stop.
        Again, I say ‘wow’

      • No one profits from wars except warmongers, the Masters of War. I’m sorry if you felt the impact of that conflict. I was born in Strabane, Co Tyrone and have friends and relatives in Derry and Belast, who lived and died in that conflict.

      • This is very true. I’ve read much military history and the continuing tragedy is that each can be avoided.
        I am sorry for your losses.
        So many suffer through a fews’ mistakes or vanities

      • History seems to draw that conclusion. More land. More profit. Every action with its reaction. And the ones who call the loudest for war appear quite adept at avoiding taking part.

      • By the way, thank you for reading it and particularly for commenting. That story has been in my head for two years but I could never find the first sentence. Yesterday, it came to me. I’m glad it’s out but I’d be happier to read some more reactions to it.

      • Stories do that don’t they? Suddenly one day they come to the fore and say ‘My time! Today!’
        It’s a short story which could do with submission somewhere I think it would touch more than a few.
        Just saying (as it were)

      • Thank you Dermott.
        I used to read mostly SF, Fantasy, science and military history (as mentioned), but since I came across WordPress my horizons are broadening , which at 65 proves it’s never too late.
        Best wishes and keep up the good work

      • I’ll bet the day you get there, the next step will be ‘Yes, now how can I improve it?’ (lol)

      • I see it like this to quote out of the film Shape of Things To Come….
        “But for Man, no rest and no ending. He must go on, conquest beyond conquest. First this little planet with its winds and ways, and then all the laws of mind and matter that restrain him. Then the planets about him and at last out across immensity to the stars. And when he has conquered all the deeps of space and all the mysteries of time, still he will be beginning.”
        Here’s to “Always Beginning……”

  1. Wow! What a powerful piece. This should be submitted to a contest somewhere, Dermott. A memory that shows how far a man can fall in his own depravity. You always amaze me with your words. I hope writing this story exercises the demon memory! Hugs to you friend. ❤

    • I’m glad you liked it, Colleen, about as glad as I am to get it out of my head. There’s a peculiar thing about the stories I think are my best, less people read them. Even less comment. Oh well, so life’s not a bed of roses, quite a newsflash, eh?

  2. Fijay

    15 hoursBlog On!!!
    It won’t let me comment in the reply section Dermott but that is one hell of a powerful story ….it takes you right there ….there is nothing like looking at events through an individual’s eyes is there? And this is Northen Ireland ‘troubles’ as they are known felt in one short story …it’s excellent Dermott
    It fascinates me how folk can ‘judge’ BUT we are ALL framed by the socio/political environment of where we live aren’t we?
    I grew up with IRA bombs going off and Peter Sutcliffe bumping off women left right and centre …not to mention the NF marches up and down the streets round here ….as a kid it’s just the norm isn’t it ….it wasn’t untill I was a bit older ….listening to my elders stories …being taught to question ( and getting into trouble for it :D:D:D that I started to think hmmmmmm well what is the root cause? …..what’s behind it? ….what are fools agendas and motivations
    Bloody hell Dermott you’ve had me up past my bed time now for a school night …first I couldn’t find ‘why me?’ and then I’ve been bugga ring about trying to comment:D:D:D
    Worth it tho😉

  3. This is very powerful writing, Dermott! Thanks for drawing my attention back to it. There are some ghosts of the past that never stop their haunting, I think.

    I pulled this wise statement off one of your comments:

    No one profits from wars except warmongers, the Masters of War.

    Have you ever watched the Ken Burns documentary The War? It is something I watch with my children when they are old enough to see it. My second son is in line to watch it this year. It forever changed the way my oldest son looks at war. There are a lot of Veterans out on our streets who cannot shake those ghosts. You did them a bit of justice with this piece.

    • Ostensibly, this story is about one IRA gunman who did what he did, but could never come to terms with his first killing. I wanted to do him justice without romanticising his story. It was ironic that a WordPress prompt finally prised it loose from my brain

      • You didn’t romanticize it at all. I think that is what resonated with me in relation to the Veterans I have known, especially those few have never moved past it. Their memories are debilitating.

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