It is the seventeenth anniversary of that terrible tragedy which impacted so much on American people and had its effects further afield on people globally, including many Irish-Americans. I tried to capture some of this heart-wrenching calamity in my novel American Doll which attempts to show the wider reaches of 9/11 and how in particular it opened a Pandora’s box on an Irish-American family.
In this early chapter Laura, who was sent to Ireland by her father after 9/11 ‘to be safe’, is on a date with social worker Danny and is rather secretive about her relationship with her uncle Thady who seems to have a strange hold over her.
She had to go once a week, on Tuesdays as it happened, to visit her uncle Thady. She was mysteriously vague about the location. ‘What does it matter where it is?’ she said. She was after a lecture and they were sharing a bench in the afternoon sun across from the campanile of Trinity.
‘So what’s the big deal about visiting an uncle?’ he said.
She told him that he was her dadʼs older brother who used to work in the fire department with him. He saved her dad’s life in 1993 when terrorists drove a van into the basement of the World Trade Center, killing six people. Her dad was annoyed with the government, believing this was a precursor and warning which the government didnʼt heed and so were not prepared for the ʻBig Oneʼ when it came. Her mom was upstairs at the time of the explosion working as a waitress in Windows on the World. She wasnʼt injured; she got out okay (Laura strangely seemed to Danny to be speaking regretfully here), but her dadʼs leg got caught under a falling beam and her uncle Thady with his great strength lifted the beam off her dadʼs leg and carried him to safety over his shoulder in the firefighterʼs hoist.
‘So that’s it,’ Danny said, ʻthatʼs why you have to visit?ʼ
ʻDonʼt you like visiting him?ʼ
Her lips moved but refused to say anything.
ʻI was talking about Mom.ʼ
‘Dad didn’t want Mom to go back to work there afterwards, you know after they like cleaned up and rebuilt everything even with the tightened security of blue-blazered guards and identification swipe cards. But Mom loved the place. She was always talking about it. The staff were so friendly and the clients were…’
‘What? Why are you hesitating?ʼ
She looked at him, trying to find a trust in his eyes. ‘I don’t know if I can tell you, Danny.’
He shrugged. ‘Fine,’ he said.
‘I like that about you,’ she said straightening herself on the bench. ‘You’re not nosey or pushy like some people.’
You don’t know me, he was about to say, but why bother?
‘You see, Dad keeps blaming himself,’ she said pondering with that toothy all American half open mouth which he found so physically wholesome and alluring at the same time. ‘He keeps thinking more attacks are going to come.’
‘How do you mean, blaming himself?’
‘Mom was killed in 9/11.’
‘Oh Jesus, Laura, I’m sorry.’
‘It’s okay,ʼ she said matter-of-factly. ‘I can deal with it. But I’m not so sure about Dad or Uncle Thady.’
‘Well, Momʼs body was never found and Dad still wonʼt accept, despite all the time gone by, that sheʼs dead. He’s just reliving 9/11 every minute, like he can’t move forward; he’s frozen there. And Uncle Thady went a bit strange too I guess when he saw it on the TV.ʼ
‘How do you mean strange?’
‘I can’t go into that.’
‘You’re tantalising me, Laura, the way you’re putting bits in, leaving bits out.’
‘I’m sorry, Danny,’ she said making a clicking sound with her chewing gum which attempted to belie the momentary seriousness that clouded her face. ‘I don’t mean to tantalise you but that’s all I can tell you right now. You gotta understand Uncle Thady worried about Dad, his kid brother, you know. He wanted to book a ticket back to New York when 9/11 happened, but they restrained him.’
‘Who restrained him?’
She paused, looked down as if she was counting the cobbled stones. ‘Maureen, his wife.’
Once he had broken the ice of her taciturnity Laura opened up to Danny and soon she was expounding fluently, her natural propensity Danny thought—on at least some of the vagaries of her family. She told Danny that Maureen with the aid of a local curate had her uncle Thady put into the Saint John of God clinic for a week, just until he got over the shock of seeing those Towers tumbling down.
ʻI don’t know what they said if it was violent… oh my god, he was never violent; leastways never to me.ʼ
‘But your mother?ʼ Danny said for, despite his disavowal, he was becoming intrigued by her.
‘She was no hero.’
Laura looked at Danny. ‘She was unfaithful to my dad. With a Maruf Rayhani.’
‘What, an Arab?’
A breeze mussed her bangs revealing the whiteness of her forehead. ‘With a name like that, what do you figure? I found stuff in her diary. He was a regular client of the restaurant. Maybe that’s why Mom insisted on going back there after ʼ93.’
‘You mean they could’ve been acquainted that far back?’
‘I don’t know, Danny. I never told Dad. It woulda destroyed him. She was the love of his life.’
Laura drew a deep breath. ‘Oh my poor, deluded dad.’
Danny was conscious of a strange feeling coming over him, going against his baser instincts (a benign voice muttering something not totally comprehensible but pushing in nonetheless), and the image of his late parents flashed across his mind in their final waving to him as they faded behind the Plexiglas at Dublin airport.
‘That’s why I went to see her,’ Laura was saying, ‘that day in Windows on the World. She wanted to talk to me urgently. My mother was self-obsessed,ʼ she said patting her cheeks with both hands. ʻShe didn’t care two hoots about me or Dad.’
‘Wait a minute,’ Danny said, drawn to the emotion rising in her voice.
‘It’s true. You don’t know. But she never got to tell me her decision. She used to go on about Dad a lot behind his back. She would say she was coming home after work to her disappointment. It led to a good few arguments because I always defended Dad, and Dad like always made excuses for her. She had this book, Tales of the Alhambra, with all these Moorish pictures in it. She used to talk about Arabia and tried to justify her talking about that country by saying Arabia was a friend of the USA, and it was like this wonderful, exotic and romantic place.ʼ
‘Well,’ Danny said, not knowing how to respond to such an unexpected and openly confessed intimacy.
‘Her mind was every which way. Always,ʼ she said pulling at her sleeve. ʻShe was a great film buff; she used to bring me when I was small to Jackson Heights, but when she wanted to see more adult movies, she would go off with some friend that I never got to meet over to Manhattan.ʼ
Laura gazed across the campanile at a pigeon that had just landed. ‘Dad wasn’t really into romantic films except maybe for Marilyn Monroe. In fact he’s gone off films altogether now since 9/11.’
‘Why is that?’
‘Where was King Kong when the aircrafts came? Thatʼs what he says.ʼ
Danny laughed politely.
They didnʼt speak for a few moments as they watched students and lecturers in their swirling gowns crisscrossing the quadrangle laden with books and folders. Then she apologised for ʻshooting her mouth offʼ, saying that since she had come to Ireland things had built up inside her a little bit as they sometimes do and she hadnʼt ʻgottenʼ to talk to anyone sort of intimate like, neither the guys in the college or in the Insomnia café in Nassau Street where she worked part time to keep herself ʻfiscal’.
ʻEveryone needs an ear,’ Danny said.
She told him that was what her dad said about her uncle Thady, that heʼd van Gogh’s ear for music, whereas her dad could sing the birds off the trees, well, when he had a mind to and that Uncle Thady sometimes had this music blaring when she would go visit, like Beethoven or something, the opposite to Maureen’s hymns.
She paused to gauge Dannyʼs attention. ʻHe weeps like a baby, big globs of tears come rolling down his cheeks.’
‘The institution?’ Danny said.
‘Yeah, except it’s not the institution now.’
‘For sure it’s Maureen. But I hardly ever see her.’
‘No. That’s why I visit Tuesdays when she’s at her sodality. Hand to bless,’ Laura said mimicking the actions, ‘knee to kneel. Rosaries, novenas, Stations of the Cross, acts of self-denial, no candy in Lent, no meat Fridays, no…’
She blushed. ‘No anything.’
Danny noticed the blush, felt her hesitation, waited for her to tell him more but all she did, as if rescuing herself from the uncomfortable silence, was eventually to blurt out, ‘It’s so difficult sometimes…’
‘You don’t have to go there, surely.’
‘I do, Danny.ʼ
ʻWhy? Why Laura?ʼ
He glanced at her. The blush had subsided, but her brow furrowed a puzzling anxiety.
https://www.amazon.co.uk/American-Doll-James-Lawless/dp/1530576687/ref=sr_1_4_twi_pap_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1536661561&sr=8-4&keywords=james+lawless in paperback and Kindle or in other ebook formats at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/767783