- An extra lie, not included in A Book of Untruths -
I want to buy a book
Dad believed, well before the Irish Catholic scandals of the 21st century that paedophilia was rife on the islands of Sligo Bay. He had proof. An older male cousin had visited the family in Leith.
‘When I told Ma what he was doing to me,’ Dad said, ‘she sent him packing. Right then and there. The same day.’
I must have given him an incredulous look – the enormous gap in this story and what was implied by it too enormous for comment.
‘In the fifties, a mother believing what her child says?’ he offered by way of explanation. ‘Well it shows she’d experienced that sort of thing first hand herself.’
If Dad was never able to say sorry, then ‘sodomy’ was absolutely beyond his pale. Both signify shame. I’m wondering if the cousin did this, whether this is what was done to Dad. And perhaps this is the lie. Here, right now, with me always going for the worst case scenario. But that is the eternal problem with silence. Worse than the truth often falls from it. Far worse.
However, there is a clue to my choice of the worst case scenario, and it lies in the Marquis de Sade and that particular title – 120 Days of Sodom - which Arrow Books described as a ‘masterpiece’ when they published it in the September of 1989.
Within days of the book hitting the shelves, my father spent his lunch hours traipsing between Waterstones, Books Etc. and Thins. He was on a mission to get the sodomist banned. Choosing the most crowded check out, books piled high in his arms, he sized up his prey over a copy of the latest David Lodge.
I giggled when he told me, utterly relieved that I was no longer captive to his rage. Dad was an impatient man, and long queues were not his forte, but let us presume that this lunch hour shuffle, amongst unsuspecting shoppers, was a matter of huge enjoyment to him. Finally he would ease his purchases onto the desk. The ‘young lady’ he told me on one occasion rang them through, and another assistant hurried over to help pack bags.
‘That will be £207.89 please.’
Both faces behind the desk looked up expectantly.
My father leant forward, his plastic card wedged between thumb and forefinger, and asked:
‘Do you sell the Marquis de Sade?’
‘Yes of course.’ One smiled. ‘Shall I fetch you a copy?’
That was when he put his card slowly back into his wallet and pushed the neatly packed polythene bags towards those serving him.
‘If you sell the 120 Days of Sodom,’ he shouted to the young lady, her helper, the queue, the entire bookshop, ‘Then this is the very, very last time I buy anything here.’