Silence. That's the first thing I remember about the stars. The huge overarching silence, like a thick duvet that muffles every sound.This scene on the roof was shot on a set constructed in an empty warehouse in Dublin. As Byrne and Pentony looked up they saw pipes and rafters. The stars were added digitally from drawings I supplied. The novel, remarkably, is still in print. If you haven't read it -- and there's much more in the novel than in the movie -- you can help keep it in print by buying one from Amazon.
Jack Kelly led me to the top floor of the house in Nicholas Road, to a garret used for storage. He carried an electric torch to guide us through the gloom. At the back of the garret a gable window opened onto the sloping roof of Bernadette's kitchen. Jack prised open the window. He sat me down in darkness and removed my shoes, small brown boots especially cobbled by a shoemaker in the Douglas Road. He removed his own shoes. He put his finger to my lips.
"Shush," he whispered. "Your mother mus'nt know. She will worry with her boy on the roof." We held our dusty breaths and listened for Bernadette's shuffle-shuffle as she moved between the sitting room and kitchen below, in her stockinged feet, two pairs of woolen socks. But of course we heard nothing. I stared at the open window, my heart in my mouth, and seeing the stars reflected in my gaping eyes, Jack said, "Don't be afraid."
I wasn't afraid. The window framed the stars of Lyra and Cygnus. Bright beckoning stars, swimming in a sea of light. The window was the entrance into another world. What lay beyond the window was not the same outside that I entered through the door of the house, the door that led into Nicholas Road Outside the garret window there were no trams with unmanageable steps, no shops with sweets in tall glass jars on unreachable counters, no kindly people offering the dwarf child beggar's mites of pity. None of that. The window was a passageway to silence. To solitude. And to beauty.
Jack squeezed his large body through the frame, turned and lifted me onto the roof. We sat on the slope of the kitchen roof with our backs against the garret slates. We were sandwiched between two black planes -- the slates below, the sky above. The sky! So luminous with stars. Like sparkling water flowing over black rock. A vast endless cascade of twinkling light. And silent. Utterly silent. As if I had cotton in my ears. All those stars, that cascading river of light, and not a sound.
Jack took bits of the silence and shaped it into words, whispering. He named the stars: Vega, Deneb, Altair. He traced the patterns of the constellations. He told me stories of birds and fish and of Orpheus with his lyre. "Albireo," he said, and the name of the star was like an incantation. He might as well have said "abracadabra." Words ignited on his tongue.
"Stars blow up," said Jack.
Stars blow up. For the first time in my life I understood what words are made of. They are made of silence. Later, in school, one of my teachers did a demonstration with an electric bell suspended inside a glass jar. The bell was set clanging and then the air was pumped out of the jar. The bell went silent, its clapper swinging soundlessly like a boxer throwing punches at a pillow. As I sat with Jack on the roof of my mother's kitchen looking up at the stars it was like that, like the bell in the vacuum. Stars exploded in utter silence. My heart, too, beat as wildly as the clapper of the bell, but there was no sound.
I was six years old.
Monday, April 26, 2010
A commercial break
Someone told me the other day that the movie Frankie Starlight, from my novel The Dork of Cork, is available for download from iTunes and Amazon. You can watch a trailer here, including this scene from the novel with Gabriel Byrne and the wonderful Alan Pentony.