On a day when a dazzling morning sun invites him out to the green meadows of Kildura, Nipper Mooney experiences both the phenomenon of lost time and the death of his father. These mysteries frame this vibrant first novel. Set in a farming community adjacent to St. John's, Newfoundland, The Confessions of Nipper Mooney is a rich evocation of life in the 1950s and '60s. Searching and sensitive, Nipper is full of questions about everything from fairy lore to the nature of the souls of trout and horses. He finds a kindred spirit in Brendan, Kildura's loner and mystic.
But this story is far from a rural idyll. Nipper's mother, feeling the need for both a solid education and male role models, sends him off to All Angels, a St. John's school run by the Christian Brothers. Here, Nipper struggles with an education system deeply rooted in draconian discipline and steeped in the kind of Catholicism that leads him to more and more questions. In this claustrophobic and often violent world, Nipper survives by becoming a reader and a dreamer, and by developing a scrappy toughness.
About the Author
In the writing community, Ed Kavanagh is known primarily for his best-selling Amanda Greenleaf series of children's books, as a playwright and for this involvement in the gathering and editing of adult literacy materials. He is equally well known as a musician, specializing in the Irish harp. The Confessions of Nipper Mooney is Ed's first novel for adults.
On the morning of August 15, 1962, the day his father passed away, Nipper Mooney was stolen by the fairies.
He had woken to the dull plod of cows shambling up the road to Tim's Meadow; he closed his eyes and listened to the brass tinkling of their bells. The cows passed so close he could hear the splatter of their droppings, the soft swish of Brendan's alder urging them on.
Nipper sat up. He parted the lace curtains and looked out. The sky was perfectly clear; the sun burned just above the tree line.
When the cows had passed, he dressed and went downstairs. His mother was out—probably having tea at Annie's. Nipper made a breakfast of corn flakes and milk. Then he put on his sneakers, pushed open the screen door, and stepped into the brilliant sunlight.
He crossed the oiled road and headed up the freshly cut hayfield to the pole line. At Wishing Rock he stopped and looked back toward his house. Through the shape-shifting light, he saw the figure of Brendan moving down the road, his alder switch drawing random patterns in the air. He plucked a straw and watched as the old man disappeared from sight.
Nipper wandered on and suddenly threw himself into a patch of soft grass. Scents of heather and juniper rose from the sun-soaked ground. He turned over on his back and looked up at the brightening sky. The air was perfectly calm. It was strangely quiet, the birds and insects hushed, dazed by the rising heat.
Nipper closed his eyes. He breathed deeply and listened to the muted drumming of his heart.
A shadow passed across his face. He got to his feet and wandered back down to the hayfield. When his house came into view, he stopped and looked up. The sky had clouded over, a freshened breeze ruffled the tops of the spruce and fir.
Aunt Mona was standing on the doorstep.
Even from such a distance, he could see that her face was swollen, distorted—like she'd been to the dentist. She knotted a red dishcloth, twisted it around her hands. She began to run across the road toward him.
Nipper stopped, amazed, and waited.
"Where have you been?" Mona said. She reached down and grabbed his hand. Nipper stared up at her wide, bruised eyes, the scarlet lipstick smudging her full lips. He had never noticed that her eyes were so blue.
"You had the life frightened out of me," Mona said, pulling him toward the house. "Where were you?"
"Nowhere. Just playing. Just up on the pole line. When did you get here?"
Mona opened the screen door. "Get in and get your supper. And not a word."
Nipper stepped into the vestibule. "What?"
"I said, go in and sit down to your supper. And no foolishness. The potatoes aren't fit for a dog."
Nipper pulled off his sneakers and stared at his aunt. "What are you talking about? I don't want any supper. Sure I just had breakfast."
Mona sighed. "Nipper—no foolishness. I'm not kidding. Not today."
"But why are you giving me supper?"
Mona snapped the dishcloth against her leg. "Why do you think? Because it's suppertime. Look at the clock."
The Timex above the oil stove showed only one hand. Then he saw that both hands were on the six. He looked out the kitchen window; creeping shadows darkened the barn door.
Nipper slumped into his chair. "But that can't be right. I just left the house a half an hour ago. It can't be suppertime."
"I said—give it up." Mona set a plate of sausages and boiled potatoes before him. "Eat."
Nipper stared at the food. "Where's Mom?"
His aunt turned back to the stove. "She's . . . at the hospital."
"Mona, what's wrong with your face?"
"I said, eat."
The call came at seven o'clock. Mona listened silently, staring out the picture window, her face pale but calm. She passed the phone to Nipper. It was a bad line. His mother's voice sounded thin and metallic, as if it were coming from a great distance. She told him his father had gone to heaven. He was to obey his Aunt Mona. She would be home soon.
The first cars arrived twenty minutes later. By eight o'clock the driveway was blocked; pick-ups wound down the road, double-parked, hugging the drains and ditches.
Nipper sat in the living room and watched an assortment of legs pass before him. Everyone seemed to be moving in a continuous circle: kitchen, living room, dining room, kitchen, living room, dining room. Finally, a pair of legs stopped. A man crouched before him: Uncle Phonse. He always gave Nipper a dollar at Christmas. Phonse had a beer in his right hand; he laid the left on Nipper's shoulder and smiled. His uncle's eyes were a pale, watery blue; Nipper stared at their webs of veins and broken blood vessels.
Phonse pulled his tie away from his chapped neck and squeezed Nipper's shoulder. "You have to be the man of the house now," he said. Nipper smelled Phonse's beery breath. He wondered if he was supposed to say something. Phonse finished his beer and looked at Nipper intently. "Did your mom talk to you?"
"What did she say?"
"All about heaven and stuff."
Phonse nodded. "That's where he is now. He was a good man, your father."
"Are you all right?"
Nipper shrugged. "I . . . "
"Yes," Phonse said. He glanced at the floor, then back at Nipper. "Listen, I know it's hard for you to understand. But it's better this way. He'd been in a lot of pain. It was all very peaceful in the end. He just . . . passed peacefully away." Nipper remained silent. "Do you understand?" Phonse said. "He wasn't going to get well—"
"I know," Nipper said, surprised at the irritation in his voice. He stared over his uncle's shoulder at the carousel of passing bodies. "I know."
Phonse stroked his chin and placed his empty beer bottle on the end table.
"Something kind of weird happened today."
"It's been a hard day for everyone."
"No, not that . . . something else."
Phonse shifted his weight painfully.
"Well," Nipper said, rocking back and forth on the chesterfield, "I was . . . I was playing up on the pole line this morning and . . . "
"And I was walking up by Wishing Rock and . . . "
"And . . . well . . . " Nipper stopped rocking. He looked down at the floor. "Nothing," he said. "It was probably nothing."
His uncle patted Nipper's knee. "You're sure?"
"Well, all right, then."
Phonse reached inside his jacket, hesitated, then withdrew his hand. He squeezed Nipper's shoulder and went out to the kitchen.
The living room was thick with cigarette smoke. Nipper got up and threaded his way through a tangle of arms and legs. Hands attached to murmuring voices caressed his head and shoulders. His mother was standing near the television. She wore a string of pearls and a blue-black dress he had never seen before. Her face was as pale as her pearls; her eyes, always dark, seemed almost black. It struck Nipper that his mother was strangely beautiful. She stirred, felt someone looking at her. He watched as her eyes scanned the room, her gaze, finally, coming to rest on him. She smiled weakly and nodded.
Nipper went upstairs. He threw himself face down on the bed and closed his eyes. You have to be the man of the house now. He turned over on his back and stared up at the ceiling. The man of the house. That worried him. Phonse had sounded like he really meant it.
Nipper got up and looked out the window; it was getting dark. He heard the grating of a bicycle chain, and in the half-light he saw Brendan Flynn pedalling slowly up the road. He stopped in front of the house and got off. Brendan was wearing a rumpled white shirt and a bow tie. He leaned the Raleigh against the fence and carefully patted down his shirt and pant legs. He went to the gate, lifted the latch, and pushed the gate open.
He reached in, swung the gate closed, and went back to his bike. Then he wheeled around and set off down the road, the fenders of the ancient Raleigh jangling with the dip of every rut and pothole.
Also check out CD of Newfoundland Music on Celtic Harp by Ed Kavanagh