the inside and most of a person is on the outside."
These are the words of six-year-old Anna, sometimes called Mouse, Hum, or Joy. At five years old, Anna knew absolutely the purpose of being, knew the meaning of love, and
was a personal friend and helper of Mister God. At six, Anna was a theologian, mathematician, philosopher, poet, and gardener. If you asked her a question you would always get an answer--in due course. On some occasions the answer would be delayed for weeks or months; but eventually, in her own good time, the answer would come: direct, simple, and much to the point.
She never made eight years; she died by an accident. She died with a grin on her beautiful face. She died saying, "I bet Mister God lets me get into heaven for this." And I bet he did too.
I knew Anna for just about three and a half years. Some people lay claim
to fame by being the first person to sail around the world alone, or to
stand on the moon, or by some other act of bravery. All the world has
heard of such people. Not many people have heard of me, but I, too, have a claim
to fame; for I knew Anna. To me this was the high peak of adventure. This
was no casual knowing; it required total application. For I knew her on
her own terms, the way she demanded to be known: from the inside first.
"Most of an angel is in the inside," and this is the way I learned to know
her--my first angel. Since then I have learned to know two other angels,
but that's another story.
My name is Fynn. Well that's not quite true; my real name doesn't matter
all that much since my friends all called me Fynn and it stuck. If you
know your Irish mythology you will know that Fynn was pretty big; me too.
Standing about six feet two, weighing some 225 pounds, close to being a
fanatic on physical culture, the son of an Irish mother and a Welsh
father, with a passion for hot dogs and chocolate raisins--not together, I
may add. My great delight was to roam about dock-
land in the night-time, particularly if it was foggy.
My life with Anna began on such a night. I was nineteen at the time,
prowling the streets and alleys with my usual supply of hot dogs, the
street lights with their foggy halos showing dark formless shapes moving out from the darkness of the fog and disappearing again. Down the street a little way, a baker's shop window softened and warmed the raw night with its gas lamps. Sitting on the
grating under the window was a little girl. In those days children
wandering the streets at night were no uncommon sight. I had seen such
things before, but on this occasion it was different. How or why it was
different has long since been forgotten except that I am sure it was
different. I sat down beside her on the grating, my back against the shop
front. We stayed there about three hours. Looking back over thirty years,
I can now cope with those three hours; but at the time I was on the verge
of being destroyed. That November night was pure hell; my guts tied
themselves into all manner of complicated knots.
Perhaps even then something of her angelic nature caught hold of me; I'm
quite prepared to believe that I had been bewitched from the beginning. I
sat down with "Shove up a bit, Tich." She shoved up a bit but made no
"Have a hot dog," I said.
She shook her head and answered, "It's yours."
"I got plenty. Besides, I'm full up," I said.
She made no sign, so I put the bag on the grating between us. The light from the shop window wasn't very strong and the kid was sitting in the shadows so I couldn't see what she looked like except that she was very dirty. I could see that she clutched under
one arm a rag doll and on her lap a battered old paint box.
We sat there for thirty minutes or so in complete silence; during that
time I thought there had been a movement of her hand toward the hot dog
bag but I didn't want to look or comment in case I put her off. Even now I
can feel the immense pleasure I had when I heard the sound of that hot dog
skin popping under the bite of her teeth. A minute or two later she took a
second and then a third. I reached into my pocket and brought out a packet
"Do you mind if I smoke while you're eating, Tich?" I asked.
"What?" She sounded a little alarmed.
"Can I have a cigarette while you're eating?"
She rolled over and got to her knees and looked me in the face.
"Why?" she said.
"My Mum's a stickler for politeness. Besides, you don't blow smoke in a
lady's face when she's eating," I said.
She stared at half a hot dog for a moment or two, and looking at me fully,
she said, "Why? Do you like me?"
"You have a cigarette then," and she smiled at me and popped the rest of
the hot dog into her mouth.
I took out a Woodbine and lit up and offered her the match to blow out.
She blew, and I was sprayed with bits of hot dog. This little accident
produced such a reaction in her that I felt that I had been stabbed in the
guts. I had seen a dog cringe before, but never a child. The look she gave
me filled me with horror. She expected a thrashing. She clenched her teeth
as she waited for me to strike her.
What my face registered I don't know, perhaps anger and violence, or shock
and confusion. Whatever it was, it produced from her the most piteous
whimper. I can't describe this sound after all these years; no words are fitting. The feeling I can still taste, can still experience. My heart faltered at the sound, and
something came undone inside me. My clenched fist hit the pavement beside
me, a useless gesture in response to Anna's fears. Did I think of that
image then, that image which I now think of, the only one that fits the
occasion? That perfection of violence, that ultimate horror and
bewilderment of Christ crucified. That terrible sound that the child made
was a sound that I never wish to hear again. It attacked my emotional
being and blew a fuse.
After a moment or two I laughed. I suppose that the human mind can only
stand so much grief and anguish. After that, the fuses blow. With me, the
fuses blew in a big way. The next few minutes I know very little
about--except that I laughed and laughed. Then I realized that the kid was
laughing too. No shrunken bundle of fear--she was laughing. Kneeling on the
pavement and leaning forward with her face close to mine, and
laughing--laughing. So very many times in the next three years I heard
her laughter--no silver bells or sweet rippling sounds was her laughter,
but like a five-year-old's bellow of delight, a cross between a puppy's
yelp, a motorbike, and a bicycle pump.
I put my hands on her shoulders and held her off at arm's length, and then
came that look that is entirely Anna's--mouth wide open, eyes popping out
of her head, like a whippet straining at the leash. Every fiber of that
little body was vibrating and making a delicious sound. Legs and arms,
toes and fingers, the whole of that little body shook and trembled like
Mother Earth giving birth to a volcano. And what a volcano was released in
Outside that baker's shop in dockland on a foggy November night I had the
unusual experience of seeing a child born. After the laughter had quieted
off a bit, but while her little body was still thrumming like a violin
string, she tried to say something, but it wouldn't come out properly. She
managed a "You--You--You--."
After some little time and a great deal of effort she managed, "You love
me, don't you?"
Even had it not been true, I could not have said no to save my life; true
or false, right or wrong, there was only one answer. I said yes.
She gave a little giggle, and pointing a finger at me, said, "You love
me," and then broke into some primitive gyration around the lamppost,
chanting, "You love me. You love me. You love me."
Five minutes of this and she came back and sat down on the grating. "It's
nice and warm for your bum, ain't it?" she said.
I agreed it was nice for your bum.
A moment later: "I ain't arf firsty." So we upped and went along to the
pub just down the road. I bought a large bottle of stout. She wanted "one
of them ginger pops with the marble in the neck." So she had two ginger
pops and some more hot dogs from an all-night coffee stall.
"Let's go back and get our bums warm again," she grinned at me. Back we
went and sat on the grating, a big un and a little un.
I don't suppose that we drank more than a half of the drinks, for it
seemed that the idea of a fizzy drink was to shake it vigorously and then
let it shoot up into the air. After a few showers of ginger pop and a
determined effort to do the nose trick, she said, "Now do it to yourn."
I'm sure even then that this was not a request but an order. I shook hard
and long and then let fly with the stopper and we both were covered with
The next hour was filled with giggles and hot dogs, ginger pop and
chocolate raisins. The occasional passerby was yelled at: "Oi, Mister, he
loves me, he do." Running up the steps of a nearby building she shouted,
"Look at me. I'm bigger than you."
From the Trade Paperback edition.
Revue de presse
--Los Angeles Times
"Like most good things, [this book] is deceptively simple. Insights steal their way into the reader's mind the same way Anna steals into the reader's heart."
From the Trade Paperback edition.