The Drunkard by Frank O’Connor, 1948
The magic trick:
Summing up life as a child of an alcoholic
There is a paragraph near the middle of this story that floored me. O’Connor so completely nails the child’s point of view. Larry, our child narrator, sees his father falling into an all-too-familiar downward spiral of drinking and reacts will the shame, panic, and extraordinary wisdom that only a child can know. I’ll print the section in its entirety below. I can’t imagine a better distillation of what it is like to grow up the son of an alcoholic. And that’s quite a trick on O’Connor’s part.
“Dada,” I said, pulling his coat again, “can’t we go home now?”
“Ah, your mother won’t be in for a long time yet,” he said benevolently enough. “Run out in the road and play, can’ you?”
It struck me as very cool, the way grown-ups assumed that you could play all by yourself on a strange road. I began to get bored as I had so often been bored before. I knew Father was quite capable of lingering there till nightfall. I knew I might have to bring him home, blind drunk, down Blarney Lane, with all the old women at their doors, saying: “Mick Delaney is on it again.” I knew that my mother would be half crazy with anxiety; that next day Father wouldn’t go out to work; and before the end of the week she would be running down to the pawn with the clock under her shawl. I could never get over the lonesomeness of the kitchen without a clock.