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The Blue Cabin -
“On a Thursday morning we had spelling, and if you didn’t get seventeen out of twenty, you were caned. Sometimes I scraped it but more often than not I found myself, along with Brown II, Fumphy Friars and a serial mis-
Willie was always making something and I always said, ‘What are you making?’ and he always said: ‘A seebackroscope.’
‘What does it do?’
‘It’s so you can see backwards.’
‘Because we don’t always know where we’re going, so it’s nice to know where we’ve been.’
‘Can you make one for me?’
He would look down at me with a serious face, his spectacles off kilter and misted with fine sawdust, and shake his head.
‘I could,’ he would say. ‘But it’s a lot better to have two.’
I knew the answer to my next question very well but I loved to hear it anyway.
‘Because if you take two seebackroscopes and mount them back to back, you can look through one and into the other, and see the future. It’s a double seebackroscope. Gives you something to look forward to.’
I was old enough to suspect that he wasn’t being serious and young enough to hope that he was. Either way, from the point of view of impressing my friends, a seebackroscope sounded like a really good thing to have. I made Willie promise one day to build me a pair of them, and every time I ran into him after that I would ask if they were ready.
‘I’m working on it,’ he always said. ‘They’re on the bench.’
A couple of years went by without any sign of my seebackroscopes, and then something awful happened. When the time came to leave Mourne Grange, I went without saying goodbye to Willie Edgar. Afterwards I felt a terrible guilt, and to make matters worse, I convinced myself that the seebackroscopes were to have been his leaving present to me; that if I had just popped round to the shed, he would have been waiting for me, standing with his back to the workbench, holding something the size of a shoebox, wrapped in newspapers.
I’ll never know. Soon after I left, Mourne Grange closed for good. I went on to another boarding school much further from home, and sadly Willie passed away some years ago – taking, I expect, the secret of the double seebackroscope with him.